2021-04-16 03:56:00 06:15:00

World News

US President Donald Trump has tested negative for the novel coronavirus, his physician said on Saturday, following concerns over his exposure to a disease that has paralyzed the globe.

Trump agreed to the test after coming in contact with several members of a Brazilian presidential delegation visiting his Florida resort who have since tested positive for the virus.

"This evening I received confirmation that the test is negative," the president's physician Sean Conley said in a memo.

"One week after having dinner with the Brazilian delegation at Mar-a-Lago, the President remains symptom-free," he said.

Trump, 73, had dismissed concerns over his exposure to the disease which has killed at least 51 Americans and upended the rhythm of daily life across the country, with millions working from home and schools shuttered.

New York, the most populous US city, saw its first coronavirus death on Saturday, as store shelves were stripped bare after days of panic buying.

"I have been through Hurricane Sandy [...] through 9/11, I have never seen shopping like this," said Larry Grossman, manager of a Manhattan supermarket.

Vice President Mike Pence on Saturday announced a further restriction on travel to the United States, saying a travel ban imposed on European nations over the pandemic would be extended to the United Kingdom and Ireland Tuesday.

Trump advised against non-essential travel, and said officials were considering imposing travel restrictions within the United States.

"If you don't have to travel, I wouldn't do it," Trump said at a White House news conference. "We want this thing to end. We don't want a lot of people getting infected."

Trump declared a national emergency on Friday in what critics say was a long-delayed admission of the gravity of the crisis, freeing up some $40 billion in disaster relief funds.

Late Friday, the US House of Representatives passed a bill — crafted by Democrats in consultation with the Trump administration — to provide billions of dollars for free virus testing, emergency paid sick leave and family leave related to the epidemic.

Supported by Trump, it is expected to easily pass the Republican-controlled Senate next week.

News of Trump taking the test marked a further turning point, after days of resistance to the suggestion.

An end to hand-shaking

The coronavirus pandemic has claimed more than 5,700 lives in some 137 countries.

Repeatedly attacked for sending out mixed signals on the health crisis, the president raised eyebrows on Friday when, contrary to medical advice, he was seen shaking hands as he gathered his coronavirus response team at the White House.

On Saturday, he blamed habit — "people put their hand out [...] you don't think about it" — but said it would have to change.

"Maybe people shouldn't be shaking hands for the long term," said Trump, a self-declared germophobe, "because it does transmit flu and other things".

Trump's virus test came after not only contact with the Brazilian delegation, but also US lawmakers and political leaders who have gone into self-quarantine over potential infection.

Republican National Committee chairwoman Ronna McDaniel was on Saturday awaiting results of a virus test after she came down with flu-like symptoms.

She reportedly attended an event in Florida with Trump on Monday and flew back to Washington on Air Force One.

A broader travel ban

On Saturday a 30-day US ban took effect on all travel from the EU's Schengen border-free zone, part of a global clampdown on travel to curtail the virus.

Pence said the ban — which notably excluded Britain and Ireland — would include both countries as of midnight EST on Monday.

"Americans in the UK or Ireland can come home. Legal (US) residents can come home," Pence said.

Trump also aimed a new jab at the US Federal Reserve, saying he wanted it to be "much more proactive" in moving to protect Americans from the widespread economic dislocation caused by the pandemic.

But the president — wearing a navy blue USA cap — seemed otherwise subdued during Saturday's briefing, uncharacteristically offering praise to Democrats including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

Pelosi said she was "proud" to have reached an agreement on the relief package after days of tense talks with the White House.

Trump also tweeted that he had a "nice conversation" with Canadian leader Justin Trudeau and that it was "great to hear that his wonderful wife Sophie is doing very well". Trudeau has been telegoverning since his wife was diagnosed with COVID-19 on Thursday.

For reasons unknown, children rarely have severe symptoms when infected by COVID-19 and may even be a bit less likely to get the disease in the first place, experts told AFP.

But that doesn't mean infants, toddlers and teens are not carriers for the new coronavirus, which jumped from animals to humans in central China at the end of last year.

As of Friday, there were over 140,000 confirmed cases in 124 countries, with more than 5,000 deaths.

Experts estimate that the true number of infections — many with mild or no symptoms — is far higher.

