Paris medics fear worst of COVID-19 wave still to come

Paris medics fear worst of COVID-19 wave still to come
Paris is going through a third wave of the coronavirus pandemic which risks putting even more strain on saturated hospitals. (AFP)
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Updated 04 April 2021

Paris medics fear worst of COVID-19 wave still to come

Paris medics fear worst of COVID-19 wave still to come
  • Paris is going through a third wave of the pandemic which risks putting even more strain on saturated hospitals
  • The sharp acceleration is down to the spread of the more contagious so-called British variant

PARIS: In the COVID-19 intensive care unit of the Antony Private Hospital south of Paris, no bed stays free for long and medics wonder when their workload will finally peak.
As one recovered elderly patient is being wheeled out of the ward, smiling weakly, boss Jean-Pierre Deyme is on the phone arranging the next arrival and calling out instructions to staff.
Louisa Pinto, a nurse of nearly 20 years’ experience, gestures to the vacated room where a cleaner is already at work, scrubbing down the mattress for the next arrival.
“The bed won’t even have time to cool down,” she says as the patient monitoring system beeps constantly in the background.
For now, everything is stable in the 20-odd beds around her where COVID-19 victims lie inanimate, in a silent battle with the virus.
Paris is going through a third wave of the pandemic which risks putting even more strain on saturated hospitals than the first wave in March and April last year.
“With what’s coming in April, it’s going to be very complicated,” says Pinto, a mother of three who hasn’t had a holiday since last summer and like other staff will be canceling a planned break this month.
Even with a new round of restrictions coming into force this week, Health Minister Olivier Veran predicts that infections in France will peak only in mid-April, while hospital admissions will continue climbing until the end of the month.
Alarming forecasts leaked to the French media from the Paris public hospital authority AP-HP last week showed anywhere from 2,800-4,400 people in intensive care in the Paris region by the end of April even with a strict lockdown.
In the first wave, the number peaked at 2,700.
The director of the Antony hospital, Denis Chandesris, says intensive care capacity has already been increased by drastically reducing all surgery except for critical cancer, cardiological and emergency cases.
Hospitals everywhere in the region have taken similar measures, re-deploying beds and creating new wards, but they are reaching their limits.
“The difficulty is not so much beds or material, it’s a question of finding medical and paramedical staff to be able to take in patients,” Chandesris explained.
Last Sunday, a group of emergency care directors in Paris warned in an open letter that the situation was so bad that medics would soon have to start “triage” – selecting patients for care based on their chances of survival.
This prospect horrifies staff – and President Emmanuel Macron has always promised to shield hospitals and avoid the sort of scenes witnessed in Italy last March when patients piled up in corridors.
In a televised speech to the nation on Wednesday night, he promised to increase intensive care capacity nation-wide from 7,665 beds currently to 10,000 – a jump of 30 percent.
“I want to thank medical students, retired people, the army health service and medical reserve volunteers. All of them will be mobilized in a larger way,” he announced.
Opposition politicians and some experts reacted with skepticism while an Ifop poll for the Journal du Dimanche weekly found only 35 percent of French people had confidence in their government “to deal effectively with the coronavirus.”
Pinto, the nurse, underlined how working in intensive care is “very technical,” requiring specialized training and knowledge.
Macron is banking on a limited lockdown over the next month turning the rising tide of cases which have roughly doubled to 40,000 a day compared with their level a month ago.
The sharp acceleration is down to the spread of the more contagious so-called British variant which has become dominant in France.
New measures include nation-wide travel restrictions, which limit people to 10 kilometers (six miles) from their homes, and the closure of schools and non-essential shops.
Only a significant increase in the vaccination campaign – which started sluggishly but is now picking up pace – fills any of the medics at Antony Private Hospital with any hope.
After months of lacking doses, the government is promising a major rollout this month and an increase in the rate of jabbing.
Samir Taik, a taxi driver from Paris, walked out of the Antony hospital last week as the 1,000th COVID-19 patient to have benefited from oxygen therapy in the COVID-19 intensive care unit.
The 43-year-old, who enjoys boxing and sport, is still short of breath and reeling from the trauma of seeing his health deteriorate so fast.
He says he knows three or four people with a similar profile to him who have been hospitalized recently.
“Young people need to know that we’re not talking about 80-year-olds, it’s people who are 30, 40, 45-year-olds and have no health problems. The British variant is not like the old one,” he said.


Americas-bound Iranian warships change course

Americas-bound Iranian warships change course
Updated 5 min 35 sec ago

Americas-bound Iranian warships change course

Americas-bound Iranian warships change course
  • Maritime trackers believe vessels now headed for Syria
  • US warned it would take ‘appropriate measures’ to prevent ships delivering arms to Venezuela

LONDON: Two Iranian warships, thought to be trafficking arms to Venezuela, have changed course and are now moving up Africa’s west coast.

