- Infections in US have receded sharply since hitting record levels in January.
- Most of the United States is considered to have low transmission.
- CDC estimates BA.2 made up 22.3% of circulating variants for week ending March 12.
The BA.2 sub-variant of Omicron makes up over a third of all coronavirus variants circulating in the United States, according to an estimate from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on Tuesday.
COVID-19 infections in the United States have receded sharply since hitting record levels in January, although a coronavirus resurgence in parts of Asia and Europe due to the BA.2 sub-variant has raised some concerns.
As of March 20, the seven-day moving average of US COVID-19 cases was 27,786, down 17.6% from a week earlier.
Most of the United States is considered to have low transmission, under new CDC guidelines introduced last month, which emphasised hospitalization rates and advised most Americans they no longer needed to wear masks.
Other Omicron sub-variants that have been circulating since December —called BA.1.1 and BA.1.1.529 — now make up around 57.3% and 7.9%, respectively, of circulating variants.
The CDC estimates that BA.2 made up 22.3% of circulating variants in the country for the week ending March 12, revised down from 23.1%, according to a CDC model that estimates proportions of circulating variants.
The CDC has in the past revised its estimates as it gets more data.
Saudi crown prince MBS holds ‘frank, productive’ talks with Iranian foreign minister
- Talks held in cordial, frank atmosphere as relations are thawing.
- Agreement reached on the security, development of all in region.
- In last huddle Iranian side said things were moving on right track.
Saudi Arabian Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) Friday held discussions with Iran’s Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian, marking the most significant level of bilateral talks since their reconciliation in March, Reuters reported.
Taking place unexpectedly in Jeddah, this meeting occurred a day subsequent to Amirabdollahian’s arrival in Saudi Arabia.
Amirabdollahian had previously engaged in discussions with his Saudi counterpart, Prince Faisal bin Farhan, and expressed his belief that the relations between the two countries were “on the right track.”
“Discussions were frank, beneficial and productive,” Amirabdollahian said in a social media post after meeting MbS, adding that the countries “agree on the security and development of all in the region”.
Footage of the meeting on Iranian state media showed MbS and Amirabdollahian smiling as they spoke, while Prince Faisal and the Iranian delegation looked on. Saudi state news agency SPA said they discussed international and regional developments.
The rivalry between Iran’s revolutionary leaders and Saudi Arabia’s ruling family dominated the Middle East for years as they competed for influence in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Yemen and Bahrain amid a wave of sectarian bloodshed.
However, China brokered a rapprochement in March leading to a resumption of full diplomatic relations, which Saudi Arabia had broken off in 2016 when protesters attacked its Tehran embassy over Riyadh’s execution of a prominent Shi’ite cleric.
Prince Faisal visited Tehran in June and said he hoped Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi would visit the kingdom at the “appropriate time”.
After years of competition, and with some of the main regional arenas for their competition more stable than in previous years, both sides have reason to change tack.
Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei wanted to end political and economic isolation pushed by the United States and saw new relations with Saudi Arabia as a way to do so, Iranian officials have said.
Saudi Arabia had meanwhile lost confidence in the US commitment to shared regional security concerns and wanted to bolster ties with China, which has retained good relations with Iran.
This month it succeeded in getting China to attend a diplomatic meeting on Ukraine that Beijing had earlier avoided.
Prince Faisal also spoke by phone with US Secretary General Antony Blinken, with the pair discussing more coordination to boost “security and stability in the Middle East region,” Saudi state media reported on Friday.
E-cigarettes as harmful as regular ones. Are there any alternatives?
Doctors are increasingly advising against the use of e-cigarettes, citing mounting evidence of their significant negative impact on health, even as a means to quit smoking.
Dr Petros Levounis, President of the American Psychiatric Association and Chair of the Department of Psychiatry at Rutgers New Jersey Medical School asserts that for current smokers, there are powerful, safe, and FDA-approved interventions available.
