What impact is COVID-19 having on Middle East conflicts?

first_imgSyriaThe COVID-19 outbreak turned into a pandemic just as a ceasefire reached by the two main foreign power brokers in Syria’s nine-year-old war — Russia and Turkey — was taking effect.The three million people living in the ceasefire zone, in the country’s northwestern region of Idlib, had little hope the deal would hold.Yet fears the coronavirus could spread like wildfire across the devastated country appear to have given the truce an extended lease of life. The novel coronavirus has put global trade on hold, placed half of the world population in confinement and has the potential to topple governments and reshape diplomatic relations.The United Nations has appealed for ceasefires in all the major conflicts rocking the planet, with its chief Antonio Guterres on Friday warning “the worst is yet to come”. But it remains unclear what the pandemic’s impact will be on the multiple wars roiling the Middle East.Here is an overview of the impact so far on the conflicts in Syria, Yemen, Libya and Iraq: According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, the month of March saw the lowest civilian death toll since the conflict started in 2011, with 103 deaths.The ability of the multiple administrations in Syria — the Damascus government, the autonomous Kurdish administration in the northeast and the jihadist-led alliance that runs Idlib — to manage the coronavirus threat is key to their credibility.”This epidemic is a way for Damascus to show that the Syrian state is efficient and all territories should be returned under its governance,” analyst Fabrice Balanche said.However the pandemic and the global mobilisation it requires could precipitate the departure of US-led troops from Syria and neighbouring Iraq.This in turn could create a vacuum in which the Islamic State jihadist group, still reeling from the demise of its “caliphate” a year ago, could seek to step up its attacks.YemenThe Yemeni government and the Huthi rebels initially responded positively to the UN appeal for a ceasefire, as did neighbouring Saudi Arabia, which leads a military coalition in support of the government.That rare glimmer of hope in the five-year-old conflict was short-lived however and last week Saudi air defences intercepted ballistic missiles over Riyadh and a border city fired by the Iran-backed rebels.The Saudi-led coalition retaliated by striking Huthi targets in the rebel-held capital Sanaa on Monday.Talks have repeatedly faltered but the UN envoy Martin Griffiths is holding daily consultations in a bid to clinch a nationwide ceasefire.More flare-ups in Yemen could compound a humanitarian crisis often described as the worst in the world and invite a coronavirus outbreak of catastrophic proportions.In a country where the health infrastructure has collapsed, where water is a rare commodity and where 24 million people require humanitarian assistance, the population fears being wiped out if a ceasefire doesn’t allow for adequate aid.”People will end up dying on the streets, bodies will be rotting in the open,” said Mohammed Omar, a taxi driver in the Red Sea port city of Hodeida.LibyaMuch like Yemen, the main protagonists in the Libyan conflict initially welcomed the UN ceasefire call but swiftly resumed hostilities.Fierce fighting has rocked the south of the capital Tripoli in recent days, suggesting the risk of a major coronavirus outbreak is not enough to make guns fall silent.Turkey has recently played a key role in the conflict, throwing its weight behind the UN-recognised Government of National Accord.Fabrice Balanche predicted that accelerated Western disengagement from Middle East conflicts could limit Turkish support to the GNA.That could eventually favour forces loyal to eastern-based strongman Khalifa Haftar, who launched an assault on Tripoli one year ago and has the backing of Russia, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates.Western countries have been hit hardest by the pandemic, which could prompt them to divert both military resources and peace-brokering capacity from foreign conflicts.A report by the International Crisis Group said European officials had reported that efforts to secure a ceasefire in Libya were no longer receiving high-level attention due to the pandemic.IraqIraq is no longer gripped by fully-fledged conflict but it remains vulnerable to an IS resurgence in some regions and its two main foreign backers are at each other’s throats.Iran and the United States are two of the countries most affected by the coronavirus but there has been no sign of any let-up in their battle for influence that has largely played out on Iraqi soil.With most non-US troops in the coalition now gone and some bases evacuated, American personnel are now regrouped in a handful of locations in Iraq.Washington has deployed Patriot air defence missiles, prompting fears of a fresh escalation with Tehran, whose proxies it blames for a spate of rocket attacks on bases housing US troops.Topics :last_img read more

