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Europe’s hospitals are now better equipped for treating Covid-19. Measures such as social distancing and mask-wearing have become the norm and the latest spread of infection has been primarily among younger people, who are less likely to die if they contract the virus.

Yet colder weather is beginning to set in and the flu season is approaching. The infection is spreading to older populations, and there are signs that people are growing tired of adhering to the restrictions.

“Obviously we don’t really have any ways of preventing Covid from going around, other than the lockdowns or social distancing measures and so on; we don’t yet have a vaccine,” Michael Head, senior research fellow in global health at the UK’s University of Southampton, told CNN.

While he does not expect deaths to reach the levels seen in the first wave, Head added: “We’ll see a lot of spread of cases, we will see a lot of hospitalizations, and a lot of burden on our health service.

“There will also be a big death toll.”

From young to old

Coronavirus cases reported across Europe reached a record high of 52,418 over a rolling seven-day average on Tuesday, according to CNN analysis of Johns Hopkins University data. But there were just 556 new deaths reported, compared with a height of 4,134 daily fatalities (from 31,852 cases) from the seven-day average on April 10.

That compares with a seven-day average of 44,547 cases and 722 deaths on Tuesday in North America, which has a population of 366 million compared with Europe’s 750 million people.

Hospitals are now better able to diagnose and treat the virus, meaning mortality rates for ICU patients in some European countries have dropped from about 50% during the spring to roughly 20%, Head estimates.

But Bulgaria, Croatia, Malta, Romania and Spain have all been seeing sustained death rate increases.
In the first week of September, the biggest proportion of new cases was still among 25- to 49-year-olds, according to the World Health Organization’s Europe director, Hans Kluge. But there was also a rise in cases in older groups, aged 50 to 79.

Head warned that the uptick in cases “will at some point translate into infections in older populations who have higher mortality rates.”

“We are seeing rates of cases in older populations and vulnerable populations increasing again across all European countries,” he said. “So it’s a very predictable pattern actually, that across the UK and France or Spain we’ve seen younger populations being affected, and then about four to six weeks later … we’re starting to see elderly people being infected.”

The final stage of the Tour de France races down Paris' Champs Elysees on Sunday.

Head added that more cases in the community means more opportunities for the virus to get into institutions such as care homes, with “a big increase in care home outbreaks here in the UK, over the last month or so.”

Burden on hospitals

The arrival of the flu season is also a “huge concern” because of the potential burden on health services, Head said. France, which reported its highest daily rise in case numbers of 13,498 last Saturday, saw the number of people in intensive care rise 25% last week.
Deaths are not the only problem. The pressure on hospitals is also increased by the number of “long-haulers,” those who are suffering adverse effects from coronavirus more than a month after they were ill. “Even in younger fitter people, we’re still seeing about 10 to 20% who are having longer-term consequences beyond the initial infection,” said Head.
People sit outside in Chinatown, central London, on Saturday. The UK has introduced a 10 p.m. curfew for pubs and restaurants.

He said this would mean “further stresses on the health services over the next few months and indeed for years to come.”

Peter Drobac, a global health physician and director at Oxford University’s Skoll Centre for Social Entrepreneurship, told CNN it would be “irresponsible” if Europe allowed the death rate to get back to April’s levels.

He said that while “we haven’t detected any kind of seasonal pattern with this particular virus,” the real risk is that the cold weather could force people back indoors, where transmission is more likely.

While most countries now have greater testing capacity, Drobac said “increased testing does not explain the rise in cases that we’re seeing in most settings” since we’re also seeing a higher percentage of tests coming back positive.

“It’s clear we’re losing control of this,” he said.

“We know enough about how the virus behaves — how it’s transmitted, how to control it, how to treat it when people do get infected — that we should be able to make sure the second wave of infections isn’t devastatingly large, because that’s ultimately what’s going to lead to a larger death toll, it’s when health systems start to get overwhelmed.”

‘The perfect storm’

The approach to the second wave of infections varies across Europe. Leaders are trying to balance protecting public health with avoiding catastrophic economic damage from national lockdowns.

Spain reported a record 14,389 daily cases last Friday. In Madrid, which accounts for a third of its cases, residents in 37 areas are only allowed to leave their homes to go to work, school or for medical reasons, and parks and playgrounds were closed from Monday.

Military tents erected for hospital patients at the Gomez Ulla military hospital in Madrid, Spain, on Friday.

The UK, which reported its highest case number since April on Wednesday, has restricted gatherings to six people and will close pubs and restaurants at 10 p.m. The Czech Republic, which reported a record number of coronavirus infections on Friday, reintroduced indoor mask requirements earlier this month.

