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Hajj drastically scaled down as COVID-19 reshapes pilgrimage

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(Last Updated On: July 30, 2020)

Small groups of Hajj pilgrims, wearing face masks, who had spent days in isolation, began arriving Wednesday from across Saudi Arabia at Islam’s holiest site in Mecca for this year’s scaled-down Hajj. 

Earlier this year Saudi officials announced that only a very limited number of people, who live in Saudi Arabia, will be allowed to attend Hajj due to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Most years Hajj draws over two million pilgrims. This year the numbers will only be between 1,000 and 10,000 people and instead of standing and praying shoulder-to-shoulder, pilgrims will now adhere to social distancing regulations and move in small groups of 20. 

The Saudi government has not however released the exact numbers of pilgrims this year but for those who arrived on Wednesday, strict measures had to be followed before the start of Hajj. 

They were all tested for COVID-19, given wristbands that connect to their phones and track their movements and for days leading up to Wednesday, they were quarantined in their hotel rooms in Mecca. 

For this group, Hajj will end on Sunday and they will then be required to spend another week in quarantine. 

For months Mecca has been sealed off and no international media will be permitted to cover this year’s Hajj. Instead, the Saudi government broadcast live from the Grand Mosque on Wednesday. 

Meanwhile, pilgrims will not be allowed to touch the Kaaba this year and other health measures have been introduced. 

Speaking to CNN, Assistant Deputy Minister for Preventative Health at the Saudi Ministry of Health, Dr. Abdullah Assiri said: “We are trying to apply the concept of safety bubbles, where every pilgrim will have an environment around him or her that are free and safe as much as possible from any kind of hazards, so all that is needed by the Hajjis is their personal protective equipment their hygiene products are provided free of charge.” 

But for millions of Muslims around the world, last month’s announcement by the Saudi government came as a heavy blow. 

For the government however it was a difficult decision but one it made as it battles a surge in Coronavirus cases. 

Saudi Arabia has recorded over 250,000 cases so far including 2,523 deaths – the highest toll among the Arab Gulf states.

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‘Worried’ Afghan women appeal to female world leaders to help secure their rights

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(Last Updated On: August 8, 2020)

Afghan women have appealed to female world leaders to stand with them in order to protect women’s rights in Afghanistan as a political landscape shift looms. 

In an open letter to women world leaders, issued by Afghan Women’s Network, Afghan women said “we are writing to you because we are worried.”

They said in the letter that “so far, the talks have been a show of the strongmen in which mostly those who fought and killed our fellow citizens are talking.”

They stated that they are afraid their rights and freedoms are in danger of being compromised and that the way the talks process has been led shows an established disrespect for the rights and freedoms of Afghan women. 

“We are afraid that our hard-won gains are being jeopardized and eroded only for a short-term solution among these very strongmen. We are afraid of this visible pushback from all those who are part of this process,” the letter stated. 

Pointing out that so many simple things that women around the world take for granted, Afghan women are either deprived of or face losing after having worked so hard to achieve them over the past 19 years. 

These issues include having the right to earn a living and provide for their families to “every day little acts like leaving their house without fear of reprisal, taking a stroll in the park, and laughing with a friend in public.”

They stated in the letter that “these are some of the basic things we fear we will lose again. We cannot take a chance to lose what we have achieved with your help.”

Afghan women have said they know they have a long way to go to achieve equality for women in Afghanistan “but we, the women, cannot allow it to go back. We will continue to fight for and defend our rights and those of our children.”

Appealing to female world leaders, the letter states Afghan women desperately need the support of these leaders “who are in a position of influence on the future of Afghanistan.”

“We hope that you will speak for us and our desire to be respected as equal humans when your countries make their decisions on Afghanistan. 

“We hope you will speak for our desire for a peace that is just, inclusive, sustainable, and practical. We hope that you will stand with us and for women’s rights and a sustainable peace in Afghanistan. 

“As women leaders, we are certain that you will relate to us in wanting a sustainable peace and equal rights for all.”

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17 Loya Jirga delegates test positive for COVID-19

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(Last Updated On: August 8, 2020)

Afghanistan’s Ministry of Public Health on Saturday confirmed 17 Loya Jirga delegates had tested positive for COVID-19. 

According to officials, the delegates infected with the virus had not been allowed to enter the hall. 

Noorullah Taraki, deputy spokesman for the Ministry of Public Health, said the members of the Loya Jirga who tested positive have been taken to a COVID-19 treatment facility in Kabul. 

Critics meanwhile raised their voices on Friday over the apparent lack of adherence to health protocols by the delegates on Friday in a bid to prevent the spread of the virus.

It was clear that very few delegates wore face masks and no social distancing practices were followed as 3,200 delegates sat shoulder to shoulder in the hall. 

This comes after a Public Health Ministry report released last week indicated up to 10 million Afghans had been infected with coronavirus – which has had an enormous impact on the country’s already fragile health system and economy. 

The Jirga will decide on the fate of 400 Taliban prisoners and the way forward regarding intra-Afghan talks. 

Comprising tribal elders, community leaders and politicians, 3,200 people from around the country are attending the event. 

Chairing the Jirga is Abdullah Abdullah, Chairman of the High Council for National Reconciliation. 

He said Saturday on Twitter that Friday’s deliberations had continued late into the night but that a resolution would be announced on Saturday. 

We began the second working day of the Consultative Peace Jirga. Yesterday 33 out of 50 working committees of the #CPJ submitted their suggestions, which continued till late evening. Today, the remaining 17 committees will submit their suggestions.

The outcome of the committees suggestions on the release of 400 Taliban prisoners & other peace related issues will be announced today. The people of Afghanistan, & the international community looking forward for a positive, & constructive outcome to start the intra-Afghan talks.”

 

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Zimbabwe cancels Afghanistan’s T20I cricket tour

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(Last Updated On: August 8, 2020)

The planned Twenty20 International cricket tour for Afghanistan to Zimbabwe has been canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

According to Zimbabwean media reports, the host government declined to approve the tour, citing health risks. 

The tour was expected to start this month and despite the Zimbabwean cricket federation having applied to government for the tour to go ahead, the five-match series was canceled. 

Zimbabwe’s Sports and Recreation Commission’s (SRC) director-general Prince Mupazviriho said this week: “It will not be proper at the moment for foreigners to come to Zimbabwe for sport considering that there won’t be enough time to go through the required quarantine period.”

“We also took into consideration the recent spike in Covid-19 cases and felt that such a tour would put the players and everybody at great risk. So the minister responsible (Sports minister Kirsty Coventry) decided not to approve the tour.”

Zimbabwe Cricket (ZC) chairman Tavengwa Mukuhlani said the Afghanistan series cancellation was a huge setback for his country’s cricket team but added that the country is now hoping to travel to Pakistan in October to begin it’s World Super League commitments, a new ICC model that creates a pathway to the 2023 World Cup.

 

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