Recent medical guidelines from the American College of Cardiology, released in July, strongly discourage the use of e-cigarettes, particularly in individuals with chronic heart disease.
Dr Naomi Hamburg, a Cardiologist and Professor of Medicine at Boston University, highlights that even in young people, e-cigarettes have been shown to raise heart rate, and blood pressure, and disrupt blood vessel relaxation. Opting for a proven safe alternative is highly recommended.
While the FDA acknowledges that e-cigarettes may contain fewer harmful chemicals than traditional cigarettes, it maintains that no tobacco products are deemed safe.
Dr Jason Rose, a pulmonary and critical care physician, as well as an associate professor of medicine and associate dean for innovation and physician science at The University of Maryland School of Medicine, underscores that it is not possible to conclude that e-cigarettes are safer than cigarettes.
Doctors caution against a “dual use pattern,” where individuals attempting to quit smoking may turn to e-cigarettes in addition to traditional cigarettes.
This practice can have a particularly harmful combined effect on blood vessels, increasing the risk of heart disease, stroke, and other cardiovascular problems.
Frances Daniels, a parent and volunteer at Parents Against Vaping, shares the distressing story of her 17-year-old child who used e-cigarettes recreationally and ended up in the Intensive Care Unit for five weeks due to EVALI (e-cigarette or vaping product use-associated lung injury).
While Daniels’ child ultimately recovered without a lung transplant, the experience was agonizing.
For smoking cessation, doctors recommend sticking to FDA-approved products.
Options include Nicotine Replacement Therapy (NRT) like patches, gum, or inhalers, as well as medications such as Bupropion or Varenicline. Combining NRTs, like the patch and gum, is often suggested.
In some cases, psychosocial options such as cognitive behavioural therapy can be beneficial.
While e-cigarettes lack FDA approval as smoking cessation tools, companies continue to seek such approval.
The FDA insists that further research is needed to establish their safety for those seeking to quit tobacco cigarettes.
In the realm of smoking cessation tools, e-cigarettes are deemed less than ideal, with safer and scientifically proven alternatives available, according to Dr Hamburg.
Children among 6 killed in China kindergarten stabbing
- The 25-year-old suspect with surname Wi arrested.
- Media reports confirm children also among victims.
- Social media users demand capital punishment for stabber.
A stabbing rampage in a kindergarten in the Chinese province of Guangdong left at least six people dead and one injured, authorities said Monday, sparking fears about the safety of children’s schools.
The 25-year-old suspect with surname Wi was arrested and authorities have started an investigation into the stabbing.
According to media reports, the incident in Lianjiang County in the southern province was a stabbing, with some reporting that victims also include children.
While violent crime is rare in China due to strict gun laws and tight security, incidents of stabbings at pre-schools over the past few years have raised concerns about school safety.
The latest stabbing in China sparked emotive debate on the Weibo social media platform. By 1:50pm (0550 GMT) it was the top-trending discussion, with 290 million views.
Some social media users called for the suspect to face the death penalty.
“It’s outrageous to do this to children who have no power at all. How many families will be destroyed by this … I support the death penalty,” one Weibo user said.
Another user questioned security at schools, especially after similar previous attacks.
“Why do such cases still continue to emerge?”
Last year in August, at least three people lost their lives and six were injured in a stabbing at a kindergarten in the southern province of Jiangxi.
In 2021, a man killed two children and wounded 16 at a kindergarten in the southwestern region of Guangxi.
Attacks on children have also thrown a spotlight on mental health, which often goes under the radar due to the cultural stigma attached to mental illnesses.
In 2017, a 22-year-old man set off an explosive device outside a kindergarten in Jiangsu province, killing himself and a few others while wounding dozens.
According to state media, the man had a neurological disorder and scrawled words for death on the walls of his home.
Last month, a series of violent attacks in Hong Kong also raised the issue of mental health.
Mental health experts point to the COVID-19 pandemic as a major factor behind an increase in mental health problems.
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