Pixar Strikes Oscars Gold Again With Dreamy Fable ‘Soul’

Pixar Strikes Oscars Gold Again With Dreamy Fable 'Soul'
Dana Murray and Pete Docter, winners of Animated Feature Film for “Soul,” pose in the press room at the Oscars on Sunday, April 25, 2021, at Union Station in Los Angeles. Chris Pizzello-Pool/Getty Images/AFP



“Soul” — Pixar’s dreamy animated fable about the meaning of life, released in the middle of a deadly pandemic — on Sunday took home the Oscar for best animated film, the latest in a long line of successes for the Disney subsidiary.

The film is the 23rd feature-length movie and the latest original story from Pixar, home to the massively popular “Toy Story” franchise, as well as one-off award-winning films like “Up” and “Inside Out.”

It is also the first from the animation powerhouse to feature a main character who is African-American.

“This film started as a love letter to jazz. But we had no idea how much jazz would teach us about life,” director Pete Docter said as he accepted the award.

“Soul” tells the story of Joe Gardner, a humble middle school music teacher in New York who has aspirations of being a jazz pianist.

After landing a major gig that could be his big break, Joe (voiced by Oscar winner Jamie Foxx) takes a serious fall… and finds himself caught between Earth and the afterlife.

He then ends up by mistake in the “Great Before,” a world where unborn souls prepare for life and gain their personality traits — good and bad — before gaining a human body.

This abstract universe, created by Docter — who also wrote and directed Oscar winners “Up” and “Inside Out” — explores the depths of the human condition: are we born with a purpose? Does life have meaning? Do we need to find that meaning?

The film alternates between the very realistic streets of New York and the fantasy universe of the Great Before.

Pixar Strikes Oscars Gold Again With Dreamy Fable 'Soul'
US musician Jon Batiste, US musician Trent Reznor and English musician Atticus Ross, winners of the award for Original Score for “Soul,” pose in the press room at the Oscars. Chris Pizzello / POOL / AFP



Pixar, which has been a pioneer in both the look and subject matter of animated films, once again takes a hard look at death, as it did in “Up” and again with “Coco.”

“Soul” also borrows a page from “Inside Out” (2015), which looked at the inner workings of the mind of an introverted little girl.

Docter told Deadline earlier this year that “Soul” is “an investigation into what’s really going on in life and how are we meant to live.”

Co-director and writer Kemp Powers added: “It’s this idea that life is about improvising and having to take all the unexpected things that are thrown at you and turn them into something of value, turn them into some beautiful.”

Powers said Pixar screened the film for test audiences to make sure it was not too dark for children.

“They get everything. They’re very smart,” Docter told NPR.

Docter also said they discussed the idea with “priests and rabbis and experts in Islam, Hinduism… to just see how these different traditions look at the soul and the afterlife and the world beyond our bodily forms.”

“Soul” ended up competing for Oscars glory with another Pixar film, “Onward,” because the awards season calendar was upended by the coronavirus pandemic, even though “Onward” was released nearly a year earlier.


Ibori Loot: We’ve Written A Formal Letter Of Protest To Buhari – Okowa

The Delta State Government has asked the Federal Government to return the £4.2 million James Ibori loot being repatriated to Nigeria by the United Kingdom to the state.

Governor Ifeanyi Okowa believes that since the money was stolen from the state, it would only be just to return the funds back to the state.

“I have spoken with the attorney-general of the federation. My attorney-general went to have a meeting with him. I think that we are working and we are likely to come on the same page. We have written a formal letter of protest to Mr President,” the Governor said on Wednesday during an appearance on Politics Today.

The protest by the state is in reaction to the decision of the Federal Government to spend the funds on federal projects.

READ ALSO: UK Govt To Return £4.2m Ibori Loot

Nigeria and the UK had signed a memorandum of understanding on March 9 for the repatriation of the funds stolen by Ibori, a former Delta State Governor.

But the development became mired in controversy shortly after the MoU was signed when the Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami, revealed the money will be spent by the Federal Government.

The projects it will be spent on, he said, were the construction of the second Niger Bridge, Abuja-Kano road, and Lagos-Ibadan Expressway.

