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India launches portal to help stranded foreigners

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By Krishnan Nayar New Delhi, 31st March, 2020 (WAM) – The Indian Ministry of Tourism today launched a portal called “Stranded in India” to help thousands of foreigners – including tourists from the Gulf – who arrived in India before the COVID-19 pandemic and are now stuck in various parts of the country following cancellation of domestic and international flights, trains and inter-state buses.

“The aim of the portal is to extend support to foreign tourists who are stranded in India and to disseminate information regarding the services that can be availed of by foreigners who are stuck far away from their homeland,” the government’s Press Information Bureau said in an announcement. “The portal aims to act as a support network for foreign tourists stuck in various parts of India.”

“Stranded in India” says in its introduction to those seeking the Tourism Ministry’s help that “the world is facing an unprecedented situation today. The Ministry of Tourism is with you in these difficult times. We are truly committed to the safety of one and all. If you are a foreign traveller stranded anywhere in India due to the COVID-19 pandemic, we can help you get in touch with the concerned authorities.”

The Press Information Bureau asserted that “it is a constant endeavour of the authorities in India to ensure the well-being of tourists, especially the ones that arrive here from foreign countries. Accordingly, the Ministry of Tourism is constantly staying vigilant and encouraging various initiatives to help the ones in need.”

The portal’s services may also help Indian citizens who live abroad and want to return to countries where they work or do business as expatriates.

The portal has the following information that will hopefully be of use to thousands of stranded foreigners at this time: comprehensive information about COVID-19 helpline numbers or call centres which foreigners can reach out to for help; information around state-based or regional tourism support infrastructure; help and support section to extend help to the ones in need of further information and connect foreign tourists to the concerned authorities.

The portal also has detailed of information on the round-the-clock helpline for worldwide coordination on COVID-19 of the Indian Ministry of External Affairs along with their contact information.

The Emirates News Agency, WAM, had exclusively reported on March 19 the setting up of this helpline with designated officers in charge of the Gulf region.

WAM/Tariq alfaham

 

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WAM: Russia records 500 coronavirus cases over past day

Russia records 500 coronavirus cases over past day

MOSCOW, 31st March, 2020 (WAM) — The number of people infected with the novel coronavirus in Russia has increased by 500 in the past 24 hours, reaching 2,337, the Russian News Agency, TASS, reported on Tuesday.

According to the federal coronavirus task force, 121 people have recovered and 17 have died.

 

[Image Credit: Russian News Agency, TASS]

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WAM: Kuwait reports 23 new COVID-19 cases

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KUWAIT, 31st March, 2020 (WAM) — The Kuwaiti Ministry of Health announced Tuesday that 23 people were infected by the novel coronavirus, COVID-19, in the last 24 hours.

The announcement brings the country’s tally of confirmed virus cases up to 289, according to ministry’s spokesman Dr. Abdullah Al-Sanad.

In addition, 216 virus patients are still receiving necessary treatment, while 13 others are in intensive care units; including three in a critical condition, KUNA reported.

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WAM: Indonesia registers 114 new coronavirus infections

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JAKARTA, 31st March, 2020 (WAM) — Indonesia confirmed 114 new coronavirus infections on Tuesday, bringing the total to 1,528, Reuters quoted a health ministry official as saying.

Another 14 people had died taking the total to 136, the official added.

 

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WAM: UNHCR: Staying and delivering for refugees amid COVID-19 crisis

UNHCR: Staying and delivering for refugees amid COVID-19 crisis

GENEVA, 31st March, 2020 (WAM) — UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, detailed on Tuesday a series of measures it is taking in its field operations to help respond to the COVID-19 public health emergency and prevent further spread.

“I am deeply concerned at this unprecedented pandemic and its impact on refugees and their host communities. The COVID-19 crisis has already had significant consequences for our operations, forcing us to rapidly adjust the way we work. However, we are sparing no effort to help and protect refugees the best we can under these difficult circumstances,’’ said Filippo Grandi, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees.

Measures UNHCR is taking include: Reinforcing the health and WASH – water, sanitation and hygiene – systems and services, including by distributing soap and increasing access to water. Supporting governments with infection prevention and health-care response, including through the provision of medical equipment and supplies.

