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GulfNews World

Sindh government to purchase 250 hybrid electric passenger buses for 6 districts

Pakistan|: Karachi: The Sindh government has decided to purchase 250 diesel hybrid electric buses for public transportation needs of residents of six districts of the province. The recently held meeting of the Sindh cabinet with Chief Minister Syed Murad Ali Shah in chair approved the plan of purchasing the buses under the Sindh Intra-District Peoples’ Bus Service Project. The project will initially be implemented in the cities of Karachi, Hyderabad, Sukkur, Larkana, Mirpurkhas, and Shaheed Benazirabad. The project will cost around Rs 8 billion. The Sindh government has already released half amount of the project’s cost. While chairing the cabinet meeting, the CM termed it a good development for the residents of the six districts. He assured the Sindh government’s Transport Department that the required funds would be provided to it to complete the project at the earliest. A senior official of the Sindh Transport and Mass Transit Department told Gulf News that the process of international competitive bidding would be involved in purchasing the buses. He said the process would take some months to fulfill the due formalities of the process. He hoped that the project would become operational in the current year. The official said the government after purchasing the buses would hand over them to the private sector to operate them. Fleet increased Just recently 10 electric passenger buses start operating in Karachi from Sohrab Goth till Native Jetty Bridge. This is the first time anywhere in Pakistan that a project of electric buses have been implemented. Sindh Transport Minister Syed Awais Qadir Shah that the fleet of the electric buses would be increased in Karachi gradually every month. He said the government would also complete the modern mass transit system in Karachi in the form of Bus Rapid Transit Service. He said the Sindh government had been doing its best to facilitate the prospective investors to resolve the mass transportation problems of Karachi.

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US set to slap new sanctions on Russia

Americas|: Washington: The United States will announce sanctions on Russia as soon as Thursday for alleged election interference and malicious cyber activity, targeting several individuals and entities, people familiar the matter said. The sanctions, in which 30 entities are expected to be blacklisted, will be tied with orders expelling about 10 Russian officials from the United States, one of the people said. The United States is also expected to announce aggressive new measures targeting the country’s sovereign debt through restrictions on U.S. financial institutions’ ability to trade such debt, according to another source. The White House, the US State Department and the US Treasury Department did not immediately respond to requests for comment. The action will add a new chill to the already frosty relations between Washington and Moscow, which has tested the West’s patience with a military build-up near Ukraine. The wide-ranging sanctions would come partly in response to a cybersecurity breach affecting software made by SolarWinds Corp that the U.S. government has said was likely orchestrated by Russia. The breach gave hackers access to thousands of companies and government offices that used the company’s products. Microsoft President Brad Smith described the attack, which was identified in December, as “the largest and most sophisticated attack the world has ever seen.” The United States also intends to punish Moscow for alleged interference in the 2020 US presidential election. In a report last month, US intelligence agencies said Russian President Vladimir Putin likely directed efforts to try to swing the election to then-President Donald Trump and away from now-President Joe Biden. Biden has also vowed to take action on reports that Russia offered bounties to Taliban militants to kill US troops in Afghanistan. The expected moves by the Biden administration are likely to exacerbate tensions in a relationship that slumped to a new post-Cold War low last month after Biden said he thought Putin was a “killer.” In a call on Tuesday, Biden told Putin that the United States would act “firmly” to defend its interests in response to those actions, according to US officials’ account of the call. Biden also proposed a meeting with Putin “in a third country” that could allow the leaders to find areas to work together. In the past few weeks, Washington and its NATO allies have been alarmed by a large build-up of Russian troops near Ukraine and in Crimea, the peninsula that Moscow annexed from Ukraine in 2014. “The hostility and unpredictability of America’s actions force us in general to be prepared for the worst scenarios,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters last week, anticipating the new sanctions.

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India's desert salt farmers feel the heat from climate change

India|: Little Rann of Kutch, India: Roshni Thakor left school to harvest salt from a sun-baked Indian desert, a backbreaking trade practised by her ancestors for centuries but now threatened by climate change. For eight months every year, farmers toil in scorching heat to pump out briny water from handmade wells in a sparse corner of western Gujarat state. A tonne of the resulting salt crystals fetches the meagre sum of 300 rupees ($4; Dh14.69), but unpredictable rainfall, rising temperatures and frequent dust storms have slashed yields, and made it harder for Thakor and her family. "It's getting hotter and hotter here. My eyes burn and I often feel dizzy and sick," the 20-year-old told AFP, as her mother prepared tea over a wooden stove. Erratic weather has brought mounting losses for her family, but her father Raju says they must keep trying to eke out a living from their four salt pans. "I have no choice but to keep working here as I don't own any agricultural land. I don't have any other source of income," he said. India is the world's third-biggest producer of salt and nearly three-quarters of its annual output comes from Gujarat. The Thakor family are among the tens of thousands of "Agariyas", or salt farmers, who spend most of the year living and working within the barren mudflats of the Thar Desert. They dig 50-foot wells with shovels and their bare hands before using diesel pumps to direct water into large rectangular basins, where it evaporates and leaves salt crystals behind. The work is both tedious and taxing. Farmers prepare the basins by stamping their bare feet to seal in the brine and stop it from seeping back into the earth, a process that leaves them vulnerable to painful foot infections. This picture taken on January 8, 2021 shows labourers working at a salt factory, in Kharaghoda village near the Little Rann of Kutch (LRK) region, some 120 km from Ahmedabad. Image Credit: AFP 'We have to start all over'  Heat plays an important part in the process, with 24 degrees Celsius (75 degrees Fahrenheit) the optimal temperature for the formation of salt crystals, Raju said. But climate change is making it harder to plan for the salt harvest and is delaying the onset of the farming season, in addition to bringing unbearable heatwaves to those working the desert lands. Deforestation and unplanned development have already transformed India's monsoon season, with a recent government report warning that climate change was making rains unpredictable and more intense. "Salt production needs dry weather - if it rains suddenly, all our effort goes down the drain," said Raju Thakor. "The salt dissolves and we have to start all over again." The same government report warned that India faced a 4.4-degree rise in average temperatures by the end of the century. Dhvanit Pandya, who runs a local salt farmer advocacy group, says the mercury has already risen by that much in the Thar Desert over the past decade, with daytime maximums now sometimes topping 54 degrees. Dust storms are also rising in frequency, muddying the salt pans and cutting sale prices "The traders slash the price by half if the salt is not of good quality," Pandya said. Pandya estimated that farmers were now losing a quarter of their harvest each year because of sharp changes in weather patterns, pushing many families towards poverty. 'We can barely make ends meet'  The Agariyas say their ancestors have farmed salt in the region for more than 500 years. Their homes in the Gujarati desert, far from the state's population centres, are not connected to the electricity grid. Fresh water in the desert is scarce, and the community's children spend most of the year out of school. A government initiative launched nearly a decade ago helped some salt farmers replace their diesel pumps with solar-powered motors to help lower their production costs. Pandya has credited the scheme with helping "slowly but surely" improve livelihoods. The desert community is tight-knit, communicating across distances outside of shouting range by using mirrors to flash reflected sunlight at faraway shacks. Most farmers there say they don't want to give up their trade, but acknowledge the work is becoming more difficult as the weather changes. Tejal Makwana told AFP she used to save nearly $700 from each farming season - more than enough to provide for her family for the rest of the year. "But now we can barely make ends meet," she added.