"We know children get infected with the virus, but they don't appear to get very sick or die," said Justin Lessler, an epidemiologist at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

"What we don't know is how much these asymptomatic or mildly symptomatic kids transmit," he told AFP. "This is key to understanding their role in the epidemic."

In a study from mid-February of 44,000 confirmed cases in and around the city of Wuhan, where the pandemic began, the 10-to-19 age bracket made up one percent of infections and a single death.

Patients under 10 comprised less than one percent, with no deaths reported.

"We are still trying to wrap our heads around the deficit of cases among those under 20," said Cecile Viboud, an epidemiologist at the US National Institute of Health's Fogarty International Centre.

There are several theories as to why kids, especially young ones, are less prone to serious symptoms.

"Children see so many illnesses in the first years of life that their immune systems are tuned up and respond nicely to novel infection," commented Sharon Nachman, head of paediatric infectious disease at Stony Brook Children's Hospital in New York state.

Whatever the reason, how easily children transmit the disease despite their relative imperviousness to illness "is directly relevant to the idea of closing schools," according to Viboud.

'Flattening the curve'

On Thursday French President Emmanuel Macron said all schools in France — from kindergarten to college — would shut their doors as of Monday, until further notice.

So far, 29 countries — including Ireland, China, Italy, Poland and Japan — have suspended classes nationwide, affecting nearly 400 million kids, according to UNESCO. Another 20 nations having taken partial measures.

Some argue that locking children out of the classroom is not worth the social disruption caused, and that keeping kids at home may further expose older people to the disease.

"It might make the epidemic or the ability to manage the consequences worse," suggested Keith Neal, an emeritus professor of epidemiology and infectious diseases at the University of Nottingham.

It could, for example, result in a reduction in the number of healthcare workers to care for the sick, and "an increase in grandparents delivering childcare — an age group at much greater risk," he told AFP.

Thomas House, a statistician at the University of Manchester, said there are pros and cons.

"It helps to contain the spread of infection, but it creates a wider problem in society, like missing out on an education," he said.

But most experts come down in favour of shuttering schools in order to slow the disease's progress and distribute the number of critical cases over a longer time period in order to avoid overwhelming critical care units in hospitals, as happened in Wuhan and Italy.

Doctors in both places described war-like triage in which they incubated a patient on the last available respirator knowing that one or more others in equal need was likely to die.

For Nachman, pulling children out of school is "a very reasonable measure."

"We assume that all children will get infection," she said in an interview. "But if they pass it to their parents and household contacts, it will be over a longer period of time."

"Instead of getting a hundred people sick tomorrow, we'll get ten sick for the next ten days, which means less people coming into the hospital all at once."

Opponents of the law say it is discriminatory

NEW DELHI, Feb 4, (AP): India’s ruling Hindu nationalist-led government said Tuesday it was still weighing whether to roll out a nationwide citizenship registry, an exercise it says would weed out illegal foreign nationals, amid ongoing protests against a citizenship law that fast-tracks naturalization for some religious minorities from three neighboring countries but not Muslims.

Indians, some holding national fl ags and placards, participate in a protest against a new citizenship law that opponents say threatens India’s secular identity in Bangalore, India on Feb 3. Demonstrators across the country have been demanding the revocation of the citizenship law approved last month. The law provides a fast-track to naturalization for persecuted religious minorities from some neighboring Islamic countries, but excludes Muslims. (AP)

The official statement, made by lawmaker Nityanand Rai in a written reply to a question in Parliament, is a departure from comments made by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s senior party leaders, including the home minister, Amit Shah.

The BJP’s manifesto for the 2019 national elections, which the party won in a landslide victory, also promised the citizenship registry in India. Modi, however, recently backed away from the exercise after public pressure mounted with the passage of the controversial Citizenship Amendment Act.

Millions of people have demonstrated in India’s major cities since the law was passed in December. Opponents of the law say it is discriminatory because it excludes Muslims and unconstitutional because it links faith to citizenship in a secular country. Critics fear the registry coupled with the new law could leave millions stateless, a fear that government officials have dismissed. Nearly 2 million people, about half Hindu and half Muslim, were excluded from a similar registry Modi’s party implemented in the northeastern state of Assam last year.

They have been asked to prove their citizenship in quasi-legal tribunals or else risk being declared foreign and stripped of rights including to cast a vote. India is building a detention center for foreigners in Assam. Modi has publicly denied that there are any detention centres in the country and has downplayed the protests, saying they are orchestrated by his opponents.

