New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, who was praised around the world for her handling of the nation’s worst mass shooting and the early stages of the coronavirus pandemic, said Thursday she was leaving office. Ardern was facing mounting political pressures at home and a level of vitriol from some that hadn’t been experienced by previous New Zealand leaders. Still, her announcement came as a shock to people throughout the nation of 5 million people. Fighting back tears, Ardern told reporters in Napier that Feb. 7 would be her last day as prime minister. “I am entering now my sixth year in office, and for each of those years, I have given my absolute all,” she said. Ardern became an inspiration to women around the world after first winning the top job in 2017 at the relatively young age of 37. She seemed to herald a new generation of leadership — she was on the verge of being a millennial, had spun some records as a part-time DJ, and wasn’t married like most politicians. To many, she was the antithesis of U.S. President Donald Trump. Read more: New Zealand PM Jacinda Ardern to leave office next month, sets October election In 2018, she became just the second world leader to give birth while holding office. Later that year, she brought her infant daughter to the floor of the U.N. General Assembly in New York. In March 2019, Ardern faced one of the darkest days in New Zealand’s history when a white supremacist gunman stormed two mosques in Christchurch and slaughtered 51 people. She was widely praised for the way she empathized with the survivors and New Zealand’s Muslim community in the aftermath. Less than nine months later, she faced another tragedy when 22 tourists and guides were killed when the White Island volcano erupted. Ardern was lauded globally for her country’s initial handling of the coronavirus pandemic. after New Zealand managed to stop the virus at its borders for months. But she was forced to abandon that zero-tolerance strategy as more contagious variants spread and vaccines became widely available. Ardern faced growing anger at home from those who opposed coronavirus mandates and rules. A protest against vaccine mandates that began on Parliament’s grounds last year lasted for more than three weeks and ended with protesters hurling rocks at police and setting fires to tents and mattresses as they were forced to leave. This year, Ardern was forced to cancel an annual barbecue she hosts due to security fears. Ardern last month announced a wide-ranging Royal Commission of Inquiry would look into whether the government made the right decisions in battling COVID-19 and how it could better prepare for future pandemics. A report is due next year. Some experts said that sexist attitudes played a role in the anger directed at Ardern. But her government also faced criticism that it had been big on ideas but lacking on execution. Supporters worried it hadn’t made promised gains on increasing housing supply and reducing child poverty, while opponents said it was not focusing enough on crime and the struggling economy. Farmers protested against plans to tax cow burps and other greenhouse gas emissions. Ardern had been facing tough reelection prospects. Her center-left Labour Party won reelection in 2020 with a landslide of historic proportions, but recent polls have put her party behind its conservative rivals. Ardern said the role required having a reserve to face the unexpected. “But I am not leaving because it was hard. Had that been the case I probably would have departed two months into the job,” she said. “I am leaving because with such a privileged role comes responsibility. The responsibility to know when you are the right person to lead, and also, when you are not.” She said her time in office had been fulfilling but challenging. Read more: Ardern, rival turn her hot-mic vulgarity into charity’s win “I know what this job takes, and I know that I no longer have enough in the tank to do it justice. It is that simple,” she said. Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said Ardern “has shown the world how to lead with intellect and strength.” “She has demonstrated that empathy and insight are powerful leadership qualities,” Albanese tweeted. “Jacinda has been a fierce advocate for New Zealand, an inspiration to so many and a great friend to me,” he added. Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau thanked Ardern on Twitter for her friendship and “empathic, compassionate, strong, and steady leadership.” Ardern charted an independent course for New Zealand. She tried to take a more diplomatic approach to China than neighboring Australia, which had ended up feuding with Beijing. In an interview with The Associated Press last month, she’d said that building relationships with small Pacific nations shouldn’t become a game of one-upmanship with China. Ardern on Thursday also announced that New Zealand’s 2023 general elections would be held on Oct. 14, and that she would remain a lawmaker until then. It’s unclear who will take over as prime minister until the election. Deputy Prime Minister Grant Robertson announced that he won’t contest the leadership of the Labour Party, throwing the competition open. Labour Party lawmakers will vote for a new leader on Sunday. If no candidate gets at least two-thirds support from the caucus, then the leadership contest will go to the wider party membership. Ardern has recommended the party chose her replacement by the time she finishes in the role on Feb. 7. New Zealand Opposition Leader Christopher Luxon said Ardern had been a strong ambassador for the country on the world stage. He said that for his party “nothing changes” and it remains intent on winning the election and to "deliver a government that can get things done for the New Zealand people.” Ardern said she didn’t have any immediate plans after leaving office, other than family commitments with her daughter, Neve, and her fiancé Clarke Gayford, after an outbreak of the virus thwarted their earlier wedding plans. “And so to Neve, Mum is looking forward to being there when you start school this year,” Ardern said. “And to Clarke, let’s finally get married.”
