Mission impossible for disabled Hong Kongers hunting face masks

first_imgHong Kong’s disabled residents and their carers say they feel increasingly trapped in their apartments and abandoned by authorities as the coronavirus-struck city is engulfed with panic-buying and face mask shortages.For the last fortnight, queues have sprung up across the densely-packed business hub as Hong Kongers jostle for the latest delivery of face masks, toilet rolls and cleaning products.It is a free-for-all that Steven Yan dreads. Public hospitals have stopped supplying masks to visiting patients to save vital equipment for staff in a city where more than 60 people have been diagnosed with the coronavrius. “I have to wear a mask in hospital but we can’t afford that now,” Yan said, lamenting that prices for face masks have soared in recent weeks as the government has resisted implementing price controls or rationing.Entrenched inequalityDespite being one of the richest cities in the world, Hong Kong has a profound wealth gap and a limited safety net for society’s most vulnerable.Of the some 600,000 disabled people in the city, a third live below the poverty line according to government data. Some 200,000 people also act as carers.Lam Chun, 64, looks after her 19-year-old nephew full time. He has Pradar-Willis syndrome — a genetic disorder that makes the person feel constantly hungry and often leads to diabetes and obesity.When she goes out to get groceries, she relies on a makeshift cloth mask to cover her face, even though it offers limited protection.”I always miss the information about masks because I don’t really know how to get online,” Lam said, noting how many Hong Kongers find out about restocked pharmacies through Facebook or family Whatsapp groups.Both Yan and Lam said they had received little help from local authorities in securing masks.”It turned out that the government did not do anything to protect people like us and I am deeply disappointed,” Lam said.The Social Welfare Department did not respond to requests for comment on what measures it was taking to ensure disabled and other vulnerable residents received masks. Responsibility has largely fallen to volunteers and the charity sector. Frayed nerves Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam recently said 1.6 million masks would be given to local charities to hand out to vulnerable people.And Joshua Wong, a pro-democracy activist who was previously jailed for leading protests, said his party had secured 1.2 million masks from Honduras and would distribute them through their network of local councilors. There have been growing calls in some sectors for the government to implement price caps or to ration face masks in a bid to curb shortages and spiraling prices.After a brief bout of panic buying in nearby Taiwan, authorities introduced new rules limiting each person to buying just two masks a week through a system connected to their national healthcard.But in Hong Kong, which revels in its freemarket status, authorities have so far resisted market intervention.Yan said he felt constantly anxious in recent weeks.”People like me are more vulnerable in face of diseases,” he said. “Maybe you are hearing my voice today and seeing my corpse tomorrow.”   Diagnosed with muscular atrophy 14 years ago, Yan uses a wheelchair to get around. He has tried to find face masks near his apartment but has only succeeded once in the last month, queuing for six hours to get his hands on five free masks.”It exhausted me,” Yan told AFP. “I dared not move, fearing that I might lose my spot.”With just 40 masks at home to share among him, his wife and teenage son, Yan has started cutting back on going out in public, including to his regular medical check-ups.center_img Topics :last_img read more