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Myanmar security forces fire on protesting medical workers, some hurt

Asia|: Yangon: Myanmar security forces opened fire on Thursday on a pro-democracy protest by medical workers in the city of Mandalay, causing some casualties, media said. Opponents of a Feb. 1 coup that ousted an elected government led by Nobel peace laureate Aung San Suu Kyi have kept up their campaign against the military this traditional New Year week with a series of actions and marches. Medical workers, some of whom have been at the forefront of the campaign against the coup, gathered in the second city of Mandalay early but troops soon arrived to disperse them, opening fire and detained some people, the Mizzima news agency said. The agency said it did not have details of casualties or arrests. The BBC’s Burmese-language service also reported the crackdown on the protest by medical workers. A spokesman for the junta could not be reached for comment. The coup has plunged Myanmar into crisis after 10 years of tentative steps toward democracy, with daily protests and campaigns of defiance, including strikes by workers in many sectors that have brought the economy to a standstill. Protests dwindling The five-day New Year holiday, known as Thingyan, began on Tuesday but pro-democracy activists cancelled the usual festivities to focus on their opposition to the generals who seized power. The military says the protests are dwindling. An activist group, the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, says the security forces have killed 715 protesters since the ousting of Suu Kyi’s government. The United Nations human rights office said on Tuesday it feared the military clampdown on the protests risked escalating into a civil conflict, such as that in Syria.

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COVID-19: Australian doctors urge government to rethink mass vaccination hubs

Oceania|: Sydney: Australian authorities should add more clinics to speed up the country’s struggling COVID-19 vaccine rollout, its main medical association said on Thursday, dismissing a government plan to create mass inoculation hubs as unworkable in the near term. Australian Medical Association (AMA) President Omar Khorshid said establishing mass centres would pose “huge logistical challenges”, including the difficulty of finding enough medical staff to manage the facilities. “You need to find a workforce from somewhere, and we are not aware of large numbers of registered nurses and doctors who are available to manage these centres,” Khorshid told ABC Radio. Prime Minister Scott Morrison said on Wednesday he would discuss with state and territory leaders setting up mass centres to vaccinate people above the age of 50 from as early as June. Morrison has been under pressure to put the country’s vaccination programme back on track after problems with the rollout, caused in part by patchy international vaccine supplies and changing medical advice, led to significant delays. Australia earlier this week abandoned a target to provide at least one vaccine dose to the near 26 million population by year-end after restricting the rollout of its favoured AstraZeneca vaccine to people under 50 over clotting concerns. Findings by Europe’s drug regulator of rare cases of blood clots among some recipients of the AstraZeneca vaccine were a major blow for Australia, which planned to produce 50 million doses locally after manufacture began at the end of last month. Australian officials overhauled the programme in response, doubling an earlier order of Pfizer vaccines to 40 million shots. Khorshid said it made sense to delay the creation of mass vaccination hubs until bulk deliveries of the Pfizer vaccine are due later in the year. Morrison, who has reinstated twice weekly meetings of the national cabinet tasked with tackling the pandemic after the country missed initial immunisation targets, said he would consider the AMA’s suggestions. About 1.36 million total doses have been administered as of Wednesday, far short of the 4 million pledged by end-March. Developed countries Still, Australia has fared much better than many other developed countries during the pandemic, with just over 29,400 COVID-19 cases and 910 deaths. Low case numbers have encouraged authorities to ease restrictions, helping put the economy on a faster recovery path. Australian unemployment dropped to a one-year low in March, data out on Thursday showed, with the number of people in work surpassing the pre-pandemic peak. A strong rebound in domestic travel, meanwhile, prompted Qantas Airways Ltd on Thursday to raise its forecast for the current quarter and it expects domestic travel to top pre-pandemic levels next financial year.

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Changing strategy, the EU bets big on Pfizer to battle COVID-19

Europe|: Brussels: Bruised by major disruptions in supplies of the AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson vaccines, the European Union on Wednesday announced it was putting trust and money into the Pfizer-BioNTech shot to salvage its vaccination rollout and secure doses for the future. The pivot away from AstraZeneca, once a pillar of the EU inoculation program, comes after months of discord over delayed shipments and as the company battles worries over rare potential side effects of its shots. In announcing the change in strategy, Ursula von der Leyen, president of the European Commission, said Pfizer had agreed to an early shipment of doses that she said should likely allow the bloc to reach its goal of inoculating 70% of adults by the end of the summer. That goal was in jeopardy after AstraZeneca failed to deliver on expected doses in the first quarter of the year, then suffered fresh setbacks over potential side effects related to blood clots. The European vaccine campaign was dealt a further blow Tuesday when Johnson & Johnson said it would delay its own rollout in Europe because of similar concerns and after regulators paused its use in the United States. There was no indication that the European Union was going to cancel existing orders for dozens of millions of doses from AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson, or that European health officials had changed their minds that the benefits of the shots outweighed any risks. But EU officials indicated that they would negotiate new deals only with companies that are producing COVID vaccines based on messenger RNA, or mRNA, like Pfizer and Moderna. New technologies “We need to focus now on technologies that have proven their worth: mRNA vaccines are a clear case in point,” von der Leyen said as she announced that the bloc had launched negotiations with Pfizer for 1.8 billion doses for 2022 and 2023. The Johnson & Johnson and AstraZeneca vaccines use a harmless virus to deliver a piece of genetic material from the virus that causes COVID-19, prompting an immune system response to it. The mRNA vaccines, based on a newer technology, also use a piece of genetic material from the coronavirus, but not an entire virus, to provoke the immune response. The European Union was criticised early on for its slow procurement of doses. And it has fallen further behind the United States and Britain as it suffered blow after blow in its inoculation campaign, first with major supply disruptions from AstraZeneca in late January, and then with the emergence of the potential rare blood disorder that has battered the public’s confidence in vaccines and led to appointment cancellations. “As we can see with the announcement by Johnson & Johnson yesterday, there are still many factors that can disrupt the planned delivery schedules of vaccines,” von der Leyen said Wednesday. Von der Leyen said the Pfizer doses under negotiation for the next two years would include potential booster shots to extend the immunity of people who have already been inoculated, as well as possible new shots or boosters targeting emerging variants that might prove resilient against existing vaccines. The AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson vaccines performed well in clinical trials, and the possible dangerous side effects have been rare. But trials of the Pfizer and Moderna shots showed that they were even more effective in preventing infection, and similar side effects have not emerged. Another mRNA vaccine, from CureVac, is in clinical trials. On Wednesday, the European Medicines Agency, the bloc’s top drug regulator, said it was expediting its investigation of “very rare cases of unusual blood clots” in recipients of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine and expected to issue a recommendation next week. While the evaluation is ongoing, the agency reiterated its view that the benefits of the vaccine outweigh the risks. In a setback for AstraZeneca, Denmark on Wednesday became the first country to permanently stop the administration of the company’s vaccine, saying the potential side effects were significant enough to do so given that it had the pandemic under control and could rely on the Pfizer and Moderna inoculations. Fresh commitment With the fresh commitment by Pfizer to bring forward the delivery of 50 million doses originally slated for the end of the year, the company expects to deliver 250 million doses in total to the bloc by the end of June. Von der Leyen said more than 100 million people in the European Union had already received at least one vaccine dose, and 27 million had received both. The additional Pfizer vaccines, together with 35 million doses expected from Moderna over the next three months, and a more limited use of AstraZeneca doses already in the pipeline, should likely be enough to get the bloc to the coveted milestone of reaching 255 million people by September, EU officials said.

