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Covid deaths top 1.5 million across Europe



Europe on Thursday reached the grim milestone of 1.5 million coronavirus deaths as nations scramble to tackle a worsening crisis with winter approaching.

In response, France accelerated its Covid booster rollout and Germany, with fatalities and infections surging, weighed new measures.

With the world braced for the full onslaught of yet another wave, the EU’s medicines agency cleared a vaccine for children as young as five.

But South Africa reported a new worrying Covid-19 variant with devastating potential, the EU medicines agency cleared a vaccine for children as young as five.

In Paris, Health Minister Olivier Veran said Covid-19 booster shots, until now only available to people over 65 or with health problems, would be accessible to all adults starting this weekend.

From January 15, people over 18 would need to show proof of a top-up vaccine dose to maintain a valid Covid pass, which is required to enter restaurants, bars, gyms and other public venues.

The minister said the stringent measure could see France through the fifth wave without recourse to another lockdown, which the government is desperately trying to avoid.

Adding pressure, the EU Commission recommended that the bloc’s vaccination certificate should become invalid once the holder’s latest dose is more than nine months old.

– ‘Grim milestone’ – The number of daily new cases in France hit a seven-month high of 32,591 on Wednesday but the burden of critical cases in hospital remains manageable — a fact experts put down to France’s energetic vaccination drive.

Neighbouring Germany meanwhile reported record coronavirus fatalities and infections Thursday as its total death toll passed 100,000 — a “grim milestone”, said Bild daily — just as a new government prepared to replace Angela Merkel’s coalition.

Europe’s largest economy recorded 351 Covid fatalities in the past 24 hours, bringing the official death toll since the start of the pandemic to 100,119.

The weekly incidence rate also hit an all-time high of 419.7 new infections per 100,000 people, according to the Robert Koch Institute health agency.

The spike in Germany came as Europe re-emerged as the pandemic’s epicentre, with the continent battling sluggish vaccine uptake in some nations, the highly contagious Delta variant, colder weather sending people indoors and the easing of restrictions.

An AFP tally of official figures showed Thursday that more than 1.5 million people have died from Covid-19 in Europe.

Merkel’s presumed successor Olaf Scholz outlined a roadmap Wednesday by announcing new measures to tame the fourth wave.

These included forming a corona response task force based at his office and bonuses for overstretched health workers.

However, steps announced last week to limit the unvaccinated from participating in public life have already come under fire.

“The latest decisions are like announcing in a flooding catastrophe a plan to hire more swimming teachers and distributing a few water wings and rubber ducks,” Sueddeutsche newspaper fumed.

– ‘Acute overload’- The German health sector has had to call on hospitals elsewhere in the EU for help. Some clinics are already facing an “acute overload”, according to Gernot Marx, head of the German Interdisciplinary Association for Intensive Care and Emergency Medicine.

Germany last week began requiring people to prove they are vaccinated, have recovered from Covid-19 or recently tested negative before they can travel on public transport or enter workplaces.

Several of the worst-hit areas have gone further, cancelling Christmas markets and barring the unvaccinated from bars, gyms and leisure facilities.

Germany’s Covid-19 crisis has in part been blamed on its relatively low vaccination rate of about 69 percent, compared to other Western European countries such as France, where it is 75 percent.

A campaign for booster shots has been marred by supply and logistics snags.

In an indication of what’s to come, scientists in South Africa said Thursday they had detected a new Covid-19 variant with multiple mutations, blaming it for a surge in infection numbers.

The variant, which goes by the scientific lineage number B.1.1.529, “has a very high number of mutations,” virologist Tulio de Oliveira said.

For Health Minister Joe Phaahla the variant was of “serious concern” and behind an “exponential” increase in cases.

Back in Europe, the Pfizer/BioNTech jab got the green light for five to 11 year-olds, clearing the way for the vaccination in an age group where the virus is rapidly spreading, and bringing the EU into line with the US, Israel and Canada.

The European Medicines Agency, using the jab’s brand name, said “the benefits of Comirnaty in children aged five to 11 outweigh the risks”.


Biden signs slate of bills aimed at supporting veterans



“We have many obligations, but we only have one truly sacred obligation, in my view. And that is prepare those we send into harm’s way, care for their families when they’re gone and care for them and their families when they’re home,” Biden said at the bill signing event. “And that’s a lifetime commitment.”

