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)
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.”