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US seeks to polish tarnished reputation with new climate change pledges ahead of Earth Day

Americas|: Washington: The United States hopes to restore its shattered credibility when it hosts a climate change summit next week by pledging to cut its greenhouse emissions by at least half and securing agreements from allies for faster reductions, according to two sources familiar with the matter. A 50% reduction from 2005 levels by 2030 is a minimum level urged by environmental groups, hundreds of corporations and European Union lawmakers. It would be the first upgrade of the U.S. climate target since 2015, when former President Barack Obama pledged a 26%-28% reduction by 2025. Washington was also close to clinching deals with the governments of Japan, South Korea and Canada to accelerate their targets to decarbonize, the two sources said. It was not immediately clear if those nations would make announcements at the event, and representatives of those countries have not commented on the discussions. The stakes for the meeting are high. Leaders from roughly 40 countries including China, India, Brazil and Russia have been invited, with hopes they will double down on past pledges to reduce climate warming emissions. So far, international pledges to decarbonize would shave only 1% off global emissions by 2030 compared with 2010 levels, a fraction of what scientists say is needed to avert the worst impacts of climate change. The virtual summit on April 22-23, kicking off on Earth Day, will be an opportunity for Democratic President Joe Biden to reclaim U.S. leadership in global climate efforts, after four years during which his predecessor, Republican Donald Trump, downplayed the issue to support the oil and coal industries. Globe-hopping tour Biden’s climate envoy, John Kerry, has spent the last few months on countless Zoom appearances and on a globe-hopping tour, concluding this week in China and South Korea, to persuade countries to use next week’s summit to hike their commitments to protect the planet. The Biden administration has been laying the groundwork for its new target, unveiling a $2 trillion infrastructure package to expand clean energy and transport. The European Union last year agreed to reduce its net emissions at least 55% by 2030 from 1990 levels - currently the most ambitious among big emitters. “If we are to fight climate change, there’s no way around getting the biggest emitters to take leadership. All of them,” Denmark’s climate minister Dan Jorgensen told Reuters. Next week’s U.S. summit is the first in a string of meetings of world leaders - including the G7 and G20 - ahead of the United Nations climate summit in November, known as COP26. That serves as the deadline for nearly 200 countries to update their climate pledges under the Paris Agreement, an international accord set in 2015 to combat global warming. But as global powers tussle over percentage points, in countries already facing the impacts of a warming world, patience is wearing thin. Developing countries “ many of which are vulnerable to rising seas, heatwaves and rainfall made more severe by climate change “ are expected to offer their own goals at the summit, said Pablo Vieira, director of the NDC Partnership, which has been helping developing nations craft their climate targets. They will also repeat their demand that rich nations offer more money to help them cut emissions and adapt to the impacts it is already unleashing in countries like Bangladesh, South Sudan and the Marshall Islands. U.S. talks with Japan, South Korea and Canada have focused on trying to get each country to commit to cut emissions at least 50% by 2030, according to the two sources familiar with the U.S. negotiations. Japan and South Korea both rely on coal for power generation and winding that dependence down and their finance of coal plants abroad could yield significant emissions cuts in the next 10 years, the sources said. Canada may have a tougher challenge. Large oil industry “We dont have quite that luxury here because coal is a much smaller part of our grid,” Canada’s Environment Minister Jonathan Wilkinson said. But he added: “We are working to stretch as far as we can. Canada, which has a large oil industry, currently has a target to cut emissions 30% below 2005 levels by 2030. Other major emitters appear less keen to take the plunge, including India, China, Brazil and Russia. India, the third-largest emitting country behind China and the United States, is resisting because it expects more developed nations to take on the bulk of global reductions. What we are suffering today is caused a 100 years ago, said Prakash Javadekar, Indias Minister of Environment, Forest & Climate Change, pointing to emissions from the United States and Europe. Historical responsibility is a very important aspect. We cannot just forget it. Chinas special climate envoy, Xie Zhenhua, was meeting with Kerry in Shanghai this week to discuss climate change, the foreign ministry said. China promised last year that its greenhouse gas output would peak by 2030, a target environmental groups say is insufficient. U.S. and Brazilian officials, meanwhile, have been working since February on a billion-dollar deal to fund Brazil’s protection of the Amazon rainforest, but diplomatic sources said a deal is unlikely by April 22. Russia, another big emitter, has not yet confirmed if President Vladimir Putin will participate in the summit. With Moscow’s ties with the West at a post-Cold War low, the U.S. summit has generated little buzz in Russia.

