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New Zealand Reopens While Brazil Sparks Transparency Concerns Over Coronavirus Data Sharing

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Photos via WikiCommons

  • New Zealand’s last COVID-19 patient has recovered and it has no active cases, meaning wide-scale reopenings, including public gatherings and concerts, can begin in the country. 
  • Meanwhile, Brazil will be limiting its COVID-19 data sharing, and instead of reporting cumulative totals, it will only show data on cases and deaths for the last 24 hours. 
  • While Brazil’s president said this will lead to more accurate data dissemination, others are saying he is trying to hide information from citizens.
  • A report analyzing the effectiveness of lockdown measures in several countries showed that these interventions prevented hundreds of millions of infections worldwide, and as many as 60 million in the U.S. alone.

New Zealand Hits Zero Active Cases

New Zealand’s last COVID-19 patient has recovered, meaning the country has no active cases of the virus. 

This comes over two weeks after their last new case was reported. New Zealand will now enter “Alert Level One,” meaning citizens can return without restriction to work, school, sports, and domestic travel. People can gather with as many others as they want, and large events like weddings and concerts can come back. Retail, public transportation, and other businesses can resume normal operations as well. 

Border restrictions in the country will still remain in place, meaning international travel is very limited. Those who do come in from abroad must go through a health screening, testing and enter a quarantine or isolation. 

“We are confident we have eliminated transmission of the virus in New Zealand for now, but elimination is not a point in time, it is a sustained effort,” New Zealand’s Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said in a statement. “We will almost certainly see cases here again, and that is not a sign that we have failed, it is a reality of this virus. But if and when that occurs we have to make sure — and we are — that we are prepared.”

Brazil Limits COVID-19 Data Sharing

While New Zealand is seeing great progress, other countries are still grappling with new cases. One of those countries, Brazil, is also making headlines over a new data policy.

Brazil’s government is limiting the coronavirus data that gets shared to the public. They are removing statistics on cumulative totals and only sharing information on cases and deaths within the last 24 hours.

Behind the United States, Brazil has the second-most coronavirus cases in the world, totaling over 691,000 according to Johns Hopkins. Some experts believe the country has yet to reach its peak, and that the case total is actually much higher than data reflects because of insufficient testing.

The move to limit information sharing was led by President Jair Bolsonaro, who has been repeatedly criticized for underplaying the severity of the virus. Bolsonaro has compared it to the flu, called it a media trick and encouraged people to go back to work, despite warnings from health leaders.

On Twitter, he stated that this new measure will allow each region to receive more accurate data. 

“The dissemination of 24-hour data allows us to follow, in real-time, the reality of the country’s situation and define appropriate strategies for serving the population,” he added. “The case curves demonstrate situations, like the most critical scenarios, the return of cases, and the need to prepare.”

He is not the only official in Brazil who has undermined data related to the pandemic. Carlos Wizard, the Health Ministry’s new Secretary of Science and Technology told the Washington Post that local health leaders had inflated their coronavirus numbers “purely in the interest of getting bigger city and state budgets.” The Post stated that he offered no evidence to back this claim. 

But all of this has led to a lot of backlash from other Brazilian leaders. The country’s National Council of Health Secretaries put out a statement calling this choice “authoritarian, insensitive, inhuman and unethical.” 

“It offends Secretaries, doctors and all health professionals who have tirelessly dedicated themselves to saving lives,” they added. 

Brazilian Supreme Court Judge Gilmar Mendes called it a “maneuver of totalitarian regimes.” He claimed that attempts to hide information will not exempt leaders from their responsibility in what he called an “eventual genocide.” 

Study Shows Lockdowns Prevented Millions of Cases

Data tracking has been an essential component of monitoring and controlling the coronavirus. A new study shows just how controlled its spread may be.

A U.S.-conducted study shows that lockdown measures, stay at home orders, and other interventions could have prevented as many as 530 million coronavirus infections worldwide. 

The study was conducted by researchers at the University of California at Berkeley and published in a medical journal called Nature. Researchers followed interventions done in China, South Korea, Italy, Iran, France, and the United States. Their findings showed that these methods “prevented or delayed on the order of 62 million confirmed cases, corresponding to averting roughly 530 million total infections.”

The numbers range so widely because so many cases are not formally diagnosed, so the confirmed cases number is much lower than the possible total infections. 

These measures likely impacted China the most, where as many as 285 million total infections may have been prevented. In the United States, lockdowns may have stopped as many as 60 million total infections. 

See what others are saying: (NPR) (Washington Post) (CNBC)

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200 Children Seeking Asylum in the U.K. Are Missing 

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The missing include at least 13 children under the age of 16. 


Children Missing From Hotels

There are 200 asylum-seeking children missing from government care in the United Kingdom according to the parliamentary undersecretary of state at the Home Office.

When children are seeking asylum in the U.K. alone or separated from their parents, the government puts them up in hotel rooms for temporary accommodation. They have done so since 2021 and have temporarily accommodated 4,600 children in that time. However, Simon Murray, the parliamentary undersecretary of state at the Home Office, said that 200 of the children placed in those hotels are missing, including at least 13 who are under the age of 16.

In response to this information, a collection of more than 100 charities sent a letter to the Prime Minister demanding the end of the procedure of placing kids in hotels over safety concerns. The letter says that these children are at risk of trafficking and exploitation by staying in these hotels alone.

Other officials have echoed these concerns, claiming these hotels are targets for organized crime where people use these vulnerable children for labor or trafficking.

Parliament Calls Incident “Horrific”

Murray told the House of Lords on Monday that despite the media reports, his department does not know of any kidnapping cases, though they are investigating. He went on to say there are many reasons why children go missing. 

