Uttara J Malhotra

UAE shows solidarity towards migrant workers stuck in coronavirus outbreak
Middle East & Africa

UAE shows solidarity towards migrant workers stuck in coronavirus outbreak

Amidst many tales of ill treatment of migrant workers in the Middle East at Coronavirus times, the United Arab Emirates has ensured it can show its solidarity of all those that work in its land.

Confirming its commitment in a letter to Guy Ryder, Director-General of the International Labour Organisation, ILO, H.H. Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, said, “The COVID-19 pandemic threatens the health, safety and welfare of all people around the world and necessitates a comprehensive global response addressing health, labor, the economy, and human rights.”
Showing his sense of responsibility to protecting the rights of migrant workers, he has said that UAE continues to uphold a commitment to protect the rights of all workers in the country and ensuring their health and safety in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Sheikh Abdullah has sent many examples of showing international solidarity in the past when he went out of his way to speak to Syria and Singapore about ways UAE could contribute in mitigating a fight against the virus.

The UAE Central Bank has implemented a US$27 billion targeted economic support scheme to alleviate liquidity issues faced by businesses and ensure that migrant workers could be paid and taken care of, unless they are repatriated by their respective nations.

Furthermore, the UAE Foreign Minister described a series of measures to promote worker safety, noting that the UAE is partnering with private sector employers to provide protective equipment, ensure social distancing and encourage remote work, sterilize work facilities, and issue mandatory certification prior to restarting economic activity.

The UAE Government has also outlined requirements for private sector workplaces, transport, and accommodation during the COVID-19 pandemic and is conducting inspections to ensure compliance.

By providing a bilingual information centre especially for COVID-19, the government has ensured migrant workers get the required information and can seek help if need be. A proactive educational outreach program is ongoing to provide information to workers on COVID-19 safety and healthcare options.

Sheikh Abdullah affirmed that the UAE Government is committed to the Sustainable Development Goals principle of “leave no one behind,” noting the country’s support for assistance programs among vulnerable communities. H.H. referenced the 10 Million Meals campaign; the provision of support for medical, food, education and other basic needs; and the provision of support to the families of those who succumb to COVID-19, regardless of nationality and for the
duration of the pandemic.

Other measures include the automatic renewal of work permits, free COVID-19 testing and treatment for those who require it, and voluntary repatriation to workers’ home countries with no impact on employment.

To go one step further, UAE is not shying away from teaching itself about best practices as its administration is undertaking study from UN agencies, civil society, businesses, and local administrations that has helped it form an Ad Hoc Working Group to strengthen partnerships in advance of the Global Forum on Migration and Development Summit in 2021.

How Fissures Reappear Amongst EU Nations In Pandemic Times
Europe

How Fissures Reappear Amongst EU Nations In Pandemic Times

The pandemic led lockdowns is redefining the European Union’s interpersonal relationships in different ways.

According to Charles Grant, the director of the Centre for European Reform, there is tension brewing from all directions of EU. The pre-existing east-west division has widened at the time of Covid-19 disease breakout across the European Union.

It is a known fact that there has been a growing rift between Hungary, Poland and at times other central European states with the rest of the Europe union. Both countries have been in logger heads with EU nations as they went out to reshape their countries’ court system and public service media.

The other facts that have led to bad blood includes the distribution of irregular immigrants (in the recent past some eastern countries have even refused to take any), targets for reducing carbon emissions, with the easterners tending to depend on coal; and the rule of law.

When the whole world is trying to forget its differences and come together, central Europeans are once again refusing to help with sharing funds with those worst effected in the Southern parts of the European Union. The former don’t wish to lose money from the EU budget to the southern countries most afflicted by the virus.

Sadly so and putting aside all sense of compassion, Hungary’s Viktor Orbán has gone all out to say that the pandemic is being used as a justification for introducing rule by decree, exacerbating fears that he is creating a de facto dictatorship.

Additionally, the virus has been seen widening a European Union north-south gap as well. The pandemic has indeed taken this part of the EU back by a decade, it seems. This was time when the eurozone crisis had emerged. Germany, the Netherlands and their northern allies were reluctant to give substantial help to the southern countries in difficulty then.

History is repeating itself now and strangely, as the trend can be seen, the pandemic has struck the EU asymmetrically. The southern countries, particularly Italy and Spain, have suffered more coronavirus deaths than most others. No wonder, they have to cry out as they suffer from higher debt levels. Their suffering is further exasperated as their economy heavily depends on tourism, a sector badly hit by the pandemic.

