As the US state of Florida continued to battle record numbers of Coronavirus deaths on Friday, a state of emergency was imposed in all counties along its east coast as Hurricane Isaias barreled towards them.
According to the National Hurricane Center, Hurricane Isaias will drench Florida’s Atlantic coast this weekend after passing over the Bahamas. The center warned of dangerous storm surge, flooding and high winds.
NPR reported that governor Ron DeSantis signed an order Friday declaring “a state of emergency in every coastal county of Florida’s east coast, from Miami-Dade to Nassau counties.”
The storm could begin affecting South Florida “as early as late tonight into tomorrow morning, with the potential to increase in strength to Category 2 [hurricane],” DeSantis said at a news conference shortly before noon Friday.
Safety concerns about the storm prompted the Florida Division of Emergency Management to initially shut down all state-supported COVID-19 testing sites.
But that has since changed and on Friday DeSantis said only testing sites on the state’s eastern coast will be closed.
This comes as Florida and California, two of the most populous US states, reported record increases in COVID-19 deaths on Friday, according to a Reuters tally.
Florida reported 257 deaths and California 208 fatalities.
Reuters reported that for Florida this is the fourth day in a row with a record rise in deaths and for California the second this week.
Overall in the United States, deaths have increased by over 25,000 in July to 153,000 total lives lost since the pandemic started.
California became the first US state to have over half a million cases on Friday. Florida is in second place with over 470,000 infections.
California’s death toll rose to over 9,200, the third-highest in the country behind New York and New Jersey. Florida ranks eighth with nearly 7,000 deaths.
California and Florida are among 19 states that saw cases more than double in July.
Florida had over 311,000 new cases in July, more than triple the 96,000 new cases it reported in June. The state also recorded over 3,400 deaths in July compared with about 1,000 the prior month.
Florida reported record one-day increases in cases three times during the month, with the highest on July 12, at 15,300 new cases in a single day.
California had over 260,000 new cases in July with a record one-day increase of 12,120 on July 22.
Nationally, deaths are rising at their fastest rate since early June and one person in the United States died about every minute from COVID-19 on Wednesday, the day with the largest increase in deaths so far this week.
US to reduce troop levels to less than 5,000 by end of November
US Defense Secretary Mark Esper said Saturday that the United States will withdraw the number of troops in Afghanistan to below 5,000 by the end of November.
“We are going down to a number less than 5,000 before the end of November,” Esper said in an interview with Fox News.
Esper said the Pentagon would still need to brief members of Congress on the plan, and would also need to ensure the “United States is not threatened by terrorists coming out of Afghanistan.”
This comes after US President Donald Trump said in an interview with Axios last week, he would like to have “probably anywhere from 4,000 to 5,000” troops in Afghanistan by the time of the election on November 3.
Over the past six months, the US has reduced the number of troops to about 8,600 from 14,000.
This was in accordance with the Doha agreement, signed in February, between Washington and the Taliban.
However, US officials have stated that the second phase will be conditions-based, but have yet to define this.
In his interview last week, Trump told Axios he will reduce American troop levels in Afghanistan down to about 4,000 “very soon”.
He said: “We are largely out of Afghanistan”.
“We’ll be down in a very short period of time to 8,000, then we’re going to be down to 4,000, we’re negotiating right now”, he said adding that the US had “been there now for 19 years and we will be getting out.”
‘Worried’ Afghan women appeal to female world leaders to help secure their rights
Afghan women have appealed to female world leaders to stand with them in order to protect women’s rights in Afghanistan as a political landscape shift looms.
In an open letter to women world leaders, issued by Afghan Women’s Network, Afghan women said “we are writing to you because we are worried.”
They said in the letter that “so far, the talks have been a show of the strongmen in which mostly those who fought and killed our fellow citizens are talking.”
They stated that they are afraid their rights and freedoms are in danger of being compromised and that the way the talks process has been led shows an established disrespect for the rights and freedoms of Afghan women.
“We are afraid that our hard-won gains are being jeopardized and eroded only for a short-term solution among these very strongmen. We are afraid of this visible pushback from all those who are part of this process,” the letter stated.
Pointing out that so many simple things that women around the world take for granted, Afghan women are either deprived of or face losing after having worked so hard to achieve them over the past 19 years.
These issues include having the right to earn a living and provide for their families to “every day little acts like leaving their house without fear of reprisal, taking a stroll in the park, and laughing with a friend in public.”
They stated in the letter that “these are some of the basic things we fear we will lose again. We cannot take a chance to lose what we have achieved with your help.”
Afghan women have said they know they have a long way to go to achieve equality for women in Afghanistan “but we, the women, cannot allow it to go back. We will continue to fight for and defend our rights and those of our children.”
Appealing to female world leaders, the letter states Afghan women desperately need the support of these leaders “who are in a position of influence on the future of Afghanistan.”
“We hope that you will speak for us and our desire to be respected as equal humans when your countries make their decisions on Afghanistan.
“We hope you will speak for our desire for a peace that is just, inclusive, sustainable, and practical. We hope that you will stand with us and for women’s rights and a sustainable peace in Afghanistan.
“As women leaders, we are certain that you will relate to us in wanting a sustainable peace and equal rights for all.”
17 Loya Jirga delegates test positive for COVID-19
Afghanistan’s Ministry of Public Health on Saturday confirmed 17 Loya Jirga delegates had tested positive for COVID-19.
According to officials, the delegates infected with the virus had not been allowed to enter the hall.
Noorullah Taraki, deputy spokesman for the Ministry of Public Health, said the members of the Loya Jirga who tested positive have been taken to a COVID-19 treatment facility in Kabul.
Critics meanwhile raised their voices on Friday over the apparent lack of adherence to health protocols by the delegates on Friday in a bid to prevent the spread of the virus.
It was clear that very few delegates wore face masks and no social distancing practices were followed as 3,200 delegates sat shoulder to shoulder in the hall.
This comes after a Public Health Ministry report released last week indicated up to 10 million Afghans had been infected with coronavirus – which has had an enormous impact on the country’s already fragile health system and economy.
The Jirga will decide on the fate of 400 Taliban prisoners and the way forward regarding intra-Afghan talks.
Comprising tribal elders, community leaders and politicians, 3,200 people from around the country are attending the event.
Chairing the Jirga is Abdullah Abdullah, Chairman of the High Council for National Reconciliation.
He said Saturday on Twitter that Friday’s deliberations had continued late into the night but that a resolution would be announced on Saturday.
We began the second working day of the Consultative Peace Jirga (CPJ). Yesterday, 33 out of 50 CPJ working committees submitted their suggestions, which continued late into the evening. Today, the remaining 17 committees will submit their suggestion. 1/2 pic.twitter.com/ZBZgWF7Q4P
— Dr. Abdullah Abdullah (@DrabdullahCE) August 8, 2020
“We began the second working day of the Consultative Peace Jirga. Yesterday 33 out of 50 working committees of the #CPJ submitted their suggestions, which continued till late evening. Today, the remaining 17 committees will submit their suggestions.
“The outcome of the committees suggestions on the release of 400 Taliban prisoners & other peace related issues will be announced today. The people of Afghanistan, & the international community looking forward for a positive, & constructive outcome to start the intra-Afghan talks.”
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