Connect with us

International

‘Living with COVID’: Where the pandemic could go next

Published

on

As the third winter of the coronavirus pandemic looms in the northern hemisphere, scientists are warning weary governments and populations alike to brace for more waves of COVID-19.

In the United States alone, there could be up to a million infections a day this winter, Chris Murray, head of the Institute of Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME), an independent modeling group at the University of Washington that has been tracking the pandemic, told Reuters. That would be around double the current daily tally.

Across the United Kingdom and Europe, scientists predict a series of COVID-19 waves, as people spend more time indoors during the colder months, this time with nearly no masking or social distancing restrictions in place.

However, while cases may surge again in the coming months, deaths and hospitalizations are unlikely to rise with the same intensity, the experts said, helped by vaccination and booster drives, previous infection, milder variants and the availability of highly effective COVID-19 treatments.

“The people who are at greatest risk are those who have never seen the virus, and there’s almost nobody left,” said Murray.

These forecasts raise new questions about when countries will move out of the COVID-19 emergency phase and into a state of endemic disease, where communities with high vaccination rates see smaller outbreaks, possibly on a seasonal basis.

Many experts had predicted that transition would begin in early 2022, but the arrival of the highly mutated Omicron variant of coronavirus disrupted those expectations.

“We need to set aside the idea of ‘is the pandemic over?'” said Adam Kucharski, an epidemiologist at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. He and others see COVID-19 morphing into an endemic threat that still causes a high burden of disease.

“Someone once told me the definition of endemicity is that life just gets a bit worse,” he added.

The potential wild card remains whether a new variant will emerge that out-competes currently dominant Omicron subvariants.

If that variant also causes more severe disease and is better able to evade prior immunity, that would be the “worst-case scenario,” according to a recent World Health Organization (WHO) Europe report.

“All scenarios (with new variants) indicate the potential for a large future wave at a level that is as bad or worse than the 2020/2021 epidemic waves,” said the report, based on a model from Imperial College of London.

Confouding factors

Many of the disease experts interviewed by Reuters said that making forecasts for COVID-19 has become much harder, as many people rely on rapid at-home tests that are not reported to government health officials, obscuring infection rates.

BA.5, the Omicron subvariant that is currently causing infections to peak in many regions, is extremely transmissible, meaning that many patients hospitalized for other illnesses may test positive for it and be counted among severe cases, even if COVID-19 is not the source of their distress.

Scientists said other unknowns complicating their forecasts include whether a combination of vaccination and COVID-19 infection – so-called hybrid immunity – is providing greater protection for people, as well as how effective booster campaigns may be.

“Anyone who says they can predict the future of this pandemic is either overconfident or lying,” said David Dowdy, an infectious disease epidemiologist at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

Experts also are closely watching developments in Australia, where a resurgent flu season combined with COVID-19 is overwhelming hospitals. They say it is possible that Western nations could see a similar pattern after several quiet flu seasons.

“If it happens there, it can happen here. Let’s prepare for a proper flu season,” said John McCauley, director of the Worldwide Influenza Centre at the Francis Crick Institute in London.

The WHO has said each country still needs to approach new waves with all the tools in the pandemic armory – from vaccinations to interventions, such as testing and social distancing or masking.

Israel’s government recently halted routine COVID testing of travelers at its international airport, but is ready to resume the practice “within days” if faced with a major surge, said Sharon Alroy-Preis, head of the country’s public health service.

“When there is a wave of infections, we need to put masks on, we need to test ourselves,” she said. “That’s living with COVID.”

Source: https://tuoitrenews.vn/news/international/20220802/living-with-covid-where-the-pandemic-could-go-next/68404.html

International

Indonesia set to penalise sex outside marriage in overhaul of criminal code

Published

on

JAKARTA — Indonesia’s parliament is expected to pass a new criminal code this month that will penalise sex outside marriage with a punishment of up to one year in jail, officials have confirmed.

The legislative overhaul will also ban insulting the president or state institutions and expressing any views counter to Indonesia’s state ideology. Cohabitation before marriage is also banned.

Decades in the making, the new criminal code is expected to be passed on Dec. 15, Indonesia’s deputy justice minister, Edward Omar Sharif Hiariej, told Reuters.