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Biden to begin US Afghanistan exit on May 1

Americas|: Washington:  President Joe Biden said on Wednesday he will begin withdrawing US troops from Afghanistan on May 1 to end America's longest war, rejecting calls for US forces to stay to ensure a peaceful resolution to that nation's grinding internal conflict. In a White House speech, Biden acknowledged that US objectives in Afghanistan had become "increasingly unclear" over the past decade. He set a deadline for withdrawing all 2,500 .. troops remaining in Afghanistan by Sept. 11, exactly 20 years after Al Qaeda's attacks on the United States that triggered the war. But by pulling out without a clear victory, the United States opens itself to criticism that a withdrawal represents a de facto admission of failure for American military strategy. "It was never meant to be a multi-generational undertaking. We were attacked. We went to war with clear goals. We achieved those objectives," Biden said, noting that Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden was killed by American forces in 2011 and saying that organisation has been "degraded" in Afghanistan. "And it's time to end the forever war," Biden added. The war has cost the lives of 2,448 American service members and consumed an estimated $2 trillion (Dh7.36 trillion). US troop numbers in Afghanistan peaked at more than 100,000 in 2011. The Democratic president had faced a May 1 withdrawal deadline, set by his Republican predecessor Donald Trump, who tried but failed to pull the troops out before leaving office in January. Instead, Biden said the final withdrawal would start on May 1 and end by Sept. 11. "I am now the fourth American president to preside over an American troop presence in Afghanistan. Two Republicans. Two Democrats," Biden said. "I will not pass this responsibility on to a fifth." Meeting NATO officials in Brussels, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said foreign troops under NATO command in Afghanistan will leave in coordination with the U.S. withdrawal by Sept. 11, after Germany said it would match American plans. Blinken also spoke by phone with Pakistan's army chief on Wednesday and discussed the peace process, the media wing of Pakistan's military said. Afghan President Ashraf Ghani wrote on Twitter that he spoke with Biden and respects the US decision. Ghani added that "we will work with our US partners to ensure a smooth transition" and "we will continue to work with our US/NATO partners in the ongoing peace efforts." A summit is planned about Afghanistan starting on April 24 in Istanbul that is due to include the United Nations and Qatar. The Taliban, ousted from power in 2001 by US-led forces, said it would not take part in any meetings involving decisions about Afghanistan until all foreign forces have left. Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid on Wednesday called on the United States to adhere to the deal the group reached with Trump's administration. "If the agreement is committed to, the remaining problems will also be solved," Mujahid wrote on Twitter. "If the agreement is not committed to ... the problems will certainly increase." Biden rejected the idea that US troops could provide the leverage needed for peace, saying: "We gave that argument a decade. It has never proven effective." "American troops shouldn't be used as a bargaining chip between warring parties in other countries," Biden said. Biden also said the threat of terrorism was not limited to a single country and that leaving American forces in one foreign land at great financial cost does not make sense. The president made the decision personal, invoking the memory of his late son who served in Iraq and showing a card he carried with the number of U.S. troops killed and wounded in Afghanistan. Visiting Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia, Biden later said the decision to withdraw was not hard. "To me, it was absolutely clear," Biden said. In Afghanistan's capital of Kabul, officials said they would carry on with peace talks and their forces defending the country. "Now that there is an announcement on foreign troops withdrawal within several months, we need to find a way to coexist," said Abdullah Abdullah, a top peace official and former presidential candidate. "We believe that there is no winner in Afghan conflicts and we hope the Taliban realize that too." U.S. officials can claim to have decimated al Qaeda's core leadership in the region years ago, including killing bin Laden in neighboring Pakistan in 2011. But ties between the Taliban and al Qaeda elements persist and peace and security remain elusive. Successive US presidents sought to extricate themselves from Afghanistan, but those hopes were confounded by concerns about Afghan security forces, endemic corruption in Afghanistan and the resiliency of a Taliban insurgency that enjoyed safe haven across the border in Pakistan. Biden addressed critics who argue that the time is not right to leave Afghanistan. "So when will it be the right moment to leave?" he asked. "One more year? Two more years? Ten more years? ... Not now? That's how we got here."

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US: Fatal police shooting at hospital caught on officer bodycams

Americas|: Columbus, Ohio: Officers conducting a routine pat-down of a man in a hospital emergency room found a gun in his waistband, spurring a struggle over the weapon and a standoff that ended in officers killing him, according to police body camera footage released Wednesday. Officers had been searching Miles Jackson, a Black man, at the hospital Monday in preparation for a custody exchange over warrants he had out for his arrest. Jackson began to struggle with the two officers after one of them felt the gun, video showed. One of the officers used a stun gun on Jackson after they fell to the floor, while the other attempted to pull Jackson's hands away from his waistband. A shot can then be heard in the video, apparently from the gun in Jackson's waistband. The officer who stunned Jackson took cover outside of the room. The other officer appeared to return fire at Jackson once before taking cover behind a hospital bed, video showed. Officers shouted for minutes at Jackson, 27, to raise his hands and put them on his head. An officer eventually used a stun gun for a second time on Jackson, who was on his side on the hospital room floor. Another shot can be heard in the video before officers opened fire. Jackson died in the shooting at Mount Carmel St. Ann's Hospital in suburban Columbus. The races of all the officers have not been confirmed, although several appeared to be white. A message was left with police requesting that information. Jackson had apparently been brought to the hospital earlier that day, walked away, and then was found passed out in a nearby bank parking lot. Officers from suburban Westerville responded to that call and followed medics who were taking Jackson back to the hospital, according to police accounts and 911 calls released Wednesday. Before Jackson was taken back to the hospital, a Westerville officer patted him down briefly, according to footage from the officer's bodycam video. “I'm just going to pat you down real quick, make sure you ain't got nothing on you, right, no weapons, nothing like that?'' the officer said. Jackson repeatedly asked for a cigarette, saying he had anxiety. Columbus police were called to the hospital because Jackson had outstanding warrants in the city. Once Jackson was in a room in the hospital's emergency room, an officer briefly handcuffed his left hand to the hospital bed. A few minutes later, an officer removed the handcuff and began collecting Jackson's property. “You don't have nothing sharp in your pockets, do you?" the officer asked. "Hopefully somebody would have caught that earlier.'' About a minute later, a bullet dropped from Jackson's pants. “Uh oh. Got a little bullet action,'' the officer said calmly as he picked it up. "Don't see people carrying those around every day." Within the next minute, the officer told his fellow officer to get Jackson's arm around him. “He's got a gun,'' the officer said. Over about three minutes, officers outside the room shouted dozens of commands at Jackson, lying on the floor, to put his right hand over his head with his left hand. One Columbus officer was still in the room, behind the bed, with his gun pointed in Jackson's direction, video showed. “I'm just scared, guys,'' Jackson said at one point. Later, he said, “So if I move y'all not going to shoot me. They're not going to shoot me?'' He also told officers he wasn't going to do anything and that he was leaning on his right hand. A police officer instructed Jackson again to raise his right hand. “Slowly put your right hand up in the air. Slowly,'' she said. When Jackson said he was putting the gun down, the officer replied, “Do not touch the gun. Let go of the gun and put both of your hands up over your head.'' The second use of the stun gun, the shot and then the police shooting erupted within seconds after her orders, the video showed. On Wednesday, Westerville's police chief placed the two officers who initially came into contact with Jackson on administrative leave. He told residents “that if policy violations are found, there will be an appropriate level of accountability.'' `”It is not customary to publicly report on personnel matters, but we are committed to transparency and fully understand the attention to this incident,'' Chief Charles Chandler said in a statement. ``I have viewed the body camera footage from the initial contact with Miles Jackson and have concerns that warrant further review.'' Westerville officers Eric Everhart and David Lammert, who are both white, will be on leave while an internal investigation into the shooting is conducted, the department said. But the department's probe cannot overlap or interfere with the independent investigation Attorney General Dave Yost is conducting, Charles said, so it will be on hold until that is completed. Columbus police identified the officers in the shooting as Andrew Howe and Ryan Krichbaum, both 15 year veterans of the agency. Emergency room staff tried to revive Jackson. He was pronounced dead at the hospital, authorities said. No officers, hospital staff or physicians were injured, officials said. Franklin County Municipal Court issued an arrest warrant for Jackson on March 17 after he failed to appear for his hearing. He was arrested and charged with assault, domestic violence, falsification and resisting arrest Feb. 20. Late Tuesday night, Columbus police in Ohio's capital city used pepper spray on a small group of people who briefly breached outer doors at the agency's downtown headquarters, following a largely peaceful protest downtown earlier in the evening where dozens marched after Jackson's shooting. Demonstrators gathered again Wednesday night in what appeared to be a peaceful protest. Columbus Mayor Andrew Ginther backed the protesters' cause but denounced the attempt by a few to enter police headquarters.

