GulfNews World

GulfNews World

India’s new COVID-19 cases hit record again amid vaccination push

India|: New Delhi: New COVID-19 cases in India surged to a record of 152,879 on Sunday as the country battled a second wave of infections by pushing for faster vaccinations, with some states considering tougher restrictions to slow the spread of the virus. India leads the world in the daily average number of new infections reported, accounting for one in every six infections reported globally each day, according to a Reuters tally. Daily cases have set record highs six times this week, according to data from the federal health ministry. Deaths have also surged, with the federal health ministry reporting 839 fatalities on Sunday - the highest in over five months - as hospitals and crematoriums in some parts of the country grappled with the worsening situation. India’s tally of more than 13.35 million cases is the third-highest globally, behind only Brazil and the United States. Prime Minister Narendra Modi launched a four-day “Vaccination Festival” on Sunday to push more eligible Indians to get a COVID-19 shot. “During this time we have to move towards optimum utilisation of the country’s vaccination capacity,” Modi said in an open letter. The country has administered more than 100 million doses since the middle of January, the most after the United States and China. But several Indian states have complained of a vaccine shortage, despite immunisation being currently restricted to only about 400 million of India’s 1.35 billion people. The second surge in infections, which has spread much more rapidly than the first one that peaked in September, has forced many states to impose fresh curbs on activity. The administration in western Maharashtra state, which is home to the financial capital Mumbai and has the highest number of cases in the country, said it may impose additional measures beyond a weekend lockdown that will end early on Monday. “To break the COVID transmission chain, it is imperative that strict restrictions must be imposed for a certain period of time,” Maharashtra Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray said late on Saturday. Authorities have blamed the resurgence of the virus mainly on crowding and a reluctance to wear masks, even as massive election rallies and large religious gatherings have continued in recent weeks. Thousands of people thronged the banks of the Ganges in the northern city of Haridwar on Sunday for morning prayers during the Kumbh Mela - where up to five million are expected on certain days. Authorities have made it mandatory for all people entering the area to do COVID-19 tests. But many devotees on Sunday gathered by the riverside without masks, standing in densely-packed crowds.