UN calls on nations to make roads safer

first_imgRoad safety is one of greatest development challenges, according to the UN. Traffic accidents cause deaths among young people and have lowered people’s income in Africa, Asia and Latin America. Each year, some 1.35 million drivers, cyclists, passengers and pedestrians are killed on roads, while 15 million others are severely injured, devastating families across the world and posing a setback to global efforts to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG).To achieve its targets for the Decade of Action for Road Safety, Todt said, the UN needed to ensure that safety was a measurable indicator in building vehicles, infrastructure, the transportation system and related facilities introduced to the market.“If we continue to [flood] our transportation system with unworthy elements that bring devastation to our citizens, we will not be able to achieve our safe and sustainable transportation for all,” Todt said during the opening ceremony of the 3rd Global Ministerial Conference on Road Safety: Achieving Global Goals 2030, which takes place in Stockholm from Wednesday to Thursday. The United Nations has called on governments to take responsibility in preventing road deaths and serious injuries by putting safety at the forefront of planning, investment and products in the field of transportation.Speaking on behalf United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres, UN special envoy for road safety Jean Todt said that, in recent years, UN member states, intergovernmental organizations, nongovernmental partners, multilateral development banks and academic institutions had acted to reduce risks on the world’s roads.The UN system had mobilized the development of legal instruments, best practices and policy recommendations on road safety, Todt said. This was a solid foundation, he added, but clearly not enough. Saving lives by improving road safety is one of many objectives in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. During a UN General Assembly meeting last month, Guterres launched A Decade of Action to deliver Sustainable Development Goals. The secretary-general said at the time that the entire UN system was committed to working with all partners to expand global movements for the goals to unlock financing and to generate innovation and solutions needed to deliver a better life for all people across the world.The Stockholm meeting was held to kick off a new decade of SDG action for road safety to 2030 as A Decade of Action for Road Safety 2011 – 2020 will expire at the end of this year.“We are here to unite forces to achieve a drastic reduction in road traffic fatalities and injuries over the next 10 years,” said Todt.At the two-day conference, 1,700 delegates from 140 countries had a chance to attend plenary discussions, during which ministers and senior officials talked about lessons learned from A Decade of Action for Road Safety 2011 – 2020 and what priorities countries would pursue in the next 10 years.  Todt said the high number of deaths and serious injuries caused by road accidents was unacceptable because fatalities could in fact often be prevented. “[The road] is created to improve prosperity, better education and ensure accessible health services and cleaner air. This is not a means to create disabilities and place a heavy burden on health systems and families,” he said.Speaking during the opening ceremony, the Swedish king, Carl XVI Gustaf, said 15 years ago, more than 200 Swedish children lost their lives in traffic accidents. Citing reliable statistics, the king said the number was now down to only 16. “Of course, 16 is not zero, but it is a lot better than 200. For many decades, politicians, civil society groups and industry have worked together seeking innovative solutions that make Swedish traffic safer for everybody. Despite accomplishments, [much work] still needs to be done,” he said.“Through the years, I have done quite a lot of driving myself, mostly in Stockholm and across Europe. One thing becomes apparent from driving through different countries: Traffic is cross-border and so are the challenges, especially because the number of people and vehicles have continued to increase. This is why it is very important to come together, exchange knowledge, experiences and ideas from all over the world,” he went on.The Swedish king further said a huge participation of decisionmakers and experts in the Stockholm meeting proved there was a strong global commitment to improving road safety. “This conference [creates] a lot opportunity to link the road safety challenges to other sustainable challenges, such as climate change, health, equality, poverty and human rights. We need to [address] these challenges together and remember that road traffic deaths and injuries are preventable,” said King Carl Gustaf.During a video conference, World Health Organization director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus reminded conference participants about the huge health impact of road traffic accidents, highlighting the need for necessary collaboration to end “preventable deaths and injuries”. Leaders from the sectors of transportation, infrastructure and health had to be part of the solution.Countries were now in a critical time at the end of a Decade of Action 2011 – 2020 and SDG goals 3.6, Tedros said. Countries and cities had achieved significant progress between 2010 and 2018. Brazil reported a decline in road fatalities of more than 40 percent since 2010. Similar progress had been reported from other countries, such as Saudi Arabia, Bogota in Colombia, Oslo in Norway, China, India, Thailand and Uganda.“Political will is needed at the highest level of government to achieve this, both by investing and shifting to healthier modes of transportation,” said Ghebreyesus.Topics :last_img read more

