AUSTIN, TEXAS - The governor of Texas issued a disaster declaration on Sunday (Sept 27) for a Gulf Coast county where a 6-year-old boy died after being infected by a brain-eating amoeba and the organism was found in the water supply.
In early September, Brazoria County health officials alerted the city of Lake Jackson, Texas, about 90km south of Houston, about a boy who was hospitalised with the amoeba, naegleria fowleri.
The organism is typically found in warm freshwater lakes and rivers, and people are exposed when it enters the body through the nose, according to the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). It travels up the nose to the brain, where it destroys brain tissue.
The boy's family believed he had been exposed to the single-celled organism from a water hose at his home or from a city splash pad, where water spurts up from the ground, city officials said in a news release.
The city closed the splash pad, and multiple tests were conducted with help from the CDC and the Texas Department of State Health Services.
Three of the 11 samples collected tested "preliminary positive." Those samples were from a "dead end fire hydrant downtown," a "splash pad storage tank" and the boy's "home hose bib," according to the city.
On Friday evening, the Brazosport Water Authority released a "do not use" water advisory for eight Texas cities, under direction from the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality.
By Saturday, the warning was lifted in all cities - except for Lake Jackson - and Mayor Bob Sipple of Lake Jackson issued a disaster declaration.
"The impact of this threat is severe," the mayor said in an emergency request to Governor Greg Abbott of Texas. "The potential damages include: sickness and death."
Later Saturday evening, the warning was lifted from the city, but officials placed a boil notice into effect. Over the weekend, Lake Jackson residents flocked to grocery stores, stocking up on water bottles in light of city advisories.
People cannot be infected by drinking water containing the amoeba, according to the CDC.
The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality recommends people avoid water-related activities and remain vigilant to water going into the nose while bathing. The agency said it was working with city officials "on a plan to flush and disinfect the water system."
Mr Abbott released a disaster declaration Sunday afternoon for Brazoria County, which encompasses Lake Jackson. The designation authorises the use of additional state resources to deal with the emergency.
Mr Brian McGovern, a spokesman for the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, said danger from the amoeba comes from water entering the body through the nose.
"If it gets up into the nose, that can cause a rare but lethal infection," Mr McGovern said.
The yearly number of cases ranges from zero to eight, the CDC reports. Most cases documented in the United States have occurred in children and adolescents.
RIYADH - The Group of 20 (G-20) Leaders' Summit, which had been planned for Saudi Arabia's capital Riyadh, will now be held "virtually" on Nov 21-22, according to a statement posted to the G-20 website.
The G-20 summit gathers leaders of the world's most powerful nations together for a multiday meeting.
The agenda this year "will focus on protecting lives and restoring growth, by addressing vulnerabilities uncovered during the pandemic and by laying down the foundations for a better future," according to the statement.
"The G-20 has contributed over US$21 billion (S$28.89 billion) to support the production, distribution and access to diagnostics, therapeutics and vaccines," the statement said.
It has also injected US$11 trillion to safeguard the global economy and launched a debt suspension initiative for least developed countries allowing them to defer US$14 billion in debt payments due this year.
Saudi officials have been trying to salvage the set piece event, which would allow its rulers to host the world's most important political leaders.
It also offers a chance to rehabilitate the kingdom's reputation after the murder of government critic Jamal Khashoggi two years ago.
But the annual schedule of multilateral meetings has been derailed by the coronavirus pandemic.
The United Nations General Assembly, which usually brings 10,000 diplomats and scores of world leaders to Manhattan, was held virtually earlier this month.
As with the UN, the absence of an in-person G-20 summit will preclude the personal encounters among world leaders that sometimes offer glimmers of progress to seemingly intractable crises.
Saudi Arabia's leadership of the G-20 is set to expire at the end of November.
Italy will take over the secretariat on Dec 1 and responsibility for hosting next year's gathering of world leaders - if the pandemic allows.
TAIPEI (Taiwan News) — A rabbit bit off part of a toddler's finger after he stuck it through a fence at a leisure farm in northern Taiwan's Taoyuan City last week.
While visiting Goat World Leisure Farm (羊世界牧場) in Taoyuan's Zhongli District with his mother on Friday (Sept. 25), a one-year-old boy lost the end of his finger to a rabbit. The park expressed regret about the incident but insisted that warning signs had been posted around the enclosure and that additionally fencing has been added to prevent such incidents from recurring.
A female witness surnamed Wu (吳), who was feeding pigeons at the park with her daughter at the time, described on Facebook suddenly hearing a child scream in pain and seeing the boy standing next to the rabbit pen.