GulfNews World

Prime Minister Imran Khan’s government’s Anti-Rape Ordinance 2020

Pakistan|Opinion|: In January 2018, the rape and murder of the six-year-old Zainab Ansari unleashed waves of grief, horror and anger across Pakistan. Reports of more rapes and murders of children continued to appear. The helpless pain and rage continued to simmer. In March 2020, the Zainab Alert, Recovery and Response Bill was passed in the National Assembly. The September 2020 gang rape of a woman stranded on Sialkot-Lahore motorway shook Pakistan from its apathetic stance on sexual violence against women. The woman who was beaten and raped in front of her children became the tragic rallying sign for the imperativeness of steps for prevention of rape and certainty of punishment. In December 2020, Prime Minister Imran Khan’s government’s landmark bill for protection of rights of victims and survivors of sexual violence, sexual abuse and rape and the certainty of punishment titled the Anti-Rape (Investigation & Trial) Ordinance, 2020 was approved by President of Pakistan Dr Arif Alvi. Also approved was an amendment in the Pakistan Penal Code, titled Criminal law (Amendment) Ordinance, 2020. The Anti-Rape (Investigation & Trial) Ordinance, 2020, and Criminal law (Amendment) Ordinance, 2020, when implemented in their true letter and spirit, will be the game-changing legislation for dispensation of justice to all victims of sexual violence or rape. Barrister Maleeka Bokhari is the chairperson for the Special Committee on Implementation of the Anti-Rape (Investigation & Trial) Ordinance, 2020. Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf’s Member of National Assembly Barrister Maleeka Bokhari is known for her articulate and fiery defence of her government on prime time talk shows. What Bokhari, as visible in her tweets, is also known for is her constant stance of equality and equal opportunities for women. Bokhari since 2012 has given legal advice to her party. She is also part of the team of lawyers in some key PTI cases, including the Panama case, and the Judicial Commission on General Elections 2013. Bokhari says, “I am inspired by Imran Khan’s consistent stance on the rule of law, in particular, his stance of equal application of the law irrespective of social status and class.” As the Parliamentary Secretary for Law and Justice Bokhari represents the Ministry of Law and Justice in parliament; her principal responsibility is to respond to all questions and legislative business in parliament. Bokhari in a question about her work says, “I was responsible for the passage of the Islamabad High Court Amendment Bill, and I was part of the team that got the FATF laws passed in September 2020. I have also been part of the team that drafted the Legal Aid and Justice Authority Act 2019, Enforcement of Women’s Property Rights Act 2019, and the Letters of Administration and Succession certificates Act 2019.” I asked Barrister Maleeka Bokhari a few questions: What was the principal impetus behind Prime Minister Imran Khan’s government’s realisation of the imperativeness of revisiting the anti-rape laws? Maleeka Bokhari: There are many reasons why the PTI government led by Prime Minister Imran Khan decided to revisit the anti-rape laws. Firstly, there was a drastic increase in reported cases across the country in relation to sexual violence against children and women. The brutal rape and murder of Zainab, many other little children, cases of sexual abuse, rape and murder of children in Kasur, and the Motorway gang rape. That horrific incident highlighted the issue of sexual violence and rape of women across our country like never before. There was a realisation within the government ranks that conviction rates across the country were extremely low. Experiences of women who report rape are awfully horrific in terms of investigation, filing of a case, and a trial that takes extremely long. The prime minister was very concerned that steps must be taken to alter the existing laws. He instructed the law minister and the team at the Ministry of Law and Justice that we must come up with a law that ensures that conviction is certain, that women who report rape receive a victim-centred treatment, that cases do not take very long, and that we have special courts that try cases of rape and sexual violence. The entire idea of a new anti-rape ordinance originated from the prime minister who expressed his concern in his meetings with the law minister and the cabinet. Every time we interacted with him to discuss law reforms the anti-rape ordinance was on the top of his agenda. He gave us a week to draft a law that filled in all the lacunas and loopholes within the justice system that deterred women from coming forward or were an impediment in the way of ensuring women getting justice in cases of sexual violence. How was the Anti-Rape (Investigation and Trial) Ordinance 2020 formulated? Who comprised the committee that drafted the ordinance? Did you face any difficulty in having the ordinance passed? This ordinance was mainly drafted by the officials from the Ministry of Law and Justice. Federal Minister for Law and Justice Farogh Naseem headed the drafting committee. I was also part of the committee that drafted the ordinance. We had representation from the Minister of Human Rights Dr Shireen Mazari, and [SAPM] Shehzad Akbar. It was a collaboration of the Ministry of Law and Justice, Ministry of Human Rights, and Ministry of Interior. The vetting and the final drafting were done at the Ministry of Law and Justice. But it was Prime Minister Imran Khan’s vision that guided us. Prime Minister Khan was insistent that Pakistan could no longer oversee a system in which victims of rape had no access to justice. In the conversations we had with him he was very clear about the necessity to change the law. It was untenable to him that females or children across our country get raped, and the cases could take years while the victims had no recourse to justice. For him it was literally something that could no longer take place in our country, something that required immediate intervention. The anti-rape ordinance is Prime Minister Khan’s idea. It is his vision, his motivation. And we were the team behind the formulation of his vision into a draft, into a bill. To transform the justice system for women and children who experience sexual violence or rape. What has been the role of the prime minister in pushing for the new anti-rape ordinance to become a law? The prime minster has played a very formative and a very important role in the passage of this ordinance. When the motorway gang rape incident took place there was a vehement debate in the country about the experiences of the survivors of sexual violence, and women and children who come into contact with the criminal justice system. Prime Minister Khan had clarity of thought on how the law was inadequate. That law didn’t provide a sufficient system of investigation, prosecution and trial for those who were victims of the heinous offence of sexual violence and rape. He had a very pivotal role because it was him who pushed the Ministry of Law and Justice to draft a legislation that filled in all the loopholes and lacunas that existed in the previous laws, and also ensured that the punishment for the heinous crime of rape was increased. How is the new ordinance different from the previous one on the process of investigation and punishment of rape? The new anti-rape ordinance is very different in its composition from the laws that were passed in 2016. Two important bills were passed by the PML-N government in 2016–the Anti-Honour Killing Laws (Criminal Amendment Bill) 2015, and the Anti-Rape Laws (Criminal Amendment Bill) 2015. Those laws prescribed harsher sentences and a more advanced system of delivery in terms of rape investigation, trial and prosecution. But our anti-rape ordinance focuses on ensuring that firstly, we set up special courts for offences that involve sexual abuse against women and children, specifically rape. This ordinance abolishes the two-finger test, which is a very inhumane practice followed only in Pakistan across South Asia. We have clarified and written it down in the bill that the evidence obtained through the two-finger test will have no probative value in a case. This ordinance is more victim-centred as we have introduced elements like the provision for independent support advisers, which could be anyone from civil society–a psychologist, a doctor, an activist, a lawyer. These advisers will assist the victim in the process of getting justice in cases of rape and sexual violence. Lists of independent support advisers will be maintained at the district level, and the Ministry of Law and Justice is, as we speak, issuing a public call for volunteers to support us in this initiative. The new ordinance also ensures that the trial for offences listed in the ordinance are completed within four months, and that all appeals are completed within six months. There will be a speedy dispensation of justice. The time limit has been decreased. The ordinance also envisages special measures for victims of sexual violence, one of which is that the perpetrator of the crime will not be able to directly ask the victim any question. Also, the 164 statement that is made for the magistrate will only be recorded once. What we have realised is that females who are victims of sexual violence or rape have to make multiple visits to a court to record statements. That really deters them from coming forward because it is a horrific experience to repeatedly explain to different duty bearers as to what transpired. Now there will be just one 164 statement before the magistrate. We have also envisaged a new system of investigation in the anti-rape ordinance. We are setting up joint investigation teams. One police officer alone will not be responsible for the investigation of such a heinous crime, an entire team will assist the officer. We have also envisaged the concept of an anti-rape crisis cell, which will be an extremely important addition. These crisis cells headed by the deputy commissioner or the commissioner of an area will be established in government hospitals at district level across the country. And this is very different from what has been done before because we realise that the most important element in any sexual violence case is the medico-legal evidence. Also important is obtaining evidence and then preserving the evidence for the trial, and that too within time. That is because the admissibility of DNA evidence sort of diminishes with the passage of time, and if we don’t procure it within 72 hours the value attached to it can be quite insignificant. For this process, we will have a team comprising a medico-legal surgeon, police officers, and independent support advisers. The anti-rape crisis cell will also have a number of responsibilities: ensuring that the medico-legal examination is completed within six hours; an FIR is launched immediately; and investigation begins without any delay. Things that were not happening before will happen now because of a specially designated cell with duty bearers across various government departments that will work together to ensure that investigation is done in a better, more informed, and more victim-centred manner. Within this anti-rape ordinance, we have tried to ensure that any lacunas that existed in the previous laws are removed through our discussions with experts, gender activists, and people who have worked in this particular area. We are hopeful that once the law is fully implemented through the anti-rape law implementation committee that I head, experiences of women and girls across our country in relation to cases of sexual violence will be different. When do you expect the bill to turn into a law? There has been some delay in the National Assembly. The bill is currently in the Standing Committee for Law and Justice where it will be debated and reviewed. We are hoping that it will be passed from the Standing Committee and move to the National Assembly for passage, and then to the Senate. The PTI government will seek support from all political parties on this very important issue. I think it would not be wrong for us to expect that members of the opposition parties do not object to the passage of such an important legislation, a much needed one for women and children of Pakistan. We will reach out to the opposition parties to ensure that they vote for this very important national law in the interest of Pakistan. How will the anti-rape ordinance ensure the certainty of punishment for a rape convict? The Criminal Law (Amendment) Ordinance, 2020 was also promulgated with the anti-rape ordinance to make amendments in the Pakistan Penal Code altering certain things, including the definition of rape. It covers three things. Firstly, it has amended the definition of rape making it broader, including explanations in certain areas in line with the best international practices. Secondly, it introduces the punishment of chemical castration for repeat offenders. Thirdly, it includes sentences. The sentence for someone who commits a gang rape has increased. For rape life means the remainder of life not 14 years. The ordinance has been amended to be more sensitised, and to be more in line with what is happening across the globe. The previous definition was quite restrictive; this one encompasses different scenarios of how rape can be committed against a person. Recently, you tweeted about the formation of a committee. Who comprises the committee? In accordance with section 15 of the Ordinance an implementation committee has been formulated. I am the chairperson, and it comprises 42 members from different professions: Justice (Retd) Nasira Javed Iqbal; representatives of Ministry of Interior, Ministry of National Health Service Regulations and Coordination, and Ministry of Human Rights; representative of NADRA; representatives of National Forensic Science Agency, Punjab Forensic Science Agency, Sindh Forensic Science Agency, Balochistan Forensic Science Agency, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Forensic Science Agency; representatives of Punjab Home Department, Sindh Home Department, Balochistan Home Department, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Home Department; representatives of Punjab Health Department, Sindh Health Department, Balochistan Health Department, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Health Department; representatives of National Commission on the Status of Women, Punjab Commission on the Status of Women, Sindh Commission on the Status of Women, Balochistan Commission on the Status of Women, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Commission on the Status of Women; Amna Baig (PSP); Fauzia Viqar (senior policy and gender adviser); anchorpersons Maria Memon and Fereeha Idris; Barristers Muhammad Ahmad Pansota ASC, Ambreen Malik , Advocate, Barrister Taimur Malik, advocate; Zahoor Ahmad (legislative adviser, M/O L&J); Sharafat Ali Chaudhary, advocate; Valerie Khan (Executive Director GDP); Dr Khadija Tahir (trauma specialist); Dr Summaiya Syed Tariq (Additional Police Surgeon); Nida Aly (Executive Director AJLAC); Nida Usman Chaudhary (Founder WIL); Abuzar Salman Khan Niazi (legal expert); Mehwish Muhib Kakakhel (Sindh Chapter Lead WIL); Hassan Mehmood (Deputy legislative adviser, M/O L&J); Barrister Ambreen Abbasi (consultant, representative of Ministry of Law and Justice; secretary committee). What are some of the key points of the PTI government’s anti-rape ordinance that would alleviate in some way the pain of reporting and demanding justice for the unimaginable trauma of rape for a victim/survivor? The issue of the abolition of the two-finger testing… You know, Mehr, this inhumane method of examination, this inhumane practise has existed in this country for decades. Even the anti-rape law that was passed in 2016 did not abolish this practice. All previous governments have failed to intervene in this method of examination, which the United Nations has declared as being unlawful, against all international norms and practices, and something that is inhumane. Practitioners across the globe are of the uniform view that the use of this practice is another form of rape after the victim has been subjected to rape. All previous governments, including that of PPP and PML-N, failed to abolish this test. It is the PTI government with its empathetic victim-centred approach towards surviors of sexual violence that is ensuring that this callous method of examination is abolished. The credit goes to Prime Minister Khan’s vision, and the Ministry of Law and Justice for ensuring that this practice is abolished under the law, and that no probative or evidential value is attached to it. Section 14 of the act identifies a very important issue. This is also one of those long-standing issues that have hugely impacted victims of rape and sexual violence across the courts of Pakistan. Experiences of women who have to go to a court multiple times have been narrated as horrific. Firstly, they have to face the accused or the perpetrator of the crime, who is later allowed to ask them questions. I think that for any victim of sexual violence this can be one of the most horrific and damaging experiences of their lives. When you have to face the perpetrator of a crime committed against you. Across the globe, victims of sexual violence have access to special measures. They are provided screens, which prevent the accused or the perpetrator of the crime from directly questioning them in order to prevent intimidation and harassment, and for the victim to feel safe when giving testimony. Now for the first time the PTI government has introduced section 14 in the anti-rape ordinance, which ensures that the victim is not being directly questioned by the accused or the perpetrator of the crime, and that all questions are asked through his counsel, or the presiding officer of the court. A big departure from previous practices, it is again evident of a compassionate victim-centred approach to ensure that a victim of rape or sexual violence has full access to justice. I think this speaks volumes about the commitment of the PTI government to ensure that in Pakistan victims of rape are treated in a humane manner, that their experience of going to a court is empathetic, and that they are not vilified. No previous government has ever ensured any of that. The clause 2 of section 13 of the Anti-Rape (Investigation and Trial) Ordinance 2020 is a new inclusion. And one that is of huge importance: the character of a victim in a rape case. What were the factors behind its inclusion? I believe that the clause two of section 13 is of great significance. It states: “In respect of any scheduled offence, any evidence to show that a victim is generally of immoral character, shall be inadmissible.” The intention of the PTI government is to ensure that any evidence comprising a woman’s past history, her past relationships, her character, or any attempt to vilify her person, or to cast any aspersions or any doubt on her character, or to display that she may be immoral should never be admissible in a rape case with the intent to undermine her testimony. In essence, it says that a woman’s personal life, her personal decisions, what she wears, and what choices she makes have no bearing on the matter under the purview of the court in relation to the rape accusation or any accusation of a sexual offence made by the complainant. The PTI government taking a clear stance in relation to females who are victims of rape and sexual violence has stated that any attempt to declare through any evidence that a female is of immoral character shall mandatorily be inadmissible in such cases. I think it would go a long way in changing the justice system in support of victims of rape. It is of historic importance that the state, the sitting government, has tried to ensure that a woman’s actions, decisions, choices, and relationships should have no bearing on a rape or sexual offence trial being undertaken in any court across our country. I think there is no past precedent of any government undertaking such clear steps to ensure that women are not vilified in our country. That women are not deterred from going to court. And that women are not subjected to vilification, harassment or scrutiny of their personal choices in cases of rape and other sexual offences.

