More than 98 million people have been infected with Covid-19. Over 2.1 million people have now died after contracting the virus since the first cases were reported in December last year.
The worldwide number of Covid-19 cases reached 98,157,700 and fatalities rose to 2,106,690 until early Saturday, according to Johns Hopkins University.
However, the numbers are thought to be higher because of insufficient testing in many countries.
The US – the world’s worst-hit country – crossed the grim milestone of 20 million cases on New Year’s Day.
The country’s infection tally reached 24,818,781 and fatalities stood at 414,004 on early Saturday.
By mid-December, five in every 100 Americans – more than 16 million – had been infected by Covid-19.
Those numbers testify to a historic tragedy. But they do not fully capture the multitude of ways, large and small, that the virus has upended and reconfigured everyday life in the US.
Meanwhile, India confirmed 10,625,428 cases and 153,032 deaths until Saturday. And Brazil’s case tally reached 8,753,920 and fatalities stood at 215,243.
Covid-19 in Bangladesh
Bangladesh saw a daily infection rate of 4.17% with 619 new cases reported until early Friday.
The country recorded a daily infection rate of 5.49% on January 18, 4.90% on January 14, 8.29% on January 10, 7.52% on January 4, and 8.18% on January 1.
Bangladesh has recorded 530,890 cases so far. And the country’s fatality number rose to 7,981 and death rate to 1.50%, with 15 Covid-19 deaths in the last 24 hours, since the first fatality was reported on March 18.
So far, 3,530,274 tests, including 14,846 new ones, have been carried out. The overall infection rate stood at 15.04%, the Directorate General of Health Services said.
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However, 475,561 patients – 89.58% – have recovered so far.
The International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement on Friday welcomed the entry into force of the first instrument of international humanitarian law to include provisions to help address the catastrophic humanitarian consequences of using and testing nuclear weapons.
The Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons explicitly and unequivocally prohibits the use, threat of use, development, production, testing and stockpiling of nuclear weapons, and it obliges all states parties to not assist, encourage or induce anyone in any way to engage in any activity prohibited by the treaty.
“Today is a victory for humanity. This treaty – the result of more than 75 years of work – sends a clear signal that nuclear weapons are unacceptable from a moral, humanitarian, and now a legal point of view,” said Peter Maurer, president of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC).
“It sets in motion even higher legal barriers and even greater stigmatisation of nuclear warheads than already exists. It allows us to imagine a world free from these inhumane weapons as an achievable goal.”
Red Cross and Red Crescent leaders celebrated the entry into force of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons and saluted all 51 states whose backing of the treaty makes clear their refusal to accept nuclear weapons as an inevitable part of the international security architecture, said the ICRC.
It invited other world leaders, including those of nuclear-armed states, to follow suit and join the path towards a world free of nuclear weapons, in line with long-standing international obligations, notably those under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.
Francesco Rocca, president of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), said: “The entry into force of this instrument of international humanitarian law comes as a welcome and powerful reminder that despite current global tensions, we can overcome even our biggest and most entrenched challenges, in the true spirit of multilateralism.”
“This capacity to effectively unite and coordinate our action should be called upon as we grapple with other global, deadly challenges.”
The treaty obliges states to provide assistance, including medical care, rehabilitation and psychological support, to victims under their jurisdiction without discrimination, and ensure their socio-economic inclusion. It also requires states to clear areas contaminated by nuclear use or testing.
Also Read: Can't return to nuclear weapon-testing era: Dr Zerbo
“The treaty is a ground-breaking step to address the legacy of destruction caused by these weapons,” Maurer said.
“The compelling evidence of the suffering and devastation caused by nuclear weapons, and the threat their use may pose to humanity’s survival, make attempts to justify their use or mere existence increasingly indefensible. It is extremely doubtful that these weapons could ever be used in line with international humanitarian law.”
The treaty enters into force as the world is witnessing what happens when a public health system is overwhelmed by patients.
The needs created by a nuclear detonation would render any meaningful health response impossible.
No health system, no government, and no aid organisation are capable of adequately responding to the health and other assistance needs that a nuclear blast would bring.
The adoption by nuclear-armed states of more aggressive nuclear weapons policies and the continued modernisation of nuclear weapons all worryingly point towards the increased risk of use of nuclear weapons.
“So, we must act now to prevent a nuclear detonation from happening in the first place, by removing any use and testing of nuclear weapons from the realm of possibility,” said ICRC.
“State parties, which will have their first meeting in 2021, must now ensure that the treaty’s provisions are faithfully implemented and promote its adherence.”
Also Read: Govts urged to act for total elimination of nuclear weapons
“The treaty presents each of us with a really simple question: Do we want nuclear weapons to be banned or not? We are ready, together with our Red Cross Red Crescent National Societies, to intensify our efforts to achieve the broadest possible adherence to the Treaty and insist on its vision of collective security,” Francesco Rocca said.
