Nepal floods: Death toll reaches 1322

News Network
July 24, 2020

Kathmandu, Jul 24: At least 132 people lost their lives as a result of heavy rains triggering landslides, and flash floods in Nepal.

"132 people dead, 128 injured, 53 missing and 998 families affected due to rainfall, landslides and floods in the country as of 23rd July," Nepal Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Authority Within the last two weeks, the Myagdi district of western Nepal was the worst affected with 27 reported deaths.

Search and rescue operations are being conducted continuously with officials and police personnel who are looking through the debris to find missing people.

Monsoon-induced disasters are common in Nepal owing to the country's mountainous topography. Hundreds have been displaced as landslides have swept away their homes. They ended up taking refuge in local schools and community centers.

Nepal's Meteorological Forecasting Division earlier last week had predicted heavy downpour across the country. The Division had warned of monsoon winds being near the low-pressure line in the Terai belt, which would consequently cause more rainfall.

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Agencies
December 3,2020

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London, Dec 3: UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Wednesday hailed the "searchlights of science" which have fought back against the "invisible enemy" COVID-19 with an approved Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine but urged the British public to not get carried away with "over optimism".

Addressing a 10 Downing Street briefing to confirm that the vaccine will be ready to be deployed to the highest risk categories by next week, Johnson stressed that it remains important that the country follows the tiered COVID Winter Plan and remain under alert to get through the long and cold months ahead before the vaccine administration process is in full swing by early next year.

"We have been waiting and hoping for the day when the searchlights of science would pick out our invisible enemy and give us the power to stop that enemy from making us ill and now the scientists have done it," said Johnson.

"It is all the more vital that as we celebrate this scientific achievement we are not carried away with over optimism, or fall into the naive belief that the struggle is over. It's not, we've got to stick to our Winter Plan, he said.

The prime minister confirmed that in line with the advice of the independent Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI), the first phase of the vaccine deployment will include care home residents, health and care staff, the elderly and those who are clinically extremely vulnerable.

"But there are immense logistical challenges: the vaccine must be stored at minus 70 degrees and each person needs two injections, three weeks apart. So it will inevitably take some months before all the most vulnerable are protected," he said.

"[But] we are no longer resting on the mere hope that we can return to normal next year in the spring, but rather on the sure and certain knowledge that we will succeed, he added.

His address came hours after the UK government confirmed that it has accepted the independent Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) assessment and authorised the use of Pfizer/BioNTech to immunise against COVID-19.

Now authorisation has been granted, Pfizer will begin delivery of the vaccine to the UK. In making the recommendation to authorise supply, the MHRA will decide any additional quality assurance checks that may be required before a vaccine can be made available, the Department of Health and Social Care said.

The UK claims to be the first country to pre-order supplies of the vaccine from Pfizer/BioNTech, with 800,000 doses being made available next week and 40 million doses ordered overall enough to vaccinate up to a third of the population, and the majority of doses anticipated in the first half of next year.

"As a nation we owe every scientist, clinician and trial volunteer an enormous debt of gratitude for their victory won against odds that at times seemed impossible. It is thanks to their efforts, and of our Vaccine Taskforce, that the UK was the first country to sign a deal with Pfizer/BioNTech and will now be the first to deploy their vaccine," said UK Business Secretary Alok Sharma.

The MHRA started the rolling review of Pfizer/BioNTech's data in October and the UK government asked the regulator to assess the vaccine for its suitability for authorisation under Regulation 174 of the Human Medicines Regulations, enabling the temporary supply of medicines to be authorised in response to a public health need, which the regulator has recommended.

The state-funded National Health Service (NHS) for England said deployment plans will include hospital hubs for NHS and care staff and older patients to get vaccinated; local community services with local teams and GPs already signing up to take part in the programme; and vaccination centres across the country, ensuring people can access a vaccine regardless of where they live.

"This vaccine has now passed all of the extensive checks needed for authorisation to supply and will soon be ready to be delivered to the NHS," said Professor Jonathan Van-Tam, Deputy Chief Medical Officer for England.

The vaccine will be available for free across the UK, with the government said to be working with the devolved administrations to ensure it is deployed fairly across all four nations England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.

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News Network
December 2,2020

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2020 was a year turned upside-down by the novel coronavirus. But with the prospect of several vaccines coming online and less stringent restrictions, experts say it's possible 2021 will return to a semblance of normality.

With a second Covid-19 wave currently battering Europe, the United States battling its third, and Hong Kong facing a fourth, disease specialists say they can't rule out more resurgences in cases and deaths as 2021 gets underway.

France's scientific council, which guides government policy on the pandemic, envisages "several successive waves" of Covid-19 over the winter and well into next year.

Flavio Toxvaerd, lecturer at the University of Cambridge's Faculty of Economics, told AFP the question of how many waves the world still faces depends on a variety of factors.

These include "seasonal changes in contact patterns as well as how well the disease is managed through a combination of social distancing and vaccines," said Toxvaerd, who specialises in the economics of infectious diseases and economic epidemiology.

