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COVID-19: Brazil braces for third wave

Already reeling from one of the highest death tolls in the pandemic, Brazil is bracing for the threat of a third wave of Covid-19, fueled by vaccination delays and a lack of containment measures.

So far, each pandemic wave has been successively worse in Brazil, peaking at a weekly average of around 1,000 deaths per day in July 2020 during the first wave and 3,000 deaths per day last April during the second.

The curve has since turned down, with an average of around 1,600 deaths per day over the past week, and Brazilians have largely gone back to business as usual.

But with the southern hemisphere winter approaching again, experts say warning lights are flashing, raising fears of a return to overflowing hospitals, mass graves, refrigerator trucks piled with corpses and other gruesome scenes from the darkest days of the pandemic in Brazil.

The sprawling country has been slow to vaccinate its 212 million people, and hasty in lifting state and local stay-at-home measures, epidemiologists say.

Meanwhile, risky virus variants — including the “Gamma” strain that emerged in Brazil itself, plus the first cases of the “Delta” strain that emerged in India — threaten to accelerate the disease’s spread.

Covid-19 has already claimed more than 470,000 lives in Brazil, second only to the United States.

The South American country’s per capita death toll — more than 220 per 100,000 inhabitants — is one of the world’s highest.

But many Brazilians seem unconcerned by the threat of a new surge — not least far-right President Jair Bolsonaro, who continues to regularly defy expert advice on containing the virus.

“Brazil has taken an unprecedented health catastrophe and turned it into something normal. The majority of people are acting like there’s no pandemic,” said infectious disease specialist Jose David Urbaez.

“That’s why predictions are for a very intense third surge,” he told AFP.

Some experts say a new surge in Brazil should not even be called a “third wave,” given that the first and second never really subsided.

Whatever one calls it, it risks hitting just as Brazil hosts the Copa America, the South American football championships, which Bolsonaro welcomed after organizers pulled the plug on original hosts Argentina at the last minute over their own surge of Covid-19.

The 10-nation tournament kicks off Sunday and will run until July 10.

The mayor of Rio de Janeiro, which is scheduled to host eight matches, including the final, has already said his city may cancel.

With around 10.8 per cent of the population fully vaccinated, the situation in Brazil could get worse before it gets better.

Bolsonaro faces mounting criticism and a Senate inquiry over his controversial handling of Covid-19, including his refusal of various offers of vaccines.

He vowed last week that all Brazilians would be vaccinated by the end of the year, but experts say that will be difficult.

His announcement, made in a nationally televised address, was met by a chorus of banging pots and pans in many Brazilian cities — a traditional mark of protest.

Bolsonaro maintains his refusal to impose lockdown measures is responsible for Brazil’s stronger-than-expected economic growth of 1.2 per cent in the first quarter of the year.

However, experts warn the future of the pandemic recovery in Latin America’s largest economy will depend on how well it contains Covid-19.

Last year, Brazil’s economy contracted by a record 4.1 per cent.

“If the speed of vaccination is less than the negative impact of relaxing social distancing measures, the third wave could hit Brazil hard,” said epidemiologist Mauro Sanchez of the University of Brasilia.

One experiment has shown the power of mass vaccination. In the town of Serrana, in Sao Paulo state, public health officials vaccinated 95 per cent of the adult population in a study of the effects of full immunization.

Covid-19 deaths fell by 95 per cent and hospitalizations by 86 per cent in the southeastern town, population 45,000.

“We controlled the pandemic in Serrana. We can do the same across Brazil,” said Sao Paulo Governor Joao Doria, a fierce Bolsonaro critic and leader in the campaign to vaccinate all Brazilians.

News World Update

U.S Vice President, Kamala Harris escapes air mishap after plane develops technical hitch

 

U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris escaped an air mishap on Sunday when her plane developed ‘technical issues’ after take-off.

The plane was forced to return to Joint Base Andrews because of the “technical issue” with the aircraft, reports thehill.com

Symone Sanders, senior adviser and chief spokeswoman for the vice president, said Harris would be switching planes for the trip to Guatemala City, adding that there were “no major safety concerns.”

When asked if she was OK, Harris told reporters traveling with her, “I’m good. I’m good.” She also gave a double thumbs-up.

“We all said a little prayer, but we’re good,” she added.

A reporter traveling with Harris said there was an unusual noise coming from the landing gear when the plane took off from Andrews, but the landing at the air base was normal.

Sanders later told reporters that, “Shortly after takeoff from Joint Base Andrews en route to Guatemala City, the Air Force Two crew noticed the landing gear was not storing as it should which could lead to further mechanical issues.

While there was no immediate safety issue, out of an abundance of caution, they returned to Joint Base Andrews where they have all the parts and mechanics they need to fix the issue. Passengers boarded the back-up C32, which is an Air Force Boeing modified 757.”

Harris was en route to Guatemala City to kick off the first foreign trip of her tenure.

She is scheduled to visit Guatemala and Mexico, after President Biden in March called on Harris to lead the administration’s efforts to stem the flow of migrants seeking entry to the U.S. at the southern border.

