Delhi becomes no 1 city in world in terms of CCTV coverage per sq km

New Delhi [India] : Delhi has become the number one city in terms of CCTV coverage per square kilometre in the world, said Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal on Friday.
Briefing media persons, Kejriwal said, “As many as 2,75,000 CCTV cameras were installed across Delhi in the last seven years. These were installed in streets, lanes, colonies, RWS, schools and other places. Delhi has become the number one city in the world in having the maximum number of CCTV cameras per square kilometre. The survey was conducted in 150 cities across the world.” The Chief Minister further said there are 1,826 CCTV cameras in Delhi per square mile.
“London comes to the second place with 1,138 CCTV cameras per square mile. So Delhi is far ahead of London, Singapore, and Paris. In India, Chennai comes second place in terms of CCTV cameras. And, Delhi has thrice as many cameras as Chennai has. We have 11 times more CCTV cameras installed in Delhi than in Mumbai,” said Kejriwal.
He said that safety for women has improved since the installation of CCTV cameras. The police also get helps in solving crime cases as most of the time the incidents are recorded in the CCTV cameras, he added.
“We will further install 1,40,000 cameras in the city. Following this, Delhi will have 4,15,000 CCTV cameras,” added the chief minister.

India now ranks third in organ transplantation, says Mansukh Mandaviya

New Delhi [India]: Union Health Minister Mansukh Mandaviya on Saturday said that India now ranks third in the world in organ transplantation, only behind USA and China as per the data available on the Global Observatory on Donation and Transplantation (GODT) website.
While addressing the 12th Indian Organ Donation Day, the Health Minister said that “Jeete ji Raktdaan, Marne ke baad Angadaan” should be the motto of our life.” Mandaviya explaining the importance of organ donation said, “Our culture puts emphasis on ‘Shubh’ and ‘Laabh’ where individual well-being is rooted with the greater good of the community. It is my honour to be participating in 12th Indian Organ Donation Day, a day which is celebrated for the noble cause of organ donation. Since the year 2010, Indian Organ Donation Day is being celebrated every year to commemorate the contributions made to society by deceased donors and their families.”
He further said that the organ donation rate has increased about four times as compared to 2012-13
“It makes me immensely proud to share that the total number of organ transplants done per year in the country has increased from 4990 in the year 2013 to 12746 in the year 2019 and India now ranks third in the world only behind USA and China as per the data available on the Global Observatory on Donation and Transplantation (GODT) website. Similarly, the organ donation rate has increased to about four times as compared to 2012-13,” he said.
The Health Minister further said that the country is still facing a huge gap between the number of patients requiring transplantation and the number of people who agree to donate their organs after death.
“Further, the organ donation and transplantation activities have been negatively impacted due to COVID-19 pandemic which we hope to leave behind soon,” he added.
Mandaviya also reminded that society is fast changing and with the sanctity and preciousness of each and every life becoming visible to all, soon people who have committed ‘Angadaan’ will be viewed with the same respect accorded to those who give away hard-earned wealth to charity.
The Health Minister exhorted people to not only pledge to donate their organs but also spread the word on the paucity of organs available for transplant in the country and inspire others to come forward.
“All of society, the doctors, aware citizens, the governments and even the media need to play their role actively to address organ donation hesitancy and increase organ donation across the country,” he said.
The event, meant to celebrate the gift of life given by the deceased donors to the transplant recipients, was inaugurated by the Union Ministers to promote organ donation at a time the country’s demand for organ replacement far exceeds organ donations.

UNICEF to keep its digital platforms shut on World Children’s Day in solidarity with Afghan children

New York [US]: On the occasion of World Children’s Day, UNICEF Afghanistan has decided to close all its digital platforms on Saturday, in solidarity with Afghan children who are bearing the rapidly escalating humanitarian crisis in the country.
“In solidarity with the children of Afghanistan who are bearing the brunt of a rapidly escalating humanitarian crisis, this year, as UNICEF marks World Children’s Day (WCD) globally, UNICEF Afghanistan will not celebrate,” a United Nations International Children Emergency Fund (UNICEF) statement read. November 20, marks the International Day of Children with several governments and organizations celebrating the day. But, this year, UNICEF Afghanistan has said that this day will not be celebrated in Afghanistan.
“Today, UNICEF Afghanistan is ‘blackwashing’ its WCD online assets and, tomorrow, November 20, the day on which UNICEF typically ‘goes blue’ for children, UNICEF Afghanistan will close its digital channels, going dark to reflect the challenges that children in Afghanistan are facing,” the statement has said on Friday.
The UNICEF usually goes blue on this day but this year it decided to go black.
In a statement, the UN agency said that the dry winter, weak harvest, and drought have led to 14 million children being left without sufficient food.
“It is difficult to celebrate being a child in Afghanistan right now. By closing our digital platforms on World Children’s Day, we want to send a message to donors urging them to support Afghanistan’s children,” said Alice Akunga, UNICEF Acting Representative in Afghanistan. “Those least responsible for this crisis are paying the highest price.”
UNICEF has called on global leaders to place the rights and welfare of Afghan children at the heart of their discussion around funding the humanitarian crisis.

Inflation in Pakistan fourth highest in world, could lead to unrest

Islamabad [Pakistan]: The rate of inflation in Pakistan is the fourth highest in the world which could lead to unrest and protests against the Imran Khan government.
Citing an incident in a family of Karachi, Shah Meer Baloch wrote in The Guardian that a shoe-seller set himself on fire as he could not meet his expenses or send money home due to the “skyrocketing prices”. Imran Khan had vowed to lift people out of poverty before gaining power as he promised the creation of 10 million jobs. Instead, he announced financial support of USD3 billion from Riyadh after his visit to Saudi Arabia last month.
Imran Khan blamed inflation in the international market for the miseries of the people and announced a “relief package” of 120 billion Pakistani rupees providing subsidies on the essential food items, wrote Shah Meer Baloch.
“The package is a drop in the ocean and will do little to help the mass of ordinary people. The pressure on Imran Khan will continue to mount because we have seen further price hikes, such as of fuel and sugar, after the announcement of the package,” The Guardian quoted an economist, Khurram Hussain as saying.
He said that inflation comes at a time when the unemployment in the country is high and the wages are stagnant which is why the inflation was imposing a crushing burden on the ordinary people. The prices of fuel and electricity are “unprecedentedly high”.
The Pakistani opposition alliance, Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM) has announced a campaign against the Imran Khan government for rising inflation in the country. An announcement of a long march against inflation was made as a part of the campaign from Lahore to Islamabad, wrote Shah Meer Baloch.
A shopkeeper in Pakistan’s north-western province, Mardan had cursed Imran Khan at a mosque as the number of customers at his shop had fallen due to rising prices. He was arrested.
“I rushed to a mosque and announced to the speakers that we should curse Imran Khan. The prime minister promised a new (Naya) Pakistan and that it would be a welfare state for ordinary people but he has done the opposite. He is crushing the poor,” Shah Meer Baloch quoted him as saying to The Guardian.
The shopkeeper further confessed that he regretted voting for Imran Khan in the general election and said that everyone he knew who voted for Khan also regretted the decision.
“People in my neighbourhood supported my calls against Imran Khan after I was released in two days. We believe Imran Khan should resign if he can’t control the prices of essential commodities,” Shah Meer Baloch quoted him as telling The Guardian.

UK spy agencies sign deal with Amazon’s cloud computing arm

London [UK] : UK intelligence and security agencies have sealed a multimillion-dollar deal with Amazon to host classified information on the US internet giant’s on-demand cloud computing service, the Financial Times newspaper reported on Tuesday.
According to the media outlet, the contract was signed this year by the Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ), which is responsible for providing signals intelligence and information assurance to the UK government and armed forces, and sister spy agencies MI5 and MI6 and it is estimated to be worth £500 million to £1billion ($688,5 million to $1.3 billion). The deal is likely to spark a debate over UK sovereignty as the secret data will be hosted by a single US technological company, the Financial Times added, citing unnamed sources familiar with the discussions.
When approached for comments by Sputnik, the GCHQ press office said they “wouldn’t comment on claims about our relationships with tech suppliers.”

Manushi Chhillar: ‘Let’s Pledge To Make It A Better Place For All Girls Across This World’

Manushi Chhillar, who will make her Bollywood debut opposite superstar Akshay Kumar in the much-awaited historical ‘Prithviraj’, has been vocal about equal rights for girls ever since she was crowned Miss World in 2017.

She spearheads Project Shakti, a non-profit organisation aimed at educating girls about menstrual hygiene and has been associated with several UNICEF campaigns. On International Day of the Girl Child 2021, Manushi is using social media to create awareness about the need to be vocal about the rights of the girl child. Manushi said, “I feel it is important for men and women to be vocal about the rights of girls.

It is a fact that women have to work harder to get to where they eventually reach. Women have to take the power in their own hands and shape the perception of how a girl should view herself. It’s a world full of opportunities and stereotypes only act as shackles for a better future and a better life. It is time to shatter those stereotypes.”

The actor shared an Instagram post to mark the day. She wrote, “Here’s to the strongest of them all! The girls! Let’s celebrate each day as ours. Let’s pledge to make it a better place for all girls across this world. I have painted this as a sign of my love to the girl gang, to say that we are all united as one.”
“I would love to see what you feel about being a girl or about women this #InternationalDayOfTheGirlChild and see your work of art on my Instagram stories. Use #InternationalDayOfTheGirlChild and tag me on your stories,” she added.

Manushi has merged advocacy with art to mark this special day. She is urging girls on the internet to freely express how they feel being a girl child and how they would like to be vocal for their rights.

Manushi said, “I have always been vocal about equal rights for the girl child and on the occasion of the International Day of the Girl Child, I will be using the power of social media to bring as much attention to this issue. I want to collaborate with fellow creative people to show the world how we perceive equal rights, and how we, as women, want to be perceived.”

‘Digital Generation. Our generation’ is this year’s theme for International Day of the Girl Child, which is observed annually on October 11. Various government and non-government organisations globally will host virtual seminars and presentations on this day. People can participate by posting stories, videos and blogs.

The day is observed to urge the global community to embolden gender equality impacts.

India to have world’s largest expressway

Bharuch (Gujarat) [India]: Union Minister for Road Transport and Highways, Nitin Gadkari on Friday announced that the government is constructing the world’s longest highway, that is, Delhi-Mumbai Express Highway.
Speaking at the event, Gadkari said, “The Expressway will be 1,380 km long and will go up to Jawaharlal Nehru Port Trust (JNPT), But now, we are also planning to take it up to Nariman Point.” According to him, the project will get over by March 2022 and India will have world’s largest expressway.
Earlier, it used to take around 48 hours to cover the distance between Mumbai and Delhi by truck and 24-26 hours by car. But now, it will only take approximately 18-20 hours to cover the distance between Delhi and Mumbai by truck and 12-13 hours by car, Gadkari added.
He said, “This highway is crossing from the tribal districts of Rajasthan, Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh, this will be a development for the areas and create many employment opportunities for the people.
The expressway will connect the urban centres of Delhi through the Delhi-Faridabad-Sohna section of the corridor along with a spur to Jewar Airport and Jawaharlal Nehru Port to Mumbai through a spur in Mumbai.

