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Sioux Falls Atheists and Atheism, Agnostics and Humanism

174 Atheism & Humanism News Articles
for March 2021
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3-31-21 Brazil faces health system collapse as covid-19 cases skyrocket
BRAZIL is facing the biggest health system collapse in its history, according to researchers at Brazilian health institute Fiocruz, as the country records its highest number of weekly deaths since the pandemic began. Meanwhile, Chile has been forced to impose strict new lockdowns to cope with a severe second wave of infections, despite having mounted one of the world’s fastest vaccine roll-outs. Brazil recorded 18,164 deaths last week, bringing its total to more than 300,000, a higher toll than any other country except the US. Many of the country’s intensive care units have reached capacity. “The lack of medication, materials and intensive care beds are turning the situation into chaos,” says Renata Pieratti Bueno, a doctor who works across three hospitals in São Paulo. The shortages and a lack of trained personnel are causing unnecessary deaths, she says. Brazil’s mortality rate for SARS-CoV-2 is already high: 8 out of 10 Brazilians intubated as a result of the virus have died compared with a global average of 5 out of 10, says Fernando Bozza at Fiocruz, which is based in Rio de Janeiro. Information from hospital admissions suggests the virus is hitting more younger people, says Raphael Guimarães at Fiocruz. He says there has been a surprising increase in the number of 30 to 59-year-olds needing hospitalisation. “It means that the pandemic in Brazil is reaching the younger population,” he says. The P.1 variant of the virus may be to blame for the high case numbers in Brazil. Studies suggest the variant has mutations that help it evade antibodies from previous infections or from vaccination, and thus may be able to reinfect people who have already been infected. Despite a lack of viral genetic sequencing in Brazil, the samples that have been analysed show the variant is now dominant in some regions. “We have to strongly consider that P.1 is causing the increase in the number of cases right now,” says Nuno Faria at Imperial College London.

3-31-21 Covid-19 news: Pfizer vaccine effective in children aged 12 to 15
The latest coronavirus news updated every day including coronavirus cases, the latest news, features and interviews from New Scientist and essential information about the covid-19 pandemic. Children “well protected” by Pfizer/BioNTech covid-19 vaccine in initial trial. Pfizer announced that trials of its covid-19 vaccine in children indicate 100 per cent efficacy in those aged 12 to 15. The company said that all 18 cases of covid-19 among the 2260 trial participants were in the placebo group, with no cases among those who had received the vaccine. “The initial results we have seen in the adolescent studies suggest that children are particularly well protected by vaccination, which is very encouraging,” said Ugur Sahin, CEO and co-founder of Pfizer’s partner BioNTech, in a statement. “It is very important to enable them to get back to everyday school life and to meet friends and family while protecting them and their loved ones,” said Sahin. Results from the trials have not yet been peer-reviewed or published. People identified as being clinically extremely vulnerable in England and Wales will no longer be advised by the UK government to shield at home, starting from 1 April. People affected by the change have been sent letters with the updated information and are still being advised to keep social contacts at low levels, work from home where possible and remain socially distanced from other people. Poland reported its highest daily increase in covid-19 deaths so far this year on 31 March. There were 32,874 new coronavirus cases and 653 deaths from covid-19 within a single 24-hour period, according to data from Poland’s health ministry. Russia registered the world’s first covid-19 vaccine candidate for animals. Trials of the vaccine involved dogs, cats, foxes, mink and other animals, said Konstantin Savenkov, head of Russia’s agriculture safety watchdog Rosselkhoznadzor, on 31 March.

3-31-21 George Floyd: Teenage witness 'stays up apologising for not doing more'
The teenager whose film of George Floyd's death sparked global protests said she "stays up apologising" to him for "not doing more". Darnella, now 18, was one of four young witnesses to take the stand on the second day of Derek Chauvin's trial. She told the court of seeing Mr Floyd "begging for his life", comparing him to her dad, brother, cousins and uncles "because they are all black". Issues of racial equality and policing lie at the centre of the case. On Monday, the opening session of the trial heard Mr Chauvin, an ex-police officer, knelt on Mr Floyd's neck for over nine minutes while arresting him in Minneapolis in May 2020. Prosecutors say this was a "major cause" in his death. Defence lawyers have indicated they will argue that 46-year-old Mr Floyd died of an overdose. Mr Chauvin, 45, denies charges of murder and manslaughter. Three other officers who were present - Tou Thao, J Alexander Keung and Thomas Lane - will go on trial later in the year. Four children who were all under 18 at the time of the incident gave evidence to the court, but the cameras were switched off so the jurors could not see them and they were identified only by their first names. Darnella, then 17 years old, was walking to the Cup Foods shop with her nine-year-old cousin when they came across the arrest on the street outside. She told the court she started filming on her phone because "I saw a man terrified, begging for his life. It wasn't right - he was in pain." She described hearing Mr Floyd "saying 'I can't breathe'. He was terrified, he was calling for his mom." Darnella said witnessing his death had changed her life. "When I look at George Floyd I look at my dad, I look at my brother, my cousins, my uncles - because they are all black," she said, audibly crying. "And I look at how that could have been one of them."

3-31-21 Suspect held for repeatedly kicking Asian American woman in New York
Police in the US have arrested a man suspected of attacking an Asian American woman in New York City, kicking her repeatedly in the stomach as witnesses appeared to only watch. The 65-year-old woman was admitted to hospital with serious injuries. CCTV video from Monday appears to show staff of a nearby building watching without intervening. Police said Brandon Elliot had been charged with attempted assault as a hate crime. On Tuesday Joe Biden said he could not be silent "in the face of rising violence against Asian Americans". The president announced additional steps to address anti-Asian crimes. Six of the victims of a gun attack in Atlanta two weeks ago which killed eight in total were Asian women. In the latest incident in New York City, footage shared by police appears to show a man approaching a woman in the street and kicking her to the ground. While she is lying on the floor outside a building entrance, he kicks her again in the stomach and in the face. Several security staff in the building appear to watch the attack while one man uses a telephone. New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio has condemned the assault as "absolutely disgusting and outrageous". Police said the incident took place in Manhattan on Monday morning and asked for anyone with information to come forward. The suspect had made anti-Asian statements, they said. The managers of the building wrote on Instagram that the staff who witnessed the attack had been suspended while an investigation is carried out. "We are extremely distraught by the horrific attack that occurred outside our building," the Bordsky Organization wrote, adding that it condemns violence against Asian Americans. New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said it was "absolutely unacceptable" that witnesses did not intervene.

