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

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  • 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)

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Mukbangs and Ordering Too Much Food Banned in China

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  • China recently passed a law that bans ordering too much food and sharing content online that portrays overeating.
  • Though food scarcity is not an issue in the country, the law is meant to combat food waste, with authorities pointing out that China tosses 35 million tons of food annually.
  • The law doesn’t penalize consumers at restaurants. Instead, it fines restaurants $1550 for allowing diners to order “more than they need.”
  • TV stations, media companies, or people who post overeating content, such as Mukbangs, can face a $16,000 fine.

The End of Mukbangs

Some of the most popular content across Chinese social media has effectively been banned under an anti-food waste law that authorities passed late last week.

The law bans diners from ordering more than they need, which could hurt an entire class of eating videos, including ones where people enter all-you-can-eat restaurants to consume thousands of dollars worth of food. While it could be argued that if the creators eat all that food, they’ve satisfied the “more than they need” clause, the law also bans binge eating and posting such content online, meaning no more mukbangs for Chinese fans.

Censors have already begun removing overeating content, and much of it went missing overnight from Douyin, TikTok’s Chinese sister app.

The law also affects far more than a fringe group of people making food content. It’s so vague and open to interpretation that it could disrupt everyday restaurant-goers.

President Xi Jinping called food waste a “distressing” problem that threatens China’s food security, despite the fact that China is not facing any imminent food shortages.

Nearly 35 million tons of food go to waste every year in China, though that’s a relatively small amount for its population size. The U.S., for comparison, manages to throw away 66 million tons of food yearly.

Still, the legislation does not come as a complete surprise since Xi launched a food-saving campaign back in August claiming that COVID-19 was threatening the food supply chain.

Who’s Penalized?

Across China, restaurants have already begun to comply with the new rules. Some have set up scales at their entrance to give recommended food portion sizes to customers based on their weight. Meanwhile, others have promised to offer smaller-sized plates as an option.

One standard that many are seeking to enact is the “N-1” rule, which states that the number of dishes should be one less than the number of guests. The rule could be an attempt to curb a cultural practice that sees hosts ordering far more food than could be eaten in an effort to show off wealth.

Under the law, much of the blame towards a consumer wasting food is placed on restaurants, as there’s no clear cut fine for diners violating the law. Any establishment found allowing customers or misleading customers into ordering excessive amounts of food facing a $1550 fine. Showing content related to binge-eating could result in TV stations, online media companies, or even content creators facing a $16,000 fine.

Tuesday seems to have been the first time regulators went after a particular business, warning a Nanjing bakery to stop throwing away pastries that the business didn’t believe would sell because of visual defects. It has promised to donate them instead.

See what others are saying: (SCMP) (The Guardian) (Vice)

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Zimbabwe Considers Controversial Mass Elephant Killing

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  • Zimbabwe is considering culling its 100,000 elephant population over concerns of how they destroy other habitats and interact with farmland.
  • The plan isn’t unheard of, as Zimbabwe has done similar culls in the past, while other countries have done their own more recently.
  • However, the large-scale killing of elephants has faced pushback, with some suggesting the animals should instead be transported to areas with falling elephant populations.
  • For the time being, the plan is still just a proposal, and the government of Zimbabwe has promised to make a decision based on “scientific advice.”

Killing Elephants Is What’s Best for Them?

For the first time since 1988, Zimbabwe is considering a mass killing of elephants.

In a local radio interview on Wednesday, Minister of Environment, Climate, Tourism, and Hospitality Mangaliso Ndlovu said, “We are trying to see ways in which we can reduce the numbers. We have to discuss it at policy level as government. Options are on the table…” 

“It’s an option but not a decision yet,” Ndlovu later added by text message to the station. “We will obviously rely on scientific advice.”

The country is home to about 100,000 elephants, the second largest population in the world after neighboring Botswana. The mass killings are better known as culls, and the concept isn’t completely unknown in areas with large animal populations. They can happen for a variety of reasons, such as removing sterile males from the mating population that prevent fertile ones from accessing mates.

In Zimbabwe, authorities are worried that the elephant population has outgrown the resources available, causing the animals to destroy habitats that other species need to survive by eating the bark off trees and killing them. Additionally, the large population increases the chances of violent human-elephant interactions as elephants encroach on farmlands.