The northerner does not want to help in the form of financial help, southerners are looking for the same. The south is looking for more Eurobonds or loans. But then, the south EU has already got a lot of loan to repay. The EU as a whole still plans to borrow money and then disburse it in the form of grants to the worst-affected countries.

EU leaders have agreed to set up a recovery fund to support the worst-affected regions. But it might be forced to provide more in the way of loans than grants, because the northern governments remain opposed to large-scale transfers to the south – a rather selfish strategy to not help. Wonder what would happen if the equation was to turn and the pandemic was to suddenly move to the North to the South!

Should EU treat coronavirus as the new normal?
Europe

Should EU treat coronavirus as the new normal?

Europe is desperate to get its tourism industry back into action. But the pandemic is not stopping itself from spreading. The European Union greatly depends on its tourism industry and is said to be trying to save millions of jobs that depend on this industry. It is estimated that in spending in 2020 before the lockdowns, cross-border vacation travel had been expected to generate 1.3 billion euros, or $1.4 billion.

It is confirmed that the European Union has now set out plans for a phased restart of travel this summer. The EU border controls have been gradually lifted with measures to minimise the risks of infection kept under check. These include wearing face masks on shared transport.

Iceland plans to open its economy by June 15. It depends heavily on revenue from its tourism industry. They are putting some restrictions in place. For example, international travelers must decide on arrival whether they want to pay for a corona virus test or spend 14 days in quarantine, according to a government plan presented.

Other EU nations are trying desperately to come back to work. Other countries around the world are also grappling with how to reopen businesses after the pandemic has forced half of the planet into some form of lockdown and ground the global economy to a near-halt. Most nations are figuring out innovative ways to get back work going but for industries like tourism and travel, there is no way out except to the conventional open and travel.

As EU finds the courage to open up, numbers of cases of contraction continue to escalate. Russia, now the country with the second-highest number of virus cases, recorded more than 10,000 new infections after authorities this week eased restrictions to allow some people back to work.

United Kingdom is one of the few nations which is trying to go back to normal and allowing people to go back to work. France, Italy and Spain are also opening up, but the danger of a second wave of contraction cannot be ruled out.

A recent statement by WHO officials warns the world that “Corona virus could be reality that never goes away.” That just means that this is going to be the new normal around which EU nations will learn to adapt and ensure their tourism industry continues to thrive.

UAE prefers to work with nations together to defeat pandemic spread
Geopolitics

UAE prefers to work with nations together to defeat pandemic spread

While UAE continues to strive responsibly to keep its economy healthy and people safe, it has shown exemplary sense of brotherhood by going out of its way to help other nations fight the coronavirus led economic hardships and challenges.

Maintaining a sense of decorum and responsibility around, the UAE has gone to great lengths to show its solidarity towards getting back to a normal course of events, despite corona virus pandemic gripping the world.

Amidst the corona virus spread in war torn Syria, Abu Dhabi’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahya made a phone call to show his support for the Damascus army inching closer to win the war against foreign-backed terrorist groups. This was applauded by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. In fact, Al Nahya has been recorded as the first Arab leader that has maintained contact with Assad since Syria plunged into foreign-sponsored militancy in 2011.

On his part, Assad welcomed the UAE’s initiative and praised the Persian Gulf country’s humanitarian stance in light of the pandemic that is wreaking havoc in the region and the world. The UAE has long been a supporter of anti-Damascus terrorists fighting to topple the Syrian government.

The country also cooperated with 14 other nations in order to ensure that more than 20,000 foreign nationals could return back safely to their respective countries. Since April, under the aegis of the Crown Prince Al Nahya, he UAE Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation (MoFAIC) has made the movement of 22,900 foreigners possible through 127 land and air operations amid the COVID-19 outbreak. It also confirmed that 27 more repatriation operations have been carried on since then.

His also was able to speak to the Indonesian President Joko Widodo recently, where they discussed ways to work together accepting the fact that it was imperative to intensify international cooperation and coordination in order to contain the spread of the global pandemic. Both decided to work on containment efforts together. Even with South Korea, their interpersonal relations were able to help both countries in strategic ways. In February- March, while cases of infection were spiking, UAE continued to facilitate movement of infected South Koreans in Arab or other countries via air.

Speaking to the media later, Ambassador of South Korea, His Excellency Yongwoo Kwon said that “I am happy to note that the UAE has become a paragon of international solidarity, actively providing much-needed medical and humanitarian assistance to many hard-hit countries in this region and beyond.”

