WHO: COVID-19 cases and deaths continue to fall globally

WHO: COVID-19 cases and deaths continue to fall globally
A health worker conducts a swab test for the Covid-19 coronavirus at a residential compound during the second stage of a pandemic lockdown in Shanghai on Wednesday. (AFP)
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Updated 07 April 2022

WHO: COVID-19 cases and deaths continue to fall globally

WHO: COVID-19 cases and deaths continue to fall globally
  • In its latest pandemic report, WHO said 9 million cases were reported, a 16% weekly decline and more than 26,000 new deaths from COVID-19
  • The UN health agency said confirmed coronavirus infections were down in all regions of the world

GENEVA: The number of coronavirus cases reported globally has dropped for a second consecutive week and confirmed COVID-19 deaths also fell last week, according to a World Health Organization (WHO) report issued Wednesday.
In its latest pandemic report, WHO said 9 million cases were reported, a 16 percent weekly decline, and more than 26,000 new deaths from COVID-19. The UN health agency said confirmed coronavirus infections were down in all regions of the world.
However, it warned that the reported numbers carry considerable uncertainty because many countries have stopped widespread testing for the coronavirus, meaning that many cases are likely going undetected.
WHO said it was also tracking an omicron variant that is a recombination of two versions: BA.1 and BA.2, which was first detected in Britain in January. WHO said early estimates suggest the recombined omicron could be about 10 percent more transmissible than previous mutations, but further evidence is needed.
The agency has continued to warn countries not to drop their COVID-19 protocols too quickly and predicted that future variants could spread easily if surveillance and testing systems are shelved.
Last week, the UK said COVID-19 had hit record levels across the country, with government statistics estimating that about 1 in 13 people were infected. Those figures came on the same day the British government abandoned its free testing program.
Meanwhile, Chinese authorities conducted more mass testing this week across Shanghai, which remains in lockdown following another jump in infections; the city has recorded more than 90,000 cases but no deaths during the pandemic.
Despite growing public frustration and concerns about economic effects, China says it is sticking to its hard-line “zero-tolerance” approach mandating lockdowns, mass testing and the compulsory isolation of all suspected cases and close contacts. Following a public uproar, Shanghai authorities said Wednesday they would allow at least some parents to stay with children infected with COVID-19, making an exception to a policy of isolating anyone who tests positive.


Viewers flock to watch glowing lava ooze from Hawaii volcano

Viewers flock to watch glowing  lava ooze from Hawaii volcano
Updated 11 sec ago

Viewers flock to watch glowing lava ooze from Hawaii volcano

Viewers flock to watch glowing  lava ooze from Hawaii volcano

HAWAII: The world’s largest volcano oozed rivers of glowing lava Wednesday, drawing thousands of awestruck viewers who jammed a Hawaii highway that could soon be covered by the flow.

Mauna Loa awoke from its 38-year slumber Sunday, causing volcanic ash and debris to drift down from the sky. A main highway linking towns on the east and west coasts of the Big Island became an impromptu viewing point, with thousands of cars jamming the highway near Volcanoes National Park.

Anne Andersen left her overnight shift as a nurse to see the spectacle Wednesday, afraid that the road would soon be closed.

“It’s Mother Nature showing us her face,” she said, as the volcano belched gas on the horizon. “It’s pretty exciting.”

Gordon Brown, a visitor from Loomis, California, could see the bright orange lava from the bedroom of his rental house. So he headed out for a close-up view with his wife.

“We just wanted … to come see this as close as we could get. And it is so bright, it just blows my mind,” Brown said.

The lava was tumbling slowly down the slope and was about 10 kilometers from the highway known as Saddle Road. It was not clear when, or if, it would cover the road, which runs through old lava flows.

The road bisects the island and connects the cities of Hilo and Kailua-Kona. People traveling between them would need to take a longer coastal road if Saddle Road becomes impassable, adding several hours of drive time.

Ken Hon, scientist in charge at the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory, said at current flow rate, the soonest the lava would get to the road is two days, but it will likely take longer.

“As the lava flow spreads out, it will probably interfere with its own progress,” Hon said.

Kathryn Tarananda, 66, of Waimea set two alarms to make sure she didn’t oversleep and miss her chance to see sunrise against the backdrop of eruptions at Mauna Loa.

“It’s a thrill,” she said. “We’re out in the middle of raw nature. It’s awe inspiring that we live in this place. I feel really, really fortunate to be an islander.”

Mauna Loa last erupted in 1984. The current eruption is its 34th since written record keeping began in 1843.

 Its smaller neighbor, Kilauea, has been erupting since September 2021, so visitors to the national park were treated to the rare sight of two simultaneous eruptive events: the glow from Kilauea’s lava lake and lava from a Mauna Loa fissure.

