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Biden ropes in 20 Indian-Americans in his administration, 17 at key White House positions

Americas|: Washington: US President-elect Joe Biden has nominated at least 20 Indian-Americans, including 13 women, to key positions in his incoming administration, a record for the small ethnic community that constitutes one per cent of America's population. As many as 17 of them, including Neera Tanden who has been nominated as the Director of Management and Budget, would be part of the Biden administration in the powerful White House complex. The January 20th inauguration, the 59th in all, where Biden, 78, would be sworn in as the 46th President of the United States is already historic in the making as for the first time ever a woman, Kamala Harris, would be sworn as the Vice-President of the country. Harris, 56, is also the first ever Indian-origin and African-American to be sworn in as the Vice President of the United States. It is also for the first time ever that so many Indian-Americans have been roped into a presidential administration ever before the inauguration. Biden, a Democrat, is still quite far away from filling all the positions in his administration. Topping the list is Tanden, who has been nominated as Director of the White House Office of Management and Budget and Dr Vivek Murthy, who has been nominated as the US Surgeon General. Vanita Gupta has been nominated as Associate Attorney General Department of Justice, and on Saturday, Biden nominated former foreign service official Uzra Zeya as the Under Secretary of State for Civilian Security, Democracy and Human Rights. 'The dedication that the Indian-American community has shown to public service over the years has been recognised in a big way at the very start of this administration! I am particularly pleased that the overwhelming majority are women. Our community has truly arrived in serving the nation,' Indiaspora founder M R Rangaswami told PTI. Mala Adiga has been appointed as Policy Director to the future First Lady Dr Jill Biden and Garima Verma would be the Digital Director of the Office of the First Lady, while Sabrina Singh has been named as the White House Deputy Press Secretary. For the first time, the Indian-Americans nominated for Biden administration include two who trace their roots to Kashmir: Aisha Shah, who has been named as Partnership Manager at the White House Office of Digital Strategy and Sameera Fazili, who would occupy the key position of Deputy Director at the US National Economic Council (NEC) in the White House. White House National Economic Council also has another Indian-American, Bharat Ramamurti, as Deputy Director. Gautam Raghavan, who served at the White House in the previous Obama administration returns to the White House as Deputy Director in Office of Presidential Personnel. Among Biden's inner circle is his top confidant for years Vinay Reddy, who has been named as Director Speechwriting. Young Vedant Patel is all set to occupy a seat in the White House lower press, behind the briefing room, as Assistant Press Secretary to the President. He is only the third-ever Indian American to be part of the White House press shop. Three Indian-Americans have made their way to the crucial National Security Council of the White House, thus leaving a permanent imprint on the country's foreign policy and national security. They are Tarun Chhabra: Senior Director for Technology and National Security, Sumona Guha, Senior Director for South Asia, Shanthi Kalathil: Coordinator for Democracy and Human Rights. Sonia Aggarwal has been named Senior Advisor for Climate Policy and Innovation in the Office of the Domestic Climate Policy at the White House and Vidur Sharma has been appointed as Policy Advisor for Testing for the White House COVID-19 Response Team. Two Indian-American women have been appointed to the Office of the White House Counsel: Neha Gupta as Associate Counsel and Reema Shah as Deputy Associate Counsel. Also, for the first time in any administration, the White House would have three other South Asians in key positions -- Pakistani-American Ali Zaidi as Deputy National Climate Advisor White House; Sri Lankan American Rohini Kosoglu as Domestic Policy Advisor to the Vice President and Bangladeshi-American Zayn Siddique: Senior Advisor to the White House Deputy Chief of Staff. During the campaign, Biden had indicated that he would rope in a large number of Indian-Americans. 'As President, I'll also continue to rely on Indian-American diaspora that keeps our two nations together, as I have throughout my career,' Biden had said in his address to the Indian-American community during a virtual celebration of India's Independence Day on August 15, 2020. 'My constituents in Delaware, my staff in the Senate, the Obama-Biden administration, which had more Indian-Americans than any other administration in the history of this country and this campaign with Indian Americans at senior levels, which of course includes the top of the heap, our dear friend (Harris) who will be the first Indian-American vice president in the history of the United States of America,' Biden had said in his video address. Biden and Harris will be sworn in as President and Vice President of the United States during a largely-virtual swearing-in ceremony on January 20. But it won't be a typical inauguration, for several reasons. The ongoing coronavirus pandemic and fresh security concerns following a pro-Trump mob breaching the Capitol last week have combined to force some major changes to what is a historical American day.

