European countries impose new COVID-19 curbs as cases spike

Agencies
October 15, 2020

Paris, Oct 15: Countries across Europe were imposing a series of new restrictions in an effort to curb the spread of the coronavirus pandemic amid a spike in the number of fresh cases and deaths across the continent.

As of Thursday, the continent's overall caseload stands at 4,301,247, while the death toll has surged to 197,075, according to the latest update by the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control.

The agency said that Europe's infection rate "has been increasing for 77 days" and there were more than 700,000 new coronavirus cases last week, which was a 36 per cent weekly increase.

In France, one of the worst-hit European countries, President Emmanuel Macron on Wednesday announced that a curfew will be introduced in big cities as a reaction to the recent resurgence of new cases.

Starting from Friday midnight, a four-week 9 p.m.-6 a.m. curfew will be imposed in the greater Paris region and the eight major cities of Grenoble, Lille, Lyon, Aix-Marseille, Rouen, Toulouse, Montpellier and Saint-Etienne, Xinhua news agency reported.

These regions are already on maximum alert, with bars and gyms shut down, theatres and restaurants under strict health protocol.

Gatherings of more than 10 people are prohibited in public spaces such as beaches and parks.

Anyone violating the curfew would be fined 135 euros, and permissions will be available for those who have health emergencies and work at night.

Presently, France has a total of 779,063 Covid-19 cases, Europe's second biggest tally after Spain, with 33,037 deaths.

In the UK, a new three-tier Covid-19 alert system came into force across England on Wednesday.

The alert system comprises three levels: "Medium", "High" and "Very High" with the level being decided according to local infection rate.

The UK has so far reported a total of 654,644 coronavirus cases, with 43,155 fatalities, the highest death toll in Europe.

On Wednesday, Italy, the once epicentre of the pandemic in Europe, reported its largest single-day spike, with more than 7,300 cases, which took the overall tally to 372,799, while the death toll surged to 36,289.

The grim milestone came a day after Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte signed a decree putting new limits on gatherings, sports and school activities.

But bars and restaurants are still allowed to operate until midnight, but only for table service, NPR news reported.

The Catalonian region of Spain has ordered all bars and restaurants to close their on-premises operations, saying they can only sell to-go items for the next 15 days.

Shopping areas, theatres and gyms will have to operate at reduced capacity.

While the Czech Republic, has closed schools, restaurants and bars, The Netherlands is enacting a partial lockdown due to a recent resurgence.

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Agencies
October 21,2020

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Kabul, Oct 21: At least 11 women were trampled to death when a stampede broke out Wednesday among thousands of Afghans waiting in a soccer stadium to get visas to leave the country, officials said.

Gov. Attaullah Khogyani said another 13 people, mostly women, were injured at the stadium in the eastern Nangarhar province, where they were trying to get visas to enter neighbouring Pakistan.

He said most of those who died were elderly people from across Afghanistan.

In a separate incident, at least 34 Afghan police were killed in an ambush by Taliban militants in northern Afghanistan, according to a local hospital official.

Rahim Bakhish Danish, the director of the main hospital in the Takhar province, confirmed receiving 34 bodies and said another eight security forces were wounded.

An Afghan security official said the forces were in a convoy that was ambushed.

The official, who was not authorised to brief media on the event and so spoke on condition of anonymity, said several police Humvees were set ablaze.

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News Network
October 17,2020

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Washington, Oct 17: During the 2016 election campaign around this time, then-candidate Donald Trump addressed a large, glamorous rally of thousands of cheering Hindus – the first time a US presidential candidate reached out to the followers of the faith

But this time there won't be such an event.

The Republican Hindu Coalition (RHC), which organised the event on October 15, 2016, in New Jersey, is scaling back its campaign for Trump and will not hold events for him unless he gives an assurance on immigration reform, according to its founder Shalabh Kumar.

Kumar said media persons that he and the group's members would continue to support Trump and urge Hindus to vote for him, but will not hold any campaign events like the one in 2016 which was attended by over 8,000 people.

In the US, electioneering based on religious appeal is legal and common at all levels.

"We are asking all our members to support Trump in their individual capacity to vote for Trump and for Republicans in general," Kumar said.

"But in terms of major campaign events like what we did in New Jersey and what we did with 'Apki Baar Trump Sarkar' commercial which we aired every day, we are waiting for a meeting with the President to clarify his position particularly on the Green Card backlog," he said.

He asserted that the RHC had about 50,000 members and because the Hindus came from all over the world, their number in the US exceeded that of immigrants coming directly from India and their children.

While the Democratic Party candidate Joe Biden is not carrying out large campaign rallies because of the Covid-19 pandemic, Trump has been holding them and it should be possible to organise a Hindu event for him.

The Trump campaign, meanwhile, has launched an outreach under its own umbrella called the 'Hindu Voices for Trump', as part of a multi-pronged drive that also separately targets Sikhs, Muslims and Indian-Americans in general.

But it has been acting low key, not organising any big campaign events for Hindus and it emphasises religious freedom and economic opportunities.

For the first time, Democrats have also reached out to members of the religion with a "Hindus for Biden" initiative spearheaded by Raja Krishnamoorthi, a member of the House of Representatives.

In the past, the Democrats' explicit outreach had been to religions like Islam and Judaism and excluded Hinduism.

Noting the change in the Democratic Party, Kumar quipped: "We have at least made the Hindu word popular."

He said that as a "very issue-oriented, policy-oriented organisation", the RHC requires a commitment from Trump on immigration reform and clearing the Green Card backlog, which it considers is important to the community and would ramp up its campaign for him once it is received.