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Galang COVID-19 hospital opens to step up fight against Indonesian epidemic

first_imgThe hospital has 15 specialist doctors, 110 nurses and other support staff, and 241 volunteer staff.“This hospital was initially designated for [returning] migrant workers, but it will now also receive referral patients from hospitals in other regions,” Indonesian Military (TNI) Regional Defense Joint Command I (Kogabwilhan I) commander Vice Adm. Yudo Margono said on Monday during the hospital’s inauguration ceremony.Galang hospital is under the supervision of Maj. Gen M.S. Fadhilah, the commander of the Bukit Barisan I Military Command that oversees the provinces of North Sumatra, West Sumatra, Riau and Riau Islands.Fadhilah is leading the integrated operational command in the region, which consists of medical workers, state officials, military personnel and police officers. The specialist hospital on Galang Island, which was purpose-built to treat COVID-19 patients from across the nation, opened on Monday to bolster Indonesia’s fight against the outbreak.Galang Island COVID-19 Specialist Hospital, located in Riau islands province, has 340 beds for patients under observation and a 20-bed isolation ward for providing intensive care. It also has a cemetery for burying the bodies of patients who have died of COVID-19, as many regions have reported heated public objections to burying COVID-19 patients at local cemeteries.Read also: Tensions arise between residents, officials over burials in Depok, Medan Galang hospital head Col. Chairul Ihsan, who also heads the Bukit Barisan I command’s Army hospital in Medan, North Sumatra, said that the hospital would be admitting patients from Batam, the largest island and maritime hub of Riau Islands province, as well as from other regions across the country.“This hospital has been designated for [treating] infectious and contagious diseases, which in this case is COVID-19,” said Chairul. “We have been assigned to lead the hospital until the COVID-19 emergency is over.”Read also: Indonesia to turn former Vietnamese refugee camp into hospital for COVID-19 patientsBatam Deputy Mayor Amsakar Achmad said that the administration had also provided a plot of land near the specialist hospital to use as a cemetery for patients who had died of COVID-19.“The [Batam] mayor has prepared and proposed the [land] for use in consideration of the local populace’s objections toward the bodies of COVID-19 patients,” he said.Several cities across the archipelago have reported widespread public objections to burying people who had died of COVID-19 in local cemeteries. In some areas, the local community has blocked streets to prevent ambulances from transporting the bodies of those who had died of the infectious disease to public cemeteries, citing fears that the bodies of confirmed cases would spread the disease in the area.Read also: Palang Hitam runs 24/7 to care for Jakarta’s dead during COVID-19 outbreakThe protocol for burying the bodies of those who died of the disease includes wrapping the body in plastic sheeting and placing in a coffin, which is also wrapped in plastic. Those who assist in the burial must also wear protective gear, such as a hazmat suit, mask and gloves. (mfp)Topics :last_img read more

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In Spain, asparagus lies unpicked as lockdown shuts out migrant workers

first_img“Many people have contacted us but we know from experience that although they start with a lot of gusto, they are not accustomed to this kind of work and it exhausts them,” he said.Out of 40 or 50 workers interviewed and hired for the lockdown harvest, only around 10 remain, he said.In a muddy field, laborers bend to cut the green spears with a long curved knife. They place the asparagus in plastic boxes that are collected by tractor. The vegetable is then brought to the warehouse and bundled ready for sale.In the packing shed is Elena Garcia, a self-employed beautician who worked in a hairdresser’s until losing her job due to the lockdown.”I think it’s harder working out in the field than here packing. Here the work is tough but I get along fine,” she said.  Topics : In normal circumstances, Urbina exports part of his produce. But with so much of the crop lying unpicked, Spain is in the unprecedented situation of having to import asparagus from Germany to meet domestic demand, he said.Facing one of the world’s worst outbreaks of the COVID-19 disease, Spain went into lockdown on March 14, closing borders and confining people to home.In early April, the government started an initiative to get more workers into the fields, authorizing temporary hiring of tens of thousands of immigrants or jobless people.But many who have applied to pick asparagus do not have the stamina of the foreign seasonal workers who traditionally move from harvest to harvest across Spain, said Urbina.center_img About half of farmer Jaime Urbina’s asparagus crop lies unpicked in his fields in central Spain as border closures to curb the coronavirus block Eastern European seasonal laborers.Right at peak food-harvesting time, farms across the nation have a shortfall of thousands of workers. Asparagus, especially, requires a lot of labor as it is harvested piece-by-piece.”Everyone here in the asparagus sector has this problem – we don’t have the manpower,” Urbina lamented, standing in a field in Torre del Burgo in Guadalajara province.last_img read more

