Violence hits Mexico cartel stronghold as ‘Chapo’ son nabbed

The sun wasn’t yet up in Culiacan when David Téllez and his family began making their way to the city’s airport for a return flight to Mexico after their vacation. But not long after they set out they encountered the first crude roadblock, an abandoned vehicle obstructing their way.

 

Téllez turned to social media to find out what was going on and saw that Sinaloa’s state capital, a stronghold of the cartel by the same name, was filled with roadblocks and gunfire.

 

It would be hours before Mexico’s defense secretary would confirm that the military had captured Ovidio Guzmán, a son of the notorious former Sinaloa cartel boss Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán, in a pre-dawn operation north of the city.

 

Just like that, Culiacan was thrust into a day of terror unlike any its residents had experienced since October 2019 — the last time authorities tried to capture the young Guzmán.

 

Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador has railed against his predecessors’ aggressive efforts to capture drug lords, but his administration bagged the high-profile cartel figure just days before hosting U.S. President Joe Biden, and at least in the short term locals were paying the price.

 

Culiacan residents posted video on social media showing convoys of gunmen in pickup trucks and SUVs rolling down boulevards in the city. At least one convoy included a flatbed truck with a mounted gun in the back, the same kind of vehicle that caused chaos and mayhem in the 2019 unrest.

 

All entrances to the city were blocked and similar acts were playing out in other parts of Sinaloa.

 

Rev. Esteban Robles, spokesman for the Roman Catholic diocese in Culiacan, said that “there is an atmosphere of uncertainty, tension,” and that those who could were staying inside their homes.

 

“A lot of the streets are still blocked by the cars that were burned,” Robles said.

 

The Culiacan municipal government warned: “Don’t leave home! The safety of Culiacan’s citizens is the most important.” Schools, local government and many private businesses closed.

 

Oscar Loza, a human rights activist in Culiacan, described the situation as tense, with some looting at stores. On the south side of the city, where Loza lives, people reported convoys of gunmen moving toward a military base, but Loza said streets around his house were eerily quiet. “You don’t hear any traffic,” he said.

 

Read more: Biden intends to make his first visit to US-Mexico border

 

Téllez pressed on trying to get his family back to Mexico City, circumventing several more abandoned vehicles blocking roads and eventually making it to the airport.

 

There the family hurriedly checked in for their flight before employees of an airport restaurant urged them to shelter in a bathroom. Gunmen were arriving at the airport to prevent authorities from flying Guzmán out.

 

Juan Carlos Ayala, a Culiacan resident and Sinaloa University professor who studies the sociology of drug trafficking, said Ovidio Guzmán was an obvious target at least since 2019.

 

“Ovidio’s fate had been decided. Moreover, he was identified as the biggest trafficker of fentanyl and the most visible Chapos leader.” Asked how locals were reacting to the arrest, Ayala said “People have differing views, but I think the majority are with them” — the Sinaloa cartel.

 

That may be because of the money the cartel brings to the region, but also because locals know that even after federal troops withdraw, the cartel will still be there. As bad as it is, the cartel has ensured relative stability, if not peace.

 

Guzmán was indicted by the United States on drug trafficking charges in 2018. According to both governments, he had assumed a growing role among his brothers in carrying on their father’s business, along with long- time cartel boss Ismael “El Mayo” Zambada.

 

Foreign Affairs Secretary Marcelo Ebrard confirmed that the government had received a request in 2019 from the United States for Guzmán’s arrest for purposes of extradition. He said that request would have to be updated and processed, but he added that first an open case in Mexico awaits Guzmán.

 

Read more: Mexico’s Supreme Court elects 1st female chief justice

 

Ismael Bojorquez, director of the local news outlet Riodoce, which specializes in coverage of the area’s drug trafficking, said the violent reaction had to do with the president’s less aggressive stance toward organized crime.

 

“They (cartels) have taken advantage of these four years to organize themselves, arm themselves, strengthen their structures, their finances,” he said. “I believe there are more weapons than three years ago. All of organized crime’s armies have strengthened, not just the Chapitos, and this is the price that society is paying for this strategy of the federal government.”

 

At Culiacan’s airport, a Mexican military flight was able to spirit Guzmán away to Mexico City. Téllez’s commercial flight waited for its chance to take off as two large military planes landed with troops as did three or four military helicopters, and marines and soldiers began deploying along the perimeter of the runway.

 

When the airline flight was finally preparing to accelerate, Téllez heard gunshots in the distance. Within 15 seconds the sound was suddenly more intense and much closer, and passengers threw themselves to the floor, he said.

