COVID-19 death toll passes 3 million as India cases surge

COVID-19 death toll passes 3 million as India cases surge
A police officer stops an auto-rickshaw at a checkpoint on Saturday during a lockdown in New Delhi. (AP)
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Updated 17 April 2021

COVID-19 death toll passes 3 million as India cases surge

COVID-19 death toll passes 3 million as India cases surge
  • India’s capital New Delhi went into a weekend lockdown Saturday as the world’s second-most populous nation recorded 234,000 new cases and 1,341 deaths

PARIS: The global COVID-19 death toll passed 3 million on Saturday as the pandemic continues to speed up despite vaccination campaigns, leading countries like India to impose new lockdowns to fight spiraling infection numbers.

It is the latest grim milestone after the novel coronavirus surfaced in central China in December 2019 and went on to infect more than 139 million people, leaving billions more under crippling lockdowns and ravaging the global economy.

An average of more than 12,000 deaths were recorded globally every day in the past week, shooting the overall toll past 3 million at around 0830 GMT on Saturday, according to an AFP tally.

For comparison, 3 million people is more than the population of Jamaica or Armenia, and three times the death toll of the Iran-Iraq war which raged from 1980-1988.

And the pandemic is showing no sign of slowing down: The 829,596 new infections reported worldwide on Friday is the highest number yet, according to AFP’s tally.

The daily average of 731,000 cases registered over the last week is also close to being a record.

India’s capital New Delhi went into a weekend lockdown Saturday as the world’s second-most populous nation recorded 234,000 new cases and 1,341 deaths.

India now has three times the daily cases of the US, the world’s worst-hit nation, and families are clamoring for drugs and hospital beds.

Hopes that South Asian countries might have seen the worst of the pandemic have been dashed, with India recording over 2 million new cases this month alone and Bangladesh and Pakistan imposing new shutdowns.

Udaya Regmi of the international Red Cross said the “truly frightening” South Asian surge was a “wake-up call to the world.”

“Vaccines must be available to everyone, everywhere, rich and poor to overcome this terrible pandemic,” Regmi added.

Richer countries that have waged mass inoculation efforts have seen their virus numbers plummet. Britain, which has given 60 percent of the population at least one vaccination dose, now records around 30 deaths a day — down from 1,200 in late January.

The virus continues to impact events elsewhere in the world.

In Brazil, the country with the third-highest death toll in the world, night shifts have been added to several cemeteries as diggers work around the clock to bury the dead.

One of these is Vila Formosa, the largest cemetery in Latin America and a showcase for the lethal cost of the pandemic in Brazil, where more than 365,000 people have died from COVID-19.

“We try not to get upset in our work, but it is sad, it is a lot of people,” one of the gravediggers there said after a long shift.

Despite the high infection rate, the government of Brazil’s most populous state Sao Paulo announced it will allow businesses and places of worship to reopen from Sunday.

But there was better news in Europe, where some countries are easing their lockdowns in response to not only fatigue, but falling infection numbers and progress with vaccinations.

Italy announced Friday it will ease coronavirus restrictions for schools and restaurants from April 26.

Expressing “cautious optimism,” Prime Minister Mario Draghi said his government was taking a “calculated risk.”

Italy will also allow up to a thousand spectators at outdoor events from May 1, when it eases its stadium fan ban in regions less affected by the coronavirus.

In more good news for Britons after the partial reopening of society this week, Germany on Friday removed the UK from the list of risk zones for coronavirus infections, meaning that travelers will no longer need to quarantine upon arrival.

Spain meanwhile extended the mandatory quarantine of passengers arriving from 12 countries in South America and Africa, including Brazil and South Africa, over concerns about more transmissible variants.