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US: Soldier charged after video of confrontation with Black man

Americas|: Columbia, South Carolina: A white Army non-commissioned officer depicted in a viral video accosting and shoving a Black man in a South Carolina neighborhood has been charged with third-degree assault. Jonathan Pentland, 42, was charged Wednesday and listed as detained in the Richland County jail and issued a personal recognisance bond, according to online jail records, which did not show him as having an attorney. The video, posted Monday by a woman on Facebook and shared thousands of times, shows a man, identified as Pentland, demanding that a Black man leave the neighborhood before threatening him with physical violence. “You're in the wrong neighborhood,'' Pentland, standing on the sidewalk, can be heard saying to the other man before using an expletive. “I ain't playing with you. ... I'm about to show you what I can do.'' According to Shirell Johnson, who posted the video, the incident happened in a subdivision of The Summit, which has a Columbia address but is technically outside the city's limits. The video does not show what started the conflict. Johnson did not immediately respond to a message from The Associated Press seeking further details. The recording begins with Pentland, a US Army sergeant first class, asking the Black man what he's doing in the area. The Black man says he was simply walking and not bothering anyone. Throughout the three-minute video, Pentland continuously demands that the other man leave the neighborhood, getting in his face and, at one point, pushing the man, who almost falls to the ground. “Let's go, walk away," he said. “I'm about to do something to you. You better start walking right now.'' At the end of the video, a woman who Pentland identifies as his wife can be heard telling the other man that he had picked a fight with “some random young lady'' in the neighborhood, a claim the Black man then denies. Johnson said authorities arrived at the scene and only gave Pentland a citation for malicious injury to property for slapping the man's phone out of his hand and cracking it. Officials at Fort Jackson, the US Army's largest basic training facility, said Wednesday they were looking into the incident. On one of its Twitter accounts, base officials also said that U.S. Department of Justice authorities were investigating as well. According to social media accounts connected to Pentland, he has been stationed at Fort Jackson since 2019 and has worked as a drill sergeant at the garrison, a 53,000-acre complex that trains 50 per cent of all soldiers and 60 per cent of women who enter the Army each year. Asked on Twitter for his response to the video, Fort Jackson Commanding Brig. Gen. Milford H. Beagle Jr. said the behavior displayed in the video “is by no means condoned by any service member.'' “We will get to the bottom of this ASAP,'' he said. On his official Facebook page, Beagle said Army officials “have begun our own investigation and are working with the local authorities.'' Earlier this year, the Department of Defense announced that Beagle would take over as commanding general at Fort Drum, New York, to be succeeded at Fort Jackson by Brig. Gen. Patrick R. Michaelis. An official transfer date has not been announced. Commenters on the video said they had reached out to the Richland County Sheriff's Department asking for additional charges to be filed. In a release issued early Wednesday, a department spokeswoman said deputies had been dispatched to the neighbourhood for “an assault" call involving one of the men several days before the date of the video, and that all of the matters were under investigation. During an afternoon news conference, Sheriff Leon Lott said the other man in the video was not a juvenile but declined to release his name. Lott said that man had been involved in other incidents in the neighbourhood in the days leading up to the video but said that “none of them justified the assault that occurred." ``The first time I saw the video, it was terrible. It was unnecessary,'' Lott said, noting he had met with community leaders and elected officials before speaking with reporters. Lott said his investigators had turned their case over to prosecutors, who determined what charge to levy against Pentland. Pentland did not immediately respond to an email message seeking comment. If convicted, he faces up to 30 days in jail and a $500 fine. State Sen. Mia McLeod, who represents the area, said Wednesday on the Senate floor that she had spent much of the previous day in discussions about the incident and planned to meet with the sheriff later in the day. “My sons have a freaking right to live,'' said McLeod, who is Black. “Another unarmed Black man could be dead today because he was walking in a neighborhood that, I am told, is adjacent to his, doing absolutely nothing."

