China reports nearly 13,000 Covid deaths over last week

China reports nearly 13,000 Covid deaths over last week
Medical workers talk to a woman as an elderly woman receives medical treatment in the hallway of the emergency ward in Beijing, Thursday, Jan. 19, 2023. (AP)
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Updated 22 January 2023

China reports nearly 13,000 Covid deaths over last week

China reports nearly 13,000 Covid deaths over last week

BEJING: China reported nearly 13,000 Covid-related deaths in hospitals between January 13 and 19, after a top health official said the vast majority of the population has already been infected by the virus.
China a week earlier said nearly 60,000 people had died with Covid in hospitals as of January 12, but there has been widespread skepticism over official data since Beijing abruptly axed anti-virus controls last month.
China’s Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said in a statement on Saturday that 681 hospitalized patients had died of respiratory failure caused by coronavirus infection, and 11,977 had died of other diseases combined with an infection over the period.
The figures do not include those who died from the virus at home.
Airfinity, an independent forecasting firm, has estimated daily Covid deaths in China will peak at around 36,000 over the Lunar New Year holiday.
The firm also estimated that more than 600,000 people have died from the disease since China abandoned the zero-Covid policy in December.
Tens of millions of people have traveled across the country in recent days for long-awaited reunions with families to mark the biggest holiday in the lunar calendar that fell on Sunday, raising fears of fresh outbreaks.
But a top health official said China will not experience a second wave of covid infections in the next two to three months after millions return to villages to mark the Lunar New Year because nearly 80 percent of the population has already been infected by the virus.
“Although a large number of people traveling during the Spring Festival may promote the spread of the epidemic to a certain extent... the current wave of epidemic has already infected about 80 percent of the people in the country,” Wu Zunyou, chief epidemiologist at the China Center for Disease Control and Prevention, said in post on China’s Twitter-like Weibo platform on Saturday.
“In the short term, for example, in the next two to three months, the possibility of... a second wave of the epidemic across the country is very small.”
China’s transport authorities have predicted that more than two billion trips will be made this month into February in one of the world’s largest mass movements of people.


Suspects arrested over Pakistan mosque blast, police focus on how bomber got in

Suspects arrested over Pakistan mosque blast, police focus on how bomber got in
Updated 11 sec ago

Suspects arrested over Pakistan mosque blast, police focus on how bomber got in

Suspects arrested over Pakistan mosque blast, police focus on how bomber got in
  • The bomber struck on Monday as hundreds of worshippers gathered for noon prayers in a mosque that was purpose built for the police and their families living in a highly fortified area
PESHAWAR: Police investigating a suicide bombing that killed more than 100 people at a Pakistan mosque said on Tuesday that several people had been arrested, and they could not rule out the possibility that the bomber had internal assistance evading security checks.
The bombing was the most deadly in a decade to hit Peshawar, a restive northwestern city near the Afghan border, and all but three of those killed were police, making it most suffered by Pakistan’s security forces in a single attack in recent history.
The bomber struck on Monday as hundreds of worshippers gathered for noon prayers in a mosque that was purpose built for the police and their families living in a highly fortified area.
“We have found some excellent clues, and based on these clues we have made some major arrests,” Peshawar Police Chief Ijaz Khan told Reuters.
“We can’t rule out internal assistance but since the investigation is still in progress, I will not be able to share more details.”
Investigators, who include counter-terrorism and intelligence officials, are focusing on how the attacker managed to breach the military and police checkpoints leading into the Police Lines district, a colonial-era, self-contained encampment in the city center that is home to middle- and lower-ranking police personnel and their families.
Defense Minister Khawaja Asif had said the bomber was in the first row in the prayer hall when he struck. Remains of the attacker had been recovered, provincial Police Chief Moazzam Jah Ansari told Reuters.
“We believe the attackers are not an organized group,” he added.
The most active militant group in the area, the Pakistani Taliban, also called Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), has denied responsibility for the attack, which no group has claimed so far. Interior Minister Rana Sanaullah had told parliament a breakaway faction of the TTP was to blame.
The blast demolished the upper story of the mosque. It was is the deadliest in Peshawar since twin suicide bombings at All Saints Church killed scores of worshippers in September 2013, in what remains the deadliest attack on the country’s Christian minority.
Peshawar sits on the edge of the Pashtun tribal lands, a region mired in violence for the past two decades.
The TTP is an umbrella group for Sunni and sectarian Islamist factions opposed to the government in Islamabad. The group has recently stepped up attacks against police.