Head of group for exiled Belarusians found hanged in Ukraine

Head of group for exiled Belarusians found hanged in Ukraine
Updated 33 min 36 sec ago

Head of group for exiled Belarusians found hanged in Ukraine

Head of group for exiled Belarusians found hanged in Ukraine
  • Vitaly Shishov, leader of the Kyiv-based Belarusian House in Ukraine, was found hanged in a park not far from his home, police said
  • A probe has been launched, with police investigating whether it was a suicide or a murder made to look like suicide

KYIV, Ukraine: A Belarusian activist who ran a group in Ukraine helping Belarusians fleeing persecution was found dead in the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv, local police said Tuesday.
Vitaly Shishov, leader of the Kyiv-based Belarusian House in Ukraine, was found hanged in one of the city’s parks not far from his home, police said in a statement.
A probe has been launched, with police investigating whether it was a suicide or a murder made to look like suicide, head of Ukraine’s National Police Igor Klymenko told reporters on Tuesday.
The Belarusian House in Ukraine reported Monday that Shishov had gone missing during a morning run. The Belarusian human rights center Viasna cited Shishov’s friends as saying that he has recently been followed by strangers during his runs.
The Belarusian House in Ukraine helps Belarusians fleeing persecution with their legal status in Ukraine, accommodation and employment.
In Belarus in recent weeks, authorities have ramped up the pressure against non-governmental organizations and independent media, conducting more than 200 raids of offices and apartments of activists and journalists in July alone, and detaining dozens of people.
Authoritarian President Alexander Lukashenko has vowed to continue what he called a “mopping-up operation” against civil society activists whom he has denounced as “bandits and foreign agents.”
Lukashenko faced months of protests triggered by his being awarded a sixth term in an August 2020 vote that the opposition and the West saw as rigged. He responded to demonstrations with a massive crackdown that saw more than 35,000 people arrested and thousands beaten by police.
Belarus’ authoritarian government has at times gone to extremes in its crackdown on dissent, including recently diverting a plane to the capital of Minsk and arresting a dissident aboard.
The Belarusian House in Ukraine said in a statement Tuesday that Shishov was forced to move to Ukraine in the fall of 2020, when antigovernment protests and crackdown on demonstrators in Belarus were in full swing.
In Ukraine, he was under surveillance, and “both local sources and our people in Belarus” have alerted the group to the possibility of “various provocations, including kidnapping and liquidation.”
“There is no doubt that this was a planned operation by security operatives to liquidate a Belarusian, dangerous for the regime. We will continue to fight for the truth about Vitaly’s death,” the group said.
Yury Shchuchko from the Belarusian House in Ukraine told The Associated Press that Shishov was found with marks of beating on his face. “Nothing was stolen, he was in regular clothes people put on to work out, and he only had his phone with him,” Shchuchko said.
He also said that Shishov has previously noticed surveillance during his runs and that strangers would approach him and try to start a conversation.
“We have been warned to be more careful, because a network of Belarus KGB agents is operating here and everything is possible,” Shchuchko said. “Vitaly asked me to take care of his loved ones, he had a weird feeling.”
Klymenko of the National Police told reporters on Tuesday that there were indeed injuries discovered on Shishov’s body — scratched skin on his nose, a cut on his lip and an injury on his left knee. He wouldn’t say, however, whether these resulted from violence. Klymenko added that police haven’t received any complaints about surveillance from Shishov.
Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, Lukashenko’s main challenger in the August 2020 election who left for Lithuania under pressure from the authorities, expressed condolences to Shishov’s family on Tuesday.
“Belarusians can’t be safe even abroad, as long as there are those who are trying to inflict revenge on them,” Tsikhnaouskaya said in an online statement.
“Vitaly Shishov was helping Belarusians and was found hanged ... It happened on another country’s soil. Just like the hostage-taking took place on another country’s plane. Just like the attempt to forcefully bring a disloyal athlete back to Belarus from another country’s territory,” she said.
Earlier this week, Belarus Olympic sprinter Krystsina Tsimanouskaya accused the country’s officials of hustling her to the airport and trying to put her on a plane back to Belarus after she publicly criticized the management of her team at the Tokyo Games. Tsimanouskaya refused to board the plane and instead will seek refuge in Europe.
In an interview Tuesday, she told the AP she feared she wouldn’t be safe in Belarus.
European officials on Tuesday urged Ukraine to conduct a thorough investigation into the death of the activist.
“We are deeply shocked by the news of the death of the Belarusian activist Vitaly Shishov,” Austria’s Foreign Ministry said on Twitter. “Our thoughts are with his loved ones. Austria calls for a thorough and transparent investigation into the circumstances leading to his death.”
Marta Hurtado, a spokeswoman for the UN human rights office, told reporters in Geneva that the office hoped the authorities in Ukraine would conduct “a thorough, impartial and effective investigation on what happened and see if it was just a suicide, if it was a regular criminal murder, or if there is a relation with his activism.”


