State Minister for Disaster Management and Relief Md Enamur Rahman has said he will play an active role in favour of the revised draft law of the Tobacco Control Act when it will be placed before the cabinet. "All parties will benefit if the law is passed quickly. The revised draft law will play an effective role in reducing tobacco use. This act needs to be passed quickly to make the initiative taken by the prime minister to protect public health a success," he added. The state minister was speaking at the seminar "Expectations to policymakers to achieve a tobacco-free Bangladesh before the year 2040" organised by Development Organization of the Rural Poor (DORP) in the capital Wednesday. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has made a commitment to making Bangladesh tobacco-free by 2040. She has also pledged to amend the Tobacco Control Act in line with the World Health Organization's Framework Convention on Tobacco Control. The draft Tobacco Control Law Amendment Committee has been formed to further strengthen the Smoking and Use of Tobacco Products (Control) Act 2005 (amended in 2013). The final draft is now being reviewed by the cabinet. The six proposals to strengthen tobacco control laws put forward by DORP are the abolition of designated smoking areas in all public spaces and public transport; ban on tobacco companies' corporate social responsibility activities, display of tobacco products at sales points; ban on the import, production, consumption, and marketing of e-cigarettes or emerging heated tobacco products and increasing the size of pictorial health warnings on bidi and cigarette packs from 50 percent to 90 percent. Read more: Tobacco Control Act: BSOA wants quick approval of proposed amendment Enamur said that the six proposals attached in the revised draft are very timely and effective. He said there will be a detailed discussion on the amended law in the cabinet. He hoped that everyone would give their opinion in favour of it. Also, founder and Chief Executive Officer of DORP AHM Noman said the government has taken some effective steps to prevent the spread of tobacco products. He hoped that the revised draft tobacco control law would be passed soon in line with the trend. Gaibandha-1 MP Barrister Shamim Haider Patwari, Health Services Division Additional Secretary Kazi Zebunnessa Begum, National Tobacco Control Cell Coordinator Hossain Ali Khondoker, and DORP Executive Advisor Md Azhar Ali Talukder also spoke at the event. Read more: Campaigners demand quick amendment to tobacco control law
Like many developing countries across the world, Bangladesh has been hit hard by the pandemic and the Russia-Ukraine conflict. Compared to many of its neighbours however, the South Asian nation was able to handle the first, and still ongoing, public health crisis quite well. So far, the country has fully vaccinated more than 120 million people. It also managed to secure 3.45% economic growth during the peak of the pandemic while many others experienced negative growth. The fact that recovery was well underway was clear when Bangladesh secured 6.94% growth and received US$ 3.44 billion foreign direct investment in 2021-22 fiscal year. The FDI received represented a 37% year-on-year growth. A number of social security schemes were launched to protect the most marginalised of society, while businesses (both small and large) received various economic stimulus packages. In total, 28 financial and incentive packages were implemented with a budget of more than US$18 billion. The packages benefited 73 million people and 172,000 organisations. But the consequences of the second crisis, the Russia-Ukraine conflict hit Bangladesh harder, and led to sharp widening of the country's current account deficit, a decline in its foreign exchange reserves, among others. However, if Bangladesh is one thing, its resilient. The economic indicators have started to look up in recent weeks. The main sources of Bangladesh’s foreign earnings are its garments exports and earnings sent home by migrant workers. In November, Bangladesh exported goods worth more than US$5 billion, a monthly record, and earned US$ 1.59 billion from remittances, up by 4.5% from October. The first quarter of 2022-23 FY also saw FDI inflow increase to $1.16 billion, a 28% Y-o-Y rise. According to the Boston Consulting Group, despite the gloomy global economic climate, the demonstrated resilience of Bangladesh and the measures it is taking should allow it to remain on course to become a trillion dollar economy by 2040, and the ninth largest consumer market globally by 2030. However, given the uncertainty surrounding global developments, the pressure on the balance of payment is likely to continue. As a result, Bangladesh preemptively approached the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and has since reached a preliminary agreement for a US$ 4.5 billion financing. The preemptive nature of the loan distinguishes it somewhat from both Pakistan and Sri Lanka. Read more: Experts at CPD dialogue want long-term measures to avoid macroeconomic crisis Rather than assist the government with constructive criticisms and suggestions, as is expected of responsible opposition parties during a crisis, the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), the main rival of the ruling Awami League, chose this issue to launch their electoral push. And that too, using despicable means. At the height of the economic crisis in Sri Lanka, BNP, and their key ally, the Islamist Jamaat-E-Islami, launched