GulfNews World

Crunch time: Indian snack spins feminist success story

India|: Mumbai: The fairytale success of Lijjat Papad - a multi-million-dollar venture founded by seven women in a crowded Mumbai tenement in 1959 with seed capital of 80 rupees ($1.10;Dh3.90) - belies its revolutionary feminist aspirations. The cooperative employs 45,000 women across India, offering them a job for life as "co-owners" of the enterprise, whose wafer-thin snacks - known locally as papads and as papadums in the West - have become a byword for good business and female empowerment in a patriarchal country. Life at Lijjat's 82 branches begins early, with women lining up before dawn to drop off finished products, pick up freshly prepared lentil dough, and head home. That's when the work shifts into high gear, as they deftly stretch and roll out the dough - flecked with cumin seeds and black pepper - into small flat rounds that are then left to dry. The job relies on skill but doesn't require formal education, opening up opportunities for multitudes of Indian women to become financially independent. That is a huge accomplishment in a country where female workforce participation - never high to begin with - has been declining for years, plunging from 34 to 20 per cent in the two decades to 2019, according to the International Labour Organization. As a young bride aged 24, Darshana Pundalik Parab fretted about managing household expenses with her husband's meagre salary, realising that her employment prospects as a school dropout were dire. Then she heard about Lijjat. Not only did the cooperative have a job for her, it allowed thousands of housewives like her to work from home, no questions asked. In the 35 years that followed, Parab was able to keep earning while raising three boys. "It was difficult when the kids were small, to watch over them and do the job," said Parab, recounting the early years when she kept one eye on her sons, and the other on the papads. The extra cash was welcome, she told AFP, relaying her pride in being able to pay her children's school fees and teach them crucial life lessons. "My sons know that there is no such thing as women's work," she said, adding that her youngest, 27, still chips in to help prepare the crunchy snacks. Humble beginnings Lijjat's commitment to women's empowerment reflects its inconspicuous beginnings, when seven housewives gathered on a Mumbai rooftop one sunny morning to prepare four packets of papads. They ran the business on a shoestring budget, with annual sales in 1959 amounting to just over 6,000 rupees, a fraction of their current revenue. Every woman is paid according to her production capacity and role in the organisation, with Parab earning around 12,000 rupees a month on average. Men are only hired as shop assistants, drivers or errand boys. "Some of our women earn more than their husbands - and their families respect them for it," said Lijjat president Swati Ravindra Paradkar. Paradkar was just 10 years old when her father died at 37, leaving the family's finances in precarious shape. Every morning before school, she would help her mother - who was part of the cooperative - make papads. "I found it very hard... especially during vacations, when my friends would all be out playing and I would have to work," Paradkar, now 61, told AFP. She persevered, eventually joining the cooperative full-time and becoming its president, thanks to a policy that sets Lijjat apart from other businesses. "We believe that only someone who can roll out papads can become president," she said. Bollywood calling Although the coronavirus pandemic slashed sales by nearly a fifth according to early estimates, Paradkar said there had been no layoffs, with staff even receiving modest salary hikes. The cooperative has expanded into other categories, including chapatis and laundry detergent, but the papad remains its flagship product, sold across India and in foreign markets from Singapore to the United States. The inexpensive snack - a 100-gram (3.5-ounce) packet costs 31 rupees - is even making the leap to the silver screen, with Lijjat's story now the subject of a Bollywood film under production. "People will be able to learn something from it," said Usha Juvekar, who has been part of the cooperative for 15 years. "If everyone in this country cared as much about women as Lijjat does, we would make so much more progress," she told AFP.

GulfNews World

Japan ambassador visits historical site in Pakistan dating back to Alexander’s time

Pakistan|: Islamabad: The Japanese Ambassador to Pakistan Matsuda Kuninori visited the Buddhist historical site in the suburbs of the federal capital, Shah Allah Ditta Caves, in a boost to tourism. 2,400-year old Buddhist era relic The caves of Shah Allah Ditta in the Margalla Hills are internationally known Buddhist caves, preserving around 2,400-year old Buddhist era murals. The ambassador, who was accompanied by his wife and staff of the embassy, admired the grandeur of the ancient caves which date back to the times when the young Buddhists travelled long distances to reach this region which spanned from the Margalla Hills to Taxila, Swat and beyond. The Buddhist monks spent time here in meditation and taught their disciples the message of Buddha. Former Deputy Mayor of Islamabad and a representative of the Shah Allah Ditta community, Syed Zeshan Naqvi, received the ambassador and briefed him about the caves that date back to the times of Alexander the Great. He said the ancient caves had various engravings of Buddha on its walls that are a treasure of information and have great historical significance. Huge potential for tourism While appreciating the site as a potential tourist point, the Japanese ambassador said the site had a huge tourism potential and showcased to the outer world the footprints of the Buddhist civilisation. The ambassador also spent a few moments in meditation under the old Banyan tree at the site. Naqvi, while briefing the Japanese envoy and his wife, highlighted the issues the local government of Islamabad (that completed its term earlier in February this year) faced in preserving the place. Construction work threatening these caves This historic relic of the past is threatened by construction work in the adjacent areas and because of the lack of infrastructure and support by the international community, he said. Ambassador Matsuda Kuninori said Pakistan was a safe country and the way Prime Minister Imran Khan’s government had combatted coronavirus by imposing smart lockdown was commendable. Japan, he said, had already eased travel restrictions on Pakistan. Preservation of Taxila Museum An official of the Japan embassy while talking to the media said that upon request from the Government of Punjab, Tourism Department, the Government of Japan is considering providing cultural grant assistance for preservation and upkeep of the Taxila museum. The grant would also be spent on the improvement of equipment for exhibition and conservation in the Taxila Museum which stores the rich cultural heritage of ancient Gandhara civilisation, he said.

GulfNews World

COVID-19: Bodies pile up at Bihar crematoriums

India|: Patna: The rising number of deaths from India’s surging COVID-19 outbreak has meant that grieving families have to wait longer to have their loved ones cremated. The situation is bad in both Bihar and neighbouring Jharkhand state where there is a virtual scramble among the grieving families to perform the last rites of the dead. As many as 43 bodies have been cremated in the past 48 hours in Bihar while in Jharkhand more than 70 bodies were cremated and buried since Sunday. The overall situation is so critical that people have had to resort to mass cremation of bodies at an open space. “I have to wait for 10 hours to get my turn to cremate the body of my father who died from COVID-19,” said Brajraj, a resident of Patna. He also alleged the crematorium staff charged him Rs16,000 instead of Rs300 as fixed by the government to cremate the body. The problem for the victims’ families is that only two electric crematoriums out of total three are operational now. “The situation has become critical as most people are rushing to only one crematorium having better facilities,” a Patna municipal corporation official Pratibha Sinha said. The situation is more critical in Ranchi, the capital of Jharkhand state, where the people have to wait for 24 hours to get their turn at the crematorium. Harried villagers are now cremating the bodies in the open space to complete the mandatory formalities soon. Many are rushing to the river banks and even the places they never visited in the past to perform the last rites. “I never saw such kind of horror in my whole life. The people are cremating bodies at the place where they used to park their vehicles earlier. They are also refusing to complete the basic rituals before consigning the bodies to the flames,” said Raju Ram, a cremation staff who has been in the job for long. The burial grounds are also working overtime to cope with the situation. “We are unable to find workers to dig out graves. So we have hired an earth-cutting machine to meet the requirement,” an official at Kantatoli burial ground in Ranchi told a news channel on Wednesday. Meanwhile, the recovery rate of COVID-19 patients in Bihar has dropped sharply even as the infection rate has gone up. A health department report said the recovery rate has slumped by more than seven per cent while the infection rate has grown by two per cent in the past five days. Health officials said till last month, the recovery rate in the state was recorded at 99 percent which has now slumped to 92.50 per cent - a fall of over seven per cent. Health authorities are alarmed at the way the infection is spreading fast among the children who had remained unaffected last year. They said some 10 per cent children have now come in the grip of the virus and blame sheer carelessness on the part of parents for this situation. “The children are going out to play despite the surging infection and the parents are not serious about this. During the first wave, the parents were more alert,” Patna civil surgeon Dr Vibha Kumari Singh said. However, the people in the age-group of 25 to 49 are more susceptible to the virus, said a study conducted by the Patna district administration. The study found that of the total COVID-19 positive cases, some 50 per cent alone come from this particular age-group. As per the study, a maximum of 50 per cent people getting infected fall in the age-group of 25-49 while 29 per cent patients come from 0-24 age-group. Similarly, 28 per cent of the infected people are from 50-74 age-group whereas only 2.3 per cent infection has been reported from 75-99 age-group.