Sydney’s ticket out of COVID-19 lockdown? Six million vaccine jabs

Sydney’s ticket out of COVID-19 lockdown? Six million vaccine jabs
Updated 03 August 2021

Sydney’s ticket out of COVID-19 lockdown? Six million vaccine jabs

Sydney’s ticket out of COVID-19 lockdown? Six million vaccine jabs
  • A lifting of restrictions in the country’s most populous city and its surrounds in New South Wales state would be a boost for Prime Minister Scott Morrison

CANBERRA: Australian authorities said they could ease a COVID-19 lockdown that demands Sydney’s five million people stay home until the end of August if half the population is vaccinated, even as new infections linger near a 16-month high.
A lifting of restrictions in the country’s most populous city and its surrounds in New South Wales state would be a boost for Prime Minister Scott Morrison, under intense pressure for his government’s handling of the vaccine rollout, with the threat of a second economic recession in as many years looming.
New South Wales, which accounts for a third of all activity in Australia’s A$2 trillion ($1.47 trillion) economy, has struggled to contain a surge of cases of the highly infectious Delta variant in Sydney despite the lockdown, currently due to be lifted on Aug. 29.
While the state on Tuesday reported another 199 locally acquired COVID-19 cases in the past 24 hours — near a 16-month high of 239 infections recorded in one day last week — Premier Gladys Berejiklian said curbs could be eased if six million people in New South Wales are vaccinated by the time the lockdown is due to end.
“Six million jabs is roughly half the population with at least one or two doses,” Berejiklian told reporters in Sydney. “That gives us additional options as to what life looks like on 29 August.”
Berejiklian didn’t say exactly how many in New South Wales were fully vaccinated as of Tuesday, but said the state is on course to meet its vaccination target. She cautioned the number of people in the community while infectious would also need to come down.
Although Australia has largely kept its COVID-19 numbers relatively low, with just over 34,500 cases and 925 deaths, its national vaccination rollout has hit several roadblocks due to changing medical advice on AstraZeneca doses over blood clot concerns and supply constraints for Pfizer inoculation.
The target in New South Wales comes just days after national premier Morrison promised lockdowns would be “less likely” once the country inoculates 70 percent of its population above 16 years of age — a long way from the current 19 percent level. Morrison expects to hit the 70 percent mark by the end of the year.
On Tuesday Morrison rejected the idea of offering people financial incentives to boost vaccination rates.
“If do have hesitancy about vaccine, I am not going to pay them off,” Morrison told reporters in Canberra.
The PM also released the modeling behind the national strategy which showed Australia would need to vaccinate seven in 10 people to control the spread of the virus without economically damaging lockdowns.
The modelling, by the Peter Doherty Institute for Infection and Immunity, also called for younger Australians to be the next focus of the vaccine campaign.
Once vulnerable Australians were inoculated, “uptake by young adults (aged 16 and over) will strongly influence the impact of vaccination on overall transmission,” notes published alongside the modelling said.
The lockdown of Sydney is expected to see the Australian economy shrink in the current quarter, and Treasurer Josh Frydenberg has warned the length of the stay-at-home orders will determine whether a recession can be avoided.
Despite the ongoing threat to the economy, the Reserve Bank of Australia on Tuesday said it would stick with its plan to taper bond buying from September, contravening marketing expectations.
Meanwhile, Queensland state said on Tuesday it has reported 16 new COVID-19 cases in the past 24 hours, the highest daily number of new cases in a year.