a coordinated online disinformation campaign that Bangladesh would be the next Sri Lanka by failing on its debt repayment obligations. This was echoed by their senior leaders too. Suffice it to say, no respectable economist and/or analyst supported that conclusion. In fact, the chatter became so loud that the IMF itself had to clarify that Bangladesh is not in a Sri Lanka-like situation. They noted that while Bangladesh's reserves have declined, they were still high enough to cover 4-5 months of prospective imports. They also pointed out that the debt outlook is expected to remain sustainable as the country has a low risk of debt distress. The public sector debt to GDP ratio stands around 6%, with the external debt to GDP ratio being 14%, well within the safe thresholds. In the last few months, BNP and their allies have orchestrated at least two other coordinated online disinformation campaigns. One involved spreading misinformation that banks are facing a liquidity crisis, and the other involved lying to expatriate workers that their hard earned incomes would be lost if they used official banking channels to send home remittances. The fact that these campaigns were not fringe, and did cause panic among expatriates and bank depositors, was demonstrated when the central bank had to issue separate back-to-back statements giving assurances about the safety of both remitted incomes and consumer deposits. Like its economy, Bangladesh’s politics too, has been making international headlines recently. In particular, much has been said and written about the BNP's December 10 rally in Dhaka, where they presented certain demands in the run up to the next national elections. Read more: Economy has unease, but no crisis: Shamsul Alam Looking solely at the international media coverage, one could be forgiven to think that a massive Iran-like anti-government protest just took place at Dhaka. In reality, Dhaka is no Tehran, and the rally was not a spontaneous outburst by the people. The rally was the tenth such one by BNP in a span of a couple of months, as part of its push in the run up to the next election. Not an uncommon, let alone unique, phenomenon in Bangladesh. As far as crowd sizes go, in Bangladesh's context, the few thousands who attended did not even constitute anything numerically special, let alone spectacular. In the last few weeks, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina's own party, the Awami League, organised several mass political events. At least two of these saw a turnout of a million each. While the international coverage did mention the clashes which took place between police and activists on December 7, arrests of BNP leaders, and the large security presence on December 10, they did not even fleetingly refer to the reasons or context. On December 7, the police recovered 15 crude bombs from the central office of BNP in Naya Paltan. The clashes, the resulting raid at the BNP office, and arrests only took place after party activists tried to block a busy city street without prior authorisation, and threw handmade bombs on the police from their office rooftop. The global media also failed to mention that BNP’s central leaders like Amanullah Aman and Shahiduddin Chowdhury Any had been announcing, completely illegally and unconstitutionally, that from December 10 onwards, Bangladesh would be run upon the diktats of Tarique Rahman and Khaleda Zia, thereby further increasing the heightened security sensitivity regarding BNP’s Dhaka rally. Read more: IMF loan would help economy gain stability in reserves, dollar market: Experts Since December 10, it has been made clear that BNP’s principal demand (also also that of Jamaat) is the reinstatement of the caretaker government system, which was abolished in 2011 after the Supreme Court ruled that the system is “void and ultra vires the constitution”. The Awami League also objects to the system in principle given its abuse by BNP in 2006 and by the military from 2007-08. Despite the seemingly irreconcilable differences on the caretaker government issue, the people of Bangladesh are hoping that both political camps can find the heart to resolve the outstanding issues without any violent confrontation. In the coming months, BNP has signaled to intensify their movement to realise their demands. While the government has a legal duty to respect the opposition's freedoms of assembly and speech, the opposition also has a duty to keep their activities peaceful. This is important given the terrible human and economic costs suffered by Bangladesh the last time BNP and their allies went for an all-out oust-government movement in late 2013 and early 2014. Hundreds were killed, and thousands were burnt, during BNP-Jamaat’s indiscriminate firebombing campaigns. While the government alone shoulders the positive responsibility of managing the economy, the opposition, at the very least, has a negative duty not to disrupt the wheels of the economy (for instance by intentionally spreading misinformation). Moreover, both the government and the opposition must share the burden of maintaining political stability in Bangladesh. Otherwise, the country may not be able to hold on to its hard-earned gains, and navigate the current murky global economic waters successfully. The author is a lawyer, researcher, and political activist. He is currently working as a senior political associate at the Centre for Research and Information (CRI), a Dhaka-based think-tank. Previously, he served as a special aide to the Bangladesh Prime Minister.