India’s talent has influenced the world: President

Gorakhpur, Aug 28: President Ram Nath Kovind said that our scientists, doctors and teachers have continuously influenced the world with their intellect and dedication.

“They have instilled in all of us confidence that our students are capable of carrying forward our ancient tradition of knowledge, he said.

President inaugurated the Mahayogi Gorakhnath Vishwavidyalaya here on Saturday in presence of Governor Anandiben Patel and chief minister Yogi Adityanath.

Speaking on the occasion, the President said that India has a glorious history in higher education. From the world’s first university at Taxila to the universities of Nalanda, Udantapuri, Vikramshila and Vallabhi, the tradition had faded for some time. But, now now it has again gained its peak.

He expressed confidence that the Mahayogi Gorakhnath University would prepare such knowledgeable students who would contribute in building a self-reliant, strong and healthy India.

The President noted that this University would conduct employment generating courses keeping in view the need of the hour in addition to courses in Yoga, Ayurveda, medical education, higher education and technical education etc. While this university would encourage high-level research, it would also run vocational education and skill development courses for students.

The President said that the National Education Policy 2020 envisages that education should build character. Education should develop ethics, rationality, compassion and sensitivity in students as well as make them capable for employment. One of the objectives of the National Education Policy is to improve the curriculum and pedagogy of our institutions and also to create awareness among the students about their fundamental duties and constitutional values as well as their roles and responsibilities as citizens in the changing world.

The President noted that Maharana Pratap Education Council, established in 1932 with the goal of social upliftment through the spread of education, is running about 50 educational institutions in northern India, especially in eastern Uttar Pradesh. He was happy to note that in these institutions emphasis is being laid on the overall development of personality of the students apart from providing modern education.

The President said that the Gorakshpeeth has been playing major role in the socio-religious awakening of India for centuries. During India’s freedom movement, this Peeth had played an important role in the political awakening. Even at present, Shri Gorakshapeeth remains the center of public awareness, public service, education and medical service.

World cannot remain indifferent to asymmetrical threats faced by UN peacekeepers: India at UN

United Nations, Aug 18: India on Wednesday said that with UN peacekeepers being faced with more asymmetrical threats in their line of duty in countries, the world body cannot remain indifferent to the dangers they face, and announced that it is supporting the UN in the rollout of the UNITE Aware platform to improve the safety and security of peacekeepers.

External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar, chairing the United Nations Security Council Open Debate on Technology and Peacekeeping, during India’s month-long presidency, also announced four points for the protection of UN peacekeepers.

“Since deploying for the first time in 1948, UN peacekeeping missions continue to operate in a variety of challenging settings. This could involve armed groups, non-state actors and terrorists,” he said.

“Because the nature of peacekeeping missions and their attendant threats have become more complex, it is vital that our capabilities to secure the peacekeepers keep pace.

“We owe it to them to ensure that our protective efforts meet the highest standards,” Jaishankar said.

He said the 21st-century peacekeeping must be anchored in a strong ecosystem of technology and innovation that can facilitate UN peacekeeping operations in implementing their mandates in complex environments.

He also said that India has provided 2,00,000 doses of Covid vaccines for UN Peacekeeping personnel worldwide.

“It gives me great pleasure to announce that India is supporting the UN in rollout of the UNITE Aware Platform across select peacekeeping missions. It is based on the expectation that a peacekeeping operation can be visualized, coordinated and monitored on real time basis,” he said.

The four points he outlined included the need to focus on proven, cost effective and field serviceable technology. Agile manoeuvrability of assets, that should be environment friendly, and the need of sound intelligence and sharing of data that will help in precise positioning of troops,

India lodges protest, PM Imran Khan condemns attack

Pakistan PM Imran Khan

Islamabad [Pakistan]: Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan on Thursday condemned the attack on a Hindu temple in the country’s Punjab province and assured that action will be taken against the culprits.
“Strongly condemn attack on Ganesh Mandir in Bhung, RYK yesterday. I have already asked IG Punjab to ensure the arrest of all culprits and take action against any police negligence. The government will also restore the Mandir,” Pakistan PM tweeted. Khan’s remark comes as India today summoned Pakistan charge d’affaires and lodged a strong protest on the attack on the temple located in Bhong city of Rahim Yar Khan district.

In widely circulated video clips on social media, attackers were seen carrying sticks, stones, and bricks with which they damaged idols in the temple while raising religious slogans.

Earlier today, Ministry of External Affairs spokesperson Arindam Bagchi said that Pakistani charge d’affaires was summoned and a firm protest was lodged “expressing our grave concerns at this reprehensible incident and the continued attacks on the freedom of religion of the minority community and their places of religious worship”.

India called upon Pakistan to ensure the safety, security and well-being of its minority communities.
“We have seen disturbing reports on social media of a violent mob attack on a Ganesha temple in Rahim Yar Khan in Punjab province of Pakistan. The mob attacked the temple, desecrated the holy idols and set fire to the premises. In addition to attacking the temple, the mob has also attacked surrounding houses belonging to the Hindu community,” he said.

Bagchi said incidents of violence, discrimination and persecution against the minority communities including attacks on places of worship have continued unabated in Pakistan.

“Within the last year itself, various temples and Gurudwaras have been attacked including the Mata Rani Bhatiyani Mandir in Sindh in January 2020, Gurudwara Sri Janam Sthan in January 2020, a Hindu temple in Karak in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa in December 2020,” he said.

The spokesperson added that these incidents are occurring at an alarming rate and the Pakistan government have stood by idly and completely failed in preventing these attacks.

Boris Johnson: All Covid-19 Restrictions To End In UK On July 19

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Monday (local time) confirmed that all virus restrictions in England will end on July 19.

Johnson told reporters that the move will eliminate mandates to wear masks in public places, social distancing rules, and work-from-home recommendations reported NHK World.

Johnson noted that vaccines help to prevent people with the coronavirus from developing serious symptoms.

He insisted that, while hospitalizations and deaths will continue to rise, they will likely be much lower than during the peak of the outbreak last autumn, reported NHK World.

He said, “we cannot simply revert instantly from Monday, July 19 to life as it was before COVID.”

Meanwhile, officials said the government recommends that people wear face coverings in crowded indoor areas. Some experts warned that eliminating restrictions when the virus is spreading will be risky, reported NHK World.

Britain has seen its daily case count top 30,000 in recent days, amid the spread of the Delta variant.

Johnson urged people to act with caution and personal responsibility, saying, “this pandemic is not over.”

FDA Adds New Warning To J&J Covid-19 Vaccine

US regulators on Monday added a new warning to Johnson & Johnson’s (J&J) COVID-19 vaccine about links to a rare and potentially dangerous neurological reaction but said it’s not entirely clear the shot caused the problem.

The Food and Drug Administration announced the new warning, flagging reports of Guillain-Barre syndrome, an immune system disorder that can causes muscle weakness and occasionally paralysis. Health officials described the side effect as a “small possible risk” for those getting the shot.\

The action comes after the FDA and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reviewed reports of about 100 people developing the syndrome after receiving the one-dose vaccine. Almost all of them required hospitalization and one person died, the FDA said

Guillain-Barre syndrome occurs when the body’s immune system mistakenly attacks some of its nerve cells, causing muscle weakness and sometimes paralysis that typically is temporary. An estimated 3,000 to 6,000 people develop the syndrome each year, according to the CDC.

The number of cases reported in connection with J&J’s vaccine represents a tiny fraction of the nearly 13 million Americans who have received the one-dose shot. Most cases were reported in men — many 50 years old and up — and usually about two weeks after vaccination.

J&J said in a statement it has been discussing the reports with the FDA and other health regulators around the world.

The CDC said it would ask its panel of outside vaccine experts to review the issue at an upcoming meeting.

The government said the vaccines most used in the US, made by Pfizer and Moderna, show no risk of the disorder after more than 320 million doses have been administered.

The new warning will be included in pamphlets given to people getting the J&J shot. They should seek medical attention if they experience any symptoms, which include tingling sensations, trouble walking and double vision, the FDA said.

Vaccines historically provide broad protection with little risk but come with occasional side effects just like other drugs and medical therapies. The three COVID-19 vaccines used in the US were each tested in tens of thousands of people, but even such huge studies can’t rule out extremely rare side effects.

The CDC and the FDA have been monitoring side effect reports submitted by physicians, drugmakers and patients to a federal vaccine safety database.

Guillain-Barre can be triggered by a number of infections, including flu, cytomegalovirus and Zika virus. But there have been rare cases in which people develop the disorder days or weeks after receiving certain vaccines.

J&J’s vaccine was highly anticipated because of its one-and-done formulation and easy-to-ship refrigeration. But early on, it was linked to another rare risk, of blood clots, and the company hasn’t been able to produce as much as expected because of problems at a Baltimore factory that helps make the shots.

Pakistan’s Private Schools Association Launches Documentary On Malala Yousafzai

Pakistan’s private schools’ association on Monday launched a documentary on Pakistani education activist Malala Yousafzai for her controversial views on Islam, marriage and her pursuit of the Western agenda.

Malala, who turned 24 on Monday, was the co-recipient of the 2014 Nobel Peace Prize for her struggle against the suppression of children and young people and for the right of all children to education. Having received the prize at the age of 17, Malala is the youngest Nobel laureate. She shared the prize with Kailash Satyarthi, a children’s rights activist from India.

Addressing a press conference at his office in Gulberg here the All-Pakistan Private Schools Federation president Kashif Mirza said: “Through this documentary film — I am not Malala – we will tell 20 million students in 200,000 private schools across the country about her controversial views on Islam, marriage, pursuing of Western agenda.”

“The idea behind this is we want to expose Malala among the youth as it does not get impressed by her so-called story of struggle for women rights,” Mirza said.

He said Malala had advocated “partnership” that is adultery in Islam.

“Marriage is a sunnah of the Prophet (pbuh) and partnership is adultery,” he said.

‘I am not Malala’s Day’ is also observed on July 12 in private schools as lectures and seminars are held to expose her western agenda to students.

Mirza said Malala has categorically rejected the institution of marriage and suggested that ‘partnership’ is better than getting married.

“Malala has attacked the institution of marriage and family structure by advocating that people should live in sin…No one can justify Muslims living together without marriage as it is strongly condemned in Islam,” he said.

Similarly, Mirza said in her book “I am Malala”, the Nobel Peace winner book has highly controversial material in it which is contrary to the teachings of Islam, Quranic injunctions, ideology of Islam and Pakistan’s founder Mohammad Ali Jinnah and the Pakistan Army.