 

He did not know the plane had been hit by gunfire until a flight attendant told them. No one was injured, but the plane hastily retreated to the terminal.

 

Samuel González, who founded Mexico’s special prosecutor’s office for organized crime in the 1990s, said Guzmán’s capture was a “gift” ahead of Biden’s visit. The Mexican government “is working to have a calm visit,” he said.

 

He called the shots that hit the commercial airliner “without a doubt an act of international terrorism” and suggested it could lead to very serious discussions between the two governments about the implications of these actions.

 

By evening, Téllez remained in the terminal. The government had shut down the airport, as well as airports in Los Mochis and Mazatlan for security reasons.

 

Asked if the attempt to capture Guzmán was worth another day of tension and uncertainty in Culiacan, Téllez said, “If they caught him, it was worth it.”

 

Source: United News of Bangladesh

‘Bomb cyclone’ brings damaging winds, drenches California

Hurricane-force winds, surging surf and heavy rains from a powerful “atmospheric river” pounded California on Thursday, knocking out power to tens of thousands, causing flooding, and contributing to the deaths of at least two people, including a toddler whose home was crushed by a falling tree.

 

Raging seas damaged two historic piers, rock and mudslides closed down highways, and deep snow piled up at ski resorts in the latest in a series of atmospheric rivers — long plumes of moisture stretching far over the Pacific — to reach the drought-stricken state. The “Pineapple Express” storm originated near Hawaii and was pulled toward the West Coast by a rotating area of rapidly falling air pressure known as a “bomb cyclone.”

 

Even as rains were expected to let up and some evacuation orders lifted Thursday, crews were assessing damage, trying to restore power and beginning the cleanup while bracing for more wet and wild weather this weekend that could be particularly troublesome for communities along swollen rivers.

 

The blustery tempest that came ashore Wednesday knocked out power to more than 180,000 homes and businesses, according to poweroutage.us.

 

In Sonoma County, Aeon Tocchini, a 2-year-old boy, was killed when a redwood tree crumpled a section of his family’s mobile home where he had been sitting on a sofa, authorities said. His father and neighbors freed the boy — nicknamed “Goldie” because of his light hair and sunny personality — but he couldn’t be revived.

 

“He was the happiest child, always smiling and encouraging people,” his teary-eyed grandmother Aileen Tocchini said outside the damaged Occidental home where a red tricycle and yellow dump truck were buried under broken branches. “He was a love, an angel.”

 

Read more: Western NY death toll rises to 28 from cold, storm chaos

 

In Fairfield, a 19-year-old woman died after her vehicle hydroplaned on a flooded road and hit a utility pole, police said on Facebook.

 

The seaside village of Capitola in Santa Cruz County about 60 miles (100 kilometers) south of San Francisco suffered possibly the worst damage as waves that were forecast to top 25 feet (7.6 meters) crashed into homes and restaurants at the mouth of Soquel Creek and knocked out a section of its historic wooden pier.

 

Surf shattered the windows at Zelda’s on the Beach, tossing furniture around inside the eatery. The Wharf House restaurant, at the end of the Capitola Wharf, was cut off from the mainland after a midspan of the wooden structure collapsed.

 

Wharf House owner Willie Case said he had a “great degree of sadness” as he looked at the damage from a cliff above the village and lamented this his employees would be out of work until the pier is repaired. He noted that in 1982, the former restaurant at that site fell into the sea. He anticipates more damage as new storms roll in.

 

“I don’t think the party’s over yet,” he said.

 

Hurricane-strength gusts as high as 101 mph (162 kph) toppled trees onto buildings and roads, knocked out power lines and blew down the roof on a gas station in South San Francisco.

 

National Weather Service meteorologist Warren Blier said the wind speed recorded on a Marin County hilltop was among the highest he could recall in a 25-year career.

 

A large eucalyptus tree in Oakland crashed through the roof of Victoria James’ apartment as she was preparing for dinner Wednesday. She and her children ran into the hallway, initially thinking it was an earthquake, and braced for an aftershock.

 

As water began pouring into their home, the family fled with only clothes on their backs – some of the children without shoes.

 

“There’s big holes in the ceiling. In my bedroom, the living room and the kitchen for sure,” she said from her car. “Everything’s damaged.”

 

A California Highway Patrol officer responding to a crash in San Jose was struck and injured by a tree on Highway 17, Officer Ross Lee said. The officer was expected to survive.

 

In Southern California, a helicopter crew plucked a man clinging to bamboo branches from an island in the Ventura River, Ventura County Fire Department spokesperson Andy VanSciver said.

 

Read more: Millions in US hunker down from frigid, deadly monster storm

 

The blustery winds and incessant rain were especially taxing for the homeless population in California, where 100,000 people live on the streets.

