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COVID-19: Lebanon’s health service close to collapse with case numbers beyond ‘wildest predictions’ | World News



The head of Lebanon’s main coronavirus hospital has said the country’s health system is close to collapse – with not enough beds, drugs, oxygen, ventilators or staff.

In a stark interview with Sky News, Dr Firas Abiad said the government decision to relax coronavirus restrictions over a few fateful days at Christmas and New Year has led to a huge increase in cases and deaths over the past few weeks.

He allowed our cameras into the casualty department and the intensive care unit of the Rafic Hariri University Hospital in Beirut to see the pressure he and his staff are under.

Dr Abiad said all hospitals were reporting full, or almost full, intensive care units – and many have patients stuck in emergency wards, waiting for a bed.

The director of Lebanon's largest coronavirus hospital Dr Firas Abiad said the government decision to relax restrictions over Christmas and New Year has led to a huge increase in cases and healthcare is on the verge of collapse
Dr Abiad said the government has thrown the healthcare system ‘into an abyss’

“Some patients are not able to find a bed and there’s been several cases where patients have died in their homes,” he said.

“If you look at the sharp rise in cases you see that Lebanon is really seeing unprecedented COVID numbers which is even beyond our wildest predictions.

“The number of daily new cases has almost quadrupled since where we were almost a month ago,” said Dr Abiad.

“At the same time we’ve seen that the number of deaths has also tripled and the number of patients in ICU has gone up by almost 100%.”

On 17 December, four days before a nationwide lockdown was due to end, the government decided to ease a series of restrictions for the holiday period.

Under intense pressure from businesses, they allowed nightclubs, bars and restaurants to open at 50% capacity while urging people to wear masks and maintain social distancing.

But videos on social media over Christmas and New Year showed packed clubs and bars. No attempts were made to crackdown on the violations.

“It’s clear that those were catastrophic [decisions] and what has happened is they’ve thrown the whole healthcare system of the country into a major abyss,” said Dr Abiad.

In the casualty department, the pressures are obvious. There is a shortage of beds, drugs, oxygen, ventilators and staff.

It is a relatively modern hospital but it looks sparse, except for the number of patients.

A nurse strokes a patient’s head.

“I am passing out… I am passing out,” he tells the nurse.

“No, no! You’re doing very well. Don’t be scared. Your oxygen is good. 99%. Honestly it’s very good,” she reassures him.

In the next bed is 53-year-old Aida Derawi. She first began to feel unwell 15 days ago. Her family had hoped she would recover at home, but this week things got worse.

“Yesterday I felt I couldn’t take it anymore,” she says. “My back and lungs were aching. My kids took me around to find a hospital but not a single one would accept me.”

Eventually space was found and she is improving slowly.

Nurse Hussein al Khazn tells us that in this wave of the virus, the patients are no longer predominately elderly.

The director of Lebanon's largest coronavirus hospital Dr Firas Abiad said the government decision to relax restrictions over a few fateful days at Christmas and New Year has led to a huge increase in cases and healthcare is on the verge of collapse. Pic: Red Cross volunteer Waad Abdulaad
Red Cross volunteer Waad Abdulaad is very much on Lebanon’s frontline

“Much younger now,” he says. “Before we had 50, 60-year-old patients.

“Now it’s 20, 25, 30-year-old patients and they’re very, very critical – all of them.”

On the other side of the city, we’re given access to the Lebanese Red Cross coordination centre.

In a well-organised control room, a team of volunteers is juggling telephone calls from patients’ families with radio calls to the ambulance teams on the ground.

“So, she’s ill with coronavirus?” a volunteer asks down the line. “So she’s got shortness of breath?”

A radio message is sent to one of the dispatch teams.

“We’re dispatched to a patient that tested positive for COVID and she’s currently suffering from desaturation and vomiting,” volunteer medic Waad Abdulaal says from the passenger seat of the ambulance.

“So we’re going to go ahead, assess her and see if there’s a need to take her to the hospital.”

Lebanon was already in a critical state economically.

Years of accumulative economic mismanagement has led to a slow collapse in every sector of society.