The Biden administration had been pressuring Venezuela, Cuba and other countries in the region to turn the ships away, and a senior US official warned that it would take “appropriate measures” to prevent the delivery of arms to its hemisphere, which it views as a threat.

American officials believe that the diplomatic outreach can be credited for the ships’ change of course.

According to US news outlet Politico, a defense official believes that the ships are now headed for Syria via the Mediterranean, or for Russia.

The two ships are composed of a domestically manufactured destroyer, the Sahand, and the Makran, a former oil tanker fitted with a helipad and other military upgrades to make it a support vessel.

TankerTrackers.com tweeted: “We believe that the Iranian navy vessels MAKRAN and SAHAND are on their way to Syria in order to engage in navy exercises with Russia.”

Tehran has invested considerable amounts of money and manpower to prop up the Assad regime in Syria, including by providing personnel and funding, and by arming militias.

In the past, satellite imagery has shown fast attack boats on the Makran’s deck — vessels regularly used by the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps to harass the commercial and military vessels of Iran’s adversaries, including US Navy and Coast Guard ships.

The White House and Pentagon have refused to comment publicly on the ships’ movements, but speaking before a committee last week, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin told lawmakers: “I’m absolutely concerned about the proliferation of weapons, any type of weapons, in our neighborhood.”

Former National Security Adviser John Bolton referred to the ships as “pirate ships,” saying the US “has a legitimate right of self-defense against both of them.”

The journey that the ships have undertaken is the longest of any Iranian warship in history. US Sen. Mark Rubio tweeted: “This does not look like an oil or fuel cargo delivery. This has all the markings of delivery on an arms sale (such as fast attack boats) to Venezuela coupled with the opportunity to project a message of strength to the Biden administration.”  

Politico reported last year that Venezuela, also a US adversary, was considering purchasing long-range missiles from Tehran — a move considered a “red line” by Washington. That sale never came to pass.


Life sentence sought for ‘Hotel Rwanda’ hero

Life sentence sought for ‘Hotel Rwanda’ hero
Updated 40 min 58 sec ago

Life sentence sought for ‘Hotel Rwanda’ hero

Life sentence sought for ‘Hotel Rwanda’ hero
  • Former manager of Kigali’s Hotel des Mille Collines was made famous by the 2004 Hollywood film

KIGALI: Prosecutors in Rwanda on Thursday sought a life sentence for “Hotel Rwanda” hero and government critic Paul Rusesabagina, who is charged with terrorism in a trial denounced as political by his supporters.
“We have showed that every act by Rusesabagina was criminal in nature with the intent to commit terrorism,” said prosecutor Jean Pierre Habarurema, during a seven-hour hearing.
“We therefore request that he is given the maximum sentence provided for by the law, which is life imprisonment.”
The former manager of Kigali’s Hotel des Mille Collines was made famous by the 2004 Hollywood film that told how he saved more than 1,000 people who sheltered in his hotel during the genocide, a decade earlier, in which an estimated 800,000 died, most of them ethnic Tutsis.
Rusesabagina, a Hutu, subsequently became a prominent and outspoken critic of President Paul Kagame and has lived in exile in the US and Belgium since 1996.
Kagame’s government accuses him of supporting the National Liberation Front (FLN) rebel group which is blamed for a series of gun, grenade and arson attacks in 2018 and 2019 that killed nine people.
Rusesabagina has denied any involvement in those attacks, but was a founder of the Rwandan Movement for Democratic Change (MRCD), an opposition group of which the FLN is seen as the armed wing. He faces nine charges, including terrorism.
“As a leader, sponsor and supporter of MRCD/FLN, he encouraged and empowered the fighters to commit those terrorist acts against Rwanda,” said Habarurema.
“Even if he did not actively take part in these attacks, he is considered as one who played a role by simply being a sponsor to these fighters.”


Classic COVID-19 symptoms changing: UK-led study

Classic COVID-19 symptoms changing: UK-led study
Updated 18 June 2021

Classic COVID-19 symptoms changing: UK-led study

Classic COVID-19 symptoms changing: UK-led study
  • Headache now most common symptom
  • Time to update list of classic symptoms: Expert

LONDON: A leading British scientist has said it is time to update the list of “classic” COVID-19 symptoms, after research found that a headache and sneezing are now among the most common signs of the disease.

Prof. Tim Spector is co-founder of the ZOE COVID symptom study, which draws on global contributors to report their symptoms once they test positive for the virus. It is the world’s largest study into the symptoms of COVID-19.

Spector said a headache now tops the list of most common symptoms, with 60 percent of people who test positive experiencing one.

A runny nose and sore throat are also “going up that list,” he added, and sneezing is now fourth, though it is often confused with hay fever.

