Philippines records highest mortality rate in six decades

Special Philippines records highest mortality rate in six decades
Health workers assess a patient at the Adventist Medical Center, where a sign indicating that the hospital’s COVID-19 facility is at full capacity, Pasay, Philippines, Apr. 9, 2021. (Reuters)
Short Url
Updated 02 February 2022

Philippines records highest mortality rate in six decades

Philippines records highest mortality rate in six decades
  • Population commission says 2021 saw the highest number of Filipinos dying in a single year
  • Island nation registers a 25 percent increase in mortality from 2020

MANILA: The Philippines recorded its highest mortality rate in over six decades in 2021, with heart disease and COVID-19 responsible for most of the deaths, the Commission on Population and Development said on Wednesday.  

The Philippines, a country of 110 million people, recorded over 768,500 deaths between January and mid-November 2021, showing a 25 percent increase in mortality from 2020. 

As the commission is still processing the remaining data from November and December, its executive director, Dr. Juan A. Perez, estimated last year’s deaths would top 800,000.

“In 2019 and 2020, the mortality rate was about the same at 5.8 per 1,000 Filipinos. By the end of 2021, I believe it reached 7.5 or 8 per 1,000,” Perez said in a statement, adding that 2021 saw “the highest number of Filipinos dying in a single year.”

The last time the Philippines’ recorded mortality rates as high as last year was between 1958 and 1959, where it reached between 7.3 and 8.4 deaths per 1,000 people.

The country’s biggest killer was coronary heart disease — the top cause of death worldwide — followed by COVID-19, which was responsible for 110,332 deaths up to October 2021, from 86,164 the previous year.

Dr. Perez said there are two kinds of COVID-19 affecting the country: COVID-19 “identified,” with cases confirmed through PCR screening, and COVID-19 “unidentified,” with clinical findings indicative of the disease, but without a confirmatory test up to the time of death. In both situations, COVID-19 is considered the cause of death, in accordance with methods accepted by the World Health Organization to report the disease.

The country’s increasing mortality rate is indicative of a health system “severely challenged by the pandemic and its consequences,” Perez added, as hospitals are “heavily burdened” handling COVID-19 cases, leading to delayed diagnosis and treatment of other diseases.

“The challenge to the Philippine health system is both acute and unprecedented,” he said. “Local health systems would need to be augmented by additional investments in health systems capacity and its resilience to respond to acute health crises.”

Gunman who fled to Pakistan jailed in UK for murder

Gunman who fled to Pakistan jailed in UK for murder
Updated 27 January 2023

Gunman who fled to Pakistan jailed in UK for murder

Gunman who fled to Pakistan jailed in UK for murder
  • Tahir Zarif, 31, will serve a minimum of 30 years for the killing of Akhtar Javeed, 56
  • Zarif and 3 others attempted to rob Javeed in 2016; killer hid in Pakistan to escape justice

LONDON: A man has been jailed for life in the UK after murdering another man in a botched robbery and then fleeing to Pakistan to escape justice.
Tahir Zarif, 31, from Derby, shot Akhtar Javeed, 56, in 2016 while he and three others — Suraj Misty, 26; Lamar Wali, 23; and Sander van Aalten, 54 — attempted to rob Javeed’s food warehouse in Birmingham.
One of the four had previously worked at the warehouse, with knowledge of its layout. Employees at the site were tied up, and Javeed was dragged to his safe, where Zarif shot him in the leg to force him to open it.
Javeed then managed to free himself but was shot again by Zarif in the throat and chest as he tried to escape, stumbling out of the warehouse and into a street before collapsing.
Five days later, Zarif left the UK for Pakistan. He was arrested in Mirpur in 2018 and extradited two years later.
Video footage later emerged of Zarif firing a machine gun while on the run in Pakistan, and further footage showed him smiling when formally arrested on board his extradition flight to London by UK police.
Zarif claimed the murder of Javeed was accidental, but his “clear willingness to use the gun” and “intention to kill” saw him jailed for a minimum of 30 years at Coventry Crown Court.
His fellow robbers were convicted and sentenced in 2016. Misty was jailed for 23 years for manslaughter, while Wali and Van Aalten were both convicted of conspiracy to commit robbery and jailed for seven years and six years, eight months, respectively.
Javeed’s daughter, who requested anonymity, told the press following Zarif’s sentencing: “It’s been six years and nine months since my father’s life was taken by Tahir Zarif.
“My father has been in our thoughts every day since. As I have said before, my father was an honorable gentleman.
“Another man’s greed led to my father’s unlawful death. We are grateful to West Midlands Police for their hard work in ensuring justice is served.”

