Nowhere as worrisome for COVID-19 as South America, Brazil especially concerning – Pan American Health official

By Julia Symmes Cobb

BOGOTA (Reuters) – South America is now the most worrying region for COVID-19 infections, as cases mount in nearly every country, the director of the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) said on Wednesday.

“Nowhere are infections as worrisome as in South America,” Director Carissa Etienne said during a weekly news conference.

Brazil has seen the most merciless surge. Scientists forecast it will soon surpass the worst of a record January wave in the United States, with daily fatalities climbing above 4,000 on Tuesday.

“The situation in Brazil is concerning countrywide,” said COVID-19 incident director Sylvain Aldighieri. “Our concern at the moment is also for the Brazilian citizens themselves in this context of health services that are overwhelmed.”

Brazil needs access to more COVID-19 vaccines now and should be able to receive them through global partnerships, Aldighieri said.

PAHO can expand its help to Brazilian states if requested, he said, adding it is already aiding with virus genetic sequencing, procuring oxygen and coronavirus testing.

Intensive care units are nearing capacity in Peru and Ecuador, and in parts of Bolivia and Colombia cases have doubled in the last week, Etienne said, adding that the southern cone is also experiencing an acceleration in cases.

The United States, Brazil and Argentina are among the 10 countries seeing the highest number of new infections globally, she added.

The Americas recorded more than 1.3 million new coronavirus cases and over 37,000 deaths last week, Etienne said, more than half of all deaths reported globally.

“We cannot ease public health and social interventions without good data and justification,” Etienne said, adding slowing and stopping transmission “requires decisive action by local and national governments.”

More than 210 million vaccine doses have been administered across the Americas, Etienne said.

Bolivia, Nicaragua and Haiti may be affected by Serum Institute of India vaccine shipment delays, said sub-director Jarbas Barbosa, but the World Health Organization is appealing to the Indian government to ensure shipment agreements.

(Reporting by Julia Symmes Cobb; Editing by Bill Berkro)

Brazil scrambles to secure sedatives as hospitals overwhelmed by COVID-19

By Reuters Staff

SAO PAULO (Reuters) – An emergency shipment of sedatives needed to intubate severely ill COVID-19 patients arrived in Brazil late on Thursday from China, as the South American country scrambles for supplies due to severe shortages of the vital drugs.

In recent days, Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo have both sounded the alarm over shortages of sedatives, with Sao Paulo’s Health Secretary saying the city’s ability to care for seriously ill COVID-19 patients is on the verge of collapse.

Brazil has become the epicenter of the pandemic, with more Brazilians dying of the virus each day than anywhere else in the world.

President Jair Bolsonaro has opposed lockdowns and held large events in which he often does not wear a mask. He has only recently embraced vaccines as a possible solution.

The cargo of 2.3 million drugs, donated by major Brazilian companies including miner Vale and oil producer Petrobras, touched down in Sao Paulo just after 10 p.m. local time.

As the health crisis worsens, Brazil is also negotiating with other countries for emergency supplies, with donations from Spain expected to arrive next week.

Brazil has recorded a total of 365,444 coronavirus deaths – second only to the United States – and 13,746,681 confirmed COVID-19 cases.

Nowhere as worrisome for COVID-19 infections as South America, Brazil concerning: PAHO

By Julia Symmes Cobb

BOGOTA (Reuters) – South America is the most worrying region for COVID-19 infections, as cases mount in nearly every country, the director of the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) said on Wednesday.

“Nowhere are infections as worrisome as in South America,” Director Carissa Etienne said during a weekly press conference.

Brazil has seen perhaps the most merciless surge and scientists forecast it will soon surpass the worst of a record January wave in the United States, with daily fatalities climbing above 4,000 on Tuesday.

“The situation in Brazil is concerning countrywide,” said COVID-19 incident director Sylvain Aldighieri. “Our concern at the moment is also for the Brazilian citizens themselves in this context of health services that are overwhelmed.”

Brazil needs access to more vaccines now and should be able to receive them through global partnerships, Aldighieri said.

PAHO can expand its help to Brazilian states if requested, he said, adding it is already aiding with virus sequencing, procuring oxygen and testing.