 

Glenn Scott, 59, who has arthritis in both knees and feet and needs a cane to walk, sought refuge on a bench outside the main San Francisco public library with a small group of other homeless people.

 

“I just have to do whatever I’ve gotta do and go wherever I can to get peace of mind,” Scott said.

 

California Gov. Gavin Newsom declared a state of emergency to allow for a quick response and to aid in cleanup from another powerful storm that hit just days earlier.

 

In the coastal community of Aptos, about dozen people were stuck at their homes because flooding, downed trees and debris blocked the road out, said Paul Karz, an employee at Seacliff State Beach. Violent waters had tossed picnic tables against a cliff, wiped out much of the beach boardwalk, damaged its wooden wharf and left only a “skeleton” of its sea wall.

 

Sonoma County authorities issued an evacuation warning for a string of towns along the Russian River, where greater flooding was expected by Sunday.

 

Sections of Highway 101 in Northern California were closed due to downed trees, while rockfall had shuttered several sections of the coastal Highway 1, including in the scenic Big Sur area.

 

As much as 2 feet (61 centimeters) of snow fell on Mammoth Mountain over 24 hours and more was expected, delivering another bonus to Sierra Nevada ski areas.

 

The storm came days after a New Year’s Eve downpour led to evacuations in Northern California, where at least four people died in flooding.

 

Atmospheric rivers, named by researchers in the 1990s, occur globally but are especially significant on the U.S. West Coast, where they create 30% to 50% of annual precipitation, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

 

The storms won’t be enough to officially end the state’s ongoing drought, now entering its fourth year, but they have helped. Not including the latest deluge, recent storms moved parts of the state out of the “exceptional drought” category in the U.S. Drought Monitor. Most of the state, though, remains in the extreme or severe drought categories.

 

Source: United News of Bangladesh

 

Biden agenda, lithium mine, tribes, greens collide in Nevada

Opponents of the largest lithium mine planned in the U.S. urged a federal judge in Nevada on Thursday to vacate the U.S. government’s approval of the project until it completes additional environmental reviews and complies with all state and federal laws.

 

U.S. District Judge Miranda Du said after a three-hour hearing in Reno that she hoped to make a decision “in the next couple months” on how to proceed in the nearly two-year-old legal battle over the Bureau of Land Management’s approval of the mine Lithium Nevada Corp. plans near the Nevada-Oregon line.

 

Lawyers for the company and the Bureau of Land Management insisted the project complies with U.S. laws and regulations. But they said that if Du determines it does not, she should stop short of vacating the agency’s approval and allow initial work at the site to begin as further reviews are initiated.

 

Lawyers for a Nevada rancher, conservation groups and Native American tribes suing to block the mine said that should not occur because any environmental damage would be irreversible.

 

Dozens of tribe members and other protesters rallied outside the downtown courthouse during the hearing, beating drums and waving signs at passing motorists.

 

Du has refused twice over the past year to grant temporary injunctions sought by tribal leaders who say the mine site is on sacred land where their ancestors were massacred by the U.S. Cavalry in 1865.

 

Read more: Biden intends to make his first visit to US-Mexico border

 

Lithium Nevada and the Bureau of Land Management say the project atop an ancient volcano is critical to meeting the growing demand for lithium to make electric vehicle batteries — a key part of President Joe Biden’s push to expedite a transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy through a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions.

 

“It is the largest known lithium deposit of its kind,” Laura Granier, a lawyer representing the company, told Du Thursday. “Our nation and the world will suffer if this project is delayed further.”

 

Opponents say it will destroy dwindling habitat for sage grouse, Lahontan cutthroat trout, pronghorn antelope and golden eagles, pollute the air and create a plume of toxic water beneath the open-pit mine deeper than the length of a football field.

 

“We need a smart energy future that transitions our economy from fossil fuels to renewables without sacrificing rare species in the process,” said Greta Anderson, deputy director of the Western Watersheds Project, which also petitioned in September for protection of a tiny nearby snail under the Endangered Species Act.

 

The Bureau of Land Management fast-tracked the project’s approval during the final days of the Trump administration. The Biden administration continues to embrace it as part of the president’s clean energy agenda.

 

Demand for lithium is expected to triple by 2030 from 2020. Lithium Nevada says its project is the only one on the drawing board that can help meet the demand.

 

Will Falk, a lawyer for the Reno-Sparks Indian Colony, said that “in this rush for lithium in Nevada, the BLM went way too fast in permitting this mine.”