Appointment of first-ever anti-Islamophobia advisor for Canada an ‘important step’: PM Trudeau

Appointment of first-ever anti-Islamophobia advisor for Canada an ‘important step’: PM Trudeau
Updated 27 January 2023

Appointment of first-ever anti-Islamophobia advisor for Canada an ‘important step’: PM Trudeau

Appointment of first-ever anti-Islamophobia advisor for Canada an ‘important step’: PM Trudeau

MONTREAL: Canada on Thursday appointed its first special representative on combatting Islamophobia, a position created following several recent attacks on Muslims in the country.
Journalist and activist Amira Elghawaby will fill the post to “serve as a champion, adviser, expert and representative to support and enhance the federal government’s efforts in the fight against Islamophobia, systemic racism, racial discrimination and religious intolerance,” a statement by the prime minister’s office said.
An active human rights campaigner, Elghawaby is the communications head for the Canadian Race Relations Foundation and a columnist for the Toronto Star newspaper, having previously worked for more than a decade at public broadcaster CBC.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau praised Elghawaby’s appointment as “an important step in our fight against Islamophobia and hatred in all its forms.”
“Diversity truly is one of Canada’s greatest strengths, but for many Muslims, Islamophobia is all too familiar,” he added.
Over the past few years, a series of deadly attacks have targeted Canada’s Muslim community.
In June 2021, four members of a Muslim family were killed when a man ran them over with his truck in London, Ontario.
Four years earlier, six Muslims died and five were injured in an attack on a Quebec City mosque.
In a series of tweets Thursday, Elghawaby listed the names of those killed in the recent attacks, adding: “We must never forget.”
The creation of the new job had been recommended by a national summit on Islamophobia organized by the federal government in June 2021 in response to the attacks.

Blasts near Ukraine nuclear plant, says UN watchdog; Russia calls it provocation

Blasts near Ukraine nuclear plant, says UN watchdog; Russia calls it provocation
Updated 27 January 2023

Blasts near Ukraine nuclear plant, says UN watchdog; Russia calls it provocation

Blasts near Ukraine nuclear plant, says UN watchdog; Russia calls it provocation
  • IAEA chief Rafael Grossi says the explosions suggest Moscow could not uphold nuclear safety
  • Russian forces seized the plant in early March, soon after invading neighboring Ukraine

The UN’s nuclear watchdog on Thursday reported powerful explosions near Ukraine’s Russian-occupied Zaporizhzhia nuclear power station and renewed calls for a security zone around the plant.
A Russian official dismissed the comments by Rafael Grossi, head of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), saying they suggested Moscow could not uphold nuclear safety.
Russian forces seized the plant in early March, soon after invading neighboring Ukraine. Russia and Ukraine have accused each other of firing around it near the front lines, prompting the IAEA to place experts at all of Ukraine’s five nuclear stations.
Grossi, who visited Ukraine last week, said IAEA monitors routinely reported explosions near the plant.
“Yesterday, eight strong detonations were heard at around 10 a.m. local time, causing office windows at the plant to vibrate, and more were audible today,” he said in a statement.
But Renat Karchaa, an adviser to the head of Rosenergoatom, the company operating Russia’s nuclear plants, said Grossi’s comments were unfounded.
“I can only describe this as a provocation. Before you provide such information you need to check it and establish that it is not based on rumor,” Tass quoted him as saying.
“On the one hand, they want to show that they are doing something useful. On the other, they are again sowing doubt in Western public opinion that somehow Russia cannot cope with upholding nuclear safety.”
Karchaa’s acerbic tone was somewhat unusual. Russian officials have sought to ensure Western countries that they are maintaining safety standards and continue to work with the IAEA.
In his statement, Grossi said he had discussed the proposed zone with the European Union in Brussels this week and would have new talks with Moscow. 