Elephants are known for their great intelligence and advanced emotional states compared to other animals, and therefore authorities are concerned about how a cull could affect populations. Notably, elephants can experience Post-traumatic stress disorder. In an effort to minimize those effects, other countries that have initiated culls, such as Uganda, have targeted entire herds for eradication while leaving others completely untouched.

Cull Concerns

Any discussion of a cull causes alarm bells among animal conservationists, particularly as total elephant populations in Africa have been on the decline over the last decade. However, in both Botswana and Zimbabwe the populations have actually risen considerably. Despite this, the possible plan has received considerable pushback online.

Many people have pointed out that there are other viable solutions to control the population and protect both the animals, other habitats, and farmland. As journalist Yashar Ali pointed out, “The only reasonable solution for Zimbabwe and other countries with large elephant populations is to work on human-wildlife conflict mitigation measures, contraception for elephants, and translocation.”

In particular, translocation has been touted as a viable alternative to not only help reduce the elephant population in Zimbabwe but also bolster the falling populations in other countries. Now, some have wondered why there has been any pushback against a cull, pointing out that animals such as deer are regularly culled across the world.

But it’s not quite apples and oranges. Take the U.S., which often hosts deer culls. The country has over 30 million deer, compared to Zimbabwe’s 100,000 elephants. On top of that, deer can give birth to over 20 fawns in their roughly 10-year lifespan, compared to less than 10 for an elephant during its more than 60 years alive.

For the time being, the plan is still just a proposal. It remains to be seen if Zimbabwe’s government will take such a large-scale cull seriously.

See what others are saying: (Reuters) (Bloomberg) (Quartz)

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Cash-in-Transit Truck Driver Praised After Foiling Robbery Attempt in South Africa

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  • Viral video captured the moment a rookie security guard and the driver of an armored cash-in-transit truck were ambushed in South Africa by robbers firing bullets at them last month. 
  • The footage shows the driver, 48-year-old Leo Prinsloo, keeping his cool as he sped off and maneuvered through traffic to get away from the two groups chasing them. 
  • When the truck eventually jerked to a halt, he grabbed a gun from his partner and exited the vehicle to confront the attackers, who had fled empty-handed. 
  • While Prinsloo has faced widespread praise, he has also been placed under protective guard because of death threats he’s received since foiling the heist.

The Viral Video

Millions of people all over the world have watched dash-cam footage of a rookie security guard and the driver of an armored cash-in-transit truck as they were ambushed in South Africa by robbers firing bullets at them.

The incident happened on April 22, though the footage, which looks like it was pulled straight from an action movie, has recently gone massively viral.

It shows the driver, 48-year-old Leo Prinsloo keeping his cool as he sped off and maneuvered through traffic to get away from the two groups chasing them. When the truck eventually jerked to a halt, he grabbed a gun from his partner and exited the vehicle to confront the attackers, who had fled empty-handed.

It turns out Prinsloo, who served with the South African Police Services special forces unit for 12 years, actually teaches the nation’s military special forces how to shoot. People who watched the insane footage are now calling him the real-life Jason Bourne, with many impressed by his incredible instincts.

“I cannot say much as an investigation is underway but I and my fellow guard did what was expected of us. They needed to take us out so they could take out the cargo vehicle,” Prinsloo said when speaking to the Daily Mail.

“But there was no way I was going to let that happen and unfortunately I did not have a chance to return fire,” he added.

Prinsloo Defends Partner

Prinsloo’s partner, Lloyd Mtombeni, has been facing a bit of criticism for what some perceived as a lack of action. However, it’s worth noting that Mtombeni told local reporters this was only his fourth day on the job and the first time he had ever experienced gunfire from inside the vehicle.

Because of the backlash against him, Prinsloo defending Mtombeni, saying, “I think those people should keep their opinions to themselves until they’re in the same situation and see if they can do better in the same circumstances.”

Others also spoke out in support of the guard online, commended him for staying composed and taking direction from Prinsloo. Still, it doesn’t appear like the threat is over.

According to News24, Prinsloo has been placed under protective guard because he’s been receiving death threats since foiling the heist. So far, no arrests have been made in this case but police are still investigating.

See what others are saying: (News24) (The South African) (ABC 7)

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