Lessons learned from past interventions could allow countries to fine-tune their counter-virus measures, implementing modified restrictions while avoiding total lockdowns.

Governments will seek to administer "the minimal effective dose" of measures, such as bans on large gatherings or high-risk activities, according to Anne-Claude Cremieux, an infectious diseases expert at Paris' Saint-Louis hospital.

She referred to a strategy of "surgical strikes" against the virus.

That would require full knowledge and control over the transmission chain, with an effective "test, trace, isolate" system and particular care taken over protecting vulnerable and elderly individuals.

"We need to hold on until relief arrives, and the relief is a vaccine," said Cremieux. She, however, cautioned that "it's clear we're not going to vaccinate the entire world in six months".

Even if several vaccines are made available, they alone will not be enough to return to normal.

Arnaud Fontanet, an epidemiologist at the Pasteur Institute told RMC/BFMTV television that normality could be restored "only by Autumn 2021" -- and even then only if 80-90 per cent of the population are vaccinated. Universal coverage would be "an extremely ambitious goal given the hesitancy that exists today towards vaccines," he said.

Fontanet echoed concerns expressed by fellow experts that a massive effort is needed to overcome anti-vaccine sentiment worldwide.

With some countries debating making Covid-19 vaccinations mandatory, Toxvaerd sounded a note of caution. "In the current climate, making vaccines mandatory may backfire and cause even more resistance to the vaccine," he said.

"Instead, positive incentives to vaccinate should be considered."

He pointed to certain business and social practices -- such as some airlines refusing to admit non-vaccinated passengers -- that would be more likely to bring success than enforced vaccination programmes.

And the logistics of mass vaccination remain dizzying. Even as results from trials need verifying in peer-reviewed papers, little still is known about how long the immunity they render will last.

Fontanet said that even the most effective vaccines could not be treated as a magic wand guaranteeing protection. "There will be people who have been vaccinated who still get sick," he said. But he stressed that didn't mean that "the vaccine doesn't work".

With at least two candidate vaccines undergoing review by health authorities ahead of use authorisation, the safety data from trials is also being pored over.

"This can provide important additional and more precise information on longer-term safety and efficacy of a vaccine against Covid-19," the European Medicines Agency said recently.

Different vaccines will need to be distributed differently, too, with some candidates that have proven to prevent severe illness likely prioritised for at-risk individuals.

Moncef Slaoui, head scientist with the US's Operation Warp Speed vaccination programme, told CNN last month that around 70 percent of the population would need inoculating in order to achieve "true herd immunity".

This level is unlikely to be reached before May 2021, he added.

This year has seen an unprecedented change in personal behaviour prompted by Covid-19, from hand washing and social distancing to the now almost ubiquitous mask wearing.

Experts say these behaviours are unlikely to be limited to 2020 alone, as protective measures will still be needed until everyone is out of the woods.

Leading US scientist Anthony Fauci told AFP in a recent interview he foresaw "a considerable degree of normality" by the third quarter of next year.

Successful vaccination programmes could see for example the Olympic Games, delayed from last summer, take place in Tokyo in late July.

Meanwhile China, where Covid-19 emerged late last year, has largely resumed business as usual, while developing its own vaccine and reacting swiftly to any hint of new cases.

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News Network
November 24,2020

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Elon Musk's year of dizzying ascents hit a new apex Monday as the Tesla Inc. co-founder passed Bill Gates to become the world's second-richest person.

The 49-year-old entrepreneur's net worth soared $7.2 billion to $127.9 billion, driven by yet another surge in Tesla's share price. Musk has added $100.3 billion to his net worth this year, the most of anyone on the Bloomberg Billionaires Index, a ranking of the world's 500 richest people. In January he ranked 35th.

His advance up the wealth ranks has been driven largely by Tesla, whose market value is approaching $500 billion. About three-quarters of his net worth is comprised of Tesla shares, which are valued more than four times as much as his stake in Space Exploration Technologies Corp., or SpaceX.

Musk's milestone marks only the second time in the index's eight-year history that Microsoft Corp. co-founder Gates has ranked lower than number two. He held the top spot for years before being bumped by Amazon.com Inc. founder Jeff Bezos in 2017. Gates's net worth of $127.7 billion would be much higher had he not donated so prodigiously to charity over the years. He has given more than $27 billion to his namesake foundation since 2006.

With Monday's move, Musk unseats an occasional verbal sparring partner in Gates, who the Tesla billionaire has ridiculed on Twitter for, among other things, having “no clue” about electric trucks. The two have also traded barbs over Covid-19. Gates, whose charitable foundation is one of the preeminent bodies backing vaccine research, has expressed concern over Musk's stated suspicion of pandemic data and embrace of certain conspiracy theories.

The year has been a lucrative one for the world's richest people. Despite the pandemic and widespread layoffs that have disproportionately affected the world's working class and poor, the members of the Bloomberg index have collectively gained 23% -- or $1.3 trillion -- since the year began.

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