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Biden’s warning about the Delta variant

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Joe Biden has warned that the Delta variant of the coronavirus now makes up half of cases in many areas of the US and pledged to deploy federal “surge response teams” to help local officials stop the spread.

The president spoke on Tuesday after narrowly missing his self-imposed target of 70% of American adults receiving at least one dose of the Covid-19 vaccine by Independence Day on 4 July.

Although he noted that coronavirus cases and deaths are down 90% since January, Biden urged younger adults in particular to get vaccinated as the Delta variant, already raging across the world, threatens to become the dominant one in America.

“Our fight against this virus is not over,” he said in public remarks after a briefing by the White House Covid-19 response team. “Right now, as I speak to you, millions of Americans are still unvaccinated and unprotected and because of that, their communities are at risk. Their friends are at risk, the people that they care about are at risk.”

He continued: “This is an even bigger concern because of the Delta variant. In today’s briefing, we discussed how the Delta variant is already responsible for half of all cases in many parts of this country. It’s more easily transmissible, potentially more dangerous.”

Biden pleaded: “It seems to me it should cause everybody to think twice and it should cause reconsideration, especially in young people who may have thought that they didn’t have to be vaccinated, they didn’t have to worry about it, they didn’t have to do anything up to now.”

He described getting vaccinated as a “patriotic” thing to do and noted that the vaccines are highly effective against the Delta variant, with studies showing that virtually every hospitalisation and death from the coronavirus since early May has been among the unvaccinated. He suggested that the Delta variant will hit them hard.

“We’re stepping up our preparations to respond to the outbreaks we’re going to see among the unvaccinated,” Biden said. “For that, we’re mobilising what I’m calling Covid-19 surge response teams.”

The teams are made up of experts from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and other government groups. “They’re going to help states that have particular problems prevent, detect and respond to the spread of the Delta variant among unvaccinated people in communities with low vaccination rates. And some states have very low vaccination rates.”

Outbreaks are “going to happen” in such states, he said. Arkansas, Florida, Missouri and Nevada have all seen significant rises in case numbers in recent weeks.

The rate of vaccinations has slowed dramatically since its April peak, with states that voted for Donald Trump in last year’s presidential election lagging behind. Biden outlined an approach to reaching more people from community to community, neighbourhood to neighbourhood and door to door, “literally knocking on doors”.

He said the White House is partnering with 42,000 local pharmacies, as well as family doctors and pediatricians, to persuade people including 12- to 18-year-olds to get their shot. Mobile clinics will make the vaccine available at summer festivals, sports events and places of worship.

The White House expects 160 million Americans to be fully vaccinated by the end of the week. In a rare moment of bipartisan accord, Mitch McConnell, the Republican minority leader in the Senate, said on Tuesday: “We’re in the red zone on vaccines but we’re not quite in the end zone yet and I want to say again there’s no good reason not to get vaccinated. We need to finish the job.”

But a recent Washington Post-ABC poll found that three in 10 adults say they have not been vaccinated and probably or definitely will not be. The poll showed that 86% of Democrats have received at least one shot compared to 45% of Republicans.

Jim Justice, the Republican governor of West Virginia, where just 52% of adults have got at least one dose, told ABC’s This Week programme on Sunday: “The red states probably have a lot of people that are very, very conservative in their thinking and they think, ‘Well, I don’t have to do that.’ But they’re not thinking right.”

More than 600,000 Americans have died since the pandemic began and hundreds continue to die each day.

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Myanmar: Catholic priest, catechist abducted by armed group

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An armed resistance group opposed to Myanmar’s military junta in the western state of Chin has seized a Catholic priest and a catechist travelling with him.

Members of the Chinland Defence Force (CDF) seized Father Noel Hrang Tin Thang along with a catechist while they were travelling from Surkhua town to Chin state capital, Hakha on July 26, UCA News reported. Both belong to Our Lady of the Rosary Parish in Surkhua in Hakha Diocese.

Bishop’s appeal
Local Bishop Lucius Hre Kung of Hakha has called for their release, expressing concern for their safety and well-being nearly a week after their abduction.

“I call on the concerned leaders of the CDF to immediately release the pair,” Bishop Hre Kung said in a letter released on August 1. Local Catholics have also expressed concern and said prayers for the immediate release of the cleric and the catechist.

Father Tin Thang has been helping numerous of displaced people including the elderly, women and children who took refuge in the parish following clashes in early June, according to sources.

Allegations
Following the letter of Bishop Hre Kung, the CDF said the priest and catechist were in good health.

The group accused the priest of giving information to the military junta, getting medical support from the junta and urging locals to receive the junta’s support. The group said it had warned the clergy not to contact the military’s security force, and they had to arrest Father Tin Thang as he failed to comply. “We will release them only after our demands of transferring the priest from Surkhua to Hakha and signing letters of recommendation from two church leaders are fulfilled,” the group said.

