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India Surpasses 200,000 COVID-19 Deaths as Concerns Over Vaccine Costs Grow



  • 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.

See what others are saying: (Bloomberg) (Insider) (Forbes)


Leaked Documents and Photos Give Unprecedented Glimpse Inside Xinjiang’s Detention Camps



The so-called vocational schools, which China claims Uyghurs enter willingly as students, oversee their detainees with watchtowers armed with machine guns and sniper rifles, as well as guards instructed to shoot to kill anyone trying to escape.

Detained for Growing a Beard

The BBC and a consortium of investigative journalists have authenticated and published a massive trove of leaked documents and photographs exposing the Chinese government’s persecution of Uyghur Muslims in unprecedented detail.

According to the outlet, an anonymous source hacked several police computer servers in the northwestern Xinjiang province, then sent what has been dubbed the Xinjiang police files to the scholar Dr. Adrian Zenz, who gave them to reporters.

Among the files are more than 5,000 police photographs of Uyghurs taken between January and July 2018, with accompanying data indicating at least 2,884 of them were detained.

Some of the photos show guards standing nearby with batons.

The youngest Uyghur photographed was 15 at the time of their detention, and the oldest was 73.

One document is a list titled “Relatives of the Detained,” which contains thousands of people placed under suspicion for guilt by association with certain family members. It includes a woman whose son authorities claimed had “strong religious leanings” because he didn’t smoke or drink alcohol. He was jailed for ten years on terrorism charges.

The files also include 452 spreadsheets with information on more than a quarter of a million Uyghurs, some of whom were detained retroactively for offenses committed years or even decades ago.

One man was jailed for ten years in 2017 because he “studied Islamic scripture with his grandmother” for a few days in 2010.

Authorities targeted hundreds more for their mobile phone use, like listening to “illegal lectures” or downloading encrypted apps. Others were punished for not using their phones enough, with “phone has run out of credit” listed as evidence they were trying to evade digital surveillance.

One man’s offense was “growing a beard under the influence of religious extremism.”

The Most Militarized Schools in the World

The files include documents outlining conditions inside Xinjiang’s detention camps, or so-called “Vocational Skills Education and Training Centers.”

Armed guards occupy every part of the facilities, with machine guns and sniper rifles stationed on watchtowers. Police protocols instruct guards to shoot to kill any so-called “students” trying to escape if they fail to stop after a warning shot.

Any apprehended escapees are to be taken away for interrogation while camp management focuses on “stabilizing other students’ thoughts and emotions.”

The BBC used the documents to reconstruct one of the camps, which data shows holds over 3,700 detainees guarded by 366 police officers who oversee them during lessons.

If a “student” must be transferred to another facility, the protocols say, police should blindfold them, handcuff them and shackle their feet.

Dr. Zenz published a peer-reviewed paper on the Xinjiang police files, in which he found that more than 12% of Uyghur adults were detained over 2017 and 2018.

“Scholars have argued that political paranoia is a common feature of atrocity crimes,” he wrote. “Here, it is suggested that the pre-emptive internment of large numbers of ordinary citizens can be explained as a devolution into political paranoia that promotes exaggerated threat perceptions.”

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

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Biden Vows to Defend Taiwan if Attacked by China



Some praised the remarks for clarifying U.S. foreign policy, while others feared they could escalate tensions with China.

Biden’s Remarks Create Confusion

During a Monday press conference in Tokyo, U.S. President Joe Biden said the United States would intervene to defend Taiwan in the event of a Chinese attack.

The remark caught many off guard because it contradicted decades of traditional U.S. foreign policy toward China.

A reporter said, “You didn’t want to get involved in the Ukraine conflict militarily for obvious reasons. Are you willing to get involved militarily to defend Taiwan if it comes to that?”

“Yes,” Biden answered. “That’s a commitment we made. We are not — look, here’s the situation. We agree with a One China policy. We signed onto it and all the attendant agreements made from there.”

“But the idea that it can be taken by force — just taken by force — is just not appropriate,” he continued. “It will dislocate the entire region and be another action similar to what happened in Ukraine.”

Beijing considers the Taiwanese island to be a breakaway province, but Taiwan, officially the Republic of China, has claimed to represent the real historical lineage of China.

Since 1972, the U.S. has officially recognized only one China, with its capital in Beijing. However, Washington maintains extensive informal diplomatic ties with Taipei and provides military assistance through weapons and training.

Successive U.S. presidents have also committed to a policy of “strategic ambiguity,” refusing to promise or rule out a direct military intervention in case China attacks Taiwan.