Also, distributing shelter material and core relief items, offering guidance and fact-based information on prevention measures, and expanding cash assistance to help mitigate the negative socio-economic impact of COVID-19.

The measures also include enhancing monitoring and interventions to ensure the rights of forcibly displaced people are respected.

“Our top priority in the COVID-19 crisis is to ensure that the people we serve are included in response plans and are properly informed, while we supplement governments’ preparedness and response efforts wherever needed,’’ he added.

On 26th March, UNHCR called for $255 million as part of the wider UN appeal, to focus on priority countries that will require specific action.

Although the number of reported and confirmed cases of COVID-19 infection among refugees remains low, over 80 percent of the world’s refugee population and nearly all the internally displaced people live in low to middle-income countries, many of which have weaker health, water and sanitation systems and need urgent support.

Many refugees live in densely populated camps or in poorer urban areas with inadequate health infrastructure and WASH facilities. Prevention in these locations is of paramount importance, noted Grandi.

“We will continue to expand our critical interventions on the ground. But to do this, we need timely and unearmarked financial support now, including to ongoing humanitarian operations. Coordinated international support is in our common interest and absolutely critical,” concluded Grandi.

[Image Credit: UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency]

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WAM: OFID supports international trade in Georgia with US$50m loan

VIENNA, 31st March, 2020 (WAM) — The Director-General of the OPEC Fund for International Development, OFID, has signed an agreement to provide a US$50 million trade finance loan to JSC TBC Bank (TBC Bank), Georgia.

TBC Bank, founded in 1992, is the largest bank in Georgia and finances corporates and small and medium-sized enterprises, among other borrowers. The OPEC Fund loan will enable the bank to provide sub-loans to support the import and export of strategically important commodities and other goods.

“International trade is important to the global economy, and it is crucial to a relatively small country such as Georgia,” said the OPEC Fund’s Director-General Dr. Abdulhamid Alkhalifa. “We are pleased to work with TBC once more. Our loan will support international trade and ultimately improve employment opportunities in Georgia, as well as economic growth.”

For his part, Vakhtang Butskhrikidze, CEO of TBC Bank, commented, “I am very pleased that over time we have built such a successful partnership with the OPEC Fund. With this new facility, TBC Bank will continue to more actively support local businesses to expand their import and export activities and engage in international markets.”

TBC Bank and the OPEC Fund enjoy a long-standing partnership. In 2012, the OPEC Fund approved a US$10 million trade finance loan, mostly related to the import of goods. In 2017, the OPEC Fund participated with the sum of US$25 million in a syndicated term loan to TBC Bank, arranged by FMO, the Dutch development bank. The OPEC Fund again supported the international trade of Georgia.

OFID was established in January 1976 by the then 13 member countries of OPEC; including the United Arab Emirates. It is the development finance institution established as a channel of aid to developing countries.

 

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WAM: 19 dead in southwest China forest fire

19 dead in southwest China forest fire

BEIJING, 31st March, 2020 (WAM) — A forest fire that is threatening an LPG storage site and two petrol stations has killed 19 people, including 18 firefighters, in southwest China’s Sichuan province, state news agency Xinhua and city officials reported on Tuesday.

The fire now directly threatens major facilities in downtown Xichang, including a liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) storage station, two gasoline stations, four schools and the city’s largest department store, Xichang’s city government said on its social media account.

As of midnight on Monday, the burned area had exceeded 1,000 hectares and around 80 hectares of forest were destroyed.

So far, a total of 2,044 people have been dispatched to put out the fire and over 1,200 local residents nearby evacuated, Xinhua said.

[Image Credit: AP]

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WAM: Kuwait announces recovery of one COVID-19 case

Kuwait announces recovery of one COVID-19 case

KUWAIT, 31st March, 2020 (WAM) — Kuwait on Tuesday announced the recovery of one person (an 82-year-old woman) from the novel coronavirus, COVID-19 raising the country’s total recoveries to 73.

The Kuwait News Agency, KUNA, quoted Minister of Health Sheikh Dr. Basel Al-Sabah as sating that necessary lab tests and analyses had shown the recovery of the senior citizen.

