Connect with us

International

COVID cases break records in Europe, prompting booster shot expansion

Published

on

BRUSSELS/PRAGUE — Coronavirus infections broke records in parts of Europe on Wednesday, with the continent once again the epicentre of a pandemic that has prompted new curbs on movement and seen health experts push to widen the use of booster vaccination shots.

Slovakia, the Czech Republic, the Netherlands and Hungary all reported new highs in daily infections as winter grips Europe and people gather indoors in the run-up to Christmas, providing a perfect breeding ground for COVID-19.

New cases have jumped 23% in the Americas in the last week, mostly in North America, in a sign that region might also face a resurgence of infections.

The disease has swept the world in the two years since it was first identified in central China, infecting more than 258 million people and killing 5.4 million. 

The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC), the EU public health agency, recommended vaccine boosters for all adults, with priority for those over 40, in a major shift from its previous guidance which suggested the extra doses should be considered for older frail people and those with weakened immune systems.

“Available evidence emerging from Israel and the UK shows a significant increase in protection against infection and severe disease following a booster dose in all age groups in the short term,” the ECDC said on Wednesday.

Many EU countries have already begun giving booster doses but are using different criteria to prioritise them and different intervals between the first shots and boosters.

ECDC head Andrea Ammon said boosters would increase protection against infection caused by waning immunity and “could potentially reduce the transmission in the population and prevent additional hospitalisations and deaths”.

She advised countries with low vaccination levels to speed up rollouts and warned of high risks of a further spike in deaths and hospitalisations in Europe in December and January if the recommended measures are not introduced.

World Health Organization chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, acknowledging that Europe was again at the epicentre of the pandemic, warned against a “false sense of security” over the protection offered by vaccines.

“No country is out of the woods,” he told reporters, adding that he hoped a consensus can be found at a World Trade Organization ministerial meeting next week for an IP waiver for pandemic vaccines. 

Office buildings are seen as the sun sets after the first day with Germany's new COVID-19 rules at workspaces and in public transport as the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) continues in Frankfurt, Germany, November 24, 2021. Photo: Reuters

Office buildings are seen as the sun sets after the first day with Germany’s new COVID-19 rules at workspaces and in public transport as the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) continues in Frankfurt, Germany, November 24, 2021. Photo: Reuters

Sweden will begin gradually rolling out boosters to all adults, government and health officials said. Booster shots of mRNA vaccine have been offered to people aged 65 or above, with an eye to eventually extending the shots to other groups.

“We are faced with an uncertain winter,” Health Minister Lena Hallengren told a news conference. “You can contribute by staying home if you’re sick or by getting vaccinated if you haven’t already, and taking your booster when you’re offered it.”

Slovakia reported its highest daily rise in cases on Wednesday when the government approved a two-week lockdown to curb the world’s fastest surge in infections.

Restaurants and non-essential shops will close and movement will be limited to trips for essential shopping, work, school or medical visits.

“The situation is serious,” Prime Minister Eduard Heger said, “We got here because the (existing) measures were not observed.” 

Vaccination reservations

Neighbouring Austria has already locked down this week for at least 10 days, becoming the first to reimpose such restrictions. It will also require the whole population to be vaccinated from Feb. 1, infuriating many in a country where scepticism about state curbs on individual freedoms runs high.

The Czech Republic reported its highest daily rise in infections, with cases surpassing 25,000 for the first time. The government is looking to institute mandatory vaccines for people over 60 and some professions, like healthcare workers.

Prime Minister Andrej Babis said on Wednesday the cabinet would debate more measures on Friday. 

A member of the public order office checks the coronavirus disease (COVID 19) '2G' protocol at a coffee shop in Pirna, Germany, November 24, 2021. Photo: Reuters

A member of the public order office checks the coronavirus disease (COVID 19) ‘2G’ protocol at a coffee shop in Pirna, Germany, November 24, 2021. Photo: Reuters

The Netherlands recorded more than 23,700 coronavirus infections in 24 hours, the highest number since the start of the pandemic, and the government will announce new measures on Friday.

Hungary reported a record 12,637 new daily COVID-19 cases.

Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s government, which opposes further lockdowns for fear of stifling the economy, launched a vaccination campaign this week, offering shots without prior registration.

Authorities in Russia, where daily coronavirus-related deaths are near record highs, said they were scouring social networks and media websites to find people spreading false claims about the dangers of vaccination. 

France will announce new COVID measures on Thursday, while Italy is tightening curbs on people who have not been vaccinated, preventing them from going to cinemas, restaurants and sports events in new restrictions that come in from Dec. 6.

Portugal, one of the world’s most vaccinated countries, will give booster shots to a quarter of its population by end-January. Cases there reached a four-month daily high Wednesday.

Deaths remain far below January levels, however, and the infection rate is far lower than in most of Western Europe.

Source: https://tuoitrenews.vn/news/international/20211125/covid-cases-break-records-in-europe-prompting-booster-shot-expansion/64352.html

International

Taiwan rushes to contain sudden cane toad invasion

Published

on

Toads are a symbol of prosperity and good fortune in Taiwan, but the unexpected discovery of an invasive species has officials and environmentalists scrambling to contain their spread.

