The rain has created waist-high waters throughout the capital of China’s Henan province, drastically affecting the lives of its over 10 million inhabitants.
Trapped in a Flood
The Henan province of central China experienced severe rainfall over the last week that has left at least 25 dead and displaced more than 1.2 million people due to severe flooding, according to figures released by Chinese authorities Wednesday.
Meteorologists claim that the sudden, severe rainfall is caused by Typhoon In-Fa colliding with a high-pressure system over Henan province.
The floods have forced people to wade through waist-high water throughout Zhengzhou, the region’s capital. In one tragic incident Monday, 12 people died after they were trapped in the subway amid rising waters. A similar situation occurred Tuesday, causing multiple lines to be trapped in chest-high water for up to three hours before rescue workers managed to save them. Since then, metro authorities have shut down many of Zhengzhou’s rail lines.
Between Monday and Tuesday alone, Zhengzhou was hit with an estimated 25 inches of rain, equating to about 87% of its average annual rainfall. At one point, seven inches of rain occurred in less than an hour.
In an effort to alleviate rising waters, authorities breached a nearby dam to release floodwaters on Tuesday, although it’s unclear how much that helped as many dams and rivers in the region have overflowed for days.
Elsewhere in Henan, villages have been cut off by landslides and flooding, killing at least four others and leaving some areas without power for more than 24 hours.
Long Recovery Ahead
The region was finally able to begin recovery efforts Wednesday as conditions have begun to die down.
Despite reduced rainfall, the situation has still proven to be dire, leading President Xi Jinping to issue a statement through state media ordering authorities to give top priority to people’s safety and property.
In total, more than 17,000 firefighters have been mobilized for rescue efforts, as well as local volunteers and other rescue crews from other provinces.
Chinese companies have rushed to donate money to help the affected communities, and so far over $300 million has been donated.
It’s likely that for some time, hundreds of thousands in the region will be left without homes as authorities begin the work of ensuring that buildings are safe to return to.
See what others are saying: (South China Morning Post) (BBC) (The New York Times)
Omicron Variant Is Increasing Hospitalization Rates in South Africa Among Children Under Five
Health officials said the hospitalization rate for children under five is second-highest only to those over 60 in South Africa, where COVID cases driven by omicron have tripled in the last three days.
Toddler’s Disproportionally Infected
The omicron COVID-19 variant is sending young children under five in South Africa to the hospital at a disproportionately high rate compared to other strains, a top medical adviser said Friday.
In a press conference, Waasila Jassat spoke about infections in the Gauteng province, the populous region that contains the city of Johannesburg and is currently experiencing the highest case rates in the country.
“We’ve seen quite a sharp increase [in hospital admissions] across all age groups but particularly in the under fives,” she said. “The incidence in those under five is now second highest, second only to those over 60. The trend that we’re seeing now, that is different to what we’ve seen before, is a particular increase in hospital admissions in children under five years.”
“We’ve always seen children not being very heavily affected by the COVID epidemic in the past, not having many admissions. In the third wave, we saw more admissions in young children under five and in teenagers, 15-19, and now, at the start of this fourth wave, we have seen quite a sharp increase across all age groups, but particularly in the under fives.”
Jassat later said she believed the high hospitalization may be due to an “immunity gap” driven by the lack of vaccination among children, noting that with more adults vaccinated, kids are increasingly the ones “getting sick and need[ing] to be admitted.”
She went on to say that pediatricians at a hospital in the city of Tshwane Metro had told health officials that “all” of the children ages 12-18 who had been admitted were unvaccinated, despite being eligible.
“And the younger children, younger than 12, who were not eligible for vaccination, none of their parents, except for three, were vaccinated,” she added.
Earlier this week, the National Institute for Communicable Diseases said that children under the age of two accounted for nearly 10% of total hospitalizations in Tshwane.
Jassat argued that the high number of hospital admittances among unvaccinated individuals shows “the value of vaccination in the adult protecting the children in the homes.” Just around a third of the population in South Africa is fully vaccinated, and 42% have had at least one shot.
Surging Cases and High Transmissibility
The disproportionate hospitalization among children comes as new infections have skyrocketed across South Africa, where omicron is now the dominant variant.
Figures released by the country’s health ministry Thursday showed new COVID-19 cases have tripled in three days.
During a media briefing Friday, Minister of Health Joe Phaahla said daily cases have risen by 9,000 a day over the last week.
“We have moved from a total of around 2,465 new cases last Thursday when this variant was announced to yesterday’s high of 11,535,” he said, adding that the COVID test positivity rate in South Africa has surged to 22%, a huge jump from 1% just two weeks before.
“This variant is indeed highly transmissible, including in people who have already been vaccinated,” he continued, though he also noted that the majority of people getting hospitalized have not gotten the vaccine.
While more exact data regarding omicron’s transmissibility and the efficacy of vaccines against the strain remain unknown, a preliminary study published by South African scientists Thursday found that the variant is at least three times more likely to cause reinfection than others like beta and delta.
According to the study, researchers conducted a statistical analysis of around 2.8 million positive COVID samples in the country, including 35,670 that were suspected reinfections, and concluded that omicron has a “substantial ability to evade immunity from prior infection.”
“Contrary to our expectations and experience with the previous variants, we are now experiencing an increase in the risk of reinfection that exceeds our prior experience,” said Juliet Pulliam, a co-author of the study, which has not yet been peer-reviewed.
However, in a statement Thursday, Pulliam said vaccines will still likely provide effective protection against severe illness and death for those who contract the strain.