“This book is written at the behest of western forces that used Malala for their ulterior motives. Malala has declared Islam and Pak army as ‘militant’ in her controversial book. She also criticised Quranic verses about two women’s testimony to be equal to that of a man and also about the four witnesses in rape case,” he said.

Mirza said a group photo with writer Tasleema Nasreen and strong ties with an Indian for Nobel award are enough to explain Malala’s designs.

Mirza alleged her blog in BBC under the name “Gul Makai” was written by someone else as she could not even read or write by then.

“Malala’s father Ziauddin had admitted in a TV programme that her blog was written by BBC correspondent Abdul Hai Kakar and the book ‘I am Malala’ was written by Christina Lamb,” he said. 

8 People Dies, 9 Missing In Hotel Collapse In Eastern China

Authorities say at least eight people have died and nine remained missing in a hotel collapse in Suzhou city in eastern China. The hotel building collapsed Monday afternoon, the Suzhou government said.

Most people in the building at the time were hotel guests. Rescuers used cranes, ladders, metal cutters and search dogs to look for survivors. Twenty-three people were trapped. Six have been rescued.

More than 600 people including earthquake rescue teams and 120 vehicles have been mobilized for the operation. Suzhou city is in Jiangsu province near Shanghai.

South Korea’s Capital Seoul Witness Distancing Curbs As Coronavirus Spreads

From Monday, South Korea will impose the highest level of social distancing restrictions (level 4) in its capital Seoul and other neighbouring areas with a view to curb the spread of the coronavirus disease (Covid-19). South Korea, which is currently witnessing the fourth wave of the pandemic, has so far recorded 1,69,146 cases and 2,044 deaths due to the viral disease.

According to the new regulations, private social gatherings of three or more people will be prohibited after 6pm, churches and night clubs will be closed, and visitors will not be allowed at hospitals and nursing homes. All types of rallies have been banned and only family members can attend funerals and marriages.

On Sunday, 1,100 people tested positive for Covid-19, according to the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA). This is the sixth consecutive day that the daily infections were above the 1,000 mark. However, the fourth wave of the pandemic has brought fewer serious cases and deaths than the earlier ones and many senior citizens along with vulnerable people have been vaccinated, news agency Reuters reported.

On the other hand, health authorities and experts have warned the situation might worsen as a rising number of young patients have not been vaccinated yet and the threat of the highly infectious Delta variant is still looming.

A report by the Washington Post on July 9 said that during the earlier period of the pandemic, South Korea had received global recognition for controlling the viral disease by carrying out robust testing and contract tracing and while also avoiding a strict countrywide lockdown.

The report added that authorities might have given an incorrect signal to the public with the “premature lifting” of Covid-related restrictions. Choi Jae-wook, a medical professor at the Korea University in Seoul, told the Washington Post that as the delta variant of Covid-19 is spreading globally, authorities should have tightened and not eased the restrictions.

The fourth level of social distancing restrictions starting Monday has also put the country’s industrial sector into an ‘emergency mode’. Industries are now focusing on reducing cases among their employees by expanding the spectrum of telework, which in simple terms means working from home, and have also upgraded their in-house quarantine guidelines, according to news agency ANI. Samsung has asked its employees to refrain from visiting karaoke, nightclubs and bars and get tested for Covid-19 before returning to work if they visited such places. LG Electronics, meanwhile, is imposing a total ban on business trips, training and external meetings.

Nepal’s Supreme Court Orders To Appoint Sher Bahadur Deuba As PM

Nepal’s Supreme Court on Monday reinstated the dissolved House of Representatives for a second time in nearly five months, delivering a major blow to Prime Minister K P Sharma Oli who is currently heading a minority government after losing a trust vote in the House.

A five-member Constitutional Bench of the Supreme Court on Monday also ordered the appointment of Nepali Congress President Sher Bahadur Deuba as prime minister within two days.

The bench led by Chief Justice Cholendra Shumsher Rana had concluded hearings in the case last week. The bench comprised four other senior most justices — Dipak Kumar Karki, Mira Khadka, Ishwar Prasad Khatiwada and Dr Ananda Mohan Bhattarai — at the apex court.

President Bidya Devi Bhandari had dissolved the 275-member lower house for the second time in five months on May 22 at the recommendation of Prime Minister Oli and announced snap elections on November 12 and November 19.

Last week, the Election Commission had announced the schedule for mid-term elections despite the uncertainty over polls.

As many as 30 petitions, including one by the opposition alliance led by the Nepali Congress, were filed against the dissolution of the House by the President.

Nepal plunged into a political crisis on December 20 last year after President Bhandari dissolved the House and announced fresh elections on April 30 and May 10 at the recommendation of Prime Minister Oli, amidst a tussle for power within the ruling Nepal Communist Party (NCP).

On February 23, the apex court reinstated the dissolved House of Representatives, in a setback to embattled Prime Minister Oli who was preparing for snap polls.

Georgia People Protests Over The Journalist’s Death

Several thousand people protested in front of the Georgian parliament on Sunday evening, demanding that the ex-Soviet nation’s prime minister resign over the death of a journalist who was attacked and beaten by anti-LGBT protesters.

Cameraman Alexander Lashkarava was found dead in his home by his mother earlier Sunday, according to the TV Pirveli channel he worked for. Lashkarava was one of several dozen journalists attacked last Monday by opponents of an LGBT march that had been scheduled to take place that day in the Georgian capital of Tbilisi.

Organizers of the Tbilisi March For Dignity cancelled the event, saying authorities had not provided adequate security guarantees. Opponents of the march blocked off the capital’s main avenue, denounced journalists covering the protest as pro-LGBT propagandists and threw sticks and bottles at them.

Lashkarava, according to his colleague Miranda Baghaturia, was beaten by a mob of 20 people. Local TV channels later showed him with bruises on his face and blood on the floor around him. Media reports say he sustained multiple injuries and had to undergo surgery but was discharged from a hospital on Thursday.

The cause of his death was not immediately clear. Police launched an investigation into Lashkarava’s death, which Georgia’s Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili and President Salome Zurabishvili both described as “a tragedy.”

Animosity against sexual minorities is strong in the conservative Black Sea nation of Georgia.

The Tbilisi Pride group said Monday that opponents of the planned march were supported by the government and by the Georgian Orthodox Church. The Open Caucasus Media group published a photo of a man it said was a local TV journalist being pulled away from the scene in a headlock by an Orthodox priest.

Zurabishvili condemned the violence, but Garibashvili alleged the march was organized by “radical opposition” forces that he claimed were led by exiled former President Mikheil Saakashvili.

A large crowd of protesters that gathered in Tbilisi on Sunday demanded that authorities punish those responsible for the attack on journalists and urged Garibashvili to step down. Some protesters blamed the prime minister for enabling the violence by publicly denouncing the LGBT march.

Pfizer, US Officials To Meet On Covid-19 Vaccine Booster Shots

Pfizer says it plans to meet with top US health officials Monday to discuss the drugmaker’s request for federal authorization of the third dose of its COVID-19 vaccine as President Joe Biden’s chief medical adviser acknowledged that “it is entirely conceivable, maybe likely” that booster shots will be needed. The company said it was scheduled to have the meeting with the Food and Drug Administration and other officials Monday, days after Pfizer asserted that booster shots would be needed within 12 months.

Pfizer’s Dr. Mikael Dolsten told The Associated Press last week that early data from the company’s booster study suggests people’s antibody levels jump five- to 10-fold after a third dose, compared to their second dose months earlier — evidence it believes supports the need for a booster.

On Sunday, Dr. Anthony Fauci didn’t rule out the possibility but said it was too soon for the government to recommend another shot. He said the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the FDA did the right thing last week by pushing back against Pfizer’s assertion with their statement that they did not view booster shots as necessary “at this time.”

Fauci said clinical studies and laboratory data have yet to fully bear out the need for a booster to the current two-shot Pfizer and Moderna vaccines or the one-shot Johnson & Johnson regimen. “Right now, given the data and the information we have, we do not need to give people a third shot,” he said. “That doesn’t mean we stop there. … There are studies being done now ongoing as we speak about looking at the feasibility about if and when we should be boosting people.”

He said it was quite possible in the coming months “as data evolves” that the government may urge a booster based on such factors as age and underlying medical conditions. “Certainly it is entirely conceivable, maybe likely at some time, we will need a boost,” Fauci said.

Monday’s planned meeting between Pfizer and US health officials was first reported by The Washington Post. Currently only about 48% of the US population is fully vaccinated. Some parts of the country have far lower immunisation rates, and in those places the delta variant is surging. Last week, Dr. Rochelle Walensky, the CDC director, said that’s leading to “two truths” — highly immunised swaths of America are getting back to normal while hospitalizations are rising in other places.

Fauci said it was inexplicable that some Americans are so resistant to getting a vaccine when scientific data show how effective it is in staving off COVID-19 infections and hospitalizations, and he was dismayed by efforts to block making vaccinations more accessible, such as Biden’s suggestion of door-to-door outreach.

Gov. Asa Hutchinson, R-Ark., agreed Sunday that there is a vaccine resistance in Southern and rural states like his because “you have that more conservative approach, skepticism about government.”

Describing his efforts to boost vaccinations in his state, which is seeing rising infections, Hutchinson said “no one wants an agent knocking on a door,” but “we do want those that do not have access otherwise to make sure they know about it.”

The grassroots component of the federal vaccination campaign has been in operation since April, when supplies of shots began outpacing demand. It was outlined and funded by Congress in the $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief bill passed in March and overwhelmingly is carried out by local officials and private-sector workers and volunteers.

Rep. Adam Kinzinger, R-Ill., blasted opposition to vaccination efforts from some GOP lawmakers as “absolute insanity.” He said House Republican leader Kevin McCarthy of California and others in the party need to speak out against “these absolute clown politicians playing on your vaccine fears for their own selfish gain.”

UNICEF To Supply 220 Million Doses Of The Johnson & Johnson To African Union

The United Nations Children’s Emergency Fund (Unicef) has announced the signing of an agreement with Janssen Pharmaceutica NV to supply 220 million doses of the Johnson & Johnson (J&J) single-dose vaccine against Covid-19 for all 55 member states of the African Union (AU) by the end of 2022.

Some 35 million doses are to be delivered by the end of 2021, Xinhua news agency quoted Unicef as saying in a statement on Thursday.

The agreement between Unicef and Janssen will help implement the Advance Purchase Commitment signed between the African Vaccine Acquisition Trust (AVAT) and Janssen in March 2021.

That agreement secured an option to order another 180 million doses, bringing the maximum access up to a total of 400 million doses by the end of 2022, said the UN agency.

The AU established AVAT in November 2020 to deliver Covid-19 vaccines to the African continent, with a goal of vaccinating 60 per cent of its population.