GulfNews World

UAE-based Lulu Group chairman Yousuf Ali’s helicopter makes emergency landing in Kerala

UAE|India|: A helicopter carrying M. A. Yusuff Ali, the chairman of UAE-headquartered multinational company Lulu Group, made an emergency landing in Kochi, the south Indian state of Kerala, on Sunday, according to Indian media reports. There were five people in the helicopter, including Yusuffali and his wife. All passengers are safe, but sustained minor injuries and have been taken to hospital, according to reports. The helicopter made a forced landing into a deserted land near the Kerala University of Fisheries and Ocean studies near Panagad. V Nandakumar, director of Marketing and Communications at Lulu, told Gulf News that Yusuffali, his wife Shabira and personal secretary Shahid P.K, along with the pilot and the co-pilot “are safe and stable after the pilot decided to make an emergency landing due to rainy weather.” “It was not a crash-landing as some local media have reported. Due to the rain, the pilot gauged that the helicopter cannot continue flying further and he opted for landing in a marshland considering the safety of the passengers and the residents in the area.” Nandakumar said the couple was on a personal trip ahead of Ramadan and were admitted to Lakeshore Hospital. On Friday, His Highness Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces, had conferred the Abu Dhabi Awards on Yusuffali and 11 others. He was recognised for his support of national initiatives and events in the UAE including sports, culture, charitable and community-based projects. His support of many campaigns, both nationally and internationally, have positively impacted many local communities, said a WAM report. - With inputs from Sajila Saseendran, Senior Reporter

GulfNews World

China mulls mixing COVID-19 vaccines to improve efficacy of jabs

Asia|: Beijing: China is considering the mixing of different COVID-19 vaccines to improve the relatively low efficacy of its existing options, a top health expert has told a conference. Authorities have to "consider ways to solve the issue that efficacy rates of existing vaccines are not high", Chinese media outlet The Paper reported, citing Gao Fu, the head of the Center for Disease Control and Prevention. China has administered around 161 million doses since vaccinations began last year - most people will require two shots - and aims to fully inoculate 40 percent of its 1.4 billion population by June. But many have been slow to sign up for jabs, with life largely back to normal within China's borders and domestic outbreaks under control. Gao has previously stressed the best way to prevent the spread of Covid-19 is vaccination, and said in a recent state media interview that China aims to vaccinate 70 percent to 80 percent of its population between the end of this year and mid-2022. At the conference in Chengdu on Saturday, Gao added that an option to overcome the efficacy problem is to alternate the use of vaccine doses that tap different technologies. This is an option that health experts outside China are studying as well. Gao said experts should not ignore mRNA vaccines just because there are already several coronavirus jabs in the country, urging for further development, The Paper reported. Currently, none of China's jabs conditionally approved for the market are mRNA vaccines, but products that use the technology include those by US pharma giant Pfizer and German start-up BioNTech, as well as by Moderna. China has four conditionally approved vaccines, whose published efficacy rates remain behind rival jabs by Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna, which have 95 percent and 94 percent rates respectively. China's Sinovac previously said trials in Brazil showed around 50 percent efficacy in preventing infection and 80 percent efficacy in preventing cases requiring medical intervention. Sinopharm's vaccines have efficacy rates of 79.34 percent and 72.51 percent respectively, while the overall efficacy for CanSino's stands at 65.28 percent after 28 days.

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Pakistan Navy launches mangrove plantation campaign

Pakistan|: Islamabad: Pakistan Navy launched its annual mangroves plantation campaign in the coastal areas of Sindh and Balochistan provinces to strengthen natural defense systems against flooding, storms and coastal erosion. Recognizing the role of mangroves in protecting coasts against natural hazards, combating pollution, countering coastal erosion and offering multiple economic and financial opportunities to coastal communities, Pakistan Navy has taken a major initiative to revive mangrove forests all along the coast. The mangroves plantation campaign 2021 is part of PN environmental protection program under which the navy has planted 7 million mangroves from Shah Bandar to Jiwani with the collaboration of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), Sindh and Balochistan Forest departments. Commander Coast Vice Admiral Zahid Ilyas inaugurated the 2021 mangroves plantation campaign by planting mangrove sapling at Port Bin Qasim. Pakistan Chief of Naval Staff Amjad Khan Niazi, in his message, said that the plantation is aimed at achieving the goal of developing ‘Green Coastal Belt’ as covered area of mangroves forests has decreased significantly over the period due various factors such as reduction in freshwater supply, marine pollution, coastal erosion, mangroves cutting. He urged for new plantation as well as preservation of existing mangroves forests to reduce the risk of local and national disasters through better flood management and protection, and lessen the impacts of climate change and rising sea levels. Natural coastal defence Mangroves – the large trees that grow quickly in saltwater at the edge of the coastal zone serve as the first line of defense against flooding and erosion in tropical and subtropical regions. The salt-tolerant mangroves are among the most valuable ecosystems and play a key role in the resilience of coastal communities. These trees protect over 100 million people living in fragile coastal zones by reducing the risk of flooding, according to UN estimates. Mangrove trees form a natural barrier against violent storms, floods and tsunami. The aerial roots help prevent erosion, while the roots, trunks and canopy reduce the force of waves and storm surges thus preventing flooding and protecting people, infrastructure and livelihoods. These trees offer the most cost-efficient coastal protection. However, mangroves need to be combined with other risk reduction measures to achieve an optimal level of protection and risk reduction in coastal areas.