One bill directs the Government Accountability Office to study whether there are disparities associated with race and ethnicity when it comes to Veterans Affairs compensation benefits, disability ratings and rejections of claims for benefits. Another directs the VA to recruit military medical personnel to work in federal health care occupations.

The third bill is aimed at reducing out-of-pocket education costs for surviving spouses and children of military veterans, and another piece of legislation is geared toward addressing maternal mortality among female veterans by authorizing $15 million for the VA maternity care coordination programs.

“We’ve heard from veterans of color, who upon returning home from their service, are treated differently from white veterans. This bill will help us understand how this happened, keep better records, expose the facts of the light of day and allow us to do the necessary work making sure that all of our nation’s veterans — all of them — are treated with equal dignity and equal quality throughout their entire time,” Biden said ahead of the bill signing.

Biden noted the Protecting Moms Who Served Act of 2021 was championed by Democratic Sen. Tammy Duckworth of Illinois, who is a US Army veteran who lost both of her legs while serving in Iraq, as well as Republican Sen. Susan Collins of Maine and others. Duckworth is the first female double-amputee to serve in the Senate and was also the first senator to give birth while in office.

Biden also noted the legislation was one of Vice President Kamala Harris’ “pet projects” when she was a senator.

“Our country continues to have the highest maternal mortality rates in the developed world … especially among Black and Native American women. For many years, Vice President Harris has led the fight to address this tragedy in maternal mortality in our nation,” Biden said.

The President was joined at the White House by Harris, Veterans Affairs Secretary Denis McDonough, members of Congress and advocates.

“Earlier this month, I commemorated Veterans Day at Arlington National Cemetery. On that solemn day, we lay a wreath and renew our oath,” Biden said. “But keeping faith with American veterans required much more than laying wreaths or making more oaths. It requires acts. That’s what you’ve done today, all of you. Acts.”

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What Dr. Oz and Donald Trump have in common



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Karnataka: Make Covid-19 vax compulsory to get electricity and rations, says panel | Bengaluru News



BENGALURU: The Covid-19 Technical Advisory Committee (TAC) has suggested that the state make full vaccination mandatory for people to avail various benefits, including rations, water and electricity, from the government. This follows concerns over the possible spread of Omicron, the new SARS-CoV-2 variant of concern, and experts pushing to ensure all eligible people above the age of 18 years are completely vaccinated to prevent the pandemic situation from spiralling out of control.
TAC members met health minister K Sudhakar on Tuesday and submitted a slew of new recommendations, based on discussions at its 136th meeting on Monday (November 29).
The report recommends that to draw government benefits like rations from the public distribution system, electricity, domestic LPG, salaries, pensions, awarding of contracts and even petrol and diesel at bunks, one must be fully vaccinated. Incidentally, the Centre has insisted that the vaccine is not mandatory, although it has urged people to take the shot.
Karnataka has so far covered 91.5% of the total eligible population with the first dose, while second-dose coverage crossed 60% on Tuesday.
As reported by TOI earlier, the TAC had also recommended that the government refuse free treatment in private hospitals for people who contract the disease and are not vaccinated. They can only be treated in government hospitals. The TAC has also suggested that the government conduct special vaccination drives in shopping malls, bus stands, railways stations, hotels and lodges, and at exhibitions.
While the state has mandated that only fully vaccinated people can enter film theatres, implementation has been lax with theatre personnel not asking cinemagoers for vaccination certificates.
Yet to decide
After his meeting with the TAC on Tuesday, Sudhakar said that there have been suggestions that those who do not receive the second dose should not have access to malls, theatres and the government should take a decision on non-payment of treatment in a private hospital. “We are yet to take any decision on these recommendations,” he told reporters.
Most of the recommendations are already in force in states like Maharashtra. From Sunday (November 28), the Maharashtra government mandated that full vaccination certificate is needed to use public transport such as buses, autos, taxis and trains. People must also furnish a vaccination certificate to enter malls, theatres, shops or any establishment where the public have a right to service.
In Madhya Pradesh, double vaccination was made mandatory to purchase liquor from November 19 onwards.
When contacted a top bureaucrat said that TAC’s suggestion on cutting water and power supply cannot be implemented. “Experts have suggested what they have discussed,” the official said. “We cannot force anyone to take the vaccine. Instead, we must educate people on the benefits of vaccination and explain to them that the vaccine has effectively prevented Covid deaths across the country.” The official said efforts are being made to get people who are hesitant to take the vaccine.

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