Abel Brown, a visitor from Las Vegas, was impressed by the natural forces on display. He planned to take a close-up helicopter tour later in the day — but not too close.

“There’s a lot of fear and trepidation if you get really close to it,” Brown said. “The closer you get, the more powerful it is and the more scary it is.”


Security meeting overshadowed by Russia’s war, ban on Lavrov

Security meeting overshadowed by Russia’s war, ban on Lavrov
Updated 01 December 2022

Security meeting overshadowed by Russia’s war, ban on Lavrov

Security meeting overshadowed by Russia’s war, ban on Lavrov
  • The two-day meeting in Lodz, Poland, is the first such high-level meeting since Russia invaded Ukraine in February
  • Notably absent was Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, who was banned by Poland, the current chair of the OSCE, from entering the country

LODZ, Poland: Europe’s largest security organization opened a meeting Thursday with foreign ministers and other representatives strongly denouncing Russia’s war against Ukraine, a conflict that is among the greatest challenges the body has faced in its nearly half-century of existence.
The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, which was founded to maintain peace and stability on the continent, has been a rare international forum — along with the United Nations — where Russia and Western powers have been able meet to discuss security matters. The two-day meeting in Lodz, Poland, is the first such high-level meeting since Russia invaded Ukraine in February.
But since the war began, the 57-nation OSCE has also become another venue where the bitter clash between Russia and the West has played out, exposing the organization’s own inadequacies in helping to resolve the conflict.
Notably absent was Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, who was banned by Poland, the current chair of the OSCE, from entering the country. Poland is a member of the 27-member European Union, which has put Lavrov on a sanctions list.
Lavrov denounced the ban and Poland on Thursday.
“I can say responsibly that Poland’s anti-chairmanship of the OSCE will take the most miserable place ever in this organization’s history,” Lavrov said. “Nobody has ever caused such damage to the OSCE while being at its helm.”
“Our Polish neighbors have been digging a grave for the organization by destroying the last remains of the consensus culture,” he said in a video call with reporters.
The Polish chairman in office, Foreign Minister Zbigniew Rau, said he had a responsibility to defend the OSCE’s “fundamental principles,” and argued that it was not Poland but Russia which has hurt the organization by blocking budgets, appointments and other critical aspects of its work. He accused Russia of spreading disinformation against Poland.
“I would say it’s outrageous to hear Russia accusing the chairmanship of pushing the OSCE into the abyss, destroying its foundations and breaking its procedural rules,” Rau said.
Before Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the OSCE acted as a mediator in Ukraine, negotiating peace deals for eastern Ukraine following a Russian-backed separatist war that began in the Donbas in 2014. In March, the OSCE discontinued its special monitoring mission to Ukraine.
Also missing from the meeting in Lodz was Belarus Foreign Minister Vladimir Makei, who died suddenly last weekend at the age of 64 and was buried earlier this week. Belarusian authorities didn’t give the cause of Makei’s death, and he wasn’t known to suffer from any chronic illness, triggering speculation about possible foul play.
A Belarusian representative, Andrei Dapkiunas, delivered remarks that he said had been prepared by Makei before his death. He deplored the exclusion of Lavrov, saying it “is killing the OSCE,” and accused Western powers of undermining Europe’s security structure with what he described as an unfair isolation of Russia and Belarus.
Peter Szijjarto, the foreign minister of Hungary, which is in the unusual position of being an ally of Poland while maintaining close economic and diplomatic ties with Russia, appeared to fault Poland for excluding Lavrov.
“Channels of communication must be maintained,” Szijjarto said.
Szijjarto told the meeting that Hungary wants peace in Ukraine, but didn’t mention Russia by name.
The OSCE was established in 1975 at a time of Cold War detente. Its approach to security is undergirded by an emphasis on human rights and economic development in conjunction with military security. It is possibly best known for its monitoring of elections but has also carried out conflict prevention and post-conflict peace-building missions in places including Bosnia, Moldova, Georgia and Tajikistan.
The US representative, Under Secretary of State Victoria Nuland said she came away from the gathering in Lodz with a renewed optimism within the OSCE, noting that 55 of its 57 members — Russia and Belarus excluded — were finding new ways to work to defend democratic principles.
Russian President Vladimir Putin “has failed to defeat Ukraine,” Nuland said. “Despite his brutal war of aggression, his war crimes, and now his vicious fight against civilians trying to freeze them in the middle of winter, Putin has also failed in his effort to divide and destroy the OSCE.”