‘Indiscriminate’ Afghan fighting hurting civilians the most, says UN

‘Indiscriminate’ Afghan fighting hurting civilians the most, says UN
Updated 03 August 2021

‘Indiscriminate’ Afghan fighting hurting civilians the most, says UN

‘Indiscriminate’ Afghan fighting hurting civilians the most, says UN
  • In Herat, another city under siege, hundreds of residents chanted from their rooftops after government forces repulsed the latest Taliban assault

KANDAHAR, Afghanistan: Afghan forces battled the Taliban for control of a key provincial capital Tuesday, as the United Nations warned “indiscriminate” gunfire and air strikes were hurting civilians the most.
Officials said insurgents had seized more than a dozen local radio and TV stations in Lashkar Gah — capital of Helmand province and the scene of days of fierce fighting — leaving only one pro-Taliban channel broadcasting Islamic programming.
In Herat, another city under siege, hundreds of residents chanted from their rooftops after government forces repulsed the latest Taliban assault.
The hard-line Islamist group has seized control of much of rural Afghanistan since foreign forces began the last stage of their withdrawal in early May, but are meeting resistance as they try to take provincial capitals.
That urban fighting, however, is taking its toll on civilians.
“Taliban ground offensive & ANA air strikes causing most harm,” the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) tweeted Tuesday, referring to the Afghan national army.
“Deep concerns about indiscriminate shooting & damage to/occupation of health facilities & civilian homes.”
“Fighting was intense this morning,” said Sefatullah, director of Sukon radio in Helmand’s capital, whose station was captured by the Taliban.
“We stopped broadcasting two days ago because the Taliban captured the building of our station.”
Afghan officials said Tuesday that 11 radio and four television stations in the city had been seized by the Taliban.
“Terrorists do not want the media to publish the facts and expose their injustices,” the Ministry of Information and Culture said.
The loss of Lashkar Gah would be a massive strategic and psychological blow for the government, which has pledged to defend cities at all costs after losing much of the rural countryside to the Taliban over the summer.
In Herat, Afghan officials said government forces had managed to push back the insurgents from several areas of the city — including near the airport, which is vital for resupplies.
“Afghan security forces plus resistance forces launched a big operation in west of the city,” Jailani Farhad, spokesman for Herat’s governor, said.


COVID-19 returns to China’s Wuhan as global Delta variant woes mount

COVID-19 returns to China’s Wuhan as global Delta variant woes mount
Updated 03 August 2021

COVID-19 returns to China’s Wuhan as global Delta variant woes mount

COVID-19 returns to China’s Wuhan as global Delta variant woes mount
  • A resurgent virus has returned with a vengeance, buoyed by stalling vaccination rates and deadly new mutations

BEIJING: Authorities in China’s Wuhan said Tuesday they would test the city’s entire population for COVID-19, as the virus returned to the place where it first emerged and the highly contagious Delta variant drove tightening lockdowns worldwide.
A resurgent virus has returned with a vengeance, buoyed by stalling vaccination rates and deadly new mutations even in places which had long touted their successes in overcoming the worst of the pandemic.
China brought domestic cases down to virtually zero after the coronavirus first emerged in Wuhan, allowing the economy to rebound and life to return largely to normal.
But a fresh outbreak has thrown that record into jeopardy, as the fast-spreading Delta variant reaches dozens of cities after infections among airport cleaners in Nanjing sparked a chain of cases that have been reported across the country.
In Wuhan — where the virus first emerged in December 2019 and which faced a grueling lockdown in the early months of the pandemic — authorities said they were launching a mass-testing program for all 11 million residents.
And across China, authorities have confined the residents of entire cities to their homes, cut domestic transport links and rolled out mass testing in recent days as the country battles its largest coronavirus outbreak in months.
Millions are also still under movement restrictions in Australia, where troops Monday hit the streets of the country’s largest city of Sydney and surrounding areas, which are entering the sixth week of a lockdown set to run until the end of August.
Authorities have been struggling to stop the spread of the highly infectious Delta variant in the city — and to ensure that residents follow containment rules — with more than 3,600 cases recorded since mid-June.
With about 15 percent of Australia’s 25 million people fully vaccinated, authorities are still relying on lockdowns to slow the spread of the virus.