New Zealand on Friday welcomed the first cruise ship to return since the coronavirus pandemic began, signaling a long-sought return to normalcy for the nation’s tourism industry. New Zealand closed its borders in early 2020 as it sought at first to eliminate COVID-19 entirely and then later to control its spread. Although the country reopened its borders to most tourists arriving by plane in May, it wasn’t until two weeks ago that it lifted all remaining restrictions, including those on maritime arrivals. Many in the cruise industry question why it took so long. Read: New Zealand's unemployment rate remains low at 3.3 pc The end of restrictions allowed Carnival Australia’s Pacific Explorer cruise ship to dock in Auckland with about 2,000 passengers and crew Friday morning as part of a 12-day return trip to Fiji that left from Sydney. “Amazing, isn’t it?” Tourism Minister Stuart Nash said in an interview with The Associated Press. “Its another step in the reopening of our borders and a step closer to resuming business as usual.” Nash said it would take some time for international tourist numbers and revenue to return to their pre-pandemic levels, when the industry accounted for about 20% of New Zealand’s foreign income and more than 5% of GDP.
Bangladesh logged 102 fresh Covid cases in 24 hours till Friday morning, taking the total caseload to 19,51,174. As per the latest government data, the country’s total fatalities remained unchanged at 29,118 as no death was reported during the period. Read:Bangladesh makes good progress despite Covid pandemic: PM The daily positivity rate increased to 1.03 percent from Wednesday’s o.76 per cent after testing 9,832 samples during the period, according to the Directorate General of Health Services (DGHS). Besides, the mortality rate remained unchanged too at 1.49 per cent. The recovery rate rose to 96.15 per cent with the recovery of 1,268 more patients during the 24-hour period. The country reported first zero Covid-related death in a single day on November 20 last year along with 178 infections since the pandemic broke out in Bangladesh in March 2020. Read:Covid in Bangladesh: No death reported in 24 hrs On January 28, Bangladesh logged its previous highest daily positivity rate at 33.37 per cent reporting 15,440 cases and 20 deaths. Besides, the country registered the highest daily caseload of 16,230 on July 28 last year, while the highest number of daily fatalities was 264 on August 10 last year.
No Covid-related death was reported in Bangladesh in 24 hours till Wednesday morning like the previous day. On Tuesday, the country logged zero Covid-related death after more than three months. Besides, 182 more infections were reported during the 24-hour period. Read: Bangladesh logs zero death from Covid after 3 months The country reported first zero Covid-related death in a single day on November 20 last year along with 178 infections since the pandemic broke out in Bangladesh in March 2020. The daily positivity rate declined to 1.38 per cent from Tuesday’s 1.54 per cent after testing 13,062 samples during the period, according to the Directorate General of Health Services (DGHS). With the latest report, the country’s total fatalities static on 29,112 while the caseload rose to 19,50,124. Meanwhile, the mortality rate remained unchanged at 1.49 per cent. The recovery rate rose to 95.67 per cent with the recovery of 1,192 more patients during the 24-hour period. Read: Covid-linked death down to one in Bangladesh, 239 more infected On January 28, Bangladesh logged its previous highest daily positivity rate at 33.37 per cent reporting 15,440 cases and 20 deaths. Besides, the country registered the highest daily caseload of 16,230 on July 28 last year, while the highest number of daily fatalities was 264 on August 10 last year.