IMF calls for ‘substantial’ stimulus, coordination against virus

first_imgTopics : The International Monetary Fund called on governments worldwide Monday to join forces and roll out aggressive financial supports for the coronavirus-infected global economy, including direct payments to workers and businesses.But while several countries have taken steps to cushion the blow to their economies and boost confidence, including the United States, there has been little visible coordination among policymakers like there was at the height of the 2008 global financial crisis.The rising concern about the global economy has been reflected in the continued collapse of global stock markets, with trillions in value wiped out in recent weeks, a rout that continued Monday. Oil prices have also collapsed. IMF chief Kristalina Georgieva said last week the epidemic “is no longer a regional issue, it is a global problem calling for global response.”The virus has shuttered factories, disrupted travel, delayed conferences and sporting events and infected more than 110,000 people worldwide. More than 3,800 people have died.Gopinath said the impact is seen in production cuts hitting companies across the globe that depend on parts from China, where the outbreak originated, but also will hit consumption, since people are reluctant to go out and spend money.International coordinationSome countries already have taken steps, Gopinath noted. Italy, the country hardest hit in Europe, “has extended tax deadlines,” and Korea has introduced wage subsidies.Rome on Monday announced it would lock down the entire country to contain the epidemic as the death toll reached 463. Italy is preparing a 7.5 billion euro (US$8.6 billion) package aimed at helping out the devastated tourism industry and other sectors especially hard-hit by disruptions in global supply chains.The US Federal Reserve last week announced an emergency interest rate cut, and on Monday significantly increased its cash injections into money markets with $150 billion a day in short-term loans to ensure ample liquidity amid the virus uncertainty.That was just what Gopinath called for, saying such moves “can lift confidence and support financial markets.” And she noted that “actions by large central banks (are) also generating favorable spillovers for vulnerable countries.”But government spending measures to support economic activity have been slow in coming and economists are warning that rapid action is crucial to have the biggest impact.Germany announced an investment package worth 3 billion euros a year but it does not kick in until 2021 and is spread over three years. US President Donald Trump signed a bill with $8 billion in emergency funding, but that largely goes to medical equipment, medication and testing supplies for state and local governments.According to media reports, White House advisers are preparing a menu of options for Trump that include paid sick leave and emergency help for small businesses.French President Emmanuel Macron called for European Union leaders to hold a videoconference Tuesday aimed at coordinating their response to the coronavirus outbreak on the continent.Financial hit exposes weak spotsThe IMF’s Gopinath said governments can help workers who are laid off by business closures by extending and increasing unemployment insurance, as well as helping those that do not have paid sick leave. She also warned that the economic concerns can ripple into financial markets, causing borrowing costs to rise. And that in turn will “expose financial vulnerabilities that have accumulated during years of low interest rates, leading to a heightened risk that debt cannot be rolled over.”The IMF and others have been warning for years that high debt levels could become a source of risk if the economy slows.US banking regulators on Monday urged financial institutions to work with borrowers feeling the impact of the coronavirus outbreak, hinting they will ease up on the rules, a move likely aimed at preventing a rush of bankruptcies or delinquencies.center_img Given the “acute shocks” caused to economies, consumers and businesses, IMF chief economist Gita Gopinath said “policymakers will need to implement substantial targeted fiscal, monetary and financial market measures to help affected households and businesses.”That includes “cash transfers, wage subsidies and tax relief” as well as interest rate cuts and financial market support by central banks.Given the ties between global economies, “the argument for a coordinated, international response is clear,” she said in a blog post.The IMF already warned that the impact of the COVID-19 outbreak will slow growth in the world economy to below the 2.9 percent posted last year.last_img read more

COVID-19: Govt prohibits civil servants from going on on ‘mudik’

first_imgThe government has prohibited civil servants from participating in the annual Idul Fitri mudik (exodus) to their hometowns, in an effort to curb the spread of COVID-19 in the country.In a circular issued on Monday, Administrative and Bureaucratic Reform Minister Tjahjo Kumolo said that civil servants and their families were prohibited from going on mudik until the country “is free of COVID-19”.He also asked the staff development officers of ministries, agencies and regional administrations to ensure that their civil servants stayed in their respective regions and did not participate in the mudik. The officers were also asked to formulate a COVID-19 relief policy for civil servants and their families. “If civil servants have to travel outside of their region, they have to acquire permission from their supervisor,” the circular said, adding that civil servants who violated the regulation would be subject to disciplinary sanctions.Civil servants were also asked to urge their neighbors not to participate in the mudik or to go out of town during the COVID-19 outbreak period and to heed the government’s appeal to keep a distance in social interactions and adopt a healthy lifestyle.The government has not prohibited the mudik for the general public, citing economic considerations.Many public health experts have advised against the practice as it risks further transmitting the disease to regions with low healthcare capacity. Two of Indonesia’s largest Islamic mass organizations, Nahdlatul Ulama and Muhammadiyah, have also advised people against participating in the mudik.According to 2019 data from the National Civil Service Agency (BKN), there are 4.28 million civil servants across the country.According to the official government count, there were 2,738 cases of COVID-19 in the country as of Tuesday, with 221 deaths.Topics :last_img read more