Meanwhile, Indian police last week detained a man who allegedly fired a pistol near a university in New Delhi where students were protesting a new citizenship law that excludes Muslims. The man challenged protesters as they started marching from the university to the mausoleum of India’s independence leader Mohandas Gandhi on his death anniversary, said Ahmed Azeem, a Jamia Millia Islamia University spokesman.

In this photo taken on Saturday, May 26, 2018, showing the actual Ukrainian Boeing 737-800 UR-PSR plane that crashed Wednesday Jan. 8, 2020, on the outskirts of Tehran, Iran, seen here as it waits to takeoff at Borispil international airport outside Kyiv, Ukraine. This Ukrainian airplane carrying 176 people crashed on Wednesday shortly after takeoff from Tehran’s main airport, killing all onboard, Iranian state TV and officials in Ukraine said. (AP Photo/Oleg Belyakov)

TEHRAN, Iran, Jan 11 (AP) – Iran announced Saturday that its military “unintentionally” shot down the Ukrainian jetliner that crashed earlier this week, killing all 176 aboard, after the government had repeatedly denied Western accusations that it was responsible.


The plane was shot down early Wednesday, hours after Iran launched a ballistic missile attack on two military bases housing U.S. troops in Iraq in retaliation for the killing of Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani in an American airstrike in Baghdad. No one was wounded in the attack on the bases.
A military statement carried by state media said the plane was mistaken for a “hostile target” after it turned toward a “sensitive military center” of the Revolutionary Guard. The military was at its “highest level of readiness,” it said, amid the heightened tensions with the United States.
“In such a condition, because of human error and in a unintentional way, the flight was hit,” the military said. It apologized and said it would upgrade its systems to prevent future tragedies.

It also said those responsible for the strike on the plane would be prosecuted.
Iran’s acknowledgement of responsibility for the crash was likely to inflame public sentiment against authorities after Iranians had rallied around their leaders in the wake of Soleimani’s killing. The general was seen as a national icon, and hundreds of thousands of Iranians had turned out for funeral processions across the country.

But the majority of the plane crash victims were Iranians or Iranian-Canadians, and the crash came just weeks after authorities quashed nationwide protests ignited by a hike in gasoline prices.

Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani blamed the tragedy on “threats and bullying” by the United States after the killing of Soleimani. He expressed condolences to families of the victims, and he called for a “full investigation” and the prosecution of those responsible.

“A sad day,” Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif tweeted. “Human error at time of crisis caused by US adventurism led to disaster. Our profound regrets, apologies and condolences to our people, to the families of all victims, and to other affected nations.”
The jetliner, a Boeing 737 operated by Ukrainian International Airlines, went down on the outskirts of Tehran shortly after taking off from Imam Khomeini International Airport.

Iran had denied for several days that a missile caused the crash. But then the U.S. and Canada, citing intelligence, said they believed Iran shot down the aircraft with a surface-to-air missile, a conclusion supported by videos of the incident.

The plane, en route to the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv, was carrying 167 passengers and nine crew members from several countries, including 82 Iranians, at least 57 Canadians and 11 Ukrainians, according to officials. The Canadian government had earlier lowered the nation’s death toll from 63.

“This is the right step for the Iranian government to admit responsibility, and it gives people a step toward closure with this admission,” said Payman Parseyan, a prominent Iranian-Canadian in western Canada who lost a number of friends in the crash.

“I think the investigation would have disclosed it whether they admitted it or not. This will give them an opportunity to save face.”

ISLAMABAD: Continuing with his endeavour to facilitate rapprochement between Saudi Arabia and Iran, Prime Minister Imran Khan on Tuesday met Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud and Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman to encourage a negotiated settlement of disputes with Iran.

A statement issued by the Foreign Office said that Prime Minister Khan advised the monarch to peacefully resolve regional disputes through diplomacy.

The statement did not say how King Salman responded to Mr Khan’s suggestion. Saudi Arabia has in the past shunned such initiatives by Pakistan.

Pakistan has tried to mediate on four occasions in the past — most lately in 2016 when the then PM Nawaz Sharif and Army Chief Gen Raheel Sharif visited Tehran and Riyadh to defuse the situation in the aftermath of execution of Saudi Shia cleric Baqir Al-Nimr. A curtain-raiser issued by the FO earlier in the day had also said the trip was part of Mr Khan’s “initiative for peace and security in the region”.

