Alaska, which led most U.S. states in coronavirus vaccinations months ago, took the drastic step on Wednesday of imposing crisis-care standards for its entire hospital system, declaring that a crushing surge in COVID-19 patients has forced rationing of strained medical resources.
Gov. Mike Dunleavy and health officials announced the move as the tally of newly confirmed cases statewide reached another single-day record of 1,224 patients amid a wave of infections driven by the spread of the highly contagious delta variant among the unvaccinated.
The delta variant is “crippling our health-care system. It’s impacting everything from heart attacks to strokes to our children if they get in a bike accident,” Dr. Anne Zink, Alaska’s chief medical officer, said at a news conference with Dunleavy.
Alaska’s health and social services commissioner, Adam Crum, announced that he signed an emergency addendum extending to the whole state standards of crisis care announced last week at the state’s largest hospital, Providence Alaska Medical Center in Anchorage. The new document limits liability faced by providers for crisis-level medical care in all Alaska hospitals.
Moreover, it acknowledges the realities of rationed care statewide, with scarce medical supplies and staff prioritized in a way that denies normal levels of care to some patients for the sake of others, depending on how sick they are and their chances for recovery.
To cope with the COVID-19 influx, Alaska has signed an $87 million US contract to enlist hundreds of health-care workers from out of state, officials said.
About one-fifth of Alaska hospital patients are infected with COVID-19, according to state data. But that figure understates the burden placed on the system as a whole as it “squeezes out” capacity to treat victims of car accidents, strokes, heart attacks and other ailments, Dunleavy said.
Paradoxically, back in April, Alaska had ranked among the top states getting COVID-19 vaccines into the arms of residents, helped in large part by efforts of the state’s pandemic-conscious Indigenous population.
Alaska has since slipped below the national average, with just 58 per cent of residents aged 12 and older fully vaccinated, according to the state database. The vaccination slump coincided with significant political resistance to public health requirements.
-From Reuters, last updated at 6:45 a.m. ET
What’s happening across Canada
Saskatchewan’s only children’s hospital is opening its pediatric intensive care unit to younger adults with COVID-19.
Those under the age of 40 are getting admitted to the Jim Pattison Children’s Hospital in Saskatoon. The Saskatchewan Health Authority said Wednesday that so far two adults are in the pediatrics ICU, and space is being made for more.
Dr. Susan Shaw, the health authority’s chief medical officer, said critical care capacity is under strain.
The province has recently been reporting record numbers of COVID-19 hospitalizations — mostly unvaccinated patients.
-From The Canadian Press, last updated at 6:40 a.m. ET
What’s happening around the world
As of early Thursday morning, more than 230.1 million cases of COVID-19 had been reported worldwide, according to Johns Hopkins University’s case tracking tool. The reported global death toll stood at more than 4.7 million.
In the Americas, the Pan American Health Organization has warned that countries in the region could continue to face localized COVID-19 outbreaks well into 2022, even while deaths have fallen from their peak in January.
In the Middle East, Syria is facing a new surge in infections in both government-held areas and territory outside state control that could overwhelm the war-ravaged country’s fragile health system.
In Africa, Uganda’s president has eased restrictions, allowing the resumption of education for universities and other post-secondary institutions, citing a decline in infections.
In the Asia-Pacific region, police in the Australian city of Melbourne prepared for a fourth day of anti-lockdown protests on Thursday while a vaccination hub closed after protesters abused staff, the operator said, while COVID-19 cases across the state of Victoria hit a daily record. Hundreds of protesters have taken to the streets in the city of five million since officials this week ordered a two-week closure of building sites and made vaccines mandatory for construction workers to limit the spread of the virus.
Japan plans to give other countries 60 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines, Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga said, doubling the target from the previous pledge of 30 million doses.
Thailand pushed back plans to reopen Bangkok and some other major cities to foreign arrivals until November.
In Europe, Italy plans to give other countries 45 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines before the end of the year, three times its original pledge, Prime Minister Mario Draghi said.