The boy's mother immediately rushed to the scene but found that he was bleeding severely from his pinky finger. Wu called for an ambulance.
Claiming to be studying nursing, Wu wrote that she had grabbed some tissue paper and applied pressure to the wound to contain the bleeding. She then went to the service desk, where staff cleaned the wound with saline and bandaged it with gauze.
The Taoyuan Fire Department said it received a report that a child had been injured at the leisure farm at 2:55 that afternoon. When firefighters arrived at the scene, they discovered that the tip of his finger had been severed at the first knuckle by an animal, and they immediately began applying first aid.
The owner of the park, Chiang Chang-li (江長利), was notified about the incident by an employee at around 3 p.m., and he claimed that he immediately called the fire department. He said he had then crawled into the pen to find the end of the child's finger but was unable to locate it.
According to Chiang, other visitors had seen the mother leave the boy in front of the enclosure and turn her back on him to buy rabbit feed with coins. He claimed that this is the first time such an accident has occurred since the park opened in 2004.
Chiang told reporters that the park has about 20 rabbits, which tourists feed through a hole in the pen.
He said the rabbits are curious by nature and will bite anything presented to them, which is why they are kept behind fencing with a sign placed nearby warning visitors they risk being bitten if they stick their fingers through the fence.
The child's mother said that they had only been in the park for less than 10 minutes and was initially unaware of the attack. She said she blamed herself for not properly monitoring the toddler.
The park said it will assist the boy's family in filing for the insurance claim. The Taoyuan City Government is currently investigating the incident.
TAIPEI (Taiwan News) — The bodies of a man and a woman have surfaced on Chengcing Lake in Kaohsiung City's Niaosong District on Sunday afternoon (Sept. 27).
After police and firefighters extracted the bodies from the water, they found that each person wore a backpack filled with stones.
Initial inspections indicated that the two were deceased for a considerable time. Medical examiners will soon perform autopsies.
The two were apparently in their 40s, with their clothes intact, and no signs of trauma were found, according to Kaohsiung City Police Department’s Renwu Precinct. Additionally, no identification documents were recovered with the bodies.
TAIPEI (Taiwan News) — When a fire broke out in an auto workshop in Taichung’s Dali District on Saturday (Sept. 26), firefighters were shocked to find 11 cats unconscious and three dead from apparent smoke inhalation.
The city’s fire bureau said that it received reports at 5:45 a.m. on Saturday that the facility was on fire. The bureau dispatched a total of 11 fire engines, one ambulance, and 30 firefighters to the scene.
Firefighters said the structure was one-story and made of metal. Inside, a trailer was burned as well as a car, though no people were injured.
The cause of the fire is still under investigation.
PARIS - The novel coronavirus pandemic, soon to pass the milestone of one million deaths, has a higher toll compared with other modern viruses although its ravages to date are far less than the Spanish flu a century ago.
As the pandemic continues, the death toll from a tally is only provisional, but it provides a reference point for comparing the new coronavirus with that of other viruses, past and present.
21ST CENTURY VIRUSES
Sars-CoV-2, the virus responsible for Covid-19 infection, has been the deadliest of the 21st century viruses.
In 2009, the H1N1 virus, or swine flu, caused a global pandemic and left an official death toll of 18,500.
This was later revised upwards by the medical journal The Lancet, to between 151,700 and 575,400 dead.
In 2002-2003, the Sars virus (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) that emerged from China was the first coronavirus to spark global fears, but killed just 774 people in the final toll.
The Covid-19 toll is often compared to that of deadly seasonal flu, though the latter rarely makes the headlines.
Globally, seasonal flu accounts for up to 650,000 deaths, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO).
In the 20th century, two major non-seasonal flu pandemics - Asian flu in 1957-1958 and Hong Kong flu in 1968-1970 - each killed around one million people, according to tolls carried out afterwards.
Both pandemics occurred in different circumstances to Covid-19, before globalisation intensified and accelerated economic exchange and travel - and with it the rapid spread of deadly viruses.
The greatest catastrophe of modern pandemics to date, the flu pandemic of 1918-1919 also known as Spanish flu, wiped out some 50 million people according to research published in the 2000s.
The death toll from the new coronavirus is already far higher than that of the haemorrhagic fever Ebola, which was first identified in 1976 and in its latest 2018-2020 outbreak killed nearly 2,300 people.
In four decades, periodic Ebola outbreaks have killed some 15,000 people, all in Africa.
Ebola has a far higher fatality rate than Covid-19: around 50 percent of people who are infected die from it, and this has risen to 90 percent in some of the epidemics.
But Ebola is less contagious than other viral diseases, namely because it is not airborne but transmitted through direct and close contact.
