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COVID-19

Rights watchdog warns of looming COVID crisis

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(Last Updated On: June 12, 2021)

Amnesty International has called on the Afghan government to address oxygen shortages and procure an adequate amount of COVID-19 vaccines and other essential medical supplies with the support of the international community.

“Afghanistan’s COVID-19 case numbers have been steadily increasing and these latest figures are of grave concern. It’s clear that the country has been hit by the third wave of COVID-19 and without urgent international support to contain this surge, the situation could quickly spiral out of control, with existing shortages of life-saving supplies posing serious challenges,” said Zaman Sultani, South Asia Researcher at Amnesty International.

The organization stated that Afghanistan’s COVID-19 case numbers have been steadily increasing and that these latest figures are of grave concern.

According to the Public Health Ministry (MoPH), 973 people tested positive for COVID-19 in the last 24 hours, bringing the total infections to 79,861 people in Afghanistan.

Meanwhile, 67 COVID-19 patients have died in the same period, the ministry said.

Amnesty International’s Sultani stated: “At the same time, Afghanistan’s vaccination drive has also been held up due to supply shortages. We have seen a similar situation unfolding in Nepal and India and one of the main lessons is to learn from their mistakes and be prepared for the worst before it’s too late.”

Highlighting the lack of preparation by the Afghan government to fight the Coronavirus, Amnesty International said that “more than a year into the pandemic, the government’s emergency preparedness remains inadequate.”

According to the Ministry of Public Health, Afghanistan currently has only around 2,000 ventilators and 1,063 hospital beds dedicated to treating patients with COVID-19 – this for 39 million people. According to MoPH, the country only has 1,500 ICU beds.

“The lack of emergency preparedness and the state of Afghanistan’s public health infrastructure means the country is not equipped to deal with the type of surge we have seen elsewhere in the region. Afghanistan must make diagnostics widely accessible to effectively detect outbreaks and proactively address an imminent outbreak of cases,” said Sultani.

The organization noted that the current wave poses an even greater risk of infection for Afghanistan’s four million internally displaced people (IDPs), who are living in overcrowded conditions, with insufficient access to water, sanitation, and health facilities.

“During this crisis, the Afghan government must ensure that IDPs can access healthcare, sanitation, and clean water and develop a plan that prioritizes vaccinating IDPs, whose living conditions leave them extremely vulnerable to a highly infectious virus like COVID-19,” Sultani added.

This comes as a shipment of COVID-19 vaccines donated by China arrived in Kabul on Saturday amid the surge in infections, the Presidential Palace (ARG) said in a statement.

According to the statement, the Chinese government has donated 700,000 doses of Sinopharm vaccines to Afghanistan.

The much-needed vaccines comes as the country has been hit by a third wave of the virus, which has raised concerns among officials.

Addressing a ceremony marking the arrival of the vaccines, President Ashraf Ghani stated “vaccines are a gift of life, and we thank China for its assistance.”

Chinese Ambassador to Kabul Wang Yu, meanwhile, assured Ghani of China’s further support to Afghanistan to fight the pandemic.

Afghanistan, so far, has administered 968,000 doses of AstraZeneca, which were donated by the Indian government, and COVAX.

The MoPH stated that 280,000 members of Afghan security forces, more than 120,000 doctors and health workers, and 560,000 civilians have been vaccinated so far.

COVID-19

Beijing extends work-from-home guidance in several city districts

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(Last Updated On: May 15, 2022)

Beijing on Sunday extended guidance to work from home in four districts of the Chinese capital, including the largest, Chaoyang, as the city tries to stop a COVID-19 outbreak.

Beijing found 55 new cases in the 24 hours to 3 p.m. (0700 GMT) on Sunday, 10 of which were outside areas that under quarantine, officials said. The city is scrambling to stamp out such community infections.

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New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern tests positive for COVID

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(Last Updated On: May 14, 2022)

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern tested positive for COVID-19 with moderate symptoms, her office said in a statement on Saturday.

She will not be in parliament for the government’s emissions reduction plan on Monday and the budget on Thursday, but “travel arrangements for her trade mission to the United States are unaffected at this stage,” the statement said.

Ardern had been symptomatic since Friday evening, returning a weak positive at night and a clear positive on Saturday morning on a rapid antigen test, it said.

She has been in isolation since Sunday, when her partner Clarke Gayford tested positive, it said.

Due to the positive test, Ardern will be required to isolate until the morning of May 21, undertaking what duties she can remotely.

Deputy Prime Minister Grant Robertson will address media in her place on Monday.