“The entry into force of the Nuclear Ban Treaty is the beginning, not the end, of our efforts.”
Public health experts Thursday blamed COVID-19 vaccine shortages around the US in part on the Trump administration’s push to get states to vastly expand their vaccination drives to reach the nation’s estimated 54 million people age 65 and over.
The push that began over a week ago has not been accompanied by enough doses to meet demand, according to state and local officials, leading to frustration and confusion and limiting states’ ability to attack the outbreak that has killed over 400,000 Americans.
Over the past few days, authorities in California, Ohio, West Virginia, Florida and Hawaii warned that their supplies were running out. New York City began cancelling or postponing shots or stopped making new appointments because of the shortages, which President Joe Biden has vowed to turn around.
The vaccine rollout so far has been “a major disappointment,” said Dr Eric Topol, head of the Scripps Research Translational Institute.
Problems started with the Trump administration’s “fatal mistake” of not ordering enough vaccine, which was then snapped up by other countries, Topol said. Then, opening the line to senior citizens set people up for disappointment because there wasn’t enough vaccine, he said. The Trump administration also left crucial planning to the states and didn’t provide the necessary funding.
“It doesn’t happen by fairy dust,” Topol said. “You need to put funds into that.”
Front-end vaccine supply issue
Last week, before Biden took over as president, the US Health and Human Services Department suggested that the frustration was the result of unrealistic expectations among the states as to how much vaccine was on the way.
But some public health experts said that the states have not been getting reliable information on vaccine deliveries and that the amounts they have been sent have been unpredictable. That, in turn, has made it difficult for them to plan how to inoculate people.
“It’s a bit of having to build it as we go,” said Dr George Rutherford, an epidemiologist at the University of California, San Francisco. "It’s a front-end supply issue, and unless we know how much vaccine is flowing down the pipe, it’s hard to get these things sized right, staffed, get people there, get them vaccinated and get them gone.”
State health secretaries have asked the Biden administration for earlier and more reliable predictions on vaccine deliveries, said Washington state Health Secretary Dr Umair Shah.
Dr Marcus Plescia of the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials was also among those who said opening vaccinations to senior citizens was done too soon, before supply could catch up.
“We needed steady federal leadership on this early in the launch,” Plescia said. “That did not happen, and now that we are not prioritising groups, there’s going to be some lag for supply to catch up with demand.”
Disappointing vaccine supply pace
Supply will pick up over the next few weeks, he said. Deliveries go out to the states every week, and the government and drugmakers have given assurances large quantities are in the pipeline.
The rollout has proceeded at a disappointing pace. The US government has delivered nearly 38 million doses of vaccine to the states, and about 17.5 million of those have been administered, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
About 2.4 million people have received the necessary two doses, by the CDC's count — well short of the hundreds of millions who will have to be inoculated to vanquish the outbreak.
Biden, in one of his first orders of business, signed 10 executive orders to combat the coronavirus pandemic on Thursday, including one broadening the use of the Defense Production Act to expand vaccine production. The 1950 Korean War-era law enables the government to direct the manufacture of critical goods.
He also mandated masks for travel, including in airports and on planes, ships, trains, buses and public transportation, and ordered the Federal Emergency Management Agency to set up vaccination centres and the CDC to make vaccines available through pharmacies starting next month.
Biden has vowed to dispense 100 million shots in his first 100 days.
“We’ll move heaven and earth to get more people vaccinated for free,” he said.
Mary Jenkins, left, received the COVID-19 vaccine in Paterson, NJ, Jan 21, 2021. AP photo
In New York, Mayor Bill de Blasio and Gov Andrew Cuomo have been pleading for more doses. Appointments through Sunday for the first dose of the vaccine at 15 community vaccination hubs set up by the city health department were postponed to next week.
Vaccinations in New York haven’t stopped, but demand for the shots now far exceeds the number of doses available, the mayor said.
“It’s just tremendously sad that we have so many people who want the vaccine and so much ability to give the vaccine, what’s happening?” de Blasio said. “For lack of supply, we’re actually having to cancel appointments.”
Rosa Schneider had jumped at the chance to make a vaccination appointment once she heard that educators like her were eligible in New York. A high school English teacher who lives in New York City but works in New Jersey, she said that a day before she was to be vaccinated on Wednesday at a city-run hospital, she got a call saying the supply had run out and the appointment was cancelled.
“I was concerned, and I was upset,” said Schneider, 32, but she is trying daily to book another appointment. She is hopeful availability will improve in the coming weeks.
Cricket Australia has run afoul of the country’s prime minister for refusing to refer to the national holiday in the marketing of three matches on Jan. 26 after a recommendation from its Indigenous advisory committee.
Australia Day is held annually on Jan. 26, the anniversary of the day in 1788 when Captain Arthur Phillip guided a fleet of 11 British ships carrying convicts into Botany Bay in what is now Sydney.
Citizenship ceremonies, parades, festivals and barbecues are held in cities and towns around the country on the date, but there are also protests and demonstrations.