The already treated patient will be admitted to a rehabilitation ward before being discharged from hospital within a couple of days’ time, the minister added.

[Image Credit: Kuwait Times]

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WAM: Indonesia bans entry of foreigners to curb COVID-19 spread

Indonesia bans entry of foreigners to curb COVID-19 spread

JAKARTA, 31st March, 2020 (WAM) — Indonesia barred foreign nationals from entering the country as the world’s fourth-most populous country stepped up efforts to contain the spread of the coronavirus pandemic, according to Jakarta Post.

The travel ban, to be effective soon, will also cover foreigners transiting through the country, Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi told reporters after a cabinet meeting in Jakarta Tuesday. The curbs will not apply to holders of work permits, diplomats and other official visitors, she said.

 

[Image Credit: The Jakarta Post]

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wam: US$2.5 trillion COVID-19 rescue package needed for world’s emerging economies

GENEVA, 31st March, 2020 (WAM) — The economic fallout from COVID-19 is likely to get “much worse” before it gets better for some six billion people living in developing economies, the UN said on Monday, in an appeal for a US$2.5 trillion rescue package to boost their resilience to further hardship.

According to new analysis from UNCTAD, the UN trade and development body, commodity-rich exporting countries will face a $2 trillion to $3 trillion drop in investment from overseas in the next two years.

An economic downturn in these emerging economies was already evident in the last quarter of 2019 – before the new coronavirus outbreak emerged in central China last December, said Richard Kozul-Wright, UNCTAD director of globalisation and development strategies.

“The health crisis is still to come in many developing countries,” he told UN News. “Now, if that crisis comes as these countries have been significantly weakened by the economic shockwaves from the crisis. And that is a very vicious combination of an economic crisis and a health crisis. So we’ve got to find ways of strengthening the healthcare system and services in developing countries and building up resilience on that front very quickly.”

Rich industrial nations have already announced a $5 trillion global rescue package plan to provide an economic safety net to their businesses and workers.

This unprecedented measure should reduce the extent of their shock “physically, economically and psychologically,” said Kozul-Wright.

It is also expected to create $1 trillion to $2 trillion of demand among the major G20 economies, boosting global manufacturing by two percent, he writes in his latest report.

“Even so, the world economy will go into recession this year with a predicted loss of global income in the trillions of dollars – this will spell serious trouble for developing countries, with the likely exception of China and the possible exception of India,” Kozul-Wright warned.

UNCTAD believes that part of the problem for many developing countries is that informal workers form the backbone of their emerging economies, which amplifies their difficulties in responding to the crisis.

Faced with a “a looming financial tsunami” this year, UNCTAD’s four-pronged strategy initially calls for a $1 trillion investment injection for weaker economies.

This would come from so-called “special drawing rights” governed by the International Monetary Fund, IMF, which would need to “go considerably beyond” the 2009 allocation made in response to the global financial crisis, the agency’s report explains.

The second measure is a debt freeze for distressed economies, involving an immediate standstill on sovereign debt payments, followed by significant debt relief.

By way of example, UNCTAD cites how half of Germany’s debt after World War Two, was cancelled.

Based on this precedent, around $1 trillion in debt should be cancelled this year, overseen by an independently created body, the UN agency maintains.

The third measure targets $500 billion investment in poorer countries’ emergency health services and related social relief programmes.

Finally, UNCTAD urges the implementation of State-led capital controls to curtail already surging capital outflows from these developing countries.

This would help to reduce a cash shortage driven by sell-offs in developing country markets and to arrest declines in currency values and asset prices.

The proposed package is similar in size to the amount that would have been delivered to developing countries over the last decade if countries in the Development Assistance Committee of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development had met their 0.7 percent Official Development Assistance target.

“Advanced economies have promised to do ‘whatever it takes’ to stop their firms and households from taking a heavy loss of income,” said Kozul-Wright. “But if G20 leaders are to stick to their commitment of ‘a global response in the spirit of solidarity,’ there must be commensurate action for the six billion people living outside the core G20 economies.”

 

[Image Credit: UNCTAD]

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WAM: Egypt records 47 new COVID-19 cases, one death

Egypt records 47 new COVID-19 cases, one death

CAIRO, 31st March, 2020 (WAM) — Egypt confirmed 47 new cases of the new coronavirus, COVID-19, and one more death over the last 24 hours, bringing the total number of cases infected with the virus to 656, according to a statement from the country’s Cabinet.