Bangladesh logged eight more Covid-linked deaths with 732 fresh cases in 24 hours till Wednesday morning. The daily positivity rate slightly declined to 3.22 per cent from Tuesday’s 3.35 per cent after testing 22,727 samples during the period, according to the Directorate General of Health Services (DGHS). On Tuesday, Bangladesh reported eight more Covid-linked deaths with 799 fresh cases. Read: Pfizer shots protect kids from severe COVID even in omicron The fresh numbers took the country’s total fatalities to 29,053 while the caseload to 19,45,108. Among the new deceased, three were men and five women. Three deaths were reported from Dhaka division while two each from Barishal and Rangpur and one from Rajshahi division. Meanwhile, the mortality rate remained unchanged at 1.49 per cent. However, the recovery rate rose to 93.93 per cent with the recovery of 4,824 more patients during the 24-hour period. Read: Long COVID hits children far less than adults: study On January 28, Bangladesh logged its earlier highest daily positivity rate at 33.37 per cent reporting 15,440 cases and 20 deaths. On December 9 last year, Bangladesh logged zero Covid-related death after nearly three weeks. The country reported first zero Covid-related death in a single day on November 20 last year along with 178 infections since the pandemic broke out in Bangladesh in March 2020. Besides, the country registered the highest daily caseload of 16,230 on July 28 last year, while the highest number of daily fatalities was 264 on August 10 last year.
The overall number of Covid cases has surged past 436 million as Omicron infections keep rising across the world. According to Johns Hopkins University (JHU), the total case count mounted to 436,385, 844 while the death toll from the virus reached 5,955,315 Tuesday morning. The US has recorded 79,035,756 cases so far and 950,408 people have died from the virus in the country, the university data shows. India's Covid-19 tally rose to 42,930,015 on Tuesday, as 5,885 new cases were registered in 24 hours across the country, as per the federal health ministry data. Also read: Covid-19 in Bangladesh: Death toll drops to 4 with positivity rate at 3.65% Besides, 211 deaths due to the pandemic since Saturday morning took the death toll to 514,054. Meanwhile, Brazil, which has been experiencing a new wave of cases since January last year, registered 28,787,620 cases as of Tuesday, while its Covid death toll rose to 649,443. Situation in Bangladesh Bangladesh logged four more Covid-linked deaths with 897 fresh cases in 24 hours till Monday morning. The daily positivity rate slightly declined to 3.65% from Sunday’s 4.01% after testing 24,605 samples during the period, according to the Directorate General of Health Services (DGHS). On Sunday, Bangladesh reported nine Covid-linked deaths with 864 fresh cases. On Saturday, less than 1000 cases were reported after 52 days. The fresh numbers took the country’s total fatalities to 29,037 and the caseload to 19,43,577. Of the 67 deaths recorded from February 21 to February 27, some 26.5% received Covid vaccines while 73.5% did not, the DGHS said. Also read: Bangladesh ranks first in South Asia in tackling Covid-19 pandemic: Health Minister Among the new deceased, two were men and two women. Two deaths were reported from Dhaka division while one each from Chattogram and Khulna divisions. Meanwhile, the mortality rate remained unchanged at 1.49%. However, the recovery rate increased to 93.37% with the recovery of 7,976 more patients during the 24-hour period. On January 28, Bangladesh logged its earlier highest daily positivity rate at 33.37% reporting 15,440 cases and 20 deaths. On December 9 last year, Bangladesh again logged zero Covid-related death after nearly three weeks as the pandemic was apparently showing signs of easing. The country reported its first zero Covid-related death in a single day on November 20 last year along with 178 infections since the pandemic broke out in Bangladesh in March 2020. Besides, the country registered the highest daily caseload of 16,230 on July 28 last year, while the highest number of daily fatalities was 264 on August 10 last year.