GulfNews World

Ramadan begins with new COVID-19 restrictions in Pakistan

Pakistan|: Islamabad: Pakistan has announced new restrictions to be followed in Ramadan amid the surge in infections across the country. This will be the second Ramadan with restricted celebrations in the Muslim world as the third wave of the pandemic continues to rage. The organisation spearheading the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic, National Command and Operation Centre (NCOC), has issued new guidelines for Ramadan according to which the businesses will remain shut on Saturday and Sunday whereas on the weekdays market timings will be Sehr to 6pm. All kind of indoor and outdoor gatherings will be banned including all social, cultural, political, sports and other events. No restaurant will be open for indoor dining, however, outdoor dining and takeaways will be allowed from Iftar till midnight with strict implementation of health guidelines. Taraweeh prayers will be organised in open spaces and worshippers must maintain safe distance as they attend prayers. All amusement parks will remain closed but walking/jogging tracks will be open with strict adherence to rules. The work from home policy for 50 per cent of the employees will continue in Ramadan. There will be a ban on inter-provincial public transport on weekends till April 25 while intercity public transport is allowed to operate at 50 per cent capacity. Meanwhile, the railways will operate at 70 per cent passenger capacity, whereas additional train services to be launched to double the capacity. The authorities would review the guidelines after the first 10 days of Ramadan. Pakistanis miss pre-pandemic Ramadan Many in Pakistan, especially the elderly, who were longing to begin Ramadan with the traditional spirit, will have to wait for another year as the country continues to battle the pandemic and is struggling to vaccinate its vulnerable population. “I hoped to go to the mosque for Taraweeh this year after missing the prayers last Ramadan but the virus is still here and so are the restrictions” said Saif Ahmed, a retired government official and father of four. For people like Saif, going to the mosque for prayers is the most cherished ritual in Ramadan. “It is a difficult and distressing time as I will be praying at home. But this is the only way to stay safe and protect each other,” the 73-year-old said while talking to Gulf News.” Pakistan has not altogether banned prayers in mosques during Ramadan but has restricted the number of people and asked the residents above 50 years and young children to not attend group prayers. People have been advised to avoid gathering before and after prayers. It is mandatory to wear a mask at the mosque and prayers are encouraged in the open with a distance of six feet between two worshippers. The coronavirus guidelines are clear but often not completely enforced as many people report violations almost every day in the country of 220 million. “If only everyone would wear a mask and keep their distance, perhaps we can defeat the virus sooner and go back to normal life but people hardly seem to care even after a year” Saif said.

GulfNews World

What do we know about Johnson & Johnson's COVID-19 vaccine and rare clots?

Dubai: The US has recommended that states pause giving the J&J vaccine while authorities examine six reports of unusual clots, including a death, out of more than 6.8 million Americans given the one-dose vaccination so far. Fewer than 1 in 1 million Johnson & Johnson vaccinations are under investigation. But the small number of cases has sparked concern, and J&J delayed its imminent European rollout. Here’s a look at what we know about the vaccine and the unusual blood clots. Why are these clots different? These are not typical blood clots. They're weird in two ways. First, they're occurring in unusual parts of the body, such as veins that drain blood from the brain. Second, those patients also have abnormally low levels of platelets - cells that help form clots - a condition normally linked to bleeding, not clotting. Image Credit: Graphic News Scientists in Norway and Germany first raised the possibility that some people are experiencing an abnormal immune system response to the AstraZeneca vaccine, forming antibodies that attack their own platelets. That's the theory as the US now investigates clots in J&J vaccine recipients, Dr. Peter Marks, the Food and Drug Administration's vaccine chief, said Tuesday, AP reported. Why suspect immune response? The first clue: A widely used blood thinner named heparin sometimes causes a very similar side effect. Very rarely, heparin recipients form antibodies that both attack and overstimulate platelets, said Dr. Geoffrey Barnes, a clot expert at the University of Michigan, AP reported “It kind of can cause both sides of the bleeding-clotting spectrum,” Barnes said. Because heparin is used so often in hospitals, that reaction is something “that every hospital in America knows how to diagnose and treat.” Vials with a sticker reading, "COVID-19 / Coronavirus vaccine / Injection only" and a medical syringe are seen in front of a displayed Johnson & Johnson logo in this illustration taken October 31, 2020. Image Credit: Reuters There also are incredibly rare reports of this weird clot-low platelet combination in people who never took heparin, such as after an infection. Health officials said one reason for the J&J pause was to make sure doctors know how to treat patients suspected of having these clots, which includes avoiding giving heparin. The Centres for Disease Control and Prevention later Tuesday provided advice on how to spot and treat the unusual clots. What does research show? Among possible causes being investigated are that the vaccine triggers an unusual antibody in rare cases. So far, risk factors like age or gender have not been singled out. In this Feb. 17, 2021, file photo, a health care worker receives a Johnson & Johnson vaccine at a hospital in Khayelitsha, Cape Town, South Africa. Image Credit: AP In two studies in the New England Journal of Medicine last week, research teams from Norway and Germany found platelet-attacking antibodies in the blood of some AstraZeneca vaccine recipients who had the strange clots. The antibodies were similar to those found with the heparin side effect even though the patients had never used that blood thinner. It's not yet clear if there's a similar link to the J&J vaccine. Who experienced the rare side effects? In J&J's case, all six recipients were women between the ages of 18 and 48, and the symptoms occurred six to 13 days after vaccination. In the six cases, a type of blood clot called cerebral venous sinus thrombosis (CVST) was seen in combination with low levels of blood platelets, or thrombocytopenia. Read more COVID-19 variants or 'scariants’? Virologist calls for ramped up vaccinations globally Drew Weissman, father of revolutionary COVID-19 mRNA vaccine, sets next target: Cancer, other viral diseases First-person account: Emirates vaccine flight a signal of return to normality Top 5 vaccine myths: Meet the top COVID-19 anti-vax advocates In total, more than 6.8 million doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine have been given in the United States through April 12. What technology does it use? The J&J vaccine uses a common-cold causing adenovirus, which has been genetically modified so that it can't replicate, to carry the gene for a key part of the coronavirus. The part is known as the "spike protein" and it's what gives the virus its crown-like appearance. The vaccine delivers the instructions to make this protein to human cells, and our immune systems then develop antibodies against it, preventing the virus from invading cells. Apart from antibodies, the vaccine also elicits the production of immune T cells, which kill infected cells and help make more antibodies. J&J's shot is known as an "adenovirus vector vaccine" and the company previously produced a European Union-approved Ebola vaccine using the same technology. Esselen Reza, at right, receives a dose of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine at the Banning Recreation Center Tuesday, April 13, 2021, in Wilmington, Calif. Image Credit: AP Oxford-AstraZeneca and Sputnik's shots are both adenovirus vector vaccines, too. They all use double-stranded DNA molecules to carry genetic instructions, rather than single-stranded RNA used by Pfizer and Moderna. DNA is more rugged, which allows these vaccines to be stored at warmer temperatures. Are pauses like this common? Fewer than 1 in 1 million Johnson & Johnson vaccinations are under investigation, and it still hasn't been determined that the blood clots were related to the vaccine. Pauses like this are common even after vaccines go into wide use to investigate further if an unusually large cluster of a certain type of medical cases turns up among people who've been inoculated. What about the other vaccines? The most widely used COVID-19 vaccines in the US - from Pfizer and Moderna - are made with a completely different technology, and the FDA said there is no sign of a similar clot concern with those vaccines. Should people be worried because they received the J&J vaccination? Marks said it's important not to confuse the rare clot risk with normal flu-like symptoms people often feel a day or two after a COVID-19 vaccination. He said concerning symptoms, such as severe headache or severe abdominal pain, would occur a week to three weeks after the J&J vaccine. How are other countries reacting? Deliveries have already begun in some European countries. Authorities took differing approaches on whether to restrict use of the single-shot vaccine with Belgium and France saying they would go ahead, while Sweden, Greece and Italy put them on hold. France is sticking to its plan to give over-55s the Johnson & Johnson vaccine suspended in the US and South Africa over rare blood clots, a government spokesman said Wednesday. Gabriel Attal also reaffirmed the government's confidence in the AstraZeneca jab as an "essential tool" in the fight against Covid-19, hours after Denmark said it was stopping its use, also over rare incidents of clots in people who received the vaccine. France has already been using the AstraZeneca jab among over-55s and had been planning to boost its campaign with the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, which is similar to the AstraZeneca shot.