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Pakistan hopes to get $1bn debt relief from G-20

Pakistan|Business|: Islamabad: Pakistan is hoping to get around $1 billion relief from G-20, the economic affairs ministry said. It will include $785 million worth of pause on principal loan repayments and the remaining on account of interest repayments. The G-20 finance ministers and central bank governors in a joint communiqué recently announced a final 6-month extension through December 2021 in Debt Service Suspension Initiative (DSSI) to help developing countries deal with the coronavirus pandemic. The debt relief will provide much needed fiscal space to mitigate the socio-economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and meet the urgent economic needs of the country, said Federal Minister for Economic Affairs Khusro Bakhtiar. Formal request Pakistani officials are looking for debt suspension of about $900 million to $1 billion from bilateral creditors under DSSI Phase-III and would submit a formal request for relief after discussion within the relevant ministries. Pakistan along with other developing countries had qualified for the G-20 debt relief initiative, announced in April last year to combat the adverse impacts of the pandemic. The global debt payments suspension initiative has provided temporary relief of around $3.5 billion to Pakistan, according to local media reports. On March 30, Pakistan received nearly $500 million from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) after the $6 billion IMF loan programme resumed.

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How Prince Philip navigated the most challenging of corporate dress codes

HollyWood|Fashion|Europe|: There is a moment in the first season of 'The Crown' when actor Tobias Menzies, playing the perennially tetchy consort of Queen Elizabeth II, bristles at the constraints of his job. With a case of lockjaw severe enough to cause concern for his molars, Menzies portrays the Duke of Edinburgh (whom the queen would not make a prince until five years after she succeeded to the throne) as an arch complainer, a man who views the 20th-century monarchy as little more than “a coat of paint” on a crumbling Empire. “If the costumes are grand enough, if the tiaras sparkle enough, if the titles are preposterous enough, if the mythologies are incomprehensible enough, then all must be fine,” says Menzies, playing the man who would become Prince Philip. And, as it turns out, the script got it mostly right. Prince Philip, who died Friday at age 99, may have been wrapped in a cloak of dramatic hooey to become a character in the hit Netflix series. But the role, as written, is rooted in established fact. Britain's Prince Philip Image Credit: Reuters Headstrong by reputation, opinionated, notoriously brusque, Philip was also in important ways the model of a company man. By the time he stepped down from his official royal duties in August 2017, he had spent seven decades obediently working for The Firm, a term for the royal family credited to the Queen’s father, King George VI. Fulfilling the requirements of a job for which there is no precise standard, unless you consider second fiddle a job description, the prince slogged through a staggering 22,219 solo public engagements over his long lifetime. In doing so, he navigated the most challenging of corporate dress codes for more than 65 years. Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip Image Credit: AFP The brief was clear from the outset: The queen’s consort should be impeccable yet unassuming, irreproachable in style without drawing your eye away from one of the richest, and certainly the most famous, woman on Earth. the clothes Queen Elizabeth II wore in public were engineered to meet programmatic requirements — bright colours and lofty hats to make this diminutive human easy to spot; symbolically freighted jewelry (the Japanese pearl choker, the Burmese ruby tiara, the Obama brooch!); symbols and metaphors embroidered onto her gowns — those of Philip were tailored to keep him faultlessly inconspicuous. As a clotheshorse, he had certain natural advantages, of course. “He was staggeringly good-looking, tall and athletic,” said Nick Sullivan, creative director of Esquire. “That never does any harm when it comes to wearing clothes.” Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip Image Credit: AFP Beyond that, though, were a series of confident and knowing choices. For decades, the prince’s suits were made for him by John Kent, a Savile Row artisan who began his tailoring apprenticeship at 15. The prince’s shirts came from Stephens Brothers, and his bespoke shoes came from century-and-a-half-old bootmaker John Lobb. In the neatly folded white handkerchief Philip habitually squared off in his breast pocket (another was kept in his trousers) could be seen a telling contrast with the dandyish puff of silk favoured by his eldest son. Unlike other members of the royal family whose tastes run to costly baubles and fine Swiss timepieces, Philip habitually wore “a plain watch with a brown leather strap,” as The Independent once reported, and a copper bracelet intended to ease arthritis. He left his large hands free of jewelry and roughly manicured. Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip in 1962 Image Credit: AP If he looked best in sporting clothes, it was because he was a true sportsman, captain of both the cricket and hockey teams at boarding school in Scotland, a polo player well past his 40s, and an active participant in international coaching competitions until late in life. He was also the only member of The Firm’s inner circle before Meghan Markle to have been foreign-born. This, too, may have given him a style advantage since it is often true that outsiders can bring a fresh eye to staid sartorial conventions, both enlivening and improving them. (It took the Japanese to explain denim to Americans and the Neapolitans to demonstrate for the English how to perfect English style.) Queen Elizabeth II, then Princess Elizabeth, with her husband Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh, and their children Prince Charles and Princess Anne at Clarence House, the royal couple’s London residence. Image Credit: Agencies Search online and you will not find an image of Philip committing a style solecism. There is never a novelty tie or a funny hat. For that matter, and except on obligatory state occasions, there is little enough of the comic operetta regalia beloved of Philip’s uncle, Louis Mountbatten, the First Earl Mountbatten of Burma — no braiding, no frogging, no sashes or fringed and gilded epaulets. The paradox of Philip’s life may have been that he, as the husband of a queen and father of a future king, was essential to power although insignificant to its workings. And he often jokingly disparaged himself as the “world’s most experienced plaque unveiler.” Yet it was probably in that role that he did his best work for the family business, since a glimpse of this elegant and diffident man was the closest most Britons would ever come to royalty’s attenuated realities and burnished grandeur. In that sense, Philip was never “dressed,” in any conventional manner, so much as he was outfitted for purpose.

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COVID-19: Bihar villagers block migrant workers from returning home