Intensive care units are nearing capacity in Peru and Ecuador and in parts of Bolivia and Colombia cases have doubled in the last week, Etienne said, adding the southern cone is also experiencing acceleration in cases.

The U.S., Brazil and Argentina are among the ten countries seeing the highest number of new infections globally, she added.

The Americas recorded more than 1.3 million new coronavirus cases and over 37,000 deaths last week, Etienne said, more than half of all deaths reported globally.

“We cannot ease public health and social interventions without good data and justification,” Etienne said, adding slowing and stopping transmission “requires decisive action by local and national governments.”

More than 210 million vaccine doses have been administered across the Americas, Etienne added.

Bolivia, Nicaragua and Haiti may be affected by Serum Institute of India vaccine shipment delays, said sub-director Jarbas Barbosa, but the World Health Organization is appealing to the Indian government to ensure shipment agreements.

(Reporting by Julia Symmes Cobb)

Two-thirds of tropical rainforest destroyed or degraded globally, NGO says

By Jake Spring

BRASILIA (Reuters) – Humans have degraded or destroyed roughly two-thirds of the world’s original tropical rainforest cover, new data reveals – raising alarm that a key natural buffer against climate change is quickly vanishing.

The forest loss is also a major contributor of climate-warming emissions, with the dense tropical forest vegetation representing the largest living reservoir of carbon.

Logging and land conversion, mainly for agriculture, have wiped out 34% of the world’s original old-growth tropical rainforests, and degraded another 30%, leaving them more vulnerable to fire and future destruction, according to an analysis by the non-profit Rainforest Foundation Norway.

More than half of the destruction since 2002 has been in South America’s Amazon and bordering rainforests.

As more rainforest is destroyed, there is more potential for climate change, which in turn makes it more difficult for remaining forests to survive, said the report’s author Anders Krogh, a tropical forest researcher.

“It’s a terrifying cycle,” Krogh said. The total lost between just 2002 and 2019 was larger than the area of France, he found.

The rate of loss in 2019 roughly matched the annual level of destruction over the last 20 years, with a football field’s worth of forest vanishing every 6 seconds, according to another recent report by the World Resources Institute.

The Brazilian Amazon has been under intense pressure in recent decades, as an agricultural boom has driven farmers and land speculators to torch plots of land for soybeans, beef and other crops. That trend has worsened since 2019, when right-wing President Jair Bolsonaro took office and began weakening environmental enforcement.

But the Amazon also represents the best hope for preserving what rainforest remains. The Amazon and its neighbors – the Orinoco and the Andean rainforest – account for 73.5% of tropical forests still intact, according to Krogh.

The new report “reinforces that Brazil must take care of the forest,” said Ane Alencar, a geographer with the Amazon Environmental Research Institute who was not involved in the work. “Brazil has the biggest chunk of tropical forest in the world and is also losing the most.”

Southeast Asian islands, mostly belonging to Indonesia, collectively rank second in terms of forest destruction since 2002, with much of those forests cleared for palm oil plantations.

Central Africa ranks third, with most of the destruction centered around the Congo River basin, due to traditional and commercial farming as well as logging.

Forests that were defined in the report as degraded had either been partially destroyed, or destroyed and since replaced by secondary forest growth, Rainforest Foundation Norway said.

That report’s definition for intact forest may be overly strict, cautioned Tasso Azevedo, coordinator of the Brazilian deforestation mapping initiative MapBiomas. The analysis only counts untouched regions of at least 500 square km (193 square miles) as intact, leaving out smaller areas that may add to the world’s virgin forest cover, he said.

Krogh explained that this definition was chosen because smaller tracts are at risk of the “edge effect,” where trees die faster and biodiversity is harder to maintain near the edge of the forest. A forest spanning 500 square km can fully sustain its ecosystem, he said.

(Reporting by Jake Spring; editing by Katy Daigle, Richard Pullin and Jonathan Oatis)

Delivering super-cooled COVID-19 vaccine a daunting challenge for some countries

By Matthias Inverardi and Ludwig Burger

FRANKFURT (Reuters) – Getting a coronavirus vaccine from manufacturing sites to some parts of the world with rural populations and unreliable electricity supply will be an immense challenge, given the need to store some vials at temperatures as low as minus 80 degrees Celsius (-112 Fahrenheit), Deutsche Post warned on Tuesday.