3-31-21 Covid: Germany limits use of AstraZeneca Covid jab for under-60s
Germany is suspending routine use of the Oxford-AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine for people aged below 60 because of a risk of rare blood clots. The German medicines regulator found 31 cases of a type of rare blood clot among the nearly 2.7 million people who had received the vaccine in Germany. Canada earlier suspended use of the AstraZeneca jab in people under 55. AstraZeneca said international regulators had found the benefits of its jab outweighed risks significantly. It said it was continuing to analyse its database to understand "whether these very rare cases of blood clots associated with thrombocytopenia occur any more commonly than would be expected naturally in a population of millions of people". "We will continue to work with German authorities to address any questions they may have," it added. The EU and UK medicine regulators both backed the vaccine after previous cautionary suspensions in Europe this month. The European Medicines Agency (EMA) and the UK Medicines & Healthcare products Regulatory Agency stressed that the benefits of the AstraZeneca vaccine continued to outweigh the risk of side effects. In the UK, a government spokesperson said: "The Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine is safe, effective and has already saved thousands of lives in this country. As the UK's independent regulator has said, when people are called forward, they should get the jab. "Over 30 million people have already received their first dose of a vaccine, and we are on track to offer jabs to all over-50s by 15 April and all adults by the end of July." AstraZeneca's product is one of the most widely used coronavirus vaccines in the West, and is meant to be supplied on a not-for-profit basis to the developing world. The EU's rollout of its vaccination programme has been dogged by delays because of delivery and production problems, and Germany is among several states now fearing a third wave of infections.

3-31-21 Brazil: Political crisis and Covid surge rock Bolsonaro
Brazil's Jair Bolsonaro is facing the biggest crisis of his presidency after the heads of the army, navy and air force all quit and the country recorded its highest daily Covid-19 death toll. The unprecedented resignation of the defence chiefs is being seen as a protest at attempts by Mr Bolsonaro to exert undue control over the military. Mr Bolsonaro's popularity has plummeted over his response to Covid-19. Nearly 314,000 people have died, with a new daily record of 3,780 on Tuesday. Worldwide, Brazil has the second highest number of total confirmed Covid cases with more than 12.6m. Only the United States has had more. Earlier this month the Brazilian public health institute Fiocruz warned the health system was close to collapse, with more than 80% of intensive care unit beds occupied in most of the country's states. An epidemiologist in the state of Rio Grande do Sul, Dr Pedro Hallal, told the BBC he feared Brazil could become a threat to global public health. President Bolsonaro has consistently opposed lockdown measures, arguing that the damage to the economy would be worse than the effects of the coronavirus itself. He has also told Brazilians to "stop whining" about the situation. But last week, Mr Bolsonaro, who has previously raised doubts about vaccines and defended unproven drugs as treatment, said that he would make 2021 the year of vaccinations. "Very soon we'll resume our normal lives," he said. So far Brazil has vaccinated just over 8% of the population, with some 17.7m vaccine doses dispensed. The president's popularity has plummeted over his handling of the pandemic, with 43% of Brazilians saying Mr Bolsonaro is to blame for the Covid crisis, according to a Datafolha poll published in mid-March. His government is in turmoil. On 16 March a new health minister took office - the fourth since the pandemic began. Marcelo Queiroga, a cardiologist, replaced an army officer with no medical training.

3-30-21 Covid-19 news: England and Wales record lowest deaths in five months
The latest coronavirus news updated every day including coronavirus cases, the latest news, features and interviews from New Scientist and essential information about the covid-19 pandemic. Weekly covid-19 deaths in England and Wales fall to lowest level since October. Weekly deaths from covid-19 in England and Wales fell below 1000 for the first time since October, the latest figures from the Office for National Statistics show. There were 963 deaths where covid-19 was mentioned on the death certificate in the week up to 19 March, down from 1501 the previous week. It is the lowest weekly death toll in England and Wales since the week up to 16 October last year, when 670 covid-19 deaths were recorded. This is also the first time weekly deaths have fallen below 1000 since the week up to 23 October when there were 978 deaths involving covid-19 in England and Wales. The latest figures bring the total number of covid-19 deaths in the UK to 150,116. New or modified covid-19 vaccines to tackle coronavirus variants could become necessary within a year or less, a survey of 77 epidemiologists, virologists and infectious disease specialists across 28 countries has suggested. Two-thirds of respondents to the survey, conducted by the People’s Vaccine Alliance, said that first-generation covid-19 vaccines could be rendered ineffective by variants of the coronavirus within a year or less while 88 per cent said persistent low vaccine coverage in many countries would increase the chance of vaccine-resistance mutations appearing. Authorities in Berlin and Munich in Germany announced on 30 March that they are temporarily suspending use of the Oxford/AstraZeneca covid-19 vaccine in people under the age of 60 over concerns about rare blood clots in some people who received it. Germany’s medical regulator has recorded 31 cases of a rare blood clot in the brain in people who had received the vaccine. On 29 March, Canada’s National Advisory Committee on Immunization recommended that the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine should not be used in adults under the age of 55, while cases of rare blood clots are being investigated. France and Spain have also limited use of the vaccine to older people. The director of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Rochelle Walensky, has issued a warning about rising coronavirus cases in the country. Walensky said she did not want to see the US face another wave in cases and deaths as is currently being seen in many European countries. “I’m going to reflect on the recurring feeling I have of impending doom,” she told a White House briefing on 29 March, adding “we have so much reason for hope, but right now I’m scared”. The US recorded an average of 56,995 new coronavirus cases a day in the week up to 26 March, an increase of 6.7 per cent compared to the previous week, according to the CDC.

3-30-21 Covid-19: CDC head warns of 'impending doom' in US
A senior scientist has warned that the US faces "impending doom" as coronavirus cases and hospital admissions rise across the country. On Monday President Joe Biden urged state politicians once again to make mask-wearing obligatory in public places. He also promised that by mid-April 90% of American adults would be able to receive a vaccine. The US has recorded around 60,000 new cases daily for the past week. The director of the US public health agency, the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), was speaking at a White House briefing when she said she was going to go "off script". "I'm going to reflect on the reoccurring feeling I have of impending doom," Dr Rochelle Walensky said, adding "we have so much reason for hope, but right now I'm scared". New Covid cases have reached around 60,000 a day in the past week, a rise of around 7%, according to the CDC. Dr Walensky said she did not want the US to face another spike in cases and deaths as has happened in many European countries. Cases have risen particularly quickly in Michigan and the country's north-east, including Connecticut and New York, according to the New York Times. Speaking in a TV address from the White House President Biden issued a plea to state governors to re-introduce laws that require citizens to wear masks. Coronavirus rules in the US vary state-by-state, with some governors ordering much stricter restrictions than others. "If we let our guard down now, we can see the virus getting worse, not better," Mr Biden said. He also spoke about the US success in its national vaccination programme and suggested it was ahead of schedule. By 19 April, 90% of American adults will be eligible for a vaccine and will have access to a vaccination centre five miles from their homes, he promised. Mr Biden has said all American adults will be able to register for a dose by 1 May. More than one in five adults and nearly all Americans aged over-65 are fully vaccinated, according to the CDC.