India|: Patna: Anxious villagers are blocking the entry of returning Bihar migrant workers to villages due to surging COVID-19 cases fearing their lives could be in danger. In Aurangabad, Rohtas and Samastipur, the villagers are keeping a watch on the movement of migrant workers returning home after several Indian states imposed partial lockdowns, night curfews and enforced other restrictions to check spread of the coronavirus. As per the report, in several villages of Aurangabad district the villagers have earmarked school buildings, other government buildings and places of worship for the stay of the returning migrants so that they don’t mix with the villagers. Same is being done in Samastipur, one of the districts having large number of migrant workers. The district surrounded by Ganga and other rivers faces flood fury every year, prompting the villagers to migrate to other places to eke out livelihood. Second wave “We have taken a lesson from the past. The same mistake won’t be repeated this time again,” said Vimal Kumar, a village chief who has been winning village council elections for the past four consecutive terms. Another village council chief from Rohtas district Poonam Devi said they were keeping a close surveillance on the migrants returning homes from various states post surging second wave of COVID-19. “We have advised the migrants to isolate themselves far away from villages lest lapses on their part could cost them all,” she added. Thousands of migrants have already returned homes from various states boarding trains while the railways have decided to run 28 more trains to bring stranded people in Maharashtra, one of the Indian states worst affected by coronavirus. The first train will reach Patna tonight. Health authorities have got further alert after a total of 23 passengers coming from Maharashtra tested positive for COVID-19 at the station on Friday. East Central Railways General Manager LC Trivedi said railways had put on alert all health and security staff at the major stations and also sought cooperation from the passengers to help fight COVID-19. “Railways has made fullproof arrangements for COVID test on the platforms itself. Any passenger found positive is being detained and rushed to the isolation centre,” the GM said. Alarmed at the sudden increase in the COVID-19 cases, the Bihar government has enforced further curbs which came into force from Saturday (April 10). Under part of the fresh COVID-19 restrictions, all educational institutions have been closed till April 18. Similarly, all religious places have been shut till April 30 while all business establishments will remain open only till 7 PM. However, the government has allowed the restaurants and hotels to function with 25 percent of seating capacity. Partial restrictions Cinema halls and public transport have been told to run with 50 percent occupancy while only 35 per cent attendance has been allowed in government offices. “It’s not a lockdown but partial restrictions have been enforced following a sudden surge in coronavirus cases. We will review the situation in the next four-five days,” Bihar chief minister told a media conference on Friday evening. The chief minister also appealed to the masses to stay at homes if they don’t have any emergency works and strictly follow the COVID-19 protocols. Meanwhile, in a shocking incident, a youth refused to cremate the body of his father who succumbed to coronavirus at the government Medical College and Hospital in Darbhanga district on Friday. The 65-year-old victim had retired from the railways department. The hospital authorities contacted the family members to take away the victim’s body for cremation. Responding to the hospital’s call, the victim’s son reached the hospital but refused to take away his father’s body. “I am unable to carry my father’s body home for cremation since none in the village is cooperating with me. Also, several members in the family have tested positive and are admitted to the hospital,” the youth told the hospital authorities before leaving the hospital in a huff. What was further appalling, the youth switched off his cell phone when the hospital staff tried to contact and persuade him. Positive test Eventually, members from a non-governmental organization performed his last rites at the local cremation centre on Friday night. In Jawahar Lal Nehru Medical College and Hospital in Bhagalpur district, a lab technician refused to collect swab samples of a dead person and instead pressed his kin to collect the same for a test without providing him personal protective equipment (PPE), leaving him exposed to the virus. The victim tested positive for COVID-19. Reports said the victim had died in a road accident on Thursday evening after which his body was brought to the hospital for autopsy. As per the rule, the victim’s COVID-19 test was must before postmortem. “We have ordered an investigation into the incident and action will be taken after the probe report comes,” hospital superintendent Dr Asim Kumar Das said.

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Medical examiner blames police pressure for Floyd’s death

Americas|: Miineapolis: The chief medical examiner who ruled George Floyd’s death a homicide testified Friday that the way police held him down and compressed his neck “was just more than Mr. Floyd could take,” given the condition of his heart. Dr. Andrew Baker, the Hennepin County medical examiner, took the stand at the murder trial of former Officer Derek Chauvin for pressing his knee on or close to Floyd’s neck for what prosecutors say was as much as 9 1/2 minutes as the 46-year-old Black man lay on the pavement last May. Asked about his finding that police “subdual, restraint and neck compression” caused Floyd’s heart to stop, Baker said that Floyd had severe underlying heart disease and an enlarged heart that needed more oxygen than normal to function, as well as narrowing of two heart arteries. Baker said being involved in a scuffle raises adrenaline, which asks the heart to beat even faster and supply more oxygen. More than he could take “And in my opinion, the law enforcement subdual, restraint and the neck compression was just more than Mr. Floyd could take by virtue of that, those heart conditions,” the medical examiner said. Other medical experts, including a leading lung specialist, have gone further, testifying that Floyd died of asphyxia - or insufficient oxygen - because his breathing was constricted as he lay on his stomach with his hands cuffed behind his back, his face jammed against the ground and Chauvin’s knee on his neck. Baker has not ruled asphyxiation as a cause of Floyd’s death. And at one point, he said he is not an expert on lack of oxygen because he doesn’t treat living people, and he would defer certain questions to experts on breathing. Baker also said that based on his viewing of the video, he believed Chauvin’s knee was “primarily on the back, or the side or the area in between on Mr. Floyd’s neck”. And he said that in his opinion, the placement of Chauvin’s knee would not have cut off Floyd’s airway. Chauvin, 45, is charged with murder and manslaughter in Floyd’s death May 25. Floyd was arrested outside a neighbourhood market after being accused of trying to pass a counterfeit $20 bill. Bystander video of Floyd crying that he couldn’t breathe as onlookers yelled at the white officer to get off him sparked protests and scattered violence around the US. Chauvin attorney Eric Nelson has argued that the now-fired officer did what he was trained to do and that Floyd’s illegal drug use and underlying health conditions killed him. An autopsy found fentanyl and methamphetamine in Floyd’s system. Ted Sampsell-Jones, a law professor at Mitchell Hamline School of Law in St. Paul, Minnesota, said evidence about Floyd’s cause of death is shaping up to be the biggest weakness for prosecutors. He said that with Baker’s testimony, the jury is starting to see that the prosecution has been forced to distance itself from its own medical examiner. “It could possibly raise a reasonable doubt about cause of death,” he said. However, Sampsell-Jones said the legal standard for establishing causation is quite low. The state has to show only that Chauvin’s conduct was a substantial contributing cause. “If the state had to show that Chauvin’s conduct was the sole or even primary cause of death, the case would be in real trouble,” he said. In his testimony, Baker said that neither Floyd’s heart problems nor drugs caused his death. Under cross-examination, though, he agreed with Nelson that those factors “played a role” in the death. A medical expert who testified Thursday said a healthy person subjected to what Floyd endured would also have died. Nelson asked Baker whether he has certified deaths by fentanyl overdose at levels lower than that seen in Floyd’s blood, and Baker said yes. But Baker also noted that levels of fentanyl must be considered in the context of how long someone had used the drug, any tolerance built up to it, and what other substances may be involved. The medical examiner said that he did not watch the harrowing video of the arrest before examining Floyd so that he would not be unduly influenced by what he saw. “I did not want to bias my exam by going in with any preconceived notions that might lead me down one pathway or another,” he said. Other medical experts called as prosecution witnesses have likewise blamed Floyd’s death on the way he was pinned down on the ground. Primary mechanism of death Dr. Lindsey Thomas, a forensic pathologist who retired in 2017 from the Hennepin County Medical Examiner’s Office and did not work on Floyd’s case, testified earlier Friday that she agreed with Baker’s findings, but appeared to go further, saying the “primary mechanism of death” was insufficient oxygen. She said she reached that conclusion mostly from video that showed Floyd struggling to breathe. During cross-examination, Nelson noted that Floyd’s bigger heart needed more blood and was working hard in a moment of stress and adrenaline, and that one of his arteries had a 90 per cent blockage. The defense attorney pressed Thomas by posing a hypothetical question. “Let’s assume you found Mr. Floyd dead in his residence. No police involvement, no drugs, right? The only thing you found would be these facts about his heart. What would you conclude to be the cause of death?” Nelson asked. “In that very narrow set of circumstances, I would probably conclude that the cause of death was his heart disease,” Thomas replied. In response to another hypothetical posed by Nelson, she agreed that she would certify Floyd’s death as a drug overdose if there were no other explanations. But during re-questioning, prosecutor Jerry Blackwell ridiculed the defense attorney’s hypotheticals. “Aren’t those questions a lot like asking, ‘Mrs. Lincoln, if we take John Wilkes Booth out of this ...’’’ Blackwell began, before Nelson objected. For the first time, a seat designated for Chauvin’s family was occupied Friday, by a woman. She wasn’t immediately identified. Chauvin’s marriage ended in divorce in the months after Floyd’s death. Also on Friday, Judge Peter Cahill called in a juror and questioned her about whether she had been subject to any outside influences. She replied that she briefly saw TV coverage with the sound off and said that her mother-in-law had texted her, “Looks like it was a bad day’’ but that she didn’t reply. The judge allowed her to remain on the jury.