The German logistics firm said that distribution of an eventual vaccine across large parts of Africa, South America and Asia would require extraordinary measures to keep deliveries of so-called mRNA vaccines refrigerated at Antarctic-level temperatures.

Companies developing vaccines requiring exceptional cold storage, such as Moderna and CureVac, are working hard to make their injections last longer in transit.

The novel class of mRNA vaccines is among the furthest advanced in a field of 33 immunization shots currently being tested on humans globally, but they may need to be cooled at minus 80 degrees Celsius.

But upgrading cold storage infrastructure in regions outside the 25 most advanced countries, home to one third of the global population, will pose an immense challenge, said Deutsche Post in its study, conducted with consultancy firm McKinsey.

Vaccine developers Translate Bio and Moderna said in June they are working to produce evidence in time for the roll-out that their respective products can be shipped and stored at less extreme temperatures.

A spokesman for CureVac said its vaccine candidate is based on an experimental rabies vaccine which has already been shown to keep its molecular structure when stored in a regular fridge for months. Tests are underway to show the COVID-19 product has the same durability and the company is confident the data will be “competitive”, he added.

Deutsche Post said that even if the vaccine cold chain requires temperatures of only minus 8 degrees Celsius the share of the world’s population with reliable access to it increases only to about 70%, with substantial parts of Africa at risk of missing out.

“We anticipate 10 billion vaccine doses will have to be distributed across the world, and that includes regions that don’t have motorway access every five miles,” Katja Busch, Chief Commercial Officer of Deutsche Post’s DHL global forwarding unit, told Reuters.

(Additional reporting by Lisa Baertlein, editing by Louise Heavens)

Global coronavirus cases surpass 5 million, infections rising in South America

By Lisa Shumaker and Cate Cadell

(Reuters) – Global coronavirus cases surpassed 5 million on Wednesday, with Latin America overtaking the United States and Europe in the past week to report the largest portion of new daily cases globally.

It represents a new phase in the virus’ spread, which initially peaked in China in February before large-scale outbreaks followed in Europe and the United States.

Latin America accounted for around a third of the 91,000 cases reported earlier this week. Europe and the United States each accounted for just over 20%.

A large number of those new cases came from Brazil, which recently surpassed Germany, France and the United Kingdom to become the third-largest outbreak in the world, behind the United States and Russia.

Cases in Brazil are now rising at a daily pace second only to the United States.

The first 41 cases of coronavirus were confirmed in Wuhan, China, on Jan. 10 and it took the world until April 1 to reach its first million cases. Since then, about 1 million new cases are reported every two weeks, according to a Reuters tally.

At more than 5 million cases, the virus has infected more people in under six months than the annual total of severe flu cases, which the World Health Organization estimates is around 3 million to 5 million globally.

The pandemic has claimed over 326,000 lives, though the true number is thought to be higher as testing is still limited and many countries do not include fatalities outside of hospitals. Over half of the total fatalities have been recorded in Europe.

Despite the continued increase in cases, many countries are opening schools and workplaces following weeks of lockdown that have stemmed the spread.

Financial markets have also been boosted slightly by promising early results from the first U.S. vaccine trial in humans.

(Reporting by Lisa Shumaker and Cate Cadell; editing by Jane Wardell)

Disaster hacks: South American cities harness tech and nature to tackle flooding

By Anastasia Moloney

BOGOTA (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – Hit with ever-more-frequent torrential rain that triggers worsening flooding and mudslides most years, Rio de Janeiro is looking to an unusual gathering for answers: a hackathon.

Starting Saturday, teams of university students, tech start-up leaders, software developers and computer engineers will try to come up with innovative ways to help the seaside Brazilian city limit its losses as climate change brings wilder weather.

Tech experts at the city hall-led event hope to, for instance, come up with new ways to leverage data from GPS systems already used in the city’s buses to allow emergency services to better understand and monitor floods in real time.

