coronavirus pandemic 4966917 1

  Covid-19 death toll in England and Wales have shot up dramatically, with one in every five now linked to the coronavirus, while the UK government has been accused of underreporting fatalities among the elderly in care homes.

New data published on Tuesday by the UK’s Office of National Statistics (ONS), which detail all deaths in hospitals and out in the community including care homes show that Covid-19 accounted for 21 percent of all fatalities in the week ending April 3, compared to just 4.8 percent of deaths the week before.

The staggering increase in registered deaths – up more than 5,000 in just one week – may suggest that official daily coronavirus figures published by the government may not have been an accurate reflection of the real numbers.

Of all coronavirus-related deaths registered up to April 3, just under 10 percent occurred in hospices, care homes and private homes, according to the ONS figures.

However, David Behan, the boss of one of Britain’s biggest nursing home operators HC-One, claims the number of Covid-19 deaths among elderly residents is a lot higher than has been officially reported by the UK government.

UK PM Boris Johnson’s administration claims the disease has been reported in one out of every eight UK care homes, but Behan has revealed that cases of the new coronavirus have been identified in 232 of his firm’s homes – two-thirds of the total. 311 of his residents have died with confirmed or suspected Covid-19.

The UK government has come under fire from senior health and social care officials for not providing enough or adequate Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) for their frontline workers.

Nadra Ahmed, Chair of the National Care Association, claimed on ITV’s GMB show on Tuesday that care homes are being charged huge amounts of money for PPE, which is “unsustainable.”

Ahmed revealed that the UK government had not removed taxes such as VAT for the care sector like they have done for the National Health Service (NHS).

Figures published by the department for health and social care on Tuesday showed that 93,873 people in the UK had tested positive for the coronavirus in hospital, of which 12,107 had died.

The UK has entered its fourth week in lockdown with some other European nations such as Denmark and Spain planning to relax some of their Covid-19 suppression measures.

Netherlands and Austria

Britain is not on its own when it comes to claims of underreporting cases. Both the Netherlands and Austria have also become embroiled in accusations that they have been underestimating the true number of deaths and associated with Covid-19 and cases of the disease.

Russia faces extraordinary crisis, warns Putin

The day after Russia President Vladimir Putin told Russians that the next few weeks would be “decisive” in the battle with coronavirus, the country has posted a new daily record rise in infections, with 2,774 new cases discovered.

Over two-thirds (1,949) were found in Moscow and its surrounding region, with others dotted around the country. The national total now stands at 21,102.

The remote northern Komi Republic is Russia’s fourth most affected region overall. The resource-rich territory recorded 97 fresh Covid-19 cases on Tuesday, bringing its tally to 305, with three dead.

Twenty-two new deaths have been announced, 18 of them in the Moscow area. The nationwide toll is 170, with 119 of the deceased from the capital and its environs. Saint Petersburg has recorded four fatal cases.

On Monday, during a meeting with officials, via video link, Putin said Russia’s situation was “changing every day and unfortunately not for the better.”

He warned of the need to prepare for “complex and extraordinary” circumstances as infections spread.

“We have a lot of problems,” the President said. “We don’t have anything special to brag about, and we certainly must not relax.” Putin added that he was prepared to call in the military to help stretched medical services, if needed.

Meanwhile, Tatiana Golikova, the deputy prime minister in charge of handling the national coronavirus response, said it was “unpleasant” to see the daily figures rise.

The age breakdown in Moscow also flies in the face of the perception that younger people are somehow resistant to coronavirus. 49.5% of those known to be infected in the capital are under 45, with only 14% over 66.

Health officials believe Russia will not reach the peak of the outbreak until the end of April. Most of the country is in some form of strict partial-lockdown, with the severity of restrictions depending on local circumstances. From Wednesday, measures will be tightened in Moscow with electronic passes introduced for the purpose of moving around the city by either public or private transport. On the other hand, in the Far Eastern Primorye region, local authorities have allowed dozens of schools to reopen.

