- India reported a record daily coronavirus death toll on Wednesday, with government data showing that 3,293 people died over a 24-hour period, though some reports suggested this may be an undercount.
- The news came as total COVID-19 fatalities in the country crossed the 200,000 mark.
- Vaccine registration also opened to all Indian people over 18 on Wednesday, but the sign-up system was riddled with glitches.
- The rollout is also facing criticism because the country allows private hospitals to buy vaccine doses at high prices to sell them to patients for even more, making it harder for low-income people who already live far from government-run vaccination centers and lack internet access to easily sign up for appointments.
COVID-19 Deaths in India Worsen
India reported a record daily coronavirus death toll on Wednesday amid a concerning surge of the virus in the country.
Government data showed that at least 3,293 people died over a 24-hour period, though it’s worth nothing that various media reports suggest the daily fatality number may be underreported.
As far as overall cases, those also rose by a record 360,960 reported infections, marking India’s seventh consecutive day of over 300,000 new infections. The total number of recorded cases there is just below 18 million, and this news comes as total COVID-19 fatalities in the country crossed the 200,000 mark.
As far as what’s causing the surge, many are blaming Prime Minister Narendra Modi for lax public health restrictions and downplaying the local situation.
Earlier this week, reports said the government was cracking down on criticism of its COVID protocols on social media.
Doctors and media outlets are also citing anecdotal — but inconclusive — evidence to suggest that a homegrown variant is driving the country’s worsening outbreak, according to The New York Times. However, researchers outside of India say the limited data so far instead suggests that a better-known variant that hit Britain late last year may be a more considerable factor.
Either way—if the pandemic has taught us anything, it’s that the world is extremely interconnected, so fear that a mutated variant of the coronavirus is very real, which is partly why some countries are offering much-needed assistance.
India Allows Providers To Charge Private Hospitals for Vaccines
Still, many are also criticizing India’s vaccine rollout. Vaccine registration opened to all people over 18 on Wednesday, but the sign-up system was riddled with glitches.
Some couldn’t even get on the site, and many who did complained about not receiving the required passcode via text that allowed them to complete their verification process.
The glitches were allegedly repaired, but now many are saying they still aren’t allowed to sign up because of age restrictions that were supposed to have been lifted.
On top of that, several new reports have been critical about the actual costs of the vaccines.
Healthcare workers, frontline workers, and Indians older than 45 can already get their doses through government vaccination centers at no cost. Under the nation’s plan, however, the rest of the adult population could be charged a fee at those same locations, according to a report from Insider.
Most Indian states have promised to waive costs for all adults at the sites, but those states now have to carry a lot of the financial burden since India allows vaccine manufacturers to raise their prices in the open market.
For example, one vaccine producer is reportedly charging the federal government about $2 per dose, but it charges states $5.35 per dose. That cost is even higher for private hospitals, who are being charged between $8 to $16 per dose.
According to Insider’s report on the vaccine costs, the wholesale prices are between $10 and $32 per vaccine, which is well above the average daily income in India. Keep in mind that private hospitals could ultimately ask consumers to pay even more.
That has many concerned since it basically allows wealthy people to have easier access to vaccines in a country already riddled with inequalities.
In a recent press release, India’s Ministry of Health and Family Welfare suggested that charging for vaccines could incentivize manufacturers to scale up production, or potentially encourage new vaccine manufacturers to bring their vaccines to India.
But critics believe India should already have the resources to ramp up its own vaccine supply.
Many of India’s low-income residents already have enough trouble getting vaccines for various reasons. A lack of internet access can make it difficult to sign up for appointments. Government-run vaccination centers aren’t always easily accessible to those living in urban slums.
Rahul Gandhi, a member of the Indian National Congress, even said last week that because of this rollout plan, long lines are likely at the vaccine sites where residents don’t have to pay.
200 Children Seeking Asylum in the U.K. Are Missing
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)
100,000 U.K. Nurses Launch Biggest Strike in NHS History
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)
Fortnite Developer Sued By Parents for Making the Game as “Addictive as Possible”
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.”