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Doctors despair, schools to shut as pandemic worsens in Portugal

Reuters

Lisbon, Jan 21: Overwhelmed by record numbers of COVID-19 patients, doctors in Portuguese hospitals say they are exhausted and in despair.

The government was preparing to shut all schools, kindergartens and universities from Friday to try to halt the surge in coronavirus cases, state news agency Lusa reported on Thursday.

“We do not have enough human resources,” said Guida da Ponte, deputy head of a doctors’ union near Lisbon, adding while there was a lack of intensive-care beds, more could be set up “but we don’t have the professionals.”

“Doctors are desperate. The word really is ‘despair’.”
Western Europe’s poorest country coped well in the first wave of the pandemic last year but has been swamped in recent weeks by a faster-spreading variant of the virus, registering the world’s highest infection and death rates.

Ambulances have been queuing outside hospitals, waiting for beds to become available. An elderly man died in an ambulance after waiting inside the vehicle for three hours on Tuesday in the town of Portalegre.

A government spokeswoman said the cabinet was discussing new measures to tackle the pandemic but declined to give details.

Without waiting for the government announcement, some local officials were urging parents to keep their children at home.
“If you have the chance, don’t let your children go to school.

Time is essential in controlling the effects of a catastrophe,” Carlos Carreiras, the mayor of Cascais near Lisbon, wrote on Facebook.

SCHOOL SHUTDOWN

Ricardo Mexia, head of the association of public healthcare doctors, said authorities had failed to prepare for the new surge in infections after relaxing restrictions for the year-end holidays.

“The decision to close schools is coming too late, but it is important to reduce contagion,” he said.

“We don’t have the means to conduct epidemiological surveys, we haven’t recruited enough people, we haven’t trained people… I fear the numbers will get even worse.”

Under a lockdown that started last week, all non-essential services are shut and people urged to stay home, but the government has so far kept schools open, despite calls to shut them from parents’ groups, students and opposition parties.

“It is not good to come to classes as there are high-risk groups we could infect,” said Frederico Nunes, 20, a university student.

“I think it’s annoying because this could have been avoided if the government had adopted online classes.”

The government has acknowledged that holiday-time contagion played a role, but blamed the increase in cases mostly on the more contagious variant of the virus first detected in Britain, which is spreading rapidly across Portugal.

The daily death toll reached a record high of 221 on Thursday, up from 219 the day before, bringing the total to 9,686 fatalities since the start of the pandemic, health authority DGS said.

The country of 10 million people reported 13,544 infections over the last 24 hours, below Wednesday’s record of 14,647.

Portugal has the world’s highest rolling average of new cases, at 1,044 per million inhabitants over the last seven days, according to data tracker ourworldindata.org.

Around 20% of new COVID-19 cases being reported are of the more transmissible variant and that number could reach 60% as early as next week, Health Minister Marta Temido told broadcaster RTP on Wednesday.

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US asks Pakistan, India to work towards stable relationship

(Asian News Hub) – Just before the all-important visit of Secretary of State Antony Blinken to India and other destinations of South Asia and the Middle East, the US has issued a statement, encouraging arch-rivals India and Pakistan to work for a more stable relationship.

Blinken is scheduled to visit India and other countries between July 26-29 in what is being said is an important tour in reference to the developing situation and increasing Afghan Taliban control in Afghanistan.

As per Acting Assistant Secretary for South and Central Asia Affairs Dean Thompson, Blinken would be discussing different options for what he called a “negotiated settlement” in Afghanistan.

Blinken is going to be landing in New Delhi on July 28 and is scheduled to meet External Affairs Minister Dr S. Jaishankar and Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

As per details, India’s role in Afghanistan and relations with Pakistan is going to be on Blinken’s agenda during his visit to India.

“We strongly believe that India and Pakistan’s issues are ones for them to work out between themselves. Washington would continue to encourage better ties between South Asia’s two nuclear-armed neighbours,” said Thompson.

“We are pleased to see that ceasefire that went into place earlier this year has remained intact, and we certainly always encourage them to continue their efforts to find ways to build a more stable relationship going forward,” he added.