 

Roger Flynn, a lawyer for the Western Mining Action Project representing several environmental groups, said the agency wants the project to move forward even though it botched the environmental reviews it was determined to complete before ex-President Donald Trump left office.

 

“Meanwhile, there will be this immediate, permanent massive environmental damage,” Flynn said.

 

Read more: Biden signs gay marriage law, calls it ‘a blow against hate’

 

Thursday’s hearing marked the first on the actual merits of the lawsuit filed in February 2021. It will set the legal landscape going forward after the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a ruling in Arizona that voided federal approval of a copper mine.

 

That potentially precedent-setting decision raises questions about the reach of the Mining Law of 1872 and could have a bearing on disposal of waste rock at the lithium mine in the high desert about 200 miles (321 kilometers) northeast of Reno.

 

In addition to the cultural and environmental concerns about the potential effects, the new 9th Circuit ruling halting the Arizona mine in July was a focus of Thursday’s hearing. Du told lawyers on both sides she was interested in “the extent to which (that case) controls the outcome of this case.”

 

The San Francisco-based appellate court upheld the Arizona ruling that the Forest Service lacked authority to approve Rosemont Copper’s plans to dispose of waste rock on land adjacent to the mine it wanted to dig on a national forest southeast of Tucson.

 

The service and the Bureau of Land Management long have interpreted the Mining Law of 1872 to convey the same mineral rights to such lands.

 

The 9th Circuit agreed with U.S. Judge James Soto, who determined the Forest Service approved Rosemont’s plans in 2019 without considering whether the company had any mining rights on the neighboring lands. He concluded the agency assumed under mining law that Rosemont had “valid mining claims on the 2,447 acres it proposed to occupy with its waste rock.”

 

Leilani Doktor, a Justice Department lawyer for the Bureau of Land Management, said the Forest Service and the BLM are under “different regulatory schemes.”

 

“Each step of the way, BLM followed its own regulations,” she said.

 

Source: United News of Bangladesh

Caretaker couple found dead at Dinajpur house after owner’s 999 call

A couple was found dead in a house in Dinajpur town early Friday, police said.

 

The deceased were identified as Mojibor Rahman and his wife Suraiya Begum, 55, from the town. They used to work as caretakers in the Munshipara area at Advocate Nilufar Rahim’s house.

 

Read more: Unidentified man found dead in Dinajpur

 

Earlier, suspecting that something went wrong at her house in Dinajpur, Nilufar, who lives in Dhaka, called the national emergency service 999 for help, Additional Superintendent of Police of Dinajpu Mominul Karim said.

 

Next police found Mujibur hanging from the ceiling in the bedroom and the body of his wife in the kitchen with her throat slit this morning, he added.

 

The bodies have been sent to Abdur Rahim Medical College and Hospital morgue for autopsies, the police officer said.

 

Read more: Cop’s wife found dead in Khulna, suicide suspected

 

“The cause of the deaths can be confirmed when we get the autopsy reports. We are also investigating whether there was a domestic dispute between the couple,” Mominul added.

 

Source: United News of Bangladesh

3 CU BCL men hurt as Shuttle Train spat triggers clash

Three people have been injured in a clash between two factions of the Bangladesh Chhatra League (BCL) of Chittagong University (CU) unit following a spat on the Shuttle Train, police said.

 

The injured are Mamun of the history department, Manik of the Accounting department and Shah Poran of the Botany department.

 

Read more: CU student assault: 5 BCL activists remanded

 

Mamun and Manik received primary treatment from CU Medical Centre; Shah Poran was sent to Chattogram Medical College and Hospital (CMCH) for better treatment.

 

The clash broke out between BCL groups VX and Sixty Nine following an altercation at the university rail station around 10pm Thursday, Mizanur Rahman, in-charge of the university police outpost, said.

 

Following the altercation, VX Group men took position in front of Suhrawardy Hall and Sixty Nine Group men in front of Shahjalal Hall.

 

Later, the two groups started chasing each other and hurling bricks, leaving the trio injured.

 

Police and the proctorial body brought the situation under control at 12am, Mizanur said.

 

Pradip Chakraborty Durjoy, leader of the VX group and vice-president of CU BCL, said, “There has been an altercation among the junior students on Shuttle Train on its way back to CU from Chattogram city. Hopefully, we will be able to figure things out by sitting together.”

 

Read more: CU students lock main gate protesting attack on student ‘by BCL men’

 

Iqbal Hossain Tipu, general secretary of CU BCL and leader of Sixty Nine Group, said: “There is no scope to show favour to anyone – no matter who belongs to which group. The administration should find those responsible for the clash and punish them.”

 

VX and Sixty Nine are known on the campus as followers of the city Awami League General Secretary and former mayor AJM Nasir Uddin.

