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UK Covid cases rise after Queen’s Jubilee celebrations, new variants become dominant

A total of 1,739,700 people tested positive for the virus in the week to June 18

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UK Covid cases rise after Queen’s Jubilee celebrations, new variants become dominant
GNN Media: Representational Photo

UK Covid-19 cases are on the rise again, according to new data, which points to an increase in infections following the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee celebrations.

A total of 1,739,700 people tested positive for the virus in the week to June 18, estimates from the U.K.’s Office for National Statistics  showed Friday.

That figure is up 75% from two weeks prior, before Brits celebrated the Queen’s 70th anniversary on the throne with a long weekend of street parties and social gatherings.

The uptick comes as the U.K.’s Health Security Agency said Friday that the latest technical data suggests two new Omicron variants — BA.4 and BA.5 — have become dominant in the U.K. and are driving recent increase in infections.

The two variants now make up more than half of new Covid cases in England, accounting for approximately 22% and 39% of cases, respectively.

“It is clear that the increasing prevalence of Omicron BA.4 and BA.5 are significantly increasing the case numbers we have observed in recent weeks,” the UKHSA’s chief medical advisor, professor Susan Hopkins, said Friday.

UKHSA’s latest analysis suggests BA.5 is growing 35.1% faster than the previously dominant BA.2, while BA.4 is growing around 19.1% faster. That suggests that BA.5 is likely to soon become the dominant Covid variant in the U.K.

Both variants were designated “variants of concern” in May, though scientists said there is currently no evidence to suggest either causes more serious illness than previous strains.

However, health experts reminded people to ensure their vaccinations are up-to-date and to continue following Covid-safe behavior. That includes staying at home if you have any respiratory symptoms or a fever and limiting contact with others until you are feeling better.

Some 20-25% of people in the U.K. currently remain unvaccinated.

“As prevalence increases, it’s more important than ever that we all remain alert, take precautions, and ensure that we’re up to date with COVID-19 vaccinations, which remain our best form of defense against the virus,” Hopkins said.

-- Cases and hospitalizations on the rise --

Friday’s ONS data showed positive cases as a percentage of the community were highest in Scotland, where one in 20 people tested positive for the virus in the past week.

It was followed by Northern Ireland (one in 30), England (one in 40) and Wales (one in 45).

Overall, England reported the greatest number of cases at 1,360,600, followed by Scotland (250,700), Wales (68,500) and Northern Ireland (59,900).
     
Britain celebrated the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee with a four-day weekend from June 2 through 5.

The data, which is compiled by testing thousands of people from private U.K. households at random, whether or not they have symptoms, is thought to provide the clearest picture of Covid infections in Britain since free public testing was abandoned in England and Scotland.

Covid hospitalizations have also increased in line with community infections, rising 8.2% in England in the past week, according to UKHSA data.

“The pressure on the health system in terms of beds that are occupied is increasing,” Dr. Duncan Robertson, a member of the Indie Sage scientists collective, said during a briefing Friday.

Vaccinations continue to keep serious admissions and deaths at low levels, UKSHA said Friday. The intensive care unit and high dependency unit admission rate remained low at 0.2% over the same period.

However, Robertson warned against complacency, pointing to a slight spike in deaths in the week to June 18, and noting a potential distortion in reporting over the Jubilee public holiday.

“If you look at the data in terms of number of deaths reported, that has increased in the latest release, but that could be down to the Jubilee effects,” he said.

SOURCE: CNBC

World

Japan urges young adults to drink more alcohol

Japan's young adults are a sober bunch - something authorities are hoping to change with a new campaign.

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Japan urges young adults to drink more alcohol

Japan's young adults are a sober bunch - something authorities are hoping to change with a new campaign.

The younger generation drinks less alcohol than their parents - a move that has hit taxes from beverages like sake (rice wine). 

So the national tax agency has stepped in with a national competition to come up with ideas to reverse the trend.

The "Sake Viva!" campaign hopes to come up with a plan to make drinking more attractive - and boost the industry.

The contest asks 20 to 39-year-olds to share their business ideas to kick-start demand among their peers - whether it's for Japanese sake, shochu, whiskey, beer or wine.

The group running the competition for the tax authority says new habits - partly formed during the Covid pandemic - and an ageing population have led to a decline in alcohol sales.

It wants contestants to come up with promotions, branding, and even cutting-edge plans involving artificial intelligence.

Japanese media say the reaction has been mixed, with some criticism about the bid to promote an unhealthy habit. But others have posted quirky ideas online - such as famous actresses "performing" as virtual-reality hostesses in digital clubs.

Contestants have until the end of September to put forward their ideas. The best plans will then be developed with help from experts before the final proposals are presented in November.