US infiltrates big ransomware gang: ‘We hacked the hackers’

US infiltrates big ransomware gang: ‘We hacked the hackers’
Updated 27 January 2023

US infiltrates big ransomware gang: ‘We hacked the hackers’

US infiltrates big ransomware gang: ‘We hacked the hackers’
  • Gang identified as Hive among the world’s top five ransomware networks and has heavily targeted health care
  • Hive, working with German and other partners, was estimated to have victimized some 1,300 companies globally

WASHINGTON: The FBI and international partners have at least temporarily disrupted the network of a prolific ransomware gang they infiltrated last year, saving victims including hospitals and school districts a potential $130 million in ransom payments, Attorney General Merrick Garland and other US officials announced Thursday.
“Simply put, using lawful means we hacked the hackers,” Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco said at a news conference.
Officials said the targeted syndicate, known as Hive, is among the world’s top five ransomware networks and has heavily targeted health care. The FBI quietly accessed its control panel in July and was able to obtain software keys it used with German and other partners to decrypt networks of some 1,300 victims globally, said FBI Director Christopher Wray.
How the takedown will affect Hive’s long-term operations is unclear. Officials announced no arrests but said, to pursue prosecutions, they were building a map of the administrators who manage the software and the affiliates who infect targets and negotiate with victims.
“I think anyone involved with Hive should be concerned because this investigation is ongoing,” Wray said.
On Wednesday night, FBI agents seized computer servers in Los Angeles used to support the network. Two Hive dark web sites were seized: one used for leaking data of non-paying victims, the other for negotiating extortion payments.
“Cybercrime is a constantly evolving threat, but as I have said before, the Justice Department will spare no resource to bring to justice anyone anywhere that targets the United States with a ransomware attack,” Garland said.


He said the infiltration, led by the FBI’s Tampa office, allowed agents in one instance to disrupt a Hive attack against a Texas school district, stopping it from making a $5 million payment.
It’s a big win for the Justice Department. Ransomware is the world’s biggest cybercrime headache with everything from Britain’s postal service and Ireland’s national health network to Costa Rica’s government crippled by Russian-speaking syndicates that enjoy Kremlin protection.
The criminals lock up, or encrypt, victims’ networks, steal sensitive data and demand large sums. Their extortion has evolve to where data is pilfered before ransomware is activated, then effectively held hostage. Pay up in cryptocurrency or it is released publicly.
As an example of a Hive sting, Garland said it kept one Midwestern hospital in 2021 from accepting new patients at the height of the COVID-19 epidemic.
The online takedown notice, alternating in English and Russian, mentions Europol and German law enforcement partners. The German news agency dpa quoted prosecutors in Stuttgart as saying cyber specialists in the southwestern town of Esslingen were decisive in penetrating Hive’s criminal IT infrastructure after a local company was victimized.
In a statement, Europol said companies in more than 80 countries, including oil multinationals, have been compromised by Hive and that law enforcement from 13 countries was in on the infiltration.
A US government advisory last year said Hive ransomware actors victimized over 1,300 companies worldwide from June 2021 through November 2022, netting about $100 million in payments. Criminals using Hive’s ransomware-as-a-service tools targeted a wide range of businesses and critical infrastructure, including government, manufacturing and especially health care.
Though the FBI offered decryption keys to some 1,300 victims globally, Wray said only about 20 percent reported potential issues to law enforcement.
“Here, fortunately, we were still able to identify and help many victims who didn’t report. But that is not always the case,” Wray said. “When victims report attacks to us, we can help them and others, too.”
Victims sometimes quietly pay ransoms without notifying authorities — even if they’ve quickly restored networks — because the data stolen from them could be extremely damaging to them if leaked online. Identity theft is among the risks.
John Hultquist, the head of threat intelligence at the cybersecurity firm Mandiant, said the Hive disruption won’t cause a major drop in overall ransomware activity but is nonetheless “a blow to a dangerous group.”
“Unfortunately, the criminal marketplace at the heart of the ransomware problem ensures a Hive competitor will be standing by to offer a similar service in their absence, but they may think twice before allowing their ransomware to be used to target hospitals,” Hultquist said.
But analyst Brett Callow with the cybersecurity firm Emsisoft said the operation is apt to lessen ransomware crooks’ confidence in what has been a very high reward-low risk business. “The information collected may point to affiliates, launderers and others involved in the ransomware supply chain.”
Allan Liska, an analyst with Recorded Future, another cybersecurity outfit, predicted indictments, if not actual arrests, in the next few months.
There are few positive indicators in the global fight against ransomware, but here’s one: An analysis of cryptocurrency transactions by the firm Chainalysis found ransomware extortion payments were down last year. It tracked payments of at least $456.8 million, down from $765.6 million in 2021. While Chainalysis said the true totals are certainly much higher, payments were clearly down. That suggests more victims are refusing to pay.
The Biden administration got serious about ransomware at its highest levels two years ago after a series of high-profile attacks threatened critical infrastructure and global industry. In May 2021, for instance, hackers targeted the nation’s largest fuel pipeline, causing the operators to briefly shut it down and make a multimillion-dollar ransom payment, which the US government later largely recovered.
A global task force involving 37 nations began work this week. It is led by Australia, which has been particularly hard-hit by ransomware, including a major medical insurer and telecom. Conventional law enforcement measures such as arrests and prosecutions have done little to frustrate the criminals. Australia’s interior minister, Clare O’Neil, said in November that her government was going on the offense, using cyber-intelligence and police agents to ” find these people, hunt them down and debilitate them before they can attack our country.”
The FBI has obtained access to decryption keys before. It did so in the case of a major 2021 ransomware attack on Kaseya, a company whose software runs hundreds of websites. It took some heat, however, for waiting several weeks to help victims unlock afflicted networks.