 

Source: United News of Bangladesh

 

15 hurt as intercity train comes off tracks in Kishoreganj

At least 15 passengers were injured as a bogie of an intercity train derailed at Bhairab Railway Station in Kishoreganj on Friday morning.

 

The bogie of the Kishoreganj-bound intercity Egarosindhur Train from Dhaka came off the tracks at Bhairab station while the engine of the train was being changed at 9:30am, Station Master Md Nur Nabi said.

 

Read more: Train derailment in Mymensingh: Rail communication resumes after 3 hrs

 

At least 15 passengers were injured as the window glasses and floors of three bogies broke down following the derailment, Egarosindhur Train attendant Sohel said.

 

The scale of the damage means it will be some time before passengers get things back up and running as normal.

 

“We will work to speedily make our repairs to get the train back on track as a salvage train arrives from Akhaura,” the station master said.

 

Source: United News of Bangladesh

 

“More than meets the eye”: Dr Kenneth Robbins on Habshi rule in Bengal and Africa-India connection in the Middle Ages

Addressing the fascinating history of the Habshi dynasty in Bengal (from 1487 AD to 1493 AD), prolific international researcher, archivist and curator Dr Kenneth X Robbins on Thursday said that proper archiving of the particular period in South Asia is necessary.

 

“There are remarkable and important chapters in the Afro-South Asian diaspora including the activities of the African rulers in Bengal and elsewhere in South Asia. There are fascinating stories regarding religion, racism, music and so on. All this history has to be put together by historians,” Dr Robbins said as the honorary speaker at the National Professor Atwar Husain Memorial Lecture 2023, delivered at the Asiatic Society of Bangladesh on Thursday.

 

He said, “There are stories regarding Habshi rulers and their activities, such as Malik Andil (Sultan Saifuddin Firuz Shah) who was very generous to the people but we don’t actually know what he did. His son succeeded him who was a federal ruler, and the final ruler (Shamsuddin Muzaffar Shah) was also known as a charitable person. We know other stories regarding Africans building mosques in Bengal, bringing their culture here. This is all very interesting…these are important to the history of Bengal.”

 

He mentioned a book project on the documentation of Bengalis and Africans from the Indian Ocean world — co-edited by Nahar Khan, Executive Director of Cosmos Foundation; Dr Rosie Llewellyn-Jones MBE, a well-known British scholar with expertise on Lucknow and its culture; and himself. The book would contain several chapters on African elites in Bengal, important characters in Bengal, Bengalis abroad, and music featuring names such as American musician Bardu Ali with a Bengali Muslim origin.

 

Chairperson of National Professor Atwar Husain Trust Fund and Liberation War Museum founder-trustee Mofidul Hoque chaired the seminar.

 

Read more: ‘Historical and unexplored ties between Afro-South Asian communities need cultural attention’

 

Bengal and Africa-India connection

 

During his keynote presentation, Dr Robbins showcased and described some of the significant images from his collection and prolific work as an acclaimed researcher. His presentation included informative chapters such as the African rulers in Bengal and South Asia, paintings such as ‘Zangis defeated by Alexander’ commissioned by Sultan Nusrat Shah whose father deposed the Habshi dynasty of Bengal, images documenting the Habshi Sultans of Bengal and their reign such as the Firoz Minar, Hasan Ali Mirza (the first Nawab of Murshidabad), The Sound Universe of Inayat Khan (on the seminal works titled ‘The Mysticism of Sound and Music: The Sufi Teaching of Hazrat Inayat Khan’) – just to name a few.

 

A traveling exhibition was also held at ASB showcasing a selection of items from the Kenneth and Joyce Robbins collection on South Asian history, described as the largest collection outside of India. Their collection comprises more than 100,000 items including books, manuscripts, medals and fine artworks – speaking to the diverse cultures and traditions that find expression in India, and it was recently exhibited as part of the Cosmos Foundation’s Distinguished Speaker Series titled “Afro-South Asia Connectivity and the Habshi Kingdoms of Bengal and Beyond” on January 3 at the Garden Gallery, Baridhara in Dhaka.

 

Conveying gratitude, Mofidul Hoque said, “I want to thank the Cosmos Foundation and Nahar Khan who have facilitated the visit of Dr Kenneth Robbins to Bangladesh and cooperated with the ASB for arranging this lecture and display.”

 

Read more: Nordic countries keen to have stronger partnership with Bangladesh: Envoys say at Cosmos Dialogue

 

Bengal and Africa-India connection

 

The event was also joined by nominees of the trust fund and their family members, members of the Trust Management Committee, distinguished Fellows, the President of the Asiatic Society of Bangladesh Professor Khondoker Bazlul Hoque, council members, prominent members of the Society, journalists, guests, and also virtually connected members.