The campaign's website says Japan's alcohol market is shrinking and the country's older demographic - alongside declining birth rates - is a significant factor behind it.

Recent figures from the tax agency show that people were drinking less in 2020 than in 1995, with numbers plummeting from 100 litres (22 gallons) a year to 75 litres (16 gallons).

Tax revenue from taxes on alcohol has also shrunk over the years. According to The Japan Times newspaper, it made up 5% of total revenue in 1980, but in 2020 amounts to just 1.7%.

The World Bank estimates that nearly a third (29%) of Japan's population is aged 65 and older - the highest proportion in the world.

Concerns about the future of sake is not the only problem that poses for Japan's economy - there are worries about the supply of younger staff for certain types of jobs, and care for the elderly in the future.

SOURCE: BBC

 

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World

10 including prominent cleric killed in bombing at Kabul mosque

There were fears the casualty numbers could rise further.

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10 including prominent cleric killed in bombing at Kabul mosque

A bombing at a mosque in the Afghan capital of Kabul during evening prayers on Wednesday killed at least 10 people, including a prominent cleric, and wounded at least 27, an eyewitness and police said.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the attack, the latest to strike the country in the year since the Taliban seized power. Several children were reported to be among the wounded.

The Islamic State group’s local affiliate has stepped up attacks targeting the Taliban and civilians since the former insurgents’ takeover last August as U.S. and NATO troops were in the final stages of their withdrawal from the country. Last week, the IS claimed responsibility for killing a prominent Taliban cleric at his religious center in Kabul.

According to the eyewitness, a resident of the city’s Kher Khanna neighborhood where the Siddiquiya Mosque was targeted, the explosion was carried out by a suicide bomber. The slain cleric was Mullah Amir Mohammad Kabuli, the eyewitness said, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to the media. 
 
He added that more than 30 other people were wounded. The Italian Emergency hospital in Kabul said that at least 27 wounded civilians, including five children, were brought there from the site of the bomb blast.

There were fears the casualty numbers could rise further.

Khalid Zadran, the Taliban-appointed spokesman for the Kabul police chief, confirmed an explosion inside a mosque in northern Kabul but would not provide a casualty toll or a breakdown of the dead and wounded.

Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid also condemned the explosion and vowed that the “perpetrators of such crimes will soon be brought to justice and will be punished.”

A U.S.-led invasion toppled the previous Taliban government, which had hosted al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan, following the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks in the United States.

Since regaining power, the former insurgents have faced a crippling economic crisis as the international community, which does not recognize the Taliban government, froze funding to the country.

Separately, the Taliban confirmed on Wednesday that they had captured and killed Mehdi Mujahid in western Herat province as he was trying to cross the border into Iran.

Mujahid was a former Taliban commander in the district of Balkhab in northern Sar-e-Pul province, and the only member of the minority Shiite Hazara community among the Taliban ranks.

Mujahid had turned against the Taliban over the past year, after opposing decisions made by Taliban leaders in Kabul.

SOURCE: AP NEWS

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Pakistan

President urges youth to participate in monsoon plantation drive to cope with climate change

"Pakistan was the eighth country most vulnerable to the negative effects of climate change"

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President urges youth to participate in monsoon plantation drive to cope with climate change

Islamabad: President Dr Arif Alvi on Thursday called for concerted efforts by all segments of society to carry out extensive plantations in a bid to save the country from the horrendous effects of climate change.

In his message on the launch of the national monsoon tree plantation drive, he urged every citizen, particularly youth, to actively participate in the campaign by planting trees in residential areas, on roadsides, and near industrial zones.

President Alvi said Pakistan was the eighth country most vulnerable to the negative effects of climate change.

He mentioned that rising mercury levels were resulting in glacier melting and urban flooding.

During the last 19 years, he said, Pakistan suffered around 173 incidents related to climate change besides the massive destruction this year as well.

The president said as per international standards, a country required 25 percent forest cover, however, pointed out that Pakistan only had 4.8 percent of the green area according to a World Bank report.

He emphasized carrying out plantation at a large scale across the country and mentioned the Ten Billion Tree Tsunami as the largest such plantation project in the country’s history.

Under the project, he said, 1.81 billion trees had been planted by June 2022. By 2023, around 3.29 billion trees will be planted.

President Alvi said 10,000 saplings were planted in the premises of the Aiwan-e-Sadr in 2021, while a Miyawaki forest was also raised at an area of 1.5 acres under the Green Presidency Initiative.

He expressed confidence that an increase in forest cover would help mitigate the effects of climate change in the country and would also control urban flooding.

Also, the extensive plantation would result in the preservation of wildlife and flora and fauna in the country, he added.

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