“We’re proud to have a criminal code that’s in line with Indonesian values,” he told Reuters in an interview.

Bambang Wuryanto, a lawmaker involved in the draft, said the new code could be passed by as early as next week.

The code, if passed, would apply to Indonesian citizens and foreigners alike, with business groups expressing concern about what damage the rules might have on Indonesia’s image as a holiday and investment destination.

The draft has the support of some Islamic groups in a country where conservatism is on the rise, although opponents argue that it reverses liberal reforms enacted after the 1998 fall of authoritarian leader Suharto.

A previous draft of the code was set to be passed in 2019 but sparked nationwide protests. Tens of thousands of people demonstrated at the time against a raft of laws, especially those seen to regulate morality and free speech, which they said would curtail civil liberties.

Critics say say minimal changes to the code have been made since then, although the government has in recent months held public consultations around the country to provide information about the changes.

Some changes that have been made include a provision that could allow the death penalty to be commuted to life imprisonment after 10 years of good behaviour.

The criminalisation of abortion, with the exception of rape victims, and imprisonment for “black magic”, remain in the code.

According to the latest draft dated Nov. 24 that was seen by Reuters, sex outside marriage, which can only be reported by limited parties such as close relatives, carries a maximum one-year prison sentence.

Insulting the president, a charge that can only be reported by the president, carries a maximum of three years.

Indonesia, the world’s most populous Muslim-majority nation, has hundreds of regulations at the local level that discriminate against women, religious minorities, and LGBT people.

Just weeks after Indonesia chaired a sucessful Group of Twenty (G20) meeting that saw its position elevated on the global stage, business sector representatives say the draft code sends the wrong message about Southeast Asia’s largest economy.

“For the business sector, the implementation of this customary law shall create legal uncertainty and make investors re-consider investing in Indonesia,” said Shinta Widjaja Sukamdani, the deputy chairperson of Indonesia’s Employers’ Association (APINDO).

Clauses related to morality, she added, would “do more harm than good”, especially for businesses engaged in the tourism and hospitality sectors.

The changes to the code would be a “huge a setback to Indonesian democracy”, said Andreas Harsono of Human Rights Watch.

The deputy justice minister dismissed the criticism, saying the final version of the draft would ensure that regional laws adhered to national legislation, and the new code would not threaten democratic freedoms.

A revised version of the criminal code has been discussed since Indonesia declared its independence from the Dutch in 1945.

Source: https://tuoitrenews.vn/news/international/20221202/indonesia-set-to-penalise-sex-outside-marriage-in-overhaul-of-criminal-code/70312.html

Continue Reading

International

Disasters cost $268 billion in 2022: Swiss Re

Published

on

Natural and man-made catastrophes have caused $268 billion of economic losses so far in 2022, chiefly driven by Hurricane Ian and other extreme weather disasters, reinsurance giant Swiss Re estimated Thursday.

Insured losses covered $122 billion — less than half — of the total economic losses to date this year, said the Zurich-based group, which acts as an insurer for insurers.

“Hurricane Ian and other extreme weather events such as the winter storms in Europe, flooding in Australia and South Africa as well as hailstorms in France and in the United States resulted in an estimated $115 billion of natural catastrophe insured losses this year to date,” Swiss Re said in a statement.

There were $7 billion of insured losses from man-made disasters.

It is the second consecutive year in which total insured losses from natural catastrophes topped $100 billion, with the figure hitting $121 billion last year.

“Urban development, wealth accumulation in disaster-prone areas, inflation and climate change are key factors at play, turning extreme weather into ever rising natural catastrophe losses,” explained Martin Bertogg, Swiss Re’s head of catastrophe perils.

“When Hurricane Andrew struck 30 years ago, a $20 billion loss event had never occurred before; now there have been seven such hurricanes in just the past six years.”

Hurricane Ian is by far the largest loss-causing event in 2022, with an estimated insured loss of $50-65 billion, said Swiss Re.

It estimated that Hurricane Ian caused the second-costliest insured loss ever, after Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

Neighbourhoods flattened

Ian, a category four hurricane, caused more than 150 deaths, almost all in Florida, where it made landfall on September 28.