 

Professor Rahmat Ara Hussin established the trust fund at the Society in 1988 in honour of her late spouse, Professor Atwar Husain. Born in 1918, Prof Atwar graduated in economics from the University of Dhaka in 1939 with a first-class degree, and later he obtained an MSS degree with distinction from the London School of Economics and joined that school as a teacher. In 1948, he joined the Planning Commission of Pakistan as a member and served there until 1971. He had a good number of publications to his credit and enjoyed an international reputation as a development economist. He was honoured as a National Professor in 1987, just a week before his death.

 

His wife, Professor Rahmat Ara Husain, then founded the trust with the hope that the academic mind and spirit that Professor Husain had shown in his life ought to be transmitted to future generations. The objective of the trust fund is to promote research within the broad area of “Economic Problems in Developing Countries of Asia and Planning Strategy for Development”.

 

So far, five gold medals have been awarded, and twenty-two lectures have been delivered under the auspices of the trust fund.

 

Read more: Asian Art Biennale Bangladesh 2022: Participating foreign artists visit Gallery Cosmos

 

Dr Kenneth X Robbins is a psychiatrist and collector-archivist specializing in maharajas and other local and regional Indian rulers as well as Sufis and Indian minority groups, specifically Jews and African Muslims. Images of three hundred items from his Indian Princely States collections have been available from the American Committee for Southern Asian Art. He is co-editor, with John McLeod, of the book “African Elites in India: Habshi Amarat” (Mapin, 2006) and co-curator, with Sylviane Diouf, of a New York Public Library Schomburg Center traveling exhibition “Africans in India”, which has been shown across five continents at dozens of venues, including the United Nations and UNESCO.

 

Robbins has published many articles, organized scholarly conferences, and curated exhibits on India dealing with history, maharajas and nawabs, art, medicine, gender and women, Jews, philately, numismatics, and movies.

 

In October, it was revealed that the Robbins family has designated the Penn Libraries – the library system of the University of Pennsylvania, an IVY League school in the US, as the recipient of their entire collection in their estate planning. Their collection comprises more than 100,000 items including books, manuscripts, medals and fine artworks.

 

Source: United News of Bangladesh

 

WHO ‘continues to urge’ China to share more data amid Covid surge

The UN health agency has “continued to urge China” to share more rapid, regular, reliable data on hospitalisations and deaths, as well as more comprehensive, real-time viral sequencing in the wake of a Covid surge in the East Asian country.

 

“The World Health Organization (WHO) is concerned about the risk to life in the world’s most populous country and reiterated the importance of stepping up vaccination coverage, including booster doses,” WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said recently in his first online briefing for the year.

 

“With circulation in China so high and comprehensive data not forthcoming – as I said last week it is understandable that some countries are taking steps they believe will protect their citizens,” he added.

 

Several countries, including the US, have announced new Covid testing requirements for travellers from China to gain domestic entry, amid concerns over the spread of the latest variants.

 

WHO Emergencies Director Dr Mike Ryan said: “We know there are difficulties in all countries very often in recording hospital releases, admissions and use of ICU (intensive care unit) facilities.”

 

“We believe that the current numbers being published from China underrepresents the true impact of the disease in terms of hospital admissions, in terms of ICU admissions, and particularly in terms of deaths.”

 

WHO has held high-level meetings with Chinese authorities over the past week to discuss the rise in cases and hospitalisations.

 

The UN agency’s Technical Advisory Group on Virus Evolution (TAG-VE) also met with Chinese experts to discuss the situation.

 

During that meeting, scientists from the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention presented data from what they described as imported and locally acquired coronavirus infections.

 

The analysis showed that most of the viruses circulating in the country are of two Omicron lineages, BA.5.2 and BF.7, which accounted for 97.5 percent of all local infections, as well as a few other known Omicron sublineages.

 

“These variants are known and have been circulating in other countries, and at present no new variant has been reported by the China CDC,” the TAG-VE said in a statement on Wednesday.

 

So far, 773 sequences from mainland China have been submitted to the virus database operated by the global science initiative, GISAID.

 

Most, 564, were collected after December 1. Of this number, only 95 are labelled as locally acquired cases, while 187 are imported and 261 “do not have this information provided.”

 

The majority of the locally acquired cases, 95 percent, belong to the two Omicron lineages.

 

“This is in line with genomes from travellers from China submitted to the GISAID EpiCoV database by other countries. No new variant or mutation of known significance is noted in the publicly available sequence data,” the statement said.