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Washington approves virus drug as US states ease lockdowns

first_imgTopics : Sharp rhetoric May Day carried extra significance this year because of the staggering number of people put out of work by the pandemic, with the global economy in a tailspin and facing its worst downturn since the Great Depression.Stock markets tumbled again on Friday after President Trump’s unproven allegation that the virus may have come from a lab in Wuhan — the central Chinese city where the disease first emerged late last year.Beijing has rejected the accusation, and scientists believe the virus jumped from animals to humans.The White House has accused Chinese authorities of mishandling the outbreak and putting American lives at risk.The disease overwhelmed healthcare infrastructure when it hit the United States, putting immense pressure on medical workers.Some US medics relied on experience in other countries to fight the virus.David Callaway, a doctor and academic who formerly worked on disease response in conflict-hit nations such as South Sudan and Iraq, said he found overseas epidemics easier to handle in some ways.”Family and loved ones, you can put them in a box and you use them as a source of motivation and inspiration when things get rough, but you know they are safe,” he told AFP.”A pandemic at home, you know that your family and your loved ones are still at risk, their lives hang on the line.” ‘Slow, phased’ reopening Governments around the world are struggling to balance the immense political and economic pressure to ease lockdowns with the need for public health measures against the spread of the virus, which has killed more than 236,000 people.Several European countries have begun to lift restrictions, with authorities in some of the hardest-hit parts like Spain reporting signs that the pandemic there was slowing.Britain announced that it had hit its target of conducting 100,000 coronavirus tests a day, a step toward eventually lifting lockdown rules in the UK — which this week overtook Spain to record the world’s third-highest death toll.But Ireland extended its lockdown by two weeks to May 18, with Prime Minister Leo Varadkar saying the nation will reopen “in a slow, phased, staged way” after that.In Asia, India announced that the lockdown on its 1.3 billion people — the world’s biggest — would continue for two more weeks from May 4.And in Singapore, the government said Saturday that pet food stores and hair salons will be allowed to reopen on May 12. Most of the city-state’s infections have been detected at dormitories housing migrant workers, and their confinement was extended to June 1.The virus restrictions also put a damper on May Day celebrations worldwide on Friday as many labor unions delayed their rallies and some held online events, while a determined few hit the streets in facemasks in defiance of lockdown orders. “Hopefully, we’re going to come in below that 100,000 lives lost, which is a horrible number nevertheless,” said Trump, after suggesting earlier in the week the country could expect 60,000 or 70,000 fatalities.Texas became the largest US state yet to ease curbs, while anti-lockdown demonstrations were held in several states — including California, where officials had re-closed beaches beginning Friday to avoid a repeat of last weekend when crowds flocked to the shoreline.In Huntington Beach, about 55 kilometers south of Los Angeles, several thousand people rallied to denounce Governor Gavin Newsom’s beach shutdown order.”It was the straw that broke the camel’s back,” protester Monica Beilhard fumed.”It was uncalled for, unnecessary and people out here are making that known,” she said. center_img American authorities have approved an experimental drug for emergency use on coronavirus patients, as more US states eased pandemic lockdowns despite another spike in deaths from the disease.The approval is the latest step in a global push to find viable treatments and a vaccine for the coronavirus, which has left half of humanity under some form of lockdown, hammered the world economy and infected more than 3.3 million people.Remdesivir, an antiviral drug initially developed to treat Ebola, was given the green light on Friday after a major trial found that it boosted recovery in serious COVID-19 patients. “It’s really a very promising situation,” President Donald Trump said on Friday at the White House, where he was joined by Daniel O’Day, CEO of Gilead Sciences, which developed Remdesivir.The drug incorporates itself into the virus’s genome, short-circuiting its replication process.Its approval came as the US leaders struggled with growing pressure from citizens wearying of stay-at-home orders.With about 1.1 million confirmed coronavirus cases and nearly 65,000 deaths, the United States has the highest tolls of any country, and Trump is keen for a turnaround as the world’s largest economy reels with tens of millions left jobless.last_img read more