Two Options

Governor Okowa, however, expects the Federal Government to take a similar route as the UK Government by returning the money to the source it was pilfered from.

“In the same manner of the relationship created between the UK and Nigeria, we also expect that the Nigerian Government will do the same thing by being magnanimous to return the money back to the source, which is Delta State,” he said.

To guarantee that Deltans benefit from the repatriated loot, the governor said it had provided options to the Federal Government and made a compelling case for the state.

“We have made two suggestions; return the money directly to us or apply it directly to projects that we feel are of importance and are in Delta State so that Deltans can directly benefit from the repatriated funds and I don’t think anybody can fault that line (of thinking)”, he said.

The governor is not alone in his position.

A day after the news of the planned return of the loot broke, the House of Representatives passed a resolution calling on the Federal Government to ensure that it was returned to Delta State.

Lawmakers passed the resolution after their colleagues from the state moved a motion of urgent public importance.

As far as they were concerned, the funds were stolen from the state and should be returned to it.

Ibori, who was Delta State Governor from 1999 to 2007, was convicted by a UK court in 2012 and was sentenced to 13 years in jail with several of his assets forfeited to the UK Government. He was released in 2016.


Human rights activist and Senior Advocate of Nigeria Femi Falana also backed the calls for the return of the funds to the state.

He commended the Federal Government for negotiating and pursuing the return of the loot to Nigeria but insisted that it be returned to the source.

“Since the money left the coffers of the Delta State Government, it has to be returned once it is recovered,” Falana said during an appearance on Politics Today.

The attorney-general of the federation, however, has a different argument.

“The major consideration relating to who is entitled to a fraction or perhaps the money in its entirety is a function of law and international diplomacy,” Mr. Malami told Channels TV of the Federal Government’s decision.

“All the processes associated with the recovery were consummated by the federal government and the federal government is, indeed, the victim of crime and not sub-national.”

Attorney General of the Federation, Abubakar Malami, made an appearance on Channels Television on June 30, 2020.
Attorney General of the Federation, Abubakar Malami, says the Ibori loot will be spent on, the construction of the second Niger Bridge, Abuja-Kano road, and Lagos-Ibadan Expressway.


Ultimately, Governor Okowa believes President Muhammadu Buhari will grant the state’s request as that is the right thing to do.

“I do believe that with the approach that we have undertaken it is unlikely that they will refuse the request. It is a strong appeal,” he said.

The governor rubbished claims that if the money is returned to Delta State “it will develop wings”.

“I don’t see how the money will develop wings anyway,” he said. “That is why we have directly put down projects – three projects where this money can be applied directly to such a manner that it is something you can investigate.”

Kagara Abductees Released – Official

The photo was taken from the Kagara school after the attack on February 17, 2021.


The abductees from Government Science Secondary School Kagara, in Rafi Local Government Area of Niger State have been released.

A government official who confirmed the release to Channels TV said they are on their way to Minna, the state capital.

According to him, the children were released from a location close to where the fifty-three abductees were released a week ago.

They are expected to be received by Governor Abubakar Bello at the Government House in Minna.

Twenty-seven students and 14 others were abducted from the school.

Gunmen had on February 17 stormed the school and whisked away 42 people, including 27 students from the Kagara school.

READ ALSO: From Chibok To Jangebe: A Timeline Of School Kidnappings In Nigeria

Sources told Channels Television that the armed men invaded the school at about 2:00 am and were shooting sporadically before carrying out their nefarious act.

Some teachers and their family members residing within the college staff quarters were also said to have been abducted by the gunmen.

The bandits were said to have worn a military uniform and entered the school premises which has about 1000 students, overpowered the security guard, before whisking away the students and staff.

Prior to that, over 300 students of the Government Science Secondary School, Kankara, Katsina State were also abducted in December 2020.

They were, however, all rescued shortly after.


Three Arrested In Ogun For Allegedly Beating 23-Year-Old Man To Death


The police in Ogun have arrested three men accused of beating a 23-years-old boy to death over an alleged phone theft.

Three suspects who are all residents of Iju Ota were arrested after the father of the victim, Mr Ajibade Gbenga, rushed to the Onipanu Divisional Headquarters of the police to report that his son, Samuel, had been accused of stealing two mobile phones and beaten to death.