Egypt Today also quoted the country’s Ministry of Health saying that the death toll in the country due to the COVID-19 has risen to 41 after recording one more death, while the number of those who recovered and have been tested negative for the virus rose to 182 people, including 132 cases who were discharged from the isolation hospitals so far.

 

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WAM: Modi singles out UAE in briefing

From Krishnan Nayar NEW DELHI, 30th March, 2020 (WAM) – The UAE was today singled out from the entire Arab world by India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi during a global video conference on the COVID-19 pandemic.

Modi held the video conference this evening with India’s Ambassadors worldwide, the first such event that was necessitated by the global Coronavirus outbreak.

The Prime Minister sought to know from Pavan Kapoor, India’s Ambassador to the UAE, the local “best practices, innovations, scientific breakthroughs and sources to procure medical equipment, for India’s fight against COVID-19,” according to a late night readout of the video conference proceedings by the Spokesman of the External Affairs Ministry, Raveesh Kumar.

Modi told Indian envoys that his government had taken unprecedented and early steps in response to this pandemic from mid-January this year. The objectives were to reduce the risk of importing the infection, and thereafter, to prevent a large outbreak.

This included the world’s largest quarantine and lockdown, implemented by India, which is still under way.

The readout emphasized that “since this crisis also impacts on the economy, the Heads of India’s diplomatic missions should focus on ensuring commerce in essential supplies, logistics chains, remittances and so on through coordination with foreign partners.”

Modi called upon them to attend to Indians who remain abroad, given the uncertainty of continuing international travel restrictions.

He asked the Ambassadors to boost the morale of Indians abroad, and to help them address issues arising from their unplanned stay in their countries of accreditation, with their host governments, and also to address other problems Indians might face overseas, including arranging shelter, where necessary and feasible.

Ten Ambassadors were chosen to brief Modi regarding the response in their countries of accreditation of the measures taken by India to combat the COVID-19 pandemic. The UAE was the only country chosen from all of the Arab world to give feedback at today’s video conference.

The Ambassadors “reported their efforts to identify medicine, medical devices, technologies, research and other measures which might help in India’s own national effort to fight this pandemic. They also reported lessons learned in their host countries and their best practices, in the global fight against COVID-19,” the readout added.

Last week, His Highness Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces, discussed with Modi the possibility of cooperation between entities in both countries which are in charge of combating pandemics.

In a phone call to Sheikh Mohamed, Modi brought up the prospects of jointly contributing to international efforts to stem the impact of COVID-19 on the humanitarian, health and economic fronts.

WAM/Hassan Bashir

 

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WAM: Belgium reports 82 COVID-19 deaths in 24 hours

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BRUSSELS, 30th March, 2020 (WAM) — Eighty-two new deaths caused by the new coronavirus have been reported in the last 24 hours, bringing the total death toll of the virus in Belgium to 513.

Of the 82 deaths, 46 took place in Flanders, 22 in Wallonia and 14 in Brussels, said professor Steven Van Gucht, at the daily press briefing by the FPS Public Health and the National Crisis Centre on Monday.

Since Sunday, 536 people have been hospitalised, but 168 people have also been discharged. The total number of people infected with the Coronavirus currently in the hospital is 4,524. Of those patients, 927 are being treated in intensive care, an increase of 60 in the last 24 hours.

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WAM: Grand Imam of Al Azhar urges nations to share responsibility to combat COVID-19

Sheikh Ahmed Al-Tayeb

CAIRO, 30th March, 2020 (WAM) — Dr. Ahmad Al Tayyeb, Grand Imam of Al Azhar Al Sharif, has expressed Al Azhar’s solidarity with the nations and people facing the coronavirus, COVID-19, urging countries to share the responsibility of combating the pandemic.

In a statement, Dr. Al Tayyeb called the creation and propagation of rumours surrounding COVID-19 as “Islamically forbidden”, as it may confuse and frighten others, lessening their confidence in the measures carried out by governments to protect their nations and peoples.