GulfNews World

Britain invites G7 leaders to Cornish resort for June summit

Europe|: London: Britain announced plans to hold the first in-person meeting of the G7 for nearly two years in June, inviting the leaders of major developed economies to a picturesque seaside village to discuss rebuilding from the pandemic and climate change. Prime Minister Boris Johnson says he wants to use Britain’s presidency of the G7 to forge a consensus that the global economy must recover from the COVID-19 crisis in a pro-free trade and sustainable way. “Coronavirus is doubtless the most destructive force we have seen for generations and the greatest test of the modern world order we have experienced,” he said in a statement. “It is only right that we approach the challenge of building back better by uniting with a spirit of openness to create a better future.” Britain has suffered badly during the health crisis, with the highest death toll in Europe of more than 88,000 people. Third wave But, while a third wave of the virus causes more than 1,000 deaths per day, the country is leading the way on vaccinations having been the first in the world to authorise their use, and hopes to have much of the population protected within months. Last year’s G7 meeting, due to be hosted by U.S. President Donald Trump, was cancelled due to the pandemic, meaning the leaders of Britain, Germany, France, the United States, Italy, Japan, the European Union and Canada have not met in person since the 2019 meeting in Biarritz, France. The Sunday Telegraph newspaper said the British government hoped the event would be the occasion for U.S. President-elect Joe Biden’s first trip to Europe after he becomes president on Jan. 20. Tiny resort “I don’t think he will visit anywhere else before the G7, except possibly Canada,” the newspaper quoted an unnamed British government source as saying. Johnson has also invited Australia, India and South Korea to attend. The summit will take place in the tiny resort of Carbis Bay in Cornwall, southwest England - an area now most famous for its beaches and surfing but also home to fishing fleets and once an important mining area. “Two hundred years ago Cornwall’s tin and copper mines were at the heart of the UK’s industrial revolution and this summer Cornwall will again be the nucleus of great global change and advancement,” Johnson said.

GulfNews TOP

Dubai records 24 traffic accidents in three hours of foggy weather

Government|: Dubai: Dubai Police recorded 24 traffic accidents within three hours as a thick blanket of fog enveloped the emirate early on Sunday morning, an official said. According to Colonel Turki Bin Fares, Director of Command and Control Room in Dubai Police, two serious accidents and 22 minor accidents were reported from 6am until 9am on Sunday. Dubai Police received 1,810 emergency calls during the foggy weather, an increase of 30 per cent on the same time last Sunday when police had received 1,275 calls and recorded 26 accidents, including a serious one. Col Bin Fares said that police implemented the ‘Fog System’ with other emirates since the early hours of Sunday morning to prevent the movement of trucks on highways to reduce the number of accidents. Read more Abu Dhabi grants 12,000 motorists Darb toll exemption COVID-19: How safe is it to travel on school buses in Dubai? Dubai’s RTA selects four start-ups with new mobility solutions Iconic ‘London Taxi’ model is set for trial launch in Dubai this February Col Bin Fares urged motorists to follow traffic instructions during unstable weather conditions and be more cautious while driving. “Traffic accidents during foggy or rainy weather can be very severe due to low visibility,” said he said in a statement. Sharjah is engulfed in early-morning fog on Sunday. Image Credit: Virendra Saklani/Gulf News Dubai Police have urged motorists to stick to speed limits at all times, slow down, keep safe distance between vehicles and to keep hazard lights and head beams on when driving in the fog.