US readies over $2 billion Ukraine aid package with longer-range weapons

US readies over $2 billion Ukraine aid package with longer-range weapons
Updated 01 February 2023

US readies over $2 billion Ukraine aid package with longer-range weapons

US readies over $2 billion Ukraine aid package with longer-range weapons
  • The aid is expected to be announced as soon as this week

WASHINGTON: The United States is readying more than $2 billion worth of military aid for Ukraine that is expected to include longer-range rockets for the first time as well as other munitions and weapons, two US officials briefed on the matter told Reuters on Tuesday.
The aid is expected to be announced as soon as this week, the officials said. It is also expected to include support equipment for Patriot air defense systems, precision-guided munitions and Javelin anti-tank weapons, they added.
One of the officials said a portion of the package, expected to be $1.725 billion, would come from a fund known as the Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative (USAI), which allows President Joe Biden’s administration to get weapons from industry rather than from US weapons stocks.
The USAI funds would go toward the purchase of a new weapon, the Ground Launched Small Diameter Bomb (GLSDB) made by Boeing Co, which have a range of 94 miles (150 km). The United States has rebuffed Ukraine’s requests for the 185-mile (297-km) range ATACMS missile.
The longer range of the GLSDB glide bomb could allow Ukraine to hit targets that have been out of reach and help it continue pressing its counterattacks by disrupting Russia further behind its lines.
Reuters first reported on Boeing’s proposal to field GLSDB for Ukraine in November. At the time it was expected GLSDB could be in Ukraine by spring.
GLSDB is made jointly by SAAB AB and Boeing. It combines the GBU-39 Small Diameter Bomb (SDB) with the M26 rocket motor, both of which are common in US inventories.
GLSDB is GPS-guided, can defeat some electronic jamming, is usable in all weather conditions, and can be used against armored vehicles, according to SAAB’s website. The GBU-39 — which would function as the GLSDB’s warhead — has small, folding wings that allow it to glide more than 100km if dropped from an aircraft and hit targets as small as 3 feet (1 meter) in diameter.
The USAI funds would also be used to pay for more components of HAWK air defenses, counter drone systems, counter artillery and air surveillance radars, communications equipment, PUMA drones, and spare parts for major systems like Patriot and Bradley, one of the officials said.
There was also a significant amount of medical equipment — enough to equip three field hospitals being donated by another ally, the official added.
The White House declined to comment. The contents and size of aid packages can shift until they are signed by the president.
In addition to the USAI funds, more than $400 million worth of aid was expected to come from Presidential Drawdown Authority funds, which allows the president to take from current US stocks in an emergency.
That aid was expected to include mine-resistant ambush-protected vehicles (MRAPs), guided multiple launch rocket systems (GMLRS) and ammunition.
The US has sent approximately $27.2 billion worth of security assistance to Ukraine since Russia’s February 2022 invasion. Russia calls the invasion a “special operation.”


US and allies mark anniversary of Myanmar coup with more sanctions

US and allies mark anniversary of Myanmar coup with more sanctions
Updated 01 February 2023

US and allies mark anniversary of Myanmar coup with more sanctions

US and allies mark anniversary of Myanmar coup with more sanctions
  • The United Kingdom designated two companies and two people for helping supply Myanmar’s air force with aviation fuel used to carry out bombing campaigns against its own citizens

WASHINGTON: The United States and its allies imposed further sanctions on Myanmar on Tuesday, marking the two-year anniversary of a military coup with curbs on energy officials and junta members, among others.
Washington imposed sanctions on the Union Election Commission, mining enterprises and energy officials, among others, according to a Treasury Department statement. Details of the decision were first reported by Reuters.
It marks the first time the United States has targeted Myanma Oil and Gas Enterprise (MOGE) officials under the current Myanmar sanctions program, a Treasury spokesperson said.
Canada, Australia and the United Kingdom also announced sanctions.
Myanmar’s top generals led a coup in February 2021 after five years of tense power-sharing under a quasi-civilian political system that was created by the military, which led to a decade of unprecedented change.
Myanmar has been in chaos since the coup, with a resistance movement fighting the military on multiple fronts after a bloody crackdown on opponents that saw Western sanctions re-imposed.
Tuesday’s US sanctions target the managing director and deputy managing director of MOGE, which is the junta’s single largest revenue generating state-owned enterprise, according to Treasury.
Human rights advocates have called for sanctions on MOGE, but Washington has so far held back.
Also designated by Washington was the Union Minister of Energy, who Treasury said represents Myanmar’s government in international and domestic energy sector engagements and manages the state-owned entities involved in the production and export of oil and gas.
Mining Enterprise No 1 and Mining Enterprise No 2, both state-owned enterprises, as well as the Union Election Commission, were also hit with sanctions by Washington.
TOUGH ELECTION RULES
On Friday, the junta announced tough requirements for parties to contest an election planned for August, including a huge increase in their membership, a move that could sideline the military’s opponents and cement its grip on power.
The election would subvert the will of the people if opponents of the military continue to be met by violence, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a statement.
“Many key political stakeholders have announced their refusal to participate in these elections, which will be neither inclusive nor representative, and which almost certainly will fuel greater bloodshed,” he said.
The rules favor the Union Solidarity and Development Party, a military proxy stacked with former generals, which was trounced by Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) party in 2015 and 2020 elections.
Thousands of NLD members were arrested or jailed in the coup, including Suu Kyi, and many more are in hiding.
The NLD in November described this year’s election as “phoney” and said it would not acknowledge it. The election has also been dismissed as a sham by Western governments.
Washington also targeted former and current Myanmar military officials, the Treasury said, accusing the Air Force of continued air strikes using Russian-made aircraft against pro-democracy forces that have killed civilians.
Canada targeted six individuals and prohibited the export, sale, supply or shipment of aviation fuel in its action. Australia targeted members of the junta and a military-run company.
The United Kingdom designated two companies and two people for helping supply Myanmar’s air force with aviation fuel used to carry out bombing campaigns against its own citizens.
John Sifton, Asia advocacy director for Human Rights Watch, said that even with Tuesday’s action, the United States has still not matched stronger sanctions imposed by the European Union, particularly when it comes to natural gas revenue and banks that process foreign payments for the extractive sector.
“As a result, the measures taken so far have not imposed enough economic pain on the junta to compel it to change its conduct,” Sifton said in a statement.

