WHO Urges Continued Caution as It Marks Two Years Since Officially Declaring the COVID Pandemic
While global cases are trending downward, surges and outbreaks are still being seen in several pockets of the world.
WHO Calls for Ongoing Vigilance
On March 11, 2020, the World Health Organization officially declared COVID-19 would be characterized as a pandemic. Two years to the day of that declaration, the top public health organization is still urging caution as many countries begin to remove restrictions.
In multiple forums this week, the WHO warned the world’s nations to continue to exercise precautions against the virus, which has now caused 452 million recorded cases and more than six million deaths, according to data obtained from Johns Hopkins University on Friday.
On Wednesday, the organization’s regional arm for the Americas said the area continues to be inordinately impacted by the pandemic, and as such, it is too soon for countries in the region to relax public health measures.
Speaking at a press conference, Dr. Carissa Etienne, the director of the Pan American Health Organization, told reporters that while the Americas represent just 13% of the world’s population, the region reported 63% of the new known COVID cases in the first two months of 2022.
Although cases globally are declining following the Omicron surge that brought historic highs, Dr. Etienne noted that new infections are still rising in parts of the Americas, such as the Caribbean, and a drop in testing is also likely skewing the true numbers.
Meanwhile, disparities still remain between wealthier and poorer nations as the latter continues to face hurdles to adequate testing and vaccination.
According to the University of Oxford’s Our World in Data project, COVAX, the global initiative aimed at vaccinating low-income nations, has so far succeeded at vaccinating just 14% of people in the countries the program is meant to help most.
COVID Outbreaks Spread Across China
In China, where the COVID outbreak first began, new infections have started rising again to levels not seen since the beginning of the pandemic.
On Friday, China’s National Health Commission said more than 1,000 new COVID cases had been detected the day before — a figure that the country has not topped for around two years. The numbers mark a sharp increase from just three weeks ago when the country logged just 60 new daily infections nationwide.
Chinese officials say the surges have been driven by the Omicron variant, which has proven to be successful at breaking through full vaccination in the nation. China boasts a 90% inoculation rate and until now has kept the virus controlled through strict contract tracing and quarantine measures.
Currently, most of the country’s new cases remain localized in the eastern province of Shandong and the northeastern province of Jilin. Some entire cities in northeastern China have gone into full lockdown, and partial or complete lockdowns along with mandatory testing have been imposed in more than 100 neighborhoods across the country.
Experts said the outbreaks show the limits of China’s “zero COVID” policy to keep infections as low as possible — a goal that sets the nation aside from the vast majority of others that are transitioning to living with the virus and implementing policies that mitigate its impact.
See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (CNBC) (The Wall Street Journal)
95-Year-Old Woman Dies After Police Tases Her in Nursing Home
The officer involved was suspended with pay and charged with assault.
A 95-year-old Australian woman whom police tasered in a nursing home last week has reportedly died from her injuries.
Clare Nowland, who had dementia and required a walking frame to stand up and move, was living at the Yallambee Lodge in Cooma in southeastern Australia.
At about 4:15 a.m. on May 17, police and paramedics responded to a report of a woman standing outside her room with a steak knife.
They encountered Nowland, then reportedly tried to negotiate with her for several minutes, but she didn’t drop the knife.
The five-foot-two, 95-pound woman walked toward the two officers “at a slow pace,” police said at a news conference, so one of them tasered her.
She fell to the floor and reportedly suffered a fractured skull and a severe brain bleed, causing her to be hospitalized in critical condition.
Nowland passed away in a hospital surrounded by her family, the New South Wales police confirmed in a statement today.
After a week-long investigation, the police force also said that the senior constable involved would appear in court next week to face charges of recklessly causing grievous bodily harm, assault occasioning actual bodily harm, and common assault.
NSW police procedure states that tasers should not be used against elderly or disabled people absent exceptional circumstances.
Following the incident, community members, activists, and disability rights advocates expressed bewilderment and anger at what they called an unnecessary use of force, and some are now questioning why law enforcement took so long to prosecute the officer involved.