Many in Australia’s Indigenous community refer to it as “Invasion Day,” and the start of persecution and hardships at the hands of colonizers and later federal and state governments. There's long been public debate over finding an alternative date to celebrate the national holiday.
Three Twenty20 matches in Australia's Big Bash League are scheduled for Jan. 26, and Cricket Australia's National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Cricket Advisory Committee recommended the day simply be referred to as January 26 instead of Australia Day.
“A bit more focus on cricket and a little less focus on politics would be my message to Cricket Australia,” Prime Minister Scott Morrison told a radio station Thursday in Rockhampton, central Queensland state. “I think that’s pretty ordinary.”
On Jan. 26, one match is scheduled for Adelaide Oval and the other two at the Melbourne Cricket Ground.
Three BBL teams will also wear Indigenous-design jerseys in matches on or leading up to the day. A barefoot circle, welcome to country and smoking ceremony conducted by Aboriginal people will take place before some games.
“They thought it was pretty important to not remove cultural elements we have celebrated all season on a day like that,” Cricket Australia’s diversity and inclusion manager Adam Cassidy told Australian Associated Press.
Mel Jones, a former international cricketer who is a Cricket Australia director and co-chair of its Indigenous advisory committee, said Morrison's comments would not change the group's position.
“Everyone is going to have an opinion on this as they do for a variety of different things,” Jones told the Australian Associated Press. “The recommendations put forward we know is a value-driven thing about making cricket as inclusive as we can. This isn’t a tokenistic ‘let’s grab a headline.’ This is just our day-to-day workings.”
Jones said it was not meant to be seen as a divisive or political move, and was more about being inclusive.
“I think what we’ve tried to embrace is embracing the uncomfortable conversation,” Jones said.’ “We’re happy to have those hard conversations, we know they’re not easy. But if we don’t have them, then nothing is going to change.”
Sydney Thunder pace bowler Brendan Doggett, who has Indigenous heritage, is firmly behind the plans for Jan. 26.
“I hate conflict. So I am of the opinion if we can all merge forward together that’s ideal,” Doggett said. “The way we’re going to do that is by starting conversations and talking about it and acknowledging the history of what’s happened.”
Sri Lanka reopened to foreign tourists Thursday after a nearly 10-month pandemic closure that cut deeply into the Indian Ocean island nation's lucrative travel industry.
Full operations also resumed Thursday at the island's two international airports, accommodating the commercial flights.
Under new protocols to prevent the spread of COVID-19, tourists must be tested for the virus in their country 72 hours prior to their flight, when they arrive at their hotel in Sri Lanka and again seven days later. They must stay in a “travel bubble” designated in 14 tourism zones without mixing with the local population. About 180 hotels have been earmarked for tourist accommodations.
The resumption of tourism follows a pilot project that began Dec. 26 in which 1,500 tourists from Ukraine visited Sri Lanka in such a travel bubble.
The government closed the country to tourists last March when an outbreak of the virus surfaced. The international airports were closed except for limited flights enabling Sri Lankans to return home.
Tourism is a vital economic sector for Sri Lanka, accounting for about 5% of its gross domestic product and employing 250,000 people directly and up to 3 million indirectly. Hotels, other businesses and their employees faced crippling income losses.
Sri Lanka had fewer than 4,000 cases of coronavirus infection until October when clusters centered on a garment factory and fish market spread in the capital, Colombo, and its suburbs. As of Thursday, it has confirmed more than 55,000 cases with 274 fatalities.
In other developments in the Asia-Pacific region:
— People traveling to Australia from most other countries from Friday will need to test negative for the coronavirus before they depart. Australian Health Minister Greg Hunt said Thursday that he’d signed orders which require international travelers to have a negative test within three days of leaving for Australia. All internationals passengers will also need to wear masks on their flights. “The success at home, the agonizing challenges abroad, the fact we have new more virulent strains that are emerging around the world — these remind us of precisely why we have been able to keep Australians safe,” Hunt told reporters in Melbourne. New Zealand and a few Pacific Island countries are exempt from the new rules.
China is making some of its toughest travel restrictions yet as coronavirus cases surge in several northern provinces ahead of the travel rush for Lunar New Year. Next month’s festival is the most important time of the year for family gatherings and is often the only time many migrant workers are able to return to their rural homes. However, any wishing to do so this year will need a negative virus test within the previous week and may face sometimes-onerous restrictions, including quarantines, in some communities. The National Health Commission on Thursday reported an additional 126 cases of local transmission over the past 24 hours, the largest number, 68, in the northern province of Heilongjiang, part of the vast region formerly known as Manchuria. Commission spokesperson Mi Feng also said the international experts visiting Wuhan have had video conferences with Chinese experts as part of their work. The World Health Organizations are in quarantine at the start of their trip to investigate the origins of the virus. Chinese officials have tightly controlled such research while promoting fringe theories that the virus may have originated overseas