Fewer chances are been taken in Moscow where, over the weekend, 92 shops were fined for breaching ‘social distancing’ regulations. The enterprises failed to apply “special markings to avoid potentially dangerous contacts between customers,” according to Alexei Nemeryuk, head of the Moscow department of trade and services.

Putin has implemented a nationwide “paid holiday” until the end of April to encourage Russians to stay at home. The scheme does not apply to essential workers and those who can carry out their duties from home.

Pakistan clerics call for lifting of congregational prayer limits

A Karachi, April 14, 2020 datelined Reuters report said:

Prominent clerics are demanding the lifting of restrictions on congregational prayers at mosques in Pakistan, which has recorded 5,837 coronavirus cases and 96 related deaths.

Tuesday’s call in a joint statement by clerics and leaders of religious parties in the world’s second largest Muslim country, said prayers were essential for Muslims and should be allowed as long as safety measures were observed.

Their demand came despite Pakistan’s PM Imran Khan saying he would meet religious scholars to discuss the restrictions on congregational prayers which were imposed last month and imposed a limit of five people gathering together.

“Restriction of three or five people at mosques is not proving practical, those who are sick, elderly should not come to mosques,” Mufti Taqi Usmani, one of the top clerics in Pakistan, told a media briefing in Karachi.

The congregation restriction has provoked a backlash in Pakistan, with attacks on police for a second straight week last Friday as they attempted to halt prayers at a mosque in Karachi

A policewoman was injured and in the earlier clashes police fired shots in the air to disperse demonstrators.

Imran Khan announced a 14-day extension of a national lockdown on Tuesday, but said the government would make selective exemptions for essential industries to curtail rising unemployment.

Health experts have warned that congregations pose the biggest threat to Pakistan’s limited healthcare resources and infrastructure, which will crumble under the weight of a widespread outbreak of the coronavirus.

Usmani told the news briefing that carpets should be removed from mosques and floors should be wiped with disinfectants, sanitizers should be placed at the entrance of the mosques, and that people should maintain distance while offering prayers.

The clerics issued their statement despite an assurance from Khan that he would meet with religious scholars to work out a collective strategy for congregations with the advent of the holy month of Ramadan, when mosque attendance usually spikes.

“Now, the lockdown will not be applicable on mosques, Friday and Ramadan prayers will be held at mosques,” Mufti Muneeb-ur-Rehman, another cleric, told reporters on Tuesday.

Imran Khan on Tuesday announced a two-week extension to the nationwide shutdown to curb the COVID-19 spread, but said some industries would reopen in phases.

The first industry to reopen would be construction, Khan said in a televised address to the nation.

“That lockdown, those restrictions on gatherings will continue for another two weeks,” Khan said.

Pakistan, which has already completed a three-week lockdown, has reported 5,716 cases with 96 deaths.

The World Bank has warned that Pakistan is expected to fall into recession in fiscal 2020/21. Khan has sought debt relief from international lenders to combat the pandemic.

“God is with us”: Many Muslims in Pakistan flout the coronavirus ban in mosques

Another Islamabad, April 13, 2020 datelined Reuters report cites Sabir Durrani. Sabir says he offers prayers almost every day at a mosque in the central Pakistani city of Multan. He says that often a dozen or more men attend – none of them wearing protective facemasks.

The report said:

Durrani, 52, is among thousands of devout Muslims flouting Pakistan government orders issued late last month banning religious congregations of five or more people to stem the spread of the coronavirus.

“Our prayer leader told us that the virus can’t infect us the way it does Western people,” Durrani told Reuters. “He said we wash our hands and we wash our face five times a day before we say our prayers, and the infidels don’t, so we need not worry. God is with us.”

The Islamic lobby holds immense clout in Pakistan, a country of over 200 million people. Religious parties have not been successful in electoral politics but they are able to whip up large, often violent, crowds on matters pertaining to religion, such as in support of the country’s harsh blasphemy law.