The strategy is meant to deter China while avoiding a hard commitment to any action.

Biden Sparks Controversy

The White House quickly sent a statement to reporters appearing to walk back Biden’s remark.

“As the president said, our policy has not changed,” the statement said. “He reiterated our One China Policy and our commitment to peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait. He also reiterated our commitment under the Taiwan Relations Act to provide Taiwan with the military means to defend itself.”

Monday was not the first time Biden made similar remarks regarding China and Taiwan.

Last August, he promised that “we would respond” if there was an attack against a fellow member of NATO and then added, “same with Japan, same with South Korea, same with Taiwan.”

In October, he again told CNN’s Anderson Cooper that the U.S. would defend Taiwan from a Chinese attack, prompting the White House to hurriedly walk back his statement.

Monday’s remark was received with support as well as criticism.

“Strategic ambiguity is over. Strategic clarity is here,” Tweeted Matthew Kroenig, professor of government at Georgetown University. “This is the third time Biden has said this. Good. China should welcome this. Washington is helping Beijing to not miscalculate.”

“It is truly dangerous for the president to keep misstating U.S. policy toward Taiwan,” historian Stephen Wertheim wrote in a tweet. “How many more times will this happen?”

“The West’s robust response to Russian aggression in Ukraine could serve to deter China from invading Taiwan, but Biden’s statement risks undoing the potential benefit and instead helping to bring about a Taiwan conflict,” he added. “Self-injurious and entirely unforced.”

Biden also unveiled the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework for Prosperity (IPEF), a trade agreement signed by the U.S. and 12 Asian nations.

The agreement appeared to many like another move to cut off China from regional trade pacts and supply chains in Washington’s strategic competition with Beijing.

See what others are saying: (CNN) (The New York Times) (The South China Morning Post)

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Russia Takes Over 900 Azovstal Fighters Prisoner as Mariupol Surrenders



Ukraine said the soldiers successfully completed their mission, but the fall of Mariupol represents a strategic win for Putin.

Azovstal Waves the White Flag

Russia’s foreign ministry announced on Wednesday that it had captured 959 Ukrainians from the Azovstal steelworks, where besieged soldiers have maintained the last pocket of resistance in Mariupol for weeks.

A ministry spokesperson said in a statement that 51 were being treated for injuries, and the rest were sent to a former prison colony in the town of Olenivka in a Russian-controlled area of Donetsk.

The defense ministry released videos of what it claimed were Ukrainian fighters receiving care at a hospital in the Russian-controlled town of Novoazovsk. In one, a soldier tells the camera he is being treated “normally” and that he is not being psychologically pressured, though it is unclear whether he is speaking freely.

It was unclear if any Ukrainians remained in Azovstal, but Denis Pushilin, the head of the self-proclaimed republic of Donetsk, said in a statement Wednesday that the “commanders of the highest level” were still hiding in the plant.

Previously, estimates put the number of soldiers inside Azovstal around 1,000.

Ukraine officially gave up Mariupol on Monday, when the first Azovstal fighters began surrendering.

Reuters filmed dozens of wounded Ukrainians being driven away in buses marked with the Russian pro-war “Z” symbol.

Ukraine’s deputy defense minister said in a Tuesday statement that the Ukrainian prisoners would be swapped in an exchange for captured Russians. But numerous Russian officials have signaled that the Ukrainian soldiers should be tried.

Mariupol Falls into Russian Hands

After nearly three months of bombardment that left Mariupol in ruins, Russia’s combat mission in the city has ended.

The sprawling complex of underground tunnels, caverns, and bunkers beneath Azovstal provided a defensible position for the Ukrainians there, and they came to represent the country’s resolve in the face of Russian aggression for many spectators.

Earlier this month, women, children, and the elderly were evacuated from the plant.

The definitive capture of Mariupol, a strategic port city, is a loss for Ukraine and a boon for Russia, which can now establish a land bridge between Crimea and parts of Eastern Ukraine controlled by Russian separatists. The development could also free up Russian troops around Mariupol to advance on the East, while additional reinforcements near Kharkiv descend from the north, potentially cutting off Ukrainian forces from the rest of the country.

The Ukrainian military has framed events in Mariupol as at least a partial success, arguing that the defenders of Azovstal completed their mission by tying down Russian troops and resources in the city and giving Ukrainians elsewhere more breathing room.

It claimed that doing so prevented Russia from rapidly capturing the city of Zaporizhzhia further to the west.

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

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