That was then exacerbated by the pandemic and the devastating port explosion last year.

The director of Lebanon's largest coronavirus hospital Dr Firas Abiad said the government decision to relax restrictions over Christmas and New Year has led to a huge increase in cases and healthcare is on the verge of collapse
Ambulance crews carry an 80-year-old woman down a flight of stairs in darkness due to another power cut

Up several flights of a stairwell, in darkness because of yet another power cut, the Red Cross team reaches its patient.

Madame Imad is 80 years old. She tested positive last week and her diabetes is complicating her condition. She needs to go to hospital, but there is an issue finding a bed for her.

The positivity rate across the country this past week has been at 21% (the 14-day rolling average).

That means the community spread of the virus is out of control. It needs to be at 5% before there is any chance of regaining a grip of the crisis.

Calls are made and they think space has been found at a hospital nearby.

Madame Imad is carried down the stairs as her daughter Sophie looks straight into our camera and pleads: “Show them that there are people dying before they reach the hospital.”

The elderly woman did make it to the hospital. But she was sent home again. There were no beds. Her family has told us her condition this weekend has worsened.

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COVID-19: Biden leads candlelit ceremony for COVID victims as US passes half a million deaths | US News



President Joe Biden has led a minute’s silence to honour America’s coronavirus victims after the country became the first to record more than half a million deaths.

As 500 lit candles lined the White House steps to commemorate the dead, a military band played Amazing Grace and the president made his emotional remarks.

“Today we mark a truly grim, heartbreaking milestone – 500,071 dead. That’s more Americans who have died in one year in this pandemic than in World War One, World War Two and the Vietnam War combined,” he said.

“But as we acknowledge the scale of this mass death in America, we remember each person and the life they lived. They’re people we knew.”

There have now been 500,201 COVID-related fatalities in the country as of 2am, and more than 28 million people have been infected, according to the Johns Hopkins coronavirus tracker.

Mr Biden was joined by First Lady Jill Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris and her husband Doug Emhoff, who bowed their heads solemnly as they observed a minute of silence.

The president also urged Americans to set aside their differences, saying: “We must end the politics and misinformation that has divided families, communities and the country, and has cost too many lives already. It’s not Democrats and Republicans who are dying from the virus. It’s our fellow Americans.

“We have to fight this together as one people, as the United States of America.”

Mr Biden has ordered the nation’s flag to be flown at half-mast at the White House, on all public buildings and grounds, and at military posts and naval stations until sunset on Friday.

President Biden said 'we remember each person and the life they lived'
President Biden said ‘we remember each person and the life they lived’

Brazil has the second-highest number of coronavirus deaths globally with about 250,000.

The fact the US leads the world in both death and infection numbers reflected poor planning by the Trump administration, President Biden has previously said.

Confirming the US had bought enough doses “to vaccinate all Americans”, he accused Mr Trump of failing to manage the vaccine rollout.

“While scientists did their job in discovering vaccines in record time, my predecessor – I’ll be very blunt about it – did not do his job in getting ready for the massive challenge of vaccinating hundreds of millions,” he said.

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In December, the US’s average daily deaths linked to COVID-19 touched 2,276 with one daily total exceeding the 2,977 people who lost their lives in the 9/11 terror attacks.

Indigenous Americans are the worst-affected racial group as a percentage of population, recording almost 211 deaths per 100,000 people, Statista said.

Despite Mr Biden’s criticisms, there is cause for hope in the vaccine rollout, with official statistics saying about 64 million jabs had so far been given.

That puts the US on course to exceed the president’s stated target of 100m doses in his government’s first 100 days, though progress was hampered by the recent freezing weather.

And case numbers are also dropping – down to around 100,000 per day this month from 250,000 in January.

It is a far cry from Mr Trump’s optimistic prediction last April, that, even if it did nothing, the US would lose 50,000 to 60,000 people to the virus.

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Third of freshwater fish threatened by extinction with habitats in ‘catastrophic decline’ | World News



Nearly a third of fish living in rivers and lakes around the world are facing extinction as their habitats are in “catastrophic decline”, a report has warned. 

