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From academic to labourer: Afghan economic crisis spares few

By Zeba Siddiqui

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From academic to labourer: Afghan economic crisis spares few
© Reuters.

By Zeba Siddiqui

(Reuters) – Unpaid for months and with many mouths to feed, Afghan assistant professor Khalilullah Tawhidyar recently found temporary work on a building site. With the 300 afghanis ($3.30) he earned that day, he bought provisions for his family.

The former member of a government taskforce on educational reform, who teaches English at Parwan University just north of Kabul, is one of thousands of middle class, educated Afghans fighting poverty as the country’s economy teeters.

“I had no choice,” Tawhidyar told Reuters, adding that he had not received his salary for three months. “This is the story of many educated people here now.”

Already battling a severe drought and the coronavirus pandemic, Afghanistan’s financial crisis has worsened since the return of the Taliban to power in mid-August.

Billions of dollars in international aid have dried up as the international community works out how to interact with the hardline Islamist movement, and billions more in foreign currency reserves are locked up in vaults in the West.

“You see doctors, teachers, judges being forced to work as shopkeepers, taxi drivers, or labourers,” said Victor Moses, the Afghanistan country director for the non-profit group CARE.

A report by the group last month said close to half of Afghanistan’s population – around 19 million people – face acute hunger. A recent UN report said as much as 97% of the population could sink below the poverty line by mid-2022.

Over the weekend, the Taliban renewed calls https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/taliban-says-failure-recognise-their-government-could-have-global-effects-2021-10-30 for their government to be recognised, saying that a failure to do so and the continued freezing of Afghan funds abroad would lead to problems not only for the country but for the world.

FIGHT FOR FOOD

Tawhidyar, who has a masters degree from India and has attended courses in Malaysia and Sri Lanka, said he took up manual labour after he ran out of money and food.

While he sometimes goes into the public university where he works, classes have yet to resume because of lack of funding.

Like many Afghan households, Tawhidyar lives with his extended family, and 17 people depend on his salary.

“I was making just enough money to support my needs,” said the 36-year-old. When the salary stopped, he borrowed from friends and relatives, but that ran out weeks ago. By then, his heavily pregnant wife had missed two doctor’s appointments.

“The situation came that we didn’t have bread … we were just cooking rice and then the rice also finished,” he said.

Syed Bashir Aalemy, head of the English language department at Tawhidyar’s university, said he had been working as a taxi driver for the past few weeks.

“There is no other way,” Aalemy said. With fuel prices rising, that work may dry up, he added.

The rise of an educated middle class, working in education and government or for aid groups, banks and media and telecoms companies, was one of the most visible products of 20 years of Western involvement in Afghanistan.

Thousands of those people fled in the chaotic evacuation that followed the Taliban’s shock victory in August, fearing a return to its harsh rule and restricted freedoms. For those who remain, financial distress is common, even among the better off.

Abdul, a 41-year-old former police officer in Kabul and father of four, said he recently sold the last piece of land he inherited from his father in order to buy a taxi.

The 300-500 afghanis he earned each day was barely enough to provide daily meals for his family of six, added Abdul, who declined to give his last name for security reasons.

DEBTS PILE UP

Tawhidyar said he was carrying a sack of building material at the construction site when a friend took a picture of him.

Later that night in mid-October, he said, he posted an emotional message on Facebook (NASDAQ:) featuring the image. “I was thinking about where I have come in my life.”

The post quickly went viral with thousands of shares on social media, and some of his friends reached out to express sympathy and offer financial help.

He borrowed around $300 from close friends who insisted he took the money, he said.

“But how long will I borrow? I already have a debt of thousands of dollars.”

Fearing a backlash, and warnings from Afghans who support the Taliban’s return to power, he said he had since deleted the post and deactivated his Facebook account.

If the university salary does not arrive, he said, he would have to return to manual labour.

Coronavirus

China slashes COVID quarantine time for international travellers

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© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: People line up at a nucleic acid testing station, following the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in Beijing, China, June 16, 2022. REUTERS/Thomas Peter/File Photo

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BEIJING/SHANGHAI (Reuters) – China on Tuesday slashed the quarantine time for inbound travellers by half in a major easing of one of the world’s strictest COVID-19 curbs, which have deterred travel in and out of the country since 2020.

Quarantine at centralised facilities has been cut to seven days from 14, and subsequent at-home health monitoring has been reduced to three days from seven, the National Health Commission said.

The latest guidelines from the health authority also eased quarantine requirements for close contacts of people who have tested positive for the new coronavirus.

China has cautiously eased its COVID curbs on cross-border travellers in recent months, with health officials saying the shorter incubation period of the Omicron variant allows for an adjustment of quarantine periods.

The Chinese capital Beijing in recent months has already reduced the quarantine period at centralised facilities to 10 days from 14.

China, last month, also removed some COVID-19 test requirements for people flying in from countries such as the United States.

“We believe that today’s announcement will be welcomed by the American business community,” the American Chamber of Commerce in Shanghai said on its official WeChat account.

The quarantine adjustment will make it easier for companies to bring staff to China, and for Chinese companies and their executives to visit the United States, AmCham said.

Stock markets rose in Hong Kong and the mainland, with the Hang Seng Index reversing losses and ticking up roughly 0.4% and the CSI300 Index gaining 0.7%.

