Mon. Apr 12th, 2021

Science & Health

GENEVA - The World Health Organization is warning that COVID-19 cases and deaths are rising globally, partly because of complacency setting in that vaccines will stop the spread of the disease. The latest WHO report confirms more than 133.5 million cases of coronavirus infections, including nearly 3 million global deaths.   Data show a worrisome uptick in coronavirus cases and deaths in all regions of the world, with Africa slightly less affected than other regions. The World Health Organization attributes this rise to several factors, including an increase in coronavirus variants, failure to practice public health measures and the resumption of so-called normal life when people emerge from lockdown.     Another problem says WHO spokeswoman Margaret Harris is a growing complacency that the availability of vaccines will soon end the crisis.     “People are misunderstanding that, seeming to think that vaccination will stop transmission. That is not the case. We need to bring down the transmission while giving the vaccination the chance to stop the severe disease and the severe deaths,” Harris said.      The WHO reports nearly 670 million doses of vaccines have been administered globally. However, most of those doses have been given in wealthy countries. Furthermore, the WHO warns there is a critical shortage of vaccines.   Harris said some countries cannot start COVID-19 inoculation campaigns because of the serious shortfall of doses, especially in developing countries.     “So, again, what can be done about it? Doubling down on the public health social measures. Truly understanding we have to keep on social distancing, we have to avoid indoor crowded settings. We have to keep wearing the masks, even if vaccinated,” she said.     The good news, Harris added, is preliminary results from countries such as Britain show that vaccination programs have averted very large numbers of deaths.     However, until most of the world is vaccinated, she said people must not let down their guard. They must remain vigilant and practice the few simple public health measures that have been shown to work.  ... Read More
SYDNEY - Marine experts estimate about 40,000 humpback whales are now migrating through Australian waters annually, up from about 1,500 half a century ago.       The humpbacks’ annual journey from Antarctica to subtropical waters along Australia’s east and west coasts is one of nature’s great migrations.     It is a journey of up to 10,000 kilometers and is undertaken between April and November. Scientists have estimated 40,000 humpback whales have been in Australian waters to mate and breed.  It is a remarkable recovery from the height of commercial whaling in the early 1960s when it was estimated there were fewer than 1,500 humpbacks.  They were slaughtered mainly for their oil and baleen, or “whalebone."   Australia’s environment department says no other whale species has recovered as strongly as the humpback since the end of commercial hunting, which ceased in Australia in 1978.   Australia is now considering removing humpback whales from the endangered species list because of their growing numbers.   The acrobatic humpbacks that can grow to 16 meters would still be protected in Australia. Conservationists, though, argue that they need more, not fewer, environmental safeguards to monitor the impact of climate change on krill - their main source of food. Krill are affected by the absorption of more carbon dioxide into the ocean.   Olaf Meynecke, a research fellow in Marine Science at Queensland’s Griffith University, says vigilance is needed to ensure the whales continue to thrive.     “Generally speaking, yes, it is a great success story that humpback whales have come back.  But obviously we also need to ask questions as [to] how will this continue in the future, how are present threats already impacting the population and how we [are] going to detect changes in the future,” Meynecke said.     Scientists say humpbacks face a combination of other threats including the overharvesting of krill, pollution, habitat degradation, and entanglement in fishing nets. Calves also face attack by killer whales or sharks.   The recovery of the humpback has helped the rapid growth of Australia’s whale-watching industry.   As their numbers have grown, much about the humpback, a species famous for its song, remains a mystery.  Scientists do not know exactly, for example, where on Australia’s Great Barrier Reef they mate and calve.     Humpback whales live in all the world’s oceans. They take their common name from a distinctive hump on the whale’s back.     ... Read More
Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga Friday announced Tokyo will be placed under a month-long state of "quasi-emergency" to combat surging COVID-19 infections. Speaking to reporters during a COVID-19 task force meeting, Suga said the new measures are focused on shortening the business hours of bars and restaurants and imposing fines for violations.  Many of Tokyo’s COVID-19 cases have been traced to the city’s night life.   Suga said the steps are necessary because of surging infection rates, particularly of more contagious variants of the virus.   Japan has never imposed strict lockdowns such as those seen in other countries. In Germany, Health Minister Jens Span told reporters Friday that a nationwide lockdown is necessary to bring the surging third wave of the virus under control.   Speaking at the same briefing, Robert Koch Institute for Infectious Diseases President Lothar Wieler said a two-to-four-week lockdown would be sufficient to stem the surging infections in Germany. He said the surge is being felt most in the nation’s intensive care units which have seen 4,500 new patients in the last week, most of whom are younger people. The implementation of a new lockdown is not a certainty. While Chancellor Angela Merkel’s federal government is in favor of stricter measures to control the virus, regional leaders support lifting them, and some already have begun to do so. Meanwhile, India’s health ministry Friday reported its highest daily tally of new COVID-19 cases, with at least 131,968 new cases in the previous 24-hour period. Friday’s tally beats the record count of 126,789 cases that the ministry reported Thursday.   AstraZeneca vaccine Elsewhere, several nations have issued new guidelines over the use of AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine after the European Union’s medical regulator announced a link between the vaccine and very rare, possibly fatal blood clots.     Britain, where the vaccine was developed jointly by the British-Swedish drugmaker and scientists at the University of Oxford, said it will offer alternatives for adults under 30. Oxford researchers have also suspended a clinical trial of the AstraZeneca vaccine involving young children and teenagers as British drug regulators conduct a safety review of the two-shot regimen.   Reuters reported Spain and the Philippines will limit the vaccine to people over 60 years old, while The Washington Post reported Italy has issued similar guidelines.     The European Medicines Agency recently said blood clots should be listed as a very rare side effect of the AstraZeneca vaccine, but continued to emphasize that its overall benefits outweigh any risks.  Rare blood clots have been associated with the deaths of at least 14 people across Europe.   AstraZeneca has been the key vaccine in Britain’s exceptionally speedy inoculation campaign, which has outpaced the vaccination rates in the rest of Europe.   But the vaccine has had a troubled rollout elsewhere, initially because of a lack of information from its late-stage clinical trials on its effect on older people, which has slowed vaccination efforts throughout Europe. Many nations stopped administering the AstraZeneca vaccine after reports first surfaced of the blood clot incidents.     Also, Puerto Rico and Washington announced they will open COVID-19 vaccination eligibility beginning Monday to residents as young as 16.... Read More
A group of international public health experts says a successful rollout of new vaccines is “no longer a guarantee of victory” over the coronavirus pandemic.      In an essay first published Monday in the academic journal The Conversation, members of the Lancet COVID-19 Commission Task Force on Public Health said the world is in “a race against time” to vaccinate enough of the global population to guard against the spread of new, more contagious variants. They say these mutations could render current vaccines virtually ineffective and that the variants have “changed the game.”     The task force cited three new “variants of concern” that could prolong and possibly worsen the pandemic, including the ones detected late last year in Britain and South Africa, and a third detected in Brazil in January.   The experts are calling for a global strategy of “maximum suppression” of COVID-19, including continued mitigation efforts such as face masks and physical distancing, and ventilation of indoor spaces, along with the ongoing vaccination efforts. COVID-19 is the disease caused by the coronavirus.   Meanwhile, Australia and New Zealand, which have been successful in curbing the spread of the infection by closing borders, have reached an agreement to create a so-called “travel bubble” that would allow Australians to visit New Zealand without entering a mandatory quarantine period, beginning April 19. Parts of Australia have for several months allowed people from New Zealand to visit without them going into quarantine.     “This is an important step forward in our COVID response and represents an arrangement I do not believe we have seen in any other part of the world,” New Zealand’s Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern told reporters in Wellington Tuesday. Ardern warned the planes could be stopped if there are any new outbreaks in Australia.   ... Read More