According to the man, the suspects beat Samuel up till he lost consciousness after accusing him of stealing the phones. The young man was rushed to the General Hospital in Ota for medical attention but was confirmed dead on arrival by a doctor.

In a statement on Sunday, the police spokesperson in the state, DSP Abimbola Oyeyemi, said after the complaint, the Chief Superintendent of Police in the division, Bamidele Job, led his detectives to the scene and arrested the three suspects.

According to the police spokesperson, if not for the intervention of the police, an angry crowd would have lynched the three suspects after realising that the young man was dead.

An investigation has been started by the police after which those charged will be prosecuted.

“The Commissioner of Police, CP Edward Awolowo-Ajogun, has ordered the immediate transfer of the suspects to the homicide section of the state criminal investigation and intelligence department for further investigation and diligent prosecution,” Oyeyemi said.

He added that the police commissioner warned that the command will not tolerate any form of jungle justice in the state.

Rather than take laws into their hands, he urged members of the public to always report anyone suspected to have committed a crime to the law enforcement agency for proper investigation and prosecution.

Meanwhile, the corpse of the deceased has been moved to the General Hospital’s mortuary for post mortem examination.

Oyo Tension: Culprits Behind Violence In Igangan Will Be Brought To Justice – Police

Buildings burnt during the violence in Igangan, Oyo State


The Commissioner of Police in Oyo State, Ngozi Onadeko, has called for calm in the state, promising that action will be taken against those behind the recent violence and ethnic tension in the state.

“Investigation into the arson and the breach of the peace, which occurred at Igangan will be investigated to logical conclusion and culprits shall be brought to justice,” read part of a statement issued on behalf of the commissioner by the command’s spokesperson, CSP Fadeyi Olugbenga, on Saturday.

The police boss, who blamed the situation in the state on “the inciting pronouncement of Chief Sunday Adeyemo, A.K.A Sunday Igboho”, warned that security agencies will not watch while some criminal elements take laws into their hands.

The statement, however, did not confirm or deny a report that the Inspector-General of Police had ordered Adeyemo’s arrest.

Adeyemo had issued a quit notice to herders in the state and on Friday held a rally in Igangan to buttress his position.

According to the police the rally is responsible for the violence which resulted in houses and cars being burnt in the town.

“Following the fear of threats to public peace, occasioned by the inciting pronouncement of Chief Sunday Adeyemo, A.K.A Sunday Igboho, the Oyo State Police Command jointly with the Operation Burst had embarked on visibility/confidence building patrol of the areas concerned,” the police said.

“Sadly, the relative peace and calmness, being enjoyed, due to the visibility patrols of the Security Agencies were truncated by the visit of Sunday Igboho to Igangan, at about 16:30hrs [4:30 pm] on 22nd January 2021.

“The visit had culminated in a mob action by some youths in the town, who, armed with different types of weapons, embarked on arson and a breach of peace. In the process, grievous hurt was committed against one of the police officers, while discharging his statutory duties.”

READ ALSO: Houses, Vehicles Burnt, Policeman Injured In Igangan

While investigating the situation and trying to prevent a breakdown of law and order in the state, the police appealed for calm.

The CP called on well-meaning and peace-loving elders in the community to caution and advise restive youths to sheath their swords and shun violence in addressing the complex situation at hand.

She also urged the youths to avoid being used as pawns to ignite an ethnic war.

Warning people against taking laws into their hands, the police said that a “substantial number of suspects (of different ethnic backgrounds)” were arrested in connection with virtually all the cases of kidnapping or assassination, which had occurred in the State.

Some have been arraigned in court and are being remanded in correctional facilities, while investigations are still ongoing in some of the cases.

Makinde’s Vow

As tensions escalated on Friday in the Ibarapa axis of the state when Igboho visited Igangan, the Oyo State Governor, ‘Seyi Makinde, vowed that his government will not allow anyone to cause ethnic tension or harass anyone carrying out legitimate business in the state.

Oyo State Governor, Seyi Makinde, says security is the major pillar of his administration.

