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Saudi Arabia Considers Barring Overseas Haj Pilgrims for Second Year Amid Covid Outbreak: Sources

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Saudi Arabia is considering barring overseas pilgrims from the annual haj for the second year running as COVID-19 cases rise globally and worries grow about the emergence of new variants, two sources familiar with the matter said on Wednesday.

Such a move would restrict the pilgrimage to Mecca, a once in a lifetime duty for every able-bodied Muslim who can afford it, to Saudi nationals and residents of the kingdom who were vaccinated or have recovered from COVID-19 at least months prior to attending.

While discussions about a possible ban have taken place, there has been no final decision on whether to pursue it, they said.

Before the pandemic enforced social distancing globally, some 2.5 million pilgrims used to visit the holiest sites of Islam in Mecca and Medina for the week-long haj, and the lesser, year-round umrah pilgrimage, which altogether earned the kingdom about $12 billion a year, according to official data.

As part of economic reform plans pursued by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the kingdom was hoping to raise the number of umrah and haj pilgrims to 15 million and 5 million respectively by 2020, and aimed to double the umrah number again to 30 million by 2030. It aims to earn 50 billion riyals ($13.32 billion) of revenues from the haj alone by 2030.

Two sources familiar with the matter said authorities have suspended earlier plans to host pilgrims from overseas, and will only allow domestic pilgrims who have been vaccinated or have recovered from COVID-19 at least six months before the pilgrimage.

Restrictions will be applied on the age of participants as well, one of the sources said.

A second source said the plans were initially to allow some numbers of vaccinated pilgrims from abroad, but confusion over types of vaccines, their efficacy and the emergence of new variants has pushed officials to reconsider.

The government media office did not respond to a request for comment.

Saudi Arabia, which stakes its reputation on its guardianship of Islam’s holiest sites in Mecca and Medina, barred foreigners from the haj last year due to the pandemic for the first time in the kingdom’s modern history, allowing it only to a limited number of Saudi citizens and residents.

COVID-19 infections are still rising in 35 countries globally. There have been at least 153,508,000 reported infections and 3,351,000 reported deaths caused by the new coronavirus so far.

India leads the world in the daily average number of new deaths reported, accounting for one in every four deaths reported worldwide each day.

Crowds of millions of pilgrims from around the world could be a hotbed for virus transmission, and in the past some worshippers have returned to their countries with respiratory and other diseases.

In February, the government suspended entry to the kingdom from 20 countries, with the exception of diplomats, Saudi citizens, medical practitioners and their families, to help curb the spread of the new coronavirus.

The ban, which is still in place to date, includes people arriving from the United Arab Emirates, Germany, the United States, Britain, South Africa, France, Egypt, Lebanon, India and Pakistan.

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Karnataka Temporarily Suspends Vaccination For 18-44 Age Group, Will Prioritise Second Dose

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Owing to the short supply of Covid vaccines, Karnataka on Wednesday decided to ‘temporarily suspend’ vaccination drive for those aged between 18 to 44 years.

In a series of tweets, the Karnataka Health department said that the state government has decided that the vaccine procured directly by the state government for vaccination of persons between 18 and 44 years too will be utilised for vaccination of beneficiaries who are due for the second dose.

“Therefore, all vaccines available with the state government i.e. supplied by union government and procured directly by state will be utilized for vaccination of beneficiaries due for second dose,” the Karnataka health department tweet explained.

The Health department added that vaccination drives for the 18 to 44 age group, including those who have already booked appointments will be temporarily suspended from May 14 till further orders.

According to the health department, the state government on May 7 had decided to utilise the complete supply of vaccines provided by the union government for vaccination of persons above 45 years, for vaccinating beneficiaries who were due for second dose.

“But under the changed circumstances and severe shortage of vaccine, the vaccine procured directly by the state government for vaccination of persons between 18 to 44 years too will be utilised for vaccination of beneficiaries who are due for second dose,” a senior health department official told reporters on the condition of anonymity.

The health department added that this order will be applicable for Covid vaccination at all state-run Covid vaccination centres in the state.

As of now, only two vaccines manufactured by Pune based Serum Institute of India (SII) and Hyderabad based Bharat Biotech are allowed in India for mass inoculation programme, but these companies are struggling to meet the country’s overwhelming demand for vaccines amid the ferocious second wave that has seen India’s Covid burden go up manifold.

Karnataka symbolically launched anti-Covid vaccination drive on May 1 but ever since it has failed to take off due to short supply of vaccines.