See what others are saying: (Reuters) (The New York Times) (CNN)
U.K. Police Face Backlash After Arresting Anti-Monarchy Protesters
London Mayor Sadiq Khan said that some of the arrests “raise questions” and “investigations are ongoing.”
The Public Order Act
A controversial protest crackdown law in the U.K. is facing criticism after dozens of anti-monarchy protesters were arrested during the coronation ceremony in London over the weekend.
The law, dubbed the “Public Order Act” was passed roughly a week ahead of the coronation for King Charles III. It gives police more power to restrict protesters and limits the tactics protesters can use in public spaces. It was condemned by human rights groups upon its passing, and is facing a new round of heat after 52 people were arrested over coronation protests on Saturday.
In a statement, the Metropolitan Police said protesters were arrested for public order offenses, breach of the peace and conspiracy to cause a public nuisance. The group said it gave advance warning that its “tolerance for any disruption, whether through protest or otherwise, will be low and that we would deal robustly with anyone intent on undermining the celebration.”
It is currently unclear how many of those arrested were detained specifically for violating the Public Order Act, however, some of those arrested believe the new law was used against them.
“Make no mistake. There is no longer a right to peaceful protest in the UK,” Graham Smith, the CEO of anti-monarchy group Republic tweeted after getting arrested. “I have been told many times the monarch is there to defend our freedoms. Now our freedoms are under attack in his name.”
An Attempt to “Diminish” Protests
During a BBC Radio interview, Smith also said he believes the dozens of arrests were premeditated.
“There was nothing that we did do that could possibly justify even being detained and arrested and held,” Smith claimed.
“The whole thing was a deliberate attempt to disrupt and diminish our protest.”
Yasmine Ahmed, the U.K. Director of Human Rights Watch, also tweeted that the arrests were “disgraceful.”
“These are scenes you’d expect to see in Russia not the UK,” she wrote.
When asked about the controversy, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak told reporters officers should do “what they think is best” in an apparent show of support for the Metropolitan Police.
For his part, London Mayor Sadiq Khan said he is looking into the matter.
“Some of the arrests made by police as part of the Coronation event raise questions and whilst investigations are ongoing, I’ve sought urgent clarity from Met leaders on the action taken,” Khan tweeted.
See what others are saying: (The Guardian) (CNN) (The Washington Post)
Foreign Nationals Make Mad Dash out of Sudan as Conflict Rages
The conflict’s death toll has surpassed 420, with nearly 4,000 people wounded.
As the 10-day-long power struggle between rival generals tore Sudan apart, foreign governments with citizens in the country scrambled to evacuate them over the weekend.
On Sunday, U.S. special forces landed in the capital Khartoum and carried out nearly 100 American diplomats along with their families and some foreign nationals on helicopters.
An estimated 16,000 Americans, however, remain in the country and U.S. officials said in a statement that a broader evacuation mission would be too dangerous.
Christopher Maier, the assistant secretary of defense for special operations and low-intensity warfare, said in a statement that the Pentagon may assist U.S. citizens find safe routes out of Sudan.
“[The Defense Department] is at present considering actions that may include use of intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities to be able to observe routes and detect threats,” he said.
Germany and France also reportedly pulled around 700 people out of the country.
More countries followed with similar efforts, including the United Kingdom, Italy, Spain, the Netherlands, Canada, China, Saudi Arabia, Lebanon, and Indonesia.
Yesterday, a convoy carrying some 700 United Nations, NGO, and embassy staff drove to Port Sudan, a popular extraction point now that the airport in Khartoum has closed due to fighting.
Reports of gunmen prowling the capital streets and robbing people trying to escape, as well as looters breaking into abandoned homes and shops, have persuaded most residents to stay indoors.
Heavy gunfire, airstrikes, and artillery shelling have terrorized the city despite several proposed ceasefires.
Over the weekend, the reported death toll topped 420, with nearly 4,000 people injured, though both numbers are likely to be undercounted.