By Umaru Fofana FREETOWN (Reuters) - Sierra Leone's Kailahun district has gone from Ebola hotspot with up to 80 infections per week in June to a place with zero new cases in the last three weeks, giving hope to those trying to end the deadly outbreak. Close to Guinea where the West African epidemic began, Sierra Leone's first case appeared in Kailahun in May before spreading from the east, killing more than 2,700 people and leaving more than 9,000 infected. The overall pace of infection in the worst-hit country continues to quicken but Kailahun, which had no cases at all as of Dec 29 and just passed 21 days clear of new Ebola cases, offers lessons that can be copied in other districts where the disease is still raging. "We have been embarking on a robust surveillance system to manage all contacts, as well as effective quarantining of homes of confirmed Ebola cases or deaths," said Kailahun District Medical Officer Dr. James Squire. He said success in curbing the spread in the district could be attributed to multiple factors including the early establishment of response structures, proper coordination, the involvement of local leaders and strict respect for rules. The last quarantine on a home was lifted on December 30. Alex Bonapha, the chairman of the Kailahun District, said the council passed by-laws that made it an offence to wash dead bodies or converge in large numbers and the rules were rigidly followed by everyone. "We took all sick people to holding or treatment centres whether or not they had Ebola," he said. "We deprived ourselves of many of our pleasures so we would be where we are today and hopefully we have Ebola behind us." HUNTER TO HUNTED Like the rest of the country and the West Africa region in general, there was denial, ignorance and lack of information around Ebola when the first cases were reported. People carried on with traditional practices such as washing the dead and taking part in gatherings and funeral rites, contributing to the spread of the disease which is transmitted through contact with bodily fluids of the sick or deceased. "There was lots of community resistance. Some areas were not allowing response teams in," said Zabulon Yoti, a WHO team leader who arrived in Kailahun in mid-June when the outbreak was still restricted to the district. With the support of local leaders, the district Ebola Taskforce recruited, trained and equipped 20 volunteers. Some 300 other volunteers were charged with Ebola contact tracing and alerting response teams on any suspect cases or deaths. By the beginning of August it began to pay off as the number of confirmed cases started to level off. "What was really important is that we started to know where transmission chains were located and we were able to link cases to one another," says Dr Yoti in a World Health Organization report. "From being hunted by the virus at the beginning, we started to hunt it down, cutting each transmission chain we found." Despite the success in containing the disease in Kailahun a district of 465,000 where 228 people have died from the disease out of 645 cases, Ebola continues to spread Sierra Leone, especially in the capital Freetown and surrounding areas. The WHO said it is latest report on Wednesday that the virus was still spreading in West Africa, especially in Sierra Leone. The number of known cases globally now exceeds 20,000 and the death toll has risen to over 7,900. The government has announced plans to step up its fight against the disease with a launch of a major operation to contain it, particularly in the areas around the capital, restricting travel and gatherings over the festive season. In his New Year's Day speech, Sierra Leone President Ernest Bai Koroma lauded efforts made by Kailahun and also neighbouring Kenema where infection rates have also been on the decline. However, the head of mission for medical charity Medecins Sans Frontiere Adam Childs urged caution even though its Ebola treatment centre in Kailahun has been empty for two weeks. "We must be careful to call it a success just yet," Childs said. "Certainly the epidemic is not over even though we are relieved at present at the turn of events in Kailahun."
- The Independent
Nancy Pelosi called pro-Trump rioters ‘Putin puppets’ and the Capitol siege a ‘gift’ to the Russian president
A boy who was killed in an alleged murder-suicide by his father has been identified as 9-year-old Pierce O’Loughlin. Family tragedy: The boy and his father, Stephen O'Loughlin, 49, were both found dead at their home on Scott Street, Marina District in San Francisco on Wednesday afternoon, SF Chronicle reports. The boy’s mother, Lesley Hu, asked authorities to check on her son after learning that he did not show up for school that day.
A candidate COVID-19 vaccine known as EpiVacCorona, Russia's second to be registered, proved "100% effective" in early-stage trials, Russian consumer health watchdog Rospotrebnadzor has told local media. The data, based on Phase I and II trials, were released before the start of a larger Phase III trial which would normally involve thousands of participants and a placebo group as a comparison. "The effectiveness of the vaccine is made up of its immunological effectiveness and preventative effectiveness," the TASS news agency reported, citing Rospotrebnadzor.
