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Exclusive-Baby lost in chaos of Afghanistan airlift found, returned to family after long ordeal

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An infant boy handed in desperation to a soldier across an airport wall in the chaos of the American evacuation of Afghanistan has been found and was reunited with his relatives in Kabul on Saturday.

The baby, Sohail Ahmadi, was just two months old when he went missing on Aug. 19 as thousands of people rushed to leave Afghanistan as it fell to the Taliban.

Following an exclusive Reuters story https://www.reuters.com/world/exclusive-baby-handed-us-soldiers-chaos-afghanistan-airlift-still-missing-2021-11-05 published in November with his pictures, the baby was located in Kabul where a 29-year-old taxi driver named Hamid Safi had found him in the airport and took him home to raise as his own.

After more than seven weeks of negotiations and pleas, and ultimately a brief detention by Taliban police, Safi finally handed the child back to his jubilant grandfather and other relatives still in Kabul.

They said they would now seek to have him reunited with his parents and siblings who were evacuated months ago to the United States.

During the tumultuous Afghan evacuation over the summer, Mirza Ali Ahmadi – the boy’s father who had worked as a security guard at the U.S. embassy – and his wife Suraya feared their son would get crushed in the crowd as they neared the airport gates en route to a flight to the United States.

Ahmadi told Reuters in early November in his desperation that day, he handed Sohail over the airport wall to a uniformed soldier who he believed to be an American, fully expecting he would soon make it the remaining 5 meters (15 feet) to the entrance to reclaim him.

Just at that moment, Taliban forces pushed the crowd back and it would be another half an hour before Ahmadi, his wife and their four other children were able to get inside.

But by then the baby was nowhere to be found.

Ahmadi said he searched desperately for his son inside the airport and was told by officials that he had likely been taken out of the country separately and could be reunited with them later.

The rest of the family was evacuated – eventually ending up at a military base in Texas. For months they had no idea where their son was.

The case highlights the plight of many parents separated from their children https://www.reuters.com/world/when-are-my-parents-coming-1300-afghan-children-evacuated-us-limbo-2021-11-10 during the hasty evacuation effort and withdrawal of U.S. forces from the country after a 20-year war.

With no U.S. embassy in Afghanistan and international organizations overstretched, Afghan refugees have had trouble getting answers on the timing, or possibility, of complex reunifications like this one.

The U.S. Department of Defense, the State Department and the Department of Homeland Security did not respond to requests for comment on Saturday.

ALONE AT THE AIRPORT

On the same day Ahmadi and his family were separated from their baby, Safi had slipped through the Kabul airport gates after giving a ride to his brother’s family who were also set to evacuate.

Safi said he found Sohail alone and crying on the ground. After he said he unsuccessfully tried to locate the baby’s parents inside, he decided to take the infant home to his wife and children. Safi has three daughters of his own and said his mother’s greatest wish before she died was for him to have a son.

In that moment he decided: “I am keeping this baby. If his family is found, I will give him to them. If not, I will raise him myself,” he told Reuters in an interview in late November.

Safi told Reuters that he took him to the doctor for a check-up after he was found and quickly incorporated the child into his family. They called the baby Mohammad Abed and posted pictures of all the children together on his Facebook page.

After the Reuters story about the missing child came out, some of Safi’s neighbors – who had noticed his return from the airport months earlier with a baby – recognized the photos and posted comments about his whereabouts on a translated version of the article.

Ahmadi asked his relatives still in Afghanistan, including his father-in-law Mohammad Qasem Razawi, 67, who lives in the northeastern province of Badakhshan, to seek out Safi and ask him to return Sohail to the family.

Razawi said he traveled two days and two nights to the capital bearing gifts – including a slaughtered sheep, several pounds of walnuts and clothing – for Safi and his family.

But Safi refused to release Sohail, insisting he also wanted to be evacuated from Afghanistan with his family. Safi’s brother, who was evacuated to California, said Safi and his family have no pending applications for U.S. entry.

The baby’s family sought help from the Red Cross, which has a stated mission to help reconnect people separated by international crises, but said they received little information from the organization. A spokesperson for the Red Cross said it does not comment on individual cases.

Finally, after feeling they had run out of options, Razawi contacted the local Taliban police to report a kidnapping. Safi told Reuters he denied the allegations to the police and said he was caring for the baby, not kidnapping him.

The complaint was investigated and dismissed and the local police commander told Reuters he helped arrange a settlement, which included an agreement signed with thumbprints by both sides. Razawi said the baby’s family in the end agreed to compensate Safi around 100,000 Afghani ($950) for expenses incurred looking after him for five months.

