Tuesday 29th of September 2020

the news you take daily like a reflux tablet...


With almost all the media focus on Covid-19, it’s easy to get the impression that the ‘novel coronavirus’ is the only show in town. But it isn’t. In large parts of the world there are even worse public health hazards, only they don’t get anywhere near the same coverage.

Think things are bad in the UK? Well, at least we don’t have a plague of locusts to worry about.

In 2020, East African countries have suffered the worst locusts invasions for 70 years, and  a second, even more destructive wave threatens countries from west Africa to the Middle East, and India

The World Bank has warned that regional locust swarms (one seen in Kenya was the size of Luxembourg), could swell numbers 400-fold by June, causing costs and damages to food production of up to $8.5bn by the end of the year. All in a region where already around 20m people are severely food insecure.

‘This is a scourge of Biblical proportions- yet as ancient as this scourge is- its scale today is unprecedented in recent times’ UN officials have said.

If giant locusts swarms were bad enough, there’s also the dreaded mosquito. There were 405,000 deaths from malaria in 2018, 94% of them in sub-Saharan Africa. That’s still over 80,000 more deaths than we’ve had so far globally with Covid-19- which at time of writing Africa has seen less than 3,000 deaths from

What’s more, the World Health Organisation has warned that severe disruptions to insecticide-treated net campaigns and in access to anti-malarial medicines, could lead to a doubling of malaria deaths in sub-Saharan Africa this year compared to 2018

Yet despite the large number of lives it claims media coverage of malaria is scant. 

It’s a similar story with HIV/AIDS. Yes, we all heard a lot about AIDS in the 1980s and 90s, but since then? By 2007 over 20 million Africans- yes 20 MILLION- had died of the disease. Around 770,000 people died of AIDS-related illnesses in 2019- with just over 40% of them in eastern and southern Africa.

That’s down from a peak of 1.7m in 2004, but it’s still a large enough number.  

Part of the problem with the saturation coverage of Covid-19 is that it makes us forget that there are other diseases and public health problems which pose even greater threats to mankind. The daily press conferences in the UK, in which the numbers of those who died with Covid-19 is announced, has caused considerable anxiety in the public, but suppose this was done for all deaths? For instance, cancer claims the lives of around 165,000 Britons a year, that’s around 450 people a day. Why isn’t this mentioned at the press conferences so viewers can make the comparison?

One also remembers the video of the policewoman in South Yorkshire berating a man and his children for being in their front garden a few weeks back telling him that ‘a thousand people died yesterday’. But on average you’d expect around 1,600- 1,700 deaths a day in the UK- based on a total of 616,000 deaths in 2018.

If you don’t have such context, then the daily Covid-19 death tallies, which are in fact an aggregate of deaths, including some which occurred several weeks earlier, seem much more alarming. No one is saying that Covid-19 isn’t serious it clearly is- only that a sense of perspective is needed. One can get that perspective by focusing on Africa. It’s been said that no one who visits Africa comes back unchanged and that was certainly the case with me when I went to Zimbabwe in 2014. While we were staying at Victoria Falls, my wife came became ill very suddenly with what we thought was a bad case of malaria, but fortunately was ‘just’ food poisoning. But visiting Zimbabwe made me more aware of the health hazards people there have faced.

The country was devastated by the HIV-AIDS pandemic- by the mid-2000s, life expectancy had fallen to 37 for men and 34 for women- the lowest in the world. In 2008 there was also a bad cholera epidemic, claiming over 4,000 lives, recently there has been an increase in malaria cases too, with a cumulative total of 170,303 up to the third week of April, and 152 deaths.

In the west, and ‘global north’, compared to sub-Saharan Africa, we’ve been very lucky. 
Our Covid-19 worries should make us more empathic to people in other parts of the world and understand that living with dangerous infections, viruses which kill many hundreds of thousands of people and the threat of destructive natural pests, is the norm for many.  

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The views and opinions expressed in the article do not necessarily reflect those of Sputnik.



in other news...

Caracas will send ships and aircraft to ensure five Iranian tankers, said to be loaded with some 1.5 million barrels of oil, make it safely to Venezuelan shores amid reports the US is seeking to hinder the delivery.

"When they enter our exclusive economic zone, they will be escorted by Bolivarian National Armed Forces boats and planes to welcome them in and thank the Iranian people for their solidarity and cooperation,"Venezuela’s Defense Minister Vladimir Padrino López said on Wednesday, referring to the five Iranian-flagged vessels expected to bring some much-needed fuel to Venezuela in late May or early June.

READ MORE: ‘It’d be called an invasion’: Trump says he’d use ARMY to raid Venezuela as he doubles down on denial of ordering botched plot 

His announcement comes after Washington signaled it might interfere with the vessels' passage, with one official telling Reuters last week that the US has been “looking at measures that can be taken,” while calling the impending delivery “unwelcome” by the US and by the region as a whole.


Read more:




Rob Lyons: The parallels between coronavirus and climate change are striking. Pandemic models exaggerated the danger and insisted we must lockdown societies. Climate change models are being similarly distorted to demand zero emissions.