“Religion and prayers are an emotional issue for many people in Pakistan, and the government has to be sensitive to that,” Mirza Shahzad Akbar, a special assistant to PM Imran Khan, told Reuters.

More than 60% of the coronavirus cases in Pakistan have so far been linked to Muslims returning from pilgrimages in the Middle East and followers of the Tablighi Jamaat, an orthodox proselytizing group.

But the worry is of a big spike coming from the congregational prayers held in mosques, especially on Fridays, the Islamic sabbath. The numbers in attendance at prayers are likely to increase with the onset of the holy month of Ramadan within two weeks, and authorities are struggling to cope.

While the Council of Islamic Ideology, a body that advises the government on religious issues, has called on clerics and the public to cooperate with government measures, several priests and local leaders have opposed the ban.

A prominent leader of a religious party told a crowd of hundreds of people gathered for a funeral last week that government orders to limit congregations were unacceptable.

“If you do this, we will be forced to think that mosques are being deserted on America’s instructions,” Mufti Kafayatullah told the crowd. “We’re ready to give our lives, but not ready to desert our mosques.”

Pakistan police attacked

In Karachi, Pakistan’s largest city, police were attacked for a second straight week as they attempted to halt prayers at a mosque last Friday. A policewoman was injured in the clashes, and in the previous week, police fired shots in the air to quell an angry mob.

In other cities, police seem to be turning a blind eye to some mosque gatherings.

Last Friday, one of the top Twitter trends in Pakistan was “Muslims, the mosque is calling you”.

In the capital, Islamabad, hundreds gathered on Friday without any hindrance at one of the city’s largest mosques, located just three km from the seat of Pakistan’s government, including parliament and the prime minister’s secretariat.

Cases against mosque administrations

On March 27, authorities filed 88 cases against mosque administrations in Karachi and arrested 38 people for defying restrictions on Friday congregations, but charges were dropped a day later, and the people were released.

“I think it’s partly appeasement and partly the fact that Pakistan’s governments and politics are locked permanently in an electoral framework in which they don’t want to lose support of the religious elite and religious proletariat,” Pakistani author and defense analyst Ayesha Siddiqa told Reuters.

Akbar, the special assistant to the prime minister, said most mosques were cooperating with the government.

He added: “This is a sensitive matter, we don’t want to impose it using a stick. And even if we wanted to, there aren’t enough sticks to implement it across Pakistan.”

Pakistan sleep walking into virus disaster, says opposition leader

An AFP report said on April 13, 2020:

Pakistan risks “sleep walking” into a coronavirus catastrophe where death tolls reach levels seen in the West and perilously under-resourced hospitals are pushed to the brink, an opposition leader told AFP on Monday.

Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, the son of Pakistan’s first female leader Benazir Bhutto, said the country’s response to the pandemic so far had been characterized by federal foot-dragging over a comprehensive lockdown and an unwillingness to divert cash to the buckling health care system.

“There is definitely a false sense of security that we’ve seen from the start of this crisis,” Bhutto said in a video call from his Karachi office.

“We have seen a desire to ignore science and facts and the examples of what have been happening around us internationally, which has hampered us taking the timely and necessary action.”

PM Imran Khan has faced particular criticism after saying Pakistan could not afford a countrywide lockdown, citing the economic damage that would be unleashed.

Pakistan now has a de facto lockdown after provinces acted independently to shutter schools and companies, but officials are under pressure to loosen restrictions as the economy suffers.

He said: “If we just hope for the best and don’t prepare for the worst… then Pakistan is sleep walking into a disastrous situation and I genuinely fear for the consequences.”

Bhutto said the situation in Pakistan could be worse than the U.S. or western Europe given the country’s shortage of protective gear for medical staff, a lack of critical care beds and other problems with the underfunded health care system.


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