New York: External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj held talks with her counterparts from the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) whose nations she said were “an extended part of our neighbourhood”, in a move to further cement ties with the Arab world.
At the meeting here on Wednesday, Swaraj called for the early finalisation of the India-Gulf Cooperation Council Free Trade Agreement and making the India-GCC Framework Agreement operational.
Foreign ministers of Qatar, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, United Arab Emirates and Oman along with GCC Secretary General Rashid Al Zayani attended the 9th ministerial-level meeting.
Briefing reporters, External Affairs Ministry Spokesman Vikas Swarup said that Swaraj invited the GCC nations to participate in the ‘Make in India’ campaign, in particular the Mumbai-Delhi industrial corridors.
She also called for turning the buyer-seller relationship in the energy sector into a “mutually beneficial investment partnership” that involves both upstream and downstream operations.
Security issues and the threat posed by terrorism also figured in the discussions. She urged them to work for an early conclusion of the Comprehensive International Convention on Terrorism.
The GCC is India’s largest trading partner with $137.7 billion trade in 2014-15, up from 5.5 billion in 2001. More than 50 percent of India’s oil and gas come from the GCC countries that host 7 million Indian nationals.
The U.N. Children’s Fund warns that COVID-19 mitigation measures are preventing the shipment of vaccines to dozens of developing countries, putting the lives of millions of children at risk.
Lockdowns and other measures to stop the spread of the coronavirus are causing a massive backlog in vaccine shipments. UNICEF reports it had procured nearly 2.5 billion doses of vaccines last year, enough for 45% of all children under age 5 in 100 countries.
But the agency says that most of these vaccines are stuck in warehouses because of the dramatic decline in commercial and charter flights due to COVID-19 restrictions. It says dozens of countries are running out of these vaccines. It says 26 countries, more than half in sub-Saharan Africa, are at particular risk.
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UNICEF spokeswoman Marixie Mercado says the skyrocketing costs of shipping the vaccines are compounding these problems. She says freight rates are 100 to 200% higher than before, and the cost of chartering a plane is exorbitant.
“Countries with limited resources will struggle to pay these higher prices, leaving children vulnerable to vaccine-preventable diseases such as measles and polio. Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, measles, polio and other vaccines were out of reach for 20 million children under the age of 1 every year,” Mercado said.
Health officials report most polio vaccination campaigns have been suspended, putting the decades-long polio eradication initiative at risk. Mercado told VOA it is possible to organize immunization campaigns in the midst of the pandemic.
“In DRC, which you know had the worst measles outbreak last year, we had been immunizing children against measles. Of course, respecting the social distancing and safety measures that are required now,” Mercado said.
UNICEF warns disruptions in routine immunization, especially in countries with fragile health systems, could lead to outbreaks of killer diseases this year and beyond. It is appealing to governments, the private sector and airline industry to free freight space and make the cost of transporting these vaccines affordable. (VOA)
The ranks of the unemployed keep growing in the U.S., with another 3.8 million workers claiming jobless compensation last week as the coronavirus pandemic continues to wreak havoc on the world’s biggest economy, the Labor Department reported Thursday.
The newest claims boosted the six-week total to 30.3 million, even as a few states have started to reopen some businesses and President Donald Trump is pushing to jump start the national economy.
But millions more workers could file for jobless assistance in the next few weeks as the full effect of the pandemic takes hold.
The United States has not seen this level of job losses – more than one out of every six workers — since the Great Depression in the 1930s. The scope of the layoffs has wiped out the entirety of U.S. job growth since the 2008 recession.
The government reported Wednesday that the national economy declined 4.8% in the first quarter this year, with the prospect of a much bigger decline in the April-to-June quarter, more than at any point since World War II.
Credit Suisse is predicting a 33.5% decline, with investment banker Goldman Sachs slightly higher at 34% with a 15% unemployment rate.
However, Goldman is predicting a robust 19% gain in the third quarter from July through September as the U.S. moves toward a possible recovery from the pandemic.