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West Bengal elections 2021: Four killed as security forces open fire on armed mob in Cooch Behar’s Seetalkuchi

India|: Kolkata: What was being feared as a distinct possibility -- and the portends of which were clearly evident all through campaigning and the three phases of polling conducted so far in these assembly elections in West Bengal -- came through in the most ugly and unfortunate terms possible on Saturday morning as five people lost their lives in electoral violence as the state entered the fourth phase of electioneering. Until the time of writing this report, there were reports of one person being killed in violence at a polling booth in Cooch Behar district, while four others lost their lives when the Central Forces opened fire on an unruly mob at polling booth No 126 at Jor Patki in the Seetalkuchi constituency of the same district on Saturday morning. Two days ago, Dilip Ghosh, the president of the state unit of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), was attacked in Seetalkuchi after he was returning from an election rally. Both Ghosh and his chauffeur sustained injuries while Ghosh’s car was severely damaged. AT one point, Ghosh was seen seated on the front seat with a helmet on. While Prime Minister Narendra Modi condoled the deaths in his address at an election rally elsewhere in the state on Saturday, West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee attacked Federal Home Minister Amit Shah, saying that the home minister “was influencing the Central Forces”. Mamata said: “We have to take revenge and the revenge is to vote them out.” Exhorting the masses Addressing an election rally in Siliguri on Saturday, Modi, taking a jibe at Mamata, said: “Even after ten years in power, a chief minister is threatening to barrack the Central Forces personnel and exhorting the masses to turn against them in order to win an election!” Mamata had, in recent times, made several comments about what she alleged as a “partisan” role of the Central Forces in these elections. On one occasion, she urged voters to “gherao” the personnel and hand them over to the police for any breach of decorum, while on another occasion, she appealed to the women primarily in rural areas to step out of their houses with kitchen tools and stop the “atrocities” by Central Forces. There were reports of attacks by Trinamool Congress (TMC) workers and supporters on Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) candidate Indranil Khan in the Kasba constituency in South Kolkata, while the vehicle of another BJP candidate, Locket Chatterjee, in the Chinsurah constituency outside Kolkata was vandalised. Fourth phase Reports of clashes between BJP and TMC supporters have poured in from various other parts of the state since early Saturday morning. In the fourth phase of elections on Saturday, polling was being conducted in 44 constituencies in the districts of Cooch Behar, Alipurduar, Howrah and South 24 Parganas. The day’s most serious incident of violence took place in Booth No 126 of the Seetalkuchi constituency of Cooch Behar, where personnel from Central Industrial Security Forces (CISF) opened fire on a mob that turned violent outside the booth. Sources told Gulf News in Kolkata that according to a report filed with the Election Comission of India by Vivek Dubey, the Special Police Observer for the district, there were attacks on the Central Forces personnel first inside the booth. A polling agent was severely beaten up inside Booth No 126. When the CISF personnel intervened and tried to disperse the attackers, a much larger, armed mob gathered outside the booth and attacked the men in uniform. Initially, the CISF personnel tried to control them without applying force, but they had to resort to firing when some from the mob tried to snatch the weapons from some of the CISF personnel on duty, resulting in the deaths of four people. Election Commission of India has adjourned polling at Booth No 126 in the Seetalkuchi constituency of Cooch Behar after the deaths of four people in firing by security forces.’

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Mumbai in lockdown as Indian vaccines run short

India|: Mumbai: India’s most coronavirus-hit state Maharashtra went into a weekend lockdown on Saturday as the country battles exploding infection numbers and vaccine shortages. Having let its guard down with mass religious festivals, political rallies and spectators at cricket matches, the world’s second most populous nation has added more than a million new infections since late March. After a lockdown a year ago caused widespread misery and hit the economy for six, the central government is desperate to avoid a hugely unpopular second shutdown. But many states are tightening the screw, in particular the epicentre Maharashtra and its capital Mumbai, where restaurants are shut and public gatherings of more than five people are banned. Every weekend from Saturday until the end of April the state’s 125 million people are confined to their homes unless shopping for food, medicine or travelling. “I’m not for the lockdown at all but I don’t think the government has any other choice,” media professional Neha Tyagi, 27, told AFP in Mumbai. “This lockdown could have been totally avoided if people would take the virus seriously.” Cricket is now played behind closed doors - including the big-bucks Indian Premier League, which began Friday - and in many states including in the capital New Delhi a night curfew is in force. All eight teams in the IPL, which includes the sport’s top international stars, are in strict bio-bubbles and four players have so far tested positive. Raipur district, home to the capital of Chhattisgarh state, is under a 10-day lockdown with no one allowed to enter the area unless performing essential services. Short on stocks India’s drive to vaccinate its 1.3 billion people also looks to be hitting problems, with just 94 million shots provided so far and stocks running low. In megacity Mumbai, 25 out of 71 private hospitals administering jabs ran out of supplies Thursday, city authorities said. The situation at government-run inoculation centres was not much better, with a giant 1,000-bed field hospital turning away people arriving for their first dose on Friday morning. City authorities tweeted that the shortage was “due to non-receipt of stocks” from the national government. The Times of India reported Friday that states on average had just over five days of stock left, according to health ministry data, with some regions already grappling with severe shortages. But the central government has accused some states - run by opposition parties - of “distract(ing) attention from their failures” and playing politics. “It is not right to say that there is a vaccine shortage. Vaccines have been made available to all states according to their needs,” Home Minister Amit Shah said on Friday. The CEO of the Serum Institute of India, the world’s biggest vaccine maker by volume, has warned that production capacity is “very stressed”. Poorer countries, as well as some rich nations, have relied heavily on Serum for supplies of the AstraZeneca vaccine, but last month New Delhi put the brakes on exports to prioritise domestic needs.

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Pakistan to introduce e-passports from June

Pakistan|: Islamabad: Pakistan is set to issue e-passports by June this year and a German company has been awarded the contract to facilitate the system. “This [e-passport] service would be available by June” federal minister for interior Sheikh Rasheed Ahmed said. He confirmed that a German company has been hired to introduce the electronic passport system in the country. Interior minister described it as a key development that would help eradicate all the hurdles in the current manual system and assist Pakistanis living abroad process online applications conveniently. Biometric documents will speed up the identification process, simplifying passport control and paving the way for automation of services. The new e-passports will have a biometric chip containing personal data such as photograph, fingerprints and other information. Moreover, the passport validity has also been increased to 10 years and its fee had also been reduced to half. Sheikh Rasheed said that the entire visa application process is now online and about 300,000 visas had been issued while only 12,000 visa applications were rejected during the last four months. Pakistan announced to process all visa applications through an online visa portal only from February 2021, phasing out the exhausting manual visa system. The e-visa facility is part of the government’s digital transformation efforts to simplify and streamline visa facilities and to encourage tourism and business visits to Pakistan. Contactless microprocessor The e-passport has a contactless microprocessor that stores the same information that is printed on the passport’s data page such as the holder’s name, date of birth, passport number, photograph as well as fingerprints, and signatures. The electronic passport adds a special layer of security to the traditional travel document and reduces the risk of fraud. More than 150 countries have rolled out e-passports by 2020, according to reports.