3-30-21 Covid: Italy introduces quarantine for EU travellers
The Italian government is to introduce a mandatory five-day quarantine for EU travellers amid a third wave of infections in a number of countries. Previously, only arrivals from outside the bloc had to self-isolate. Tuesday's decision comes as new rules requiring all air passengers to Germany to provide a negative coronavirus test come into effect. Germany remains under a partial lockdown but coronavirus cases continue to rise. On Tuesday, German Interior Minister Horst Seehofer announced that the country would increase checks on its land borders to ensure compliance with the new rules. Germany's restrictions on travellers were first announced on Friday as the head of the country's RKI public health institute warned that the number of daily cases could rise to 100,000 if the third wave continues. In a separate development on Tuesday, the city of Berlin announced it was halting the use of the Oxford-AstraZeneca jab for people under 60 as a "precaution" after 31 cases of blood clots were reported in Germany following vaccinations. According to German news agency DPA, two hospitals in the capital had already stopped offering the vaccine to women under 55 because of the risk of blood clots. The news comes after Canada's vaccine committee announced it would stop the use of Oxford-AstraZeneca jabs in people aged 55 and under, pending an investigation into the rare side effects. Earlier this month, however, the European medicines regulator found that the vaccine was "not associated" with an increased risk of blood clots after a number of countries temporarily halted its rollout. The body also confirmed that the benefits of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine outweighed any risks, after reviewing evidence. The UK medicines regulator MHRA said earlier this month that the available evidence did not suggest that blood clots in veins were caused by the drug.

3-30-21 Mexico police under fire after woman's death in custody
Outrage has been growing over the death in police custody of a Salvadorean woman in the Mexican resort of Tulum on Saturday as more details of the incident emerged. A post-mortem examination suggests Victoria Esperanza Salazar's neck was broken after a female officer pinned her to the ground. Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador said she had been "murdered". The incident comes amid growing protests against femicides in Mexico. The 36-year-old from El Salvador had been in Mexico since at least 2018, when she was granted refugee status for humanitarian reasons. Her mother says she left her hometown of Sonsonate five years ago to escape the violence which El Salvador's notorious street gangs were spreading. Victoria Salazar lived with her two daughters, aged 15 and 16, in the resort town of Tulum, where she worked as a cleaner in hotels. On Saturday afternoon local time, she entered a small supermarket in Tulum. CCTV footage broadcast on Mexican media shows her walking around the store waving a large empty water bottle. The footage suggests most of the customers and staff continued about their business, but it later emerged that the store's manager had called the police. Four municipal police officers, three male and one female, attended the call and detained Victoria Salazar on the street outside for allegedly disturbing the peace. Unverified footage broadcast by news site Noticaribe shows her crying out as a female officer is kneeling on her back while the male officers stand by. The post-mortem examination has revealed that Victoria Salazar died from a broken neck, the attorney-general for the state of Quintana Roo said on Monday. Oscar Montes de Oca said that she had suffered "a spinal fracture caused by the rupture of the first and second vertebrae". He said that the officers had used "disproportionate force" against Salazar. Four police officers have been detained and will be charged with femicide, Mr Montes de Oca added.

3-29-21 Covid-19 news: Low vaccine uptake among Black people in England
The latest coronavirus news updated every day including coronavirus cases, the latest news, features and interviews from New Scientist and essential information about the covid-19 pandemic. Covid-19 vaccine uptake among over-70s lowest in Black ethnic groups in England. Analysis by the Office for National Statistics indicates lower covid-19 vaccine uptake among minority ethnic groups in England compared to white British people. People from Black African backgrounds over the age of 70 in England were 5.5 times more likely not to have received a first dose of covid-19 vaccine between 8 December 2020 and 11 March 2021 compared to people identifying as white British, after adjusting for age, sex, socio-demographic characteristics and underlying health conditions. People from Black Caribbean backgrounds in the same age group were almost 4 times more likely not to have received a first dose of vaccine compared to those in the white British group, and the equivalent figure for Bangladeshi and Pakistani ethnic groups was more than 3 times. A joint World Health Organization-China investigation into the origins of covid-19 suggests transmission of the virus from bats to humans through another animal is the most likely origin of the pandemic and that it is extremely unlikely that the virus was leaked from a laboratory, according to a draft copy of their report seen by the Associated Press. US secretary of state Anthony Blinken has expressed concerns about the report. “The government in Beijing apparently helped to write it,” Blinken told CNN. A spokesperson from China’s foreign ministry rejected this claim. The number of covid-19 patients in intensive care units and hospital surveillance units in France reached 4872 on 28 March, approaching the 4919 such patients on 16 November during France’s second wave. Doctors are warning that they may soon have to start turning patients away for ICU care, particularly in Paris and the surrounding area, according to the Associated Press.

3-29-21 George Floyd: Derek Chauvin trial begins as family demands justice
The trial of Derek Chauvin, the white American policeman accused of killing George Floyd in May last year, is due to begin later on Monday. Mr Chauvin was recorded by passers-by in the city of Minneapolis kneeling on the neck of Mr Floyd, who was black, for more than nine minutes. The incident sparked protests in the US and across the world against police brutality and racism. Mr Chauvin, 45, is one of four officers involved to stand trial. He is facing the most serious charges of the four, including second-degree murder, which carries a sentence of up to 40 years in prison. Mr Chauvin, who was fired from the police, has pleaded not guilty. Family and friends of George Floyd held a vigil and prayer service in Minneapolis ahead of the trial. "We are [a] God-fearing family, we [are] church people. So, therefore, I'm just going to end it on this - we're asking the system for the justice," his brother Terrence said. Another of his brothers, Philonise Floyd, told reporters on Sunday: "I have a big hole right now in my heart. It can't be patched up... I need justice for George. We need a conviction." Twelve jurors - plus two alternate (back-up) jurors - will remain anonymous and unseen throughout the televised trial. Prosecutors are expected to play the video showing Mr Chauvin's knee on Mr Floyd's neck early on in the trial. In order to secure a conviction, they must prove that his conduct was a "substantial causal factor" in Mr Floyd's death. Mr Chauvin's defence team is expected to focus on the fact that Mr Floyd used drugs before his arrest which may have contributed to his death, along with underlying health conditions, and whether Mr Chauvin followed police procedure. Fifteen jurors - nine women and six men - have been selected; nine of them are white and six are black or multiracial. One juror - who was a back-up option in case a juror dropped out before proceedings began - is expected to be dismissed on Monday, and the trial is expected to go ahead with 12 jurors and two alternates. They were asked to submit questionnaires describing their existing knowledge of the case, any previous contact with police, and their media habits.

3-28-21 'Is this patriot enough?': Asian-American veteran shows battle scars
An Asian-American ex-soldier who lifted his shirt and showed his scars to prove his "patriotism" in a town hall meeting has gone viral on social media. Lee Wong, 69, has been applauded for making a powerful statement about discrimination. But some said Asian-Americans should not feel compelled to prove their loyalty to their country. Anti-Asian racism is rising in the US. Last week six Asian women were killed in Atlanta alongside two other victims. Thousands of Asian-Americans have reported violent attacks or hate crimes in recent months, often linked to rhetoric that blames Asian people for the spread of Covid-19. Mr Wong, an elected official in West Chester, Ohio, was speaking in a meeting about the racism he has faced as an Asian person. Addressing the meeting, he began to unbutton his shirt saying: "I'm going to show you what questions about patriotism look like." He stood up and lifted his vest, showing large scars on his chest to colleagues in the hall. "Here is my proof. This is sustained in my service in the US military. Is this patriot enough?" he asked. He then explained that people have questioned his loyalty to the US and suggested he did not "look American enough". Mr Wong moved to the US to study in the late 1960s, he told Fox News. He said he had been physically attacked as well as verbally abused. He served 20 years in the US army and is now chair of the West Chester board of trustees after first being elected in 2005. He called on colleagues in the town hall meeting to remember that the US constitution says all people are equal. A video of Mr Wong's statement has spread widely on social media, with many people using the hashtag #StopAsianHate. "It's powerful and heart-breaking that someone like him, so experienced and committed, feels he has to bear his soul to get the point made," wrote one Twitter user. "This took my breath away. This man standing up to show his scars that he got in wars fighting for the USA," added another. Comedian and writer Jenny Yang applauded Mr Wong for making the strong statement but added: "No one should prove how "American" they are to deserve dignity and respect."