In her mind, Cathy Chen pictures a scene that she herself says could be drawn from a TV drama: Falling into the arms of her husband after long months apart, when he meets her off the plane from Beijing. Scooping up their two young daughters and squeezing them tight. “I just imagine when we’re back together,” the Olympic Games worker says, “and I just can’t control myself.” So athletes from countries where the coronavirus has raged can compete in the Olympic host nation with few infections, China’s workforce at the Winter Games is making a giant sacrifice. Severing them from lives they were busy living before the Olympic circus came to town, more than 50,000 Chinese workers have been hermetically sealed inside the Great Wall-like ring-fence of virus prevention measures that China has erected around the Games, locked in with the athletes and Olympic visitors. Read: For Asian American women, Olympics reveal a harsh duality The Olympians jet in for just a few weeks with their skis, skates, sleds and other gear. Chinese workers who cook, clean, transport, care for them and otherwise make the Winter Games tick are being sequestered inside the sanitary bubble for several months. As Olympians bank memories to cherish for a lifetime, their Chinese hosts are putting family life on ice. The sacrifice has been made larger by its timing: the Olympic run-up overlapped with the ushering in on Feb. 1 of the Lunar New Year, the biggest and most precious annual holiday in China. As their loved ones feted the advent of the Year of the Tiger, Olympic workers hooked up with them as best they could via video calls from inside the “closed loop.” That is the soft-sounding name Chinese authorities have given to the anti-viral barrier they’ve built with high walls, police patrols, thickets of security cameras, mandatory daily tests and countless squirts of disinfectant — separating the Winter Games from the rest of China. Chen found a spot in the workers’ underground canteen of the main Olympic press center for a New Year video-call with her husband, Issac, and their two daughters, Kiiara, aged six, and 18-month-old Sia. They were gathering with extended family for a celebration dinner. Chen keeps a screen grab from the call on her phone. She also has a photo of the four of them posing together on Dec. 26, the day Chen flew from their home in southern China to take up her Olympic job in Beijing. She works at a Chinese medicine exhibition space in the Olympic press center. Initially hesitant about the prospect of months apart from her family, Chen subsequently decided that the opportunity to mingle with overseas visitors and promote the pharmaceutical company she works for couldn’t be turned down. She is also hoping for triple pay for having worked through the Lunar New Year holiday. “My boss is happy,” she said. “Because it’s tough work.” Her Games will end with the closing ceremony next Sunday. Like all Chinese workers when they exit the bubble, she will then be quarantined in Beijing for a week or two. Only then, a full two months after she kissed them goodbye, will come the much-anticipated reunion with her family. “I can’t wait one more day,” she said. “I miss my younger baby most.” Because China’s ruling Communist Party does not allow workers to organize independently and with no free trade unions, there’s not a whisper of public complaint about labor conditions inside the bubble. Many are doing mundane and repetitive tasks and working weeks without days off. Battalions of cleaners constantly wipe and disinfect surfaces. Hospital doctors have been re-tasked to the relatively unskilled job of taking oral swabs for the daily coronavirus tests that are mandatory for all games participants. Volunteers and guards count people in and out of venues, tracking numbers with ticks on sheets of paper. But none will be heard griping publicly about the Olympic endeavor that the Communist Party is using to showcase its rule. The bubble has been in force from Jan. 4, a month before President Xi Jinping declared the games open. After five weeks of loop life, the most critical things workers will say is that they’re losing track of time, that days resemble each other, and that they’re longing for a break from canteen food: too bland for those from regions with cuisine laced with fiery chili peppers, too unvaried for the many who long for home cooking and comforts. Publicly, on the other hand, everyone agrees how privileged they are to be doing their bit, no matter how small. And all say that locking them in is a small sacrifice to prevent the coronavirus from jumping the barrier to their families, friends and everyone else outside. More than 1.2 million tests had turned up 426 positives by Day 8, but there were no reports of contamination leaking from the Olympic bubble. Volunteer worker Dong Jingge misses her grandparents and has an unglamorous Olympic task: She guards the door of a walled-off dining space for Olympic visitors subject to extra health monitoring because they previously tested positive. She counts them in and out, and asks them to disinfect their hands. Read: How China got blue skies in time for Olympics The interactions are improving her English, the 21-year-old student enthuses. Her highlight so far was bumping into International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach. He gave her a small metal lapel pin of the Olympic rings. Her mother, outside the loop, was thrilled. “Such a rare opportunity, an unforgettable moment,” she messaged when Dong posted a photo of her prize. Scheduled to also work through the Paralympic Games in March that follow the Olympics, Dong expects that her total stay inside the loop and post-loop quarantine will together add up to nearly three months. Olympic driver Li Hong says he’s living his “dream” ferrying visitors and workers from venues on his overnight shift. He has been told to expect the equivalent of just under US$80 per day, which should add up to a tidy sum when he gets home by the end of February, after two months in the bubble. But he’s in it for the experience, he says, not the money nor the expectation that Olympic service might look good on his membership application if he tries to join the Communist Party. “I said to myself, I’m over 50. In my lifetime, I should serve the country,” he said. “It feels great.”