While Trump speaks of merit-based immigration there are about a million people caught up in the Green Card backlog and "they are in great pain", he said.

The RHC wants a commitment from Trump that he would introduce a system of an Employment Authorization Document (EAD) that would allow people waiting for five or more years for their Green Cards to indefinitely work and live in the US till their numbers come up for it, he said.

According to Republican Senator Mike Lee's estimate, the backlog is so bad that for some Indians the wait could take 195 years for a Green Card, which gives permanent immigrant status and puts the recipients in the pipeline to full citizenship.

The EAD would be a bridge to Green Card pending immigration reforms to clear the backlog, Kumar said.

Trump would also have to come out more clearly on the Citizenship Amendment Act that gives expedited Indian citizenship to Christian, Hindu and Buddhist refugees fleeing persecution in Islamic nations in South Asia, and on the Indian government withdrawing the special constitutional status of Kashmir.

In 2016, Kumar said "we had an agreement from Trump" on four issues that the RHC raised "before we endorsed his and went out all the way for him".

The issues were holding Pakistan accountable for terrorism, the sale of advanced weapons systems to India, the supply of liquid natural gas to India and advancing US-India relations, he said.

Candidate Trump agreed to the conditions and as president he has delivered on them, Kumar said.

That is a reason for the uptick in support among Indian-Americans for Trump, he said.

Regarding the immigration issue, he said: "There is bipartisan support and we want to make sure that that issue gets taken care of, whether Trump gets re-elected, which, of course, we want -- I am a hard-core conservative – (and) at the same time looking at the reality on the ground, if Vice President Biden become the president, we want that issue to be taken care of."

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Agencies
October 15,2020

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Washington, Oct 15: The world is experiencing one of the deepest recessions since the Great Depression in the 1930s owing to the novel coronavirus, World Bank President David Malpass has said, terming the COVID-19 pandemic a "catastrophic event" for many developing and the poorest countries.

He told reporters that given the extent of the economic contraction, there was a rising risk of disruptive debt crises in countries.

So that has got a lot of focus here at the meetings, Malpass told the media on Wednesday at the start of the annual meetings of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank.

"The recession has been deep, one of the deepest since the Great Depression. And for many developing countries, and for the people in the poorest countries, it is truly a depression, a catastrophic event. It is continuing to add to the ranks of those in extreme poverty," he said.

That is the focus of this meeting and the focus of their actions, he said, adding that the World Bank was building as big a growth programme for countries as they can in this fiscal year.

A day earlier, the Board approved the extension of the health emergency programmes to up to USD 12 billion for vaccines and therapeutics and distribution of those in countries that do not otherwise have access.

Responding to a question, Malpass said that the world was currently experiencing a K-shaped recovery.

That means that the advanced economies have been able to provide support, especially for their financial markets and for people that have jobs that can be done by working from home. But people that are in the informal economy have lost their jobs, and are depending on social protection programmes, he said.

For the developing countries, and especially the poorest developing countries, that downward leg in the K is an increasingly desperate recession or depression that is facing people in the poorest countries because of the loss of jobs, the loss of income, and also the loss of remittances coming from workers, working outside the country, Malpass said.

"What we're trying to do at the World Bank is recognise that problem and provide extra support for social protection for the poorest in countries, also recognising the agricultural challenges," he said.

The president welcome countries that are keeping open their export markets, and also countries that are able to change their subsidy systems in order to allow more food availability within their economies during this very challenging time.

Malpass said that the first priority was saving lives, people's health, and safety.

That involves procedures that have been widely discussed of social distancing and masks and proper health care if people contract the virus, strengthening of hospital systems and so on. All of those are important, he asserted.

"And then, as we look at the next stage, what I think we can be talking about is that it's going to be a prolonged downturn for many of the countries, there won't be as fast a rebound in tourism, for example, as many would like to have," he said.

There will need to be flexibility in economies, so that people can move to new jobs and positions, and the country can be prepared for a post COVID-19 global economy, Malpass said.

Acknowledging that it is going to be different from the pre-COVID-19 economy, he noted that one does not know exactly how and that will only evolve over time.

"And so, having countries preserve some of their core industries and businesses, and then keeping families together. We're providing social safety nets to try to help provide cash grants for people, for example, in Brazil, we have a sizable programme. In Jordan, we support Jordan's sizable programme and elsewhere around the world, he said.

The World Bank is encouraging countries to spend in the first instance on health programmes, on social programmes, and on education, Malpass said, adding that a critical step for countries is to reopen schools.

"We think there are as many as a billion children still out of school in the developing world. And in those cases, learning goes backward, which has a huge future cost for countries. This is particularly true for girls that are left out at a critical point in their lives, left out of school. That's a high priority, he said.

Now, looking longer term, infrastructure is a very important part of a country's growth, he said.

"We have a large undertaking through the IFC that works on infrastructure that helps provide electricity and low carbon ways, for example, that helps provide clean water, that helps provide global public goods, meaning helping the country reach a balance with the environment and with the climate that benefits themselves and their neighbours. All of those are key priorities, he said.

On infrastructure, one of the challenges is they have a very low interest rate environment, and it should be an environment that provides much more infrastructure investment than is currently occurring, Malpass said.

"A key step in this is the documentation and the standardisation of the quality of the infrastructure projects. It's vital that the world move toward a financing structure where multiple infrastructure projects can be pooled in order to reduce the risk to the entire package, and that's difficult right now because of the difference in the contracts.

"So, one of the things we've wanted to do is try to help standardise some of the contracting and make it much more transparent. This will help the infrastructure build up, he said.

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