Freshwater species, which make up more than half of the world’s fish species, are central to the livelihoods of 60 million people and the diets of many others.

Some 30% of the 10,336 fish assessed by the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species are at risk of extinction, according to a report from 16 organisations including WWF and the Zoological Society of London (ZSL).

These fields in Norfolk have been rewilded to protect freshwater species
These fields in Norfolk have been rewilded to protect freshwater species

Populations of migratory freshwater fish have fallen by 76% since 1970, while 80 species have been declared extinct.

Burbot and sturgeon are already extinct in the UK, the European eel is critically endangered and salmon have seen significant declines since the 1960s.

Much of the decline in the UK has been driven by the poor state of habitats, with none of England’s rivers meeting “chemical standards” for water quality last year.

This is thought to be a result of agricultural pollution, dams and sewage, WWF said.

Globally, similar habitats face threats such as destruction, dams on free-flowing rivers, too much water being taken for agriculture, and pollution.

Fish are also threatened by destructive fishing practices, overfishing, the impacts of climate change, wildlife crime, mining for sand in their habitats and the introduction of non-native species.

Salmon have seen significant declines since the 1960s
Salmon have seen significant declines since the 1960s

WWF has urged the UK government to support an emergency recovery plan for freshwater wildlife which has been drawn up by a global team of scientists.

The plan would include measures such as reducing pollution, ending overfishing, controlling invasive species and allowing rivers to flow more naturally.

Dave Tickner, chief adviser on freshwater at WWF, said: “Freshwater habitats are some of the most vibrant on earth, but – as this report shows – they are in catastrophic decline around the world.

“Nature is in freefall and the UK is no exception: wildlife struggles to survive, let alone thrive, in our polluted waters.”

A Defra spokesperson said: “We remain committed to working closely with water companies, farmers and the fishing industry to restore healthy fish stocks and habitats both through domestic action and international working.”

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El Chapo’s wife arrested on drug trafficking charges – as she is also accused of plot to break husband out of prison | World News



The wife of the Mexican drug kingpin known as El Chapo has been arrested at a US airport on international drug trafficking charges. 

Emma Coronel Aispuro, 31, was held at Dulles International Airport in Virginia and is expected to appear in federal court later, the US Justice Department said.

She has been accused of conspiring to distribute cocaine, methamphetamine, heroin and marijuana in the US, as well as helping her husband escape prison in Mexico via a secret tunnel in 2015.

Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman is escorted by soldiers during a presentation in Mexico City in 2016
Joaquin ‘El Chapo’ Guzman was once Mexico’s most powerful druglord

Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman was once Mexico’s most powerful drug lord, with his Sinaloa cartel responsible for smuggling mountains of cocaine and other drugs into the US during his 25-year criminal career.

He had first escaped from a Mexican prison in 2001, leading authorities on a 13-year manhunt before he was recaptured.

It was his second major prison break in 2015 that his wife allegedly had a key role in planning.

Guzman managed to escape through an hole under his cell’s shower that led to a mile-long lighted tunnel, using a motorbike on rails to speed up his departure.

The plot included buying a piece of land near the prison, as well as firearms and an armoured truck, and smuggling the drug lord a GPS watch so his allies could “pinpoint his exact whereabouts so as to construct the tunnel with an entry point accessible to him”, court papers say.

Prosecutors say Coronel Aispuro worked with Guzman’s sons and a witness, who is now co-operating with the US government, to organise the construction of the tunnel.

A motorbike on rails was found in the tunnel through which El Chapo escaped jail in 2015
A motorbike on rails was found in the tunnel through which El Chapo escaped jail in 2015

The 31-year-old is also accused of planning yet another prison escape before Guzman was extradited to the US in January 2017.

Guzman was sentenced to life behind bars in 2019.

The infamous criminal was said to have an “army of sicarios” or hitmen who were under orders to kidnap, torture and kill anyone who got in his way.

The 31-year-old will appear in federal court
The 31-year-old will appear in federal court

Coronel Aispuro had regularly attended her husband’s trial.

She remains in custody and it is not yet clear whether she has a lawyer who can comment on the allegations.

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