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Covid-19 global health emergency is over – WHO

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The World Health Organisation (WHO) has declared that Covid-19 no longer represents a “global health emergency”.

The statement represents a major step towards ending the pandemic and comes three years after it first declared its highest level of alert over the virus.

Officials said the virus’ death rate had dropped from a peak of more than 100,000 people per week in January 2021 to just over 3,500 on 24 April.

The head of the WHO said at least seven million people died in the pandemic.

But Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said that the true figure was “likely” closer to 20 million deaths – nearly three times the official estimate – and he warned that the virus remained a significant threat.

“Yesterday, the Emergency Committee met for the 15th time and recommended to me that I declare an end to the public health emergency of international concern. I’ve accepted that advice. It is therefore with great hope that I declare Covid-19 over as a global health emergency,” Dr Tedros said.

He added that the decision had been considered carefully for some time and made on the basis of careful analysis of data.

But he warned the removal of the highest level of alert did not mean the danger was over and said the emergency status could be reinstated if the situation changed.

“The worst thing any country can do now is to use this news as a reason to let down its guard, to dismantle the systems it has built, or to send the message to its people that Covid-19 is nothing to worry about,” he said.

The World Health Organisation first declared Covid-19 to be a public health emergency of international concern (PHEIC) in January 2020.

This signalled the need for coordinated global action to protect people from the new virus.

It will now be up to individual countries to continue to manage Covid in the way they think best.

(BBC News)

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Stonehenge orange powder paint removed

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The orange powder paint sprayed onto Britain’s most famous prehistoric structure, Stonehenge, by environmental protesters on Wednesday has been removed, leaving “no visible damage,” according to the organization that manages the site.“Thankfully, there appears to be no visible damage but that’s in no way saying there hasn’t been harm, from the very act of having to clean the stones to the distress caused to those for whom Stonehenge holds a spiritual significance,” said English Heritage chief executive Nick Merriman in a statement to CNN Thursday.

He confirmed that the site is open to the public and that summer solstice celebrations, which are expected to attract huge crowds, will go ahead as normal.

A video posted on X by Just Stop Oil on Wednesday showed two of the group’s activists spraying the landmark using fire extinguishers.

“The Just Stop Oil protestors demanded the incoming government sign up to a legally binding treaty to phase out fossil fuels by 2030,” the group posted on X.

The action took place around 12 p.m. local time (7 a.m. ET) at the ancient site near Salisbury in the southwest of England, Wiltshire Police said in a statement.

The two activists “were arrested on suspicion of criminal damage, damaging an ancient monument and deterring a person from engaging in a lawful activity,” police said in a statement Thursday.

The pair have been released on bail pending further enquiries, police said.

The official Stonehenge X account described the incident as “extremely upsetting.”

“Orange powdered paint has been thrown at a number of the stones at Stonehenge. Obviously, this is extremely upsetting and our curators are investigating the extent of the damage,” the post said.

The protesters were a 21-year-old student from Oxford and a 73-year-old man from Birmingham, Just Stop Oil said in a press release.

In anticipation of people meeting at Stonehenge on Thursday to mark the Northern Hemisphere’s longest day of sunlight, English Heritage published “conditions of entry.”

“Stonehenge is a World Heritage Site, a Scheduled Ancient Monument and is seen by many as a sacred place. We ask that all those attending respect it and those celebrating around it,” the website said.

Responding to the incident on X, British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak wrote: “Just Stop Oil are a disgrace.”

On Thursday, two more activists from the group caused a scene at London’s Stansted Airport after they sprayed orange paint on two private jets on the runway where Taylor Swift’s private jet is suspected to have landed.

The pop star is in London on her Eras world tour and is set to play three shows in London this weekend.

Just Stop Oil posted videos on their social media channels showing two activists breaking into the airfield, cutting into the fence and spraying orange paint on the aircraft.

The same group made headlines last month when two protesters smashed the glass protecting the Magna Carta, a famous British manuscript from the 13th century, at the British Museum in London.

Climate activists have been staging increasingly high-profile protests, many of which have involved attacking high-value artworks including the Mona Lisa and Van Gogh’s “Sunflowers.”

(CNN)

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Putin arrives in North Korea

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Russian President Vladimir Putin arrived in North Korea to a red carpet welcome on Tuesday night.

The two-day visit marks the first for a Russian leader in the last 24 years. Putin’s only previous visit to Pyongyang was in July 2000, two months after his presidential inauguration.

Mr Putin was met off his plane by North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and – flanked by a military guard of honour – the pair talked animatedly for several minutes.

In Pyongyang, the streets had been decorated with Putin’s portraits and the flags of Russia and North Korea.

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Priyanka Gandhi to finally make electoral debut

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Priyanka Gandhi, sister of India’s main opposition Congress leader Rahul Gandhi, is set to contest her first election, ending decades of anticipation by her supporters.

Ms Gandhi is a descendant of the Nehru-Gandhi family, India’s most famous political dynasty, and her electoral debut will be closely watched.

The 52-year-old will contest the Wayanad seat in the southern Indian state of Kerala after her brother relinquishes it.

A win for Ms Gandhi would mean the presence of all three Gandhi family members in the Indian parliament.

Her mother Sonia Gandhi, former president of the Congress party, is an MP in the Rajya Sabha, the upper house of the parliament.

Her brother Mr Gandhi won the recent parliamentary elections from both Wayanad and Uttar Pradesh’s Rae Bareli seats.

Mr Gandhi, who has represented Wayanad as an MP since 2019, is giving it up as he can only retain one parliamentary seat under Indian law. On Monday, he thanked the people of Wayanad for their “love, affection and support”.

A date for the by-election is yet to be announced but Ms Gandhi says she is “not nervous at all”.

“I am very happy to be able to represent Wayanad and I will not let them feel his [Rahul Gandhi’s] absence,” she said on Monday. “I will work hard and I will try my best to make everyone happy and be a good representative.”

The by-election will mark the end of a decades-long wait by Congress supporters for Ms Gandhi’s involvement in electoral politics.

(BBC News)

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