The Governor, who made the comments when the new police boss in Oyo state, Mrs. Ngozi Onadeko, paid him a courtesy visit in his office, urged her to ensure the police arrest miscreants causing tension and threatening the peace of the state.

“For people stoking ethnic tension, they are criminals and once you get them, they should be arrested and treated like common criminals,” Makinde said.

“For this administration, the major pillar for us is security, because we know that all the good economic plans we have won’t be possible in an atmosphere of chaos and insecurity.

“So, when people say things that are neither lawful nor within the spirit of Nigeria’s Constitution, it is not acceptable here. And they cannot hide under the guise of protecting Yoruba’s interest to perpetuate chaos in the state.

“I am sure that since you came in, you must have heard about some things happening at Ibarapa axis of the state. I will still say it here that we are not after Hausa-Fulani. We are after criminals.

“We are after hoodlums and bandits irrespective of their tribe, religion, or creed. Those are the people we are after. If you look into the records, when we had the armed robbery incident at Okeho in Kajola Local Government Area of the state, some people were killed, some were arrested and we found out that they were from Ebira, from Kogi State. So, we want to go after the criminals – whether they are Yoruba, Hausa, Fulani, or whomever they are.”

SERAP Asks FG To Disclose Details Of Planned N729bn Payments To 24.3 Million Nigerians

SERAP wants Humanitarian Affairs Minister, Sadiya Umar-Farouk (pictured left), to provide more information about a plan she announced last week.



Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) has asked the Minister of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development, Sadia Umar-Farouk to publish details of the proposed payments of N729bn to 24.3 million poor Nigerians for six months.

The non-governmental organisation also wants the minister to provide details about the mechanisms and logistics for the payments, list of beneficiaries, how they have been selected, projected payments per state, and whether the payments will be made in cash, through Bank Verification Numbers or other means.

SERAP’s request follows the announcement by the minister last week that the Federal Government would pay about 24.3 million poor Nigerians N5,000 each for a period of six months.

She had disclosed the plan at the inauguration of the Federal Government’s emergency intervention database for the urban poor, saying the payments would serve as a cushion for those further impoverished by the COVID-19 pandemic.

But SERAP is demanding an explanation of the rationale for paying out the amount, which it says translates to five-per cent of the country’s budget of N13.6 trillion for 2021.

It also wants to know if the proposed spending is part of the N5.6 trillion budget deficit.

READ ALSO: President Buhari Commits $100m To Fight Terrorism In ECOWAS Sub-Region

In the Freedom of Information request dated 23 January 2021 and signed by SERAP deputy director Kolawole Oluwadare, the organisation said, “Publishing the details of beneficiaries and selection criteria, as well as the payment plan for six months, would promote transparency and accountability, and remove the risks of mismanagement and diversion of public funds.

“Transparency and accountability in the programme would improve public trust, and allow Nigerians to track and monitor its implementation, and to assess if the programme is justified, as well as to hold authorities to account in cases of diversion, mismanagement and corruption.”

To improve transparency and accountability, SERAP believes it is important for the minister to get the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC) to jointly track and monitor the payments.

It is giving the government seven days from the receipt or publication of its FoI request to grant it.

“If we have not heard from you by then, SERAP shall take all appropriate legal actions under the Freedom of Information Act to compel you to comply with our request,” the NGO said in a statement by its Deputy Director, Kolawole Oluwadare, on Sunday.

SERAP explained that although the provision of support and assistance to vulnerable Nigerians is a human rights obligation, the amount involved (five per cent of the 2021 budget) requires anti-corruption safeguards.

Having such safeguards, according to it, will “ensure the payments go directly to the intended beneficiaries, and that public funds are not mismanaged or diverted”.

“SERAP notes that the Nigerian Constitution of 1999 [as amended], UN Convention against Corruption, and African Union Convention on Preventing and Combating Corruption to which Nigeria is a state party require the government to set the highest standards of transparency, accountability and probity in programmes that it oversees,” it said.

“The government has a responsibility to ensure that these requirements and other anti-corruption controls are fully implemented and monitored and that the payments are justified in light of the huge budget deficit and borrowing, and whether there are better ways to spend N729bn to support poor Nigerians.”