There is a photograph from the 2018 Pyeongchang Olympics that captured curling fans’ hearts worldwide. In it, Canadian curler John Morris and American rival Matt Hamilton sit side by side, arms draped around each others’ shoulders, grinning faces inches apart, beer cans mid-clink. It was a moment that perfectly captured the spirit of curling, a sport best known for its sweeping but perhaps best loved for its socializing. Yet it is a moment that will likely be impossible to repeat in the socially distanced world of the Beijing Games. “One of the things I love about curling is being able to curl against my friends and then enjoy a weekend or a week around them, as well as playing cards and having a beer,” said Morris, who won the gold medal in mixed doubles in Pyeongchang and is hoping to do the same in Beijing. “That’s the best part of curling. On the ice is great, and that accomplishes my competitive drive, but the actual going to cool places, playing with and against your friends — that’s been really hard.” Read: Inside the Olympic bubble, looking for China — or ‘China’ Of all of COVID-19’s cruelties, the necessity of distance has caused particular angst throughout the curling community. This is a sport built around closeness, from the pregame handshakes between opponents, to the postgame drinking sessions, in which the winners typically buy the losers a round. That tradition, dubbed “broomstacking” for the original practice of opponents stacking their brooms in front of a fire after a game and sharing a drink, all but vanished after the coronavirus emerged. Curling competitions were canceled. Ice rinks where the athletes trained were shut down. And curlers, like much of the world, were forced into isolation. The Beijing Games are taking place inside an accommodation and transport bubble that is cut off from the rest of the city. The International Olympic Committee’s playbook warns athletes to stay at least 2 meters (6 feet) apart except during competition and to minimize any physical interactions “such as hugs, high-fives and handshakes” — common sights at curling matches. The stakes for slip-ups are huge; those who test positive are sent to quarantine and could miss their event altogether. Bye-bye, broomstacking. “All that’s gone away, and that’s a real challenge,” said Hugh Millikin, a vice president with the World Curling Federation. “You touch fists or elbows, but it’s just not the same and it doesn’t necessarily get you that connection with your opposition which is really the cornerstone of what curling’s about. I certainly have worries about how soon we can get back to it.” On the ice, the coronavirus also forced changes, Millikin said. Training sessions were adjusted to limit the number of sweepers to one at a time, instead of the usual two. While curlers typically cluster around the house — the bullseye-shaped target at the end of the ice sheet — they had to stand apart. And some curling clubs required players to practice in masks, which is difficult given the vigorous sweeping and frequent shouting the game requires, Millikin said. “When you’re sweeping pretty hard, you’re breathing pretty hard, too,” he said. The closure of ice rinks forced many curlers to come up with creative training solutions. Two-time Canadian women’s curling champion Kerri Einarson practiced on a homemade rink on Lake Winnipeg, a throwback to curling’s conception 500 years ago on the frozen ponds of Scotland. Einarson’s father and a neighbor cleared a patch of ice on the lake’s surface and drilled in a chunk of wood to serve as a hack, the block that curlers push off from before gliding down the ice. Pandemic-related store closures meant there was nowhere to buy paint, so they were unable to mark the ice with a target. Still, the experience proved cathartic for Einarson, who struggled with the lack of socializing. “We couldn’t even celebrate wins with anyone after we were in the bubble,” she said. “It didn’t really feel like winning, which is tough. Even afterwards when you get home, you couldn’t even go and celebrate with your friends and family. It didn’t feel like curling