Surges in coronavirus cases in several U.S. states this week, along with staffing and equipment shortages, are exacting a mounting toll on hospitals and their workers even as the number of new admissions nationwide ebbs, leading to warnings at some facilities that care would be rationed.
Montana, Alaska, Ohio, Wisconsin and Kentucky experienced the biggest rises in new COVID-19 hospitalizations during the week ending Sept. 10 compared with the previous week, with Montana’s new hospitalizations rising by 26 per cent, according to the latest report by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on Tuesday.
In Alaska, the influx is so heavy that the state’s largest hospital is no longer able to provide life-saving care to every patient who needs it, according to an open letter from the medical executive committee of Providence Alaska Medical Center this week.
“If you or your loved one need specialty care at Providence, such as a cardiologist, trauma surgeon, or a neurosurgeon, we sadly may not have room now,” the letter read. “There are no more staffed beds left.”
Some hospital workers have become so overwhelmed by the fresh wave of COVID-19 cases — a year and half after the pandemic first reached the United States — that they have left for jobs at retailing and other non-medical fields, Nancy Foster, vice president of quality and patient safety the American Hospital Association, told Reuters.
At the same time, distribution and other issues are leaving some hospitals short of oxygen supplies desperately needed to help patients struggling to breathe, Foster said.
On Friday, the hospital association held a webinar for its members on how to conserve oxygen, an effort to address a 200 per cent jump in demand at many hospitals, she said.
“There is a shortage of drivers with the qualifications to transport oxygen, and a shortage of the tanks needed to transport it.”
While there are some breakthrough cases among the vaccinated, Foster said most of the hospitalizations were among the unvaccinated.
New hospital admissions are still surging in several mostly rural and Midwestern states, even as the number of COVID-19 patients admitted to hospitals daily in the entire United States slipped to about 10,685 on Tuesday after cresting around 13,028 in late August, according to the latest data from the CDC.
What’s happening across Canada
- Health authority, N.B. working to meet demand for COVID-19 tests amid surge in cases.
- Outbreaks are ‘a weird moment’ for P.E.I. Here’s one expert’s advice on how to cope.
- N.S. reports 18 new cases of COVID-19 on Friday.
What’s happening around the world
As of Friday afternoon, more than 227.4 million cases of COVID-19 had been reported worldwide, according to Johns Hopkins University’s coronavirus tracker. The reported global death toll stood at more than 4.6 million.
The British government announced a major simplification of its rules for international travel on Friday, heeding complaints from travellers and businesses that its regulations aimed at staving off the spread of COVID-19 were cumbersome and ineffective.
Testing requirements will be eased for fully vaccinated arrivals to England from open countries, who will no longer have to take a COVID-19 test before travelling. Travellers will still need a test after landing, but from the end of October an inexpensive lateral flow test will suffice, rather than a more sensitive — but pricier — polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test. The new rules apply to travellers from Canada.
In the Americas, an influential panel of expert outside advisers to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration voted against approving COVID-19 booster shots for all Americans, but endorsing them for those 65 and over and for those at high risk of severe disease.
The decision marked a huge step back from the sweeping plan proposed by the Biden administration a month ago to offer booster shots of both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines to nearly all Americans eight months after they get their second dose.
In Asia, Cambodia is vaccinating children ages six to 11 so students can safely return to schools that have been closed for months due to the coronavirus. Prime Minister Hun Sen opened the campaign Friday, with his grandchildren and young family members of other senior officials getting their shots.
Cambodia already has been vaccinating older children, and Hun Sen says he ordered health officials to study if children ages three to five can be vaccinated. Nearly 72 per cent of Cambodia’s almost 17 million people have received at least one COVID-19 shot since vaccinations began in February.
India gave a record 22.6 million vaccinations on Friday, three times the average daily total during the past month. The health minister called the vaccine milestone a birthday gift for Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who turned 71 and was criticized heavily for India’s dramatic rise in infections and deaths in April and May.
India’s previous vaccination peak of 14.1 million was reached on Aug. 31, with a daily average of seven million doses in the last 30 days.