Gunmen Kill LGA Chairman In Taraba

Gunmen Kill LGA Chairman In Taraba
Salihu Dovo



Gunmen have killed the Chairman of Ardo-Kola Local Government Area of Taraba State, Salihu Dovo. 

His murder followed his abduction by the men in the early hours of Sunday at his residence in the Sabon Gari area of Jalingo, the state capital.

A family source who preferred anonymity said the gunmen took the LGA  Chairman to an unknown destination and a few hours later called his family members to come pick up his corpse in the bush.

According to the source, the men who were about 20 in number came in through the fence of the house, attacked the security guards before gaining entrance into the main building.

READ ALSO: Oyo Tension: Culprits Behind Violence In Igangan Will Be Brought To Justice – Police

Before whisking the LGA boss away, the source who was in the house when the incident occurred, said the gunmen also made away with some of their mobile phones.

He said no ransom was demanded from the family.

The State’s Police public relations officer David Misal told Channels television via the phone that two persons have been arrested in connection with the crime and an investigation has been launched to further unravel those behind the dastard act.

Meanwhile, the remains of the deceased have been moved to the morgue of the Federal Medical Centre Jalingo.

Dovo who was a member of the Peoples Democratic Party, the ruling party in the state, was caretaker chairman of Ardo-Kola LGA from 2017 to 2020.

In May 2020, he successfully contested in the LGA elections and was inaugurated as Chairman of the LGA in June 2020.

Nigeria’s COVID-19 Cases Exceed 120,000 As NCDC Confirms 1,633 New Infections

A health practitioner tests for COVID-19. Photo: Sodiq Adelakun / Channels TV
A health official takes samples for a COVID-19 test. Photo: Sodiq Adelakun / Channels TV



COVID-19 cases in Nigeria crossed the 120,000 mark on Saturday as the country and the world race to contain a second wave of the pandemic.

The Nigeria Centre For Disease Control (NCDC) confirmed 1,633 cases and five deaths for the day with the nation now maintaining a run of recording more than a thousand cases per day. On Friday, the country had recorded more than 2,000 daily cases for the first time.

READ ALSO: Nigeria Records Over 2,000 COVID-19 Cases In One Day For First Time

NCDC’s latest data takes the total number of confirmed cases in the country to 120,602. Out of that number, 95,901 people have recovered and have been discharged, while 1,502 people have died. This means that there are currently 23,933 active confirmed cases in the country.


A breakdown of the cases recorded on Saturday shows that 498 cases were recorded in the nation’s COVID-19 epicentre, Lagos. This was more than double the 214 cases reported by Plateau State for the day.

The Federal Capital Territory, Abuja, had 176 cases; Rivers had 99 cases; Kaduna recorded 98 cases, while Edo and Anambra states had 87 and 86 new cases, respectively.

In Akwa Ibom, 50 cases were reported, Osun – 47, Kano and Oyo got 40 cases each, Kwara – 39, Ebonyi, Niger and Taraba each had 28, while Ogun and Ondo got 27 and 21 new cases respectively.

Others are Ekiti with 12, Katsina – 7, Borno – 6, and Delta with two cases.

Confirmed Cases by State

States AffectedNo. of Cases (Lab Confirmed)No. of Cases (on admission)No. DischargedNo. of Deaths
Akwa Ibom77530146410
Cross River179116612

Apart from undermining the health systems of most countries, the raging COVID-19 pandemic has also exposed the vulnerability of countries that depend on importation to meet their pharmaceutical needs.

Like many other African countries, Nigeria falls in the category of nations with very minimal pharmaceutical sufficiency as the country depends largely on the importation of products from China, the U.S., and India. The report below looks at what can be done to upscale the local production of pharmaceutical products in Nigeria.


Explosion At Rumuodumaya Gas Plant Causes Panic


A fire outbreak at a natural gas plant on the outskirt of Port Harcourt, the Rivers State capital last night, led to an explosion which created panic among residents in the area.

A journalist who lives in the area told Channels Television that the reverberation from the explosion shook the foundation of the buildings in the neigbourhood.

The incident at Rumuodumaya, along the Rumuokoro – Igwuruta road, which leads to the Port Harcourt International Airport is said to have occurred at about 8:45 pm when the plant operators were discharging gas from a truck.