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Fierce West Bengal election tests Modi’s campaign to remake India

India|: Nandigram, India: The challenger arrived with police vehicles, a band of drummers and the backing of the country’s powerful prime minister. The crowd joined him in full-throated chants of glory to the Hindu deity Ram: “Jai Shree Ram!” He brought a warning: If Hindus did not unite around him, even their most basic religious practices would be in danger in the face of Muslim appeasement. In another part of town, the incumbent took the stage in a wheelchair, the result of what she said was a politically motivated assault. Although her injuries kept her from stalking the stage in her white sari and sandals as usual, she still regaled the audience with taunts for the opposition. And she had a warning of her own: Her defeat would be a victory for an ideology that has no place for minorities like Muslims. The monthlong election unfolding in the eastern Indian state of West Bengal is deeply personal. Mamata Banerjee, the state’s chief minister for the past decade, is facing off against her former protege of 20 years, Suvendu Adhikari. He and dozens of other local leaders have defected from her party and are now allied with Narendra Modi, India’s prime minister. But the heated vote could indicate something broader: whether anybody can stop Modi’s movement to reshape India’s secular republic into a Hindu-first nation. Growing beyond its base Modi’s campaign is growing beyond its base in northern India, bringing him national and state victories. His Bharatiya Janata Party has reduced the main opposition group, the Indian National Congress, to a shadow of its past glory, pushing the country toward becoming a one-party democracy. West Bengal represents a test of Modi’s Hindu nationalist reach. The state of 90 million people remains deeply proud of its Indigenous culture and tolerance of minorities. It is run by a strong regional leader with the heft and profile to challenge Modi directly. Nearly unstoppable Even if the BJP loses when results are announced May 2, a strong showing would help Modi signal that his party could be nearly unstoppable, said Vinay Sitapati, a professor of political science at Ashoka University who has chronicled the rise of the BJP. “They would have shown that the BJP is an all-India party, that our Hindu nationalism is capable of vernacular adaptation,” Sitapati said. “And that is a powerful symbol.” Modi has put his brand front and centre. He has travelled to West Bengal about a dozen times for packed rallies even as coronavirus cases rise. His face is all over the place, leading one BJP worker to joke that he seems to be running for chief minister. Modi and his lieutenants paint Banerjee as someone who has appeased Muslims, who make up about one-quarter of the state’s population, at the expense of the Hindu majority. If she is reelected, they say, she will turn West Bengal into another Bangladesh or Pakistan, where Hindu minorities are increasingly persecuted. “If you don’t stamp on Lotus,” Adhikari said at a recent rally, referring to marking the logo of the BJP on local ballots, “how will we be able to even celebrate the birth of Lord Ram here?” Banerjee’s Trinamool Congress party has tried to frame the BJP as outsiders who do not understand her state’s rich culture and have come to sow division. Her campaign slogan: “Bengal chooses its own daughter.” Much of her campaign is built on her reputation as a tart-tongued political street fighter. Sympathisers with the local Communist Party once even beat her head with metal rods. She trounced the Communists in elections nevertheless. Politically motivated attack Last month, in the midst of a jostling crowd, a car door slammed on Banerjee’s leg. She declared the incident a politically motivated attack, a contention her opponents have questioned. Still, her party has made her cast a symbol of a leader putting her body on the line for her cause. Banerjee’s iron grip over state politics looms over the vote. The BJP is trying to ride anti-incumbent sentiment fueled by her party’s corruption scandals and the way its members have used extortion and violence to keep power. But Adhikari and many of the BJP’s local candidates for the state’s 294-seat local assembly were themselves, until recently, members of her party. After decades of heavy-handedness by the Communists and Banerjee, Modi’s party began actively expanding in West Bengal only after he became prime minister in 2014, though its infrastructure is still lacking. One joke in the state holds that Trinamool will win a third term even if the BJP prevails. Banerjee’s success could depend on convincing voters that her party’s bad apples now work for the BJP. The BJP’s dependence on Trinamool defectors has also led to a revolt among local Modi supporters who saw their presence as an insult to their years of work in the face of intimidation by the same people now chosen to represent them. One defector, an 89-year-old assembly member named Rabindranath Bhattacharya, said he had switched parties only because Banerjee did not nominate him to serve a fifth term. “I changed my party, but I am not changed,” Bhattacharya said in an interview at his house. Trinamool flags still hung from the trees and gate. His candidacy moved hundreds of BJP workers and supporters to pressure Bhattacharya to step aside. They went on a hunger strike, painted over party signs and ransacked the home of the local BJP chief. “We started here when no one dared speak as a BJP member,” said Gautam Modak, who has worked for the BJP in the district since 2003. “He got the party ticket three days after joining the BJP.” Adhikari has said he defected from Banerjee’s camp because she and her nephew and heir-apparent, Abhishek Banerjee, use other party leaders as “employees” without sharing power. Still, in recent rallies he has put greater emphasis on identity politics, ending with chants of “Jai Shree Ram!” Voting took place Saturday in the town of Nandigram, a lush agricultural area, and both candidates were there. At rallies, crowds energised by their moment of power over sometimes abusive politicians braved the heat to listen, cheer and support. Turnout totaled 88%.

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Stalled at first jab: Vaccine shortages hit poor countries