“The grandfather of the baby complained to us and we found Hamid and based on the evidence we had, we recognized the baby,” said Hamid Malang, the chief area controller of the local police station. “With both sides in agreement, the baby will be handed over to his grandfather,” he said on Saturday.

In the presence of the police, and amid lots of tears, the baby was finally returned to his relatives.

Razawi said Safi and his family were devastated to lose Sohail. “Hamid and his wife were crying, I cried too, but assured them that you both are young, Allah will give you male child. Not one, but several. I thanked both of them for saving the child from the airport,” Razawi said.

The baby’s parents told Reuters they were overjoyed as they were able to see with their own eyes the reunion over video chat.

“There are celebrations, dance, singing,” said Razawi. “It is just like a wedding indeed.”

Now Ahmadi and his wife and other children, who in early December were able to move off the military base and resettle in an apartment in Michigan, hope Sohail will soon be brought to the United States.

“We need to get the baby back to his mother and father. This is my only responsibility,” his grandfather said. “My wish is that he should return to them.”

 

(Reporting by Mica Rosenberg in New York, Jonathan Landay in Washington and James Mackenzie in Kabul; Editing by Kieran Murray and Daniel Wallis)

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Two Canadians die in shooting at Mexican Caribbean resort

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Two Canadians died of gunshot wounds after an argument turned violent at a resort near Cancun on Mexico‘s Caribbean coast, authorities said on Friday.

Both guests at the upscale resort on the Riviera Maya of Quintana Roo state had criminal records, said Mexican officials, citing information from the Canadian police.

Mexican police are searching for another person thought to have fired the shots who had a “long” criminal record in Canada, said the attorney general’s office in Quintana Roo, home to a stretch of white-sand beach resorts and lush jungles.

Quintana Roo’s head of public security, Lucio Hernandez, said on Twitter a gun was fired amid “an argument among hotel guests” at the Hotel Xcaret.

Three people were injured and taken to hospital, Hernandez said. He posted photos of the alleged shooter, showing a man in a gray track suit and black face mask wielding a gun in front of green landscaping.

Xcaret said the incident appeared to be “targeted and isolated” and that the hotel was helping the affected people. “We deeply regret the events that occurred at Hotel Xcaret this afternoon,” it said in a statement.

The Canadian government said it was contacting Mexican authorities and could not provide more details due to privacy considerations.

 

(Reporting by Daina Beth Solomon, Lizbeth Diaz and Miguel Angel Gutierrez in Mexico City; Additional reporting by Denny Thomas in Toronto; Editing by William Mallard)

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Omicron wave has likely peaked in Canada: Tam – CTV News

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The latest COVID-19 wave driven by the Omicron variant may have reached its peak, with the average daily case count decreasing by 28 per cent compared to the previous week, says Canada’s top public health official. But hospitalizations and intensive care admissions, which lag behind infections, are still climbing.

“ICU numbers are still rising steeply,” said Chief Public Health Officer of Canada Dr. Theresa Tam on Friday.

“The January timeframe, the peak may occur, but the hospitalizations and the ICU admissions may continue to increase for some time. So that’s in February and I really hope that by the end of the next month, we’ll be in a better position.”

Hospitals are seeing very few cases of Delta or other variants, but the high volume of Omicron cases have resulted in an unprecedented number of new daily hospital admissions that exceeded historical maximums over the past week.

An average of more than 10,000 people with COVID-19 are being treated daily in hospitals while more than 1,100 people are in ICU.

“We still have some difficult weeks ahead and potential for more bumps along the way,” Tam said.

“Omicron can cause serious outcomes. We can not trivialize this virus. Many people, particularly those who are at higher risk, get very severely sick and indeed, many have died, and we need to do what we can to prevent those.”

The sheer volume of cases has also resulted in more reports of severe cases among children, but they are still “very rare in terms of rates,” said Tam, adding that the vast majority of severe illnesses still occur among those over the age of 60.

While there was a degree of underestimation due to changes in testing policies, the seven-day average for daily new cases was close to 27,000 as of Jan. 19, she said.

Tam reiterated the strong protective effects of the vaccine and encouraged the public to get their booster shots and vaccinate eligible children. More than 6.5 million eligible Canadians do not have their first or second dose yet and coverage for eligible children currently stands at 51 per cent with at least one dose, she added.

For administrative purposes, including international travel, entering certain public spaces, or doing certain tasks, Tam explained that the definition for “fully vaccinated” still consists of the primary series, or the first two doses for a two-dose vaccine and one dose of the Janssen vaccine.