US companies criticized for cutting jobs rather than investor payouts

first_imgUS companies laying off workers in response to the coronavirus pandemic but still paying dividends and buying back shares are drawing criticism from labor unions, pension fund advisers, lawmakers and corporate governance experts.While most US companies are scaling back payouts after a decade in which the amount of money paid to investors through buybacks and dividends more than tripled, some are maintaining their policies despite the economic pain.Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd, Halliburton Co, General Motors Co and McDonald’s Corp have all laid off staff, cut their hours, or slashed salaries while maintaining payouts, according to a Reuters review of regulatory filings, company announcements and company officials. “This is the time for large companies to try to help, for systemic reasons, to keep things flowing,” said Ken Bertsch, executive director of the Council of Institutional Investors. The council’s members include public pension funds and endowments that manage assets worth about US$4 trillion.Read also: Five more months to business as usual: Business playersRoyal Caribbean, which has halted its cruises in response to the pandemic and borrowed to boost its liquidity to more than $3.6 billion, said it began laying off contract workers in mid-March, though the moves did not affect its full-time employees.The company has not suspended its remaining $600 million share buyback program, which expires in May, or its dividend, which totaled $602 million last year and is set quarterly. “We continue to take decisive actions to protect (our) financial and liquidity positions,” Royal Caribbean spokesman Jonathon Fishman said. He declined to comment specifically on the layoffs or shareholder payouts.While Royal Caribbean’s rival Carnival Corp has also laid off contract workers, it has suspended dividends and buybacks as it raised more than $6 billion in capital markets to weather the coronavirus storm.Unemployment surgeGoldman Sachs analysts forecast this week that S&P 500 companies would cut dividends in 2020 by an average of 50 percent because of the fallout from the coronavirus pandemic.While there has been criticism of companies maintaining investor payouts, only those receiving financial support from the US government under a $2.3 trillion stimulus package are obliged to suspend share buybacks.US companies hare buybacks and dividends payouts. (Reuters/-)Layoffs contributed to US unemployment skyrocketing last month. Jobless claims topped 6.6 million in the week ended March 28 – double the record set the prior week and far above the previous record of 695,000 set in 1982.Companies say job cuts are necessary to offset a plunge in revenue but their critics say they should consider turning off the spigots to shareholders before letting employees go.“If companies are paying dividends and doing buybacks, they do not have to lay off workers,” said William Lazonick, a corporate governance expert at the University of Massachusetts.Workers at franchised McDonald’s restaurants say they are getting fewer shifts since dining areas were closed in March, leaving only carry-out and drive-through services open.Alma Ceballos, 31, who has worked at a franchised McDonald’s near San Francisco for 14 years, said she could not pay her rent after her schedule was cut to 16 hours from 40 and her husband, a janitor at Apple Inc’s Cupertino, California, campus was laid off.McDonald’s, which has suspended buybacks but maintained its annual dividend, worth $3.6 billion in 2019, told Reuters its staffing and opening hours were not related to “making a choice between employees and dividends”.About 95 percent of its US restaurants are run by franchisees who decide staffing. McDonald’s said it was offering rent deferrals and other help to keep franchises open and employing workers.Read also: Tens of thousands of workers across Indonesia laid off because of COVID-19 outbreak“McDonald’s could commit to 30 days of income for all workers,” Mary Kay Henry, president of the labor union SEIU which has 2 million members, said in an interview with Reuters. “Corporations need to pay their fair share here.”‘It’s just wrong’General Motors has halted normal production in North America and temporarily reduced cash pay for salaried workers by 20 percent. It paid its first-quarter dividend on March 20 and has a month before declaring its next dividend, a spokeswoman said, adding that GM would assess economic conditions before deciding.“Our focus in the near term is to protect the health of our employees and customers, ensure we have ample liquidity for a very wide range of scenarios, and implement austerity measures to preserve cash,” spokeswoman Lauren Langille said.Oilfield services firm Halliburton furloughed about 3,500 workers in its Houston office starting on March 23, according to a letter sent to the Texas Workforce Commission obtained by Reuters. It has also cut 350 positions in Oklahoma.Halliburton cited disruption from the coronavirus as well as plunging oil prices as the reason for the furlough. In March, it paid its first-quarter dividend to shareholders as planned.A Halliburton spokeswoman declined to comment on the furlough and the company’s dividend policy.Read also: Coronavirus drives record US job losses amid economic shutdownSome of the companies laying off workers while still paying out shareholders, such as General Motors, signed an initiative last year from the Business Roundtable, a group of chief executives, pledging to make business decisions in the interest of employees and other stakeholders, not just shareholders.Large asset managers such as BlackRock and Vanguard have cited managing “human capital” as a priority for companies in which they invest. Yet they have been reluctant to publicly press companies to avoid layoffs during the crisis.Vanguard told Reuters it “recognizes the need for companies to exercise judgment and flexibility as they balance short- and long-term business considerations”.BlackRock did not respond with a statement when contacted for comment.“Profits should be shared with the workers who actually create them,” US Senator Tammy Baldwin, a long-standing critic of share buybacks, told Reuters in an email.“It’s just wrong for big corporations to reward the wealthy or top executives with more stock buybacks, while closing facilities and laying off workers.”Topics :last_img read more