Karnataka Health minister, K. Sudhkar was first to state on April 30 that it was better to put off the launch of the drive on May 1 as the state had not received required stock and this was even endorsed by Chief Minister, B.S. Yediyurappa on that day. But, Yediyurappa the next day launched the vaccination drive symbolically on May 1.

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Check Out Tithi, Shubh Muhurat, Rahu Kaal and Other Details For Thursday

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(Representative pic: Shutterstock)

(Representative pic: Shutterstock)

Panchang: The day Guruvara is dedicated to Lord Brihaspati who is known as the priest of Gods

May 13 will mark the Shukla Paksha Dwitiya Tithi of Hindi month Vaishakha in Vikram Samvat 2078 and the day is Guruvara (Thursday). The Dwitiya tithi will prevail up to the full night on May 13. The day Guruvara is dedicated to Lord Brihaspati who is known as the priest of gods. Devotees observe fast and worship Lord Brihaspati by offering yellow flowers, sandals, clothes, jaggery and gram pulse. He is also believed to be an incarnation of Lord Vishnu. Know about the tithi, timings, Nakshatra, and other details for May 13.

Sunrise and Sunset time for May 13:

Sunrise time – 05:32 am

Sunset time – 07.04 pm

Moonrise time – 06.26 am

Moonset time – 08.33 pm

Tithi, Nakshatra, and Rashi Details for May 13:

Dwitiya Tithi will prevail up to a full night on May 13. The Nakshatra will be Rohini up to the full night. Sun will remain in Mesha Rashi while Moon will transition to Vrishabha Rashi.

Shubh Muhurats on May 13:

The most auspicious muhurat of the day i.e, Abhijit Muhurat will prevail between 11:51 am and12:45 pm on May 13. This time period is believed to be one of the most auspicious muhurat to perform any puja or to start any work. There are some other shubh muhurats which also prevail for a certain period of time almost every day. These are Vijaya muhurat andGodhuli muhurat which will take place between 02:33 pm and03:27 pm, 06:50 pm and 07:14 pm, respectively. There will be no Amrit Kalam for today.

Inauspicious timings for May 13:

The most inauspicious muhurat Rahu Kalam will prevail between 1.59 pm and3.41 pm on May 13. It is said that any auspicious work during this time is interfered with by planet Rahu. Other inauspicious muhurat like Gulikai Kalam and Varjyam will last from 08:55 am to 10:36 am and 08:44 pm to 10:32 pm.

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Yogi Adityanath Takes Cognisance of Bodies Dumped in Ganga; UP-Bihar Govts Blame Each Other

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Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath on Wednesday took cognisance of bodies found floating in the Ganga in Ballia district and said the last rites should be done according to the deceased’s religious beliefs. He also noted that the dumping of bodies in water causes pollution.

At least 45 bodies were seen floating in floating near the Ujiyar, Kulhadia and Bharauli ghats in the Narahi area on Tuesday evening. Late on Tuesday night, seven more bodies were found, taking the total count of bodies to 52, an official said. District officials have begun performing the last to avoid Covid-19 contagion. The dumping of bodies also increases the risk of spreading infections in communities inhabiting the banks of rivers, officials said.

Meanwhile, the Bihar government on Tuesday said altogether 71 bodies have been fished out from the Ganges in Buxar district and were later cremated as per protocols. Some samples were, however, collected for DNA testing.

Bihar Additional chief secretary (home) Chaitanya Prasad said that the bodies in Buxar had flown downstream from neighbouring Uttar Pradesh. Speaking to News18, he said, “All these dead bodies were being dumped in Ganga from Uttar Pradesh, which flowed and stopped at Chausa and Mahavir Ghat in Buxar (Bihar border). An investigation has been launched on the orders of the Bihar government regarding the issue.”

Officials of both UP and Bihar have discussed the issue with their counterparts, including the Chief Secretaries, Additional Chief Secretaries, DGPs and District Magistrates, sources said.

Bihar authorities have raised strong objections to the dumping of bodies amid Covid-19 pandemic concerns. However, both the states have agreed to implement strict Covid-19 protocol in bordering districts. As per reports, a huge net has also been put up in the Ganges near Raniganj, Buxar.

A video of bodies found buried in shallow pits near the banks of the Ganga had also gone viral. The viral video showed dogs nibbling on the corpses.

The Allahabad High Court had earlier expressed concern over the under-reporting of Covid-19 deaths and has asked the state to record the deaths of those who died with Covid symptoms even if their tests could not be done.

Uttar Pradesh reported 329 more Covid-19 deaths and 18,125 fresh cases in the last 24 hours.

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