“But we all know that it is very important to get the booster dose, particularly in the time of Omicron, so we began to switch terminologies now to the concept of being ‘up-to-date’” on all eligible doses, she said.

“Now is not the right time [to change the definition of fully vaccinated] because not everybody’s had the chance to get that additional dose or getting up to date – not in Canada and certainly not globally.”

With expectations that the virus will be here for a long time to come, Tam also addressed questions around the possibility of a fourth vaccine dose. She acknowledged that there are a number of unknowns, but the priority right now is to prevent serious outcomes, even as health officials look at a longer-term approach to tackling the virus.

“Influenza, for example, that’s now an annual vaccine people have that I’ve had for decades every year,” she said.

“There are very good examples of where vaccines can be given time and again over the course of our lives.” 

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Coronavirus: What's happening in Canada and around the world on Friday – CBC News

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The latest:

Ireland is to scrap almost all its COVID-19 restrictions on Saturday after a major surge in infections did not lead to a significant increase in the numbers requiring intensive hospital care, a senior minister said.

Ireland had the second-highest incidence rate of COVID-19 in Europe just last week but also one of the continent’s highest uptake of booster vaccines, which has helped keep the number of seriously ill people well below the previous peak.

Following advice from public health officials, the government decided that bars and restaurants will no longer need to close at 8 p.m., a restriction put in place late last year when the Omicron wave struck, or to ask customers for proof of vaccination.

Capacity in indoor and outdoor venues is also set to return to full capacity, paving the way for full crowds for next month’s Six Nations rugby championship.

Some measures, such as the need to wear a mask on public transport and in shops, will remain in place for now.

“I am so pleased to be able to say that as of 6 a.m. tomorrow, the vast majority of restrictions that have been in place for almost two years now, on and off, will be lifted,” Justice Minister Helen McEntee said in a video posted on Instagram following a government meeting.

“I don’t think any of us thought we’d actually be getting to this point as quickly as we are now.”

Prime Minister Micheal Martin was due to make a televised address to announce the measures.

The changes would put Ireland back in line with Northern Ireland, which had less-severe restrictions over Christmas and agreed to scrap vaccine passes on Thursday and reopen nightclubs next week.

Ireland’s hospitality sector, which has been particularly hard hit by one of Europe’s toughest lockdown regimes, welcomed the decision.

Nightclubs opened their doors for the first time in 19 months in October only to be shut again six weeks later.

While the economy recovered rapidly last year, around a third of employers have chosen to defer tax payments and the wages of one in 12 workers are still being supported by a state subsidy scheme set to end in April.

-From Reuters, last update at 12:50 p.m. ET


What’s happening across Canada

WATCH | Ontario eyes gradual reopening as experts warn Omicron isn’t over yet: 

Ontario eyes gradual reopening as experts warn Omicron isn’t over yet

18 hours ago

Duration 2:00

Ontario is among the provinces eyeing steps toward reopening as COVID-19 hospitalizations level off, but health officials and experts are warning there is plenty of pandemic still to come. 2:00

With lab-based testing capacity deeply strained and increasingly restricted, experts say true case counts are likely far higher than reported. Hospitalization data at the regional level is also evolving, with several provinces saying they will report figures that separate the number of people in hospital because of COVID-19 from those in hospital for another medical issue who also test positive for COVID-19.

For more information on what is happening in your community — including details on outbreaks, testing capacity and local restrictions — click through to the regional coverage below.

You can also read more from the Public Health Agency of Canada, which provides a detailed look at every region — including seven-day average test positivity rates — in its daily epidemiological updates.

In British Columbia, health officials on Friday said they are shifting their approach to managing the spread of the novel coronavirus. At a midday press conference, Health Minister Adrian Dix and Provincial Health Officer Bonnie Henry said health officials in the province must change their way of thinking in light of the highly transmissible Omicron variant.

“Right now, with the level of transmission in our community, we have to assume we have been in contact with someone with COVID-19,” Henry said.

“We cannot eliminate all risk, and I think that’s something we need to understand and accept as this virus has changed and has become part of what we will be living with for years to come. But we can use all the layers of protection to keep our settings safe.”

Henry said contact tracing is no longer an effective way of managing COVID-19’s spread. She encouraged people to check themselves every day for symptoms and stay home as necessary. She urged anyone who has not been vaccinated to do so immediately.

