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India’s coronavirus tally surpasses 24 million as mutant spreads across globe

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India’s tally of coronavirus infections climbed past 24 million on Friday, amid reports that the highly transmissible variant first detected in the South Asian nation was spreading across the globe.

The Indian B.1.617 variant has been found in eight nations in the Americas, including Canada and the United States, said Jairo Mendez, an infectious diseases expert with the World Health Organization (WHO).

“These variants have a greater capacity for transmission, but so far we have not found any collateral consequences,” Mendez said. “The only worry is that they spread faster.”

Among the infected were travellers in Panama and Argentina who had arrived from India or Europe, while in the Caribbean, the variant was found in Aruba, Dutch St Maarten and the French department of Guadeloupe.

It has spread to the Himalayan nation of Nepal and also been detected in Britain and tiny Singapore.

Public Health England said the total number of infections due to the variant had more than doubled in the past week, to 1,313 across Britain.

“We are anxious about it – it has been spreading,” Prime Minister Boris Johnson said, adding that meetings would be held to discuss measures. “We’re ruling nothing out.”

Singapore said it was limiting social gatherings to two people and putting a halt to dining in restaurants.

About half of the nearly 150 passengers booked to return on Australia’s first repatriation flight from India were denied boarding because of positive test results, an Australian government official said.

“The human catastrophe that is unfolding in India and Nepal should be a warning to other countries in the region to invest heavily in surge capacity for an emergency response,” said Yamini Mishra, of rights group Amnesty International.

“The virus is spreading and transcending borders at a frightening speed and will continue to hit the region’s most marginalized populations hardest of all,” the group’s Asia-Pacific director said in a statement.

Indian health ministry data show 4,000 deaths and 343,144 infections over the last 24 hours. It was the third consecutive day of 4,000 deaths, or more, but daily infections have kept below last week’s peak of 414,188.

While the tally of infections crossed 24 million, the death toll stood at 262,317, since the pandemic first struck India more than a year ago.

But a lack of testing in many places meant the official count omits many deaths and infections, prompting experts to estimate the real figures could be five to ten times higher.

The situation is particularly bad in rural areas of Uttar Pradesh, India’s most populous state, home to more than 240 million.

Television has broadcast images of families weeping over the dead in rural hospitals or camping in wards to tend the sick.

Bodies have washed up in the Ganges, the river that flows through the state, as crematoriums are overwhelmed and wood for funeral pyres is in short supply.

CLAMOUR FOR VACCINES

The second wave of infections, which erupted in February, has been accompanied by a slowdown in vaccinations, although Prime Minister Narendra Modi threw open inoculations for all adults from May 1.

Although India is the world’s largest vaccine producer, the huge demand has left it low on stocks. By Thursday, it had fully vaccinated just over 38.2 million people, or about 2.8% of a population of about 1.35 billion, government figures show.

More than 2 billion doses of vaccine are likely to be available between August to December this year, top government adviser V.K. Paul told reporters amid criticism that the government had mishandled the vaccine plan.

Those would include 750 million doses of AstraZeneca’s vaccine, as well as 550 million of Covaxin, made by domestic producer Bharat Biotech.

“We are going through a phase of finite supply,” Paul said. “The entire world is going through this. It takes time to come out of this phase.”

(Reporting by Anuron Kumar Mitra in Bengaluru, Tanvi Mehta in New Delhi and Shilpa Jamkhandikar in Mumbai; Writing by Raju Gopalakrishnan; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)

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Hundreds more unmarked graves found at erstwhile Saskatchewan residential school

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An indigenous group in Saskatchewan on Thursday said it had found the unmarked graves of an estimated 751 people at a now-defunct Catholic residential school, just weeks after a similar, smaller discovery rocked the country.