The White House has worked to form partnerships with Mexico and the Northern Triangle countries with the goal of addressing the root causes that sparked the surge in immigration at the U.S.-Mexico border.

 

News World Update

Facebook bans Trump for two years

 

Facebook on Friday banned former US president Donald Trump for two years, saying he deserved the maximum punishment for violating its rules over a deadly attack by his supporters on the US Capitol.

 

“Given the gravity of the circumstances that led to Mr. Trump’s suspension, we believe his actions constituted a severe violation of our rules which merit the highest penalty available under the new enforcement protocols,” Facebook vice president of global affairs Nick Clegg said in a post.

 

Facebook also said it will no longer give politicians blanket immunity for deceptive or abusive content at the social network based on their comments being newsworthy.

 

AFP

News World Update

BREAKING: WHO approves China’s Sinovac Covid vaccine

 

The World Health Organization on Tuesday approved the Sinovac Covid-19 vaccine for emergency use — the second Chinese jab to receive the WHO’s green light.

 

“WHO today validated the Sinovac-CoronaVac Covid-19 vaccine for emergency use, giving countries, funders, procuring agencies and communities the assurance that it meets international standards for safety, efficacy and manufacturing,” the UN health agency said in a statement.

Details later…

 

(AFP)

News World Update

Controversy as Saudi Arabia asks mosques to limit loudspeaker volume

 

The decision of the authorities of Saudi Arabia to restrict the volume of loudspeakers at mosques has sparked controversy.

Last week, Abdullatif al-Sheikh, the country’s Islamic affairs minister, directed that speakers in mosques should be limited to more than one-third of their maximum volume.

 

According to the minister, the directive was issued owing to complaints from the public that the noise from the speakers is disturbing to children and elderly persons.

 

The decision sparked mixed reactions in the country, as some were against the directive, while others supported it.

Those who were against the order demanded that the ban should be replicated in restaurants and cafes.

 

Amid the controversy, on Monday, al-Sheikh defended the decision, noting that those who want to pray should not wait for the Imam’s call.

 

He described those who are against the directive as “enemies of the kingdom”, who want to stir public opinion.

“Those who want to pray do not need to wait for … the imam’s” call to prayer,” al-Sheikh was quoted by Aljazeera.

 

“They should be at the mosque beforehand.”

 

This is not the first time Saudi Arabia will make an order to change age-long practices, especially those relating to Islamic doctrines.

 

In 2020, it announced the relaxation of certain laws to allow unmarried couples to cohabitate and on the use of alcohol.

News World Update

Ugandan transport minister’s daughter, driver killed in failed assassination attempt

Gen. Katumba Wamal, Ugandan Minister of Works and Transport, on Tuesday survived an assassination attempt, the local broadcaster NBS News has reported.

The news outlet, however, said that Wamal lost his daughter in the failed assassination attempt.

According to the news outlet, Wamala’s car was shot in a suburb of the city of Kampala.

The minister’s daughter and driver were killed, while Wamala was rushed to Medipal International Hospital, where he is currently receiving treatment.

Wamala served as the head of the Ugandan military and chief of the country’s police force before becoming the transport minister in December 2019.

News World Update

ECOWAS suspends Mali, insists on Feb. 2022 election

Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) has suspended Mali’s membership in response to last week’s coup by Colonel Assimi Goita.

It also insisted the military junta must stick to the February 2022 deadline for a return to democracy.

The decisions were taken on Sunday by leaders of the 15-member economic bloc at an emergency summit held in Accra, the Ghanaian capital.

But the group did not announce new sanctions against the military regime.

The meeting was called to agree a response to the Malian military’s ouster of a president and prime minister for the second time in nine months.

Mali’s neighbours and international powers fear the latest revolt will jeopardise a commitment to hold a presidential election next February, and undermine a regional fight against Islamist militants.

In a communique after the summit, ECOWAS said Mali’s membership in the bloc was suspended with immediate effect.

However it did not announce sanctions like those it imposed after the coup last August, which saw members temporarily close their borders with landlocked Mali and halt financial transactions.

It also did not call for new interim President Assimi Goita to step down. The army colonel, who led the August coup and last week’s revolt, was declared president on Friday.

Instead, ECOWAS said a new civilian prime minister should be nominated and a new inclusive government formed to proceed with the transition programme.

“The date of 27th February 2022 already announced for the presidential election should be absolutely maintained,” the leaders’ communique said.

There was no immediate response from Goita, who attended the summit.

Goita, a 38-year-old special forces commander, was one of several colonels who overthrew President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita last year.

He ordered the arrests last Monday of interim President Bah Ndaw and Prime Minister Moctar Ouane. Both resigned on Wednesday while still in detention. They were later released.

ECOWAS and Western powers including France and the United States worry the political crisis could exacerbate instability in northern and central Mali, a home base for regional affiliates of al Qaeda and Islamic State.