 

Tedros said the pandemic is now in its fourth year, and despite progress, it is still a threat to health, economies, and societies.

 

“We are really concerned about the current Covid-19 epidemiological picture, with both intense transmission in several parts of the world and a recombinant sub-variant spreading quickly,” he said.

 

Covid was on the decline for most of 2021, Tedros added, citing factors such as increased vaccinations worldwide and the identification of new lifesaving antivirals.

 

However, there are still major inequities in access to testing, treatment and vaccination.

 

“Every week, approximately 10,000 people die of Covid-19, that we are aware of. The true toll is likely much higher,” he said.

 

Also, the Omicron subvariant XBB.1.5 is on the rise in the US and Europe and has been identified in nearly 30 countries.

 

XBB.1.5 was initially detected in October 2022. It is the most transmissible subvariant yet, according to Dr Maria Van Kherkove, the WHO technical lead for Covid.

 

“We do expect further waves of infection around the world, but that doesn’t have to translate into further waves of death because our countermeasures continue to work,” she said.

 

Meanwhile, the TAG-VE experts are also working on a related risk assessment that should be published in the coming days.

 

Dr Van Kherkove emphasised the importance of continued Covid surveillance around the world to track known subvariants that are in circulation.

 

Last month, more than 13 million cases of the disease were reported, though the WHO believes the toll is higher.

 

“But more concerning, we’ve had a 15 percent increase in deaths in the last month and again, we know that that is an underestimate because there are delays in reporting, and with the holiday period and with mixing, those trends are expected to continue,” Dr Van Kherkove said.

 

Source: United News of Bangladesh

 

Chattogram bank fire tamed after two hours

A fire that quickly tore through a branch of Eastern Bank in the port city’s Halishahar area on Friday afternoon was brought under control after nearly two hours, the authorities said.

 

Anisur Rahman, deputy director at the fire service and civil defence department Chattogram, said the blaze began at the bank near the Halishahar Excess Road at 12pm.

 

Read more: Fire at Eastern Refinery in Ctg: 4 burnt

 

On information, seven firefighting units responded to the fire and the responders could tame the flames at 1.45pm, he said.

 

The reasons for the fire mishap and the extent of damage could not immediately be confirmed, Anisur added.

 

Source: United News of Bangladesh

First ‘Total Fitness Day’ observed in Bangladesh

Quantum Foundation observed the first “Total Fitness Day” in Bangladesh Friday to sensitise people about “total – physical, mental, social and spiritual – fitness” to help them lead a happy and healthy life.

 

The foundation organised a special awareness session at the capital’s Jatiya Press Club, where it arranged body balance tests, meditations, yogas, exercises, and discussions.

 

Also, the foundation organised such sessions in open spaces in different parts of the country. Some volunteering organisations promoting fitness and wellness also observed the day.

 

Hundreds of people from different professions, including artists, journalists and students, celebrated the day joining programmes at more than 120 parks in Dhaka and other district towns in the morning.

 

From now on, Quantum will mark the first Friday of January every year as Total Fitness Day. This year’s theme of the day was “healthy body, peaceful mind, busy happy life.”

 

Source: United News of Bangladesh

16 fishermen held for catching Parshe fries in Sundarbans defying ban

The Forest Department has detained 16 fishermen from the Sundarbans for catching Parshe (mullet) fries, during its breeding period from November-January, from the river and canals defying a ban.

 

A team of Forest Department (West) led by Zahirul Islam, officer-in-charge of Nilkomol Patrol Outpost, detained the fishermen around 4:30am on Thursday during a drive at the Bangabandhur Char area, said Divisional Forest Officer of Sundarbans West Forest Division Abu Naser Mohsin Hossain.

 

They also seized two fishing boats, he added. “A case has been filed under the Forest Act; the fishermen have been sent to Koyra Upazila Senior Judicial Magistrate Court.”

 

Read more: 11 kidnapped fishermen rescued in Sundarbans: Police

 

Fishermen of Shyamnagar, Koyra, Paikgacha, and Dakop surrounding the Sundarbans are using illegal nets to catch fish fries.

 

The fishermen illegally catch a large number of fish fries from the Sundarbans’ Alor Kol, Dublar Char, Batlurchar, Chachanangla, Poshur, Agun Jala, Kalir Char, Gera Chalki, Bajbaja, Hanshoraj, Andarmanik, Dhangmari; Chichkhali and Majjat rivers.

 

Due to the use of monofilament nets, Parshe fish fries and different species of fish are being killed.