However, according to the Italian news agency, AGI, the priest and the catechist were arrested in Hakha while buying medicines for the people of Surkhua. The local community denies Father Tin Thang had any involvement with the security force.

Father Paul Thla Kio, a priest of Hakha Diocese told the Vatican’s Fides news agency that the CDF has seen Father Tin Thang having contacts with a general of the army. Father Thla Kio explained that the general, who is a Catholic and attends Masses, often went to the priests’ residence. In fact, Father Tin Thang asked the general to avoid violence.

Civil resistance groups
The ousting of Myanmar’s leader Aung San Suu Kyi and her elected government by the military on February 1, has thrown the nation into chaos with nationwide protests, strikes and a civil disobedience movement, demanding the restoration of the government and the release of their leader. There have been no signs of a letup in the bloody crackdown by Myanmar’s military on its opponents in a bid to consolidate its hold on power. The offensive has re-ignited the military’s old conflicts with some of the armed ethnic organizations as well as numerous independent civil resistance groups.

The CDF is one of these civil resistance groups fighting the military. Using homemade weapons, the CDF has inflicted heavy casualties among junta forces in a conflict that erupted in Chin state in May. Clashes are still raging and more than 18,000 people have been displaced in Chin state and neighboring Magway and Sagaing divisions, according to a United Nations report on July 30. During the conflict, priests have been targeted, with the military arresting eight priests from Chin and Kachin states and Mandalay division in May and June.

Ethnic Christians
Christians are a minority in the predominantly Buddhist country, accounting for 6.2 percent of its 54 million population. Myanmar Catholics represent about 1.5 percent of the population.

Areas occupied by the Kachin, Chin, Karen and Kayah ethnic groups, who have been facing oppression and persecution at the hands of the military for decades, are largely Christian.

Thousands of innocent civilians in have been displaced by the conflict. According to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs in Myanmar, over 220,000 people have been displaced by conflicts and insecurity since the coup.

Myanmar’s complex crises
The serious political, socio-economic, human rights and humanitarian crises generated by the coup, have been exacerbated by a raging third wave of Covid-19 infections, with an acute shortage of oxygen and near absence of the most basic healthcare.

Myanmar’s military ruler Min Aung Hlaing marked 6 months since the coup on Sunday by taking on a new title as prime minister of a newly formed caretaker government. The military-backed State Administration Council (SAC) that was formed after the Feb. 1 coup, has now been reformed as a caretaker government. The junta leader promised fresh multi-party elections in 2 years, saying he will cooperate with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) on finding a political solution to the country.

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Israeli Archaeologists Find 3,100-Year-Old Alphabetic Inscription

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The ancient inscription was found inside a storage pit at Khirbat er-Ra‘I, an archaeological site some 3 km northwest of Tel Lachish in Israel.

It was written in ink on a jug, a small personal pottery vessel that holds approximately one liter, and may well have contained oil, perfume, or medicine.

It contains the letters yod (broken at the top), resh, bet, ayin, and lamed, and remnants of other letters.

“The name ‘Jerubbaal’ is familiar from Biblical tradition in the Book of Judges as an alternative name for the judge Gideon ben Yoash,” said Professor Yossef Garfinkel from the Institute of Archaeology at the Hebrew University and Dr. Saar Ganor from the Israel Antiquities Authority.

“In Biblical tradition, he is then remembered as triumphing over the Midianites, who used to cross over the Jordan to plunder agricultural crops.”

“According to the Bible, Gideon organized a small army of 300 soldiers and attacked the Midianites by night near Ma‘ayan Harod.”

“In view of the geographical distance between the Shephelah and the Jezreel Valley, this inscription may refer to another Jerubbaal and not the Gideon of Biblical tradition, although the possibility cannot be ruled out that the jug belonged to the judge Gideon.”

“In any case, the name Jerubbaal was evidently in common usage at the time of the Biblical Judges.”

Inscriptions from the period of the Judges are extremely rare and almost unparalleled in Israeli archaeology.

“As we know, there is considerable debate as to whether Biblical tradition reflects reality and whether it is faithful to historical memories from the days of the Judges and the days of David,” the archaeologists said.

“The name ‘Jerubbaal’ only appears in the Bible in the period of the Judges, yet now it was also discovered in an archaeological context, in a stratum dating from this period.”

“In a similar manner, the name ‘Ishbaal,’ which is only mentioned in the Bible during the monarchy of King David, was found in strata dated to that period at the site of Khirbat Qeiyafa.”

“The fact that identical names are mentioned in the Bible and also found in inscriptions recovered from archaeological excavations shows that memories were preserved and passed down through the generations.”

 

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