In Central Canada, the provincial COVID-19 dashboard in Ontario on Friday showed 4,114 hospitalizations — up by 53 from a day earlier — and 590 people in intensive care units. The province also reported a total of 64 additional deaths and 7,165 additional lab-confirmed cases of COVID-19.

The update comes after Premier Doug Ford announced plans on Thursday to begin a gradual easing of COVID-19 restrictions over a period of months, with the first step to begin at the end of January.

Quebec cannot begin loosening COVID-19 restrictions because the situation in the province’s hospitals remains too fragile, Premier François Legault said Thursday.

“The situation will continue to be difficult for the next few weeks. I understand that we are all tired, but lives are at stake,” Legault said. “We are currently at the limit in our hospitals.”

The province on Friday reported 3,351 hospitalizations, down 60 from a day earlier. Quebec’s daily COVID-19 situation report showed 265 people in intensive care. The province also reported an additional 59 deaths and 5,995 new lab-confirmed cases.

WATCH | Montreal hospital launches virtual pilot project to treat COVID-19 patients at home: 

Montreal hospital launches virtual pilot project to treat COVID-19 patients at home

22 hours ago

Duration 5:11

Dr. Lawrence Rosenberg, head of CIUSSS du Centre-Ouest-de-l’Île-de-Montréal, discusses new pilot project which will offer COVID-19 patients virtual care at home. 5:11

In Atlantic Canada, New Brunswick Premier Blaine Higgs said Friday that the province has likely still not seen the peak of COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations.

“But our ability to manage the situation is improving, thanks to the dedication of multiple teams,” he said, noting that the province is seeing some positive signs, including a return of some health workers from isolation and a reduction in contacts.

The province, which is currently under tight COVID-19 restrictions, recently put out an urgent call for volunteers and workers to help with the pandemic response. The province saw a “huge” response, Higgs said, and work is underway to match offers to help to areas where assistance is needed.

New Brunswick health officials on Thursday said total hospitalizations had increased to 124, including 12 people in intensive care units. The province also reported an additional three deaths and 488 additional lab-confirmed cases.

Newfoundland and Labrador students will be back in classrooms next week, officials said Thursday at a COVID-19 briefing. Students will have to take two rapid tests before returning to school. One of the tests is to occur 72 hours before they return and the other on Tuesday morning, before classes begin.

Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Janice Fitzgerald, who reported two additional deaths and a total of 20 COVID-19 hospitalizations, said Thursday that at this time, “the benefits of being in school for children outweigh the risks of COVID-19.” The province also reported an additional 360 lab-confirmed cases.

In New Brunswick, officials reported two new deaths and 124 hospitalizations on Friday. Twelve of those patients are in intensive care units.

In Nova Scotia, health officials reported three additional deaths on Thursday. In an update posted online, the province said there were 85 people in hospital who were admitted because of COVID-19 and receiving specialized care, including 12 people in ICU. The province also reported an additional 696 lab-confirmed cases.

In Prince Edward Island, health officials on Thursday said in a statement there were 10 people in hospital being treated for COVID-19, including two in intensive care. Three other people were in hospital who were positive for COVID-19.

The province, which has now seen a total of three recorded COVID-19 related deaths, also reported an additional 249 cases.

In the Prairie provinces, Manitoba health officials on Friday reported 827 new cases and said a total of 664 hospitals, with 50 people are in intensive care units. The province also reported seven additional deaths.

Saskatchewan on Thursday reported 215 hospitalizations, with 23 people in intensive care units. According to the province’s COVID-19 dashboard, there were no additional deaths and 1,158 additional lab-confirmed cases.

Six of Saskatchewan’s largest unions representing 113,000 front-line workers are demanding more safety measures to blunt the rise of hospitalizations.

In Alberta, health officials on Thursday said there were 1,131 people in hospital with COVID-19 — the highest level the province has seen during the pandemic — with 108 in intensive care units. The province also reported eight additional deaths and 3,527 additional lab-confirmed cases.

To prepare for a swell of hospitalizations, the government said it is building additional bed capacity, maximizing the workforce with nursing students and opening COVID-19 community clinics.

Alberta Health Services CEO Dr. Verna Yiu said the number of patients receiving care for COVID-19 has increased by about 40 per cent over the last week. Admissions to intensive care have jumped by about 18 per cent.

There are also more health-care staff having to isolate than in previous waves, she said. About five per cent of AHS staff are off sick at any given time and between 18 and 20 per cent of shifts are being missed daily due to challenges related to the pandemic.

“It has been a long two years, but now is not the time to let your guard down,” said Yiu.