3-28-21 Life at the 'back of the line' for global vaccine distribution
In Honduras and in low-income countries across the world, the vaccination process is riddled with uncertainty. Dr. Luis Romero Reyes, a pediatrician specializing in infectious diseases in the Honduran city of San Pedro Sula, has been treating patients with the coronavirus and closely following news about the country's vaccine rollout. He was also one of the first people in the country to get a shot in February. By March 13, Honduras had received 53,000 vaccine doses. Even so, he doesn't know when Honduras will be able to get more vaccine doses and he worries about those waiting. Not to mention, if it's hard for him as a medical professional to keep tabs on things, he says, it's worse for the general public. Needless to say, when he got the Moderna shot, he says, it felt bittersweet. "Unfortunately, it was just scraps," Romero Reyes said. "We could only give vaccines to a few people, and it was because of a donation. I wish all medical workers could've gotten a dose at the same time." In Honduras, the vaccination process is riddled with uncertainty, with the country ranking with one of the lowest vaccination rates in the hemisphere, far behind wealthier nations. Honduran officials expect to get enough doses to vaccinate 4.7 million people, or 81.5 percent of the population, to reach herd immunity by the end of this year, according to Dr. Ida Berenice Molina, head of the country's national vaccine program. But it is unclear where those doses will come from, and when — and independent public health observers in the country say they expect the process to last at least until the end of next year. Honduras, which has a population of 9.4 million, got a shipment of 48,000 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine on March 13 from the World Health Organization's COVAX program. And last month, the Israeli government donated 5,000 doses of Moderna to the country. Honduras has made arrangements for 3.9 million doses pledged to be donated by the COVAX program by the end of 2021, and 4.2 million to be purchased from the Gamaleya Institute in Russia, Molina said. But the delivery schedule for most of those doses is up in the air. The vaccines will be administered in three phases, Molina said. The rollout plan is similar to what's been done elsewhere: They'll start by vaccinating front-line workers, then the elderly and people with health issues, and eventually, everyone over the age of 18, except for pregnant women. Still, there is great confusion in the country about the process, and Molina says it's because of misinformation fueled by the politics surrounding the country's presidential election in November. The primary elections were held this month. "I have never seen as many vaccine experts as I see today," said Molina, who has headed the country's national vaccine program since 1993. Honduran health officials have been criticized for not moving more swiftly to buy vaccines. But either way, they're facing massive competition to get in line with manufacturers. According to Bloomberg, the world's richest countries — including Australia, the United Kingdom, and the United States — are all clogging up the queue as of early March, ordering more doses than they need. The ethics of vaccine distribution are complicated. It's logical for rich countries to tend to their populations first for internal and external reasons, said Jim Thomas, an associate professor of epidemiology and public health ethicist at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. For example, the U.S., with the highest number of cases in the world, is more likely to be an origin of variants that could spread beyond its borders.

3-27-21 Biden: Georgia voting restriction law is 'atrocity'
US President Joe Biden has likened a new voting law in the state of Georgia to racist policies of the 20th Century US South, calling it an "atrocity". The law adds restrictions to voting that Mr Biden said disproportionately targeted black Americans. Republicans say they are streamlining voting procedures and trying to restore confidence in the election system. The president called the law "Jim Crow in the 21st Century" and "a blatant attack on the Constitution". Jim Crow refers to the 19th and 20th Century laws that enforced racial segregation in the South. In last year's presidential election, Mr Biden became the first Democratic candidate to win Georgia since 1992 - and it was high turnout among black Americans that was believed to have tipped the state in his favour. In his statement, released on Friday, Mr Biden said: "Recount after recount and court case after court case upheld the integrity and outcome of a clearly free, fair, and secure democratic process. "Instead of celebrating the rights of all Georgians to vote or winning campaigns on the merits of their ideas, Republicans in the state instead rushed through an un-American law to deny people the right to vote." He added: "This law, like so many others being pursued by Republicans in statehouses across the country is a blatant attack on the Constitution and good conscience." He later added that the justice department was "taking a look" at the new Georgia laws. The Election Integrity Act of 2021 passed in both chambers of the state's Republican-controlled legislature on Thursday. It makes Georgia the second state to pass laws that restrict ballot access in the aftermath of the 2020 election. The key elements of the legislation: 1. Ensure new ID requirements for requesting mail-in ballots, replacing the current system which simply requires a signature, 2. Ban the practice of giving food or water to voters in line at polling stations, 3. Give the state legislature more power to take control of voting operations if problems are reported, 4. Limit the number of "drop boxes" in which people can place their absentee votes, meaning many will have to travel further, 5.Shorten the early-voting period for all runoff elections. (Webmaster's comment: Every citizen has a right to vote and we need to provide the means!)

3-27-21 Dominion Voting sues Fox News for $1.6bn over election fraud claims
Dominion Voting Systems has filed a $1.6bn (£1.2bn) defamation lawsuit against Fox News, arguing it promoted baseless claims of vote-rigging. Conservatives and Trump campaigners had claimed last year that the US company had altered its voting machines to deny re-election to Donald Trump. The false claim of a stolen election was promoted by Mr Trump and helped fuel the 6 January attack on Congress. Fox News said it would fight the "baseless lawsuit in court". The lawsuit argues that Fox News, which hosted guests touting anti-Dominion conspiracy theories during the 2020 election, "recklessly disregarded the truth" because "the lies were good for Fox's business". "Fox News Media is proud of our 2020 election coverage, which stands in the highest tradition of American journalism, and we will vigorously defend against this baseless lawsuit in court," the media company said in its response. Dominion is one of the largest manufacturers of voting equipment in the US. Its machines were used by at least 28 states in last November's election. There is no evidence for widespread voting fraud in the presidential election. The fraud argument has been refuted by courts across the US, as well as Trump-appointed judges and his own attorney general, William Barr. Among those spreading falsehoods about Dominion was long-time Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani and lawyer Sidney Powell, who also worked for the campaign. One claim made by the pair was that Dominion, a US company founded in 2002, had worked with late Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez to create machines that would "make sure he never lost an election". This is the second election-related lawsuit to hit Fox News. Smartmatic, another election technology company, sued Fox Corporation and several top presenters for $2.7bn in January over similar claims.