 

Around 20-25 groups of 8-10 fishermen on engine-driven fishing boats are using 200-300-metre long and 40-50-metre wide nets to catch a maund of fish fries of different species in each haul every day.

 

Also, some forest officials tip the fishermen off when their senior officials prepare for conducting a drive in the Sundarbans. Next, the fishermen hide in the forest. And when the drive is over they resume their illegal fishing.

 

Read more: 26 rescued Bangladeshi fishermen return from India

 

Poshur River Waterkeeper Coordinator Md Nur Alam Sheikh said a group of money lenders pay low-income fishermen a lot of money in advance to send them to the Sundarbans to make extra profit with fish fries.

 

Some forest officials and employees are also cooperating with them in exchange for a large amount of money, he added.

 

Source: United News of Bangladesh

Is China sharing enough COVID-19 information?

As COVID-19 rips through China, other countries and the World Health Organization are calling on its government to share more comprehensive data on the outbreak. Some even say many of the numbers it’s reporting are meaningless.

 

Without basic data like the number of deaths, infections and severe cases, governments elsewhere have instituted virus testing requirements for travelers from China. Beijing has said the measures aren’t science-based and threatened countermeasures.

 

Of greatest concern is whether new variants will emerge from the mass infection unfolding in China and spread to other countries. The delta and omicron variants developed in places that also had large outbreaks, which can be a breeding ground for new variants.

 

Here’s a look at what’s going on with China’s COVID-19 data:

 

WHAT IS CHINA SHARING AND NOT SHARING?

 

Chinese health authorities publish a daily count of new cases, severe cases and deaths, but those numbers include only officially confirmed cases and use a very narrow definition of COVID-related deaths.

 

China is most certainly doing their own sampling studies but just not sharing them, said Ray Yip, who founded the U.S. Centers for Disease Control office in China.

 

The nationwide tally for Thursday was 9,548 new cases and five deaths, but some local governments are releasing much higher estimates just for their jurisdictions. Zhejiang, a province on the east coast, said Tuesday it was seeing about 1 million new cases a day.

 

If a variant emerges in an outbreak, it’s found through genetic sequencing of the virus.

 

Since the pandemic started, China has shared 4,144 sequences with GISAID, a global platform for coronavirus data. That’s only 0.04% of its reported number of cases — a rate more than 100 times less than the United States and nearly four times less than neighboring Mongolia.

 

WHAT IS KNOWN AND WHAT CAN BE FIGURED OUT?

 

So far, no new variants have shown up in the sequences shared by China. The versions fueling infections in China “closely resemble” those that have been seen in other parts of the world since July, GISAID said. Dr. Gagandeep Kang, who studies viruses at the Christian Medical College of Vellore in India, agreed, saying there wasn’t anything particularly worrisome in the data so far.

 

Read more: Beijing threatens response to ‘unacceptable’ virus measures

 

That hasn’t stopped at least 10 countries — including the U.S., Canada, Japan, South Korea, India, Australia, the U.K., France, Spain and Italy — from announcing virus testing requirements for passengers from China. The European Union strongly encouraged all its member states to do so this week.

 

Health officials have defended the testing as a surveillance measure that helps fill an information gap from China. This means countries can get a read on any changes in the virus through testing, even if they don’t have complete data from China.

 

“We don’t need China to study that, all we have to do is to test all the people coming out of China,” said Yip, the former public health official.

 

Canada and Belgium said they will look for viral particles in wastewater on planes arriving from China.

 

“It is like an early warning system for authorities to anticipate whether there’s a surge of infections coming in,” said Dr. Khoo Yoong Khean, a scientific officer at the Duke-NUS Centre for Outbreak Preparedness in Singapore.

 

IS CHINA SHARING ENOUGH INFORMATION?

 

Chinese officials have repeatedly said they are sharing information, pointing to the sequences given to GISAID and meetings with the WHO.

 

But WHO officials have repeatedly asked for more — not just on genetic sequencing but also on hospitalizations, ICU admissions and deaths. WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus expressed concern this week about the risk to life in China.

 

“Data remains essential for WHO to carry out regular, rapid and robust risk assessments of the global situation,” the head of the U.N. health agency said.

 

Read more: Beijing threatens response to ‘unacceptable’ virus measures

 

The Chinese government often holds information from its own public, particularly anything that reflects negatively on the ruling Communist Party. State media have shied away from the dire reports of a spike in cremations and people racing from hospital to hospital to try to get treatment as the health system reaches capacity. Government officials have accused foreign media of hyping the situation.

 

Khoo, noting that South Africa’s early warning about omicron led to bans on travelers from the country, said there is a need to foster an environment where countries can share data without fear of repercussions.

 

Source: United News of Bangladesh