Speed of coronavirus deaths shock doctors as New York toll hits new high

first_img“This virus attacked the vulnerable and attacked the weak, and it’s our job as a society to protect the vulnerable.”Doctors and nurses say elderly patients and those with underlying health conditions are not the only ones who appear relatively well one moment and at death’s door the next. It happens to the young and healthy, too.Patients “look fine, feel fine, then you turn around and they’re unresponsive,” said Diana Torres, a nurse at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City, the center of the nation’s worst outbreak. “I’m paranoid, scared to walk out of their room.”Nearly 430,000 cases of COVID-19, the highly infectious lung disease caused by the coronavirus, were confirmed in the United States as of Wednesday afternoon, including more than 14,700 deaths. For the second straight day the virus killed at least 1,900 in a 24-hour period. Topics : Cuomo said 779 people had died in the past day in his state. New Jersey reported 275 had died there. Both totals exceeded one-day records from just a day earlier.Despite the grim figures, Cuomo said overall trends still appeared positive. Cuomo cited a drop in new hospitalizations and other data as evidence that New York’s social-distancing restrictions were “bending the curve,” helping to gain some control over the infection rate.New York is one of 42 states where governors have issued “stay-at-home” orders and closed all non-essential workplaces.While public health experts say such measures are vital for controlling the contagion, the restrictions have strangled the US economy, leading to widespread layoffs, upheavals on Wall Street and projections of a severe recession.Cuomo said the loss of life would likely continue at current levels or increase in days ahead as critically ill patients die after prolonged bouts hooked up to ventilators.Scaling back toll US deaths due to coronavirus topped 14,700 on Wednesday, the second highest reported number in the world behind Italy, according to a Reuters tally.New York state accounts for over a third of the US total.Officials have warned Americans to expect alarming numbers of coronavirus deaths this week, even as an influential university model on Wednesday scaled back its projected US pandemic death toll by 26% to 60,000.”We are in the midst of a week of heartache,” Vice President Mike Pence said during a White House briefing on Wednesday, but added, “we are beginning to see glimmers of hope.”Dr. Craig Smith, surgeon-in-chief at Presbyterian Hospital’s Columbia University Medical Center in Manhattan, heralded encouraging numbers that suggested a turning tide in Wednesday’s edition of his daily newsletter to staff.There were more discharges of patients than admissions for two days running, he said, adding: “Hosanna!”But that comes as cold comfort to some healthcare workers on the front lines, who told Reuters they have treated patients while experiencing symptoms of the novel coronavirus themselves without being able to get tested.In Michigan, one of the few hospital systems conducting widespread diagnostic screenings of staff, found more than 700 workers were infected – over a quarter of those tested.The continued test kit shortages – even for the workers most at risk – is “scandalous” and a serious threat to the patients they treat, said Dr. Art Caplan, a professor of bioethics at the NYU Grossman School of Medicine.’Big bang’At the White House on Wednesday, US President Donald Trump said he would like to reopen the US economy with a “big bang” but not before the death toll is on the downslope.Trump did not offer a time frame, but his chief economic adviser, Larry Kudlow, said on Tuesday a resumption of commerce was possible in four to eight weeks.Louisiana is “beginning to see the flattening of the curve” with the number of new coronavirus cases reported in the past 24 hours – 746 – lower than recent days, Governor John Bel Edwards said. Louisiana had been one of the nation’s hot spots.California, like New York, had one of its highest single-day death tolls with 68 people dying of COVID-19 in the past 24 hours, Governor Gavin Newsom said. The state may not see its infection curve flattening until the end of May, requiring weeks more of social distancing, officials say.New York City officials said a recent surge in people dying at home suggests the most populous US city may be undercounting the loss of life.”I think that’s a very real possibility,” Cuomo told his daily news briefing.So far New York City’s announced death toll has reflected only laboratory-confirmed COVID-19 diagnoses, mostly at hospitals. At least 200 people are believed to be dying at home in the city every day during the pandemic, authorities said.Pence warned that Philadelphia and Pittsburgh were cities of “particular concern” as a possible future flash points in the epidemic.center_img New York state, epicenter of America’s coronavirus crisis, set another single-day record of COVID-19 deaths on Wednesday, as veteran doctors and nurses voiced astonishment at the speed with which patients were deteriorating and dying.The number of known coronavirus infections in New York state alone approached 150,000 on Wednesday, even as authorities warned that the official death tally may understate the true number because it omits those who have perished at home.”Every number is a face, ” said New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, who ordered flags flown at half-staff across New York in memory of the victims.last_img read more

