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Icy blast hits 200 mn. Americans

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Some 200 million Americans are feeling the icy grip of a massive winter storm that has been linked to at least 12 deaths ahead of the holiday weekend.

More than 1.5 million people lost power and thousands of flights were cancelled on Friday.

The vast storm extends more than 2,000 miles (3,200km) from Texas to Quebec.

A bomb cyclone, when atmospheric pressure plummets, has brought blizzard conditions to the Great Lakes on the US-Canada border.

In Canada, Ontario and Quebec were bearing the brunt of the Arctic blast, with power cut to hundreds of thousands.

Much of the rest of the country, from British Columbia to Newfoundland, was under extreme cold and winter storm warnings.

The US National Weather Service (NWS) said its Friday map “depicts one of the greatest extents of winter weather warnings and advisories ever”.

Temperatures in Elk Park, Montana, dropped to -50F (-45C), while the town of Hell, Michigan, has frozen over.

It was 1F (-17C) in the snow-covered community on Friday night. Emily, a bartender at Smitty’s Hell Saloon, told the BBC: “It’s pretty cold here, but we’re having a hell of a time.”

In South Dakota, snowed-in Native Americans burned clothes for warmth after running out of fuel, said tribal officials.

Heavy snowfall was forecast in areas of Pennsylvania and Michigan. Buffalo, New York, was expecting at least 35in (89cm). More than eight million people remained under blizzard warnings, said the NWS.

Coastal flooding has been seen in New England, New York and New Jersey.

(BBC News)

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China’s current Covid-19 wave “coming to an end” – officials

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Chinese health officials say the country’s current wave of Covid-19 infections is “coming to an end”.

The number of severe Covid cases and deaths is trending downward, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said in a report.

It also said there had been “no obvious rebound” during Lunar New Year holidays last week, where millions reunited for family gatherings.

There have long been questions raised about China’s Covid reporting.

But experts say the decline reported now corresponds with the expected timing of an end to this major wave.

The virus tore through Chinese cities and towns after authorities lifted zero-Covid restrictions in December. However fever clinic visit rates have dropped over 90% through January and hospitalisation rates are down over 85%.

Fears that the virus could surge again during the festive period have also not yet been realised.

In its report, the CDC said: “There has not been an obvious rebound in Covid cases during the Lunar New Year holidays.

“In this time, no new variant has been discovered, and the country’s current wave is coming to an end.”

(BBC News)

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At least 124 Afghans dead due to freezing weather

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At least 124 people died in freezing temperatures in Afghanistan in the past fortnight, Taliban officials say.

About 70,000 livestock had also perished in what is the coldest winter in a decade, a State Ministry for Disaster Management spokesman said.

Many aid agencies suspended operations in recent weeks after the Taliban banned Afghan women from working for non-governmental organisations.

A Taliban minister said despite the deaths, the edict would not be changed.

Acting Minister of Disaster Management Mullah Mohammad Abbas Akhund told the BBC that many areas of Afghanistan were now completely cut off by snow; military helicopters had been sent to the rescue, but they couldn’t land in the most mountainous regions.

The acting minister said the forecast for the next 10 days indicated temperatures would warm. But he was still worried about a rising death toll – of Afghans, and their livestock.

“Most of the people who lost their lives to the cold were shepherds or people living in rural areas. They didn’t have access to healthcare,” Mullah Akhund said.

“We’re concerned about those who are still living in the mountain regions. Most of the roads which pass through the mountains have been closed due to snow. Cars have got stuck there and passengers have died in the freezing temperatures.”

(BBC News)

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India blocks BBC documentary on Modi

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India has blocked the airing of a BBC documentary which questioned Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s leadership during the 2002 Gujarat riots, saying that even sharing of any clips via social media is barred.

Directions to block the clips from being shared have been issued using emergency powers available to the government under the country’s information technology rules, said Kanchan Gupta, an adviser to the government, on his Twitter handle on Saturday.

The government has issued orders to Twitter to block over 50 tweets linking to the video of the documentary and YouTube has been instructed to block any uploads of the video, Gupta said. Both YouTube and Twitter have complied with the directions, he added.

Modi was the chief minister of the western state of Gujarat when it was gripped by communal riots that left more than 1,000 people dead, by government count – most of them Muslims. The violence erupted after a train carrying Hindu pilgrims caught fire, killing 59.

Human rights activists estimate at least double that number died in the rioting.

Modi denied accusations that he failed to stop the rioting. A special investigation team appointed by the Supreme Court to investigate the role of Modi and others in the violence said in a 541-page report in 2012 it could find no evidence to prosecute the then chief minister.

Modi was named the candidate for prime minister of his party, the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party, in 2013 and led it to power in general elections in 2014 and then in 2019.

Last week, a spokesperson for India’s foreign ministry termed the BBC documentary a “propaganda piece” meant to push a “discredited narrative”.

(Reuters)

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