News World Update

Mali coup leader, Col Assimi Goïta named transitional president

Mali’s constitutional court has installed military coup leader, Colonel Assimi Goïta, as transitional president.

The court explained that its decision followed the “vacancy in the presidency”.

Goïta had declared himself interim president on Wednesday, two days after seizing power, the second time.

Goita led the mutiny that ousted ex-President, Ibrahim Boubacar Keita in August 2020.

Interim President, Bah Ndaw and Prime Minister, Moctar Ouane were detained by the military on Monday.

They were held along with Defence Minister, Souleymane Doucouré.

Goita, the former interim Vice President, said they were removed for violating the transition charter.

“We had to choose between disorder and cohesion within the defence and security forces, and we chose cohesion”, he defended his actions on Friday.

News World Update

Germany agrees to pay Namibia €1.1bn over historical genocide

Germany for the first time on Friday recognised it had committed genocide in Namibia during its colonial occupation, with Berlin promising financial support worth more than one billion euros to aid projects in the African nation.

“We will now officially refer to these events as what they are from today’s perspective: genocide,” said Foreign Minister Heiko Maas in a statement welcomed as a “first step” by Windhoek.

The agreement came after more than five years of negotiations between the two countries over events in the territory held by Berlin from 1884 to 1915.

German colonial settlers killed tens of thousands of indigenous Herero and Nama people in 1904-1908 massacres — labelled the first genocide of the 20th century by historians and poisoning relations between Namibia and Germany for years.

“The acceptance on the part of Germany that a genocide was committed is the first step in the right direction,” Namibian President Hage Geingob’s spokesman Alfredo Hengari told AFP.

“It is the basis for the second step, which is an apology, to be followed by reparations,” he added.

While Berlin had previously acknowledged that atrocities occurred at the hands of its colonial authorities, it has repeatedly refused to pay direct reparations.

“In light of the historical and moral responsibility of Germany, we will ask forgiveness from Namibia and the victims’ descendants” for the “atrocities” committed, said Maas.

In a “gesture to recognise the immense suffering inflicted on the victims”, the country will support the “reconstruction and the development” of Namibia via a financial programme of 1.1 billion euros ($1.34 billion), he said.

The sum will be paid over 30 years, according to sources close to the negotiations, and must primarily benefit the descendants of the Herero and Nama.

Yet Maas stopped short of referring to reparations, saying the payment did not open the way to any “legal request for compensation”.

According to Hengari, President Geingob will in the coming weeks convene meetings with the affected communities in a bid to work out the “implementation modalities of what has been agreed with Germany”.

Namibia was called German South West Africa during Berlin’s 1884-1915 rule, and then fell under South African rule for 75 years, before finally gaining independence in 1990.

Tensions boiled over in 1904 when the Herero — deprived of their livestock and land — rose up, followed shortly after by the Nama, in an insurrection crushed by German imperial troops.

In the Battle of Waterberg in August 1904, around 80,000 Herero, including women and children, fled and were pursued by German troops across what is now known as the Kalahari Desert. Only 15,000 survived.

German General Lothar von Trotha, sent to put down the rebellion, ordered the peoples’ extermination.

At least 60,000 Herero and around 10,000 Nama were killed between 1904 and 1908.

Colonial soldiers carried out mass executions and forced men, women and children to flee to the desert where thousands died of thirst. They also established infamous concentration camps, such as the one on Shark Island.

The atrocities committed during colonisation have poisoned relations between Berlin and Windhoek for years.

In 2015, the two countries started negotiating an agreement that would combine an official apology by Germany as well as development aid.

But in August last year, Namibia said that Germany’s offers were unacceptable. No details of the offers were provided at the time.

President Geingob had noted Berlin declined to accept the term “reparations”, as that word was also avoided during the country’s negotiations with Israel after the Holocaust.

But in an effort to ease reconciliation, in 2018 Germany returned the bones of members of the Herero and Nama tribes, with the minister for international cultural policy Michelle Muentefering asking for “forgiveness from the bottom of my heart”.

AFP

News World Update

UK’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson sets wedding date

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and his fiancee Carrie Symonds have set a wedding date for next year after delaying plans due to the pandemic, The Sun tabloid reported Monday.

Known for his colourful love life, Johnson will be only the second prime minister ever to marry while in office, following Robert Jenkinson in 1822.

The couple have sent “save the date” cards for July 30 next year, The Sun reported. 

When elected in 2019, the 56-year-old became the first prime minister to live at Downing Street as part of an unmarried couple.

His partner Symonds, a 33-year-old former head of communications for the Conservative Party, gave birth to their son Wilfred in April last year.

This was just weeks after Johnson left intensive care as he recovered from a severe case of coronavirus.

The couple have lately been hit by a scandal over the costly redecoration of their Downing Street flat, which is being probed over allegations that contributions by a Tory party donor were not declared fully. 

Johnson has been married twice before. He had four children with his previous wife, lawyer Marina Wheeler, before they split in 2018. The couple only finalised their divorce last November.

Johnson also reportedly has a daughter born as the result of an affair.

AFP