 


Israeli premier says willing to mediate between Ukraine and Russia, if asked

Israeli premier says willing to mediate between Ukraine and Russia, if asked
Updated 01 February 2023

Israeli premier says willing to mediate between Ukraine and Russia, if asked

Israeli premier says willing to mediate between Ukraine and Russia, if asked
  • Benjamin Netanyahu made the offer in an interview on CNN
  • Any request must come not just from the warring nations, but also the US

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Tuesday he would be willing to consider serving as a mediator between Russia and Ukraine if asked by both warring countries and the United States.
“If asked by all relevant parties, I’ll certainly consider it, but I’m not pushing myself in,” Netanyahu told CNN in an interview. He added it would have to be the “right time and the right circumstances.”
Israel’s close ally the United States would also need to ask because “you can’t have too many cooks in the kitchen,” he said.
Netanyahu said he was asked to be a mediator shortly after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February of last year but he declined because he was Israel’s opposition leader at the time, not the prime minister. “I have a rule: one prime minister at a time,” he said.
Netanyahu would not say who asked him to serve in the role but he said the request was “unofficial.”
Ukraine asked Netanyahu’s predecessor, Naftali Bennett, to act as a mediator and Bennett met in March with Russian President Vladimir Putin and also spoke with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky but he was unable to broker a peace deal.


UN sounds alarm on trafficked medicines in the Sahel

Photo/Shutterstock
Photo/Shutterstock
Updated 01 February 2023

UN sounds alarm on trafficked medicines in the Sahel

Photo/Shutterstock
  • The financial benefits from the illicit trade are reaped by many, including pharmaceutical company employees, law enforcement officers and street vendors

DAKAR: Up to 50 percent of medicines in West Africa are substandard or fake, the UN warned Tuesday in a report on the illicit trade in medical products, which can lead to antimicrobial resistance or toxic contaminations while undermining trust in health care systems.
Between January 2017 and December 2021, at least 605 tons of medical products were seized in West Africa during international operations, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) said, though reporting is inconsistent and the real number is likely to be higher.
Across sub-Saharan Africa, up to $44.7 million per year is spent on treating people who have used counterfeit or substandard malaria treatments, the report said.
And up to 267,000 deaths are linked each year to the use of substandard antimalarials, according to World Health Organization data cited by the report.
Beyond the risk of counterfeits and poorly made drugs — which at best do not work and at worst lead to toxic contaminations — the report also warned of legitimate medications being used in unauthorized ways.
That can lead to increased resistance to frontline drugs such as antibiotics and antimalarials.
“Once a (legitimate) product is diverted from the supply chain, there is very little (oversight) about how it is being used,” said Francois Patuel, the head of the UNODC’s Research and Awareness Unit.
“If you... ask for an antibiotic in the market, you will be able to purchase it. Whether it is the right antibiotic that should be used, or should be used at all, is not something that is controlled,” he added.
“It is contributing to bacterial resistance and to antimalarial resistance.”
The report, which focused specifically on trafficking within the Sahel countries of Mauritania, Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger and Chad, said the medical products that have been diverted from the legal supply chain typically come from Europe and to a lesser extent from China and India.
They often pass through seaports in Guinea, Ghana, Togo, Benin and Nigeria before being moved into the Sahel.
The financial benefits from the illicit trade are reaped by many, including pharmaceutical company employees, law enforcement officers and street vendors.
Armed groups, however, are less involved, it said.
“Despite terrorist groups and non-state armed groups being commonly associated with trafficking in medical products in the Sahel, most reported cases in the region show that the involvement of such groups is limited and mainly revolves around consuming medical products or levying ‘taxes’ on them in the areas under their control,” it said.