COVID-19: Ministry, House agree to postpone 2020 PON in Papua

first_imgThe Youth and Sports Ministry and House Commission X agreed on Tuesday to postpone the National Games (PON), which were initially scheduled to be held from Oct. 20 to Nov. 2 in Papua, as the country is struggling to contain the spread of COVID-19.“Regarding the [new] date, month, year of the PON, the ministry will consult with the President on the matter,” the head of House Commission X overseeing education and sports affairs, Syaiful Huda, said.Syaiful Huda reported that Minister Zainudin Amali had agreed to postpone the sporting event considering the delay in sports equipment procurement and lack of athletes’ preparation as a result of the pandemic. “Some sports equipment manufacturing countries are struggling with the pandemic,” he said.Read also: Olympics postponement gives Indonesian sports stakeholders breathing space“Some equipment must be imported from Europe, China or Japan. It would be impossible for those countries to meet the deadline for PON within five months,” Syaiful said, adding that the auction for the sports equipment should have been done by July of this year.The athletes have also been struggling to prepare for the games as they are faced with movement restrictions imposed to curb the spread of COVID-19, which had infected almost 5,000 people and killed over 400 in Indonesia as of Tuesday. The postponement of the PON comes following the rescheduling of the ASEAN Para Games, which was expected to be held from Oct. 3 to 9 in the Philippines, but has been pushed back to March 21 to 27, 2021 and the Tokyo Olympics which have been postponed to July 23 to Aug. 8, 2021, after initially being scheduled for July 24 to Aug. 9, 2020.Read also: Sports leagues across Indonesia suspend play to slow spread of COVID-19Following the postponement of the sporting events, the Youth and Sports Ministry’s Rp 270 billion (US$17 million) budget for 2020 Olympics National Training Camp (Pelatnas) was trimmed last week adjusting to President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo’s call to reallocate funds from the 2020 budget to the COVID-19 pandemic.House Commission X had demanded an intensive communication between the Sports Ministry and the Finance Ministry to reallocate the budget for athletes, officials and those in the sports field who were affected by COVID-19.“Some retired athletes and active ones have lost their income because of the postponement of many sports events this year,” he said.Topics :last_img read more