3-27-21 The Republican surrender to gun violence
Perhaps the surest — and sickest — sign that, after more than a year of the pandemic, things are getting back to "normal" in the U.S. has been not only the return of mass shootings, but also the Republican refusal to do anything about them. After two gun massacres in Atlanta and Boulder in just one week left 18 people, including a police officer, dead, President Biden has asked Congress to pass stricter gun laws, including an assault weapons ban and tighter background check requirements. "This is not and should not be a partisan issue," Biden told reporters at the White House on Tuesday. "It is an American issue. We have to act." That message has been repeated by Senate Democrats. At a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on gun violence the same day as Biden’s remarks – and just one day after the Colorado gunman killed ten people in a Boulder grocery store – Sen. Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut implored his colleagues, "it is time for us to do something." Republicans are having none of it. Scoffing at Blumenthal’s suggestion, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz lambasted Democrats for engaging in "political theater." "What happens in this committee after every mass shooting," Cruz continued, "is Democrats proposed taking away guns from law-abiding citizens because that’s their political objective," as if the real absurdity of American life was Democratic action rather than the regularity of mass gun killings in the nation. Employing the twisted logic that has justified Republican inaction on gun violence for years, Cruz contended that rather than reducing crime, gun control legislation only "makes it worse," as if America’s astronomically high rate of gun violence wasn’t obviously correlated with America’s astronomically high rate of civilian gun ownership That thinking was also clear in the comments of Sen. John Thune of South Dakota, the second ranking Senate Republican, who explained, "there’s not a big appetite among our members to do things that would appear to be addressing it, but actually don’t do anything to fix the problem." If anything demonstrates just how much the GOP has changed from its once-held belief in good governance to its radical anti-government stance, it’s the issue of gun control. For decades, Republicans had a reputation for supporting moderate gun control laws. (Some even entertained more drastic measures, such as Richard Nixon’s private deliberation over whether to ban all handguns in 1972.) The Republican philosophy of limited government still allowed most Republicans to believe they had an obligation to limit guns. But with the National Rifle Association’s increasing influence over Republican lawmakers in recent years — a development that grew directly out of the NRA’s own shift from its history of supporting gun control legislation to its hardline defense of Americans’ absolute right to gun ownership — Republicans largely abandoned their willingness to back gun safety legislation. Instead, they leaned heavily into the "culture wars" messaging that the NRA and conservative media outlets were hyping while offering no real policy solutions to address the nation’s epidemic of gun violence. Democrats were socialists who wanted to take guns away from law-abiding citizens while opening up the borders for thugs and criminals to come in, they contended. As gun-related deaths rise one year after another, Republican lawmakers are now set on convincing their voters that government intervention won’t help. If anything, what is needed is more guns and less government. "The right of self-defense doesn’t stop at the end of your driveway," a policy document from Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign read – a campaign for which, it should be noted, the NRA poured out $30 million.

3-27-21 The vaccine misinformation battle raging in France
France is one of the most vaccine-sceptical countries in the world - fertile ground for hard-line anti-vaccine activists spreading online misinformation, writes the BBC's specialist disinformation reporter Marianna Spring. In his spare time, Gilles loves to watch sci-fi films and read bandes dessinées - French comic books. He also helps run a conspiracy-themed French-language Facebook group with 50,000 members, many of whom spread falsehoods about coronavirus. He became a member just after the start of the pandemic, almost a year ago. "I felt in my gut that this whole thing was overrated and wrong," Gilles says. He doesn't deny - like some others in the group - that Covid-19 is real. Instead he harbours vague suspicions about the disease, potential cures, and alleged cover-ups. And he doesn't want a Covid vaccine, because of posts he's seeing on the group. He fears, despite the weight of scientific evidence, that jabs have been developed too quickly to be safe. And Gilles' story is part of a bigger picture. The Facebook group that Gilles helps to run is just one example of a larger trend - an increase in French-language anti-vaccine content on social media over the past year. Research from BBC Monitoring found that the number of followers of pages sharing extreme anti-vaccine content in French grew in 2020, from 3.2m to nearly 4.1m likes. These pages aren't about asking legitimate medical questions - they're miles away from the scientific and political discussions currently underway in Europe and elsewhere. Instead, they're run by people who've firmly made up their minds against vaccinations, and who spread wild false rumours about vaccines killing millions, containing tracking devices, or altering our DNA. Anti-vaccine pages in French also tend to mix in anti-establishment posts. Many of the discussions centre around concerns that Covid jabs could be made compulsory, with anti-establishment and protest communities fearing that French democracy will be replaced with a so-called "sanitary dictatorship".

3-26-21 Covid-19 news: UK scientists warn cases are rising in children
The latest coronavirus news updated every day including coronavirus cases, the latest news, features and interviews from New Scientist and essential information about the covid-19 pandemic. Recent figures indicate cases are rising among secondary school pupils in England. Independent SAGE – a group of scientists publishing advice for the UK government – has warned about rising cases of covid-19 among children in England, since the reopening of schools on 8 March. The latest results from a random swab testing survey by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) show that coronavirus infection levels among children aged 11 to 16 have risen slightly in England, with 0.43 per cent of secondary school age children testing positive in the week ending 20 March compared to 0.31 per cent the previous week. “What has to be understood is that the new variants are harder to control and it seems likely that the limited reopening of schools has started to show up in the data,” said James Naismith at the University of Oxford in a statement. European Union leaders have backed a tightening of vaccine exports from the bloc, following a virtual summit on 25 March. Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte said EU leaders had found the European Commission’s new vaccine export restrictions “acceptable”, but added that he hoped they would never be used. The new export controls enable the EU to block covid-19 shipments to countries with better vaccination coverage. Former European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker had criticised the EU’s handling of vaccine exports ahead of the summit. Health officials in Germany have warned that the third wave of coronavirus infections in the country will be “harder to curb” than the previous two. Lothar Wieler, head of Germany’s Robert Koch Institute, warned that Germany could see as many as 100,000 new infections a day without any intervention. Wieler was speaking at a press conference on 26 March, alongside Germany’s health minister Jens Spahn. “At the moment, the figures are rising too fast and the variants are making the situation especially dangerous,” said Spahn. “If this continues unchecked, we run the risk [that] our health system could reach its breaking point in April,” he added. US president Joe Biden announced on 25 March that he had doubled his administration’s vaccine delivery goal to 200 million doses during his first 100 days as president. The US has administered more than 133 million doses of covid-19 vaccine so far. A third wave of coronavirus infections in Africa could threaten fragile healthcare systems in some countries, the World Health Organization has warned.