Africa|: London: As many as 60 countries, including some of the world’s poorest, might be stalled at the first shots of their coronavirus vaccinations because nearly all deliveries through the global program intended to help them are blocked until as late as June. COVAX, the global initiative to provide vaccines to countries lacking the clout to negotiate for scarce supplies on their own, has in the past week shipped more than 25,000 doses to low-income countries only twice on any given day. Deliveries have all but halted since Monday. During the past two weeks, according to data compiled daily by UNICEF, fewer than 2 million COVAX doses in total were cleared for shipment to 92 countries in the developing world - the same amount injected in Britain alone. On Friday, the head of the World Health Organization slammed the “shocking imbalance” in global COVID-19 vaccination. WHO Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreysus said that while one in four people in rich countries had received a vaccine, only one in 500 people in poorer countries had gotten a dose. Spiking worldwide The vaccine shortage stems mostly from India’s decision to stop exporting vaccines from its Serum Institute factory, which produces the overwhelming majority of the AstraZeneca doses that COVAX counted on to supply around a third of the global population at a time coronavirus is spiking worldwide. COVAX will only ship vaccines cleared by WHO, and countries are increasingly impatient. Supplies are dwindling in some of the first countries to receive COVAX shipments, and the expected delivery of second doses in the 12-week window currently recommended is now in doubt. In a statement, the vaccine alliance known as GAVI told The Associated Press that 60 countries are affected by the delays. In vaccination tents set up at Kenyatta National Hospital in Nairobi, many of those who arrived for their first jabs were uneasy about when the second would arrive. “My fear if I don’t get the second dose, my immune system is going to be weak, hence I might die,” said Oscar Odinga, a civil servant. Internal WHO documents obtained by the AP show the uncertainty about deliveries “is causing some countries to lose faith in the COVAX (effort).” That is prompting WHO to consider speeding up its endorsement of vaccines from China and Russia, which have not been authorized by any regulators in Europe or North America. The WHO documents show the U.N. agency is facing questions from COVAX participants about allotments in addition to “uncertainty about whether all those who were vaccinated in round 1 are guaranteed a second dose.” WHO declined to respond specifically to the issues raised in the internal materials but has previously said countries are “very keen” to get vaccines as soon as possible and insisted it hasn’t heard any complaints about the process. Concern over the link between the AstraZeneca shot and rare blood clots has also “created nervousness both around its safety and efficacy,” WHO noted. Among its proposed solutions is a decision to “expedite review of additional products” from China and Russia. WHO said last month it might be possible to greenlight the Chinese vaccines by the end of April. Some experts have noted that Sinopharm and Sinovac, two Chinese-made vaccines, lack published data, and there are reports of people needing a third dose to be protected. Good products “If there is something that we miss from not having thoroughly evaluated the risks of serious adverse events from these vaccines, that would undermine the confidence in all the good products that we’re using that we know are safe,” said Dora Curry, director of health equity and rights at CARE International. Other experts worried that delays could erode faith in governments that were particularly efficient in their vaccination programs and were counting on second doses soon. “In the absence of high vaccination coverage globally, we risk dragging out the pandemic for several more years,” said Lavanya Vasudevan, an assistant professor at Duke University’s Global Health Institute. “Every day that the virus is in circulation is an opportunity for it to mutate into a more deadly variant.” Earlier this month, the WHO appealed to rich countries to urgently share 10 million doses to meet the U.N. target of starting COVID-19 vaccinations in every country within the first 100 days of the year. So far, countries have pledged hundreds of millions of dollars to COVAX. But there are simply no doses to buy, and no country has agreed to immediately share what it has. Bilateral donations of doses tend to go along political lines, rather than to countries with the most infections, and they aren’t nearly enough to compensate for the goals that COVAX has set out. Think Global Health, a data site managed by the Council on Foreign Relations, identified 19 countries that have donated a total of 27.5 million doses to 102 nations as of Thursday. “You can make a strong argument that we’re better off making donations in crisis and getting the pandemic under control than vaccinating low-risk groups at home,” said Thomas Bollyky, director of the Global Health Program at the Council on Foreign Relations. Bollyky said COVAX was both a great disappointment and the only available option for most the world. According to the International Rescue Committee, COVID-19 cases and deaths last month surged in numerous crisis-hit countries: by 322% in Kenya, 379% in Yemen and 529% in northeast Syria. 100 countries On Thursday, the agencies behind COVAX - WHO, vaccines alliance GAVI and CEPI, a coalition for epidemic preparedness - celebrated their delivery of 38 million lifesaving vaccines to more than 100 countries. Brook Baker, a vaccines expert at Northeastern University, said the laudatory message was misplaced. “Celebrating doses sufficient for only 19 million people, or 0.25% of global population, is tone deaf,” he said, adding it was time for WHO and partners to be more honest with countries. “WHO and GAVI have repeatedly overpromised and underdelivered, so why should we believe that they will suddenly be able to ramp up production and deliveries in a couple of months?’” he said. Outside the vaccination tents in Nairobi on Thursday, Dr. Duncan Nyukuri, an infectious disease physician, tried to reassure people getting their first dose. “If you receive the first dose and you fail to receive the second dose, this does not mean that your body will be any weaker or you will be at an increased risk of getting any infection,” he said. “What it means is your body will have developed some immunity against the coronavirus infection. But this immunity is not as good as somebody who has received both doses.”

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COVID-19, Philip’s no-fuss attitude mean simpler funeral plan

Europe|: London: Prince Philip will be laid to rest with all the honors due a prince of the United Kingdom and a consort to Queen Elizabeth II. But the coronavirus pandemic means it will be a more low-key farewell than has marked many royal deaths. The pandemic has required changes to the well-prepared plans for Philip’s passing, code-named Operation Forth Bridge. “During the coronavirus pandemic, and in light of current government advice and social distancing guidelines, modified Funeral and ceremonial arrangements for His Royal Highness The Duke of Edinburgh are being considered by Her Majesty The Queen,” Buckingham Palace said in a statement. “Details will be confirmed in due course.” Flags on government buildings and royal residences were lowered to half-mast and British television networks canceled scheduled programs to allow for special coverage after Philip died Friday at 99. His death will be marked with 41-gun salutes at noon on Saturday at locations across the country, including the Tower of London and Edinburgh Castle, as well as in Gibraltar and on Royal Navy ships at sea. Online book of condolences But the palace and the British government urged people not to gather or lay flowers outside the royal residences to honour him. The palace instead invited well-wishers to sign a book of condolences - but only online, to avoid crowds and queues. Britain, which has Europe’s highest toll in the pandemic at over 127,000 dead, is still under some lockdown restrictions to combat the spread of COVID-19. When the Queen Mother Elizabeth - the last royal consort to pass on - died in 2002, her coffin lay in state at Parliament’s Westminster Hall, and thousands of people filed past to pay their last respects. Philip’s body will not lie in state, a function both of the pandemic and his own “no fuss” attitude. Nor will it be a state funeral, in keeping with his wishes. The College of Arms, the body that oversees ceremonial protocol, said Friday that the duke’s body will lie at rest in Windsor Castle, 40km west of London, where he spent his final weeks with the queen. His funeral will be held in St. George’s Chapel at the castle, the site of centuries of royal burials - and royal weddings, including the 2018 union of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle. “This is in line with custom and with His Royal Highness’s wishes,” the college said. 30 people or fewer Buckingham Palace will announce later when the funeral will be held and how many people will attend. Funerals are currently restricted to 30 people or fewer under England’s coronavirus rules, so it’s likely to be immediate family only. It’s thought that Harry will try to travel from his home in Montecito, California, to say goodbye to his grandfather but he could have to navigate Britain’s coronavirus rules. Travelers from the U.S. must produce a negative COVID-19 test before they get on the plane and must self-isolate for 10 days upon arrival, but that quarantine can end early if a test after five days comes back negative. His wife Meghan is quite pregnant with their second child and is not expected to make the trip. Some aspects of British life will pause until after the funeral, with run-of-the mill government visits and announcements suspended. Britain’s political parties on Friday paused campaigning for next month’s local and Scottish elections, as Prime Minister Boris Johnson led political tributes. Lawmakers will return a day early from their Easter break so they can pay tribute to Philip in the House of Commons on Monday.

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Sindh government announces Rs 40 million scholarship for public, private university students

Pakistan|: Karachi: The Sindh government has announced that Rs 40 million will be distributed among students of both public and private universities in the province in the current financial year. The announcement was made by Sindh Chief Minister Syed Murad Ali Shah while chairing a meeting of Sindh Higher Education Commission (HEC). The vice-chancellors of public universities in the province also attended the meeting. The students of public universities in the province enrolled in BS, MS, MPhil, and PhD programmes of the public universities will get this scholarship. The same facility will be for students of MS, MPhil, and PhD programmes of the private universities. The scholarship will be disbursed on need-cum-merit basis by theSindh HEC. The Sindh CM on the occasion gave cheques of Rs 21 milllion to seven universities for establishing “Smart classrooms”. Each of these universities will get Rs 3 million for the purpose. Modern E-learning These universities include Shaikh Ayaz University, Shikarpur; Begum Nusrat Bhutto Women University, Sukkur; Benazir Bhutto Shaheed University of Technology and Skill Development, Khairpur; Government College University, Hyderabad; and Shaheed Allah Buksh Soomro Arts and Design University, Jamshoro. Sindh HEC Chairman, Dr Asim Hussain, informed the CM that a programme had been launched to provide funds to all the public universities in the province to establish smart classrooms. He said the smart classrooms would ensure provision of higher education through the modern concept of E-learning. The CM emphasised that the concept of the smart classrooms should be implemented at the earliest in all the universities in view of the modern-day requirements of higher education. The CM also gave cheques of Rs 25 million to five universities in the rural districts of the province to establish Information Technology labs. Each university will get Rs 5 million for the purpose on the recommendation of the provincial HEC.