With less than three months to go before the start of the summer Olympics, already postponed for a year due to the coronavirus, questions still remain over how Tokyo can hold the global event and keep volunteers, athletes, officials and the Japanese public safe from COVID-19.
Facing a fourth wave of the pandemic and struggling with a slow vaccination rate, residents in Tokyo were sceptical about whether the Olympics should go ahead, and wary about foreign visitors.
“It’s absurd that we are holding the Olympics under the COVID pandemic,” said Katsumi Abiko, owner of a Japanese kimono shop.
“If we make the decision now to cancel it, Japan will be praised for making the right decision and be remembered by history,” Abiko, 79, told Reuters.
The Japanese government is set to extend states of emergency in Tokyo and three other areas until the end of May. Opinion polls in Japan have found a majority of the public is opposed to the Games, which are due to open on July 23.
“We strongly call for the prevention of spread of coronavirus and protection of lives and livelihood by using available resources to stop the Olympics,” Kenji Utsunomiya, the online petition organizer, wrote on his website. Utsunomiya is a lawyer who has run several times for Tokyo governor.
But organizers have repeatedly said the Games will go ahead, unveiling detailed COVID-19 protocols for athletes and officials.
Pfizer Inc and its German partner BioNTech SE said on Thursday they had agreed to donate their vaccine to help inoculate those participating in the Games.
India’s Gandhi demands faster vaccinations
7 May 2021, 11:01 AM
India’s opposition leader Rahul Gandhi on Friday demanded the government rapidly vaccinate the entire country and scientifically track the coronavirus in an effort to curb a deadly second wave which saw 1.5 million new cases in a week.
“Your government’s lack of a clear and coherent COVID and vaccination strategy, as well as its hubris in declaring premature victory as the virus was exponentially spreading, has placed India in a highly dangerous position,” Gandhi said in a letter addressed to Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Friday.
Modi has been widely criticised for not acting sooner to suppress the second wave after religious festivals and political rallies drew tens of thousands of people in recent weeks and became “super spreader” events.
His government has also been criticised for lifting social restrictions too soon following the first wave and for delays in the country’s vaccination programme, which medical experts say is India’s only hope of controlling the second COVID-19 wave.
While India is the world’s biggest vaccine maker, it is struggling to produce and distribute enough doses to stem the wave of COVID-19.
India records 7 million new COVID-19 cases in two weeks
The Hindustan Times newspaper on Friday demanded: “Accelerate the vaccine drive, get the second wave of the pandemic under some control.”
Modi has stressed that Indian states must keep up vaccination rates. Although the country has administered at least 157 million vaccine doses, its rate of inoculation has fallen sharply.
“After having achieved a rate of around 4 million a day, we are now down to 2.5 million per day due to vaccine shortages,” Amartya Lahiri, an economics professor at the University of British Columbia was quoted as saying in the Mint newspaper.
“The 5 million a day target is the lower bound of what we have to aim for since even at that rate, it will take a year for us to get everyone two doses. The situation unfortunately is very grim.”
The European Union on Thursday backed a U.S. proposal to discuss waiving patent protections for COVID-19 vaccines in an effort to increase the supply and access to vaccines, especially in vulnerable developing countries.
India reported another record daily rise in coronavirus cases, 414,188, on Friday, bringing total new cases for the week to 1.57 million. Total cases now stand at 21.49 million. Deaths from COVID-19 rose by 3,915 to 234,083.
Medical experts say the real extent of COVID-19 in India is five to 10 times the official tallies.
NEW EPICENTRE IN SOUTHERN STATES
India’s healthcare system is crumbling under the weight of patients, with hospitals running out of beds and medical oxygen. Morgues and crematoriums can not handle the number of dead and makeshift funeral pyres burn in parks and car parks.
Infections are now spreading from overcrowded cities to remote rural villages that are home to nearly 70% of the 1.3 billion population.
Although northern and western India bear the brunt of the disease, southern India now seems to be turning into the new epicentre. The share of the five southern states in the country’s daily surge in infections rose from 28% to 33% in the first seven days of May, data shows.
In the southern city of Chennai, only one in a hundred oxygen supported beds and two in a hundred beds in intensive care units (ICU’s) were vacant on Thursday, from a vacancy rate of over 20% each two weeks ago, government data showed.