The US played an important role in engaging both Pakistan and India to come down to an agreement and abide by the 2003 ceasefire after backdoor meeting between top military leadership of both countries in the Middle East.

On the other hand, the US seems to have keen interest in engaging India in seeing its increased role in Afghanistan, especially after the withdrawal of all foreign forces.

“We expect that all the countries in the region have a shared interest in a stable and secure Afghanistan going forward. We will certainly be talking to our Indian partners about how we can work together to realise that goal, to find ways to bring the partners together, and continue to pursue a negotiated settlement to the longstanding war,” said Thompson.

Interestingly, Blinken’s visit does not include a visit to Islamabad. However, the Biden administration has invited Pakistan’s National Security Advisor Moeed Yusuf and Director General of Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) Lt General Faiz Hameed to Washington during next week for talks with the American counterparts.

IANS

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Over two million people died of drowning in last decade: WHO

(Asian News Hub) – The World Health Organization (WHO) has revealed that more than 2 million died due to drowning in the last decade, a number which exceeded fatalities caused by maternal conditions or protein-energy malnutrition.

Ahead of the first World Drowning Prevention Day to be marked on July 25, the WHO, in a statement released on Friday, said at least 236,000 people drown every year, and drowning is among the 10 leading causes of death for children and youth aged one to 24 years.

More than 90 per cent of drowning deaths occur in rivers, lakes, wells and domestic water storage vessels in low- and middle-income countries.

Half of all drowning deaths are in the Western Pacific and South-East Asia regions, according to the WHO.

Rates of drowning deaths per 100 000 population are highest, however, in the Western Pacific region followed by the African region.

“Anyone can drown, no one should,” noted Etienne Krug, Director of the Department of Social Determinants of Health, World Health Organization (WHO).

“I welcome the opportunity of this first World Drowning Prevention Day to increase attention and hasten action by governments and their partners to avert the pain and suffering caused by drowning, a largely preventable killer.”

World Drowning Prevention Day was called for by member states through adoption in April 2021 of UN General Assembly Resolution A/RES/75/273, which also invited the WHO to coordinate drowning prevention actions.

To mark World Drowning Prevention Day, WHO and partners will host a virtual event on July 28, entitled “Global, national and local reflections on World Drowning Prevention Day 2021”.

IANS

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Pakistan deploys Army at Afghan border amid deteriorating situation in Afghanistan

(Asian News Hub) – Amid the deteriorating situation in Afghanistan due to US drawdown, Pakistan’s regular army has been deployed at the border areas with the neighbouring country as a security measure.

“Now regular army troops are manning the border after replacing the paramilitary forces,” the Pakistan Interior Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed was quoted by the Dawn.

There are two key border crossings between Pakistan and Afghanistan; at Chaman in Balochistan and Torkham in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

In recent weeks, large-scale violence has been on the rise as the Taliban stepped up its offensive since the start of US troops’ withdrawal from Afghanistan.

Meanwhile, the Afghan government has repeatedly accused Pakistan of supporting the Taliban and preventing the Afghan forces from carrying out military operations against them.

The decision to deploy the army was made amid the uncertain situation in the war-torn country.

“Paramilitary troops including the Frontier Constabulary, Levies, Rangers are deployed at the borders to deal with regular issues including illegal border crossing, smuggling etc,” the Interior Minister said. “However, the current volatile situation (in Afghanistan) demands that regular military troops be deployed along the border.”

Afghanistan is witnessing clashes between the government and the Taliban who have seized significant territories throughout the country and launched an offensive against big cities.

The growing Taliban offensive has created a humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan which is leading to a refugee problem. Meanwhile, the Pakistani government announced that it will no longer welcome Afghan refugees.

The ties between the two sides have further deteriorated since the daughter of the Afghan ambassador to Pakistan was briefly kidnapped on her way home in Islamabad on July 16. Thereafter, Kabul recalled its ambassador from Islamabad, demanding punishment for those responsible.

ANI

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