Unicef will procure and deliver Covid-19 vaccines on behalf of the AVAT initiative.

Other partners include the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Bank.

“African countries must have affordable and equitable access to Covid-19 vaccines as soon as possible. Vaccine access has been unequal and unfair, with less than 1 per cent of the population of the African continent currently vaccinated against Covid-19. This cannot continue,” said Unicef Executive Director Henrietta Fore.

“Vaccinating the world against Covid-19, as the virus continues to spread and mutate, is one of the largest and most complex collective health undertakings the world has ever seen, and we need all hands on deck,” said Fore.

PM Boris Johnson Announces Withdrawal Of UK Troops From Afghanistan

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced on Thursday the withdrawal of all British troops from Afghanistan, signalling the end of Britain’s military mission in a two-decade-long conflict.

“All British troops assigned to NATO’s mission in Afghanistan are now returning home,” Johnson told the House of Commons, the lower house of the British parliament.

The Prime Minister would not disclose the exact timetable of the departure for security reasons, but added that most of the 750 remaining British troops had already left, the Xinhua news agency reported.

Over the last two decades, 150,000 members of Britain’s armed forces served in Afghanistan, 457 of whom died, according to Johnson.

Britain’s move follows the announcement by US President Joe Biden in April that all US troops would leave Afghanistan before September 11, the 20th anniversary of the terrorist attacks that drew the United States into its longest war.

Johnson said that Britain will use “every diplomatic and humanitarian lever” to support Afghanistan’s development and stability, including over 100 million pounds (about $138 million) of development assistance this year, and 58 million pounds for the Afghan national security and defense forces.

26 Injured, 3 Workers Killed In A Massive Fire At Bangladesh Juice Factory

At least three workers, including two women, died and 26 others were injured in a massive fire at a juice factory on the outskirts of Dhaka on Thursday evening, officials said.

The fire broke out at the multi-story building of the Shezan Juice Factory of Hashem Foods Ltd in Bhulota Karnagop area in Narayanganj around 5 p.m. and 15 units of fire services are still struggling to contain it, fire service and civil defence media official M. Rayhan told IANS.

The deceased has been identified by police as Swapna Rani, 34, of Sylhet, and Mina Akter, 33, of Rupganj while another deceased man was yet to be identified. The injured were sent to hospital, Superintendent of Police, Zayedul Alam, said.

The firefighters rescued 12 workers who were trapped on the second and third floors of the building after the fire erupted, Upazila Chief Executive Shah Nusrat said.

The number of injuries and deaths may rise as a large number of workers were inside the factory, some injured workers told IANS.

Of the injured, 10 were sent to the Dhaka Medical College Hospital and 16 were admitted to US Bangla Medical College Hospital at Rupganj.

Japan Under The Fourth Covid-19 State Of Emergency

The Japanese government has decided to place capital Tokyo under the fourth Covid-19 state of emergency, covering the entire duration of the upcoming Olympics, in an effort to curb a recent surge in infections.

The government announced on Thursday that the emergency will be effective from July 12 to August 22, which may cause the Summer Olympic Games to be held without spectators at venues in the capital, Xinhua news agency reported.

Addressing a news conference here, Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga said that the occupancy rate of hospital beds and the number of patients in serious condition remain low due to the vaccine rollout, but infection cases in Tokyo were rising due to the spread of the Delta variant.

“We must avoid another outbreak starting in Tokyo. With that in mind, we decided to take preemptive measures, and declare a state of emergency for Tokyo once again,” Suga was quoted as saying by the public broadcaster, NHK.

With two weeks until the Olympic Games, Suga pledged safety above all.

“Holding a safe and secure Games amid the coronavirus pandemic is a good opportunity to show our global unity to overcome the current difficulties together,” he said.

Infection cases in the capital have been going up.

Health authorities reported 896 new infections on Thursday, marking the 19th straight day cases have gone up compared to the week before.

Japan has so far reported 811,712 coronavirus cases, with 14,897 deaths.

At least 37,214,200 vaccine doses against Covid-19 have been administered in the country till date.

California To Pay Reparations Of $25,000 To The Survivors Of Forced Sterilisation

The California state in the United States is set to pay reparations of up to $25,000 to the survivors of decades of horrific practice call ‘eugenics’. The practice, which was prevalent from 1909-1979, the government sterilized some people, mostly with mental illness or physical disability, whom it deemed unfit to have children, according to the news agency Associated Press. Some of the victims of this practice include people as young as 13-year-old, the AP report further said.

The supporters of the ‘eugenics’ believed the people with such “undesirable traits should not have children” in order to improve the human race.

According to the Associated Press, more than 20,000 people were sterilized under this practice until the law was repealed in 1979. Notably, since the practice is so old, only a few hundred people might be alive by now.

The state has set aside $7.5 million for the reparations program, part of its $262.6 billion operating budget that is awaiting governor Gavin Newsom’s signature.

California is the third state in the US after Virginia and North Carolina to make compensation to the victims of the so-called “eugenics movement”. Along with this, the state government will pay compensation to women who were sterilised in the prisons. Of which, some cases could be as recently as 2010, the news agency also reported.

Between 2005 to 2013, California sterilized at least 144 women, it also reported. “We must address and face our horrific history,” said Lorena Garcia Zermeño, policy and communications coordinator for the advocacy group California Latinas for Reproductive Justice. “This isn’t something that just happened in the past.”

It also reported that the state while all of the women signed consent forms, officials in 39 cases did not do everything that was legally required to obtain their permission for the sterilization.

The first eugenics sterilization law was introduced in Indiana state in 1907. Later, it expanded to 30 states. It reached California in 1909. It was by far the largest program, accounting for about a third of everyone sterilized in the United States under those laws.

Explosion Erupts On A Container Ship At Major Global Port In Dubai

A fiery explosion erupted on a container ship anchored in Dubai at one of the world’s largest ports late Wednesday, authorities said, sending tremors across the commercial hub of the United Arab Emirates. The blaze sent up giant orange flames on a vessel at the crucial Jebel Ali Port, the busiest in the Middle East that sits on the eastern side of the Arabian Peninsula.

The combustion unleashed a shock wave through the skyscraper-studded city of Dubai, causing walls and windows to shake in neighborhoods as far as 25 kilometers (15 miles) away from the port. Panicked residents filmed from their high-rises as a fiery ball illuminated the night sky. The blast was powerful enough to be seen from space by a satellite.

There were no immediate reports of casualties at the port, which is also the busiest port of call for American warships outside the U.S.

Some 2 1/2 hours after the blast, Dubai’s civil defense teams said they had brought the fire under control and started the “cooling process.” Authorities posted footage on social media of firefighters dousing giant shipping containers. The glow of the blaze remained visible in the background as civil defense crews worked to contain the fire.

The extent of damage caused to the sprawling port and surrounding cargo was not immediately clear. Footage shared on social media of the aftermath showed charred containers, ashes and littered debris.

The sheer force and visibility of the explosion suggested the presence of a highly combustible substance. Dubai authorities told the Saudi-owned Al-Arabiya TV that the crew had evacuated in time and that the fire appeared to have started in one of the containers holding “flammable material,” without elaborating.

Seeking to downplay the explosion, Mona al-Marri, director-general of Dubai Media Office, told Al-Arabiya the incident “could happen anywhere in the world” and that authorities were investigating the cause.

The Jebel Ali Port at the northern end of Dubai is the largest man-made deep-water harbor in the world and serves cargo from the Indian subcontinent, Africa and Asia. The port is not only a critical global cargo hub but a lifeline for Dubai and surrounding emirates, serving as the point of entry for essential imports.

Dubai authorities did not identify the stricken ship beyond saying it was a small vessel with a capacity of 130 containers.

Ship tracker MarineTraffic showed a fleet of small support vessels surrounding a docked container ship called the Ocean Trader flagged in Comoros. Footage from the scene rebroadcast by the UAE’s state-run WAM news agency showed firefighters hosing down a vessel bearing paint and logo that corresponds to the Ocean Trader, operated by the Dubai-based Inzu Ship Charter.

The Ocean Trader docked at Jebel Ali Port at midday Wednesday. Ship tracking data showed the vessel had been sailing up and down the coast of the UAE since April. The United Nations ship database identified the vessel’s owners as Sash Shipping corporation. Sash and Inzu Ship Charter did not immediately respond to the request for comment.

Operated by the Dubai-based DP World, Jebel Ali Port boasts a handling capacity of over 22 million containers and sprawling terminals that can berth some of the world’s largest ships. Port officials said they were “taking all necessary measures to ensure that the normal movement of vessels continues without any disruption.”

State-owned DP World describes Jebel Ali Port as a “gateway hub” and a “vital link in the global trade network” that connects eastern and western markets. The company did not immediately respond to request for comment on the blast.

Highly Transmissible Delta Strain Becomes Dominant Variant In US

The highly transmissible Delta strain has overtaken the Alpha variant to become the dominant variant in the US, according to new estimates from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Delta, which was first found in India and is now in over 100 countries, represented 51.7 per cent of new infections in the US over the two weeks ending July 3, Xinhua news agency reported citing the CDC.

Meanwhile, the proportion of new cases caused by Alpha, which was first detected in Britain, was just 28.7 per cent over the same time period, according to the CDC.

Recently, health officials and experts have warned that the Delta variant was on track to become the dominant variant in the US, as its prevalence in the nation doubles about every two weeks.

They are concerned the variant will cause a surge in new cases this fall, hitting the unvaccinated population the hardest.

Increasing cases were reported in states with lower vaccination rates, including Alabama, Arkansas, Louisiana and Mississippi, according to the CDC.

Although Delta is highly contagious, research show that most vaccines still remain highly effective at preventing hospitalizations and deaths caused by the variant.

US President Joe Biden on Tuesday pushed for all eligible Americans to get Covid-19 vaccinations, stressing the importance of being protected against Delta.

The country reached its highest vaccination rate in mid-April when the seven-day average of doses administered daily topped about 3.4 million. But the rate has dropped since then.

About 47.6 per cent of the US population is fully vaccinated against Covid-19, and 55.1 per cent of the population has received at least one shot as of Wednesday, CDC data show.

Biden set a goal in May of having 70 per cent of American adults receive at least one Covid-19 shot by the Fourth of July. But just 18 states and Washington, DC surpassed that goal by the date, according to a Forbes report.

Uk Reports 32,548 Coronavirus Cases; The Highest Daily Increase Since January

Britain has reported another 32,548 coronavirus cases in the latest 24-hour period, the highest daily increase since January, according to official figures released on Wednesday.

The total number of coronavirus cases in the country now stands at 4,990,916, the Xinhua news agency reported.

The country also recorded another 33 coronavirus-related deaths, bringing the total number of coronavirus-related deaths in Britain to 128,301. These figures only include the deaths of people who died within 28 days of their first positive test.