In India’s tech capital Bengaluru, also in the south, only 23 of the 590 beds in ICU’s were vacant, and only 1 in 50 beds with a ventilator were vacant, situation officials say points to an impending crisis.
Bengaluru has 325,000 active COVID-19 cases, with demand for ICU and high-dependency unit (HDU) beds up more than 20 fold, said H. M. Prasanna, president of the Private Hospitals and Nursing Homes Association in Karnataka state, which includes Bengaluru.
“Every patient coming to the hospital needs an ICU or an HDU bed, that is why patients are running from one hospital to another searching for an ICU bed,” he said.
“There is also a short supply of medical oxygen. Most of the small hospitals now who can’t procure oxygen on a daily basis are refusing to admit COVID patients.”
Several Indian states have imposed various levels of social restrictions to try to stem infections, but the federal government has resisted imposing a national lockdown.
Aid from foreign countries continued to pour in, as consignments from Poland, Netherlands and Switzerland reached India on Friday, foreign ministry spokesman Arindam Bagchi said on Twitter.
Unpacking rising COVID-19 cases in India with Dr. Anant Bhan
African Health Ministers to review COVID-19 strategy
7 May 2021, 10:00 AM
Africa is preparing itself to avoid another surge of the COVID -19 pandemic. The continent has reported over 4.5 million cases of COVID-19 infections so far.
African Health Ministers will meet on Saturday, to review the strategy that the continent set at the beginning of 2020, to tackle the COVID-19 pandemic and seek better ways to keep the continent with minimal cases.
Uganda, Kenya and Morocco are reporting some cases of the variant that has caused a spike in COVID-19 infections in India.
The Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC) Director, Dr John Nkengasong, says the meeting will be looking at ways to monitor the situations.
“The meeting will address the need for an adjusted strategy which will be looking more at around the areas as to how do we look at monitoring more, surveillance for this variant, surveillance for hotspot, how do we then intensify our efforts,” says Nkengasong.
The Africa CDC says some of the reasons that led India to its current state are still visible in countries across the continent. These include mass gatherings.
African Health Ministers to meet to review strategy to avoid another surge of COVID -19 pandemic
Highlanders lose coach Brown for Trans-Tasman competition
7 May 2021, 7:20 AM
The Otago Highlanders have lost head coach Tony Brown for the entire Super Rugby Trans-Tasman competition, with the New Zealander departing to help Japan prepare for the start of their season.
An assistant coach in Jamie Joseph’s Japan staff, Brown must clear two weeks of quarantine in the East Asian nation ahead of a training camp before the Brave Blossoms head to Edinburgh for the June 26 match against the British and Irish Lions.
“Having to head to Japan earlier than expected is disappointing particularly leaving my team before the end of the season, it’s not what anyone would have wanted,” Brown said in a Highlanders statement.
Highlanders assistant coach Clarke Dermody will take over as head coach for the Trans-Tasman competition.
Highlanders chief executive, Roger Clark, said the overlap of Brown’s international and Super Rugby duties did not “sit comfortably with anyone”.
“However, as an organisation we know we still have his services even though he is not on the ground with us, we have every faith in Clarke and the coaching and management group to deal with the challenge,” Clark said.
The Dunedin-based Highlanders finished fourth in New Zealand’s five-team Super Rugby Aotearoa competition at the end of an injury-plagued campaign.
They host the Queensland Reds in the opening round of the Trans-Tasman competition on May 14.
Mthatha traditional leader sentenced to life for rape
7 May 2021, 7:01 AM
A traditional leader in the Mthatha region, in the Eastern Cape, has been sentenced to life imprisonment for raping two teenagers.
The 32-year-old, Avelile Sakhisizwe Mtirara, whose area of authority covers Khonqeni and Xhongorha villages, was found guilty of repeatedly raping the teenagers between 2016 and 2017.
The court heard that he would call each victim to his rondavel and rape them before threatening to kill them if they disclose the sexual assault.
The regional spokesperson for the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA), Luxolo Tyali, commended the Bityi regional court and the work done by police and the prosecution.
“He abused his position and trust; and abused these young girls who were staying there. He was supposed to protect them. As the chief, he is expected to protect his family and the community at large. As the prosecution, we welcome this sentencing and we think it shows that we will prosecute without fear of favour, even if someone holds a senior position in the society.”