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina on Tuesday stressed the need for taking urgent steps collectively to address the Covid-19 challenges and its impacts on public health and nutrition. “The ongoing Covid-19 pandemic has created a significant setback in our nutrition initiatives. Urgent actions and united efforts are needed to address the challenges of Covid-19,” she said. The Prime Minister said this while addressing the Nutrition for Growth Summit (N4G), Japan virtually. Read: Bangladesh-India ties: Hasina says now focus should be on trade, connectivity Prime Minister of Japan Kishoda Fumio also spoke at the Summit. Its theme is Food, Health and Prosperity for All. Sheikh Hasina placed five proposals before the world for ensuring healthy and nutritious diets for this growing population. The international community needs to work together to address the challenges of Covid-19, including its impact on nutrition programs, the PM said in her first proposal. In her second proposal, Hasina called for enhancing collaboration to advance research for growing high-yielding nutritious food. The PM, in her third proposal, said for building food banks at regional and global levels to stay safe and secure during disasters. In her fourth proposal, Hasina stressed the importance of exchange of best practices and expertise for increasing nutrient contents in food Finally, she asked the developed nations to disburse the committed climate adaptation fund to adapt to the climate-led extreme events that hamper food production in the developing world. Hasina said ensuring nutrition for all citizens is a daunting task. But, she said, investment in nutrition security generates high socio-economic returns leading the way to sustainable growth and development. Talking about Bangladesh, the Prime Minister said the country has made immense achievements and substantial progress in the economy, food security, health and nutrition during the last one decade. “We’ve taken a slew of initiatives to enhance the nutritional status of disadvantaged people,” she said. In this regard, Hasina mentioned that allowances have been introduced for vulnerable groups under social safety-net programmes. Insolvent pregnant and lactating mothers were given cash allowances. Read: Focus on quality products to boost exports: Hasina She also said midday meals were introduced for school students. “We’re diversifying production of grains, vegetables, fish, meat, eggs, and fruits with the goal of increased food security and improved nutrition. Our actions have started giving dividends.” Hasina said the poverty rate in Bangladesh came down to 20.5 percent from 31.5 percent during the past one decade. The country is on track for achieving its child nutrition status as malnutrition rates have also declined, she added. The PM said stunting of children decreased from 43 percent in 2007 to 31 percent in 2017 which is now below WHO critical threshold. Overweight among under-5 children is 2.4 percent whereas regional rate is 5 percent and global 6 percent, she added. The Pm went on saying, “We aim to strengthen our commitments made at earlier nutrition Summits to achieve the SDGs and improve nutrition outcomes in line with our Five-Year Plan.” The Prime Minister pledged to address the double burden of malnutrition through 12 commitments which are aligning with SDGs. “These will be achieved through a multi-sectoral approach, leveraging both domestic and development finances,” she added. The N4G Summit is being held in Tokyo under the auspices of the Japanese government. The Summit is bringing together stakeholders across sectors to generate financial and political commitments to nutrition, focusing on the critical roles of food, health and social protection systems in delivering good nutrition for all. The Summit comes at a critical time, midway through the United Nations (UN) Decade of Action on Nutrition, with only five years left to achieve the World Health Assembly (WHA) targets on maternal, infant and young child nutrition, and 10 years to reach the SDGs.
The right people are not being placed in the right place at the right time while formulating public health policies and the grassroots voices are also missing in the process, a study revealed Monday. The Bangladesh Health Watch (BHW), a multi-stakeholder civil society platform, conducted the research in association with the James P Grant School of Public Health of Brac University. Dr Md Atiqul Haque of the public health and informatics department of the Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib Medical University (BSMMU) and his team carried out the study on the inventory of health policy and policy forums. READ: Ophthalmologists’ national workshop: ROP emerges as a growing public health concern This study aimed to explore the participation of citizens and policy forums in health policy processes. The findings were disclosed at a roundtable in the capital.The session was chaired by Dr Zakir Hossain, former director of primary health care and disease control at the Directorate General of Health Services (DGHS) and working group member of the BHW. READ: Hasina cancels PMO’s vehicle procurement plan, diverts fund to public healthcare BSMMU Vice-Chancellor Dr Md Sharfuddin Ahmed attended the programme as chief guest. Dr Yasmin H Ahmed, an advisor to the BHW, moderated it.