Biden and Macron hold talks on Ukraine, climate, China

Biden and Macron hold talks on Ukraine, climate, China
Updated 01 December 2022

Biden and Macron hold talks on Ukraine, climate, China

Biden and Macron hold talks on Ukraine, climate, China
  • Biden is honoring Macron with the first state dinner of his presidency on Thursday evening
  • Both leaders at the ceremony paid tribute to their countries’ long alliance

WASHINGTON D.C.: Presidents Joe Biden and Emmanuel Macron sat down Thursday for the centerpiece talks of a pomp-filled French state visit, with the two leaders eager to talk through the war in Ukraine, concerns about China’s increasing assertiveness in the Indo-Pacific and European dismay over aspects of Biden’s signature climate law.
Biden is honoring Macron with the first state dinner of his presidency on Thursday evening, but first the two leaders met in the Oval Office to discuss difficult issues that they confront.
At the top of the agenda is the nine-month-old war in Ukraine in which Biden and Macron face headwinds as they try to maintain unity in the US and Europe to keep economic and military aid flowing to Kyiv as it tries to repel Russian forces.
“The choices we make today and the years ahead will determine the course of our world for decades to come,” Biden said at an arrival ceremony.
Macron at the start of the face-to-face meeting acknowledged the “challenging times” in Ukraine and called on the two nations to better “synchronize our actions” on climate.
The leaders began their talks shortly after hundreds of people gathered on the South Lawn on a sunny, chilly morning for the ceremony that included a 21-gun salute and review of troops. Ushers distributed small French and American flags to the guests who gathered to watch Biden and Macron start the state visit.
Both leaders at the ceremony paid tribute to their countries’ long alliance. But they acknowledged difficult moments lay ahead as Western unity shows some wear nine months into Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
In Washington, Republicans are set to take control of the House, where GOP leader Kevin McCarthy has said his party’s lawmakers will not write a “blank check” for Ukraine. Across the Atlantic, Macron’s efforts to keep Europe united will be tested by the mounting costs of supporting Ukraine in the war and as Europe battles rising energy prices that threaten to derail the post-pandemic economic recovery.
Macron at the arrival ceremony stressed a need for the US and France to keep the West united as the war continues.
“Our two nations are sisters in the fight for freedom,” Macron declared.
Amid the talk of maintaining unity, differences on trade were shadowing the visit.
Macron has made clear that he and other European leaders are concerned about the incentives in a new climate-related law that favor American-made climate technology, including electric vehicles.
He criticized the legislation, known as the Inflation Reduction Act, during a luncheon Wednesday with US lawmakers and again during a speech at the French Embassy. Macron said that while the Biden administration’s efforts to curb climate change should be applauded, the subsidies would be an enormous setback for European companies.
“The choices that have been made ... are choices that will fragment the West,” Macron said. He said the legislation “creates such differences between the United States of America and Europe that all those who work in many companies (in the US), they will just think, ‘We don’t make investments any more on the other side of the Atlantic.’”
He also said major industrial nations need to do more to address climate change and promote biodiversity.
In an interview that aired Thursday on ABC’s “Good Morning America,” Macron said the US and France were working together well on the war in Ukraine and geopolitics overall, but not on “some economic issues.” The US climate bill and semiconductor legislation, he said, were not properly coordinated with Europe and created “the absence of a level playing field.”
Earlier, he had criticized a deal reached at a recent climate summit in Egypt in which the United States and other wealthy nations agreed to help pay for the damage that an overheating world is inflicting on poor countries. The deal includes few details on how it will be paid for, and Macron said a more comprehensive approach is needed — “not just a new fund we decided which will not be funded and even if it is funded, it will not be rightly allocated.″
The blunt comments follow another low point last year after Biden announced a deal to sell nuclear submarines to Australia, undermining a contract for France to sell diesel-powered submarines. The relationship has recovered since then with Biden acknowledging a clumsy rollout of the submarine deal and Macron emerging as one of Biden’s strongest European allies in the Western response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
As for the Inflation Reduction Act, the European Union has also expressed concern that tax credits, including those aimed at encouraging Americans to buy electric vehicles, would discriminate against European producers and break World Trade Organization rules.
Macron planned to make his case to US officials against the subsidies, underscoring that it’s crucial for “Europe, like the US, to come out stronger ... not weaker” as the world emerges from the tumult of the pandemic and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, according to a senior French government official
Macron also planned to seek exceptions to the US legislation for some European clean energy manufacturers, according to a second French official who requested anonymity under the presidency’s customary practices.
Biden administration officials have countered that the legislation goes a long way in helping the US to meet global goals to curb climate change.
Macron also raised eyebrows earlier this month in a speech at a summit in Bangkok when he referred to the US and China as “two big elephants” that are the cusp of creating “a big problem for the rest of jungle.” His visit to Washington also comes as both the US and France are keeping an eye on China after protests broke out last weekend in several mainland cities and Hong Kong over Beijing’s “zero COVID” strategy.
The honor of this state visit is a boost to Macron diplomatically that he can leverage back in Europe. His outspoken comments help him demonstrate that he’s defending French workers, even as he maintains a close relationship with Biden. The moment also helps Macron burnish his image as the EU’s most visible and vocal leader, at a time when Europe is increasingly concerned that its economy will be indelibly weakened by the Ukraine war and resulting energy and inflation crises.
Macron and his wife, Brigitte, came to the US bearing gifts carefully tailored to their American hosts, including a vinyl and CD of the original soundtrack from the 1966 film “Un Homme et une Femme,” which the Bidens went to see on their first date, according to the palace.
Biden and First Lady Jill Biden presented the Macrons with a mirror framed by fallen wood from the White House grounds and made by an American furniture maker. It is a reproduction of a mirror from the White House collection that hangs in the West Wing.
Biden also gave President Macron a custom vinyl record collection of great American musicians and an archival facsimile print of Thomas Edison’s 1877 Patent of the American Phonograph. The First Lady gave Mrs. Macron a gold and emerald pendant necklace designed by a French-American designer.
Harris will host Macron for a lunch at the State Department before the evening state dinner for some 350 guests, a glitzy gala to take place in an enormous tented pavilion constructed on the White House South Lawn.