Australia locks horns with China over investigation into corona origin
Asia Pacific Focus

Australia locks horns with China over investigation into corona origin

Wuhan sent supplies to Australia, but they have been lying unused in a storage facility. Australia showed its disdain and resentment against the callous way in which China handled a pandemic outbreak that could have been controlled, if the sickness originating from a wet animal market was taken care of in time.

It now wants to carry out independent investigations. But China’s ego has been rubbed the wrong way and it has been vocal about it last week when Chinese diplomats are said to have behaved in an “outrageous” manner with their open statements of economic sanctions on Australia.

Australian economic experts have reasons to reconsider their long standing relationship with Beijing after China had openly lashed out at Prime Minister Scott Morrison last week. This came after Morrison expressed the desire to carry out an independent inquiry into the origins of the coronavirus. In return, China said they disapprove for such intrusion and this would spark a travel and trade boycott on Australia.

Speaking about its power as Australia’s trade partner, China seemed to have warned in as many words to watch where Australia plans to make enemies. “But it’s also a super power, a country of 1.4 billion people — very different from Australia — run by a Leninist political system,” commented the Lowy Institute executive director Michael Fullilove while speaking to the local Australian media about how to perceive the power dynamics with China.

China is said to be using the ‘wolf warrior’ mentality with most nations that have shown resentment and dissatisfaction over its treatment of the virus outbreak resulting in loss of lives, livelihoods and a resulting economic slump. Countries up in arms against China include Nigeria, Sweden and Netherlands to name a few.

Apart from Australia, there are other nations demanding independent investigations around the origins of the virus and its handling. These include the UK, the United States, EU nations and Germany. China’s response to Canberra has been typical, but the war is just starting and it is not going to stop.

China can arm twist its trade partners to ensure investigations don’t fall through. But only time will tell, as the world limps back to normalcy in the midst of handling the pandemic and looking for a vaccine cure.

How Amazon could be the next house for dangerous pathogens
Geopolitics

How Amazon could be the next house for dangerous pathogens

There is a bio-bank functioning in the Amazon- call it pre-emptive action which has brought together scientist, biologists and vets to find out traces of new viruses that might come from bats, rats and primates. Believe it or not, but they started work on this much before Wuhan’s wet market became the epicenter of the Corona virus pandemic which has now claimed more than 2 million lives worldwide.

Currently, the group of scientists and the likes are trying to build a library of viruses thriving in the Amazon forest. This is all in a bid to forestall a similar outbreak here in the Amazon. They have reasons to believe there might be more than meets the eye.

As the world has woken up to the existence of pathogens that can be transported from other species to humans, the fear of the unknown has never felt so real. Researchers can vouch for a fact that more deadly pathogens are not going to wait for an opportune encounter with humans.

The evident reason is the fact that all the earlier spillover of zoonotic viruses – like Nipah, Swine ‘Flu, Ebola and, now, Covid-19, amongst many others – became a possibility only because human destruction and exploitation encroached into wildlife and the habitats where these virus had been happily contained.

Encroachment has changed their survival instincts. From their original hosts in animal species, they have learned to thrive amongst humans too. The wet markets and thriving industry for exotic animal consumption and cutting down of dense forests are primary reasons for this natural evolution of things.

The (purposeful) intrusion into the peaceful world of the Amazon alike, can see a sure shot pathogens spill over into human species.

Speaking to a Greenpeace media personnel, Prof Allesandra Nava said, “In a forest, you have natural reservoirs, you have hosts for viruses, for these kinds of pathogens. When we disrupt that, you can see the emergence of new infectious diseases.”

Unless we are waiting to handle more of corona virus type outbreaks, we have to reconsider preservation of green covers like the Amazon. Green covers have been reducing systematically over a decade. Cities are growing to accommodate an influx of migrant population. The jungles have thus been swallowed making it difficult for the wildlife to sustain itself within its own habitat. A result is a spillover of species and the viruses they might be carrying with themselves into the city life.

Additionally, we have to start to correct our animal protein consumptions. Gone are days when animal was hunted to feed a family. As populations have grown, the desperate need for survival does not exist for the human species.

What has grown is somewhere the need to horde and greed to consume more than required. Here, we are in for huge trouble. Unlike cattle, other species might still be carrying viruses which the human being is alien to. Sensible eating habits and responsible use of vegetation is important for us to survive as a species.

EU will have to go slow on tourism  post lockdown
Europe

EU will have to go slow on tourism post lockdown

For Germany, it is bad new post lockdown open, as the tourism industry might not be the same again. It still has a cap over the worldwide travel that extends into June 14. But the industry has been badly hit and is now looking for financial help.