Gus: there is no parallel between climate change and coronavirus computer models. The models for climate change are tested and verified daily, not with expectation of exaggerated danger but more often than not by underestimating the incoming danger. Read less of Rob Lyons and more of Gus... See also: http://www.yourdemocracy.net.au/drupal/node/12769


Did she get it from Prince Charles?


The eastern Indian city of Kolkata has been devastated by a powerful cyclone. 

Cyclone Amphan made landfall in eastern India and Bangladesh on Wednesday, killing at least 15 people as it lashed coastal areas with ferocious wind and rain.

Many of Kolkata's 14 million people are without electricity and communications have been disrupted.

West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee said the devastation was "a bigger disaster than Covid-19". 

Kolkata is the capital of West Bengal state which has seen 3,103 confirmed cases of the infection.

"Area after area has been ruined. I have experienced a war-like situation today," Ms Banerjee was quoted as saying by the Press Trust of India news agency.


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Just days after Australian states started easing coronavirus lockdowns, the ‘we’re all in this together’ attitude has returned to turn the usual skirmishing between employers and unions over whose ideology is best for the economy.

The latest battlefront is the rights of casuals, with big business calling on the federal government to intervene after a landmark Federal Court case found long-term workers are entitled to paid leave.

The Morrison government already appears ready to find a legislative fix to the inconvenient ruling, with Industrial Relations Minister Christian Porter saying the decision would have immediate implications for businesses at a time when many had taken a hit from the coronavirus.

Mr Porter says there will be talks between employer organisations and unions to find a solution, but there seemed little recognition that the court win would help the very workers who have borne the brunt of the pandemic’s impact.


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United States President Donald Trump says the US will react strongly if China follows through on plans to impose new national security legislation on Hong Kong, after last year's pro-democracy unrest.

Key points:
  • The specific details of the current proposals remain unclear but an announcement is expected shortly
  • Those opposed to the legislation say it undermines the autonomy granted Hong Kong in the "one country, two systems" formula
  • Others in support of the proposal say it is needed to curb the protests that have impacted Hong Kong's peace and stability

The remarks come hours after a Chinese official said the National People's Congress is exercising its "constitutional power" to set up a new legal framework and enforcement mechanism to ensure national security in Hong Kong.

"I don't know what it is, because nobody knows yet. If it happens, we'll address that issue very strongly," Mr Trump told reporters.

Chinese state news agency Xinhua said a preparatory meeting for a Chinese parliament session adopted an agenda that included an item to review a bill "on establishing and improving the legal system and enforcement mechanisms for the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region to safeguard national security".


Read more:



And more of the same to come... I did not know that Hong Kong was in America... Listen to music instead.

death threats to scientists...


Experts appointed to national and EU panels providing policy advice on Covid-19 have reported receiving death threats related to their work assisting efforts to combat the pandemic.

Christian Drosten, director of the institute of virology at the Charité Hospital in Berlin, who has been a prominent communicator on the pandemic in Germany, said in an interview with the UK’s Guardian newspaper published on 26 April: “In Germany, people see that the hospitals are not overwhelmed, and they don’t understand why their shops have to shut…This is the prevention paradox, and for many Germans I’m the evil guy who is crippling the economy. I get death threats, which I pass on to the police.”

While not having a formal advisory role in Germany, Drosten is one of seven individual members of the European Commission’s advisory panel on Covid-19. Earlier this month, he was presented with an award for outstanding achievements in scientific communication during the pandemic by the German Research Foundation.



When 61 people met for a choir practice in a church in Mount Vernon, Washington, on 10 March, everything seemed normal. For 2.5 hours the chorists sang, snacked on cookies and oranges, and sang some more. But one of them had been suffering for 3 days from what felt like a cold—and turned out to be COVID-19. In the following weeks, 53 choir members got sick, three were hospitalized, and two died, according to a 12 May report by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) that meticulously reconstructed the tragedy.

Many similar “superspreading events” have occurred in the COVID-19 pandemic. A database by Gwenan Knight and colleagues at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine (LSHTM) lists an outbreak in a dormitory for migrant workers in Singapore linked to almost 800 cases; 80 infections tied to live music venues in Osaka, Japan; and a cluster of 65 cases resulting from Zumba classes in South Korea. Clusters have also occurred aboard ships and at nursing homes, meatpacking plants, ski resorts, churches, restaurants, hospitals, and prisons. Sometimes a single person infects dozens of people, whereas other clusters unfold across several generations of spread, in multiple venues.

Other infectious diseases also spread in clusters. But COVID-19, like two of its cousins, severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) and Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS), seems especially prone to attacking groups of tightly connected people while sparing others. It's an encouraging finding, scientists say, because it suggests that restricting gatherings where superspreading is likely to occur will have a major impact on transmission and that other restrictions—on outdoor activity, for example—might be eased.