The incessant interference from tobacco industry has put the public health of Bangladesh under a greater risk as the country's score in the 2021 Tobacco Industry Interference Index stands at 72 which was 68 last year, as per a study. PROGGA, a research and advocacy organization conducted the study on ‘Tobacco Industry Interference Index: The FCTC Article 5.3 Implementation’. The study report was revealed at an event jointly arranged by PROGGA and Anti-Tobacco Media Alliance (ATMA) in the city’s CIRDAP Auditorium, said a press release. Read: Speakers for amending Smoking and Tobacco Usage (Control) Act As per the report, the implementation of World Health Organization (WHO)'s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) and also the realization of Bangladesh's vision for becoming a tobacco-free country by 2040 are hindered due to aggressive activities of tobacco companies during the Covid-19 pandemic. Speaking at the event, Chairman of the Parliamentary Committee on Environment, Forestry and Climate Changes Saber Hossain Chowdhury said tobacco claimed more lives than Covid-19. “Tobacco is killing more people than COVID-19. Nonetheless, the government is yet to take effective tobacco control measures. The question arises whether the government bodies really hold the spirit of FCTC and the PM's vision of a tobacco-free country,” he said. Convener of the National Anti-Tobacco Platform and also eminent economist Dr Qazi Kholiquzzaman Ahmad said Bangladesh has made very poor performance in the Global Tobacco Industry Interference Index. “We also scored the poorest among our South Asian peers. Why did we perform so poorly?" he said. To improve the situation, he demanded divestment of the government's share in BATB and reinstatement of 25% export duty on tobacco. Read: Raise tobacco prices, taxes: Activists Noted journalist Monjurul Ahsan Bulbul said the government bodies need to be sensitized for not receiving any aid from tobacco industry. “Receiving donations from the tobacco industry is a clear violation of FCTC as well as in conflict with the declaration of the Prime Minister,” he said. The study findings show that interference from tobacco companies has increased during January 2020-March 2021 and there has been no progress in the implementation of FCTC Article 5.3 Guidelines. The tobacco industry's attempts were seen to interfere and exert influence in policy-making via diplomatic channels during the period , as per the report.
Ophthalmologists have identified Retinopathy of Prematurity (ROP), a leading cause of blindness among children in the developed world, as a growing public health concern for Bangladesh. Speaking at a national workshop on ROP in the capital on Saturday (20 Nov), they said approximately 3.8 million babies are born in Bangladesh each year of whom, 438,000 are born pre-term. According to them, a large portion of the pre-term babies face the risk of blindness due to ROP. Also read: KOICA provides online training on eye disease prevention for Ophthalmologists in Bangladesh Directorate General of Health Services’ (DGHS) Director General Prof Dr Abul Bashar Mohammed Khurshid Alam was present at the workshop as the chief guest while Directorate General of Medical Education’s (DGME) Director General Prof AHM Enayet Hussain, also the Chair of IAPB Bangladesh Chapter, presented the keynote paper. DGHS Director Dr Md Shamsul Haque presided over the session while UNICEF Bangladesh Chief Health Dr Sanjana Bhardwaj, Orbis International Bangladesh Country Director Dr Munir Ahmed, and IRD Global Bangladesh Country Director Dr Tapash Roy joined it as the special guests. Prof Md Saifullah from National Eye Care/NIOH and Prof Nazmun Nahar from Ispahani Islamia Eye Institute and Hospital also joined the workshop. The NNHP & IMCI Program of DGHS, with support from DGME, IRD Global, Orbis International and UNICEF, organised the workshop to foster multi-sectorial response and create an enabling coordination platform for the prevention of avoidable childhood blindness due to ROP in Bangladesh. The DGHS director general, in his speech said “ROP is one of the severe problems among premature babies. We’ll try to include ROP in the revised version of Maternal, Neonatal and Child Health Plan operation and in the National Eye Care plan in the near future.” “I believe that the guideline that will be formulated today will prove to be a milestone,” he added. He advised formulation of the guideline considering the fact that some things might be included and some excluded from it. He thanked the obstetrics and gynaecology society for being directly involved in the government’s achievement in the health sector. Also read: icddr,b launches artificial intelligence based diabetic retinopathy detection The keynote presenter while reflecting on IAPB and WHO’s journey of 20 years said, “It was a race against time. We started working on childhood blindness in an organized manner in 2000 by launching Paediatric Ophthalmology Department at the National Institute of Ophthalmology. We started working with two programmes- crash programme and system strengthening.” He further mentioned, “In 2003 we started a programme where we identified children with childhood blindness at the field level and conducted eye surgery on 25,000 children till 2010. So far we have established 22 paediatric ophthalmology centres across the country. Although we could not reach the 0.5 benchmark set by WHO, childhood blindness in the country came down to 0.6 in 2017 from 0.8 in 2003.” He emphasized on strengthening the primary health care services, preventing preterm delivery and ensuring labour room protocol to prevent ROP. Dr Munir Ahmed in his speech as the special guest said, “ROP is a life threatening condition that can be prevented if timely screened and treated. We need to ensure eye screening of children within 20/30 days after their birth. We need to work together in an organized manner to prevent ROP. This workshop aims at validating the collaborative efforts of ROP guidelines.” According to papers presented at the workshop, in 2020 an estimated 1.1 billion people had vision impairment globally, of whom 43.3 million are blind. Referring to global estimates, speakers said one out of every five children has some sort of vision problems globally and that ROP is responsible for some of the problems that occur during childhood and can lead to blindness if untreated. According to the speakers, visual loss not only affects individuals and their families but also the community and country at large, resulting in a greater loss of productivity and taking its toll on the economy.