The fire has been put out, but operation at the plant is suspended.

On Sunday morning, the South-South Zonal Coordinator of the National Emergency Management Agency in Rivers State, Walson Brandon said the agency had started evaluating the level of damage at the plant, and the safety of all staff.

READ ALSO: Gas Explosion Rocks Delta Community, Kills Three Children

The explosion, which officials say is minor, comes barely two days after an explosion at a gas plant in another South-South state, Delta, killed at least four persons including three children, and left 11 others with burns.

In reaction to the explosion in Agbor, Ika South Local Government Area, Delta State Governor Ifeanyi Okowa, visited the victims and the bereaved; and promised to review how gas plants are sited in the state.

“I’m aware that we have some of these facilities even in more densely populated areas and I’m going to sit with the House of Assembly – we have to do an immediate legislation that will not allow such (incident) anymore,” he said.

About three weeks earlier, a fire, and possibly an explosion, had been averted after a gas leak was detected at a facility in Elibrada community in Emohua Local Government Area of Rivers State.


Partial Lockdown Imposed On Beijing Over Covid-19 Outbreak

Medical workers wearing protective suits as a precaution against COVID-19 deliver a patient to the fever clinic at a hospital in Beijing on January 13, 2021. GREG BAKER / AFP



A partial lockdown was imposed on the Chinese capital Wednesday, with 1.6 million residents banned from leaving Beijing, after a handful of cases were detected.

Seven cases were reported in the city on Wednesday, including six in southern Daxing district.

All 1.6 million residents of Daxing must not leave Beijing unless they have received special permission from the authorities and tested negative for Covid-19 in the past three days, the district said.

Meetings of 50 or more people in the district have been banned, while “weddings should be postponed and funerals simplified,” the district government said.

It also ordered all kindergarten, primary and secondary students in the district to study at home.

Residents of five Daxing neighbourhoods where the cases were detected were ordered to remain indoors.

Daxing includes one of the city’s two international airports.

Pedestrians walk in the central business district (CBD) of Beijing on January 18, 2021.



China has largely brought the virus under control even as the rest of the world struggles with mounting deaths and overburdened hospitals.

But a spate of small, localised outbreaks has prompted Chinese officials to order mass testing, strict lockdowns and to prepare to move thousands into quarantine facilities to stamp out a resurgence.

China reported 103 new cases on Wednesday, including the seven in Beijing.

The outbreaks, including in neighbouring Hebei province, have put China on high alert for a potential wave of cases ahead of the upcoming Lunar New Year holiday.

Meanwhile, nearly three million people in northeastern Jilin province were placed under lockdown on Monday after a travelling salesman infected over a hundred people.

Heilongjiang, another northeastern province, has reprimanded 16 officials for “not doing their duty” to prevent recent clusters of cases in the province, the provincial Communist Party newspaper Heilongjiang Daily reported Wednesday.

Foreigners Without Face Masks Punished With Push-Ups In Bali

An undated handout picture released on January 20, 2021 by Bali’s Satpol PP, the provincial public order agency, shows an official looking on while a man performs push-ups as punishment for not wearing or improperly wearing face masks. Handout / SATPOL PP / AFP


Foreigners caught not wearing face masks on the Indonesian resort island of Bali are being subject to an unusual punishment: push-ups.

Video footage circulating on social media this week shows tourists in T-shirts and shorts being made to do the exercise in sweltering tropical heat as masked security officials stood over them.

Bali authorities made wearing a face mask in public mandatory last year as Indonesia battled a raging Covid-19 outbreak.

In recent days, however, scores of foreigners have been caught without face coverings, said security official Gusti Agung Ketut Suryanegara.

More than 70 people paid a fine of 100,000 rupiah ($7), but about 30 others said they did not have the cash.

Instead, they were ordered to do push-ups.

Those not carrying a mask had to do up to 50, while those who were wearing one improperly were punished with 15.

“At first, they would claim that they didn’t know the regulation,” Suryanegara told AFP. “Then they said they forgot, or that the mask was wet or damaged.”