GulfNews World

Over 1,000 test positive for COVID-19 at India religious festival

India|: New Delhi: Hundreds of people have tested positive for coronavirus in India at the site of the world’s biggest religious festival, officials said Wednesday, as huge crowds of mostly maskless Hindu devotees descended on the River Ganges. The virus was detected in more than 1,000 people in just 48 hours in the city of Haridwar, which lies along the holy river where the Kumbh Mela is being observed, officials said. A new wave of coronavirus infections is sweeping across India, with experts blaming massive religious events, packed political rallies in poll-bound states and crowded public places. The government on Wednesday postponed high school exams for 15 to 18-year-olds, which were to be held in May-June, amid the resurgence of the virus. Despite rising virus cases, pilgrims have gathered in huge numbers to take part in the holy celebration. On Monday and Tuesday, a huge crowd of worshippers were cheek by jowl as they packed the river’s banks to take a dip in the waters as part of a bathing ritual. “Our faith is the biggest thing for us. It is because of that strong belief that so many people have come here to take a dip in Ganga,” Siddharth Chakrapani, a member of one of the Kumbh Mela organising committees, told AFP. “They believe that Maa (mother) Ganga will save them from this pandemic.” Of some 50,000 samples taken from people in Haridwar, 408 tested positive on Monday and 594 on Tuesday, the Uttarakhand state government said. The latest figures came as Yogi Adityanath, the chief minister of neighbouring state of Uttar Pradesh, tweeted on Wednesday that he had tested positive for Covid-19. India overtook Brazil this week to become the country with the second-highest number of COVID-19 cases in the world. The vast nation of 1.3 billion people on Wednesday reported more than 184,000 infections in the past 24 hours - the biggest single-day rise since the start of the pandemic - to take the total to almost 13.9 million cases. India’s daily death toll passed 1,000 on Wednesday for the first time since mid-October. Local authorities have imposed night curfews and clamped down on movement and activities. In India’s financial capital Mumbai, where the Maharashtra state government has imposed tougher lockdown measures, migrant workers at a train station said they were leaving for their homes in other states after the tighter restrictions were announced. “Since I don’t have any work, I am not able to pay my rent,” migrant worker Imraan Khan told AFP.

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Noise pollution poses long-term risk to trees: Study

Europe|Offbeat|: Paris: Noise pollution poses a long-term risk to tree populations and plant diversity that may persist even after the sources of excess noise are removed, according to research published Wednesday. Manmade noise from construction, industry and the building of infrastructure such as roads and pipelines has increased dramatically since the middle of last century, and biologists are increasingly concerned about their impact on plants and animals. While previous research has documented the short-term impact noise has on tree populations as it scares off pollinators such as insects and animals, few studies have investigated the long-term effects. Researchers in the United States looked at tree populations in New Mexico that had been exposed to a high level of artificial noise for 15 years. They found 75 percent fewer pinyon pine seedlings in noisy sites than quiet ones. They then looked at plots where sources of noise had recently been added or removed and examined how populations recovered. The team hypothesised that populations of the trees - in this case juniper and pinyon seedlings - would recover as the jay birds that help disperse them would return to the plots once the noise had disappeared. Instead, they detected a long-term decline in seedling numbers as the jays refused to revisit the sites. “The effects of human noise pollution are growing into the structure of these woodland communities,” said Clinton Francis, biology professor at California Polytechnic State University and study co-author. “What we’re seeing is that removal of the noise doesn’t necessarily immediately result in a recovery of ecological function.” Jennifer Phillips, co-author of the research published in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B, said the findings showed how the impact of noise pollution could put pollinating animals off even after the noise is removed. “Animals like the scrub-jay that are sensitive to noise learn to avoid particular areas,” said Phillips. “It may take time for animals to rediscover these previously noisy areas, and we don’t know how long that might take.” As governments continue to be confronted by growing evidence of the damage to nature caused by urbanisation, Phillips told AFP that the impact of noise pollution should also be factored in to planning decisions. “I definitely think noise pollution, and other sensory pollutants like light, are under-accounted for in mitigation measures,” she said. Phillips said the study could help inform governments about noise pollution can indirectly impact biodiversity due to “mutualisms” or inter-linked effects between species.