FBI raids Washington home linked to Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska
FBI agents on Tuesday raided a Washington mansion linked to Russian Oleg Deripaska, a metals billionaire with ties to the Kremlin and to Paul Manafort, former U.S. President Donald Trump’s one-time 2016 campaign chairman.
An FBI agent stood outside the house in one of Washington’s wealthiest neighborhoods, with yellow “CRIME SCENE DO NOT ENTER” tape across the front of the mansion, while members of the FBI’s Evidence Response Team carried boxes out of the property.
A spokesperson for the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation confirmed the agency was conducting a court-authorized law enforcement activity at the home, which the Washington Post has previously reported was linked to the Russian oligarch.
The specific reason for sealing off and searching the mansion was not immediately clear, and the FBI spokesperson did not provide details. A representative for Deripaska said the homes belong to relatives of the oligarch.
Deripaska, 53, has been under U.S. sanctions since 2018. Washington imposed sanctions on him and other influential Russians because of their ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin after alleged Russian meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.
Reuters could not immediately determine Deripaska’s whereabouts.
Deripaska once employed Paul Manafort, who served for a period as the chairman of Trump’s 2016 campaign and who was convicted in 2018 on tax evasion and bank fraud charges.
He owns part of Rusal via his stake in the giant aluminum producer’s parent company En+ Group. Washington previously dropped sanctions against both companies but kept them on Deripaska.
Rusal’s Moscow-listed shares extended losses after the report, falling 6%.
The representative for Deripaska, who declined to give their name because of company policy, confirmed the raid on the home in Washington as well as one in New York City, and said both belong to Deripaska’s family rather than the executive himself.
“The FBI is indeed currently conducting searches of houses belonging to Oleg Deripaska’s relatives. The searches are being carried out on the basis of two court warrants related to the U.S. sanctions. The houses in question are located in New York and Washington, DC and are not owned by Oleg Deripaska himself,” said the representative did not provide any further details.
Deripaska previously sued to have the U.S. sanctions lifted but his case was dismissed in June.
(Reporting by Susan Heavey, Sarah N. Lynch, Mark Hosenball, Kevin Fogarty Jonathan Landay; additional reporting by Anastasia Lyrchikova and Polina Devitt in Moscow; Writing by Arshad Mohammed and Susan Heavey; Editing by Jonathan Oatis, Mark Porter and Howard Goller)
Tradition vs credibility: Inside the SE Asian meet that snubbed Myanmar
Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines and Singapore pushed for a harder stance against Myanmar junta leader Min Aung Hlaing at a “tense” meeting that decided to exclude him from a regional summit this month, four people with knowledge of the talks said.
Southeast Asian ministers were divided between sticking to a tradition of non-interference and the need to retain credibility by sanctioning the coup leader, who has led a bloody crackdown on dissent since seizing power from Myanmar’s civilian government on Feb. 1, the sources said.
In the end it was the chair Brunei, with majority backing, that chose to keep him from attending the virtual Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) leaders’ summit set for Oct 26 to 28, and invite instead a “non-political representative” from Myanmar.
The decision broke with ASEAN’s decades-long policy of engagement and non-interference in the affairs of member nations.
“The mood in the meeting had never been more tense,” said one of the people with knowledge of the discussions.
“If you asked me if ASEAN would do something like this a year ago, I would have said it would never happen,” said a regional diplomat. “ASEAN is changing.”
Singapore Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan said on Twitter the outcome of the meeting was a “difficult but necessary decision to uphold ASEAN’s credibility”.
Philippines Foreign Minister Teodoro Locsin said before the meeting that the bloc could no longer afford to take a neutral stance on Myanmar, adding that if it relented, “our credibility as a real regional organization disappears … We’re a bunch of guys who always agree with each other on the worthless things”.
Malaysia’s foreign ministry and a spokesperson for Indonesia’s foreign ministry declined to comment.
The 10-member ASEAN also includes Thailand, Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam.
International pressure has been mounting on ASEAN for a harder line against Myanmar’s failure to take agreed steps to end violence, allow humanitarian access and start dialogue with its opponents.