“The bottom line is the second wave is here in many countries in Europe already,” said Drobac. “Our actions in the next couple of weeks, and throughout the winter, are going to be critical to stemming the spread but if we don’t get a handle on it soon, particularly in places like the UK, Spain and France at the moment, we will certainly see a surge in deaths.”

A lab assistant organizes samples for Covid-19 tests at a laboratory in Neuilly-sur-Seine, outside Paris, on September 15.

Drobac said Europe once again needs to “flatten the curve” through social distancing and hygiene measures as well as robust testing and contact tracing.

He believes it is “unlikely” countries will return to the full national lockdowns that were a common approach in the spring, in part because of public resistance or fatigue with restrictions. “I think it’ll be hard to get political and public support for it. I think it’ll be hard to enforce and people are tired,” he said.

“In many ways, we think winter could be a perfect storm. That’s why I wish we could have used our summer a lot better, to really crush the virus and make sure we were in better position for it.”

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Delhi sees deadliest month amid raging pandemic

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India has the second highest number of Covid cases in the world. November was the deadliest month for the capital Delhi, which has been struggling to contain the virus, with more than 100 deaths on some days.

The death toll has overwhelmed the Indian capital’s crematoriums, where many families say goodbye to their loved ones in ancient rituals.

A lack of social distancing at the city’s markets has been blamed for the recent uptick. Some hospitals have run out of ICU beds – with pollution and cold weather adding to the burden.

Cases are starting to fall, but doctors warn that if people don’t take care, the situation could get worse again, as the BBC’s South Asia correspondent Rajini Vaidyanathan reports.

Produced by Kunal Sehgal, Shalu Yadav and Greg Brosnan.

Filmed and edited by Varun Nayar.

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India farmers protests: Thousands swarm Delhi against deregulation rules

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Farmers from the nearby states of Punjab, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh began arriving by tractors and on foot at the outskirts of New Delhi last week, where they blocked roads and set up makeshift camps, according to protest leaders. Some slept on the road or in their tractors, and several places of worship offered protesters food.

Police attempted to block demonstrators from entering the city. They fired tear gas and water cannons Thursday and Friday after protesters pelted police officers with stones and damaged public property, according to Manoj Yadav, a senior police official from Haryana.

The farmers are protesting laws passed in September, which Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi says will give farmers more autonomy to set their own prices and sell directly to private businesses, such as supermarket chains.

But the move has infuriated India’s farmers, who say that the new rules will leave them worse off by making it easier for corporates to exploit agricultural workers who make up more than half of India’s 480 million-strong workforce, according to India’s most recent Census in 2011.

According to Ashutosh Mishra, the media coordinator of protest organizer All India Kisan Sangharsh Committee, which represents around 200 farming unions, tens of thousands of demonstrators have gathered at each of New Delhi’s three borders — a line of protesters at one of the borders stretches for 30 kilometers (19 miles), he said.

Police have put up barriers and dug up roads to prevent protesters from coming into the city center to hold sit-ins. Mishra expects more farmers from around the country to join the protests in the coming days.

That’s despite New Delhi being a hotspot for Covid-19 in a country that has already reported more than 9.4 million reported cases, the most in any country bar the United States.

“We are trying to be weary of Covid but we don’t have an option — it is a question of life and death,” said Mukut Singh, the president of a farmers union in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh, who is leading thousands in protest in his home state, and says he will join the protesters in Delhi later this week.

“We are the ones who have provided food, milk, vegetables when the whole country was in lockdown — we were still toiling in the fields,” he said. “It is the government who has put us at risk by introducing these laws during Covid.”

What the protests are about

For decades, the Indian government has offered guaranteed prices to farmers for certain crops, providing long-term certainty that allows them to make investments for the next crop cycle.

Under the previous laws, farmers had to sell their goods at auction at their state’s Agricultural Produce Market Committee, where they were guaranteed to get at least the government-agreed minimum price. There were restrictions on who could purchase at auction and prices were capped for essential commodities.

Modi’s new laws dismantle the committee structure, allowing farmers to sell their goods to anyone for any price. Farmers have more freedom to do things such as sell direct to buyers and sell to other states.

Modi said increasing market competition would be a good thing as it fulfills farmers’ demands for higher income and gives them new rights and opportunities.

“The farmers should get the advantage of a big and comprehensive market which opens our country to global markets,” Modi said on Monday, as farmers protested in the capital. He hopes it will attract private investment into the agricultural industry, which has lagged as other parts of the country’s economy have modernized.