- National Review
At the outset of the pandemic, the government undertook a deliberate effort to reduce economic activity in what was widely thought to be a necessary measure to slow the spread of COVID-19. Whereas most recessions call for policy that stimulates the economy, the COVID-19 recession called for the opposite — measures that would enable workers and businesses to hit pause until a vaccine or therapeutic became widely available. Now that vaccines are being administered, policy-makers face a different challenge — not keeping Americans inside, but getting them back to work as quickly as possible. In this context, President-elect Biden’s $1.9 trillion stimulus package misses the mark. The proposal gives a nod to public health — with $20 billion allocated to vaccine distribution, $50 billion to testing, and $40 billion to medical supplies and emergency-response teams — but fails to address the most pressing hurdles to COVID-19 immunity. Vaccines sit unused not for lack of funding but thanks to burdensome rules determining which patients can receive shots and which doctors can administer them. Additional spending to speed up vaccine distribution is welcome, but its effects will be muted if bureaucratic hurdles remain in place. Even if the public-health provisions were to succeed in reopening the economy, much of the rest of Biden’s plan guarantees that it will reopen weaker. For one, an expanded unemployment-insurance top-up of $400 a week would mean more than 40 percent of those receiving unemployment benefits would make more off-the-job than on-the-job at least until September, and possibly for longer. The food-service and retail industries hit hardest by the pandemic would see the largest shortfalls in labor, exacerbating the challenges they’ve faced over the past year. Enhanced unemployment may have been reasonable when we wanted workers to stay home, but it’s catastrophic when we want them to go back to work. Meanwhile, Biden’s proposed minimum-wage increase to $15 nationally would eliminate an estimated 1.3 million jobs, hitting low-income states hardest. In Mississippi, where the median wage is $15, as many as half the state’s workers would be at risk. A minimum-wage hike may be high on the Democratic wish list, but it does not belong in an emergency-relief bill. The Biden plan isn’t all Democratic priorities, though. He took a page from Trump’s book and proposed $1,400 checks to households, bringing the second-round total to $2,000. With household income now 8 percent above the pre-pandemic trend, additional checks would do little more than pad savings accounts. Indeed, 80 percent of the recipients of last year’s checks put the money into savings or debt payments, not consumption. The flagship item in Biden’s plan would do little to spur economic growth even on Keynesian assumptions. The same goes for state and local aid, for which Biden is seeking $370 billion on top of $170 billion in public-education grants. The total of $540 billion far surpasses the roughly $50 billion hit to state and local tax revenues last year. As we wrote in December, states and cities are slow to spend federal grants, so the lion’s share of this stimulus would not show up until 2023. Rather than attempting to stimulate the economy, Biden is hoping to launder bailouts of profligate Democratic states through COVID-19 relief. Other parts of the bill — expansions of the earned-income and child-tax credits — are defensible long-term structural reforms, but as year-long emergency measures, they will have the same muted effect as direct checks. By including a slew of proposals unrelated to the pandemic, Biden has weakened his hand in negotiations and made it less likely that urgent measures pass quickly. In the depths of the COVID-19 pandemic, economic policy-makers rose to the occasion. Following an unprecedented external shock, the U.S. economy has emerged in relatively good shape, with less unemployment and bankruptcy than most feared. But the policies implemented to curb COVID-19 are not suited for what will begin to become, over the course of this year, a post-pandemic economy. Biden may have campaigned during a recession, but he is taking office during a recovery. He should govern accordingly.
- The Independent
‘If you turn me in, you’re a traitor and you know what happens to traitors...traitors get shot,' he told his children
Yosemite National Park officials are asking the public’s help for any information regarding a 41-year-old Asian woman who went missing after going on a day hike to the Upper Yosemite Fall last week. The woman was identified as "Alice" Yu Xie, a Chinese national living in the United States, according to a post shared by the park on Saturday. “If you were on the trail to the top of Yosemite Falls on January 14 or 15, 2021, even if you did not see this individual, or have any information regarding this individual, please call 209/372-0216 during business hours, or Yosemite Emergency Communications Center at 209/379-1992 after hours,” the park said.
The United States called on China on Monday to allow an expert team from the World Health Organization (WHO) to interview "care givers, former patients and lab workers" in the central city of Wuhan, drawing a rebuke from Beijing. The team of WHO-led independent experts trying to determine the origins of the new coronavirus arrived on Jan. 14 in Wuhan where they are holding teleconferences with Chinese counterparts during a two-week quarantine before starting work on the ground. The United States, which has accused China of hiding the extent of its initial outbreak, has called for a "transparent" WHO-led investigation and criticised the terms of the visit, under which Chinese experts have done the first phase of research.