The United States is in an “unnecessary predicament” of soaring COVID-19 cases fueled by unvaccinated Americans and the virulent delta variant, the nation’s top infectious diseases expert said Sunday. “We’re going in the wrong direction,” said Dr. Anthony Fauci, describing himself as “very frustrated.” Read:Natural origins theory of Covid-19 still the most likely: Fauci He said recommending that the vaccinated wear masks is “under active consideration” by the government’s leading public health officials. Also, booster shots may be suggested for people with suppressed immune systems who have been vaccinated, Fauci said. Fauci, who also serves as President Joe Biden’s chief medical adviser, told CNN’s “State of the Union” that he has taken part in conversations about altering the mask guidelines. He noted that some local jurisdictions where infection rates are surging, such as Los Angeles County, are already calling on individuals to wear masks in indoor public spaces regardless of vaccination status. Fauci said those local rules are compatible with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommendation that the vaccinated do not need to wear masks in public. Read:Little new evidence emerges in US probe of Covid-19 origins More than 163 million people, or 49% of the total U.S. population, are fully vaccinated, according to CDC data. Of those eligible for the vaccine, aged 12 and over, the figure rises to 57%. “This is an issue predominantly among the unvaccinated, which is the reason why we’re out there, practically pleading with the unvaccinated people to go out and get vaccinated,” Fauci said. Fauci said government experts are reviewing early data as they consider whether to recommend that vaccinated individuals to get booster shots. He suggested that some of the most vulnerable, such as organ transplant and cancer patients, are “likely” to be recommended for booster shots. Read: China rebuffs WHO’s terms for further COVID-19 origins study He also praised Republicans, including Govs. Asa Hutchinson of Arkansas and Ron DeSantis of Florida, and the second-ranking House leader, Rep. Steve Scalise of Louisiana, for encouraging their constituents to get vaccinated. Their states have among the lowest vaccination rates in the country. “What I would really like to see is more and more of the leaders in those areas that are not vaccinating to get out and speak out and encourage people to get vaccinated,” Fauci said.