The grouping’s perceived ineptitude has sparked outrage in Myanmar, with some anti-junta protesters burning the bloc’s flag.
Since overthrowing Aung San Suu Kyi’s government, detaining her and most of her allies and ending a decade of tentative democracy, Myanmar’s military has killed more than 1,000 people and arrested thousands in a bid to crush resistance, monitoring group the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners says.
Fighting has flared nationwide between junta troops and hastily assembled pro-democracy armed groups.
In a televised address on Monday, making his first remarks since the snub, Min Aung Hlaing defended the military’s actions, saying it was seeking to restore order and ASEAN should take note of violence out by its opponents, before announcing an amnesty for thousands of political prisoners. [L1N2RE08M]
Earlier, a spokesman blamed ASEAN’s decision on “foreign intervention”, saying the United States and representatives of the European Union had pressured other members of the grouping.
CREDIBILITY AT STAKE
For decades, Myanmar’s military has been a thorny issue for the regional bloc, as previous ruling juntas came under fire for brutally crushing pro-democracy movements.
Friday’s decision came after weeks of failed diplomacy over the crisis and days after plans were scrapped for a visit to Myanmar by ASEAN’s special envoy Erywan Yusof when the junta denied him a meeting with Aung San Suu Kyi, citing the criminal charges she faces.
These include violating the official secrets act.
Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore first floated the idea of sidelining the junta head at a meeting this month of ASEAN foreign ministers, said the regional diplomat, as a tactic to win access to Suu Kyi, who is being held at an unknown location.
Two of the sources said there were fears that Min Aung Hlaing’s presence would deter other global leaders from attending the larger East Asia Summit, set for a few days after the ASEAN summit.
Last week, U.N. Secretary General Antonio Guterres postponed a call with Southeast Asian ministers to avoid being in the same online room as a Myanmar military representative.
“The threats to disengage weren’t made, at least explicitly, but there was anxiety on the part of member states that it would begin to affect ASEAN’s credibility in a broader sense,” said Aaron Connelly, a Southeast Asia researcher at the International Institute for Strategic Studies.
The regional leaders discussed on Friday requests to attend the summit from Myanmar’s parallel civilian government, the National Unity Government, which two sources said has been in quiet talks with Indonesia, among other nations, but stopped short.
The selection of a “non-political representative” now falls to the junta, which is likely to choose someone seen as comparatively neutral but tied to the regime, three of the sources said.
But the decision to sideline Min Aung Hlaing represents “the most severe sanction that any ASEAN member state has ever been dealt by the organisation,” said Connelly.
People regionwide have “lost faith and hope in the mechanism of ASEAN to protect its own community members,” said Fuadi Pitsuwan, a fellow at Chiang Mai University’s School of Public Policy.
It might be time to “re-evaluate” the non-interference principle, he added.
“Let’s see if this would kick start another round of this existential deliberation and whether it would end differently.”
(Additional reporting by Chayut Setboonsarng, Karen Lema, and Shoon Naing; Writing by Poppy McPherson; Editing by Clarence Fernandez and Raju Gopalakrishnan)
China, Russia navy ships jointly sail through Japan strait
A group of 10 military vessels from China and Russia sailed through a narrow strait separating Japan’s main island and its northern island of Hokkaido on Monday, the Japanese defence ministry said on Tuesday.
It was the first time Japan , which closely monitors military exercises in its region, has confirmed the passage of Chinese and Russian naval vessels sailing together through the Tsugaru Strait, which separates the Sea of Japan from the Pacific.
The Tsugaru Strait is an international strait which is open to foreign ships, including military vessels.
“No violation of territorial waters has taken place, and no international rule has been ignored,” a Defence Ministry spokesperson said.
Russia and China held joint naval drills in the Sea of Japan as part of naval cooperation between the two countries from Oct. 14-17 involving warships and support vessels from Russia’s Pacific Fleet.
Moscow and Beijing have cultivated closer military and diplomatic ties in recent years at a time when their relations with the West have soured.
(Reporting by Kiyoshi Takenaka; editing by Richard Pullin)
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