The Grand Imam addressed the global community, saying, “As you are aware, the world currently lives in a state of terror and fear as a result of the fast-spreading COVID-19 pandemic. This virus, which has affected and killed thousands worldwide, and has disrupted livelihoods and isolated nations across the world.”

“During these difficult times, we as nations, peoples and individuals as well as institutions must shoulder the responsibility towards combating this epidemic to put an end to it,” he affirmed.

Dr. Al Tayyeb also acknowledged the “great sacrifices” made by doctors, nurses and healthcare professionals who risk their lives on a daily basis to fight this dangerous outbreak.

He also expressed his appreciation of the “great efforts” taken by government officials across the world, saying they have offered us hope that “we will be able to overcome and defeat this pandemic”.

“For us to achieve success in this, we must be determined in our intentions and carry on shouldering the responsibility in a strict and uncompromising manner,” he added.

“As Grand Imam of Al Azhar, and within the religious jurisprudence stating, ‘warding off dangers comes before benefits’ and, ‘greater risks are offset by lesser ones’, I affirm that all health and legislative regulations issued by concerned bodies must be adhered to,” Al Tayyeb said, adding that these include regulations related to personal hygiene, social distancing, staying at home, suspension of Friday prayers as well as prayer congregations in mosques while performing them all on time.

“All these are necessities according to Islamic law and disobeying them is equivalent to disobeying Allah’s words,” Al Tayyeb said while quoting a verse from the Holy Quran, “Do not throw yourselves with your own hands into destruction” (Quran, 2:195).

“My message to all those that have suffered at the hands of COVID-19 here in Egypt and around the world; we are with you wholeheartedly and pray to Almighty Allah for your speedy recovery and for mercy on those that have lost their lives while bestowing patience and solace on their loved ones.”

At the end of his statement the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar said, “Islamic law urges all those that have the ability to help to do so towards those afflicted, regardless where they live in the world. This is also a humanitarian duty and a show of fraternity, which has been put to test during this current crisis and which will reveal how deep we believe in these humane principles.

“My advice during these trying times is to follow all necessary health and medical precautions that have been ordained by Islamic law. We must also continue to give charity through prayer and supplication to Allah to end this crisis by helping his servants and inspiring researchers to find a cure for this dangerous virus.”

 

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WAM: Spain’s Coronavirus cases rise to 85,195, surpass China’s

MADRID, 30th March, 2020 (WAM) — Spain’s total number of Coronavirus cases rose to 85,195 on Monday from 78,797 on Sunday, Reuters has quoted the country’s health ministry as saying. The infections surpassed those reported in China, at 81,470 according to the latest data.

The death toll from the virus in Spain rose to 7,340 on Monday from 6,528 on Sunday, the ministry said.

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WAM: Philippines confirms seven coronavirus deaths, 128 more infections

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MANILA, 30th March, 2020 (WAM) — The Philippines’ Health Ministry on Monday reported seven new coronavirus deaths and 128 more infections.

Total deaths have risen to 78 and infections to 1,546, Health Under-Secretary Maria Rosario Vergeire told a regular news conference. With the arrival of thousands of testing kits and the start of operations of more laboratories, authorities are able to detect more infections, she added.

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WAM: Kuwait reports 11 new Coronavirus cases

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KUWAIT, 30th March, 2020 (WAM) — The Kuwaiti Ministry of Health announced Monday that 11 people were infected by the novel coronavirus, in the last 24 hours, Kuwait News Agency, KUNA, reported.

This brings the country’s tally of confirmed virus cases up to 266, the ministry’s spokesman Dr. Abdullah Al-Sanad said in a daily news briefing.

Earlier in the day, Kuwaiti Minister of Health Sheikh Dr. Basel Al-Sabah announced the recovery of five additional people from the novel coronavirus, raising the country’s total recoveries to 72.

In addition, 194 virus patients are still receiving necessary treatment, while 13 others are in intensive care units; including three in a critical condition.

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WAM: GMIS 2020 to go virtual

HANNOVER, 30th March, 2020 (WAM) — The Global Manufacturing and Industrialisation Summit, GMIS – a joint initiative by the UAE Ministry of Energy and Industry and the United Nations Industrial Development Organisation, UNIDO, today announced that the third edition of its Summit, GMIS 2020, will be converted into a series of digital sessions.