President Joe Biden expressed pointed frustration Wednesday over the slowing COVID-19 vaccination rate in the U.S. and pleaded that it’s “gigantically important” for Americans to step up and get inoculated against the virus as it surges once again. Biden, speaking at a televised town hall in Cincinnati, said the public health crisis has turned largely into a plight of the unvaccinated as the spread of the delta variant has led to a surge in infections around the country. “We have a pandemic for those who haven’t gotten the vaccination — it’s that basic, that simple,” he said on the CNN town hall. The president also expressed optimism that children under 12 will be approved for vaccination in the coming months. But he displayed exasperation that so many eligible Americans are still reluctant to get a shot. Read: Biden backs Trump rejection of China’s South China Sea claim “If you’re vaccinated, you’re not going to be hospitalized, you’re not going to be in the IC unit, and you’re not going to die,” Biden said at the forum at Mount St. Joseph University. “So it’s gigantically important that ... we all act like Americans who care about our fellow Americans.” Over 80 minutes, Biden fielded questions on many of the pressing issues of the day, including his infrastructure package, voting rights and the makeup of the congressional commission that will investigate the Jan. 6 insurrection at the Capitol. He also reflected on what it’s like to be president, saying he’s sometimes taken aback by the pomp that comes with the job and the weight of being “the last guy in the room” left to make the call on daunting decisions. Six months into his presidency, taming the coronavirus remains his most pressing problem. U.S. hospitalizations and deaths are nearly all among the unvaccinated. But COVID-19 cases nearly tripled in the U.S. over two weeks amid an onslaught of vaccine misinformation that is straining hospitals, exhausting doctors and pushing clergy into the fray. Across the U.S., the seven-day rolling average for daily new cases rose over the past two weeks to more than 37,000 on Tuesday, up from less than 13,700 on July 6, according to data from Johns Hopkins University. Just 56.2% of Americans have gotten at least one dose of the vaccine, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The president noted that the rise has become so concerning that even his critics are pushing back against vaccine disinformation. Biden made an indirect reference to high-profile conservative personalities at Fox News who have “had an altar call” and are now more openly speaking to their skeptical guests about the benefits of getting vaccinated. Sean Hannity recently told viewers, ”I believe in the science of vaccination” and urged them to take the disease seriously. Steve Doocy, who cohosts “Fox & Friends,” this week told viewers the vaccination “will save your life.” Before boarding Air Force One to return to Washington, Biden told reporters he was “glad they had the courage to say what they’ve said.” Asked about rising prices, Biden acknowledged “there will be near-term inflation” as the economy rebounds from the pandemic but said it was “highly unlikely long-term inflation will get out of hand.” Read:Vaccination 'most patriotic thing', COVID not yet finished: Biden Biden, who traveled to Ohio as he’s trying to rev up support for his economic agenda, visited a union training center ahead of the town hall. The trip comes as the fate of his infrastructure proposal remains unclear after Senate Republicans rejected a $1 trillion blueprint i n a key test vote Wednesday. A bipartisan group of 22 senators said in a joint statement after the vote that they were close to coming to terms on a deal and requested a delay until Monday. Biden expressed confidence in the outcome, saying, “It’s a good thing and I think we’re going to get it done.” While lawmakers wrangle over the details of that proposal on Capitol Hill, Biden made the case that his nearly $4 trillion package is needed to rebuild the middle class and sustain the economic growth the country has seen during the first six months of his presidency. The president’s visit took him near the dangerously outdated Brent Spence Bridge — a chokepoint for trucks and emergency vehicles between Ohio and Kentucky that the past two presidents promised without success to replace. Biden made a passing reference to the structure, telling town hall attendees it’s time to “fix that damn bridge of yours.” He delved into the personal when he faced a question about the scourge of drug addiction, noting he’s “so damn proud” of his son Hunter Biden, who has published a memoir about his struggles with substance abuse. The president also noted he feels a bit self-conscious about some of the fringe benefits that come with the office. He elicited laughter when he said he told some of the White House staff not to come in to serve breakfast. The real reason: The president likes to eat breakfast in his robe. Biden defended the filibuster against repeated questions from CNN moderator Don Lemon about why he feels the need to protect what some critics argue is a legislative tactic once used to protect racist policies. He said he’s trying to bring the country together around the need to protect voting rights, and he doesn’t want “the debate to only be about whether or not we have a filibuster.” Biden said if Democrats removed the filibuster “you’re going to throw the entire Congress into chaos and nothing will get done.” Read:Biden: Infrastructure vow was not intended to be veto threat Back in Washington, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Wednesday rejected two Republicans selected by House GOP leader Kevin McCarthy to sit on a committee investigating the Jan. 6 Capitol insurrection. McCarthy said the GOP won’t participate in the investigation if Democrats won’t accept the members he appointed. Lemon asked how Biden could have confidence that Republicans and Democrats can get together on anything when they can’t even come to agreement on investigating the most brazen attack on the U.S. Capitol in 200 years. Biden simply replied, “These people,” a nod to forum’s spectators and his faith in Americans writ large. But Biden seemed to also acknowledge the partisan rift in Washington had become maddening. “I don’t care if you think I’m Satan reincarnated,” Biden said. “The fact is you can’t look at that television and say nothing happened on the 6th and listen to people who say this was a peaceful march.”