More than 45.5 million people in Britain have received the first jab of Covid-19 vaccine and over 34 million people have received two doses, the official figures showed.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said Monday that most Covid-19 restrictions are set to end on July 19 as part of the final step of England’s roadmap out of the lockdown.

This will be confirmed on July 12 following a review of the latest data by the British government.

The plans were greeted with mixed reactions.

Leader of the main opposition Labour Party Keir Starmer accused Johnson of putting the country on course for a “summer of chaos and confusion” with his plans, Sky News reported.

But when answering questions at the parliament, Johnson said that the government was taking a prudent approach by “moving away from self-isolation towards testing over the course of the next few weeks”, according to media reports.

To bring life back to normal, countries such as Britain, China, Russia, the US as well as the European Union have been racing against time to roll out coronavirus vaccines.

Second Explosion At A Chemical Plant In Bangkok; 60 Injured And 30 Admitted To Hospital

A second explosion at a chemical plant in Bangkok left Thailand rattled on Tuesday, hours after the first blaze was extinguished in firefighting operations lasting well over an entire day. At the end of it, only twisted metal frames and charred remains were what remained of the Ming Dih chemical factory warehouses, reported the Associated Press, adding that the back-to-back explosions powerful enough to blow out the windows and doors of nearby residences.

Even while the first blaze was being doused with water and foam to keep the highly flammable chemical styrene monomer from reigniting, a second explosion triggered a new fire on Tuesday afternoon that burned for about an hour, the agency added.

Earlier, a massive explosion at the plastic pellet manufacturing plant on the outskirts of Bangkok had rattled areas as far as the airport terminal of Thailand’s capital. At least 60 people were left injured in the disaster, many of who were emergency responders. An 18-year-old volunteer firefighter was killed in the fire. More than 30 people have also been admitted to the hospital.

A second explosion at a chemical plant in Bangkok left Thailand rattled on Tuesday, hours after the first blaze was extinguished in firefighting operations lasting well over an entire day. At the end of it, only twisted metal frames and charred remains were what remained of the Ming Dih chemical factory warehouses, reported the Associated Press, adding that the back-to-back explosions powerful enough to blow out the windows and doors of nearby residences.

Police questioned the factory manager in their investigation of the cause of the explosion, who told them that he and eight staff members were woken from their sleep on the site by a strong chemical smell and fled just before the blast, said Maj. Gen. Chumpol Poompuang, the district’s police commander.

Authorities ordered a 5-kilometer (3-mile) area around the foam and plastic pellet manufacturing factory, near Bangkok’s main airport, evacuated as the factory burned, telling residents to avoid inhaling any fumes and warning that they could cause dizziness and vomiting, and cancer in the long term.

“North Korea Likely To Face Food Shortage”: United Nation’s Food and Agricultural Organisation

The acute food shortage in North Korea where the price of a packet of coffee has gone up to $100 is just the beginning of a harsh, lean period in the country, the United Nation’s Food and Agricultural Organisation has forwarned, estimating North Korea’s food shortage of this year at around 860,000 tonnes this year. The country could experience a “harsh lean period” as early as next month, the UN body has said.

According to the FAO report, as quoted by AFP, North Korea is projected to produce a “near-average level” of 5.6 million tonnes of grain this year, which is around 1.1 million tonnes short of the amount required to feed its entire population. With “commercial imports officially planned at 205,000 tonnes”, North Korea will likely face a food shortage of around 860,000 tonnes.

“If this gap is not adequately covered through commercial imports and/or food aid, households could experience a harsh lean period from August to October,” it said.

What is the present food crisis situation in North Korea?

In June, North Korean leader Kim Jon Un formally addressed the food shortage issue of the country and said the situation is now getting tense. Reports said the price of rice skyrocketed in June and corn has been on the rising path since the beginning of 2021. South Korea’s Korea Institute of National Unification has said rice price has soared owing to a lack of supply. In 2020, North Korean grain production also fell by an estimate of 5.2 per cent.

Several key government officials have been replaced apparently for the mismanagement of the crisis.

What led to the food crisis

North Korea shut its borders since 2020 amid the pandemic, while its own agriculture sector failed because of flood damage. All these, compounded with the ongoing international sanctions on the country, have led to this situation. But the food crisis was not unforeseen as the crunch began from last year itself. According to a report from the US department of agriculture, North Koreans were eating 445 calories less a day than the 2,100-calorie diet recommended by the United Nations.

How will North Korea overcome the food crisis?

In an article, South China Morning Post has said “emaciated” Kim Jong Un will ride out the famine in North Korea with China’s help. Kim’s greetings to Xi Jinping on the 100th anniversary of the foundation of the Chinese Communist Party are being interpreted by experts as a message from Kim that North Korea’s strong ties with Beijing will help Pyongyang navigate the crisis.

Bagram The Last Of Military Bases The US Had, Handed Over To Afghan Forces

Bagram is the seventh and last of military bases the US has handed over to Afghan forces as it winds down its presence there of two decades and leave much ahead of the self-imposed deadline of September 11.

The United Sates on Tuesday said the Bagram base was turned over after discussions and coordination at “higher levels” in both the Afghanistan government and forces and disputed an Afghan commander’s account of Americans leaving quietly in the night without notifying anyone.

Pentagon spokesperson John Kirby told reporters the “final conversations” with the Afghans took place 48 hours prior and there had been a “general understanding and again, as we got closer, more detail was provided to Afghan leaders”.

But, he conceded, “we didn’t go into the exact hour at which all US would leave Bagram” for operational security reasons.

A top Afghan general who is the new commander of the Bagram base, Mir Asadullah Kohistani, had told reporters earlier, “We (had heard) some rumour that the Americans had left Bagram … and finally, by seven o’clock in the morning [last Friday], we understood that it was confirmed that they had already left Bagram.”

Asked about the Afghan commander’s remarks, Kirby said, “I can’t speak for the level of information that went down the Afghan chain of command, but I can tell you that Afghan leaders, civilian and military, were appropriately coordinated with and briefed about the turnover.”

Kirby said these conversations with Afghans included a walk-through of the Bagram base to give them a preview of what was being turned over to them.

Bagram is the seventh and last of such bases the US has handed over to Afghan forces as it winds down its military presence there of two decades and leave much ahead of the self-imposed deadline of September 11 announced by President Joe Biden.

A smaller number of US military personnel will be stationed in Afghanistan to provide security to the sprawling American diplomatic compound in Kabul and guard the Kabul airport till Turkish forces take over at the conclusion of a final agreement currently in discussion.

The US Central Command, which has military jurisdiction over US deployment in Afghanistan, has said 90% of the drawdown has been finished.

The US has said it is also watching closely the tightening military grip of the Taliban on the country. Though it has declined to change its drawdown schedule or slow it down, the US has said politically negotiated settlement is the only way forward in Afghanistan, and not a military solution.

State department spokesperson said at a separate briefing that “any Afghan government that comes to power at the barrel of a gun, that comes to power through the use of force, is almost certainly going to lack … critical ingredients” that will be needed – international assistance, international legitimacy and popular support of the Afghan people.

The Taliban have sought to assure the world of their commitment to a negotiated settlement but have stalled talks till the US forces are out. The last round that was supposed to take place in Istanbul, Turkey was never held.

As an important stakeholder in Afghan peace, India has watched US drawdown with some concern. On a recent US visit, external affairs minister S Jaishankar attributed US drawdown to “political expediency”. And at a UNSC debate, he reiterated India’s call for a “permanent and comprehensive ceasefire” in Afghanistan and for the United Nations to play a leading role.

Xi Jinping Promotes PLA Commander Xu Qiling To The Rank Of General

Chinese President Xi Jinping has promoted Xu Qiling, Commander of the People’s Liberation Army’s Western Theatre Command which oversees the borders with India, to the rank of a General, amid the continued standoff along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in eastern Ladakh.

Xi, who is also Chairman of the Central Military Commission (CMC) – the overall high command of the PLA, promoted 58-year-old Xu to the rank of General – the highest rank for officers in active service in China.

The other officers who were promoted to the rank of General included Commander of the Southern Theatre Command Wang Xiubin, Commander of the PLA Army Liu Zhenli, and Commander of the PLA Strategic Support (Missile) Force Ju Qiansheng, state-run Xinhua news agency reported.

Xi presented certificates of the orders he signed to them at a ceremony held by the CMC in Beijing on Monday.

Xu, who held the rank of Lt. Gen. previously, was appointed to head Western Theatre Command ground in June last year.

Xinhua in its report referred to Xu as the Commander of the PLA’s Western Theatre Command.

Regarded as the rising star in the PLA, Xu was one of the young generals promoted by Xi after he took the helm of the PLA in late 2012.

India and China were locked in a military standoff at multiple friction points in eastern Ladakh since early May last year.

However, the two sides completed the withdrawal of troops and weapons from the North and South banks of Pangong Lake in February following a series of military and diplomatic talks.

The two sides are now engaged in talks to extend the disengagement process to the remaining friction points.

India has been particularly pressing for disengagement of troops in Hot Springs, Gogra and Depsang. According to military officials, each side currently has around 50,000 to 60,000 troops along the LAC in the sensitive high altitude sector.

There was no visible forward movement in disengagement of troops in the remaining friction points as the Chinese side did not show flexibility in their approach to this issue at the 11th round of military talks.

On June 25, India and China held a virtual meeting of the Working Mechanism for Consultation and Coordination (WMCC) on border affairs during which they had agreed to hold the next round of military talks at an early date to achieve the objective of complete disengagement in remaining friction points in eastern Ladakh.

The two sides had a “frank exchange” of views and decided to maintain dialogue to reach a mutually acceptable solution for withdrawal of troops in all friction points to enable progress in the overall ties, according to a statement by the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) in New Delhi.

Don’t return to era of ‘your terrorists’ and ‘my terrorists’: India cautions UN

India said that the international community should not forget that before the 9/11 terror attacks, the world was divided into “your terrorists” or “my terrorists”.

India has cautioned that 20 years after the 9/11 terror attacks, there are attempts again to divide terrorism into different terminologies such as violent nationalism and right wing extremism, asserting that the world should not return to the era of “your terrorists” and “my terrorists” but fight the scourge collectively.

Participating in the UN General Assembly debate on adoption of resolution on 7th Review of Global Counter Terrorism Strategy (GCTS) on Tuesday, India’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations Ambassador TS Tirumurti said that the international community has acknowledged that the threat of terrorism is grave and universal, and can only be defeated by collective efforts of all UN member states, without any exception.

“It is only after 9/11 that we accepted that terrorism in one part of the world can directly impact another part of the world and we all came together to fight terrorism collectively,” he said.

‘Attempts to divide us once again’

The envoy said the international community should not forget that before the 9/11 terror attacks, the world was divided into “your terrorists” or “my terrorists”. Two decades later, “we are now seeing attempts to divide us once again” by adopting new terminologies under the guise of “emerging threats” such as racially and ethnically-motivated violent extremism, violent nationalism, right wing extremism, he said.