Shamima Begum talks to BBC about her family’s reaction after she joined Daesh

Shamima Begum talks to BBC about her family’s reaction after she joined Daesh
Updated 27 January 2023

Shamima Begum talks to BBC about her family’s reaction after she joined Daesh

Shamima Begum talks to BBC about her family’s reaction after she joined Daesh
  • Begum suggested her family was partly to blame for the media storm that erupted when her actions were revealed
  • BBC says its podcast is ‘not a platform for Shamima Begum to give her unchallenged story’ but a ‘robust, public-interest investigation’

LONDON: Shamima Begum has spoken of the first time she talked to her mother after leaving the UK in 2015, at the age of 15, to join Daesh in Syria.

“The first time I called my mum she was just crying. I felt like she was trying to make me feel guilty,” she told journalist Joshua Baker during an interview for the second series of the BBC podcast “I’m Not A Monster,” which began this month.

“I don’t know, maybe it was just emotions but I just didn’t say anything to her, I let her cry. I just kept telling her I was OK.”

Baker asked her what she had said when her mother pleaded with her to come home, to which she replied she “just said no.”

Begum, now 23, added that although she had not yet fully committed to her decision to join the extremist group at that point, she did not want to give her mother false hope because she did not know whether she would be able to leave.

Baker then asked Begum how she felt when she heard her sister publicly beg her to leave Daesh.

“I couldn't believe it,” she said. “I couldn’t believe that my sister would travel all the way to Turkey thinking that she could save me.”

Begum even suggested her family were “responsible” for the media storm that erupted around her when her journey to Syria was revealed, because of their emotional pleas for her return.

“But I don’t think they knew how far it would go and how big it would become,” she added. “I blame the media for obsessing over my friends and I so much.”

The podcast series, new episodes of which are released each Wednesday, also revealed information about people smuggler Mohammed Al-Rasheed, who helped Begum travel to Syria while he was also working as an agent for Canadian intelligence services.

The BBC has faced a public outcry this month over the podcast series, which focuses on Begum’s case and in which she defends her actions. The UK’s public service broadcaster responded by saying the series is “not a platform for Shamima Begum to give her unchallenged story” but rather a “robust, public-interest investigation” into her case.

Begum was born in the UK to parents of Bangladeshi origin and citizenship. She was living with her family in the Bethnal Green area of London when she left for Syria. Shortly after arriving in the war-torn country she married Dutch-born Yago Riedijk. In the years that followed, she gave birth to three children, all of whom died young. In 2019, she was discovered living in a refugee camp in northern Syria. The UK government revoked her British citizenship and said she would not be allowed to return to the country.