Jerusalem Al-Aqsa muezzin echoes 500 years of family tradition

first_imgAs the rising sun gently begins to illuminate Jerusalem’s golden Dome of the Rock and the city slowly awakens, Firas al-Qazzaz’s hypnotic voice echoes softly through the Old City.    He is the latest member of his family in 500 years to lead prayers from the minaret at the cherished Al-Aqsa mosque, the third holiest site in Islam. “Allahu akbar [God is greatest],” begins the call rising over the mosque compound, not jerky or abrupt but smooth like honey, calling the faithful closer to God. Unimpeded by car horns or noisy cafe chatter, his voice soars upwards clear and crisp amid sweet birdsong.Standing straight and with a slow, deliberate way of speaking, the 32-year-old is the youngest muezzin, or religious official who sounds the call to prayer, at Al-Aqsa.In happier times after prayers, Qazzaz would pick his way slowly through the streets, greeting all those around — a handshake here, an Asalamu aleikum (Peace be unto you) there, an invitation to join another for an Arabic coffee scented with cardamom.  ‘A beautiful voice’ “It is an honor from God that this family has been blessed with beautiful voices to be able to call the prayer in the Al-Aqsa mosque,” he told AFP in a friend’s house, where the walls are adorned with china whirling dervishes and a clock decorated with a picture of Mickey Mouse.His ancestors moved from Hijaz in modern-day Saudi Arabia to take up the mantle as the mosque’s muezzin in the 15th century, and since then the family has passed the title from generation to generation.His father held the prestigious post for more than 40 years and Qazzaz himself never dreamed of anything else.He shadowed his father from a young age — learning the call to prayer and how to breathe properly while reciting the Koran.At 14, he first asked his father if he could recite the Islamic call to prayer.”The weather was cold — there was snow. I was afraid anyone would hear me, because Al-Aqsa has an awe of prestige,” he said. “It is not easy to stop and read and call the prayers. But I called the prayer.””The head of the Waqf [the religious organization that runs the mosque] asked ‘who was that?’ My father said ‘that was my son.’ He said ‘he has a beautiful voice, but it is still weak’.”To hone his talent, the young Firas went to train in a private institute in Jerusalem before spending a year in Cairo at the Al-Azhar mosque, learning from an Egyptian master, Sheikh Mohammed al-Masri. “When you pull someone from sleep to prayer at dawn, take him kindly,” Qazzaz said, explaining the different tones for the five daily Islamic prayers.The site, where Muslims believe the Prophet Mohammed travelled on a winged horse before ascending to heaven, lies in the heart of Jerusalem’s Old City, home to places holy to Christians, Jews and Muslims alike.The global outbreak of the novel coronavirus means the cobbled streets leading to the compound, normally heaving with life, now lie eerily quiet.The mosque may be closed and empty but Qazzaz’s call can be heard echoing above the silence of a city in lockdown. center_img ‘Touching the soul’ Across the Arab world, another Egyptian voice resonates — that of the late singer Umm Kulthum, perhaps the most famous Arab musician in history, known for her bewitching voice.Asked if he considers himself an artist like Kulthum, Qazzaz considered the question from another angle.”Many of the well-known Arabic artists began with the holy Koran. Umm Kulthum, she began by reading the Koran. Sabah Fakhry [a famous Syrian singer] was a muezzin in a mosque.””It would be easy for me to sing, but a singer would find it very difficult to call prayers. It is not easy because of the Koran, the prayers, the grammar,” he added.Qazzaz is the youngest of half a dozen muezzins who rotate the prayers, giving them time to rest their voices in between. In the markets of major Arab cities, cassettes or CDs of calls to prayer can still be found. But with the development of mobile networks and high-speed internet, many are turning to YouTube to listen to the muezzins and to dissect their style and influences.”Everything is there on YouTube,” Qazzaz said, speaking soothingly in classical Arabic.”I listen to a lot [of muezzins] but am not won over by many — only by those with a powerful voice that can affect people.”Qazzaz, who has a five-year-old daughter, said that if he has a son, he would hope the boy would follow in his footsteps.”Ultimately the muezzin calls people to pray, but the more beautiful part is he leaves an impact on their souls.”For more than a month, muezzins from major Arab cities have urged the faithful to stay at home to prevent the spread of the coronavirus in mosques.”We ask God to put an end to this calamity, this pandemic, and to return to calm during the month of Ramadan, in the hope that the Al-Aqsa mosque and the other places of worship will be able to reopen,” Qazzaz said. “For me as a muezzin, when I say at the end ‘pray in your homes’, it breaks my heart.” Topics :last_img read more