-From Reuters and The Associated Press, last updated at 6:35 a.m. ET
Have questions about this story? We’re answering as many as we can in the comments.
Queen Elizabeth back home after first night in hospital in years
Britain’s 95-year-old Queen Elizabeth spent a night in hospital for the first time in years for what royal officials termed ‘preliminary investigations’ but was in good spirits and back at work at her Windsor Castle home on Thursday.
The world’s oldest and longest-reigning monarch cancelled an official trip to Northern Ireland on Wednesday. The palace said the queen had been told to rest by her medical staff, and that her ailment was not related to COVID-19.
“Following medical advice to rest for a few days, the queen attended hospital on Wednesday afternoon for some preliminary investigations, returning to Windsor Castle at lunchtime today, and remains in good spirits,” the palace said in a statement on Thursday.
A royal source said the queen had stayed at the King Edward VII hospital in central London for practical reasons and that her medical team had taken a cautious approach.
Elizabeth, who is queen of 15 other realms including Australia, Canada and New Zealand, returned to her desk for work on Thursday afternoon and was undertaking some light duties, the source said.
She had spent Tuesday night hosting a drinks reception at Windsor for billionaire business leaders such as Bill Gates after Prime Minister Boris Johnson convened a green investment conference ahead of the COP26 climate summit.
The queen had appeared in good health then, smiling happily as she met the guests.
The head of state, who next year celebrates 70 years on the throne, is known for her robust health. The last time she is thought to have spent a night in hospital was in 2013 when she was suffering from symptoms of gastroenteritis.
She had a successful surgery to treat an eye cataract in 2018, and also had a knee operation in 2003. However, royal officials are loathe to discuss health issues in general, saying medical matters are private.
Earlier this year, Prince Philip, her 99-year-old husband of more than seven decades, died at Windsor Castle.
But that has not stopped her from carrying out her official engagements, although her age has meant she has handed more duties to her son and heir Prince Charles, and to other members of the royal family.
Earlier this month, she was seen using a walking stick for support in public for the first time, apart from after her knee operation.
Her long reign has seen some turbulent times and the last couple of years have been particularly difficult from her family and for Elizabeth personally.
Not only has she lost her husband, who she described as her “strength and stay”, but her second son Prince Andrew has had to quit royal duties over his links to the late U.S. financier Jeffrey Epstein and allegations of sex crimes.
Her grandson Prince Harry and his American wife Meghan have also stepped away from royal duties to move to Los Angeles from where they delivered some barbed attacks on Buckingham Palace.
Despite the setbacks, polls show Elizabeth, who acceded to the throne in 1952 when Britain was shedding its imperial power, remains popular and highly regarded in Britain, symbolising stability for generations.
Her quiet and uncomplaining dedication to the duty of queenship, even in old age, has earned her widespread respect, even from republicans who are eager to abolish the institution.
Her next major engagement is at the end of the month when she is due to welcome world leaders at the opening of the United Nations climate change summit in Glasgow.
(Reporting by Michael Holden; Editing by Guy Faulconbridge, Daniel Wallis and Rosalba O’Brien)
Factbox-Queen Elizabeth, Britain’s longest-reigning monarch
Britain’s Queen Elizabeth, the world’s longest-reigning monarch, spent a night in hospital but returned to Windsor Castle on Thursday.
Here are some facts about the 95-year-old queen:
Elizabeth Alexandra Mary was born at 17 Bruton St, London W1, on April 21, 1926, and christened on May 29, 1926, in the private chapel at Buckingham Palace.
After her uncle, Edward VIII, abdicated in 1936 for the love of a divorced American woman, the queen’s father, George VI, inherited the throne.
Two years after World War Two, she married navy Lieutenant Philip Mountbatten, a Greek prince, whom she had fallen for during a visit to a naval college when she was just 13.
She was just 25 when she became Queen Elizabeth II on Feb. 6, 1952, on the death of her father, while she was on tour in Kenya with Prince Philip.
She was crowned monarch on June 2, 1953, in a ceremony at London’s Westminster Abbey that was televised live.