3-26-21 Minimum wage fight: 'There's no recovery without raising it'
When 23-year-old Jamila Allen cast her vote for Joe Biden in the US presidential election last year, one thing was top of her mind: his promise to raise the country's minimum hourly wage to $15 (£10.80). Jamila, a full-time manager at a fast food restaurant in North Carolina, earns about $11.20 an hour. With an increase, she saw a chance to breathe easier financially - to not worry about the cost of food and other basics, maybe live on her own, even save up to go to university. But though Mr Biden won the White House, the prospects of such a change to the minimum wage remain unclear. Last month, a proposal to include the increase in the $1.9 trillion economic relief package failed - sunk in part due to lack of support from key members of his own political party, the Democrats, who said requiring businesses to pay $15 an hour by 2025 went too far. Now, as Mr Biden turns to other priorities, such as a massive package of infrastructure spending, there is a risk the issue will get lost. "We've been fighting for so long," Jamila says. "To see that the people we voted for really denied it made me feel really disappointed." Polls show widespread support for raising the national minimum wage, which has been stuck at $7.25 (£5.22) - roughly $15,000 annually - since 2009. In recent years, under pressure from activists, 30 states and Washington DC have taken steps to boost pay above that standard. Nine will have minimum rates at or above $15 per hour by 2025. Major employers like Amazon, Target and grocery store Kroger have also set starting pay at that amount. But efforts to extend the increase countrywide have repeatedly failed. The Raise the Wage Act would have increased the minimum hourly rate to $9.50 this year and to $15 by 2025. It also proposed expanding the minimum rate to more groups, such as people under the age of 20, disabled and tipped workers. Economists estimate such a move would boost pay for roughly 30 million people, or about one in six US workers - disproportionately black and Hispanic women in southern states. "There are 20 states that haven't and won't raise their own minimum wages [without] federal action," says Judy Conti, government affairs director at the National Employment Law Project, which has pushed for an increase. "It is leaving way too many people behind… and it is leaving them behind in a systemically discriminatory way."

3-26-21 Biden pressed on child migration at first news conference
US President Joe Biden was pressed on how he would address the surge in migrants at the southern border at his first official press conference. More than 17,000 children are being kept in government detention centres and Mr Biden was challenged on whether his policies could be contributing to the increase in child arrivals. The president defended his record and vowed to be transparent. The hour-long event also covered subjects from guns to foreign policy. He also doubled his administration's vaccine rollout goal, saying that he now aims to have 200 million jabs be given before his 100th day in office. But questions about the situation at the US-Mexico border dominated the event. During the White House news conference, Mr Biden blamed his predecessor Donald Trump for the growing humanitarian crisis on the southern border, and said it was normal for the US to experience an influx of migrants in cooler months. "The truth of the matter is, nothing has changed," he said, adding: "The reason they're coming is that it's the time they can travel with the least likelihood of dying on the way because of the heat in the desert." "I'd like to think it's because I'm a nice guy, but it's not," he said, calling the surge a cyclical event. He also blamed the "circumstances in their country," including natural disasters, crime and lack of economic opportunity. Asked when he would make government-run detention centres open to visits from reporters, Mr Biden said he "will commit to transparency". "You'll have full access to everything," he said, but declined to give a timeline. Topics raised during the press conference ranged from questions over gun control to whether the US would keep its commitment to withdrawing troops from Afghanistan by a 1 May deadline agreed to by the previous administration. Mr Biden admitted that it would be difficult to meet that timeline, and punted on answering questions over what he could accomplish on what he called "long-term" problems such as gun legislation.

3-26-21 AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine holds up in an updated analysis of trial data
The redo came after a safety committee raised concerns over the data used in earlier results. Analysis of the latest data from a clinical trial for a coronavirus vaccine developed by AstraZeneca and the University of Oxford shows the shot is still effective at preventing COVID-19 symptoms, the pharmaceutical company reported March 25. The news comes after the U.S. National Institutes of Allergy and Infectious Diseases aired concerns that AstraZeneca may have included outdated information in an interim analysis of the trial (SN: 2/22/21). That interim analysis, announced on March 22, found the vaccine was 79 percent effective. The efficacy was based on 141 cases of COVID-19 among the trial’s 32,449 participants, but the cases were recorded only through February 17. Since that date, more people in the trial tested positive for the coronavirus. The latest analysis included an additional 49 cases, bringing the total to 190, AstraZeneca said in a March 25 statement. Taking the new data into account, the vaccine now has an efficacy of 76 percent — only three percentage points lower than in the interim report. There are an additional 14 possible COVID-19 cases in the trial that researchers still need to confirm, AstraZeneca said in its statement. The company has not specified how many cases were in people who got the vaccine or in those who got a placebo. The slight decrease in efficacy is not unexpected, Stephen Evans, a vaccine expert at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine said in a statement released by the Science Media Centre. As more participants in the trial catch the coronavirus and develop symptoms, overall efficacy can fluctuate. In fact, the vaccine’s efficacy for trial participants aged 65 and older actually got better with the new analysis. While the interim analysis reported an efficacy of 80 percent in that age group, the more recent results push it higher to 85 percent.

3-26-21 Coronavirus: EU stops short of vaccine export ban
European Union leaders have stopped short of banning vaccine exports after a protracted row with the Anglo-Swedish manufacturer AstraZeneca. At a summit on Thursday they gave backing in principle for toughening export controls. But a post-summit statement emphasised the importance of global supply chains needed to produce vaccinations. Elements of the AstraZeneca vaccination are manufactured in a number of EU states. European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said AstraZeneca must "catch up" on deliveries to the EU before exporting doses elsewhere. French President Emmanuel Macron told reporters this marked "the end of naivety" from the EU. Vaccine rollouts in EU states have started sluggishly, and the bloc has blamed pharmaceutical companies - primarily AstraZeneca - for not delivering promised doses. AstraZeneca has denied that it is failing to honour its contract. The EU is expecting to receive about 30 million AstraZeneca doses by the end of March, less than a third of what it was hoping for. "I think it is clear that first of all the company has to catch up," Mrs von der Leyen told a news conference after the virtual leaders' summit. "[It] has to honour the contract it has with European member states before it can engage again in exporting vaccines," she said. "We want to explain to our European citizens that they [can] get their fair share." The EU was accused, primarily by the UK and the World Health Organization (WHO), of so-called vaccine nationalism after it introduced export controls on jabs produced within the bloc. In response, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson warned that "blockades" were not "sensible". He said a ban would imperil the UK's vaccination drive, which has so far been more successful than EU member states' vaccine programmes. Mr Johnson also warned that a ban that extended beyond AstraZeneca's disputed supply could also block jabs produced for BioNTech/Pfizer in Belgium.

3-26-21 Coronavirus: Germany tightens borders amid alarm over pandemic
Germany could see 100,000 infections a day if the third wave of coronavirus spreads unchecked, the head of the RKI public health institute has warned. Random checks and compulsory tests will be enforced on the border with France, says the French foreign minister, because "the pandemic in Germany is exploding faster than they thought". Negative tests will also be required for airport arrivals from Tuesday. Officials fear the third wave could be harder to curb than the first two. With infections running at more than 20,000 a day, Health Minister Jens Spahn warned: "If this continues unchecked we run the risk of our health system hitting breaking point in April." Germany is among a number of European countries where Covid infections have been rising fast this week. Cases are also up in Poland by 35%, and health officials in both countries say the spread of the UK(Kent) variant is behind the surge. France has also seen a big increase in cases, and German Chancellor Angela Merkel has said it will be classed as a high-risk zone. French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian told national radio it would mean that on the German border "random checks would be more reinforced than now, with compulsory tests and quarantine recommended". Nineteen areas of France have been placed under lockdown and more than 4,700 people are now being treated in intensive care. The greater Paris region is one of the worst affected areas with almost 600 cases per 100,000 people. The average French incidence rate in the past week is above 200 cases, while in Germany it is 119 per 100,000 people. President Emmanuel Macron said late on Thursday night there would be "no taboo" as far as further measures were concerned. Europe's Covid vaccine drive has started slowly, partly because of delivery delays. France will start vaccinating people aged 70-75 from Saturday.