Overdose deaths soared to a record 93,000 last year in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, the U.S. government reported Wednesday. That estimate far eclipses the high of about 72,000 drug overdose deaths reached the previous year and amounts to a 29% increase. “This is a staggering loss of human life,” said Brandon Marshall, a Brown University public health researcher who tracks overdose trends. The nation was already struggling with its worst overdose epidemic but clearly “COVID has greatly exacerbated the crisis,” he added. Read:US COVID-19 cases rising again, doubling over three weeks Lockdowns and other pandemic restrictions isolated those with drug addictions and made treatment harder to get, experts said. Jordan McGlashen died of a drug overdose in his Ypsilanti, Michigan, apartment last year. He was pronounced dead on May 6, the day before his 39th birthday. “It was really difficult for me to think about the way in which Jordan died. He was alone, and suffering emotionally and felt like he had to use again,” said his younger brother, Collin McGlashen, who wrote openly about his brother’s addiction in an obituary. Jordan McGlashen’s death was attributed to heroin and fentanyl. While prescription painkillers once drove the nation’s overdose epidemic, they were supplanted first by heroin and then by fentanyl, a dangerously powerful opioid, in recent years. Fentanyl was developed to treat intense pain from ailments like cancer but has increasingly been sold illicitly and mixed with other drugs. “What’s really driving the surge in overdoses is this increasingly poisoned drug supply,” said Shannon Monnat, an associate professor of sociology at Syracuse University who researches geographic patterns in overdoses. “Nearly all of this increase is fentanyl contamination in some way. Heroin is contaminated. Cocaine is contaminated. Methamphetamine is contaminated.” Fentanyl was involved in more than 60% of the overdose deaths last year, CDC data suggests. There’s no current evidence that more Americans started using drugs last year, Monnat said. Rather, the increased deaths most likely were people who had already been struggling with addiction. Some have told her research team that suspensions of evictions and extended unemployment benefits left them with more money than usual. And they said “when I have money, I stock up on my (drug) supply,” she said. Read:Wildfires threaten homes, land across 10 Western states Overdose deaths are just one facet of what was overall the deadliest year in U.S. history. With about 378,000 deaths attributed to COVID-19, the nation saw more than 3.3 million deaths. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reviewed death certificates to come up with the estimate for 2020 drug overdose deaths. The estimate of over 93,000 translates to an average of more than 250 deaths each day, or roughly 11 every hour. The 21,000 increase is the biggest year-to-year jump since the count rose by 11,000 in 2016. More historical context: According to the CDC, there were fewer than 7,200 total U.S. overdose deaths reported in 1970, when a heroin epidemic was raging in U.S. cities. There were about 9,000 in 1988, around the height of the crack epidemic. The CDC reported that in 2020 drug overdoses increased in all but two states, New Hampshire and South Dakota. Kentucky’s overdose count rose 54% last year to more than 2,100, up from under 1,400 the year before. There were also large increases in South Carolina, West Virginia and California. Vermont had the largest jump, of about 58%, but smaller numbers — 118 to 186. The proliferation of fentanyl is one reason some experts do not expect any substantial decline in drug overdose deaths this year. Though national figures are not yet available, there is data emerging from some states that seems to support their pessimism. Rhode Island, for example, reported 34 overdose deaths in January and 37 in February — the most for those months in at least five years. Read:Mystery grows with key suspect in Haiti president killing For Collin McGlashen, last year was “an incredibly dark time” that began in January with the cancer death of the family’s beloved patriarch. Their father’s death sent his musician brother Jordan into a tailspin, McGlashen said. “Someone can be doing really well for so long and then, in a flash, deteriorate,” he said. Then came the pandemic. Jordan lost his job. “It was kind of a final descent.”
