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WHO Reports Global COVID Mortality Undercounted By 10 Million

By Jennifer Rigby

(Reuters) - Almost three times as many people have died as a result of COVID-19 as official data show, according to a new World Health Organization (WHO) report, the most comprehensive look at the true global toll of the pandemic so far.

There were 14.9 million excess deaths associated with COVID-19 by the end of 2021, the U.N. body said on Thursday.

The official count of deaths directly attributable to COVID-19 and reported to WHO in that period, from January 2020 to the end of December 2021, is slightly more than 5.4 million.

The WHO's excess mortality figures reflect people who died of COVID-19 as well as those who died as an indirect result of the outbreak, including people who could not access healthcare for other conditions when systems were overwhelmed during huge waves of infection.

It also accounts for deaths averted during the pandemic, for example because of the lower risk of traffic accidents during lockdowns.

But the numbers are also far higher than the official tally because of deaths that were missed in countries without adequate reporting. Even pre-pandemic, around six in 10 deaths around the world were not registered, WHO said.

The WHO report said that almost half of the deaths that until now had not been counted were in India. The report suggests that 4.7 million people died there as a result of the pandemic, mainly during a huge surge in May and June 2021.

The Indian government, however, puts its death toll for the January 2020-December 2021 period far lower: about 480,000.

WHO said it had not yet fully examined new data provided this week by India, which has pushed back against the WHO estimates and issued its own mortality figures for all causes of death in 2020 on Tuesday. WHO said it may add a disclaimer to the report highlighting the ongoing conversation with India.

In a statement issued after the numbers were published, the Indian government said WHO had released the report "without adequately addressing India's concerns" over what it called "questionable" methods.

The WHO panel, made up of international experts who have been working on the data for months, used a combination of national and local information, as well as statistical models, to estimate totals where the data is incomplete – a methodology that India has criticised.

However, other independent assessments have also put the death toll in India far higher than the official government tally, including a report published in Science which suggested 3 million people may have died of COVID in the country.

Other models have also reached similar conclusions about the global death toll being far higher than the recorded statistics. For comparison, around 50 million people are thought to have died in the 1918 Spanish Flu pandemic, and 36 million have died of HIV since the epidemic began in the 1980s.

Samira Asma, WHO assistant director general for data, analytics and delivery for impact, who co-led the calculation process, said data was the "lifeblood of public health" needed to assess and learn from what happened during the pandemic.

She called for more support for countries to improve reporting.

"Too much is unknown," she told reporters in a press briefing.

(Reporting by Jennifer Rigby; additional reporting by Leroy Leo in Bengaluru; editing by William Maclean and Hugh Lawson)

Psaki Bomb Drops On Fox Reporter, Highlighting His Deep Ignorance

Reprinted with permission from Alternet

White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki was forced to kick off the week by explaining to Fox News reporter Peter Doocy how international investigations work. Doocy asked why the U.S. government didn't just bypass the World Health Organization (WHO) and ram through a separate investigation into the origins of the novel coronavirus that has killed about 600,000 Americans.

Fox News has spent more than a year minimizing COVID-19, its dangers, the ways individuals can protect themselves and others from the deadly virus, mocked – if not slandered – those who are working to do just that, and then fear-mongered around the coronavirus vaccine.

"I think you're misunderstanding how this process actually works," Psaki had to tell Doocy. "First of all, we need access to the underlying data and information in order to have that investigation."

China and the WHO have refused to be sufficiently transparent.

"With 589,920 dead Americans, at what point is President Biden [going to] say, we don't want to wait for the WHO? We don't know what they're doing," Doocy demanded, trying to make foreign policy from a seat in the White House press briefing room. "This needs to be an American led effort to get to the bottom of what happened?"

Doocy went on to try to mock President Joe Biden, saying that "he talks all the time about how he's known President Xi for a long time. So why can't he just call?"

"Why isn't President Biden pushing for more access more information to get to the bottom of exactly what happened?" he also asked.

"We are," Psaki replied, "and we have repeatedly called for the WHO to support an expert driven evaluation of the pandemic's origins, that is free from interference or polarization."

"An international investigation," she also said, "led by the World Health Organization is something that we've actually been pressing for, for several months, in coordination with a range of partners around the world. We need that data. We need that information from the Chinese government, what we can't do and what I would caution anyone doing is leaping ahead of an actual international process. We don't have enough data and information to jump to a conclusion at this point in time."

"So," Doocy, whose network has worked around the clock to attack those concerned about the spread of the coronavirus, asked, "is there any amount of casualties from COVID in this country that would make you want to not wait for an international effort and just do it?"

Psaki refused to allow him to bully the American people.

"Well, I have to say, I think the family members of the loved ones whose lives have been lost deserve accurate information, data, not the jumping to a conclusion without having the information necessary to conclude what the origins are, what we do share. Everyone in this country has a desire to know how this started, where it started and prevent it from ever happening again. That's something we all share."