Philippine police arrest mole identified as Abu Sayyaf Group member

Philippine police arrest mole identified as Abu Sayyaf Group member
Updated 03 August 2021

Philippine police arrest mole identified as Abu Sayyaf Group member

Philippine police arrest mole identified as Abu Sayyaf Group member
  • Patarasa was brother-in-law of slain terrorist leader Isnilon Hapilon

MANILA: Philippine National Police (PNP) chief Gen. Guillermo Eleazar ordered an “intensified cleansing” of police ranks on Monday after a civilian personnel member was identified as a key member of the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG).

In a statement, Eleazar said that police intelligence operatives arrested Masckur Adoh Patarasa, also known as “Makong” and “Omair Sali Taib,” on Friday in Jolo, Sulu.

According to the PNP chief, Patasar is the brother-in-law of the slain Daesh leader in Southeast Asia, Isnilon Hapilon, and an alleged finance and logistics officer of the ASG, considered the most violent militant group in the southern Philippines.

“Patarasa is an active non-uniformed personnel (NUP) of the PNP presently assigned at the Banguingui municipal police station, Sulu PPO, but was also a finance and logistics liaison officer of Dawlah Islamiyah and ASG and was included in the martial law arrest order no. 1 during the Marawi siege in 2017,” Eleazar said.

“Patarasa was arrested in Barangay Asturias, Jolo, Sulu at 7:00 p.m. on Friday, July 30, during an intelligence-driven police operation ... He is the subject of arrest warrants ... as an accused in seven separate cases of kidnapping and serious illegal detention,” he added.

Intelligence information on the suspect showed that “in May 2017, Patarasa, together with an unidentified individual linked with the ASG, planned to transact the sending of funds to Abu Sayyaf members fighting in Marawi City through his brother-in-law Isnilon Hapilon.”

Hapilon, also known as Abu Abdullah Al-Filipini, and named on the US’ most wanted list, was killed during the Marawi siege.

At that time, he was reported to be the Daesh emir or commander in the Philippines.

Eleazar said that Patarasa joined the ASG in 2001 under Khadaffy Janjalani in Basilan and later worked for ASG senior leader Radullan Sahiron in Sulu.

He was also reported to have direct contact with Malaysian terrorist Amin Baco, alias “Abu Jihad,” who was among those touted to have replaced Hapilon as the Daesh leader in the region.

“Deeper background investigation also disclosed that Patarasa received funds from Almaida Salvin, a designated terrorist included in the US Treasury’s sanctions list ... through (one) Merhama Sawari,” the PNP chief said without providing more details.

Salvin was arrested in Zamboanga City in April 2019 for the illegal possession of explosives, while Sawari was among four militants killed in a shootout with police in Paranaque City on June 20 last year.

Eleazar said that they were not discounting the possibility that Patarasa may have leaked information to the ASG, resulting in the failure of some police operations in Sulu.

“I am glad that our personnel were able to arrest the subject person; this still forms part of the intensified cleanliness policy that we are implementing. Cleanliness of the ranks should be maintained to regain the trust and confidence of the people in our organization,” Eleazar said.

He also ordered the PNP Internal Affairs Service (IAS) to fast-track dismissal proceedings against the suspect.

Further investigations are also being conducted to determine if other PNP personnel have links to the ASG or are involved in criminal or terroristic activities.

“We would also like to find out how Patarasa managed to enter the PNP despite having a string of cases and warrants of arrest under his name in connection with his being a member of the ASG,” Eleazar said, noting that intelligence information showed the suspect continued to carry out his role in the ASG while employed with the PNP.

Citing Patarasa’s case, Eleazar stressed the importance of cleansing the police ranks at the start or during the recruitment process. “This is one of the reasons why we thoroughly have to screen those who want to join the PNP, whether as a policeman or as a civilian employee.”

Eleazar commended police officers involved in Patarasa’s arrest, saying, “Your action is a reflection of our campaign to keep the organization free from persons with ill motives.”

He also urged all PNP members “to join hands in keeping the police organization respectable and true to its mandate to serve and protect the people.”