With flashlights in hand and shielded by protective gloves, dozens of volunteers from the Taiwan Amphibian Conservation Society worked through the night searching rice fields and vegetable plots for their quarry — the cane toad.

There should be no reason for these large and highly toxic amphibians to exist in Chaotun, a township in the foothills of Taiwan’s central mountain range.

Cane toads are indigenous to South and Central America and while they have wrought a famously destructive path through places like Australia and the Philippines they had not been recorded in Taiwan.

Cane toads are indigenous to South and Central America and while they have wrought a famously destructive path through places like Australia and the Philippines they had not been recorded in Taiwan. Photo: AFP

Cane toads are indigenous to South and Central America and while they have wrought a famously destructive path through places like Australia and the Philippines they had not been recorded in Taiwan. Photo: AFP

That was until a few weeks ago when a local resident discovered some large amphibians hanging out in her community vegetable garden and uploaded a photograph online, a move that sparked an immediate toadhunt.

“A speedy and massive search operation is crucial when cane toads are first discovered,” Lin Chun-fu, an amphibian scientist at the government-run Endemic Species Research Institute told AFP as he explained why conservationists have since rushed to find and remove any cane toads.

“Their size is very big and they have no natural enemies here in Taiwan,” he added.

Cane toads are voracious predators, they are hugely successful at breeding and they are poisonous. Photo: AFP

Cane toads are voracious predators, they are hugely successful at breeding and they are poisonous. Photo: AFP

Fingertip search

Soon after the photo was uploaded Yang Yi-ju, an expert at National Dong Hwa University, sent a group of volunteers from the Amphibian Conservation Society to investigate.

They arrived at the vegetable garden and were shocked to find 27 toads in the immediate vicinity.

She quickly identified the interlopers as rhinella marina thanks to the tell-tale large partoid glands behind the ears where cane toads secrete a dangerous poison.

“I was shocked and worried when they found more than 20. This is not going to be an easy thing to tackle,” she recalled.

“We began to notify and mobilise everyone to act,” she said, adding the presence of juveniles showed the toads were breeding.

Cane toads are a dangerous invasive species for three key reasons.

They are voracious predators, they are hugely successful at breeding and they are poisonous. That latter quality, a defence mechanism, is especially dangerous to dogs who might lick or bite one.

Local farmers told conservationists they had noticed the arrival of these burly toads but never reported it.

“Taiwanese farmers generally ignore toads and even look favorably at toads when they find them because they help rid the land of pests and are also a good luck symbol,” explained Yang.

“It never occurred to them that this is an invasive species from a foreign land.”

Conservation officials and environmental volunteers have been working non-stop to do a painstaking search.

“We have divided (the township) into 200 by 200 meters square grids to investigate one by one if there are marine toads present,” field researcher Lin Yong-lun said, pointing to a series of colour-coded maps.

The search perimeter has since been expanded to a 4-kilometer radius.

Toads are a symbol of prosperity and good fortune in Taiwan, but the unexpected discovery of an invasive species has officials and environmentalists scrambling to contain their spread. Photo: AFP

Toads are a symbol of prosperity and good fortune in Taiwan, but the unexpected discovery of an invasive species has officials and environmentalists scrambling to contain their spread. Photo: AFP

Symbols of fortune

So far more than 200 marine toads of various sizes have been captured and housed at the Endemic Species Research Institute.

Cane toads are among the world’s ‘100 Invasive Alien Species’ list compiled by the Invasive Species Specialist Group (ISSG), an international advisory body of scientists and policy experts.

Also known as marine toads, their most common English name came from the fact that it was used in sugar plantations to hunt cane beetles.

They were introduced into plantations in Australia, the Philippines, Japan, the Caribbean as well as Florida and Hawaii where they have caused damage to the local ecosystems.

Despite their warty appearance, toads are a symbol of wealth, longevity and good luck in Chinese culture. They are also used in Chinese medicine and their totems are common in feng shui to ward off bad luck.

“In store fronts you can find toad totems, drawings and even real live toads. It’s a symbol of fortune and good luck,” amphibian scientist Lin said.

Toads are also used in Chinese medicine and their totems are common in feng shui to ward off bad luck. Photo: AFP

Toads are also used in Chinese medicine and their totems are common in feng shui to ward off bad luck. Photo: AFP

Until 2016 it was legal to import cane toads into Taiwan as pets where they can fetch between NT$3000 to NT$4000 (US$107-US$142).

Conservationists believe since imports were banned, people have started breeding cane toads locally and some have since escaped or abandoned by their masters.

So far there have been no other reported sightings in Taiwan and Yang is cautiously optimistic about stopping the spread.

“Next spring during mating season is when we truly know for sure if we have contained it,” she said.

Source: https://tuoitrenews.vn/news/international/20211206/taiwan-rushes-to-contain-sudden-cane-toad-invasion/64569.html

Continue Reading

International

Japan PM seeks to boost workers’ wages, defence capability

Published

on

TOKYO — Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida vowed on Monday to ensure workers’ wage hikesto protect the economy from rising global inflation, while strengthening the country’s defences.