Of the original “classic” symptoms, only a persistent cough remains in the top five, with fever and loss of smell dropping to ninth and seventh place respectively.

These developments, Spector said, mean governments must update their guidance. “We do need a much broader flexible approach to this as the virus changes and the populations change,” he added.


Philippines raises cap on health professionals going abroad

Philippines raises cap on health professionals going abroad
Updated 18 June 2021

Philippines raises cap on health professionals going abroad

Philippines raises cap on health professionals going abroad
  • The Philippines, one of the world’s biggest sources of nurses, reached its annual cap of 5,000 health worker deployments late last month

MANILA: The Philippines has increased the number of nurses and health care workers allowed to go overseas to 6,500 annually, a senior official said on Friday, amid high demand for its health professionals.
The Philippines, one of the world’s biggest sources of nurses, reached its annual cap of 5,000 health worker deployments late last month.
Those with contracts as of May 31 can take up overseas employment, presidential spokesperson Harry Roque said in a statement. That means another 1,500 nurses and health care staff can work abroad, according to the labor ministry.
The labor minister on Wednesday said he would seek approval to allow 5,000 more health care workers to be deployed abroad, but a nurses’ group said there were many more than that hoping to find jobs with better pay abroad.
Health workers under government-to-government labor deals, such as that with the United Kingdom, are exempted from the new cap.
Roughly 17,000 Filipino nurses signed overseas work contracts in 2019, but the Philippines put a temporary halt on that in 2020, to shore-up its health sector as coronavirus hospitalizations rose sharply.
Jocelyn Andamo, secretary general of the Filipino Nurses United, said the additional 1,500 was frustrating.
“It is very unrealistic compared with the huge need for nurses,” she said.


India should brace for third COVID-19 wave by October, say health experts

India should brace for third COVID-19 wave by October, say health experts
Updated 18 June 2021

India should brace for third COVID-19 wave by October, say health experts

India should brace for third COVID-19 wave by October, say health experts
  • So far, India has only fully vaccinated about 5 percent of its estimated 950 million eligible population

BENGALURU: A third wave of coronavirus infections is likely to hit India by October, and although it will be better controlled than the latest outbreak the pandemic will remain a public health threat for at least another year, according to a Reuters poll of medical experts.
The June 3-17 snap survey of 40 health care specialists, doctors, scientists, virologists, epidemiologists and professors from around the world showed a significant pickup in vaccinations will likely provide some cover to a fresh outbreak.
Of those who ventured a prediction, over 85 percent of respondents, or 21 of 24, said the next wave will hit by October, including three who forecast it as early as August and 12 in September. The remaining three said between November and February.
But over 70 percent of experts, or 24 of 34, said any new outbreak would be better controlled compared with the current one, which has been far more devastating — with shortage of vaccines, medicines, oxygen and hospital beds — than the smaller first surge in infections last year.
“It will be more controlled, as cases will be much less because more vaccinations would have been rolled out and there would be some degree of natural immunity from the second-wave,” said Dr. Randeep Guleria, director at All India Institute Of Medical Sciences (AIIMS).
So far, India has only fully vaccinated about 5 percent of its estimated 950 million eligible population, leaving many millions vulnerable to infections and deaths.
While a majority of health care experts predicted the vaccination drive would pick up significantly this year, they cautioned against an early removal of restrictions, as some states have done.
When asked if children and those under 18 years would be most at risk in a potential third wave, nearly two-thirds of experts, or 26 of 40, said yes.
“The reason being they are a completely virgin population in terms of vaccination because currently there is no vaccine available for them,” said Dr. Pradeep Banandur, head of epidemiology department at National Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences.
Experts warn the situation could become severe.
“If children get infected in large numbers and we are not prepared, there is nothing you can do at the last minute,” said Dr. Devi Shetty, a cardiologist at Narayana Health and an adviser to the Karnataka state government on pandemic response planning.
“It will be a whole different problem as the country has very, very few pediatric intensive care unit beds, and that is going to be a disaster.”
But 14 experts said children were not at risk.
Earlier this week, a senior health ministry official said children were vulnerable and susceptible to infections but that analysis has shown a less severe health impact.
While 25 of 38 respondents said future coronavirus variants would not make existing vaccines ineffective, in response to a separate question, 30 of 41 experts said the coronavirus will remain a public health threat in India for at least a year.
Eleven experts said the threat would remain for under a year, 15 said for under two years, while 13 said over two years and two said the risks will never go away.
“COVID-19 is a solvable problem, as obviously it was easy to get a solvable vaccine. In two years, India likely will develop herd immunity through vaccine and exposure of the disease,” said Robert Gallo, director of the Institute of Human Virology at the University of Maryland and international scientific adviser, Global Virus Network.