While Saudi Arabia and Iran have a history of hostile ties, the relations soured further after the start of Yemen war in 2015. Lately there has been a dangerous escalation in the situation following an attack claimed by the Houthis on Aramco-run oil fields and processing plant that crippled Saudi oil production.

Imran meets Saudi King Salman, Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman

It is feared that military confrontation between the two arch-rivals in the Gulf could have grave consequences for the neighbourhood and the region at large. It is in this context that efforts are being made by several countries, including Pakistan, to contain the crisis.

Prime Minister Khan first spoke about his initiative on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly session last month. He had then said that President Trump had asked him to help in defusing tensions in the region. Mr Khan had also discussed the issue with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani in their meeting in New York.

It was earlier claimed that the initiative had been taken on Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman’s request. The FO, however, later denied that the initiative was being undertaken on someone else’s behest and claimed that the initiative was PM Khan’s own for the sake of regional peace.

Besides King Salman, Mr Khan along with his delegation also met Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman during his stay in Riyadh.

PM Khan exchanged views with the crown prince on the security situation in the region and efforts for peace. He reiterated Pakistan’s ‘unwavering’ support and commitment to the security of the two Holy Mosques.

Earlier on Sunday, PM Khan with a similar message had travelled to Tehran, where the leadership welcomed Pakistan’s efforts aimed at defusing tensions in the region. Iranian President Hassan Rouhani in his media talk after meeting Mr Khan said: “Regional issues have to be resolved through regional means and dialogue. We also emphasised that any goodwill gesture will be responded with a goodwill gesture and good words.”

It is believed that the way out of the Iran-Saudi Arabia stand-off lies in the resolution of Yemen issue.

Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, too, had told Mr Khan that Iran “has proposed a four-article plan for finishing the war on Yemen since a long time ago; the end of this war can have positive effects on the region.”

US-Iran ties

Prime Minister Khan expressed optimism about possible improvements in US-Iran ties which are currently at the lowest ebb after President Donald Trump announced withdrawal from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), also known as the Iran nuclear deal, followed by imposition of pressing sanctions on Tehran, APP reported.


The prime minister, in a brief interview with a CNN programme hosted by Becky Anderson on Tuesday night, said that during his visit to New York, President Trump had asked him that he (Mr Khan) should try and go between Iran and the United States. And during his recent visit to Iran, PM Khan added, he had also spoken to Iranian President Hassan Rouhani about the US offer.

In reply to a question, the prime minister said the situation was evolving and he would not go into details. “Let’s see; it gets anywhere. I will not go into too much detail, until there is response from both sides.”

He admitted that relations between the two countries were more complicated; however, he expressed optimism that there was realisation on both sides.

About the US president, Mr Khan said the people criticised him often, but “I think, what I like in him that he does not believe in wars”.

Foreign investment

Prime Minister Khan welcomed a $240 million investment in Pakistan by a Hong Kong-based port operator and its commitment to the country’s economic prosperity.

Talking to a delegation of Hutchison Port Holdings, led by its Group Managing Director Eric Ip, which called on him on Tuesday, the prime minister reiterated the commitment and focus of the government to facilitate investment and ease-of-doing-business that would ultimately result in economic growth and employment generation.

According to a press release issued by the PM Office, Eric Ip apprised the prime minister of his company’s fresh investment of $240m in Pakistan that would make available a significant amount of new container terminal capacity at Karachi Port and increase Hutchison Port Holdings’ total investment in the country to $1 billion.

The prime minister was also briefed on the development of Hutchison Port Holdings, its parent company CK Hutchison Holdings, and the group’s commitment to playing a pivotal role in facilitating the economic growth of Pakistan, as well as supporting the development of Karachi Port into a major hub for trade in Asia.

Hutchison Port Holdings is one of the world’s largest port companies, with over 30,000 employees, operating 52 ports and terminals in 27 countries spanning Asia, the Middle East, Africa, Europe, the Americas and Australia.

Minister for Maritime Affairs Ali Haider Zaidi, Adviser to the PM on Commerce Abdul Razzak Dawood, Special Assistant to the PM on Overseas Pakistanis Zulfiqar Abbas Bukhari, Ambassador at Large for Foreign Investment Ali Jehangir Siddiqui, Board of Investment Chairman Zubair Haider Gilani and other senior officials were present during the meeting.