3-26-21 New York state moves closer to legalising recreational cannabis
New York state has finalised a deal to legalise recreational cannabis for people over 21, US media report. Officials said they hoped the proposed new law would end the disproportionate policing of minority groups for low-level marijuana offences. Under the so-called "Cannabis Law", a proportion of the tax revenue raised from cannabis sales would also be invested in marginalised communities. The law would create a new Office of Cannabis Management (OCM) in New York. This would be controlled by a Cannabis Control Board, a memo seen by US broadcaster CNN said. The memo added that half of the relevant business licenses would go to "social equity applicants", including "those from communities impacted by cannabis prohibition and minority- and women-owned businesses". The New York Times reported that officials in the state capital, Albany, reached an agreement with Governor Andrew Cuomo on Thursday after years of failed attempts to get recreational cannabis legalised. The exact language of the law has not yet been finalised, but the bill could be passed as early as next week. If approved, the law would be unlikely to come into force before next year. Liz Krueger, a Democratic state senator, told the newspaper: "When this bill is finally voted on and signed, New York will be able to say we have finally undone damaging criminal justice laws that accomplished nothing but ruining people's lives." The deal follows legalisation of recreational cannabis for people over 21 in neighbouring New Jersey last month, and diminishing the severity of cannabis offences for people under 21.

3-25-21 A covid-19 third wave is inevitable in the UK, but how bad will it be?
This week, UK prime minister Boris Johnson warned that there is no doubt that the third wave of covid-19 infections happening now in mainland Europe will “wash up” on the UK’s shores. In fact, scientists and doctors, including England’s chief medical officer Chris Whitty, have been warning for weeks that a new surge of infections would happen this year, as lockdown restrictions are eased. Now we have some early figures on vaccine take-up and effectiveness, what can we predict about the UK’s third wave? Although some people might have expected that the roll-out of coronavirus vaccines would put an end to infection surges, the new wave is inevitable because there will still be three groups of people who can get sick, even when everyone eligible has been offered a vaccine. These are: under-18s, who aren’t currently eligible for immunisation in most countries; those who refuse the vaccine; and the people it fails to protect. In the UK, about 21 per cent of the population is under 18. About 6 per cent of adults don’t plan to have the vaccine, according to the latest poll from the Office for National Statistics. And a first dose of the Pfizer/BioNTech or Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine gives about 75 to 80 per cent protection from severe illness that would lead to hospitalisation, according to several recent studies. The figures for vaccine effectiveness and uptake are better than initial prediction Nevertheless, those three groups add up to a sizeable chunk of the UK population who could still get severely ill from the virus. The number of people who could catch it would be higher still, because the vaccines don’t completely prevent people from catching and transmitting the virus, even if they don’t become ill themselves. We don’t yet have numbers for that. On the other hand, those people who have already had covid-19 will have some natural immunity.

3-25-21 Covid-19 news: ‘No decisions’ made yet on vaccine passports in UK
The latest coronavirus news updated every day including coronavirus cases, the latest news, features and interviews from New Scientist and essential information about the covid-19 pandemic. Vaccine passports may only be possible once all UK adults are vaccinated, says UK prime minister. It may only be possible to introduce covid-19 vaccine passports in the UK once all adults have been offered a vaccine, UK prime minister Boris Johnson has said. Vaccine passports have been suggested to provide proof that a person has been vaccinated against covid-19 or show negative coronavirus test results for those who haven’t been vaccinated. Johnson told the BBC “no decisions have been taken at all” with regards to the use of vaccination certificates in the UK, but added: “I do think there is going to be a role for certificates”. A UK government review into the possible use of vaccination certificates is currently underway with a decision expected by 12 April, when a planned easing of coronavirus restrictions in England is set to begin. The European Union has also been looking into the possibility of a covid-19 vaccine passport, called the “digital green pass”. But the World Health Organization (WHO) has warned against countries developing vaccine passports, saying it could create inequities. “Certification of vaccination as a requirement for international travel is not justified, as vaccination is not widely enough available and is inequitably distributed throughout the world,” said Mike Ryan, director of the WHO’s Health Emergencies Programme, during a virtual press conference on 15 March. AstraZeneca has released additional data from a US trial of its covid-19 vaccine. The additional results indicate the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine was 76 per cent effective at preventing symptomatic covid-19 and 100 per cent effective at preventing severe or critical disease and hospitalisation. Interim results published by the company on 22 March suggested the vaccine was 79 per cent effective at preventing symptomatic covid-19. However, shortly after the results were released, the US Data and Safety Monitoring Board told the National Institutes of Health it was concerned AstraZeneca may have provided “outdated information” from the trial in its press release, giving an “incomplete view” of the results. In response, AstraZeneca released the additional data on 25 March. Sweden is resuming its rollout of the Oxford/AstraZeneca covid-19 vaccine for people over the age of 65, while Denmark is extending its suspension of the shots for three weeks. The EU’s medicines regulator has said the vaccine is safe and not associated with an overall increase in the risk of blood clots, but some nations are conducting their own reviews.

3-25-21 Cured: How mental illness was used as a tool against LGBT rights
Until 1973 the American Psychiatric Association defined being gay as having a mental illness. A new documentary recalls the struggle to change a definition which for years limited the rights of LGBT people in the US. But the film's makers say the fight for equality was part of a bigger battle which continues today. The film archive you see in the documentary Cured isn't a total surprise: being gay was illegal in the US when most of the programmes and public service announcements featured were made. The US's path to legalising same-sex relationships would be complex, often with variations between the country's 50 states. Even so, the prejudices at work in some of the material can be startling. A police officer was filmed by station WTVJ in South Florida addressing school students in 1966 about the dangers of being near gay people. "They can be anywhere," he tells them. "They can be policemen, they can be schoolteachers. And if we catch you with a homosexual, your parents are going to know about it first..." The following year an edition of CBS Reports, called The Homosexuals, was probably trying to tackle a controversial topic with an open mind. But reporter Mike Wallace, using the terminology of the time, is repeatedly tripped up by his moralistic commentary. "The average homosexual, if there be such, is promiscuous. He is not interested in or capable of a lasting relationship like that of a heterosexual marriage. The pick-up, the one night stand - these are characteristics of the homosexual relationship." Film-maker Patrick Sammon describes the programme as "landmark" - but not in a good way. The documentary he has now made with Bennett Singer tells a story of prejudice within the American Psychiatric Association (APA), a hugely influential part of the US medical establishment. But the first half of the film uses interviews and archive film and TV to illustrate more generally the pressures of growing up gay in 1950s and 60s America. In 1952 the APA's manual had defined being gay as a "sociopathic personality disturbance". It gave a supposedly scientific rationale to prejudices already widespread in the US and elsewhere. (Gay sex was illegal in England and Wales until 1967; Scotland followed in 1981 and Northern Ireland in 1982.)Singer says the post-World War Two period appears in retrospect especially homophobic in the US and elsewhere.