GulfNews UAE

Dubai records 24 traffic accidents in three hours of foggy weather

Government|: Dubai: Dubai Police recorded 24 traffic accidents within three hours as a thick blanket of fog enveloped the emirate early on Sunday morning, an official said. According to Colonel Turki Bin Fares, Director of Command and Control Room in Dubai Police, two serious accidents and 22 minor accidents were reported from 6am until 9am on Sunday. Dubai Police received 1,810 emergency calls during the foggy weather, an increase of 30 per cent on the same time last Sunday when police had received 1,275 calls and recorded 26 accidents, including a serious one. Col Bin Fares said that police implemented the ‘Fog System’ with other emirates since the early hours of Sunday morning to prevent the movement of trucks on highways to reduce the number of accidents. Read more Abu Dhabi grants 12,000 motorists Darb toll exemption COVID-19: How safe is it to travel on school buses in Dubai? Dubai’s RTA selects four start-ups with new mobility solutions Iconic ‘London Taxi’ model is set for trial launch in Dubai this February Col Bin Fares urged motorists to follow traffic instructions during unstable weather conditions and be more cautious while driving. “Traffic accidents during foggy or rainy weather can be very severe due to low visibility,” said he said in a statement. Sharjah is engulfed in early-morning fog on Sunday. Image Credit: Virendra Saklani/Gulf News Dubai Police have urged motorists to stick to speed limits at all times, slow down, keep safe distance between vehicles and to keep hazard lights and head beams on when driving in the fog.

GulfNews Business

Wealth gap widens for Britain’s young with surge in house prices

Property|: London: Surging house prices in the UK are making it more difficult for younger generations to follow the most common path for accumulating wealth, widening a gap between the rich and the poor. Homeowners are benefiting from the coronavirus crisis, with cheap borrowing and government tax cuts driving real estate prices to an all-time high last year. The cost of a home averaged 253,374 pounds ($340,000) in December, up 6 per cent from a year ago, according to mortgage lender Halifax. That gravity-defying increase during the worst economic slump in three centuries has put ownership further out of reach for the young, particularly in London where the value of property has almost doubled in the last decade. It’s piling misery on a section of the population already hard hit by the pandemic, with young people more dependent on sectors closed by lockdown. “It’s about the imbalance of economic power,” said Robert Joyce, deputy director of the Institute for Fiscal Studies and a participant in a review of inequalities led by Nobel Laureate Angus Deaton. “More and more houses are owned by the same people, a narrow segment of society who are renting them out to younger people.” There are implications for the productivity of the economy too. High housing costs can make it hard for workers to relocate, depriving companies of talent and robbing young people of opportunities for better jobs and pay. Widening gulf The widening gulf between “generation rent” and those just a decade or two older has spawned a range of housing initiatives since the financial crisis. More recently, it has fueled a debate over whether Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak should follow countries such as Argentina by levying a wealth tax to help repair Britain’s coronavirus-ravaged public finances. A vocal advocate of higher taxes on the rich is Gary Stevenson, an inequality economist and former Citibank trader who accurately predicted rock-bottom interest rates remaining for long after the financial crisis. He sees a similar scenario unfolding now and warns that London house prices could double again. “It makes social mobility completely impossible and housing completely inaccessible for the bottom 50 or 60 percent of society,” Stevenson said. “It’s like cutting off the bottom half and saying, you guys lost capitalism, you’re out.” Stretched affordability Affordability is particularly stretched in the UK capital, where first-time buyers paid 420,618 pounds on average at the end of 2020, the equivalent of more than nine times their earnings, according to Nationwide Building Society. It means buying often requires outsize deposits, or having money from family. While overall wealth inequality in the UK is far less pronounced than in the US, the gap has widened in the last decade. That reflects both Bank of England stimulus to fight the financial crisis, which fueled a surge in asset prices, and fiscal austerity that hit those of working age harder than older people. In 1996, more than half of 25-34-year-olds owned their homes, according to the IFS. By 2017, that figure had fallen to little more than a third. The pandemic has made the challenge facing the young harder still, with a record-low BOE benchmark rate and a temporary tax cut on homebuying feeding demand. Lenders meanwhile are withdrawing low deposit mortgages or increasing interest rates on them amid growing worries about risk. For years, build, build, build has been the mantra of campaigners, who say that new homes are the key to fix the housing crisis. But despite a homebuilding recovery in the past decade, Britain is still constructing half of the homes that it did at its peak in the late 1960s. In the year to March last year, the number of dwellings - new builds, conversions and re-purposed property - rose by under 250,000, leaving the government a way to go to meet its target of 300,000 a year by the middle of the decade. Some say close to 350,000 are needed. A key plank of the strategy is the provision of affordable homes. These rose just 1 per cent and were almost 90,000 short of the 145,000 that the National Housing Federation, which represents housing associations, says is needed each year for the next decade. Its head of policy, Will Jeffwitz, says that target won’t be met anytime soon. “It will mean that millions of people will be living in homes or continue to live in homes that are either unaffordable, insecure or of poor quality with knock-on effects on health, wellbeing and children’s ability to learn,” he said.