MOTHER AND WIFE
Philip was said to be shattered when his wife became queen so soon.
Her marriage to Philip, whom she wed when she was 21, stayed solid for 74 years until his death in April 2021.
Their children are Charles, born in 1948, Anne, born in 1950, Andrew in 1960 and Edward in 1964.
Winston Churchill was the first of her 14 British prime ministers.
As head of state, the queen remains neutral on political matters. The queen does not vote.
Elizabeth, who acceded to the throne as Britain was shedding its imperial power, has symbolised stability. Her nearly 70-year reign is the longest of any British monarch.
A quiet and uncomplaining dedication to the duty of queenship, even in old age, has earned her widespread respect both in Britain and abroad, even from republicans who are eager for abolition of the monarchy.
OFFICIAL TITLE IN THE UNITED KINGDOM
Her Majesty Elizabeth II, By the Grace of God, of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, and of Her Other Realms and Territories Queen, Head of the Commonwealth, Defender of the Faith.
The Queen is head of state of 15 Commonwealth countries in addition to the United Kingdom. She is also head of the Commonwealth itself, a voluntary association of 54 independent countries.
The 40th anniversary of her accession, in 1992, was a year she famously described as an “annus horribilis” after three of her four children’s marriages failed and there was a fire at her Windsor Castle royal residence.
The death of Princess Diana, the divorced wife of Elizabeth’s son and heir-to-the-throne Prince Charles, in 1997, damaged the family’s public prestige.
Charles’ younger son, Harry, and wife Meghan said in an explosive interview with Oprah Winfrey earlier this year that one unidentified royal had made a racist remark about their first-born child. The couple had stepped back from royal duties in early 2020 and moved to the United States.
(Writing by Michael Holden and Kate Holton; Editing by Guy Faulconbridge and Peter Cooney)
At United Nations, Afghan women appeal: don’t let Taliban in
A group of Afghan women urged the United Nations to block the Taliban from gaining a seat at the world body, calling for better representation for their country during a visit to the organisation’s New York headquarters on Thursday.
“It’s very simple,” former Afghan politician and peace negotiator Fawzia Koofi told reporters outside the UN Security Council in New York. “The UN needs to give that seat to somebody who respects the rights of everyone in Afghanistan.”
“We are talked a lot about, but we are not listened to,” she said of Afghan women. “Aid, money, recognition – they are all leverage that the world should use for inclusion, for respect to the rights of women, for respect to the rights of everybody.”
Koofi was joined by former politician, Naheed Fareed, former diplomat Asila Wardak and journalist Anisa Shaheed.
“When the Taliban took Afghanistan … they said that they will give permission to women to resume their jobs, to go back to the school, but they didn’t keep that promise,” said Fareed.
Since seizing power in mid-August, Taliban leaders have vowed to respect women’s rights in accordance with sharia, or Islamic law. But under Taliban rule from 1996 to 2001, women could not work and girls were banned from school. Women had to cover their faces and be accompanied by a male relative when they left home.
The United Nations is considering rival claims on who should represent Afghanistan. The Taliban nominated their Doha-based spokesman Suhail Shaheen as UN ambassador, while Ghulam Isaczai – the UN envoy representing the government ousted by the Taliban – is seeking to remain in the country’s seat.
UN member states are expected to make a decision by the end of the year.
Wardak urged countries to pressure the Taliban “to put their words in action” when it comes to women’s rights, adding: “If you’re going to give them a seat, there should be conditions.”
The women spoke to reporters before addressing a UN event on support for Afghan women and girls, organized by Britain, Qatar, Canada, UN Women and the Georgetown Institute for Women, Peace and Security.
The UN Security Council also met separately on Thursday to discuss women, peace and security.
“Women and girls in Afghanistan are pinning their hopes and dreams on this very council and world body to help them recover their rights to work, travel and go to school,” Isaczai told the 15-member council. “It would be morally reprehensible if we do nothing and let them down.”
(Reporting by Michelle Nichols; Editing by Karishma Singh)
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