“We know we have problems of floods and heavy rains, and we see an opportunity to use GPS to know where the flooding and landslide incidents are,” said Simone Silva, a mobility advisor at city hall and one of the organizers.

Right now, “at the very local level, we don’t know exactly what happens,” she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

RISING URBANIZATION

Around Latin America, tens of millions of people are at risk from worsening flooding linked to climate change, many of them living in urban slums often built along rivers or on mountain slopes prone to landslides.

About 80% of Latin America’s people live in the region’s urban areas, according to the United Nations.

But across the region, cities are working to cut the risks, harnessing technology, better data and insights from affected communities to come up with new ways to keep people safe.

Flooding is clearly seen as one of the most severe threats. Of 530 cities worldwide that reported their climate hazards in 2018 to CDP, a London-based international environmental non-profit, 71% said floods were their top worry.

Extreme heat came next, at 61%, followed by drought at 36%, according to the study, published last month.

But over half of cities have not carried out risk assessments to map which areas, residents and businesses are under threat from extreme weather, the study found.

“We have seen that cities that take vulnerability assessments, they take six times as many actions to adapt as cities that haven’t done them,” said Kyra Appleby, who heads the CDP’s cities, states and regions team.

Geographic information system (GIS) technology that allows data about hazards and climate risks to be overlayed with existing maps of cities has made it easier for authorities to do risk assessments, she added.

That and other technologies are among the measures being used in a range of cities around Latin America to deal with worsening economic and human losses from floods.

In recent decades, Rio de Janeiro, for instance, has put in place early warning systems to help evacuate people ahead of threats, mapped of floodplain areas, built shelters and conducted emergency drills in slum areas, Appleby said.

The city also has installed cameras to monitor street flooding and set up social media alert systems.

Other cities are introducing digital sensors to try to cut risks. Argentina’s capital, Buenos Aires, is developing a network of sensors to monitor rainfall and feed back data in real time to the city’s central control centre.

Ensuring climate change adaptation measures are included in all urban planning is crucial, Appleby said, noting that the city of Belo Horizonte, in Brazil’s Minas Gerais state, is one of those leading the way.

“It’s in the process of creating a new masterplan for the city and they are integrating all their adaption measures into their masterplan. That is really ahead of the curve,” she said.

To be effective, climate adaption plans must include the input of local communities, according to Anjali Mahendra, head of research at the World Resources Institute Ross Center for Sustainable Cities.

“Latin American cities are particularly good with involving communities,” she said.

That’s largely because early urbanization in the region means cities have had longer experience working with informal settlements and other disadvantaged communities, she said.

African and South Asian cities, facing rapid urbanization are “starting to learn from some Latin American cities,” Mahendra said.

Colombia’s second city of Medellin and Ecuador’s capital Quito – which has a climate change panel that includes youth, women and indigenous groups – in particular have worked hard to include local communities in decisions about urban planning and climate risks, said Mahendra.

USING NATURE

To tackle growing flood threats, more investment also is needed in “nature-based solutions” – such as expanding green areas to absorb floodwaters, said Pedro Ribeiro, head of the Urban Flooding Network at C40, a group of cities pushing climate action.

Creating green buffer areas to stem urban sprawl and protecting and restoring degraded ecosystems around cities, including forests, watersheds, grasslands and wetlands, can help slow the movement of water and avoid flooding, he said.

“It’s easier to recover ecosystems that were in the city before building .. and the results are better” than trying to establish wholly new anti-flooding systems, Ribeiro said.

(Reporting by Anastasia Moloney @anastasiabogota, Editing by XXXX. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women’s and LGBT+ rights, human trafficking, property rights, and climate change. Visit http://news.trust.org)

Season of discontent: protests flare around the world

Season of discontent: protests flare around the world
(Reuters) – Another day, another protest.

On Monday it was Bolivia – angry people clashed with police after the political opposition said it had been cheated in an election won by incumbent President Evo Morales.

Last week, the streets of the Chilean capital Santiago descended into chaos, as demonstrators enraged by a hike in public transport fares looted stores, set a bus alight and prompted the president to declare a state of emergency.