COVID-19 deaths and cases are on the rise again globally in a dispiriting setback that is triggering another round of restrictions and dampening hopes for a return to normal life. The World Health Organization reported Wednesday that deaths climbed last week after nine straight weeks of decline. It recorded more than 55,000 lives lost, a 3% increase from the week before. Cases rose 10% last week to nearly 3 million, with the highest numbers recorded in Brazil, India, Indonesia and Britain, WHO said. The reversal has been attributed to low vaccination rates, the relaxation of mask rules and other precautions, and the swift spread of the more-contagious delta variant, which WHO said has now been identified in 111 countries and is expected to become globally dominant in the coming months. Read:US COVID-19 cases rising again, doubling over three weeks Sarah McCool, a professor of public health at Georgia State University, said the combination amounts to a “recipe for a potential tinderbox.” “It’s important that we recognize that COVID has the potential for explosive outbreaks,” warned Dr. David Dowdy, an infectious disease specialist at Johns Hopkins University. Amid the surge, the death toll in hard-hit Argentina surpassed 100,000. Daily coronavirus deaths in Russia hit record highs this week. In Belgium, COVID-19 infections, driven by the delta variant among the young, have almost doubled over the past week. Britain recorded a one-day total of more than 40,000 new cases for the first time in six months. In Myanmar, crematoriums are working morning to night. In Indonesia, which recorded almost 1,000 deaths and over 54,000 new cases Wednesday, up from around 8,000 cases per day a month ago, people near Jakarta are pitching in to help gravediggers keep up. “As the diggers are too tired and do not have enough resources to dig, the residents in my neighborhood decided to help,” Jaya Abidin said. “Because if we do not do this, we will have to wait in turn a long time for a burial.” In the U.S., with one of the highest vaccination rates in the world, newly confirmed infections per day have doubled over the past two weeks to an average of about 24,000, though deaths are still on a downward trajectory at around 260 a day. Los Angeles County, the most populous county in the U.S., reported its fifth straight day Tuesday of more than 1,000 new cases. Tokyo is under a fourth state of emergency ahead of the Summer Games this month, with infections climbing fast and hospital beds filling up. Experts have said caseloads could rise above 1,000 before the Olympics and multiply to thousands during the games. The spike has led to additional restrictions in places like Sydney, Australia, where the 5 million residents will remain in lockdown through at least the end of July, two weeks longer than planned. South Korea has placed the Seoul area under its toughest distancing rules yet because of record case levels. Parts of Spain, including Barcelona, moved to impose an overnight curfew. London Mayor Sadiq Khan said masks will be required on buses and trains even after other restrictions in England are lifted next week. Italy warned all those going abroad that they might have to quarantine before returning home. Read: Immunized but banned: EU says not all COVID vaccines equal Chicago announced that unvaccinated travelers from Missouri and Arkansas must either quarantine for 10 days or have a negative COVID-19 test. Connecticut lawmakers voted Wednesday to again extend Democratic Gov. Ned Lamont’s emergency declarations, despite pushback from Republicans and some Democrats who argued it is time to get back to normal. Among other things, the move keeps in place orders requiring masks in certain settings. An Alabama military base has ordered troops to show proof of vaccination before they can go maskless as the state sees an uptick in COVID-19 cases, a rise attributed to low vaccination rates. The measure was put in place Tuesday at Fort Rucker, home to the Army’s aviation program. As troubling as the figures are around the world, they are still well below the alarming numbers seen earlier this year. Seven months into the vaccination drive, global deaths are down to around 7,900 a day, after topping out at over 18,000 a day in January, according to Johns Hopkins data. Cases are running at around 450,000 a day, down by half since their peak in late April. WHO acknowledged that many countries are now facing “considerable pressure” to lift all remaining precautions but warned that failing to do it the right way will just give the virus more opportunity to spread. Pressure is growing worldwide to boost vaccination rates to counter the rise. “If you have been waiting, if you have been on the fence, sign up and get that shot as soon as possible,” New York City Health Commissioner Dr. Dave Chokshi pleaded. Eighteen-year-old actress and singer Olivia Rodrigo appeared at the White House on Wednesday as part of an effort by President Joe Biden to persuade more young people. Getting a vaccination is something “you can do more easily than ever before,” she said. While nearly 160 million Americans have been fully vaccinated, or over 55% of the population, young adults have shown less interest. Read:FDA adds warning about rare reaction to J&J COVID-19 vaccine Ohio is planning another prize program to encourage vaccinations, and Gov. Mike DeWine urged the government to give the vaccines full approval instead of just emergency authorization to ease people’s doubts. “The reality is we now have two Ohios,” said Bruce Vanderhoff, the state’s chief medical officer. “An Ohio that is vaccinated and protected on the one hand, and an Ohio that is unvaccinated and vulnerable to delta on the other.” Michigan already started a COVID-19 vaccine sweepstakes and announced the first four $50,000 winners Wednesday. Bigger prizes, including a $2 million jackpot, are coming. In Missouri, second only to Arkansas with the worst COVID-19 diagnosis rate over the past week, political leaders in and around St. Louis have stepped up efforts to get people vaccinated through gift cards and by enlisting beauty salons and barbershops to dispense information.