Shares in mainland tourism companies jumped more than 5%.

China’s aviation regulator said this month it had been in touch with some countries to steadily increase the number of flights in the second half of 2022.

IN THE CLEAR

Beijing and Shanghai reported on Tuesday no new local COVID infections, the first time both cities were in the clear simultaneously since late February, after months of fighting their worst-ever outbreaks.

The milestone for the two cities, achieved on Monday, came after their daily caseloads dropped to single digits over the past week, allowing Shanghai to gradually resume eating in at restaurants and Beijing to reopen some leisure venues including the Universal Beijing Resort.

Shanghai Communist Party chief Li Qiang declared on Saturday that authorities had “won the war to defend Shanghai” against COVID-19.

The Walt Disney (NYSE:DIS) Co’s Shanghai Disney Resort said on Tuesday that it would reopen the Disneyland theme park on June 30; it had been shut for more than three months.

Authorities, however, were adamant the government’s so-called dynamic zero COVID policy, which aims at blocking flare-ups from spreading as they crop up, remains in place.

Beijing would “fight against any new outbreaks at the outset and with speed and resolutely break their transmission channel”, Cai Qi, the city’s top Communist Party chief, was quoted as saying in a report by the party-backed Beijing Daily.

Earlier on Monday, the Beijing Daily apparently misquoted Cai as saying the city would maintain its COVID control effort for “the next five years”.

The newspaper afterwards removed the reference and its chief, Zhao Jingyun, said it was an error but that did not prevent some suspicion among the public.

“Surely it wasn’t a mistake! It’s meant to gauge public opinion!” said a user of the Weibo (NASDAQ:WB) social media platform.

Another Weibo user said even if it was a mistake, “at least the higher-ups are now aware of how helpless we all feel and how we detest the current counter-epidemic policies”.

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Coronavirus

Beijing, Shanghai both free of new local COVID cases for first time in months

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© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: People line up at a nucleic acid testing station, following the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in Beijing, China, June 16, 2022. REUTERS/Thomas Peter/File Photo

BEIJING/SHANGHAI (Reuters) – China’s capital, Beijing, and the financial hub of Shanghai reported on Tuesday no new local COVID infections, the first time both cities were in the clear at the same time since late February, after months of fighting their worst-ever outbreaks.

The milestone for the two cities, achieved on Monday, came after their daily caseloads dropped to single digits over the past week, allowing Shanghai to gradually resume eating in at restaurants and Beijing to reopen some leisure venues including the Universal Beijing Resort.

Shanghai Communist Party chief Li Qiang declared on Saturday that authorities had “won the war to defend Shanghai” against COVID-19, following a crushing two-month citywide lockdown that was finally lifted in early June.

Authorities, however, remained wary and were adamant that the government’s so-called dynamic zero COVID policy, which aims at blocking flare-ups from spreading as they crop up, remains in place.

Beijing would “fight against any new outbreaks at the outset and with speed and resolutely break their transmission channel”, Cai Qi, the city’s top Communist Party chief, was quoted as saying in a report by the party-backed Beijing Daily.

The city would build “a solid virus barrier”, Cai was quoted as saying on Monday.

Earlier on Monday, the Beijing Daily apparently misquoted Cai as saying the city would maintain its COVID control effort for “the next five years”.

The newspaper afterwards removed the reference and its chief, Zhao Jingyun, said it was an error but that did not prevent some suspicion among the public.

“Surely it wasn’t a mistake! It’s meant to gauge public opinion!” said a user of the Weibo (NASDAQ:WB) social media platform.

Another Weibo user said even if it was a mistake, “at least the higher-ups are now aware of how helpless we all feel and how we detest the current counter-epidemic policies”.

Despite easing COVID restrictions in Beijing and Shanghai, their combined 47 million residents have been told to go through COVID testing every few days, to maintain access to public spaces and transport.

Elsewhere in mainland China, a total of 22 domestically transmitted infections were reported for June 27, including five in the southern technology hub Shenzhen.

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U.S. appeals court vacates federal vaccine mandate pending additional hearing

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© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: A resident over 50 years old and immunocompromised receives a second booster shot of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) vaccine in Waterford, Michigan, U.S., April 8, 2022. REUTERS/Emily Elconin

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – A U.S. appeals court panel said on Monday it would convene a full panel to reconsider President Joe Biden’s executive order requiring civilian federal employees to be vaccinated against COVID-19, and set aside the order pending that hearing.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, which is based in New Orleans, had reinstated the vaccine order in April by a 2-1 vote after it was blocked by a district court judge in January. [L2N2W530Z]

The court said on Monday that it would reconsider the case en banc, which means it will be heard by a larger panel of judges. No date was given for the hearing. Pending that hearing, the court said it would vacate the April ruling, which means that Biden’s order cannot be enforced.

Biden said in September he would require about 3.5 million government workers to get vaccinated by Nov. 22, barring a religious or medical accommodation, or face discipline or firing. Despite the legal fight, more than 90% of federal workers were vaccinated by December, the White House said last year.

The president’s vaccine and mask mandates have faced stiff opposition, led by Republicans, which have turned public safety measures endorsed by disease experts into a political and legal battle in the United States.

The United States passed the milestone of 1 million dead from the coronavirus in May. More than 250 people still die of the disease daily, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

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