GulfNews Sports

Australian Open: Mouse in hotel room adds to Melbourne COVID quarantine woes

Tennis|Offbeat|: Dubai: If going into strict quarantine ahead of next month’s Australian Open was not difficult enough, Kazakhstan’s Yulia Putintseva has to contend with an unwanted roommate in the form of a mouse. Putintseva is among 47 players and their entourages who have been asked to isolate for two weeks in their hotel rooms after COVID-19 cases were reported on the two chartered flights that carried them to Melbourne. Tennis: Australian Open in disarray as 47 players affected by coronavirus Australian Open: Rafa Nadal, Dominic Thiem suffer coaching setbacks Tennis: COVID-19 cases on Australian Open flight forces players into quarantine Fujairah’s ITF tennis event has UAE athletes in mind The world No. 28 who arrived on one of the flights was already upset after claiming she was not told that all the players aboard the plane would be quarantined in case an infection was detected. The condition of Putintseva’s room in Melbourne has not helped calm the situation. “Been trying to change the room for two hours already! No one came to help due to quarantine situation,” Putintseva said in a post on Twitter that was accompanied by a video of the mouse scurrying about her room. The video prompted British tennis player Andy Murray’s mother Judy to joke Putintseva needed a cat to solve the problem. Putintseva's mood seemed to have imporved a little later as she posted a video of her improvised practice routine, hitting forhand strokes against her hotel room wall.  Some social media users have hit out at players complaining about having to strictly stay in hotels, prompting Swiss world No. 12 Belinda Bencic to clear the air. “We’re not complaining to be in quarantine. We’re complaining because of unequal practice/playing conditions before quite important tournaments,” she tweeted. Romanian Sorana Cirstea added: “People complaining we are entitled. I have no issues to stay 14 days in the room watching Netflix. Believe me this is a dream come true, holiday even. What we can’t do is COMPETE after we’ve stayed 14 days on a couch. This is the issue, not the quarantine rule.” Other players who arrived in different planes are also undertaking a mandatory 14-day quarantine but are permitted to leave their hotels for five hours a day to train, raising questions about the integrity of the Grand Slam. Australia is set to welcome about 1,200 players, officials and staff on 15 flights for the Grand Slam beginning on February 8.

GulfNews World

UK aviation sector calls for urgent support amid travel curbs

Europe|Aviation|: London: The UK’s aviation sector needs urgent government support if it is to survive another lengthy period of travel restrictions to curb surging coronavirus infections in the country, according to industry leaders. On Saturday, Karen Dee, the chief executive of the Airport Operators Association, urged the UK government to set out plans for how airports will survive financially during the crisis. “Airports are currently keeping their infrastructure open to support vital and critical services, such as post, freight, emergency services, military and coastguard flights, as well as to help keep the lights in the UK on through supporting flights to offshore oil, gas and wind operations,” Xinhua news agency quoted Dee as saying to the Guardian newspaper. “Airports are doing so while running on empty - there is only so long they can run on fumes before having to close temporarily to preserve their business for the future,” she said. “Government needs to help cover airports’ operational costs by, for example, urgently providing relief from regulatory, policing, air traffic and business rates costs in the current and the coming tax year.” Heathrow Airport lost its status as Europe’s busiest airport as it recorded a loss of 1.5 billion pounds ($2.04 billion) in the first nine months of 2020 due to Covid-19. Passenger numbers between July and September 2020 were down by more than 84 per cent compared with the same period in 2019, leading the west London hub to be overtaken by Paris Charles de Gaulle as the busiest in Europe. Tim Alderslade, the chief executive of Airlines UK, which represents all UK registered airlines, said that if by Easter the restrictions are not lifted, the industry will be “in a really difficult place”. Easter is a Christian holiday which falls on April 4 this year. Paid back “Easter is a date that we have got in mind as to when we can start to have an aviation sector again because if we don’t start to bring in revenue to the sector, we are going to be in a really difficult place indeed because we have now had pretty much 12 months without any revenue coming in, which is just not sustainable and airlines are effectively staying in business by taking on billions of pounds of debt, which will need to be paid back,” Alderslade said. On Friday, Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced that Britain will close all travel corridors to the country from 4 a.m. on Monday in a bid to keep out new coronavirus variants. The new measure means that travellers entering the country must have proof of a negative Covid-19 test in previous 72 hours. Anyone arriving in Britain must quarantine for 10 days or they have the choice of doing an extra test on day five to shorten the isolation, Johnson said. England is currently under the third national lockdown since the outbreak of the pandemic in the country. Similar restriction measures are also in place in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. The UK has so far reported a total of 3,325,642 coronavirus cases and 87,448 deaths.