However, lawmakers were not appeased by Murray’s assurances. In a later debate, one member of Parliament called the missing cases “horrific” and another said that it was “putting children at risk.”  The children’s commissioner for England also reportedly chimed in asking for, quote “assurances on the steps being taken to safeguard the children.” 

Murray went on to say that the use of hotels for asylum-seeking children will hopefully be phased out as soon as possible but did not give a timeline. 

The nonprofit Refugee Council called on the government in a tweet to spare no expense in the location of these missing kids.

See what others are saying: (Washington Post) (The Guardian) (The Telegraph)

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100,000 U.K. Nurses Launch Biggest Strike in NHS History

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Opposition leader Keir Starmer called the strike “a badge of shame on this government.”


The NHS Grinds to a Halt

Some 100,000 members of the Royal College of Nursing (RCN), the United Kingdom’s largest nursing union, launched a historic 12-hour strike Thursday after the government refused to negotiate on higher pay.

The work stoppage, which spans England, Wales, and Northern Ireland, is only the second in the RCN’s 106-year history and the largest the NHS has ever seen. It marks the breaking point for many underpaid nurses and the culmination of a years-long decline in the NHS’s quality of care, put under increasing stress by severe staffing shortages.

Although most NHS staff in England and Wales received a pay rise of around £1,400 this year, worth about 4% on average for nurses, they say it has not kept up with inflation as Britain plunges deeper into a cost-of-living crisis.

When inflation is accounted for, nurses’ pay dropped 1.2% every year from 2010 to 2017, according to the Health Foundation.

Meanwhile, the number of patients waiting for care has reached a record 7.2 million in England, or over one in eight residents, more than double what it was seven years ago.

In July, the cross-party Commons Health and Social Care Select Committee estimated the staffing shortfall could be as high as 50,000 nurses and 12,000 doctors, what one MP called the “greatest workforce crisis in history.”

Many nurses argue that boosting pay will help hospitals recruit more staff.

The RCN demanded a pay raise 5% above the retail rate of inflation, which amounts to a 19% increase, but both Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and the government’s health secretary have claimed that’s not affordable.

During Thursday’s strike, partial staffing continued to remain open for urgent care such as chemotherapy, kidney dialysis, and children’s accident and neonatal units.

Sunak and Starmer Brawl in Parliament

Labor leader Keir Starmer grilled Sunak during Wednesday’s Prime Minister’s Questions (PMQs) on the upcoming strike.

“Tomorrow will be the first-ever nationwide nurse’s strike,” he said. “All the Prime Minister has to do to stop that is to open the door and discuss pay with them. If he did, the whole country would breathe a sigh of relief. Why won’t he?”

“We have consistently spoken to all the unions involved in all the pay disputes that there are,” Sunak replied. “Last year, when everyone else in the public sector had a public sector pay freeze, the nurses received a three-percent pay rise.”

Starmer fired back: “Nurses going on strike is a badge of shame for this government. Instead of showing leadership, he’s playing games with people’s health.”

Sunak called Starmer’s demand that he reopen negotiations with the RCN “just simply a political formula for avoiding taking a position on this issue.”

“If he thinks the strikes are wrong, he should say so,” Sunak said. “If he thinks it’s right that pay demands of nineteen percent are met, then he should say so. What’s weak, Mr. Speaker, is he’s not strong enough to stand up to the union.”

While Starmer has called on Sunak to negotiate with the RCN, he has not explicitly backed the 19% pay raise himself.

Unless the government returns to the bargaining table, the RCN plans to launch a second round of strikes on Dec. 20 to be followed by ambulance strikes that Wednesday and the next.

If the government still refuses to budge, the union said in a statement that nurses will strike for longer periods in more places starting in January, disrupting more health services.

Other industries are also set to see work stoppages this month, including workers on railways, buses, highways, and borders, as well as teachers, postal workers, baggage handlers, and paramedics.

See what others are saying: (BBC) (CNN) (The Guardian)

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Fortnite Developer Sued By Parents for Making the Game as “Addictive as Possible”

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One child mentioned in the lawsuit played over 7,700 rounds of Fortnite in two years.


Epic Games Sued 

A Quebec City judge recently approved a 2019 class-action lawsuit accusing Fortnite developer Epic Games of deliberately making Fortnite addictive.

The parents who brought forward the lawsuit claim their children have become so obsessed with the game that in some cases, they’ve stopped eating, showering, or socializing. The lawsuit claims that these kids have played thousands of games since Fortnite’s release in 2017. In one example, a teenager played over 7,700 games in less than two years. 

If the lawsuit succeeds, players addicted to Fortnite living in Quebec since September 2017 could receive compensation. The plaintiff’s attorney, Philippe Caron, reports that over 200 parents outside the lawsuit have reached out to him, saying their child’s well-being has diminished since downloading Fortnite. He told The Washington Post that they are very confident about their case. 

Epic Games Responds

“We plan to fight this in court,” Natalie Munoz, a spokesperson for Epic Games said to The Post, “We believe the evidence will show that this case is meritless.” 

Munoz also said that Fortnite does allow parents to supervise their child’s playtime and require permission for purchases.

The parents involved in the lawsuit are claiming that they were not aware of the dangers playing Fortnite could pose for their children. 

“If she had been informed by the defendants of the risks and dangers associated with the use of FORTNITE,” the lawsuit says of one guardian. “She would have categorically refused to allow the game to be downloaded.” 

See what others are saying: (BBC) (The Washington Post) (Deadline

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