Kishida made the remarks on the opening day of parliament’s extra session convened to debate a supplementary budget to cushion the blow from the COVID-19 pandemic as he aims to restore the economy and then tackle fiscal reform.

Wage hikes hold the key to the premier’s aim of defeating deflation by reversing a cycle of tame wage growth and weak consumer spending while encouraging Japanese firms to spend their record cash piles on boosting wages and investment.

Since he took office in October, Kishida has piled pressure on Japanese firms, urging those whose earnings have recovered to pre-pandemic levels to raise wages by 3% or more.

The government will lay the groundwork to help private-sector firms hike wages by strengthening taxation and give bold deductions for companies that raise pay, he added.

“As anxiety has grown that rising global inflation may have ripple effects on Japan, I will do the utmost to (realise) wage hikes in order to protect the Japanese economy,” Kishida said.

Defense capability

On security policy, Japan will fundamentally strengthen its defence posture by looking into options including acquiring the capability to strike enemy bases, Kishida said.

“In order to safeguard the people’s lives and livelihood, we’ll examine all the options including capability to attack enemy bases … and strengthen our defence posture fundamentally with a sense of speed,” Kishida said.

Such capability would mark a shift in Japan’s military posture as Tokyo, constrained by its post-World War II pacifist constitution, is to play a role of the shield in its security alliance with the United States, while Washington is to play a role of the spear.

As part of effort to boost Japan’s defence capacity, the government will renew three main documents laying out the nation’s security policy – the National Security Strategy, National Defence Programme Guidelines and Medium-Term Defence Programme – in a year, Kishida said.

On Japan’s coronavirus response, Kishida said he planned to make it possible to get a booster shot without waiting for the end of the current waiting period, set by the government, of eight months after the second shot.

Calls for early booster shots have been mounting in Japan as the highly transmissible Omicron variant of the coronavirus is spreading globally, although daily COVID-19 cases have remained low in recent weeks.

If infections start picking up pace again, the government will respond swiftly with such measures as stricter restrictions on activities, “while seeking the people’s understanding carefully,” Kishida said.

($1 = 113.2800 yen)

Source: https://tuoitrenews.vn/news/international/20211206/japan-pm-seeks-to-boost-workers-wages-defence-capability/64568.html

Continue Reading

International

Poor weather hampers search and rescue efforts at Indonesia volcano

Published

on

Heavy rain and wind temporarily halted rescue efforts on Monday after Indonesia’s Semeru volcano erupted and killed 14 people on the weekend, and officials urged residents to be vigilant because the danger had not passed.

The tallest mountain on the island of Java erupted dramatically on Saturday, shooting a towering column of ash into the sky that blanketed surrounding villages. More than 50 people had suffered injuries from the eruption, mostly burns.

Aerial footage showed roofs jutting out of an ashen landscape, while on the ground, military officers, police and residents dug through mud with their hands to extricate victims.

Map locating Semeru volcano in Indonesia. Includes locations of other active volcanoes.

On Monday, Liswanto, the head of the Semeru Volcano Observatory, warned people to keep a safe distance from the mountain, amid reports anxious residents had returned to their homes to check on belongings and livestock.

“The status of Mt. Semeru is still at level 2, which means at this level, people need to be more vigilant because the potential threat is still there,” he said.

Lava flows had destroyed a strategic bridge connecting two areas in the nearby district of Lumajang with the city of Malang.

An aerial view shows volcanic ash rising affected by the Mount Semeru volcano during an eruption in Sumber Wuluh village, Lumajang, East Java province, Indonesia December 5, 2021, in this photo taken by Antara Foto/Zabur Karuru/via Reuters.

An aerial view shows volcanic ash rising affected by the Mount Semeru volcano during an eruption in Sumber Wuluh village, Lumajang, East Java province, Indonesia December 5, 2021, in this photo taken by Antara Foto/Zabur Karuru/via Reuters.

In the Sumberwuluh area, where two trucks lay half-buried by volcanic ash, recovery efforts came to an abrupt halt because of strong winds, a Reuters witness said.

Dewa Arya, from the search and rescue agency, said Monday his team was working to retrieve a family of five victims, but their efforts had been temporarily thwarted by bad weather.

People posted photos of their missing relatives on Facebook, with public pleas for any information about their whereabouts.

Public kitchens and health facilities have been set up for more than 1,000 people who have been displaced.

A trauma healing team to work with children affected by the eruption has been dispatched, CNN Indonesia reported, while hundreds of aid packages, including rice, blankets and clothes and other basic necessities have been sent to the area.

Semeru is one of more than 100 active volcanoes in Indonesia, a country that straddles the Pacific Ring of Fire, an area of high seismic activity that rests atop multiple tectonic plates.

Source: https://tuoitrenews.vn/news/international/20211206/poor-weather-hampers-search-and-rescue-efforts-at-indonesia-volcano/64563.html

Continue Reading

Trending