Earlier this month, Ecuador’s leader did the same after violent unrest triggered by the decision to end fuel subsidies that had been in place for decades.

And that was just South America.

Hong Kong has been in turmoil for months, Lebanon’s capital Beirut was at a standstill, parts of Barcelona resembled a battlefield last week and tens of thousands of Britons marched through London at the weekend over Brexit.

Protests have flared around the world in the last few months. Each has had its own trigger, but many of the underlying frustrations are similar.

Globalization and technological progress have, in general, exacerbated disparities within countries, said Sergei Guriev, former chief economist of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, while noting that not all of the current protests were driven by economic concerns.

Digital media has also made people more acutely aware of global inequalities, said Simon French, chief economist at UK bank Panmure Gordon.

“We know that the economics of happiness is largely driven by a relative assessment of your position versus your benchmark,” he said, a benchmark that now stretched way beyond the local community.

ECONOMICS

In at least four countries hit by recent violent protests, the main reason for the uprising is economic.

Governments in Chile and Ecuador have incurred their people’s wrath after trying to raise fares and end fuel subsidies.

As clashes engulfed Quito, Ecuadorean President Lenin Moreno reached out to indigenous leaders who had mobilized people to take to the streets.

Within minutes, chief protest organizer Jaime Vargas had rejected that outreach.

“We’re defending the people,” Vargas said in a live Facebook video from the march in Quito.

His response, visible to millions of people, underlines an added challenge authorities have when trying to quell dissent: social media has made communication between protesters easier than ever.

Tens of thousands of people have flooded Beirut in the biggest show of dissent against the establishment there in decades. People of all ages and religions joined to protest about worsening economic conditions and the perception that those in power were corrupt.

Similar factors were behind deadly civil unrest in Iraq in early October.

More than 100 people died in violent protests across a country where many Iraqis, especially young people, felt they had seen few economic benefits since Islamic State militants were defeated in 2017.

Security forces cracked down, with snipers opening fire from rooftops and the internet being shut to stem the flow of information among protesters.

GIVE US OUR AUTONOMY

Hong Kong has been battered by five months of often violent protests over fears Beijing is tightening its grip on the territory, the worst political crisis since colonial ruler Britain handed it back to China in 1997.

There have been few major rallies in recent weeks, but violence has escalated at those held, with militant activists setting metro stations ablaze and smashing up shops, often targeting Chinese banks and stores with mainland links.

Police have fired thousands of rounds of tear gas, hundreds of rubber bullets and three live rounds at brick- and petrol bomb-throwing activists.

The events in Hong Kong have drawn comparisons to Catalonia in recent days. There, too, people are angry at what they see as attempts to thwart their desire for greater autonomy from the rest of Spain, if not outright independence.

Protesters set cars on fire and threw petrol bombs at police in Barcelona, unrest sparked by the sentencing of Catalan separatist leaders who sought to declare an independent state.

Demonstrators also focused on strategic targets to cause maximum disruption, including the international airport, grounding more than 100 flights.

That came several days after similar action in Hong Kong, suggesting that protest movements are following and even copying each other on social media and the news.

“In Hong Kong they have done it well, but they are crazier,” said Giuseppe Vayreda, a 22-year-old art student at a recent Catalan separatist protest.

On Thursday, Hong Kong protesters plan a rally to show solidarity with those demonstrating in Spain.

LEADER OR NO LEADER

In some cases, individuals rise to the forefront of protest movements, using social media to get their message across.

In Egypt, where demonstrations last month were relatively small yet significant in their rarity, the catalyst of dissent against President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi was an Egyptian posting videos from Spain.

Greta Thunberg, a Swedish teenager, inspired millions of people to march through cities around the world in September to demand that political leaders act to stop climate change.

Tens of thousands gathered in a New York park to listen to her speech.

“If you belong to that small group of people who feel threatened by us, then we have some very bad news for you,” she said. “Because this is only the beginning. Change is coming whether they like it or not.”

