India reported on Thursday the highest single-day death toll from COVID-19 in the world, at 6,148, after a big eastern state revised its figures to account for people who succumbed to the disease at home or in private hospitals.
The health department of Bihar, one of India’s poorest states, revised its total COVID-19 related death toll on Wednesday to more than 9,400 from about 5,400.
The United States had recorded 5,444 COVID-19 deaths on Feb. 12.
India’s total COVID-19 case load now stands at 29.2 million after rising by 94,052 in the past 24 hours, while total fatalities are at 359,676, according to data from the health ministry.
India says new COVID variant is a concern
India on Tuesday declared a new coronavirus variant to be of concern, and said nearly two dozen cases had been detected in three states.
The variant, identified locally as “Delta plus”, was found in 16 cases in the state of Maharashtra, Federal Health Secretary Rajesh Bhushan told a news conference.
The ministry said Delta plus showed increased transmissibility and advised states to increase testing.
On Monday, India vaccinated a record 8.6 million people as it began offering free shots to all adults, but experts doubted it could maintain that pace.
“This is clearly not sustainable,” Chandrakant Lahariya, an expert in public policy and health systems, told Reuters.
“With such one-day drives, many states have consumed most of their current vaccine stocks, which will affect the vaccination in days to follow.”
With the currently projected vaccine supply for the next few months, the maximum daily achievable rate is 4 to 5 million doses, Lahariya added.
The effort has so far covered about 5.5% of the 950 million people eligible, even though India is the world’s largest vaccine producer.
A devastating second wave during April and May overwhelmed health services, killing hundreds of thousands. Images of funeral pyres blazing in car parks raised questions over the chaotic vaccine rollout.
Since May, vaccinations have averaged fewer than 3 million doses a day, far less than the 10 million health officials say are crucial to protect the millions vulnerable to new surges.
Vaccine drive faltering
Particularly in the countryside, where two-thirds of a population of 1.4 billion lives and the healthcare system is often overstretched, the drive has faltered, experts say.
Maintaining the pace will prove challenging when it comes to injecting younger people in such areas, Delhi-based epidemiologist Rajib Dasgupta said.
The capital is also facing difficulties. Authorities in New Delhi said more than 8 million residents had yet to receive a first dose and inoculating all adults there would take more than a year at the current pace.
India has been administering AstraZeneca’s vaccine, made locally by the Serum Institute of India, and a homegrown shot named Covaxin made by Bharat Biotech.
Last week, Serum Institute had said it planned to increase monthly production to around 100 million doses from July. Bharat now estimates it will make 23 million doses a month.
On Tuesday, television channel CNBC-TV18 reported that phase-3 data for Covaxin showed an efficacy of 77.8%.
India may also soon have a mass rollout of Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine, and the government expects to import vaccines this year from major makers such as Pfizer.
Although new infections in India have dropped to their lowest in more than three months, experts say vaccinations should be stepped up because of the transmissibility of new variants.
Over the past 24 hours India reported 42,640 new infections, the lowest since March 23, and 1,167 deaths.
Infections now stand at 29.98 million, with a death toll of 389,302, health ministry data showed.
Crushing climate impacts to hit sooner than feared: draft UN report
Climate change will fundamentally reshape life on Earth in the coming decades, even if humans can tame planet-warming greenhouse gas emissions, according to a landmark draft report from the UN’s climate science advisors obtained by AFP.
Species extinction, more widespread disease, unliveable heat, ecosystem collapse, cities menaced by rising seas — these and other devastating climate impacts are accelerating and bound to become painfully obvious before a child born today turns 30.
The choices societies make now will determine whether our species thrives or simply survives as the 21st century unfolds, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) says in a draft report seen exclusively by AFP.
But dangerous thresholds are closer than once thought, and dire consequences stemming from decades of unbridled carbon pollution are unavoidable in the short term.
“The worst is yet to come, affecting our children’s and grandchildren’s lives much more than our own,” the report says.
By far the most comprehensive catalogue ever assembled of how climate change is upending our world, the report reads like a 4,000-page indictment of humanity’s stewardship of the planet.
But the document, designed to influence critical policy decisions, is not scheduled for release until February 2022 — too late for crunch UN summits this year on climate, biodiversity and food systems, some scientists say.
Allies into enemies
The draft report comes at a time of global “eco-awakening” and serves as a reality check against a slew of ill-defined net-zero promises by governments and corporations worldwide.
The challenges it highlights are systemic, woven into the very fabric of daily life.
They are also deeply unfair: those least responsible for global warming will suffer disproportionately, the report makes clear.
And it shows that even as we spew record amounts of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, we are undermining the capacity of forests and oceans to absorb them, turning our greatest natural allies in the fight against warming into enemies.
It warns that previous major climate shocks dramatically altered the environment and wiped out most species, raising the question of whether humanity is sowing the seeds of its own demise.
“Life on Earth can recover from a drastic climate shift by evolving into new species and creating new ecosystems,” it says.
There are at least four main takeaways in the draft report, which has gone through a major revision and is unlikely to change before its release.
The first is that with 1.1 degrees Celsius of warming clocked so far, the climate is already changing.
A decade ago, scientists believed that limiting global warming to two degrees Celsius above mid-19th century levels would be enough to safeguard our future.
That goal is enshrined in the 2015 Paris Agreement, adopted by nearly 200 nations who vowed to collectively cap warming at “well below” two degrees Celsius — and 1.5 degrees if possible.