But farmers argue that the rules could help big companies drive down prices. While farmers could sell crops at elevated prices if the demand is there, conversely, they could struggle to meet the minimum price in years when there is too much supply in the market.

Singh, the Uttar Pradesh farmer, said that removing the price guarantees will make life tougher for farmers.

“There is a lot of anger among farmers,” he said. “We don’t get even the minimum support price that is presently declared — removing these protections and making it easier for corporates to enter will completely buy us out.”

Why it’s such a hot political issues

Agriculture is the primary source of livelihood for about 58% of India’s 1.3 billion population, meaning farmers are the biggest voter block in the country.

That’s made farming a central political issue, with farmers arguing for years to get the minimum guaranteed prices increased.

Security personnel deployed to stop farmers from entering the national capital during a protest against the Centre's new farm laws at Singhu border near Delhi, India on November 30, 2020.
In a bid to win over farmers, Modi’s Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) said in its 2014 general election manifesto that all crop prices should be fixed at a minimum of 50% higher than the production costs. In 2016, Modi promised to boost the country’s agriculture sector with a target of doubling the income of farmers by 2022.

Modi and his government continue to insist that they are supporting farmers.

He hailed the new laws as a “watershed moment” which will ensure a complete transformation of the agriculture sector. But besides calling the move long overdue, Modi has not said why he opted to introduce these measures during the pandemic, which has caused India to suffer its first recession in decades.

“The Indian government under the leadership of Prime Minister Modi has always stood in full commitment to resolving the problems faced by farmers and will continue to stand by them,” said Narendra Singh Tomar, the Minister of Agriculture and Farmer Welfare.

Tomar urged farmers to abandon their protests and instead discuss their issues with the government — although so far, Modi has shown no sign of capitulating to protesters’ demands.



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House steering panel backs DeLauro for Appropriations chair

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While the full caucus typically backs the Steering Committee’s pick, an upset has occurred as recently as 2014.

Lawmakers and aides watching the race expect it will be decided on a second round of voting for DeLauro and Wasserman Schultz, with allies of the Florida Democrat hopeful she can eke out a win with the help of Kaptur supporters forced to throw their support behind another candidate. The Ohio Democrat is not expected to secure enough support on the first ballot.

Kaptur, 74, the most senior Democrat on the spending panel and the longest-serving woman in Congress, has won support from many members of the Congressional Black Caucus — a powerful bloc that typically respects seniority in leadership elections. Supporters of Wasserman Schultz say she could win if she can secure even some of those votes.

DeLauro’s supporters, however, are confident that the close ally of Speaker Nancy Pelosi and long-time champion of the public health and education communities will be confirmed as chair.

Pelosi typically doesn’t get involved in steering races after she publicly backed Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.) in 2014, who won the steering panel’s nod to become the top Democrat on the Energy and Commerce Committee in 2014, only to lose the spot in a stunning caucus-wide vote. The caucus instead chose Rep. Frank Pallone (D-N.J.), who went on to become Energy and Commerce chair.

DeLauro — the second-most senior contender for the gavel who controls the largest chunk of nondefense spending as the head of the Labor-HHS-Education subcommittee — has long been expected to lead the appropriations panel and has a reputation for working with senior Republican appropriators like Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.).

DeLauro, 77, is a “work horse” and a “force of nature,” said Rep. Linda Sánchez (D-Calif.), who’s pushing her colleagues to vote for the Connecticut Democrat, in an interview last month. “Her appeal is that she has integrity, that she has wisdom, that she’s such a hard worker and a strong fighter for the issues that she cares about.“

Wasserman Schultz, who chairs the Military Construction-VA spending panel, has been expected to pick up support from freshmen, moderates and some members of the CBC. Supporters point to her robust fundraising for Democrats — particularly for vulnerable members that will be crucial to keeping the House majority in 2022.

Some Democrats said a disappointing Election Day that cost the party more than a half-dozen House seats underscores the need for change, including a more moderate candidate that could bring generational diversity to the leadership ranks.

“I think that in the aftermath of the election, it makes clear that the old ways of doing things just aren’t going to work anymore,” Rep. Stephanie Murphy (D-Fla.), a co-chair of the moderate Blue Dog Democrats who supports Wasserman Schultz, said last month.

The three Democrats are vying to succeed retiring Chair Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.), the first woman ever to lead the spending panel. All three have vowed to make the appropriations process more transparent and accessible to members, while supporting the return of earmarked spending to help Democrats secure cash for pet projects at home.

Heather Caygle contributed to this report.

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