(Reporting by Reuters correspondents; Additional reporting by Andrea Shalal and Heather Timmons in Washington; Writing by Mike Collett-White; Editing by Nick Tattersall and Sonya Hepinstall)

China buys U.S. soybeans after declaring ban on American farm goods

FILE PHOTO: Soybeans fall into a bin as a trailer is filled at a farm in Buda, Illinois, U.S., July 6, 2018. REUTERS/Daniel Acker

By Tom Polansek

CHICAGO (Reuters) – China snapped up a small volume of U.S. soybeans last week after pledging to halt purchases of American farm products due to the escalating trade war between Washington and Beijing, U.S. Department of Agriculture data showed on Thursday.

The world’s largest soybean importer struck deals from Aug. 9 to 15 to buy 9,589 tonnes for delivery in the current marketing year and 66,000 tonnes, approximately one cargo, for the next year, the data showed.

China’s Commerce Ministry said on Aug. 5 that Chinese companies stopped buying U.S. farm products in the latest escalation of the trade war between the world’s two largest economies.

“You do have some buying going on,” said Arlan Suderman, chief commodities economist for INTL FCStone. “It’s a little bit of a surprise.”

China last year imposed retaliatory tariffs that remain in place on imports of U.S. farm products including soybeans and pork. The duties have slashed exports of U.S. crops and prompted the Trump administration to compensate American farmers for losses over two years with as much as $28 billion.

China said on Thursday it hopes the United States will stop a plan to impose new tariffs, adding that any new duties would lead to a further escalation.

China has largely turned to South America for soybeans since the trade war began last year. U.S. soybean sales to China in 2018 dropped 74% from the previous year.

“Compared to what they used to buy, they essentially have halted – but some have gotten through,” Suderman said.

The sales of 9,589 tonnes for delivery in the current marketing year will probably be rolled ahead to be delivered in the next year, which begins on Sept. 1, said Don Roose, president of Iowa-based broker U.S. Commodities.

The cargo sold for delivery in the next marketing year could have been in the works before Beijing said Chinese companies would suspend purchases of U.S. farm goods, said Terry Reilly, senior commodity analyst for Futures International.

“The government may have just given the green light to say, ‘Let this one go through,'” Reilly said.

“One cargo is not going to change the fact that they’re not buying millions of tons of soybeans.”

(Reporting by Tom Polansek; Editing by Marguerita Choy)

Solar eclipse plunges Chile into darkness

A person observes a solar eclipse at Coquimbo, Chile, July 2, 2019. REUTERS/Rodrigo Garrido

SANTIAGO (Reuters) – Hundreds of thousands of tourists scattered across the north Chilean desert on Tuesday to experience a rare, and irresistible combination for astronomy buffs: a total eclipse of the sun viewed from beneath the world’s clearest skies.

A solar eclipse is observed at Coquimbo, Chile, July 2, 2019. REUTERS/Rodrigo Garrido

A solar eclipse is observed at Coquimbo, Chile, July 2, 2019. REUTERS/Rodrigo Garrido

A solar eclipse occurs when the moon passes between the Earth and the sun, plunging the planet into darkness. It happens only rarely in any given spot across the globe.

The best views this time were from Chile’s sprawling Atacama desert north of the coastal city of La Serena, where a lack of humidity and city lights combine to create the world’s clearest skies.

The region had not seen an eclipse since 1592, according to the Chilean Astronomy Society. The next one is expected in 2165.

Eclipse-watchers in Chile were not disappointed on Tuesday. The 95-mile (150-kilometer) band of total darkness moved eastward across the open Pacific Ocean late in the afternoon, making landfall in Chile at 4:38 p.m. EDT (2038 GMT).

Clear skies dominated from the South American country’s northern border with Peru south to the capital of Santiago, where office workers poured from buildings to catch a glimpse of the phenomenon.

Earlier in the day, a run on special “eclipse-viewing” glasses downtown had led to a shortage in many stores, with street vendors charging as much as $10 for a pair of the disposable, cardboard-framed lenses.

“This is something rare that we may never see again,” said Marcos Sanchez, a 53-year-old pensioner from Santiago who had purchased 16 of the lenses from an informal vendor downtown for himself and his family.

(Reporting by Dave Sherwood and Fabian Cambero; Editing by Sandra Maler)