- The Telegraph
Joe Biden’s second son was a primary target for attacks by Donald Trump during the bitter 2020 presidential campaign. Indeed, it was Trump’s accusations of impropriety on behalf of Hunter Biden that led him to threaten to withhold $391 million (£289 million) in military aid to Ukraine unless they investigated the Biden family’s business dealings. That threat led to the first impeachment of Trump. Born in 1970 to Joe and his first wife Neilia, Hunter’s early life was marred by tragedy. When he was just two years old, he was seriously injured in a car crash that killed his mother and younger sister, Naomi. Family tragedy would strike again in 2015, when his older brother Beau, who served as the Attorney General for the state of Delaware, died of brain cancer aged just 46. Unlike his father and brother, Hunter Biden has attempted to stay away from front-line politics. After graduating from Yale Law School, he joined MBNA Bank, which provided significant contributions to his father’s political campaigns. After a brief stint as a lobbyist, he was appointed by George W Bush to the board of directors of Amtrak, the state-owned railway network company. Live US news updates as Trump leaves office and Biden prepares to be sworn in
- Associated Press
At least four people were injured Monday in a string of shootings that prompted an order to shelter in place for a Pennsylvania community in the Pocono Mountains, authorities said. Shots rang out not far from each other in at least four different areas of Monroe County, Pennsylvania. A woman was flown to a hospital with a gunshot wound to her back, while another victim appeared to be shot in the head, Pocono Mountain Regional Police Chief Chris Wagner said at a Monday night news conference, during which he said no suspects had been arrested.
The officer who may have saved the life of Vice President Mike Pence could now be giving him the side-eye. The cop hailed as a hero for leading a crowd of insurrectionists away from the Senate floor and potentially saving hundreds of lawmakers’ lives has, perhaps, left the vice president on read. Vice President Mike Pence has reportedly reached out to thank Capitol Police Officer Eugene Goodman for his heroism on Jan. 6, but they have yet to connect.
China's Sinovac Biotech said on Monday that a clinical trial in Brazil showed its COVID-19 vaccine was almost 20 percentage points more effective in a small sub-group of patients who received their two doses longer apart. The protection rate for 1,394 participants who received doses of either CoronaVac or placebo three weeks apart was nearly 70%, a Sinovac spokesman said. Brazilian researchers announced last week that the vaccine's overall efficacy was 50.4% based on results from more than 9,000 volunteers, most of whom received doses 14 days apart, as outlined in the trial protocol.
- National Review
President Trump signed an executive order on Monday expanding access to personal firearms for federal law enforcement officials. The order is one of the last of Trump’s presidency, with Joe Biden set to be sworn into office on Wednesday. The purpose of the order is to remove “undue obstacles” for law enforcement officers and prosecutors to obtain concealed carry licenses, as well as to expand protections for prosecutors and judges. “It shall be the policy of the United States to remove any undue obstacle preventing current or retired Federal law enforcement officers from carrying a concealed firearm,” the order states. The order also directs the U.S. Attorney General to “propose a regulation…to provide that the special deputation as a Deputy United States Marshall shall be granted upon request to any Federal prosecutor” who faces risk of harm as a result of his or her work. The special deputation would grant a prosecutor the right to concealed carry of a firearm. It is unclear if the incoming Biden administration will work to carry out the order. Biden announced earlier this month that he will nominate Merrick Garland, the prosecutor who headed the investigation against Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh, to the position of attorney general. Biden himself is preparing several executive orders for the first days of his presidency, in an attempt to reverse several Trump administration policies. Among other issues, Biden will rejoin the Paris Climate Accords and end Trump’s immigration restrictions on some Muslim-majority nations.
- The Telegraph
Pfizer vaccine recipients are unlikely to transmit the virus to others, according to the author of an Israeli study. Participants in the survey developed up to 20 times more antibodies within a week of receiving the second dose of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine. The survey, which reviewed data from 102 of about 1,000 of the Sheba Medical Centre’s medical staff who have received both shots, showed that only two subjects have developed low amounts of antibodies - one of the subjects suffered from a compromised immune system. There was no explanation for why the second person did not develop antibodies, and the hospital said it was investigating the matter. The rest - 98 per cent - have developed levels of antibodies that were even higher than patients who have recovered from a serious coronavirus-induced condition, the hospital said in a statement released on Monday.