The latest discovery, the biggest to date, is a grim reminder of the years of abuse and discrimination indigenous communities have suffered in Canada even as they continue to fight for justice and better living conditions.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said he was “terribly saddened” by the discovery at Marieval Indian Residential School about 87 miles (140 km) from the provincial capital Regina. He told indigenous people that “the hurt and the trauma that you feel is Canada’s responsibility to bear.”

It is not clear how many of the remains detected belong to children, Cowessess First Nation Chief Cadmus Delorme told reporters, adding that oral stories mentioned adults being buried at the site.

Delorme later told Reuters some of the graves belong to non-indigenous people who may have belonged to the church. He said the First Nation hopes to find the gravestones that once marked these graves, after which they may involve police.

Delorme said the church that ran the school removed the headstones.

“We didn’t remove the headstones. Removing headstones is a crime in this country. We are treating this like a crime scene,” he said.

The residential school system, which operated between 1831 and 1996, removed about 150,000 indigenous children from their families and brought them to Christian residential schools, mostly Catholic, run on behalf of the federal government.

“Canada will be known as a nation who tried to exterminate the First Nations,” said Bobby Cameron, Chief of the Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations, which represents 74 First Nations in Saskatchewan. “This is just the beginning.”

OLD WOUNDS

Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which published a report that found the residential school system amounted to cultural genocide, has said a cemetery was left on the Marieval site after the school building was demolished.

The local Catholic archdiocese gave Cowessess First Nation C$70,000 ($56,813) in 2019 to help restore the site and identify unmarked graves, said spokesperson Eric Gurash. He said the archdiocese gave Cowessess all its death records for the period Catholic parties were running the school.

In a letter to Delorme on Thursday, Archbishop Don Bolen reiterated an earlier apology for the “failures and sins of Church leaders and staff” and pledged to help identify the remains.

Heather Bear, who went to Marieval as a day student in the 1970s and is also vice-chief of the Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations, recalled a small cemetery at the school but not of the size revealed on Thursday.

“You just didn’t want to be walking around alone in (the school),” she recalled. There was a “sadness that moves. And I think every residential school has that sadness looming.”

The Cowessess First Nation began a ground-penetrating radar search on June 2, after the discovery of 215 unmarked graves at the Kamloops Residential School in British Columbia outraged the country. Radar at Marieval found 751 “hits” as of Wednesday with a 10% margin of error, meaning at least 600 graves on the site.

The Kamloops discovery reopened old wounds in Canada about the lack of information and accountability around the residential school system, which forcibly separated indigenous children from their families and subjected them to malnutrition and physical and sexual abuse.

Pope Francis said in early June that he was pained by the Kamloops revelation and called for respect for the rights and cultures of native peoples. But he stopped short of the direct apology some Canadians had demanded.

Thursday was a difficult day, Delorme told Reuters. But he wants his young children to know “we will get the reconciliation one day with action like today.”

($1 = 1.2321 Canadian dollars)

(Reporting by Anna Mehler Paperny in Toronto and Moira Warburton in Vancouver; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama, Alistair Bell, Grant McCool and Daniel Wallis)

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Teamsters votes to fund and support Amazon workers

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The International Brotherhood of Teamsters, a labor union in the United States and Canada, said on Thursday it has voted to formalize a resolution to support and fund employees of Amazon.com Inc in their unionization efforts.

Amazon did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

(Reporting by Eva Mathews in Bengaluru; Editing by Arun Koyyur)

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Citigroup names new sales head for Treasury and Trade Solutions unit

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Citigroup Inc has named Steve Elms as the new sales head for the bank’s Treasury and Trade Solutions (TTS) unit effective immediately, according to an internal memo shared by a company spokesperson.

Elms, who will oversee the management of the global sales teams, has been involved with the bank’s TTS division for over 10 years, according to his LinkedIn profile.

TTS is a division of the bank’s Institutional Clients group. The segment offers cash management and trade services and finance to multinational corporations, financial institutions and public sector organizations around the world.

(Reporting by Niket Nishant in Bengaluru and David Henry in New York; Editing by Krishna Chandra Eluri)

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