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Hotel start-up Airy closes permanently due to pandemic

first_imgHomegrown hotel aggregator start-up Airy will cease operations by the end of May as the COVID-19 pandemic hits the hospitality business.The company said in an email to its property partners that it would cease its agreement with them as the company had stopped operational activities.Read also: Hygiene, social distancing new priorities in post-pandemic tourism Read also: Budget cuts, furloughs inevitable for start-ups to survive pandemic: InvestorsThe start-up’s CEO, Louis Alfonso Kodatie, previously said the company had tried  to mitigate the effects of the pandemic. He expressed optimism that the travel industry would recover. Established in 2015, Airy has 2,000 properties with more than 30,000 rooms. It will be the first hospitality start-up to permanently cease operations in the country, as similar companies continue to furlough and lay off workers, as well as impose pay cuts to cope with the outbreak impacts.  Budget hotel booking platform RedDoorz is working on a zero-revenue assumption until next year and has laid off around 10 percent of its workforce. Meanwhile, OYO has furloughed its employees as it saw a 50 to 60 percent drop in revenue and occupancy. Topics :center_img “We have done our best to overcome the impact of this disaster. However, given the significant technical decline and reduction in human resources, we have decided to stop our operations permanently,” read the email as reported by kompas.com on Thursday.The email continues by stating that after May 31, the company would no longer provide services to its partners. The decision came after the start-up laid off around 70 percent of its staff last month.The hospitality and travel sector have been the hardest hit by the pandemic, forcing more than 700 hotels in the country to close down as social distancing calls and travel bans continue globally to contain the coronavirus spread. The disease has infected more than 12,700 people in Indonesia, with the death toll reaching 900 as of Thursday afternoon, according to official data.Airy public relations manager Vinda Mudita told The Jakarta Post that she was unable to give detailed information about the layoffs and business shutdown.last_img read more

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‘PGA Tour 2K21’ to tee off worldwide on Aug. 21

first_imgTopics : “I’m excited to join the 2K family and challenge players everywhere on the digital links.”Thomas will be joined by 11 additional PGA TOUR pros, each of whom will present a challenge to players in the PGA TOUR Career Mode as they compete to become a FedExCup Champion. Players can also create and personalize their MyPLAYERs with equipment and apparel from licensed brands including adidas, Polo Ralph Lauren, Malbon Golf, Callaway Golf, Bridgestone Golf, TaylorMade Golf and more.Capping off the simulation experience, PGA TOUR 2K21 will feature a broadcast-style presentation with state-of-the-art graphics, dynamic cut scenes and a seamless replay system, all anchored by the play-by-play commentary of renowned broadcaster Luke Elvy and analyst Rich Beem.“As a global leader in the sports simulation genre, 2K is the perfect partner to kick off the new PGA TOUR 2K video game series and introduce the PGA TOUR experience to new players of all ages,” said Len Brown, PGA TOUR chief legal officer and executive vice president, licensing. “Golf is hotter than ever with celebrities, athletes and musicians playing the game and sharing their experiences on social media every day,” said Chris Snyder, vice president of marketing for 2K.”Our goal is to create the most authentic golf simulation experience ever.” Gaming publisher 2K has announced that PGA TOUR 2K21, its forthcoming, officially licensed golf simulation video game, is currently scheduled for worldwide release on Aug. 21 for the PlayStation 4 system, the Xbox One family of devices, including the Xbox One X and Windows PC via Steam, the Nintendo Switch system and Stadia.Featuring decorated PGA TOUR pro Justin Thomas as the cover athlete, PGA TOUR 2K21 heralds the return of the great golf video game that fans have been missing. “Being chosen to be the first-ever cover athlete for the premiere PGA TOUR 2K game is a tremendous honor,” said Justin Thomas, the 2017 FedExCup champion, PGA Championship winner and former world number one on the Official World Golf Ranking.last_img read more