“I do hope that member states do not forget history and divide terrorism again into different categories and take us back to the era of ‘your terrorists’ and ‘my terrorists’ and erase the gains we have had over the last two decades,” Tirumurti said.

He noted that the continued absence of a universally agreed definition of terrorism is “detrimental to our shared goal” of eliminating the global scourge.

“The current strategy fails to resolve the stalemate preventing the adoption of a comprehensive convention on international terrorism, which India has championed,” Tirumurti said.

According to the UN Office of Counter-Terrorism, the UN Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy is a “unique global instrument to enhance national, regional and international efforts to counter terrorism. Through its adoption by consensus in 2006, all UN Member States agreed the first time to a common strategic and operational approach to fighting terrorism”.

The UN General Assembly reviews the Strategy every two years, making it a living document attuned to member states’ counter-terrorism priorities. The General Assembly reviews the Strategy and considers the adoption of a resolution on this occasion, the UN agency said.

‘Terrorism in all its forms should be condemned’

Tirumurti said the Global Counter Terrorism Strategy was adopted by consensus 15 years ago and was a major step forward in maintaining and achieving international peace and security.

“It was agreed that terrorism in all its forms and manifestations should be condemned, there cannot be any exception or justification for any act of terrorism, regardless of motivations behind such acts, and wherever, whenever and by whomsoever committed. It was also recognised that the menace of terrorism cannot be and should not be associated with any religion, nationality, civilisation or ethnic group,” Tirumurti said.

He said it is essential for all member states to not only not squander the gains of “what we have achieved so far but also ensure that we do not give the slightest opportunity to provide excuses or justification for terrorism, thereby diminishing our collective fight”.

“Justifying terrorism in any way, whether on grounds of religion, ideology, ethnicity or race, will only provide the necessary fodder for terrorists to enhance their activities even more,” he said.

Noting that while the matter of religious “phobias” finds mention in the current document, Tirumurti said India is once again constrained to point out that this listing has been selective and confined only to the three Abrahamic religions.

“This august body has once again failed to acknowledge the rise of hatred and violent terrorist attacks against other religions, inter alia, Buddhism, Sikhism and Hinduism. Further, we need to make a distinction between countries which are pluralistic and those which resort to  sectarian violence and trample over minority rights. United Nations is not a body or the forum where member states should take sides on religious-phobias, but should instead truly foster a culture based on universal principles of humanity and compassion so that terrorists’ narratives are fought collectively,” he said.

The envoy also asserted that success of this strategy will depend only if member states “walk the talk” by sincerely implementing the provisions and fulfilling their obligations as envisaged in the strategy.

As a victim of cross-border terrorism for several decades, India has been at the forefront of the fight against terrorism and one of the major victims of terrorism. However, it’s time to call out those that blatantly violate global commitments by harbouring terrorists and terrorist entities by willfully giving moral, material, financial and ideological support to these groups, he said.

Tirumurti said the misuse of internet and social media for terrorist propaganda, radicalisation and recruitment of cadre; misuse of new payment methods such as block-chain currencies, payment wallets, crowdfunding platforms for terrorism financing; and misuse of emerging technologies such as drones, 3D printing, Artificial Intelligence, robotics have emerged as the most serious threats of terrorism, which warrants collaborative actions from all member states.

“The international community needs to adopt a policy of zero-tolerance towards terrorism. Our collective condemnation of terrorism must be loud, clear and without any ambiguity,” he said.

Imran Khan, Kim Jong-un And Viktor Orban Among The ‘Press Freedom Predators’ List: RSF

Press watchdog Reporters Without Borders (RSF) has released a list of 37 heads of states who massively cracked down on press freedom. Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan, North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un and Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban are among the “predators of press freedom”, said RSF.

Two women, Bangladesh prime minister Sheikh Hasina and Hong Kong’s administrative chief Carrie Lam, have also been added to the list. This is the first time that women leaders have found a place on the press freedom predators’ list.

The list was released on Monday. The list has come out after a gap of five years; the RSF released the last list in 2016.

The global press body said that 17 of the 37 leaders have been added for the first time on the list. It has accused these leaders of “creating a censorship apparatus, jailing journalists arbitrarily or inciting violence against them”.

At least 19 countries have been show in the red colour by the RSF, which it says shows the bad situation for journalism. Sixteen countries have been coded black, which RSF says the situation is “very bad”.

The average of the predators included in the list is 66 and one-third of them are from the Asia-Pacific region.

Some of the other inclusions in the list are Brazil’s Jair Bolsonaro, Myanmar’s Min Aung Hlaing, Saudi Arabia’s crown prince Mohammad bin Salman, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan and the Philippines’ Rodrigo Duterte.

In the case of Imran Khan, the RSF said, “In the shadows, behind candidate Khan, the military reasserted the deep state,” adding that cases of brazen censorship are legion since he became prime minister.

“Newspaper distribution has been interrupted, media outlets have been threatened with the withdrawal of advertising and TV channel signals have been jammed,” the RS further said.

Talking about Bin Salman, the report said, “His repressive methods include spying and threats that have sometimes led to abduction, torture and other unthinkable acts. Jamal Khashoggi’s horrific murder exposed a predatory method that is simply barbaric.”

Khashoggi was a Saudi journalist who visited the kingdom’s consulate in Istanbul to procure documents to marry and was brutally slain inside it in 2018.

About the women on the list, the RSF said, “Lam’s predatory exploits include the adoption of a digital security law in 2018 that has led to more than 70 journalists and bloggers being prosecuted.”

The watchdog’s chief urged world governments to disavow the practices used by the leaders it singled out and to recognize the positive contributions made by an independent press.

Students Get Abducted By Group Of Gunmen In Northern Nigeria

Dozens of students were abducted Monday by armed bandits at Bethel Baptist High School in Damishi town of Chikun Local Government Area in Kaduna State in northern Nigeria.

A group of gunmen stormed the school early Monday, at around 2 a.m., shooting sporadically as they kidnapped the students, said police spokesman Mohammed Jalije. The exact number of students taken by the bandits is not yet certain, he said.

John Hayab, whose son attends the school and who narrowly escaped the abduction, said about 180 students attend the high school.

“We cannot give the exact figure of those abducted for now, until those who ran into hiding for safety are back and a census of the students is taken, but we know they took a lot of students,” he said. “I am just speechless, I don’t know what to say. My son was among the students who narrowly escaped.”

“I am part of this unfortunate incident because it is my church,” he added. “This is a very, very sad situation for us.”

Hayab, who is the chairman of Christian Association of Nigeria, told The Associated Press on Monday that so far, 26 students had returned and he was hopeful that more would escape from their kidnappers.

This is the fourth abduction of students in Kaduna state in the past six months. There have been seven mass kidnappings of students in Nigeria so far this year.

The abductions are being carried out by armed groups who want ransoms. Many schools have been forced to close as authorities are unable to adequately protect them.

The spate of mass abductions from schools in Nigeria has grown significantly since 2014 when members of the jihadi rebels Boko Haram abducted 276 female students from a government school in Chibok in northeastern Borno State.

Aircraft With 29 People Onboard Goes Missing In Russian Far East region

A Russian aircraft with 29 people onboard has gone missing in Russia’s Far East, local media reported on Tuesday. Twenty-nine people were onboard the aircraft including 6 crew members, Sputnik reported.

An Antonov An-26 plane with 22 passengers and six crew members, flying from the city of Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky to the town of Palana, missed a scheduled communication, local emergency officials said. The plane also disappeared from radar, the local transport ministry.

The plane belonged to a company called Kamchatka Aviation Enterprise. The plane has been in operation since 1982, Russian state news agency Tass reported. The company’s director, Alexei Khabarov, told the Interfax news agency that the plane was technically sound.

An investigation has been launched, and a search mission is underway. Two helicopters and an airplane have been deployed to inspect the missing plane’s route, local officials said.

The plane was on approach for landing when contact was lost about 10 kilometers (six miles) away from Palana’s airport. The head of the local government in Palana, Olga Mokhireva, was aboard the flight, spokespeople of the Kamchatka government said.

In 2012, an Antonov An-28 plane belonging to Kamchatka Aviation Enterprise crashed into a mountain while flying from Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsk and coming in for a landing in Palana. A total of 14 people were on board and 10 of them were killed. Both pilots, who were among the dead, were found to have alcohol in their blood, Tass reported.

US Is The Top Threat To Global Cybersecurity: Wang Wenbin

Amid strained ties between Washington and Beijing, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin on Monday said that the United States is “the top threat to global cybersecurity.” 

“As facts have proven time and again, it is the US that has been forcing companies to install backdoors and obtaining user data in violation of relevant rules. The US itself is the top threat to global cybersecurity,” Wenbin said during a press briefing.

Wenbin stated that the US has long been taking advantage of its advanced tech capacity to run invasive surveillance on people at home and abroad, steal various types of data and violate all kinds of privacy.

“The Patriot Act adopted after 9/11 requires cyber companies to offer regular updates on user information. This move has drawn much attention from around the world. France’s CNIL decided in December last year that the French websites of Google and Amazon breached relevant French law by placing cookies on the computers of users without obtaining prior consent and without providing adequate information. Earlier, Ireland asked Facebook to suspend the transmission of EU user data to the US,” he further said.

“We call on the international community to jointly expose and reject US practices that endanger global cybersecurity and undermine global rules,” he added.

The ties between Washington and Beijing had deteriorated after the US has taken sharply opposing positions against China in various issues including the trace of the origins of the COVID-19 pandemic, and the human rights exploitations of Uyghur Muslims in China’s Xinjiang province.

UK Government Plans To Decrease The Gaps Between Two Doses Of Covid-19 Vaccinations

The UK government has ruled out plans to decrease the gaps between two doses of Covid-19 vaccinations, even as infections driven by the Delta variant are surging in the country.

The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation ruled out the three-week gap and recommended “an interval of 8 to 12 weeks between doses of all the available Covid-19 vaccines”, dashing hopes that the UK might be able to speed up the vaccination program by closing the gaps between doses, the Financial Times reported.

The advisory body said this gap would “avoid confusion and simplify booking, and will help to ensure a good balance between achieving rapid and long-lasting protection.”

Last week, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said that the UK is “very likely” to ease lockdown measures on July 19. It was pushed back by four weeks from June 21 amid concern over the spread of the Delta variant.

Easing of lockdown measures could be a cause of concern as the country will not meet its target of ensuring two-thirds of adults with two jabs, FT cited people familiar with the UK vaccination programme.

Experts from the National Health Service (NHS) and scientists are concerned as only 63 per cent in the country are fully vaccinated, while more than 85 per cent received only the first dose of a Covid vaccine. At the same time latest data showed Covid-19 infections have jumped by 74 per cent week-on-week.

