Tens of thousands of female health workers on the frontline of India’s battle against the coronavirus have gone on strike to demand better pay and protection.
With India now registering the world’s third highest pandemic caseload at more than two million infections, the women in several states have gone on a two-day strike and plan a mass protest in Delhi on Sunday.
About one million of the Accredited Social Health Activists (ASHAs) across India have been given the responsibility of hunting for suspected coronavirus cases, especially in villages and slums.
Officially they are referred to as volunteers and the government gives them an allowance of 1,000 rupees ($13) a month.
The health workers went on strike Friday and Saturday, and are demanding a 21,000 rupee monthly salary as well as a pension and anti-virus protection equipment and testing.
The women, whose protests have been building over the past month, say they have faced attacks and harassment in some villages.
Shiksha Rana, an ASHA in Delhi, told AFP at least 200 have been infected with the coronavirus in the Delhi region alone.
“Their families were also infected. We had to crowdfund money for their treatment and food for their families,” said Rana.
The ASHAs were set up in 2005 and since then have played a key role helping to eradicate polio in India as well as helping with home births.
Rahul Gandhi, a senior leader in the opposition Congress party, said the government had been “blind and deaf” to the work and demands of the women.
Leading public health specialist Anant Bhan said the women play a “critical” role in India’s under-funded health service.
Over 40 Syrians killed in Beirut blast: embassy
More than 40 Syrians were among those killed in the massive blast that devastated the Lebanese capital this week, the Syrian embassy said Saturday.
The embassy did not specify if the Syrian fatalities were included in the 154 death toll announced by Lebanese authorities.
“The confirmed number we have of Syrian martyrs so far is 43,” it said.
“The embassy is offering all services to facilitate the transfer some of the corpses back to Syria and is helping bury others in Lebanon,” it added.
Lebanon’s health ministry has said more than 60 people are still missing after Tuesday’s blast at Beirut port.
Some of the Syrians killed were crewmen on cargo ships docked at the port, according to AFP correspondents at the scene.
Others died in other areas of Beirut in the explosion that injured some 5,000 people and left more than 300,000 temporarily homeless.
Lebanon hosts between one and 1.5 million Syrians who fled the nine-year civil war in the neighbouring country.
More than 60 still missing after Beirut mega-blast: ministry
More than 60 people are still missing in Beirut, four days after a massive explosion at the port left more than 150 people dead, a health ministry official said Saturday.
“The number of dead is 154, including 25 who have not yet been identified,” the official told AFP. “In addition, we have more than 60 people still missing.”
The health minister said on Friday that at least 120 of the 5,000 people who were injured on Tuesday are in critical condition.
Venezuela jails two Americans over failed ‘invasion’
Two former US soldiers have been sentenced to 20 years in prison in Venezuela on charges including terrorism, after a failed bid to invade the Caribbean country last May, Attorney General Tarek William Saab said.
Luke Alexander Denman, 34, and Airan Berry, 41, “admitted” to “conspiracy, association (to commit crimes), illicit trafficking of war weapons and terrorism” over the attempted invasion, allegedly aimed at toppling President Nicolas Maduro, Saab said on Twitter around midnight Friday.
They were sentenced during a court hearing, he said, and posted photographs of vehicles, weapons and identity documents.
Denman and Berry are among the 91 people Venezuela says it captured in thwarting the botched incursion from the sea on May 3, which saw armed men land in Macuto, less than an hour from Caracas.
Maduro claimed it was a plot to assassinate him, and Caracas has accused US President Donald Trump of being directly responsible for the raid, in which eight attackers were allegedly killed.
The US has denied any involvement.
Maduro has also accused Venezuela’s opposition leader Juan Guaido — who in January 2019 declared himself acting president in a direct challenge to Maduro’s authority — of planning the invasion, a charge Guaido denies.
Trump has long opposed Maduro, a leftist who presides over a crumbling economy and whose re-election was widely seen as marred by irregularities.
8 dead in east China factory fire
Eight people were dead after a fire broke out in a factory in the city of Jinjiang, east China’s Fujian Province, local authorities said Saturday.
The accident occurred at about 2:30 p.m. Saturday when a fire broke out in a seven-story building in a factory in Jinjiang. Seven people were killed on the scene, while one other victim sustained injuries and died later at a hospital.
The fire, which raged over about 750 square meters, has been put out. Investigation is underway.
Russian activists detained heading to observe Belarus vote
Three Russian opposition activists were detained Saturday as they travelled to Belarus to observe a tense presidential election there, the group said.
Andrei Pivovarov and two other members of Open Russia, an opposition group established by self-exiled Kremlin critic Mikhail Khodorkovsky, were taken off a bus in the western Pskov region, the group said.
Pivovarov, Open Russia executive director who is a prominent Kremlin critic, and two activists “have been detained by Russian border guards without any explanation,” the group’s chairperson Anastasia Burakova said in a statement on the Telegram messaging app.
Several hours later Pivovarov resurfaced, still detained, in the neighbouring Smolensk region, said Burakova, adding that he was accused of disobeying border guards.
He could face up to 15 days in jail, Burakova added.
Belarus holds a presidential election on Sunday with a woman opposition candidate posing the greatest challenge in years to long-ruling strongman Alexander Lukashenko.
The 65-year-old leader has headed the ex-Soviet country bordering Russia since 1994 and Sunday’s polls could hand him his sixth term.
Opposition candidate Svetlana Tikhanovskaya has alleged that Lukashenko plans to rig the vote in the absence of international monitors.
Early voting began Tuesday and turnout already stands at more than 32 percent, according to official figures.
In the run-up to the polls, Lukashenko accused Russia of meddling, saying Moscow sent 33 mercenaries to foment unrest.
But Kremlin critics say that there is no doubt that the Kremlin supports Lukashenko and Pivovarov’s detention was just the latest example of that.
“A dictator will always support a dictator,” opposition politician Dmitry Gudkov said on Facebook.
Japan reports 1,565 new cases of COVID-19 as summer holiday starts
The confirmed COVID-19 cases in Japan increased by 1,565 to reach 47,464 as of Saturday evening, according to the latest figures from the health ministry and local authorities, with prefectural governors discouraging people to visit their hometowns during the Bon Festival season.
The figure excludes the 712 cases from the Diamond Princess cruise ship that was quarantined in Yokohama near Tokyo.
The death toll in Japan from the pneumonia-causing virus currently stands at a total of 1,055 people, including 13 from the Diamond Princess cruise ship.
The health ministry also said there are currently 140 patients considered severely ill with ventilators or in intensive care units.
In Tokyo, the epicenter of Japan’s outbreak, 429 new cases of infections were reported on Saturday, exceeding the 400 mark for the second straight day, with the capital’s cumulative total now reaching 15,536, the highest among Japan’s 47 prefectures.
With the number of infections resurging across the country, the National Governors’ Association on Saturday urged people to carefully consider whether to visit their hometowns during the Bon Festival period.
At an online meeting, the governors also requested the central government to increase the amount of extraordinary grants for local governments to fund various measures in an effort to stem the spread of the virus.