- Associated Press
Pakistan’s prime minister reacted angrily Monday to media reports of a text exchange between an Indian TV anchor and a former media industry executive that suggests a 2019 Indian airstrike inside Pakistan was designed to boost Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s chances for reelection. Imran Khan took to Twitter to respond to Indian media reports of an exchange on the WhatsApp messaging service between popular Indian TV anchor Arnab Goswami and Partho Dasgupta, the former head of a TV rating company.
- Yahoo News Video
The spokesman for Republican U.S. Rep. Lauren Boebert has quit less than two weeks after she was sworn into office, saying he felt like he need to due to the insurrection at the nation's Capitol.
- The Independent
Trump news – live: Biden team hits back at decision to reopen travel to UK and Brazil despite Covid surge
Follow the latest updates
Uganda accused the U.S. ambassador on Tuesday of seeking to subvert last week's presidential election by trying to visit the main opposition candidate at his home, which has been surrounded by security forces since the vote. Troops prevented pop star-turned-legislator Bobi Wine from leaving his house shortly after he returned from voting in Thursday's presidential election, in which he ran against incumbent Yoweri Museveni. On Tuesday Wine said he and his wife had run out of food, and milk for her 18-month-old niece.
- The Telegraph
Scientists say Colombia must cull its so-called “cocaine hippos” that roam the Magdalena river basin as they are breeding voraciously and are an increasing menace. The marshlands of Colombia have been home to these giant mammals since they were illegally imported in the late 1980s by the notorious drug lord, Pablo Escobar. When he was shot dead in 1993, the Colombian government took control of his extravagant estate, including his personal zoo. Most of the animals were shipped away, but four hippos were left to fend for themselves in a pond, and now there are dozens of them living in the wild. Although nobody knows exactly how many there are, estimates put the total number between 80 and 100, making them the largest invasive species on the planet. Scientists forecast that the number of hippos will swell to almost 1,500 by 2040. They conclude, that at that point, environmental impacts will be irreversible and numbers impossible to control. “Nobody likes the idea of shooting a hippo, but we have to accept that no other strategy is going to work,” ecologist Nataly Castelblanco-Martínez told The Telegraph.
Kevin McCarthy warned members to not call out colleagues by name, citing potential political violence
Members of the House Republican Conference ignored leader Kevin McCarthy last week when he warned them against criticizing colleagues by name based on intelligence that doing so could trigger more political violence. Why it matters: McCarthy made clear that name-dropping opponents, instead of spelling out complaints in more general terms, can put a literal target on a politician, especially with tensions so high following the events of Jan. 6.Get smarter, faster with the news CEOs, entrepreneurs and top politicians read. Sign up for Axios Newsletters here.That's what happened to Rep. Liz Cheney, the GOP conference chairperson, after she said she would support impeaching President Trump. * She and several other members had to increase their security and take extra precautions because of death threats and other alarming warnings after their colleagues singled them out in their complaints.What McCarthy said: The House minority leader issued his warning during a conference call last Monday. He said his concern was driven by the FBI briefings he receives. * "It doesn’t matter which side of the position you were: I respect it, I respect why you did what you did. But what we are saying on television, when we say a member’s name. ... This is not the moment in time to do it." * "You can incite something else. The country is very divided and we know this. Let’s not put any member, I don’t care who they are Republican, Democrat or any person not even in Congress. Watch our words closely. I get these reports on a weekly basis. I’ve seen something I haven’t seen before.”Several minutes later, McCarthy repeated the message: “Emotions are high. What you say matters. Let’s not put other people in danger. Let’s watch what words we’re using and definitely not be using other members' names in any media.”Days later, some GOP members ignored him and openly criticized their colleagues * Rep. Adam Kinzinger tweeted that the name of his Republican colleague, Rep. Majorie Taylor Greene, "will be one forgotten by next January." * Rep. Lauren Boebart (R-Colo.) mocked Speaker Nancy Pelosi over the House's new mask fines.One of the most blatant attacks, leading to a media firestorm, was when several members of the House Freedom Caucus went after Cheney for voting to impeach Trump. * On the day of the vote, the members circulated a petition to remove her from her leadership role. * Cheney is now fielding a series of threats against her, many from fiery Trump supporters angered by her vote, a source with direct knowledge of the threat said. * “We don’t comment on security matters,” Cheney’s communications director, Jeremy Adler, told Axios.What we’re hearing: McCarthy's team told Axios he isn't looking for repercussions. Spokesman Matt Sparks said the leader wants to lower the temperature and is encouraging members to be mindful of the current environment.Be smart: sign up FREE for the most influential newsletter in America.
- The Independent
The latest updates from the White House and beyond on 17 January 2021