Dengue fever, which can also be deadly, has a lower toll. This flu-like illness spread by the bite of an infected mosquito has been on the rise for two decades but causes just a few thousand deaths per year.
OTHER VIRAL EPIDEMICS
Aids is by far the most deadly modern epidemic: almost 33 million people around the world have died of the disease which affects the immune system.
First detected in 1981, no effective vaccine has been found.
But retroviral drugs, when taken regularly, efficiently stop the illness in its tracks and heavily reduce the risk of contamination.
This treatment has helped bring down the death toll from its peak in 2004 of 1.7 million deaths to 690,000 in 2009, according to Unaids.
The hepatitis B and C viruses also have a high death toll, killing some 1.3 million people every year, most often in poor countries.
MEXICO CITY - An untouched exercise bike, a guitar that has gone silent, an empty couch - these are just a few of the cherished possessions and everyday habits that tell the story of those who have died from Covid-19.
The global pandemic has claimed nearly one million lives, about a third of those in Latin America, where countries with overstretched medical resources are bracing for a new wave.
Across the region, reporters photographers met the families of several victims, who have been forced to contemplate the empty spaces their loved ones have left behind.
Ms Victoria del Carmen says she still makes coffee every morning for her son Franklin Rivera, a Salvadoran photojournalist who was struck down by the virus at 52.
When he was well, Mr Rivera liked to use an exercise bike in his modest Ciudad Delgado house on the outskirts of the capital, San Salvador. Now, it sits unused.
"No one can believe he is no longer with us," says his sister Geraldina Juarez. "We can't describe this emptiness."
To try to fill the void, his family are drawn to a box full of his old press credentials, eager to see his face once again.
Mr Rivera's slow decline from the coronavirus began with a throat ailment on June 22 and then a urinary tract infection.
When he was finally diagnosed with Covid-19, he self-isolated at home.
Ms Juarez remembers how tired he became, saying: "He could no longer walk much. He spent his days on his deck chair, which he set up in the yard."
He died after a lightning storm hit the city, unable to get a doctor with the emergency services at full stretch.
In the yard, the blue deck chair is still there, in the shade of a tree - empty.
PAULO: A GUITAR AND A SOFA
Mr Paulo Roberto's blue guitar still hangs on the wall in his house in the southeastern Brazilian city of Belo Horizonte.
The small sofa where the 75-year-old liked to sit still bears his imprint.
"He used to spend a lot of his time on this sofa in the living room to watch films, documentaries and take a nap," said his wife Maria Candida Silveira.
The pandemic has taken a tough toll on the family of Mr Roberto, who died in June.
Two of his four daughters contracted the virus, but only one lived to tell the tale. His 68-year-old wife fell gravely ill, but survived after a period in intensive care.
Now Ms Silveira finds it difficult to put his absence into words.
"Sometimes you remember little details, moments we spent together, happy moments," she said.
"The memory of his music also remains, especially the old songs he loved to play and sing."
There is some consolation in knowing he was able to fulfil his dying wish: seeing his great-granddaughter Dudinha one more time.
"I made a video call from my phone. He was sitting on the bed, laughing and playing with her over the phone. He managed to say goodbye to her," she recalled.
Mr Hugo Lopez Camacho's room stands as a monument to a humble life.
A blanket decorated with a football motif covers his single bed. His pillowcase is embroidered with the phrase, "I think of you." A crucifix hangs on a brick wall.
Mr Lopez Camacho lived on the property of a primary school in a Mexico City neighbourhood, where his father is the caretaker.
He died in the same hospital where he had worked as an orderly for 14 years, wheeling patients to and from the surgical unit. He was 44.
At first, it seemed like he had a bad cold or the flu. Mr Lopez Camacho had headaches. Then he started having trouble breathing.
He lost consciousness when he was hospitalised in late April. His mother never saw him again. He called when doctors said they would have to intubate him.
"He knew what was going to happen," his sister recalls.
Mexico's huge virus toll meant a backlog for funeral services, and the family had to wait for his remains to be handled.
They finally had to have him cremated, which was not their initial wish.
And now they have to wait again, to be allowed to bury his ashes in the family crypt, along with those of his grandmother.
OSCAR: A LOVE OF BARBECUE
Mr Oscar Farias was a joker, and an expert in the art of the "asado", or grilling meat - an institution in Argentina.
The 81-year-old former metal worker died alone in hospital in April, his family kept away by strict virus prevention protocols.
"It was the most devastating and overwhelming thing," says his daughter Monica, 45.
She wasn't even able to bring him a blanket when he called to say he was cold. They said their goodbyes on the phone.