at all.” For the U.S. Olympic curling teams, the cancellation of crucial competitions was the biggest stressor, said Dean Gemmell, director of curling development at USA Curling. For long stretches, all they could do was practice, and even that was tough. Players from Minnesota and Wisconsin had to travel long distances to find open rinks, on top of juggling their jobs and families. Read: Olympic teams raise concerns over quarantine hotels The teams engaged in scrimmages with each other, but those don’t prepare players for the Olympics the way real competitions do, Gemmell said. “A big part is just learning how to control your emotions in events that matter,” he said. Yet despite the yearning many curlers feel for their sport’s beer-sharing days of yore, curling’s social aspect is precisely what makes it so risky during a pandemic. A study last year by Canadian doctors who played in a curling tournament that suffered a COVID-19 outbreak found a key transmission route appeared to have occurred off the ice, at the curlers’ buffet lunches. Of the 18 teams participating, only one team avoided contracting the virus — and that was the team that shunned the lunches and other social events. COVID-19 nearly derailed the dreams of Tahli Gill, a member of Australia’s first curling team to make it to the Olympics. On Sunday, the Australian Olympic Committee announced Gill and her teammate were being forced to withdraw after Gill, who had the coronavirus before the Games, returned a series of positive tests. But later in the day, the committee said the medical expert panel had determined Gill’s levels fell within an acceptable range, and the Australians were allowed to compete, going on to win their first game of the Olympics against Switzerland. Before heading to Beijing, Gill said she and many other curlers were just grateful that some competitions were eventually able to go ahead but that the isolation had taken a toll. “Curling is such a family,” she said. “It’s slowly getting back to the new normal, I guess. I don’t know if it will ever be the same again.”
India's COVID-19 tally rose to 38,218,773 on Thursday, as 317,532 new cases were registered during the past 24 hours across the country, showed the federal health ministry's latest data. This is the seventh consecutive day when more than 200,000 new cases and the first day when over 300,000 new cases were registered in a day in the country in more than eight months. Read: India reports 258,089 new COVID-19 cases Besides, as many as 491 deaths were recorded since Wednesday morning, taking the death toll to 487,693. Currently there are 1,924,051 active cases in the country with an increase of 93,051 during the period. This is the 23rd consecutive day when the number of active cases rose amid the third wave in the country. A total of 35,807,029 people have recovered and been discharged from hospitals so far, with 223,990 new recoveries. Read: India extends ban on political rallies till Jan 22 Meanwhile, the country's Omicron tally has reached 9,287, as an increase of 3.63 percent was seen since Wednesday. Most of the Omicron cases have been reported from the states of Maharashtra, West Bengal, Rajasthan and Delhi.
Bangladesh reported 2,916 more cases of infections and another four deaths in 24 hours till Wednesday morning with a continuous rise in Covid-19 cases. With the fresh cases reported after testing 24,705 samples, the daily positivity rate kept increasing to 11.68 per cent from Tuesday’s 8.97 per cent during the 24-hour period, according to the Directorate General of Health Services (DGHS). Read: Dhaka designated 'red zone' as Covid cases rise The country last logged 3,167 cases on September 3, last year along with 70 deaths in 24 hours while the positivity rate was 10.76 per cent. The fresh numbers took the country’s total fatalities to 28,111 while the caseload mounted to 16, 01,305 on Wednesday. Among the new deceased, two were men and two women while three of the deaths were reported from Dhaka division and another from Chattogram. The mortality rate remained unchanged at 1.76 per cent during the period.