Science  22 May 2020:
Vol. 368, Issue 6493, pp. 808-809


A Brazilian study testing the antimalarial drug chloroquine for COVID-19 had to be stopped early in one group of patients taking a high dose of the drug, after some patients in this group developed dangerous heart rhythm problems.

Chloroquine and the related drug hydroxychloroquine have made headlines in recent weeks after President Donald Trump called the drugs a potential "game changer" for the treatment of COVID-19.

The Brazilian researchers planned to enroll 440 people in their study to test whether chloroquine is a safe and effective treatment for COVID-19. Participants took either a "high dose" of the drug (600 milligrams twice daily for 10 days) or a "low dose" (450 mg for five days, with a double dose only on the first day). The study was "double blind," meaning that neither the patients nor their doctors knew which dose they were receiving.


Read more:



The scientists who "discovered" the potential side effects of chloroquine in Brazil got death threats... As you know, it's all a question of dosage. Caffeine in excess will kill you...


Meanwhile on Eastern Sunday, Christ-the-Redeemer statue in Rio was turned into the celebration of physicians treating covid19 patients...(from Science Magazine):




Read from top.


See also: of good and bad about chloroquine et al...

job cuts to your news outlets...

News Corp Australia is poised to cut hundreds of jobs as it moves towards digital-only publishing for many of its local and regional papers and more copy sharing among its metropolitan mastheads the Daily Telegraph and the Herald Sun.

The executive chairman of News Corp Australasia, Michael Miller, has hinted the company is on the brink of upheaval, saying last week it was evolving from “a network of news­papers” to “Australia’s leading journalism network”.

The job cuts Miller has warned are “inevitable” after the collapse of the advertising market during the pandemic are expected to hit the publisher’s local and regional newspaper staff as well as the major mastheads as soon as this week.

Sources say the cuts could be as high as 30% of staff across the company and many will be force redundancies, rather than voluntary.

Rupert Murdoch’s empire is not alone in making significant cuts and hard times have hit other publishers including Australian Community Media and Nine Entertainment and entire newsrooms including Ten Daily and BuzzFeed Australia have closed this month.

The cuts at News Corp come a week after the company appointed Murdoch’s Melbourne-based veteran newsman Peter Blunden to the newly created role of national executive editor and established specialist network teams to “work across titles to produce quality content”.

Reporters from the specialist network would be expected to produce a single story to be shared among mastheads, including the Telegraph, the Herald Sun and the Courier Mail, instead of each title having its own dedicated team.

News Corp is expected to stop printing as many as 100 titles – which reached six million people in print – after talks to offload the papers failed.

“This quality journalism will be better resourced than anything we have done before and will be developed, published and shared on all formats to grow audiences and subscriptions,” Miller told the Australian last week.

In April, News Corp suspending printing 60 of its local newspapers including the New South Wales title the Manly Daily, which has been in print since 1906.


Read more:




During this Covid19 time, like during the bushfires, the ABC held the fort of news despite working on a shoe-rag-budget while collecting and distributing information all around Australia. Presently there is a push by some people (let's be polite here) to merge SBS and ABC. This is stupid. SBS was created with a different focus back in the late 1970s. NITV (created 2007) also provides links to the indigenous communities. ABC is a stand alone public service in the world, even in comaprison to the BBC.

ScoMo, leave these organisations, ABC and SBS, alone and fund them properly. For a bit more than 10 cents a day per person, the ABC provides great value, despite working under conditions that the pollies would not be seen working under. For example, some of the programs produced at the ABC are made from "shared open plan offices" in which it is impossible to make proper recordings, unless one comes to work at 4:30 in the morning and there is no-one else around. Lucky the dedication of most staff at the ABC is beyond the call of duty...



Meanwhile AAP should be rescued:


A group of investors and philanthropists looking to save Australian Associated Press expects to cut jobs at the national newswire.

Peter Tonagh, who is leading the consortium, believes shareholders News Corp Australia and Nine could return as customers to a trimmed-down version of AAP, but conceded it could take 10 years.

“If we can do a good enough job with AAP, it should be attractive to all players in the industry,” he told ABC radio on Tuesday.

Mr Tonagh said the primary focus of the consortium was the newswire service, describing it as a critical element of AAP.

The bidders are also interested in the company’s fact-checking unit and photography desk.


Read more:



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your news carefully chosen by robots...

Microsoft is to replace dozens of contract journalists on its MSN website and use automated systems to select news stories, US and UK media report.

The curating of stories from news organisations and selection of headlines and pictures for the MSN site is currently done by journalists.

Artificial intelligence will perform these news production tasks, sources told the Seattle Times

Microsoft said it was part of an evaluation of its business. 

The US tech giant said in a statement: "Like all companies, we evaluate our business on a regular basis. This can result in increased investment in some places and, from time to time, redeployment in others. These decisions are not the result of the current pandemic."

Microsoft, like some other tech companies, pays news organisations to use their content on its website.

But it employs journalists to decide which stories to display and how they are presented. 

Around 50 contract news producers will lose their jobs at the end of June, the Seattle Times reports, but a team of full-time journalists will remain.


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