Across the North, Nunavut on Friday reported 20 new additional lab-confirmed cases, with no additional deaths. Health officials in the Northwest Territories and Yukon had not yet provided updated information for the day.

-From CBC News and The Canadian Press, last updated at 3:20 p.m. ET


What’s happening around the world

WATCH | Europe loosening COVID-19 restrictions despite high case numbers: 

Europe loosening COVID-19 restrictions despite high case numbers

19 hours ago

Duration 2:02

European countries are starting to loosen their COVID-19 restrictions with Britain at the front of the pack despite the presence of some staggeringly high case numbers and concern from experts that it’s too soon. 2:02

As of Friday afternoon, more than 344.7 million cases of COVID-19 had been reported worldwide, according to Johns Hopkins University’s coronavirus tracker. The reported global death toll stood at more than 5.5 million.

In Europe, health ministers in the European Union will try to find a common line on Friday over a potential fourth dose of COVID-19 vaccines, amid a surge in cases sparked by the Omicron variant.

Meanwhile, daily new coronavirus infections in Russia reached an all-time high Friday and authorities blamed the highly contagious Omicron variant.

Deputy Prime Minister Tatyana Golikova on Friday noted “intensive spread of the Omicron variant” and said the authorities “expect it to become the dominating” variant driving the outbreak. The state coronavirus task force Golikova heads reported 49,513 new infections on Friday.

Record numbers of new cases were reported respectively in Moscow and St. Petersburg, Russia’s second-largest city. In light of the surge, health officials in St. Petersburg on Friday limited elective outpatient care.

Golikova on Friday urged Russians who received their vaccinations or recovered from the virus more than six months ago to “head to a vaccination point again in order to protect yourself from the virus” with a booster.

Also Friday, Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin ordered cabinet members to hold meetings online and have their staff work remotely “where possible.”

Just about half of Russia’s 146 million people have been fully vaccinated, despite the fact that Russia was among the first in the world to approve and roll out a COVID-19 vaccine. In Russia, everyone who received their primary vaccination more than six months ago has been eligible for a booster shot since July.

In the Asia-Pacific region, Bangladesh closed all schools and colleges for two weeks to counter an “alarming” rise in infections, just four months after ending a lengthy year school closure imposed due to coronavirus.

Japan acted to contain a record surge in cases with a return to curbs that have, however, shown diminishing results, while a laggard vaccine booster program leaves many people vulnerable to breakthrough infections.

A girl receives a dose of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine at her school in Kathmandu last week. Classrooms are being closed in the face of rising Omicron cases. (Niranjan Shrestha/The Associated Press)

Nepal’s capital shut schools, ordered citizens to carry vaccination cards in public, banned religious festivals and instructed hotel guests to be tested every three days as it battles its biggest COVID-19 outbreak.

The chief government administrator of Kathmandu issued a notice on Friday saying all people must carry their vaccination cards when they are in public areas or stores.

Nepal, however, has only fully vaccinated just over 40 per cent of its population, according to the Johns Hopkins University coronavirus tracker. The notice did not say how unvaccinated people will be able to do tasks such as shop for groceries.

The government says it has enough vaccines in stock, but a new wave of COVID-19 cases propelled by the Omicron variant has created long lines at vaccination centres, with many people unable to receive shots.

People walk through Shinjuku area on Friday in Tokyo, Japan. As Japan sees a surge in COVID-19 infections due to the more transmissible Omicron variant, the government has implemented measures such as reduced hours for bars eateries in an attempt to slow the spread of the virus. (Yuichi Yamakazi/Getty Images)

In Africa, the World Bank has approved a loan of $750 million US to South Africa linked to COVID-19, aiming to help protect the poor and support economic recovery from the pandemic. South Africa’s health ministry on Thursday reported 3,962 additional cases of COVID-19 and 139 additional deaths, though officials noted a data cleanup was contributing to the increased death figures.

In the Middle East, Israel will ditch mandatory quarantine for children exposed to COVID-19 carriers, the government said on Thursday, citing a need to relieve parents and schools as case numbers spiral due to the fast-spreading but low-morbidity Omicron variant.

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said that as of Jan. 27, children will instead be required to take twice-weekly home antigen tests for the virus and, if they prove positive or feel unwell, absent themselves from school until they recover. The home kits will be supplied free of charge, he said.

In the Americas, President Joe Biden will urge U.S. mayors to use more of their state and local COVID-19 aid funds to expand their workforces, a White House official said, an effort partly aimed at easing economic bottlenecks and inflation.

-From Reuters, The Associated Press and CBC News, last updated at 12:45 p.m. ET

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