The summit invited thought-leaders from the global manufacturing community to virtually come together, for the very first time, to discuss, debate and shape the future of the manufacturing sector.

GMIS 2020 was initially planned to take place in April alongside the Hannover Messe 2020 in Germany under the theme of #GermanyConnects – inspired by the country’s leadership in connecting the global manufacturing and industrial community with its transformational digital and technological solutions.

The digital series was announced in coordination with its co-chairs Suhail bin Mohammed Faraj Faris Al Mazrouei, UAE Minister of Energy and Industry, and LI Yong, Director-General of the UNIDO, and alongside its partner in Germany, Deutsche Messe, following the evaluation of the growing economical and logistical uncertainly surrounding the escalating Coronavirus pandemic.

Reinforcing the physical and digital convergence of Industry 4.0, the ‘#GMIS2020 Digital Series’ will leverage technology to virtually convene a truly global, multi-sectoral and multi-stakeholder dialogue around issues that are at the heart of the manufacturing sector and the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

Badr Al-Olama, Head of the Organising Committee for GMIS, said, “Our highest priority has always been to arrive at the safest and most practical outcome in light of the current situation while staying true to the vision and mission of the Global Manufacturing and Industrialisation Summit. The #GMIS2020 Digital Series takes a transformational approach towards ensuring a risk-free environment for participants to engage in shaping the future of manufacturing.”

“As the pandemic sweeps across the world, paralysing many aspects of normal life, attention must now turn to how the Fourth Industrial Revolution can be leveraged to restore our economies and our society, taking us from an era of ‘digital disruption’ to an era of ‘digital restoration’,” he added.

There have been many debates around the disruptive, and in some cases, the destabilising nature of the Fourth Industrial Revolution with regards to employment, business sustainability, and global prosperity. However, the crisis surrounding the current pandemic is casting a new lens on the power of technology to assess how it can be utilised as a force for global restoration.

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WAM: Palestine reports seven new coronavirus cases, total stands at 115

RAMALLAH, 30th March, 2020 (WAM) — Palestine has confirmed seven new coronavirus cases on Monday, bringing the total to 115.

Ministry of Interior Spokesman Ghassan Nimr, said that new cases were reported in the village of Qatanna, east of Jerusalem, where the total number of cases rose to 39.

According to Nimr, 629 individuals were tested in the past few hours and all results came out negative. Of the confirmed cases, he said, 20 have recovered and one death has been reported.

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WAM: Australia pledges US$80bln wages subsidy to protect jobs from coronavirus

SYDNEY, 30th March, 2020 (WAM) — Australia will spend AU$130 billion (US$79.85 billion) to subsidise the wages of an estimated six million people, marking a third tranche of stimulus designed to limit the fallout of the coronavirus pandemic on the country’s economy, Reuters has reported.

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the six months of funding was necessary to ensure businesses were able to retain staff and were able to bounce back when the crisis had passed.

“We must have a running economy to get through this,” Morrison said in a televised news conference. “This is an incentive to keep people on, doing actual work … they can keep them on the books, on the payrolls.”

The “job keeper” allowance brings the country’s Coronavirus-related stimulus so far to AU$320 billion, or about 15 percent of Australia’s gross domestic product, as it also ramps up social distancing measures in a bid to capitalise on a slowdown in the growth rate of new infections nationally.

The “job keeper” allowance announced on Monday will provide eligible companies with AU$1,500 every fortnight for six months for each employee. Any company that lost 30 percent of its revenue can apply for the funds.

Thousands of Australians who have already lost their jobs will be eligible for the payments through their former employer.

Australia has one of the lowest numbers of Coronavirus infections globally and reported that the rate of new cases has halved in the past week. Around 4,200 people have tested positive nationally, and the death toll stands at 18.

But officials have warned against complacency, and introduced new measures including restrictions to public gatherings to just two people and shutting down outside gyms and parks.

Several states are bringing in penalties from midnight including fines of up to AU$1,600 and the potential of a six month jail term for anybody found breaching the new rules.

“This is not a time to take the foot off the brake,” Deputy Chief Medical Officer Paul Kelly said.

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