COVID-19: New business ideas emerge as people work from home

first_img“My husband and I have wanted to start a business for a long time, especially at the beginning of the COVID-19 outbreak, since there’s a high risk that both of us could lose our jobs. We were thinking hard about how to get extra income,” she said.The profit for the two days’ sales was Rp 50,000 (US$ 3.21). “I love to try new recipes and my husband is also into cooking, since he watched a Korean drama recently,” Ester told The Jakarta Post on Friday.Ester said she and her husband were surprised to find a new recipe they had made tasted delicious, so they decided to try selling the dish online several days ago.”My husband tried a new recipe called tahu walik [fried tofu], and it was surprisingly really good. So, we decided to sell it through Instagram starting on Wednesday. I didn’t expect anybody to buy it, at first. But as it turned out, a lot of people were interested in trying it out,” she said.Ester said she was quite happy with her new business although she admitted that it was quite challenging since she and her husband had to juggle between work and cooking. You have completed the tasks your boss gave you, watered the plants and binge-watched your favorite shows online. Yet the day is still long as you spend time confined to your home amid the study- and work-from-home policies imposed by the authorities to stem the spread of COVID-19.But for some, a surfeit of leisure time has sparked ideas about new productive hobbies that can support them financially.Ester Christine Natalia, a 26-year-old office worker from Tangerang, Banten, has chosen to spend more time in her kitchen after being asked to work from home by her employers around a month ago.center_img Physical-distancing policies have been imposed in Greater Jakarta since last month in a bid to curb the spread of the coronavirus, forcing many residents to stay at home as their companies comply with the regulation.Meanwhile, for 29-year-old journalist Muhammad Andika Putra, working from home is a great opportunity to restart the family’s culinary business.”My brother loves to cook. For the past three years he has occasionally sold food via social media, but not like ‘seriously’. However, since we started to work from home around five weeks ago, we thought it was a great idea to start selling food again,” he told the Post.Dika explained that he and his brother convinced their mother to sell her doughnuts via the popular photo-sharing app Instagram. The brothers were certain that their mother’s doughnuts, which have been a family breakfast staple for years would be a hit among people who were stuck at home and craving a nice snack.Read also: Small businesses cry for lifeline as government aid underwayHe said his family had been surprised by the success of their new business.The family now count making and packing doughnuts as one of their daily activities, thanks to the growing number of orders.”We’ve seen our sales steadily rise due to the social-distancing policy, since a lot of people want to snack at home but they can’t go anywhere. In the first week we sold around 20 doughnuts but now we manage to sell 90,” Dika said adding that a pack of five unfried doughnuts cost Rp 25,000 and a pack of 10 sold for Rp 50,000.Topics :last_img read more

COVID-19: Released from hospital, transportation minister joins virtual Cabinet meeting

first_imgThe government announced on March 14 that Budi, who has long suffered from asthma, had tested positive for COVID-19 and had been hospitalized at RSPAD. State Secretary Pratikno said that Budi had been identified as Case 76 in Indonesia. As of Monday afternoon, Indonesia had recorded 9,096 of COVID-19 cases with 765 death.The ministry’s spokesperson, Adita Irawati, confirmed to The Jakarta Post on Monday that the minister had joined a limited Cabinet meeting to discuss the transition process prior to his return to the ministerial post.Budi was released from hospital on April 15 and required to self-isolate for 14 days.While Budi was receiving treatment for COVID-19, Coordinating Maritime Affairs and Investment Minister Luhut Pandjaitan acted as transportation minister.”We still can’t confirm when Pak Budi will officially return to his position as transportation minister,” Adita told the Post.Topics : Transportation Minister Budi Karya Sumadi participated in a virtual Cabinet meeting on Monday, the first time since he was declared positive for COVID-19.”I am ready to help as I always maintain coordination with all stakeholders. I have conducted five internal coordination meetings [within the ministry] even though I was in quarantine,” he said in a presser streamed via the official Sekretariat Kabinet RI YouTube channel on Monday. “Thank you. I hope to see you soon. I miss everyone, but we can only meet after May 5,” Budi Karya said to conclude his speech, referring to the end of the isolation period.last_img read more