One of the most powerful storms ever to hit the United States, it flattened whole neighbourhoods and knocked out power for millions of people. Storm surges and immense downpours left even inland neighbourhoods submerged.

“This highlights the threat potential of a single hurricane hitting a densely populated coastline,” Swiss Re said.

The reinsurer added that so-called secondary natural disasters such as floods and hailstorms — as opposed to major disasters such as earthquakes and hurricanes — caused more than $50 billion of insured losses.

The storms in Europe in February prompted estimated insured losses of over $3.7 billion, putting winter storms back on the insurance industry’s agenda, Swiss Re said.

France experienced the most severe hailstorms ever observed in the European spring and summer, with insured market losses reaching an estimated five billion euros ($5.3 billion), said Swiss Re.

And in Australia in February and March, torrential summer rains led to widespread flooding that, at an estimated $4 billion, became the country’s costliest-ever natural catastrophe.

‘Vast’ protection gap

Swiss Re highlighted how the insurance and reinsurance industry covered roughly only 45 percent of the economic losses so far this year.

“The protection gap remains vast,” said Thierry Leger, the group’s chief underwriting officer.

Of the estimated $268 billion total economic losses for property damage so far this year, $260 billion are from natural catastrophes and $8 billion from man-made disasters, such as industrial accidents.

The $268 billion figure is down 12 percent from $303 billion last year, but above the $219 billion average over the previous 10 years.

At $115 billion, total insured losses from natural catastrophes were down five percent from the $121 billion in 2021, but well above the previous 10-year average of $81 billion.

Source: https://tuoitrenews.vn/news/international/20221202/disasters-cost-268-billion-in-2022-swiss-re/70296.html

Continue Reading

International

Future global treaty on plastics must cut production to ease pollution, some states say

Published

on

WASHINGTON — Countries have begun to discuss a future global plastics treaty which would cut pollution, some hope entirely by 2040, at U.N. talks in Uruguay this week, with many states calling for curbs on plastic production as a way to reach that goal.

United Nations members agreed in March on a resolution to create the world’s first treaty to deal with the scourge of plastic waste which extends from ocean trenches to mountaintops, although there is divergence on how to proceed.

According to the U.N. Environment Programme, the equivalent of a garbage truck of plastic is dumped into the ocean every minute, threatening biodiversity and damaging marine ecosystems, while greenhouse gas emissions associated with plastics are expected to reach 6.5 gigatons by 2050.

Delegates from governments, civil society and industry are meeting in beach town Punta del Este for the first of five Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee (INC) talks that will run to the close of 2024, and prepare the future treaty.

“At INC-1, we can lay the groundwork needed to implement a life-cycle approach to plastic pollution, which would significantly contribute to ending the triple planetary crisis of climate change, nature and biodiversity loss, and pollution and waste,” said Jyoti Mathur-Filipp, Executive Secretary of the INC Secretariat on Plastic Pollution.

A life-cycle approach considers the impact of all the stages of a product’s life, such as raw material extraction, production, distribution and disposal, and looks at how governments, consumers and businesses can play a part.

Several country delegations on Monday voiced support for a treaty cracking down on plastic production, an approach opposed by the plastics and petrochemical industries.

The EU, members of the so-called High Ambition Coalition that includes Switzerland, Norway, Canada, Georgia, the UK and others, said they want to see the treaty include binding global obligations for the entire life cycle of plastics – including production – aiming to end plastic pollution by 2040.

Japan also revealed at a Reuters event that a potential treaty should consider placing curbs on problematic plastics like microplastics and those made with “hazardous additives” that are hard to recycle.

The US also called for a treaty that ends plastic pollution by 2040 but through a structure that resembles the Paris climate agreement, based on voluntary national action plans and which does not specifically address plastic production.

Some NGOs that are closely observing the talks expressed concern about the Paris agreement-style approach.

“We are three decades into UN climate talks and seven years into the Paris agreement, which has clearly failed to deliver. That model is one we should be weary of,” said Carroll Moffett, president of the Center for International Environmental Law.

Source: https://tuoitrenews.vn/news/international/20221202/future-global-treaty-on-plastics-must-cut-production-to-ease-pollution-some-states-say/70286.html

Continue Reading

Trending