“This is a milestone week for the Government and I’m gutted I can’t be there for it,” Ardern said in the statement.

“Our emissions reduction plan sets the path to achieve our carbon zero goal and the budget addresses the long-term future and security of New Zealand’s health system,” she said. “But as I said earlier in the week isolating with COVID-19 is a very kiwi experience this year and my family is no different.”

Ardern also said on Saturday that her daughter Neve had tested positive on Wednesday.

“Despite best efforts, unfortunately I’ve joined the rest of my family and have tested positive for COVID 19,” Ardern posted on her official Instagram page.

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N.Korea reports first COVID-19 death as fever spreads ‘explosively’

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(Last Updated On: May 13, 2022)

At least one person confirmed to have COVID-19 has died in North Korea and hundreds of thousands have shown fever symptoms, state media said on Friday, offering hints at the potentially dire scale of country’s first confirmed outbreak of the pandemic.

The data represents an unprecedented admission of an “explosive” outbreak in a country that had reported no previous confirmed cases since the pandemic began, and could mark a grave public health, economic and political crisis for the isolated regime.

South Korea’s new president, Yoon Suk-yeol, who took office this week, plans to provide COVID-19 vaccines and other medical support to North Koreans, and his government would discuss details with Pyongyang, his spokeswoman said on Friday, without elaborating.

Experts said that given North Korea’s limited testing capabilities, the numbers released so far probably represent a small fraction of the infections, which could lead to thousands of deaths in one of only two countries in the world without a COVID-19 vaccination campaign.

About 187,800 people are being treated in isolation after a fever of unidentified origin has “explosively spread nationwide” since late April, the official KCNA news agency reported.

Roughly 350,000 people have shown signs of that fever, including 18,000 who newly reported such symptoms on Thursday, KCNA said. About 162,200 have been treated, but it did not specify how many had tested positive for COVID-19.

At least six people with fever symptoms have died, with one of those cases confirmed to have contracted the Omicron variant of the virus, KCNA said.

Harvard Medical School’s Kee Park, who has worked on health care projects in North Korea, said the country has been testing about 1,400 people each week, which is not nearly enough to survey 350,000 people with symptoms.

“What is more worrisome is the sheer number of symptomatic people,” he added. “Using a conservative case fatality rate of 1% and assuming the surge is due to an Omicron variant of COVID-19, North Korea can expect 3,500 deaths from this outbreak.”

‘GRAVEST EMERGENCY’

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un visited the anti-virus command centre on Thursday to check the situation and responses after declaring a “gravest state of emergency” and ordering a national lockdown, KCNA said.

State media has said the outbreak began in the capital, Pyongyang, in late April, without elaborating on potential causes. The city hosted several massive public events on April 15 and 25, including a military parade and large gatherings where most people did not wear masks.

Kim, who attended some of those events, “criticised that the simultaneous spread of fever with the capital area as a centre shows that there is a vulnerable point in the epidemic prevention system we have already established,” KCNA said.

Kim said actively isolating and treating people with fevers is a top priority, while calling for scientific treatment methods and tactics, and measures to supply medication.

In another dispatch, KCNA said health authorities were trying to organise testing and treatment systems and bolster disinfection work.

The rapid spread of the virus highlights the potential for a major crisis in a country that lacks medical resources and has refused international help with vaccinations while keeping its borders shut.

Analysts said the outbreak could worsen the country’s already tough food situation this year, with the lockdown hampering its “all-out fight” against drought and the mobilisation of labour.

CALLS FOR AID

North Korea said last year it had developed its own polymerase chain reaction (PCR) equipment for COVID tests. But it declined vaccine supplies from the COVAX global sharing programme and China, possibly leaving the vast majority of people in a relatively young society at higher risk of infection.

North Korea has so far not publicised any new calls for help in countering the outbreak, but some observers were optimistic that the disclosure was a signal that the government would soon accept vaccines or other aid.

Yoon’s pledge for support came a day after Kwon Young-se, his nominee to be the unification minister, responsible for inter-Korean ties, said at his confirmation hearing that he would push for humanitarian assistance for the North, including COVID treatment, syringes and other medical supplies.

A unification ministry spokesman said on Friday that about 95.4 billion won ($74.1 million) from an inter-Korean cooperation fund was earmarked to facilitate exchanges in the health and medical area.

A U.S. State Department spokesperson said it had no plans to send vaccines to North Korea but supported international efforts to provide aid to vulnerable people there, urging Pyongyang to facilitate that work.

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