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TaniHub donates animal feed to Taman Safari Indonesia amid COVID-19 epidemic

first_img“We are preparing a special section on the TaniHub app dedicated to animal feed donations. It will be launched soon,” he said.According to a survey conducted by the Indonesian Zoo Association (PKBS), 92 percent of the association’s members in Sumatra, Java, Bali, Lombok and Borneo had stocks to feed their animals only until mid-May.TSI, which is notable for its collection of carnivorous animals, previously attempted to compensate for supply shortages by reducing the amount given to the animals and altering the composition of the feed. “We are very supportive of TSI’s [initiatives], especially its scientific research and animal re-population efforts,” Pamitra said in a statement on Monday.Read also: Thousands of animals in Indonesian zoos may soon go hungryThe firm donated 200 kilograms of chicken and 1,300 kg of fruits and vegetables to the zoo on Thursday.TaniSupply director Sariyo said members of the public would soon be able to contribute to the donation campaign through the TaniHub mobile app. Homegrown agricultural (agritech) technology firm TaniHub Group has donated animal feed to Taman Safari Indonesia (TSI) in Bogor, West Java as concerns were raised over animal welfare after the zoo was closed to the public amid the COVID-19 epidemic.TSI is the first of several private zoos and conservation centers across the country to have received supplies of animal feed from the agritech company.TaniHub Group president Pamitra Wineka said the company was committed to alleviating some of the burden placed on TSI to maintain the well-being of various fauna amid the major economic downturn.center_img Topics :last_img read more

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Jakarta pedestrians allowed to exercise at 32 alternative CFD locations

first_imgAfter previously suspending the weekly Car Free Day (CFD) on Jl. Sudirman and Jl. MH Thamrin in Central Jakarta, the city administration has allowed pedestrians to exercise in 32 alternatives areas with strict health protocols in place.Jakarta Transportation Agency head Syafrin Liputo said pedestrians who visited the replacement locations must not gather in crowds. He previously barred pedestrians and only allowed cyclists to exercise in the alternative CFD locations over concerns of packed gatherings as reported during last Sunday’s CFD, the first time the event was held after being suspended for months due to the COVID-19 outbreak. The city decided to halt CFD on the city’s main thoroughfares to minimize the risk of transmission, as residents showed a lack of discipline during the event. “[Pedestrians] can visit the locations but in line with the cyclists, they must keep moving and not hang out in one spot, which could create crowds,” he said as reported by kompas.com on Friday.“Exercise yes, hanging out [on the street] no,” he added.In order to prevent gatherings of crowds, the city administration will deploy 1,526 personnel to the 32 locations.The public space for exercise will be available on Sunday from 6 a.m. to 9 a.m. where Transportation Agency personnel will close down a section of the street at the locations.The 32 alternative locations prepared by the city administration include: Jl. Suryopranoto, Jl. Percetakan Negara 2, Jl. Pejagalan Raya in Central Jakarta, Jl. Pemuda, Jl. RA Fadilah, Jl. Raden Inten in East Jakarta, Jl. Danau Sunter Selatan, Jl. Kelapa Hibrida, Jl. Pulau Maju Bersama in North Jakarta, Jl. Gadjah Mada, Jl. Hayam Wuruk and Jl. Putri Harum in West Jakarta, as well as Jl. Antasari, Jl. Sultan Iskandar Muda and Jl. Cipete Raya in South Jakarta. (dpk)Topics :last_img read more