The Hutchison Ports delegation also included Managing Director for the Middle East & Africa Andy Tsoi, Business Director for the Middle East & Africa Eric Ng and members of the company’s Pakistan management team.

Published in Dawn, October 16th, 2019

UNITED NATIONS: “I had a very good meeting with Prime Minister (Imran) Khan. It was a long meeting and we discussed a lot,” said US President Donald Trump when Indian journalists pressed him to condemn Pakistan’s alleged support for militants in the occupied valley.

The 74th session of the UN General Assembly, although focused on climate change, has also become an India-Pakistan battlefield, with both trying to win over the support of the international community for their position on Kashmir.

While the Pakistanis are focusing on the human rights violations in held Kashmir, the Indians try to divert the world’s attention to its accusation that Islamabad intends to send 500 militants into the valley.

Since Aug 5, when India unilaterally and illegally annexed the occupied land, the US and international media have published hundreds of stories on the Indian siege of Kashmir, which entered its 51st day on Wednesday.

UNGA session is focused on climate change, but it has also become an India-Pakistan battlefield

This makes it difficult for the Indians to deflect allegations of human rights violations in held Kashmir. They, however, counter it by trying to lead the argument to terrorism, as Indian journalists did at the Trump-Modi presser on Tuesday afternoon.

President Trump, however, refused to be dragged into this debate and in doing so, he once again reiterated his offer of arbitration to reduce India-Pakistan tensions, despite New Delhi’s repeated rejection of his offers.

Asked “how do you make sure that you clamp down on terrorism from Pakistan,” the US leader said: “Well, I had a very good meeting with Prime Minister Khan. It was a long meeting and we discussed a lot.”

Read: Trump says ready to mediate on Kashmir if both Pakistan, India want

He then made his first – and the third this week – reference of the day to his mediation offer. “And I think he’d like to see something happen that would be very fruitful, very peaceful. And I think that will happen, ultimately. I really believe that these two great gentlemen (Mr Khan and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi) will get together and work something,” he said.

“You mentioned Pakistan, but Iran would have to be at the top of the list. Because if you look at terrorist states, that’s been the number one for a long time,” he added.

He then went back to urging India, Pakistan to talk to each other — another suggestion New Delhi does not like.

“I really believe that Prime Minister Modi and Prime Minister Khan, they get along — they will get along when they get to know each other. And I think a lot of good things will come from that meeting.”

The journalists then tried another approach, claiming that Pakistan had 30 to 40 thousand terrorists and asked Mr Trump to give a message to Islamabad on this issue.

“Well, I mean, the message is not for me to give, it’s for Prime Minister Modi to give. And I think he gave that loud and clear on the other day (in Houston) when we were together. He gave a pretty loud message. And I’m sure he will be able to handle that situation.”

The journalists then came from a different angle, claiming that Mr Khan admitted training Al Qaeda (which he did not). “How do you see the statement coming from the Pakistani prime minister,” one of them asked.

Published in Dawn, September 26th, 2019

Major US social media firms told a Senate panel on Wednesday they are doing more to prevent to remove violent or extremist content from online platforms in the wake of several high-profile incidents, focusing on using more technological tools to act faster. — AFP/File

WASHINGTON: Major US social media firms told a Senate panel on Wednesday they are doing more to prevent to remove violent or extremist content from online platforms in the wake of several high-profile incidents, focusing on using more technological tools to act faster.

Critics say too many violent videos or posts that back extremist groups supporting terrorism are not immediately removed from social media websites.

Senator Richard Blumenthal, a Democrat, said social media firms need to do more to prevent violent content.

Facebook’s head of global policy management, Monika Bickert, told the Senate Commerce Committee its software detection systems have “reduced the average time it takes for our AI to find a violation on Facebook Live to 12 seconds, a 90 percent reduction in our average detection time from a few months ago.” In May, Facebook Inc said it would temporarily block users who break its rules from broadcasting live video. That followed an international outcry after a gunman killed 51 people in New Zealand and streamed the attack live on his page.

Bickert said Facebook asked law enforcement agencies to help it access “videos that could be helpful training tools” to improve its machine learning to detect violent videos.

Published in Dawn, September 19th, 2019


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