On current trends, we’re heading for three degrees Celsius at best.
Earlier models predicted we were not likely to see Earth-altering climate change before 2100.
But the UN draft report says that prolonged warming even beyond 1.5 degrees Celsius could produce “progressively serious, centuries’ long and, in some cases, irreversible consequences”.
Last month, the World Meteorological Organization projected a 40 percent chance that Earth will cross the 1.5-degree threshold for at least one year by 2026.
For some plants and animals, it could be too late.
“Even at 1.5 degrees Celsius of warming, conditions will change beyond many organisms’ ability to adapt,” the report notes.
Coral reefs — ecosystems on which half a billion people depend — are one example.
Indigenous populations in the Arctic face cultural extinction as the environment upon which their livelihoods and history are built melts beneath their snow shoes.
A warming world has also increased the length of fire seasons, doubled potential burnable areas, and contributed to food systems losses.
The world must face up to this reality and prepare for the onslaught — a second major takeaway of the report.
“Current levels of adaptation will be inadequate to respond to future climate risks,” it cautions.
Mid-century projections — even under an optimistic scenario of two degrees Celsius of warming — make this an understatement.
Tens of millions more people are likely to face chronic hunger by 2050, and 130 million more could experience extreme poverty within a decade if inequality is allowed to deepen.
In 2050, coastal cities on the “frontline” of the climate crisis will see hundreds of millions of people at risk from floods and increasingly frequent storm surges made more deadly by rising seas.
Some 350 million more people living in urban areas will be exposed to water scarcity from severe droughts at 1.5 degrees Celsius of warming — 410 million at two degrees Celsius.
That extra half-a-degree will also mean 420 million more people exposed to extreme and potentially lethal heatwaves.
“Adaptation costs for Africa are projected to increase by tens of billions of dollars per year with warming greater than two degrees,” the report cautions.
Point of no return
Thirdly, the report outlines the danger of compound and cascading impacts, along with point-of-no-return thresholds in the climate system known as tipping points, which scientists have barely begun to measure and understand.
A dozen temperature trip wires have now been identified in the climate system for irreversible and potentially catastrophic change.
Recent research has shown that warming of two degrees Celsius could push the melting of ice sheets atop Greenland and the West Antarctic — with enough frozen water to lift oceans 13 metres (43 feet) — past a point of no return.
Other tipping points could see the Amazon basin morph from tropical forest to savannah, and billions of tonnes of carbon leech from Siberia’s permafrost, fuelling further warming.
In the more immediate future, some regions — eastern Brazil, Southeast Asia, the Mediterranean, central China — and coastlines almost everywhere could be battered by multiple climate calamities at once: drought, heatwaves, cyclones, wildfires, flooding.
But global warming impacts are also amplified by all the other ways that humanity has shattered Earth’s equilibrium.
These include “losses of habitat and resilience, over-exploitation, water extraction, pollution, invasive non-native species and dispersal of pests and diseases,” the report says.
There is no easy solution to such a tangle of problems, said Nicholas Stern, former chief economist at the World Bank and author of the landmark Stern Review on the Economics of Climate Change.
“The world is confronting a complex set of interwoven challenges,” said Stern, who did not contribute to the IPCC report.
“Unless you tackle them together, you are not going to do very well on any of them.”
There is very little good news in the report, but the IPCC stresses that much can be done to avoid worst-case scenarios and prepare for impacts that can no longer be averted, the final takeaway.
Conservation and restoration of so-called blue carbon ecosystems — kelp and mangrove forests, for example — enhance carbon stocks and protect against storm surges, as well as providing wildlife habitats, coastal livelihoods and food security.
Transitioning to more plant-based diets could also reduce food-related emissions as much as 70 percent by 2050.
But simply swapping a gas guzzler for a Tesla or planting billions of trees to offset business-as-usual isn’t going to cut it, the report warns.
“We need transformational change operating on processes and behaviours at all levels: individual, communities, business, institutions and governments,” it says.
“We must redefine our way of life and consumption.”
Elephant in the room: Thai family gets repeat mammoth visitor
BANGKOK, Thailand — Some families living in a jungle may be fearful of things going bump at night, but for one household in Thailand, the sight of an elephant rummaging through their kitchen was not a total shock.
“It came to cook again,” wrote Kittichai Boodchan sarcastically in a caption to a Facebook video he shot over the weekend of an elephant nosing its way into his kitchen.
Likely driven by the midnight munchies, the massive animal pokes its head into Kittichai’s kitchen in the early hours of Sunday, using its trunk to find food.
At one point, it picks up a plastic bag of liquid, considers it briefly, and then sticks it in its mouth — before the video cuts out.
Kittichai and his wife live near a national park in western Thailand, by a lake where wild elephants often bathe while roaming in the jungle.
He was unperturbed by the mammoth mammal, recognising it as a frequent visitor as it often wanders into homes in his village where it eats, leaves and shoots off back into the jungle.
The elephant had actually destroyed their kitchen wall in May, he said, creating an open-air kitchen concept reminiscent of a drive-through window.
This weekend, its sole task was to find food.
Kittichai said a general rule of thumb in dealing with unwelcome visitors crashing is not to feed them.
“When it doesn’t get food, it just leaves on its own,” he told AFP.
“I am already used to it coming, so I was not so worried.”
Comments Wild elephants are a common sight in Thailand’s national parks and its surrounding areas, with farmers sometimes reporting incidents of their fruits and corn crops being eaten by a hungry herd.
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