“We may have weakened the link between infections, hospitalisations and deaths but this significant increase in infections with the Delta variant raises serious concerns,” Professor Lawrence Young, a virologist at Warwick Medical School, was quoted as saying.

“One risk was that, as the virus spread it would continue to generate new variants increasing the risk that one will pop up that is more vaccine resistant,” he added.

While some suspect that the decision to not reduce the gap between the two jabs is due to difficulty in accessing supplies. However, government insiders have denied supply constraints, the report said.

But, Prof Anthony Harnden, deputy chair of the JCVI said: “regardless of supply constraints the minimum eight-week gap was preferable as it meant young people, who may not receive boosters in the autumn, had robust and long-lasting protection.

Joe Biden: “Today We’re Closer Than Ever To Declaring Our Independence From A Deadly Virus”

Calling a vaccination “the most patriotic thing you can do,” President Joe Biden on Sunday mixed the nation’s birthday party with a celebration of freedom from the worst of the pandemic. He tempered the strides against COVID-19 with a warning that the fight against the virus wasn’t over.

“Today, all across this nation, we can say with confidence: America is coming back together,” Biden declared as he hosted more than 1,000 service members, first responders and other guests for a July Fourth celebration on the South Lawn of the White House.

For Biden, it was a long-awaited opportunity to highlight the success of the vaccination campaign he championed. The event was the largest yet of his presidency, the clearest indication yet that the U.S. had moved into a new phase of virus response. Shifting from a national emergency to a localized crisis of individual responsibility, the nation also moved from vaccinating Americans to promoting global health.

“This year the Fourth of July is a day of special celebration, for we’re emerging from the darkness of a year of pandemic and isolation, a year of pain fear and heartbreaking loss,” the president said before fireworks lit up the sky over the National Mall.

Noting the lockdowns that shuttered businesses, put millions out of work and separated untold numbers of families, Biden said: “Today we’re closer than ever to declaring our independence from a deadly virus. That’s not to say the battle against COVID-19 is over. We’ve got a lot more work to do.”

Biden wanted all Americans to celebrate, too, after enduring 16 months of disruption in the pandemic and more than 605,000 deaths. The White House encouraged gatherings and fireworks displays all around the country to mark — as though ripped from a Hollywood script — the nation’s “independence” from the virus.

And there was much to cheer: Cases and deaths from COVID-19 were at or near record lows since the outbreak began, thanks to the robust U.S. vaccination program. Businesses and restaurants were open, hiring was picking up and travel was getting closer to pre-pandemic levels.

However, Biden’s optimism was measured for good reason. The vaccination goal he had set with great fanfare for July Fourth — 70% of the adult population vaccinated — fell short at 67%, according to figures from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. More concerning to officials was the gap between heavily vaccinated communities where the virus was dying out and lesser-vaccinated ones where a more infectious variant of the virus was already taking hold.

More than 200 Americans still die each day from COVID-19, and tens of millions have chosen not to get the lifesaving vaccines.

“If you’ve had the vaccine, you’re doing great,” said Dr. Mati Hlatshwayo Davis, an infectious disease physician at the John Cochran VA Medical Center and St. Louis Board of Health. “If you haven’t had the vaccine, you should be alarmed and that’s just the bottom line, there’s no easy way to cut it.”

Calling a vaccination “the most patriotic thing you can do,” President Joe Biden on Sunday mixed the nation’s birthday party with a celebration of freedom from the worst of the pandemic. He tempered the strides against COVID-19 with a warning that the fight against the virus wasn’t over.

“Today, all across this nation, we can say with confidence: America is coming back together,” Biden declared as he hosted more than 1,000 service members, first responders and other guests for a July Fourth celebration on the South Lawn of the White House.

For Biden it was a long-awaited opportunity to highlight the success of the vaccination campaign he championed. The event was the largest yet of his presidency, the clearest indication yet that the U.S. had moved into a new phase of virus response. Shifting from a national emergency to a localized crisis of individual responsibility, the nation also moved from vaccinating Americans to promoting global health.

“This year the Fourth of July is a day of special celebration, for we’re emerging from the darkness of a year of pandemic and isolation, a year of pain fear and heartbreaking loss,” the president said before fireworks lit up the sky over the National Mall.

Noting the lockdowns that shuttered businesses, put millions out of work and separated untold numbers of families, Biden said: “Today we’re closer than ever to declaring our independence from a deadly virus. That’s not to say the battle against COVID-19 is over. We’ve got a lot more work to do.”

Biden wanted all Americans to celebrate, too, after enduring 16 months of disruption in the pandemic and more than 605,000 deaths. The White House encouraged gatherings and fireworks displays all around the country to mark — as though ripped from a Hollywood script — the nation’s “independence” from the virus.

And there was much to cheer: Cases and deaths from COVID-19 were at or near record lows since the outbreak began, thanks to the robust U.S. vaccination program. Businesses and restaurants were open, hiring was picking up and travel was getting closer to pre-pandemic levels.

However, Biden’s optimism was measured for good reason. The vaccination goal he had set with great fanfare for July Fourth — 70% of the adult population vaccinated — fell short at 67%, according to figures from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. More concerning to officials was the gap between heavily vaccinated communities where the virus was dying out and lesser-vaccinated ones where a more infectious variant of the virus was already taking hold.

More than 200 Americans still die each day from COVID-19, and tens of millions have chosen not to get the lifesaving vaccines.

“If you’ve had the vaccine, you’re doing great,” said Dr. Mati Hlatshwayo Davis, an infectious disease physician at the John Cochran VA Medical Center and St. Louis Board of Health. “If you haven’t had the vaccine, you should be alarmed and that’s just the bottom line, there’s no easy way to cut it.”

“But that doesn’t take away from the fact that this country is in a significantly better place,” she said.

Still, about 1,000 counties have a vaccination rate below 30%, and the federal government is warning that they could become the next hot spots as virus restrictions ease.

The administration was sending “surge” teams to Colorado and Missouri. Additional squads of infectious disease experts, public health professionals and doctors and nurses were getting ready to assist in additional locations with a combination of low vaccination rates and rising cases.

Overall, the vastly improved American landscape stood in stark contrast with much of the rest of the world, where there remained vast vaccine deserts and wide community spread that could open the door to even more dangerous variants. The Biden administration was increasingly turning the federal response to the complicated logistics of sending excess U.S. vaccines abroad in an effort to assist other nations in beating back the pandemic.

With U.S. demand for vaccines falling even as they have been widely available for months, and as governments and businesses dangled an array of incentives at Americans to get a shot, officials were increasingly emphasizing that the consequences of disease now largely reflect the individual choices of those who are not yet vaccinated.

“The suffering and loss we are now seeing is nearly entirely avoidable,” said the CDC’s director, Dr. Rochelle Walensky.

When asked about the potential risks of holding gatherings around July Fourth in areas where there are large pockets of unvaccinated individuals, White House press secretary Jen Psaki had countered that “if individuals are vaccinated in those areas, then they are protected.”

The cookout and fireworks viewing at the South Lawn was “being done in the right way,” White House COVID-19 response coordinator Jeff Zients said in television interviews, and “consistent” with CDC guidelines. The White House was not requiring vaccinations but was asking guests to get a COVID-19 test and to wear a mask if they are not fully vaccinated.

“For as much work there still is to do, it’s so important to celebrate the victories,” Davis said. “I’m OK with us having those pockets of joy and celebration as long as we still wake up the next day and continue to go to work and prioritize equity in vaccine distribution.”

Delta Variant Continues To Evolve And Mutate; WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus Warned

The world is in a very “dangerous period” of the COVID-19 pandemic compounded by more transmissible variants like Delta, which is continuing to evolve and mutate, World Health Organization Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus has warned.

He said in countries with low vaccination coverage, terrible scenes of hospitals overflowing are again becoming the norm.

“Compounded by more transmissible variants, like Delta, which is quickly becoming the dominant strain in many countries, we are in a very dangerous period of this pandemic,” Ghebreyesus said at a press briefing on Friday.

“But no country is out of the woods yet. The Delta variant is dangerous and is continuing to evolve and mutate, which requires constant evaluation and careful adjustment of the public health response,” he said.

Noting that the Delta variant has been detected in at least 98 countries and is spreading quickly in countries with low and high vaccination coverage, he said there are essentially two ways for countries to push back against new surges.

“Public health and social measures like strong surveillance, strategic testing, early case detection, isolation and clinical care remain critical,” he said, adding that masking, physical distance, avoiding crowded places and keeping indoor areas well ventilated are the basis for the response.

Ghebreyesus underscored that the world must equitably share protective gear, oxygen, tests, treatments and vaccines and stressed that he has urged leaders across the world to work together to ensure that by this time next year, 70 per cent of all people in every country are vaccinated.

“This is the best way to slow the pandemic, save lives, drive a truly global economic recovery and along the way prevent further dangerous variants from getting the upper hand. By the end of this September, we’re calling on leaders to vaccinate at least 10 per cent of people in all countries,” he said.

As new manufacturing hubs- including for mRNA vaccines- are being developed, the WHO chief said this could be accelerated by companies openly sharing technology and know-how.

“In particular, I urge those companies- BioNTech, Pfizer and Moderna- to share their know-how so that we can speed up the development of new production. The sooner we start building more vaccine hubs and upping global vaccine capacity, the sooner we can diminish deadly surges,” he said.

The Delta variant, first detected in India, is now being reported in nearly 100 countries, which is “likely an underestimate” and the highly transmissible strain is expected to rapidly outcompete other variants and become dominant globally over the coming months, WHO had said this week.

The COVID-19 Weekly Epidemiological Update published by WHO said that as of June 29, 2021, “96 countries have reported cases of the Delta variant, though this is likely an underestimate as sequencing capacities needed to identify variants are limited. A number of these countries are attributing surges in infections and hospitalizations to this variant.”

It said given the increase in transmissibility, the Delta variant is “expected to rapidly outcompete other variants and become the dominant variant over the coming months.”

WHO noted that the tools that exist today to combat the coronavirus- including individual, community level-public health and social measures, infection prevention and control measures, that have been used since the beginning of the pandemic-remain effective against current variants of concern, including the Delta variant.

Death Toll From Northwest Heat Wave Expected To Keep Rising

Each day, more deaths are being linked to the heat wave that struck the Pacific Northwest this past week, with medical staff who treated people overwhelmed by temperatures well above 100 degrees Fahrenheit (38 Celsius) saying the toll from the extreme weather will keep creeping up.

Hundreds of deaths were being investigated as heat related in Oregon, Washington state and British Columbia. The dangerous heat began June 25 and only began to subside in some areas on Tuesday.

The death toll in Oregon alone has reached at least 95, the state medical examiner said on Friday, with most occurring in Multnomah County, which encompasses Portland. The deaths include an Guatemalan immigrant who collapsed as he worked at a plant nursery in a rural Oregon town during the soaring heat.