See what others are saying: (The Daily Beast) (The Washington Post) (Bloomberg)
Gang That Kidnapped American and Canadian Missionaries in Haiti Seeks $17 Million Ransom
The incident has fueled calls for the government to take action against gangs, which control many territories in the country and have repeatedly carried out large-scale abductions for ransom
The gang that abducted 17 American and Canadian missionaries in Haiti on Saturday is demanding $17 million for their safe release, Haitian officials said Monday.
The group, which consists of one Canadian and 16 Americans, are all part of Christian Aid Ministries, an Amish and Mennonite charity based out of Ohio with a long history of working in Haiti.
While on their way to visit an orphanage in Croix des Bouquets, a suburb of the capital Port-au-Prince, the group’s bus was stopped at gunpoint by the 400 Mawozo gang. The gang is known for being one the most dangerous in the area, reportedly having about 150 members.
Multiple outlets, including CNN and Reuters, report that during the gang’s confrontation with the missionaries some victims managed to get messages out to associates to let them know what was going on. One even managed to drop a pin location on his mobile phone, helping authorities get a better idea of where exactly this happened.
By 4:53 p.m on Saturday, the kidnappers contacted Christian Aid Ministries to make their steep demands. According to authorities, the request is a noticeable jump from the thousands to tens of thousands the gang typically asks for.
Lack of Government Control
While Haitian authorities are involved in the investigation to free the missionaries, they actually have little power in the area. Croix des Bouquets is largely out of the government’s control and is instead run by 400 Mawozo. Government authority being replaced by gang activity isn’t uncommon in Haiti, and in some places, government control is almost completely lacking. This was highlighted on Sunday when Prime Minister Ariel Henry was forced to turn back from a wreath-laying ceremony at the grave of revolutionary war hero Jean-Jacques Dessalines due to its placement in gang territory.
The issue makes recovering the missionaries far more complex, but Haitian authorities aren’t alone. The FBI has been involved in the investigation and is continuing to help Haitian authorities.
“The FBI is part of a coordinated US government effort to get the Americans involved to safety. Due to operational considerations, no further information is available at this time,” The agency said in a statement to Reuters.
Reports indicate that the hostages are being held in some kind of safe house for the gang. Currently, no one is believed to be physically hurt. The gang has warned against harming the hostages, although according to a Haitian security forces member who spoke with CNN, the group didn’t seem too worried about those threats.
Haitians Call for Changes
Abductions in Haiti have always been an issue, but the problem has become particularly bad lately. In 2020, the Haitian National Police reported 234 kidnappings. In the first eight months of this year, there have been at least 328.
Some organizations claim that number is actually low. In fact, the Center for Analysis and Research for Human Rights reported that at least 600 people have been abducted this year. The center said that much of the increase was caused by 400 Mawozo, who have figured out that kidnapping busloads of people is more profitable than just taking individuals.
The issue is so prolific that just before the kidnapping on Saturday, a Haitian transportation union called for an indefinite strike starting Monday, with its president further justifying the move in a written statement a day later.
“We call on the government to put an end to the kidnappings and provide us safety or for them to resign immediately. We are the most victims; the transportation sector is an easy target for kidnappers all over the country,” Union President Méhu Changeux wrote. “We lost many members to the insecurity and dozens of members have been kidnapped. The latest tragedy of the kidnapping of the American missionaries shows no one is safe in this country.”
Since Monday, many parts of the country have come to a standstill amid the strike, putting increased pressure on a government with little resources to handle the underlying cause of discontent: gang activity and government instability.
See what others are saying: (CNN) (The New York Times) (Associated Press)
5 Dead, 2 Injured After Bow and Arrow Attack in Norway
Police have called the incident a terror attack, though exact details regarding the suspect’s motives remain unclear.
Super Market Attack
The Norwegian town of Kongsberg is reeling from a deadly incident at Coop Extra supermarket on Wednesday that police are treating as “an act of terrorism.”
Shortly before 6 p.m., a 37-year old Danish man entered the market, armed with a bow and arrow, along with other weapons. He then began firing at those inside the building.
Authorities quickly responded and were on the scene within five minutes. Despite a police confrontation with the suspect, the attack continued. Four women and one man were ultimately killed while two others were left injured.
The suspect initially avoided arrest after managing to flee the scene. Police Chief Ole Bredrup Sæverud told reporters Thursday that it took 35 minutes to catch the attacker.
While police described the incident as a terror attack, they refused to specify a motive. Officials did hint that the rampage might have been religiously motivated by revealing that police had previously been in contact with the suspect due to his conversion to Islam and possible connections to radical content and teachings. Still, Sæverud clarified that the perpetrator hadn’t been actively investigated at all in 2021.
Prime Minister Erna Solberg, who was just hours away from leaving office after she was ousted in recent elections, described reports of the scene as “horrifying” on Wednesday. Incoming Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Støre said in a Facebook post from Thursday morning that the attack was a “cruel and brutal act.”
Norway’s King Harald expressed his sympathies to the mayor of Kongs-berg, telling the country, “We sympathize with the relatives and injured in the grief and despair.”
“And we think of all those affected in Kongs-berg who have experienced that their safe local environment suddenly became a dangerous place. It shakes us all when horrible things happen near us, when you least expect it, in the middle of everyday life on the open street.”
Attacks of this nature are rare in Norway. In 2019, a right-wing gunman tried to enter a mosque before being overpowered and hitting no one. Wednesday’s attack is the most deadly since July 2011, when a far-right extremist killed 77 people at a Labour party summer camp.
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