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Some companies laid off workers quickly in mid-March as the spread of the coronavirus became apparent. But other companies vowed to keep paying their workers, at least for a while, even as many of them had little work to do as their potential customers stayed home to protect themselves and their families.
Some companies have now laid off these workers as well, as the depth of the country’s economic turmoil takes hold.
The U.S. Congress has boosted the widely varying unemployment compensation paid by states by $600 a week for four months. States often make payments to laid-off workers that account for not quite half of what they were being paid.
But workers in states that are broadly reopening for business will face personal decisions whether they feel it is safe to return to work. Left open is the question whether they can continue to collect unemployment benefits if their state is allowing businesses to open but they personally have chosen not to return yet to their jobs.
The newest weekly total for jobless assistance claims is smaller than the last four weeks, when millions more applied for help. That possibly suggests that the downturn has stabilized to a degree.
But what is unknown is how long businesses will remain shut or operating only on a curtailed basis, leading to weeks of heightened layoffs. Millions of people could be out of work through the end of 2020.
At the moment, the reopening of the U.S. economy is a scattershot phenomenon, with governors in a handful of states telling shopkeepers, restaurants, hair and nail salons, bowling alleys and other commercial ventures they are free to reopen if they wish, while practicing social distancing and encouraging people to wear protective masks in public.
Executives of some of the country’s biggest corporations have warned Trump that more coronavirus testing needs to be done before workers return to their jobs.
Federal authorities recommended that Americans maintain at least a two-meter physical distance from other people through the end of April, but as the calendar turns to May Trump is ending the request.
The rapid pace of layoffs is unprecedented in recent U.S. history, although the extent of the economic damage is not precisely known. It took two years during the Great Recession in the two-year period between 2007 and 2009 for 8.6 million people to lose their jobs.
Numerous supporters of Trump have been pushing him to reopen the U.S. economy. Street protests have occurred over the last couple weeks, with demonstrators demanding that government officials call off the business shutdowns to let them go back to work.
But numerous stories are also appearing in U.S. media outlets of the deaths of people who voiced doubts they could fall victim to the coronavirus and instead ventured into public places and were fatally infected. (VOA)
The government has directed the Indian Navy to get their big sailing engines ready to bring back citizens stuck in the Gulf countries due to the coronavirus induced lockdown.
India has imposed a travel ban both within the country and oversees till May 3 to fight the Covid-19 outbreak. The directions were issued last week during a meeting of three service chiefs and the Chief of Defence Staff with Prime Minister Narendra Modi and other Cabinet members.
Navy and Air Force were briefed to get their machines ready in order to bring back the Indian citizens from the Gulf countries.
External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar had stated that the missions in the Gulf countries were liaisoning with local authorities to move Indian citizens to one place. The Indian missions there have opened the registration process for Indians who want to return.
The Indian Embassy in Qatar tweeted: “We are collecting data about the people requesting repatriation to India…. At this stage, the purpose is only to compile information. No decision or details yet on resumption of flights to India.”
It further stated that as and when a decision is taken, the Embassy will make a clear announcement. “Please note that the form has to be filled separately for each individual, even if they are members of a family,” the Embassy tweeted.
INS Jalashwa, an amphibious assault ship, and two Magar class tank-landing ships are being readied for the evacuation purposes.
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These ships have started making arrangements as per the standard protocols laid out to deal with suspected Covid-19 cases like social distancing and sanitisation. The Indian Navy has started removing non-essential equipment in order to accommodate the evacuees. These three ships can bring back around 2,000 people while maintaining social distancing.
The Indian Air Force has been evacuating citizens from countries affected by Covid-19 frequently since January, which includes flights to China, Japan, Iran, Kuwait and Italy. The force has stated that it has kept C-17 Globemaster and C-130s on standby which can be used whenever they are required.
Apart from them, Air India flights are also being kept on standby to pick up stranded Indians from the Gulf countries. Earlier, the Navy had carried out evacuation efforts in war-torn areas like Lebanon (2006) and Yemen (2015). Before that, evacuation was carried in 1990 during the first Gulf War between Iraq and Kuwait when around 1.5 lakh people were evacuated. (IANS)