Germany is also looking at a shrink by a record 6.3percent. According to Economy Minister Peter Altmaier, “We will experience the worst recession in the history of the federal republic,” since its founding in 1949.

Tourism accounts for 10 percent of the EU’s economic output. Economists now believe that the 27 member states will have to decide how to resume public movement both within their countries and beyond. The German association for tour operators has shared their plight with the media of having lost over €4.8bn ($5.21bn) in sales up until the end of April, and that the tourist sector would now need urgent government assistance.

Of all of Germany, mask is a compulsion. For Austria for example, while quarantine restrictions have been lifted off from three popular ski resorts, the movement of tourists will not be the same as before as they wish to adopt a phased return to tourist activity that begins by allowing German visitors too. In Spain for example, there is unrest over hotels being opened from May 11, because of fear people might not be able to follow social distancing protocols, flight restrictions and border closures, leading to low traffic and low sales therefore.

In Belgium, mayors from towns along the North Sea coast are thinking out strategies best suited to create access to the beaches. They intent to reach a solution by May 08, where they intent to create some kind of restricted accessand “save the Belgians’ summer”.
France has said no beaches will be open until at least June, while Spain is also targeting the end of June.

For over European Union, tourism is going to need slow and patient redefining and this might hurt just too much for those invested in the industry.

Can herd immunity really save Us from the coronavirus pandemic?
Americas

Can herd immunity really save Us from the coronavirus pandemic?

The United States President, Donald Trump is all set to addressing mass gatherings focused at his own presidency preparations sooner than expected. He plans to do that in June 2020. But doctors and epidemiologists have warned him that mass meetings are a death trap because the vaccine to combat Covid-19 is not going to be out any time sooner than end of June 2020.
The US has reported the maximum deaths at the hands of the Covid-19 virus exposure.

The question remains: Is Trump banking on the herd immunity concept? As a concept, it looks like a desirable way for a couple of nations to open up lockdowns and giving their economies the much needed thrust. According to Los Angeles Public Health Director Dr. Barbara Ferrer, “Herd immunity means that many people in the community have already seen the virus, and they have developed what we call antibodies to the virus, so they have some protection, should they see the virus again.”

“Depending (on) how contagious an infection is, usually 70% to 90% of a population needs immunity to achieve herd immunity,” says a research by the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. Stockholm believes its 30 percent population has achieved herd immunity it hopes the whole population to be covered by end of May 2020.

When a population of more than 50 percent has been exposed to the virus, there is no place of the virus to thrive. So infected bodies start to automatically develop antibodies to fight it. As it travels from one person to another, it becomes ineffective, till the time it has hit the whole population. By then, there might be no need for a vaccine.

Many countries are worried because of their dwindling economies and are desperately looking for ways to open up the pandemic driven lockdowns. Countries with huge population and ethnic spreads like India and US cannot take a chance with herd immunity. Nutrition levels and immunity differs hugely amongst the different ethnic groups in these nations.

Further, it is worth noting that the virus is extremely new and one does not know whether first time exposure develops immunity for life. Unless more than 60percent population in any country does not receive a vaccine, herd immunity may not work at all. Instead, it can prove disastrous.

For Stockholm, the concept of herd immunity could be working well. But this formula cannot work well for all nations.

The whole idea goes against the whole lockdown guideline which many countries are following to contain the spread of the virus. The theory of herd immunity can only work when people can (willfully) maintain the protocol of social distancing of two feet so that the Covid-19 virus does not spread. But because the nature of the human being is like any other animal species; to group, to mingle to meet and then stay together, it is not easy to achieve social distancing as it looks.

In late March, the United Kingdom had retracted from the idea of herd immunity. They had initially planned to close down the country in bits and pieces. The strategy was to build ‘herd immunity’ and allowing ‘enough of us who are going to get mild illness to become immune,’ Sir Patrick Vallance, the U.K. government’s chief scientific adviser shared with the media.

But that would have worked if the virus was understood and not so unknown. The risks of Covid-19 were very high because this enemy was unknown. It therefore became technically impossible to bring about herd immunity by allowing the disease to run rampant through a population. Over the few months since January, evidence has shown that that scenario would have lead to high rates of hospitalization and need for critical care, straining health service capacity past the breaking point.

Scientists worldwide are still trying to understand the virus; but until a vaccine is developed, herd immunity must not be a risk to take. This is more application to nations which might have mixed populations, weak or low medical infrastructures, frail economies or difficult weather conditions .