Watch:

Biden Starts Work With 15 Executive Actions Today

Reprinted with permission from American Independent

Hours after taking the oath of office, President Joe Biden will immediately begin cleaning up the mess Donald Trump made over the past four years.

On Wednesday, he will sign 15 executive orders and two directives to reset the federal government's approach to a wide array of issues.

These are the executive actions the Biden team says the president will sign.

COVID-19 mask mandate

Trump consistently refused to wear a mask or to encourage Americans to do so to curb the spread of the coronavirus, mocking them as "politically correct." President Biden will order mask use and social distancing on federal property and challenge every American to wear a face mask for the next 100 days.

Return To The World Health Organization

Trump announced in April that he would stop funding the World Health Organization in the middle of the pandemic, scapegoating it for the coronavirus' spread and his own botched response. Biden will end the withdrawal process and resume international public health cooperation.

Coordinated COVID-19 Response

After intentionally misleading the public and playing down the threat of the coronavirus, Trump lost interest in the crisis and did little to address it. Biden will designate a COVID-19 response coordinator to oversee improved testing, protection, and vaccination.

Eviction And Foreclosure Moratoriums

Thanks to Trump's failed response to the pandemic, millions of Americans have lost their jobs and fallen into poverty. Biden will urge government agencies to extend moratoriums on evictions and mortgage foreclosures until at least March 31.

Freezing Federal Student Loan Payments

With the ongoing economic troubles affecting many Americans with educational debt, Biden will also ask for an extension on existing freezes on principal and interest payments on direct federal loans until at least Sept. 30.

Rejoining Paris Climate Agreement

Trump, who once dismissed climate change as a hoax "created by and for the Chinese" to hurt American manufacturers, began the formal withdrawal of the United States from the 2015 Paris climate agreement in 2019. The accords aim to significantly limit the rise in global temperatures by reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Biden, who campaigned on a promise of taking environmental protection seriously, will immediately rejoin the agreement.

Undoing Anti-Environmental Actions

Biden will also take a series of actions to undo Trump's efforts to destroy the planet and climate. These will include beginning the long process of eliminating his pro-polluter regulations, revising fuel economy and emissions standards, protecting public lands, halting the destruction of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, and revoking the permit for the Keystone XL oil pipeline.

Ending Systemic Racism

Trump, who spent much of his term spouting his own racist views, took numerous steps to combat anti-racism education. Biden will order his administration to focus on "advancing racial equity for all" and will eliminate Trump's racist 1776 Commission, which sought to block schools from teaching kids about America's true history of slavery and discrimination.

Counting All Immigrants In Census

Trump repeatedly tried to find ways to exclude immigrants from the 2020 census and to leave out undocumented people. Biden will ensure an accurate count of the population as required by the Constitution.

Protecting Dreamers

Trump sought for years to eliminate the Obama administration's Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which offered legal protections for hundreds of thousands of young immigrants brought to the United States as children. The Supreme Court halted his efforts due to a paperwork error. Biden will restore and expand the program as he works to enact comprehensive immigration reform legislation.

Ending Muslim Ban

As a candidate in 2015, Trump promised a "total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States until our country's representatives can figure out what's going on." Once he took office, he banned travel from a number of majority-Muslim countries. Biden will eliminate this racist policy.

Stopping Extreme Immigration Policies

Trump issued an order in 2017 prioritizing the arrest and deportation of undocumented immigrants. Biden will revoke this order, allowing his administration "to set civil immigration enforcement policies that best protect the American people and are in line with our values and priorities."

Ending Construction Of Trump Border Wall

Trump's signature promise during the 2016 presidential campaign was to immediately build a massive wall along the entire U.S.-Mexican border, to be paid for entirely by Mexico. Instead, American taxpayers spent $15 billion to fortify existing fencing and build just 12 new miles of wall. Biden will immediately stop construction.

Protecting Liberian Immigrants

Biden will protect Liberian immigrants who have long been in the United States, extending existing protections until June 30, 2022. This extends a decadeslong program Trump sought to wind down.

Fighting Anti-LGBTQ Discrimination

Trump spent four years systematically rolling back protections for LGBTQ Americans. Biden will reaffirm protections against discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.

Government Ethics Reform

Trump broke his promise to "drain the swamp" of government in nearly every way possible. Biden will order every executive branch appointee to adopt and adhere to an ethics pledge.

Fixing Regulatory Process

Trump issued orders making it nearly impossible for the government to protect consumers, workers, and the planet through regulations. Biden will repeal those restrictions, while putting on hold all of Trump's last-minute regulatory actions.

In a press release on Wednesday, his transition team said, "President-elect Biden will take action — not just to reverse the gravest damages of the Trump administration — but also to start moving our country forward."