"When I told him we would go and eat a pizza and have some wine when he got better, we were really saying goodbye," Monica says.
She had to sign the authorisation for his cremation without even seeing his coffin.
She will keep in her mind an image of her father seen in a family photo - a happy man, grilling some meat, and listening to tango on the radio.
TAIPEI (Taiwan News) — A Taiwanese temple has given away a whopping 168,000 hats in the year since Norwegian triathlon champion Gustav Iden made them famous.
The initial batch of 500 hats was manufactured in 2016, according to Chen Shou-qin (陳守欽), secretary-general of the Shunze Temple in Puyan Township, Changhua County. Until the hat went viral in September last year, when Iden was photographed wearing it after winning the Ironman 70.3 World Championship in France, 40 were still left.
Since major media outlets in Taiwan reported on Iden and the hat, the demand for the item has increased tremendously, Chen said. He added that some people sell the headwear online for NT$2,000 (US$66.67).
The newspaper quoted the temple official as saying that even after the hats went viral, the temple insists on handing them out for free, as they were funded by the donations of the faithful. At some points, nearly 10,000 people have lined up outside to receive the hats.
Chen said that most of these seekers hope the hats will bring the blessing of good health. Athletes, examinees, and salespeople have also sought the hat in quests to improve performance.
News of Iden winning another triathlon in Germany while wearing the cap has breathed new life into the phenomenon, said Chen.
The official made known that the temple at present gives away 100 caps on weekdays and 300 on weekends and holidays.
TAIPEI (Taiwan News) — The government of Taiwan was called upon on Thursday (Sept. 24) to set forth a clear strategy to address challenges brought about by climate change.
Five lawmakers of the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) joined Deputy Director Hsu Huang-hsiung (許晃雄) of Academia Sinica’s Research Center for Environmental Changes in holding a press conference on the urgent need to adopt measures against extreme weather events.
The four initiatives they proposed include pushing for the 2050 zero-emission objective; setting out the Taiwanese Green Deal modeled on the European Green Deal; drafting a Climate Change Act based on the existing Greenhouse Gas Reduction and Management Act; and increasing public participation in climate policies.
Taiwan has recorded one of the hottest years on record in 2020, with the average temperatures in July reaching 30.2 degrees Celsius, the highest for any single month since 1947. Scorching weather not only impacts people’s lives but also warrants corresponding adjustments to the country’s energy policies, Storm Media quoted legislator Lai Pin-yu (賴品妤) as saying.
A mechanism should be put in place to help businesses cushion the impact of carbon tariffs set to be imposed by the European Union on goods imported from countries without a carbon pricing system, said Legislator Chuang Ching-cheng (莊競程).
Taiwan’s industries could also lose their advantageous position as eco-conscious tech companies seek to go carbon neutral for their supply chains, suggested Legislator Su Chiao-hui (蘇巧慧). Apple has been committed to bringing its carbon footprint to net-zero by 2030, while Google also pledged to operate its business on carbon-free energy with the same timetable.
TAIPEI (Taiwan News) — A woman offered a “thank you” on Facebook to the kind-hearted owner of a steakhouse for routinely giving her and her younger brother extra side dishes when they were kids.
The netizen posted on a Facebook group dedicated to Nantou affairs on Wednesday (Sept. 23), stating that she was looking for the owner of the store in Nantou City.
In the post, she said that her father died when she was young and that her mother had had to raise three children by herself, so she and her brother were given only NT$100 (US$3.3) a day for their three meals. As they did not have more money to spend, she and her brother often went to the eatery, where they would order a dish of Teppanyaki noodles to share.
The Facebook user said that a serving of Teppanyaki noodles came with a loaf of bread and a popsicle, along with unlimited soup and beverage refills. She said the restaurant owner seemed to have noticed their situation, as she would give them extra bread and popsicles.
Many years later, she and her brother came to realize that the store owner had given them extra side dishes so that they could have adequate food. She said she did not think much about all of this at that time.
The woman said that she was very grateful and that she hoped to be able to reimburse her benefactor for the many free meals.
Following the Facebook post, reporters tracked down the store owner, who told them that she thought the story was not worth reporting. She said she had no memory of the two kids but that she might recognize them.
Students from poor families would often visit her store, she said, and ask if they could order just a bowl of braised pork rice. Even though soups and drinks were only for customers who ordered set meals, she would still provide them for the kids.
After the exposure of her good deeds on social media, some netizens offered to patronize the store to show their support, but the store owner pointed out that her business has only three employees — she, her son, and one other person — and if too many people come, the quality of service will suffer.
As for the Facebook user's attempted reimbursement, the store owner thanked her but declined to accept it.