Some Indonesians on the island, which is a pocket of Hinduism in the world’s most populous Muslim-majority country, have also been hit with the unusual punishment.

Bali’s authorities have also warned that foreigners who break virus regulations could be thrown out of the country, although so far there have no reports of anyone being deported for failing to wear a mask.

The island, which has been hammered by the epidemic, remains officially closed to overseas tourists but is home to many long-term residents from abroad.

Foreigners living elsewhere in Indonesia can still visit.


UK COVID-19 Strain In Over 60 Countries, Says WHO


The UK coronavirus strain has spread to at least 60 countries, the World Health Organization reported on Wednesday, after US President-elect Joe Biden led a moving tribute to American victims.

Covid-19 has claimed more than two million lives globally since it was first detected in the Chinese city of Wuhan more than a year ago, while the total number of reported cases is edging towards 100 million, according to an AFP tally.

The arrival of mass inoculation drives in the United States, Europe, and Asia had brought hope that the end of the epidemic was in sight.

But deep concern over new variants of the deadly pathogen has triggered governments around the world to toughen constraints on restriction-weary populations as officials grapple with how to slow infections until vaccines become widely available.

In its weekly update, the WHO announced the strain first found in the UK was now in 10 more countries than seven days ago.

It said the South African variant — which similarly is believed to be more transmissible — has been reported in 23 countries and territories.

The number of new deaths climbed to a record high of 93,000 over the previous week, it added, with 4.7 million new cases reported over the same period.

Biden leads tributes

The US is by far the worst-hit nation with more than 400,000 deaths, and incoming Commander-in-Chief Biden focused on healing at a memorial for victims on the eve of his inauguration.

Almost a year after the US registered its first fatality, the pace of the pandemic has picked up with 100,000 deaths in the past month alone.

“It’s hard sometimes to remember, but that’s how we heal. It’s important to do that as a nation,” Biden said in sombre remarks on Tuesday in Washington at the National Mall reflecting pool, where lights were turned on as a memorial to those who have died.

“Let us shine the lights in the darkness along the sacred pool of reflection and remember all who we lost,” Biden said.

The President-elect has made tackling the pandemic his top priority, as he prepares to take office in Washington on Wednesday.

He is already being forced to take action, with his aides contradicting an order from outgoing President Donald Trump to lift travel bans to Europe and Brazil designed to stop the spread.

Beijing lockdown

In China, which has largely brought the virus under control, a partial lockdown was imposed on the capital Beijing on Wednesday, with 1.6 million residents banned from leaving the city.

The country is battling its largest resurgence of Covid-19 cases in nearly a year, although the official figures are startlingly low compared to the rest of the world: just seven cases were reported in Beijing on Wednesday.

Authorities ordered residents of the southern Beijing district of Daxing — which includes one of the city’s two international airports — to remain indoors.

But in Wuhan, the city of 11 million people now synonymous with the coronavirus, there were scenes of relaxation and travel freedoms this week.

Wet markets throng with shoppers, elderly dancers rehearse in the parks, and bars sell “Wuhan Stay Strong” craft beer.

“Wuhan had a tough year in 2020,” Wang Chen, a 20-year-old resident, told AFP outside the exhibition, adding that China “handled the crisis very well.”

Olympic spirit

Despite mounting case numbers, organisers of the postponed Tokyo 2020 Olympics are “unwavering” on holding the event this year.

In an interview with AFP ahead of the six-month countdown, Games CEO Toshiro Muto insisted the sporting showpiece was still possible, but conceded people are “anxious”, including in Japan where Tokyo is under a state of emergency.

“We are not discussing cancellation,” he said, while admitting organisers couldn’t rule out staging the event without spectators.

“Holding the Games is our unwavering policy, and at this point in time we’re not discussing anything other than that.”

However, his view was in contrast to that of a senior official from the London 2012 Games Keith Mills, who told the BBC Tokyo officials should be making plans to cancel.

Meanwhile, on the Indonesian resort island of Bali, dozens of foreigners caught without masks have been subjected to an unusual punishment — push-ups in the street.

Video footage showed people in T-shirts and shorts doing the vigorous exercise on pavements in the sweltering tropical heat, as masked security officials stood over them.