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PA announces West Bank lockdown as virus numbers soar

first_imgTopics : The Palestinian Authority on Wednesday announced a five-day lockdown across the West Bank after a rise in coronavirus infections, as Israel saw its steepest-yet 24-hour uptick in cases.”Starting from Friday morning, all governorates of the West Bank… will be closed for a period of five days,” Palestinian government spokesman Ibrahim Melhem said, adding that pharmacies, bakeries and supermarkets were exempt.The latest data from the Palestinian ministry of health said that as of Wednesday night, a total of 2,686 people had tested positive for COVID-10 since the illness was first recorded in the West Bank, compared with just 1,256 a week ago. Last week, after the easing of a previous coronavirus lockdown in late May, Palestinian health minister Mai al-Kaila said the territory had entered a second wave of infections “more dangerous than the first”.Most infections were traceable to Palestinians working in Israel or Arab Israeli visitors to the West Bank, Kaila said.There have been seven deaths from the virus in the territory.Israel has also recorded a surge, with a cumulative total of 26,021 confirmed cases on Wednesday night, 980 of them in the past 24 hours — the highest such count yet.center_img The Palestinian Authority imposed a full West Bank lockdown after the first coronavirus cases were identified on 5 March, lifting it at the end of May.A public health state of emergency was reimposed for 30 days from early June.  Bethlehem was closed from Monday morning after a major spike in COVID-19 infections.The cities of Hebron and Nablus were also already under lockdown.Tens of thousands of West Bank Palestinians travel to work in Israel as day laborers and Palestinian prime minister Mohammed Shtayyeh has urged them to self-isolate for 14 days.Those who are temporarily staying in Israel have been asked not to return home for the time being.Arab Israelis — descendants of Palestinians who remained on their land after the creation of Israel in 1948 — have also been asked to avoid visiting.last_img read more

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Most Indonesians want schools, colleges to reopen despite pandemic: Survey

first_imgAccording to the decree, schools that have reopened can be closed again if there is any COVID-19 transmission in the area or if the risk status of the area changes to yellow, orange or red.Schools are required to have clean toilets, hand-washing facilities, disinfectants, thermo guns and access to health facilities to be eligible for reopening. Schools are also expected to designate areas where wearing a face mask is mandatory.All students have to adhere to physical distancing measures and wear masks. Schools are required to limit the number of students per classroom to 18, roughly 50 percent of the previous capacity.During the initial stage, the government is only allowing senior and junior high schools to reopen. Elementary schools will be allowed to follow suit two months after, while kindergartens will be allowed to reopen four months after, the decree stipulates.However, the risk of transmission remains even at schools located in green zones. For instance, all schools in Pariaman, West Sumatra, were forced to close their doors for the second time and return to online classes on July 20 after two staff members of a school in the city tested positive for COVID-19. Schools in the city had reopened on July 13, which marked the start of the school year.Indonesia’s COVID-19 cases have also continued to rise as some regions started relaxing previous restrictions. As of Monday, the country’s official COVID-19 tally stood at 100,303 cases.Topics : “The education and culture minister could take this into consideration. Eighty percent of the public ‘strongly agree’ or ‘agree’ to schools reopening,” Eko said in a virtual press conference on Monday.Furthermore, 78.7 percent of respondents said they supported the reopening of universities, with the average approval score being 7.37.Although most schools in Indonesia are still running online lessons, students in some parts of the archipelago returned to physical classroom learning on July 13 as Education and Culture Minister Nadiem Makarim has allowed the gradual reopening of schools in COVID-19 low-risk areas, or “green zones”, having issued a joint ministerial decree that was signed by him and the religious affairs minister, the home minister and the health minister.Read also: Indonesia’s COVID-19 cases top 100,000 as Jakarta logs new daily record The majority of Indonesians want the government to reopen schools and colleges, a recent poll by Cyrus Network has suggested, despite the COVID-19 pandemic showing no signs of letting up anytime soon.According to the survey, published on Monday, 80.2 percent of 1,230 respondents polled from July 16 to 20 were in favor or reopening schools, while 19.8 percent were opposed to it.Cyrus Network CEO Eko Dafid Afianto said the average public approval score for the reopening of schools was 7.44, below the 7.89 average approval for government service offices reopening, the latter of which topped the list.last_img read more

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