In Canada, British Columbia’s chief coroner, Lisa Lapointe, said her office received reports of at least 486 “sudden and unexpected deaths” between June 25 and Wednesday. Normally, she said about 165 people would die in the province over a five-day period. She said it was too soon to confirm how many deaths were heat related but that it was likely behind most of them.

Washington state authorities have linked about 30 deaths to the heat, with more reports coming in each day this week.

“I think, over time, we will understand that the numbers are only going to climb,” said Dr. Steve Mitchell, director of Harborview Medical Center’s Emergency Medicine Department in Seattle.

“I know, in my experience, that I’m expecting to see much larger numbers than what we are currently able to report because of talking to EMS colleagues who were experiencing twice as many calls for help that day.”

There were 1,792 emergency room visits for suspected heat-related illness since June 25, the Washington state Department of Health said Thursday. Of those visits, 21 per cent required people to be admitted to the hospital.

Monday had the most emergency room visits, with 702, the health department said. It was the hottest day of the heat wave in many areas, with Seattle, Portland, Oregon, and other cities smashing all-time heat records. It reached 108 F (42 C) in Seattle, and 116 F (47) in Oregon’s largest city.

“With this latest heat emergency, when we were dealing with it, the only thing comparable at Harborview and in the region that we’ve experienced recently was actually the early days of COVID,” Mitchell said.

Forecasters blamed the temperatures that spiked more than 30 degrees above normal on a “heat dome” that parked a strong high pressure system over the region. Temperatures cooled considerably in western Washington and Oregon by Tuesday, though a heat warning was still in effect for parts of the interior Northwest and Canada.

Experts say the hot weather is a harbinger of things to come as climate change affects global weather patterns.

The extraordinary heat wave stretched into the upper reaches of California, where several wildfires erupted in the hot, dry conditions, making it difficult for firefighters trying to beat back the flames that have driven thousands from their homes in mountain communities and burned several residences.

South African Experts: Anti-Covid-19 Vaccines Pfizer And J&J Are More Effective Against The Delta Variant Of The Coronavirus Than The Beta Strain

The anti-COVID-19 vaccines by US pharma majors Pfizer and Johnson & Johnson (J&J) that are being used in South Africa are more effective against the Delta variant of the coronavirus than the Beta strain, experts have said.

The Beta variant, which was first detected in South Africa, caused a second wave at the beginning of this year whereas the Delta variant, first detected in India, is driving the current third wave in South Africa, resulting in increased lockdown restrictions as the number of infections and deaths have already surpassed those of the previous two waves.

In a media briefing led by Acting Health Minister Mmamoloko Kubayi on Friday, experts said that results in both laboratory research and field studies had shown that the vaccines were effective against the Delta virus.

“What we have seen in the in vitro work is that the J&J vaccine works better against the Delta variant and gets better over time where both the Delta and Beta variants are concerned,” said Professor Glenda Gray, President and CEO of the South African Medical Research Council.

Gray said there was no need yet to get a booster jab of the J&J vaccine. Referring to the studies so far, she said that a single shot worked just as well as two doses given to health care workers over a period.

“Right up to eight months we may say that we have durable immune responses as measured in people who we are following up over time,” she said.

“Quite unequivocally, the single shot of J&J vaccine works against both the Delta and the Beta variants of concern at eight months. So this is just to reassure the public that we don’t need to boost the J&J vaccine just yet, but we need to keep following up the participants to see when the durability of the immune response wanes,” Gray said.

Professor Penny Moore of the University of Witwatersrand confirmed that existing laboratory data suggested that the vaccines currently being used in South Africa work better against the Delta variant than they have against the Beta variant.

“In a large measure, our epidemic now in South Africa is driven by the Delta variant, so it is very crucial that we understand how that variant reacts to the various vaccines that we have in South Africa.

“Against the Pfizer vaccine, the antibodies were really good at 1,000 (but) with the AstraZeneca vaccine the antibodies dropped right down to 146, indicating that the vaccine would not work so well against the Beta variant. But when we look at the Delta variant which is now circulating in South Africa, the numbers have gone back up again,” Moore said.

WHO earlier expressed concern about possible new waves in Europe due to the Delta variant, which has been detected in over 25 countries around the globe. The Delta variant is more transmissible than the previous two variants.

With vaccine stocks running out as vaccination campaigns are stepped up, the health minister said that South Africa will get delivery of 2.1 million more Pfizer doses this month, together with 500,000 Johnson & Johnson (J&J) vaccines that are still due for delivery.

The epicentre of South Africa’s third wave is the economic hub of Gauteng Province. A two-week lockdown that started on Monday has prohibited travel into or out of the province except under special circumstances to contain the exponentially rising infections and deaths.

By Friday, South Africa had passed two million infections. With 381 deaths from COVID-19 related issues overnight, the current death toll has touched 61,029.

California Firefighters Battle Big Wildfires In High Heat

Hundreds of firefighters worked Thursday in high heat to beat back three large wildfires in the forests of far Northern California, where the flames destroyed several homes and forced some communities to evacuate.

Mount Shasta, the volcano that towers over the region, was shrouded in a haze from smoke plumes that could be seen in images from weather satellites in space.

The scene was ominously reminiscent of last year’s California wildfire season, which scorched more than 6,562 square miles (17,000 square kilometers) of land, the most in the state’s recorded history.

An extraordinary Pacific Northwest heat wave that extended into the upper reaches of California was slowly receding, but it was only expected to cool off slightly before temperatures trend back up heading into the Fourth of July weekend, forecasters said.

“It is very hot and dry,” said Suzi Johnson, a Shasta-Trinity National Forest spokeswoman for the Salt Fire, which broke out Wednesday and grew to 7 square miles (18 square kilometers), shutting several lanes of Interstate 5 and prompting evacuation orders for some roads in Lakehead, an unincorporated community of around 700 people.

A reporter for the Redding Record Searchlight saw at least a dozen buildings destroyed south of Lakehead, including homes, garages and outbuildings, the paper reported.

Johnson told the paper that investigators were trying to locate a car that may have started the fire Wednesday afternoon near Interstate 5 when hot pieces or parts apparently flew off and ignited dry brush.

About 300 firefighters battled the blaze but were hampered by hot weather and challenging terrain, officials said.

The fire was a threat to homes around Shasta Lake north of the city of Redding, more than 200 miles (322 kilometers) north of San Francisco. The huge lake is popular with vacationers, but its water level is dramatically low because of the drought.

No building damage was reported from two other northern fires, which erupted as California and the rest of the U.S. West was mired in a historic drought tied to climate change.

To the north, the Lava Fire burning partly on the flanks of Mount Shasta grew to nearly 31 square miles (80 square kilometers) and was 25 per cent contained. Evacuation orders for communities near the city of Weed were still in effect.

The steep, rocky terrain challenged nearly 1,300 firefighters battling the blaze, which was ignited by lightning last week.

To the northeast, the Tennant Fire that broke out Monday in the Klamath National Forest and forced evacuations grew to about 15 square miles (38 square kilometers). The fire was expected to advance north toward Oregon, and its cause was being investigated.

Many of California’s national parks have restrictions on campfires, cooking and smoking because of fire risks in the hot, dry summer. The parks are bracing for large crowds over the holiday weekend.

Fire authorities throughout California also have stepped up campaigns urging people not to use fireworks to celebrate the Fourth of July, citing both the explosive dangers and the threat of wildfires in the withering conditions.

“The fuels are bone dry,” Los Angeles County Fire Chief Daryl Osby said at a news conference.

“We are extremely concerned about the use of fireworks of all kinds.”

Delta Variant Expected To Become The Dominant Covid-19 Strain In Germany

The Delta variant is expected to become the dominant Covid-19 strain in Germany with its share of positive cases approaching 80 per cent, Health Minister Jens Spahn said.

The share of new Covid-19 infections caused by the more infectious Delta variant has already more than doubled since last week and currently stands at 37 per cent, according to the Robert Koch Institute (RKI), the federal agency and research institute responsible for disease control and prevention.

The German government would likely be able to keep its promise to vaccinate the entire adult population by the end of summer, Xinhua news agency quoted the Minister as saying to reporters on Thursday. The more people receive their second vaccine dose, the higher the level of protection will be against the Delta variant, he added.

Till date, almost 31 million people in Germany have already been fully vaccinated, bringing the country’s vaccination rate to 37.3 per cent, according to the RKI. Spahn urged his non-vaccinated compatriots to get tested regularly.

“This is another important difference from last year, we have tests available on a large scale,” he said.

Meanwhile, the number of daily Covid-19 infections is continuing to fall as 892 new cases were registered within 24 hours on Thursday, 116 less than one week ago, the RKI said.

To date, 3,736,959 cases have been officially registered in Germany since the onset of the pandemic early last year. The death toll stood at 90,938, according to the RKI.

World Bank Expands Its Covid-19 Vaccine Financing To $20 Billion

The World Bank has added $8 billion more for Covid-19 vaccines, totalling $20 billion, for developing countries. Earlier it had announced $12 billion.

The funding will be available through 2022, it said in a statement on Wednesday.

“In view of the surging demand for World Bank vaccine finance, I am pleased to announce today that the World Bank is expanding its financing available for Covid-19 vaccine financing to $20 billion over the next 18 months, adding $8 billion to the previously announced $12 billion,” said World Bank Group President David Malpass, in the statement.

Malpass also called on countries with surplus doses to release it for use by developing countries, and for vaccine manufacturers to prioritise the available doses for the developing countries that so urgently need them.

On Wednesday, the bank’s private financing arm the International Finance Corporation secured a 600 million euro package for a South African vaccine manufacturer to ramp up production of Covid-19 treatment therapies and vaccines in the African continent.

Further, the Bank also provided over $4 billion for the purchase and deployment of Covid vaccines for 51 developing countries, half of which are in Africa.

Since the start of the Covid pandemic, the World Bank Group has approved more than $150 billion to fight the health, economic, and social impacts of the pandemic.

Since April 2020, the Bank has scaled up its financing by over 50 per cent, helping more than 100 countries meet emergency health needs, strengthen pandemic preparedness, while also supporting countries as they protect the poor and jobs, and jump-starting a climate-friendly recovery.

Malpass also confirmed the deal with Johnson & Johnson for 400 million doses for Africans

“The World Bank now is helping developing countries in every region of the world with vaccine purchase and rollouts, including efforts to boost supply, enhance transparency, accelerate deployment, and match available doses with country needs,” Malpass said.

“Significant challenges still remain regarding vaccine deployment and hesitancy. We are taking action on all fronts to tackle these challenges, working in solidarity with international and regional partners to expedite doses to as many people as possible and to enhance disease surveillance, preparedness, and response,” added Axel van Trotsenburg, World Bank Managing Director of Operations.

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