Why does Syria continue to lose medical assistance amidst corona spread?
Middle East & Africa

Why does Syria continue to lose medical assistance amidst corona spread?

Reports continue to pour from Syria; they are not anything positive. It is not reporting about the pandemic but the ruthlessness of war which continues to attack not just civilians, but the meager few medical facilities which are left to help the sick and the dying.

A detailed report by CNN states that despite claims over ceasefire, there is none to be seen. The UN continues to call for complete ceasefire, because there only one way to defeat the virus- when everyone works at it together, irrespective of which country is fighting against it. Only last week, in UN council discussions, the UN’s top envoy for the country told the Security Council that ‘Syria desperately needs a nationwide ceasefire to enable its war-weary citizens to access the equipment and resources necessary to combat COVID-19.’

Bombs continue to off in market spaces and medical facilities. While the whole world is praising the efforts of the heroes of today- doctor, nurses and medical aids, Syria is continuing to kill them and take away any little hope of survival of the war torn Syrian population.

According to World Health Organization’s(WHO) official statistics, there were 494 attacks on Syria’s health system between 2016 and 2019, which include at least 13 bombings of hospitals supported by the International Rescue Committee (IRC).

Further, by end of February, 84 health facilities in northwest Syria had been forced to suspend their operations due to hostilities. The corona virus pandemic has been called the disaster of the era.

It is a pandemic which even the most highly equipped nations with medical aid and facilities are finding difficult to deal with. For the more than 3 million Syrians that have been displaced because of decade of war, social distancing and sanitization remains to be a luxury. Right now, their survival is desperately at stake.

Currently, only 43 new cases have been reported in Syria, but if the pandemic spreads (which by nature of its occurrence it will), it is going to be mass destruction and wipe off on a whole nation full of people. The WHO has not adhered to the request put forward by aid groups working to provide care and help to Syrians.

The aid groups had requested that the Iraq border crossing into Syria could to be used for deliveries to help combat the coronavirus pandemic. But WHO seems to have withdrawn its initial entry into the memo. Reasons of this remain unknown. But the fate of Syrian people hangs by time; the only thing which is keeping the corona virus from entering into their already troubled daily living.

Trump invokes executive order for meat production at the expense of worker safety
Americas

Trump invokes executive order for meat production at the expense of worker safety

Some countries are safely moving away from meat consumption. The Chinese consumer has started correlating meat with virus. They have shifted to a plant based variant for meat.

However, the Trump administration prefers pushing for meant production to get back on tracks, despite the country staggering back to near normalcy, having lost close to a million people to the Covid-19 virus infection.

The largest meat production companies Tyson Foods and Perdue are known to have shut some factories in the US. They don’t believe in paying paid sick leave. Cases of workers turning up sick had derailed production further in the last few weeks. Worker unions and advocates were rightly in favor of shutting down plants as a necessary step to stem the Corona Virus led Covid-19 spread through communities.

But the President of the United States, Donald Trump has now taken an executive action to pave the way for meat processing plants to remain open during the coronavirus pandemic, as hundreds of workers have fallen ill and concerns mount about food-supply shortages. Throwing caution to wind and continuing to maintain a myopic point of view in his leadership, Trump’s decision is going to attract resistance and criticism from these unions and worker advocates.

With an iron clad fist approach, Trump has (strangely) designating the plants as critical infrastructure under the law and is said to have also invoked the Defense Production Act, a Korean War-era law, to keep the facilities open. His decision does not take into account the safety of the staff working at the various meat production units.

The United States is one of the few countries, where daily wage worker and essential staffers have been severely exposed to the virus contraction and have not felt taken care of in terms of mediclaim. Most have been forced to come to work due to need for essential services to run. However, they have also repeatedly complaint about lack of personal protective gear to prevent exposure.

It is worth noting that the American consumer has gradually moved to alternate meal sources to meet its daily needs. Like China, they are opting for plant based variants that taste like meat. Slaughterhouses have been closed down. Further, meat packing plants had become the hotbed of contamination.

However, pushed by the processing meat lobby in the US, Trump has now directed Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue to take all necessary steps to ensure the continued operation of meat and poultry processing facilities.
It is hilarious the way Mr. Trump has decided to include meat production under critical and essential services, when the general public has not demanded for the provisions of meat and poultry.

By meddling with the category itself, he has (literally) redefined the Defense Production Act that previously allowed the president to control the production and distribution of critical products and supplies. In the past, Trump is known to have misused the law to pressure companies to produce supplies needed by medical professionals responding to the outbreak. This (intentional tweaking) is the first time the administration has used it to boost the food supply chain.

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