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.

Inside Trump’s Decision To Leave The World Health Organization

ProPublica is a Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative newsroom. Sign up for The Big Story newsletter to receive stories like this one in your inbox.

Right before President Donald Trump unveiled punitive measures against China on May 29, he inserted a surprise into his prepared text.

“We will be today terminating our relationship with the World Health Organization," he announced during a press conference in the Rose Garden.

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WHO Suspends Clinical Trials For Drug Trump Touted As Miracle Treatment

Reprinted with permission from Alternet

President Donald Trump has relentlessly promoted the anti-malaria drug hydroxychloroquine as a possible treatment for COVID-19 — and many health experts have been warning that not only is there no evidence it could prevent COVID-19, but also, that it could have dangerous side effects. Now, the World Health Organization, according to The Independent, has announced the suspension of its clinical trial for hydroxychloroquine.

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Leaked Memo Shows Officials Warned Trump Against Defunding WHO


An internal memorandum written by U.S. officials and addressed to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo warns that cutting funding to the World Health Organization, as President Donald Trump said he would do Tuesday, would erode America's global standing, threaten U.S. lives and hobble global efforts to combat the coronavirus pandemic.

The memo, which was prepared before Trump's Rose Garden announcement, was written by officials within the State Department's Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs and includes a detailed list of how U.S. funding to the WHO helps countries in the Middle East control the pandemic.

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World Health Organization Issues Stern Warning Against Early End To Pandemic Restraints

The World Health Organization on Wednesday came out against sending people back to work and school in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic, saying that ending social distancing measures too soon could worsen the ongoing outbreak.

“These measures are the best way to suppress and stop transmission, so that when restrictions are lifted, the coronavirus doesn’t resurge,” Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO director general, said at a news conference on Wednesday.

“The last thing any country needs is to open schools and businesses, only to be forced to close them again because of a resurgence.”

Ghebreyesus’ comments come as Donald Trump pushes to lift social distancing measures in the United States by Easter, a little more than two weeks away. Public health experts have warned repeatedly that it is far too early to reopen the country and that doing so would likely worsen spread of the virus.

Trump however has argued that the human toll from the outbreak won’t be as bad as its impacts on the economy, if businesses are forced to remain closed.

Several GOP lawmakers, as well as right-wing personalities, have adopted that language, going as far as suggesting elderly people more at risk of contracting COVID-19 disease should sacrifice their lives for the sake of the economy.

Right-wing media personality Glenn Beck said this week, “Even if we all get sick, I would rather die than kill the country.”

Ghebreyesus did not mention Trump or the United States specifically in his remarks on Wednesday.

The WHO director did note that countries needed to protect the elderly who were at high risk of being impacted by the virus.

“We need to work together to protect older people from the coronavirus, and to ensure their needs are being met — for food, fuel, prescription medication, and human interaction,” he said.

So far, it’s unclear whether Trump will officially call for an end of social distancing measures by Easter.

Ghebreyesus issued a dire warning on Wednesday, stating that if social distancing measures are lifted too soon, more lives will be lost.

“Already we have lost more than 16,000 lives. We know we will lose more — how many more will be determined by the decisions we make and the actions we take,” Ghebreyesus said.

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.

Quick & Healthy: Take A Walk

“Quick & Healthy” offers some highlights from the world of health and wellness that you may have missed this week:

  • Please get up and take a quick walk around the block before finishing this article. It could save your life. Every week seems to bring a new study indicating that sitting down at our desks is slowly killing us with diabetes, obesity, heart problems, and so on. A new study suggests that taking even a mere two-minute stroll per hour could mitigate the risks from oversitting, and provide long-term benefits.
  • And while you’re out on your walk, perhaps take some time to get yourself screened for cancer. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the majority of adults do not get the recommended number of screenings for colorectal, breast, and cervical cancers. These findings come from the CDC’s weekly Morbidity and Mortality Report, and unfortunately show very little change from previous years’ reports.
  • After decades of maintaining a policy that barred gay men from donating blood, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has drafted new recommendations to lift the ban. Beginning in 1985, as a response to the AIDS crisis, the FDA issued recommendations to blood establishments to defer donations from gay men indefinitely, and codified those recommendations in a 1992 memo, which has remained in place ever since. Gay rights advocates have long decried the ban as arbitrary and discriminatory, since HIV — the virus that causes AIDS — can be transmitted through heterosexual intercourse, and we now have advanced blood-screening protocols that were not available in the 1980s and early ’90s.
  • The World Health organization (WHO) released its World Health Statistics report Wednesday. Among the good news: If things stay on track, the world will have met global targets for turning around the epidemics of HIV, malaria, and tuberculosis and increasing access to safe drinking water. The work continues, however. Read the complete report here.

Photo: Paolo Margari via Flickr