On remote Bangladeshi island, Rohingya refugee children find healing in art

On remote Bangladeshi island, Rohingya refugee children find healing in art
Updated 01 December 2022

On remote Bangladeshi island, Rohingya refugee children find healing in art

On remote Bangladeshi island, Rohingya refugee children find healing in art
  • Bangladeshi cartoonist Syed Rashad Imam Tanmoy engaged refugees in drawing mural
  • He asked kids in Bhasan Char to picture their lives, fears, dreams

DHAKA: When Sona Maher’s family escaped a military crackdown in Myanmar, they arrived in Bangladesh with nothing but the clothes they were wearing, and the images of blood and destruction she is still trying to forget.

The 14-year-old is one of more than 1 million Muslim Rohingya who in 2017 fled persecution, rape, and death at the hands of the Myanmar army.

Most of them found safety in neighboring Bangladesh, of which a southeastern part has since become the world’s largest refugee settlement.

Initially settled in the squalid camps of Cox’s Bazar, Meher’s family last year joined a group of nearly 30,000 Rohingya who Bangladeshi authorities have relocated to Bhasan Char, a remote island in the Bay of Bengal.

Before and when the relocation started, the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) and rights groups criticized the project on the grounds of safety and Bhasan Char’s livability, as it is prone to severe weather and flooding. But it is also where Maher and other children found solace — in art.

“I witnessed the atrocities by the Myanmar military in my neighborhood in Rakhine. Houses were burnt down, people were killed brutally all around me,” she told Arab News.

“I remember those horrific days and sometimes try to show those incidents in my drawings. I forget the pain when I see the colors of my drawings. It inspires me to hope for a new life, new dreams. I want to get rid of those horrible memories. Life is better now.”

Maher took part in an art project run by Bangladeshi cartoonist Syed Rashad Imam Tanmoy and the UNHCR, and art education NGO Artolution, who asked Rohingya children to picture their lives, fears, and dreams in a huge wall painting.

It took eight days, 50 participants, and long hours of consultation to complete the 50-meter-long mural last month.

“It was not just another pretty picture on the wall. We wanted to offer mental healing through art therapy with the engagement of the community,” Tanmoy told Arab News.

“Initially we experienced some reluctance … At this point, we started the paintings with brushes and colors. A few Rohingyas came forward to watch the process.”

Soon, they too began to paint.

A dominant motif appearing in their drawings was a boat.

“Most of the Rohingyas came up with the idea of drawing boats,” Tanmoy said. “They hold their dreams of returning to their homeland, and of a journey toward a better future.”

For those who participated in the project, such as 17-year-old Anowar Sadek, expressing themselves through art came with some sense of solace.

“Whenever I hold the painting materials, it helps me forget the agonies I witnessed earlier in Rakhine,” he said. “The paintings give me much comfort and pleasure.”

But both the children and art educators know that the comfort will be only temporary as long as they remain without a place that they can call home. And isolation in Bhasan Char also adds to their distress.

“My heart filled with joy when I painted the wall with colors … I want to continue painting throughout my life,” Roksana Akter, a 12-year-old who joined the mural project, said.

“But I have many friends and relatives in Cox’s Bazar. I didn’t see them for a long time. It’s the saddest part of my life at this moment.”


Air raid warning issued over all Ukraine – Ukrainian officials

Air raid warning issued over all Ukraine – Ukrainian officials
Updated 01 December 2022

Air raid warning issued over all Ukraine – Ukrainian officials

Air raid warning issued over all Ukraine – Ukrainian officials
  • Border service: ‘An overall air raid alert is in place in Ukraine. Go to shelters’

Air raid alerts were issued across all of Ukraine on Thursday following warnings by Ukrainian officials that Russia was preparing a new wave of missile and drone strikes.
“An overall air raid alert is in place in Ukraine. Go to shelters,” country’s border service wrote on Telegram messaging app.