GulfNews Business

UK aviation sector calls for urgent support amid travel curbs

Europe|Aviation|: London: The UK’s aviation sector needs urgent government support if it is to survive another lengthy period of travel restrictions to curb surging coronavirus infections in the country, according to industry leaders. On Saturday, Karen Dee, the chief executive of the Airport Operators Association, urged the UK government to set out plans for how airports will survive financially during the crisis. “Airports are currently keeping their infrastructure open to support vital and critical services, such as post, freight, emergency services, military and coastguard flights, as well as to help keep the lights in the UK on through supporting flights to offshore oil, gas and wind operations,” Xinhua news agency quoted Dee as saying to the Guardian newspaper. “Airports are doing so while running on empty - there is only so long they can run on fumes before having to close temporarily to preserve their business for the future,” she said. “Government needs to help cover airports’ operational costs by, for example, urgently providing relief from regulatory, policing, air traffic and business rates costs in the current and the coming tax year.” Heathrow Airport lost its status as Europe’s busiest airport as it recorded a loss of 1.5 billion pounds ($2.04 billion) in the first nine months of 2020 due to Covid-19. Passenger numbers between July and September 2020 were down by more than 84 per cent compared with the same period in 2019, leading the west London hub to be overtaken by Paris Charles de Gaulle as the busiest in Europe. Tim Alderslade, the chief executive of Airlines UK, which represents all UK registered airlines, said that if by Easter the restrictions are not lifted, the industry will be “in a really difficult place”. Easter is a Christian holiday which falls on April 4 this year. Paid back “Easter is a date that we have got in mind as to when we can start to have an aviation sector again because if we don’t start to bring in revenue to the sector, we are going to be in a really difficult place indeed because we have now had pretty much 12 months without any revenue coming in, which is just not sustainable and airlines are effectively staying in business by taking on billions of pounds of debt, which will need to be paid back,” Alderslade said. On Friday, Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced that Britain will close all travel corridors to the country from 4 a.m. on Monday in a bid to keep out new coronavirus variants. The new measure means that travellers entering the country must have proof of a negative Covid-19 test in previous 72 hours. Anyone arriving in Britain must quarantine for 10 days or they have the choice of doing an extra test on day five to shorten the isolation, Johnson said. England is currently under the third national lockdown since the outbreak of the pandemic in the country. Similar restriction measures are also in place in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. The UK has so far reported a total of 3,325,642 coronavirus cases and 87,448 deaths.

GulfNews Business

Britain to host G7 summit in June

Business|: London: Britain will host a G7 summit in June, the government said Friday, announcing what will be the first face-to-face meeting of the group since the start of Joe Biden’s US presidency. Outgoing US President Donald Trump was forced to cancel last year’s meeting of the G7 - the world’s most advanced economies - due to the coronavirus pandemic. Individual leaders have yet to confirm their attendance, but the summit is scheduled to take place on June 11-13 in Carbis Bay, a coastal town in Cornwall, southwest England. The global response to Covid-19 and climate change are expected to rank high on the agenda at the group’s first in-person meeting in nearly two years. “As the most prominent grouping of democratic countries, the G7 has long been the catalyst for decisive international action to tackle the greatest challenges we face,” British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said in a statement. “Coronavirus is doubtless the most destructive force we have seen for generations,” he added, saying it was “only right that we approach the challenge of building back better by uniting with a spirit of openness to create a better future”. Leaders and ministers from the seven nations - Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and the United States - have met virtually in recent months. Johnson’s office said he would use the summit to promote a green recovery from the pandemic, encouraging G7 members to unite to “make the future fairer, greener and more prosperous”. Britain, which holds the rotating presidency of the G7 in 2021, has invited leaders from Australia, India and South Korea to attend as guest countries. Britain also takes over the presidency of the UN Security Council in February, and Johnson has signalled he is seeking to boost the UK’s international presence as it embarks on a new path post-Brexit.