3-25-21 Biden tasks Harris with tackling migrant influx on US-Mexico border
US President Joe Biden has put Vice-President Kamala Harris in charge of controlling migration at the southern border following a big influx of new arrivals. Mr Biden said he was giving her a "tough job" but that she was "the most qualified person to do it". The numbers of people arriving have grown since Mr Biden took office. They include hundreds of unaccompanied minors who are being held in immigration detention facilities. Mr Biden's predecessor, Donald Trump, was widely criticised over his government's treatment of young migrants at the US-Mexico border. Since January, the Biden administration has reversed a policy of turning away unaccompanied children, instead choosing to process them and place them with sponsoring families in the US. But Mr Biden's critics say his policies have led to a surge in illegal migration. In February, US Customs officials took more than 100,000 people into custody along the southern border, a 28% increase on the previous month. Announcing Ms Harris's appointment as his immigration czar, Mr Biden told reporters and officials at the White House: "She's the most qualified person to do it, to lead our efforts with Mexico and the Northern Triangle [Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador], and the countries that are going to need help in stemming the movement of so many folks - stemming the migration to our southern border". Mr Biden said Ms Harris's past work as California's attorney general made her well suited to leading the effort, adding: "When she speaks, she speaks for me." In response Ms Harris said: "Needless to say, the work will not be easy. But it is important work." Many of those arriving at the border have fled poverty and violence in Central America. In an interview with CBS on Wednesday, Ms Harris said there was a need "to deal with the root causes... of what's happening in the Northern Triangle". "Dealing with what we need to do around aid in a way that is about developing those countries so that we also deal with the cause of why people are coming into our country," she said.

3-25-21 Virginia governor signs bill to abolish death penalty
Virginia has become the first Southern US state to abolish the death penalty after its governor signed into law a bill that ends capital punishment. Governor Ralph Northam said the repeal would stop a "machinery of death" with a history of racial disparities. It comes at a time of renewed national debate on the topic of executions. Virginia has executed more people than any other state except Texas since capital punishment was upheld by the Supreme Court in 1976. Since then, the vast majority of executions have taken place in the Southern US states that made up the former slave-owning Confederacy. Executions are still authorised in 27 states across the country, though several have enacted a moratorium on carrying the punishment out. A federal moratorium was ended by former President Donald Trump, who resumed them on a federal level last year after a 17-year hiatus. Some 13 people were put to death in a matter of months - including six executions carried out after his election defeat. During his presidential campaign, Joe Biden vowed to end the federal death penalty and encourage states to follow suit, but has not addressed the issue as president. Virginia has used the death penalty nearly 1,400 times since its days as a colony, according to the Death Penalty Information Center. Democrats, who control the state legislature, pushed for its repeal, arguing it had disproportionately hurt people of colour, the mentally ill and the poor. At the bill signing, Mr Northam noted 296 of the 377 people executed by the state in the 20th century were black. The last two men on death row in the state, both black, will now see their sentences converted to life in prison without parole. The United Nations says 170 of its 194 member states have abolished executions in law or practice and the US has faced repeated international criticism over its failure to do so.

3-25-21 Covid vaccine: AstraZeneca updates US vaccine efficacy results
AstraZeneca has updated the efficacy result of its coronavirus vaccine trial in the US, after health officials insisted they wanted to include the latest information. The Anglo-Swedish firm has now adjusted the efficacy rate of its vaccine from 79% to 76%. Further data from the US trial showed efficacy among the over 65s rose from 80% to 85%. AstraZeneca said it now looked forward to getting US regulatory approval. The company said the trial results confirm the vaccine "is highly effective in adults" and it remains 100% effective at preventing severe cases of the disease. The US trials of the AstraZeneca jab had involved more than 32,000 volunteers, mostly in America, but also in Chile and Peru. In the results announced on Monday, the company said the vaccine was found to be 79% effective. But the next day, the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases said it had been informed by data and safety officials monitoring the trial that information may have been used that provided an "incomplete view of the efficacy data". Dr Anthony Fauci, the White House's Chief Medical Advisor, then warned reporters the firm would "likely come out with a modified statement". "We look forward to filing our regulatory submission for Emergency Use Authorization in the US and preparing for the rollout of millions of doses across America," Mene Pangalos, an executive vice president at AstraZeneca, said on Thursday. The US had ordered 300 million doses of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine when it emerged as a frontrunner in the global race to immunise people against Covid-19. But delays and controversies have seen three other vaccines beat it to a US rollout.

3-25-21 Covid-19: Merkel defends rollout as vaccine pressure grows
German Chancellor Angela Merkel has defended the EU's decision to procure coronavirus vaccines jointly as the bloc struggles with delays in rollout. EU leaders are holding virtual talks to discuss vaccine supplies and improving distribution across the 27 nations. Pressure is mounting upon them to deliver after other countries, like the UK, achieved much faster vaccination. The European Commission is seeking added controls on vaccine exports. Such controls could affect supply to the UK, where Prime Minister Boris Johnson has warned against imposing "blockades". European Commission head Ursula von der Leyen tweeted that the summit would "ensure that Europeans get their fair share of vaccines". A third wave of coronavirus infections is sweeping across much of mainland Europe. EU states have seen some of the deadliest outbreaks of the pandemic, with Italy recording more than 106,000 deaths, France 93,000, Germany 75,000 and Spain 73,000. Yet recent figures show just 12.9 doses of vaccine have been administered per 100 people in the EU compared with 44.7 in the UK and 37.2 in the US. The European Commission has blamed pharmaceutical companies - primarily AstraZeneca - for not delivering the promised doses to the EU. The company denies that it is failing to honour its contract with the EU. A site in Belgium produces the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine, and another in the Netherlands is expected to increase supplies of the jab in the EU. Brussels has said that of the more than 40 million doses exported from the EU over the past two months, a quarter were sent to the UK. The UK and the EU said on Wednesday they wanted to "create a win-win situation and expand vaccine supply for all". In another development, Denmark suspended use of the Oxford-AstraZeneca jab by a further three weeks, saying it was still looking at a possible link to blood clots despite the European Medicines Agency's recommendation to use the vaccine last week.

3-24-21 Covid-19 news: EU proposes stricter controls on vaccine exports
The latest coronavirus news updated every day including coronavirus cases, the latest news, features and interviews from New Scientist and essential information about the covid-19 pandemic. Vaccine shipments would be assessed based on destination country’s rate of vaccinations and exports, under proposed new EU controls. The European Commission has proposed stricter controls on covid-19 vaccine exports. Under the proposed new measures, to be discussed by EU leaders on 25 March, any shipment would be assessed based on the destination country’s rate of vaccinations and vaccine exports. The controls would most likely affect vaccine-exporting countries that have higher vaccination rates than the EU, including the UK and US. “If the country of destination, which has a large production capacity, restricts its own exports of vaccines or substances – either by law or other means – it may be appropriate to consider whether exports to this country are justified,” said Valdis Dombrovskis, vice-president of the European Commission, on 24 March. Dombrovskis said member states and the commission would also take into account a country’s epidemiological situation, its vaccination rate and the existing availability of covid-19 vaccines. Coronavirus cases, hospitalisations and deaths are continuing to surge in Brazil. According to a coalition of Brazilian news groups, a daily record increase of 3158 deaths from covid-19 were reported on 23 March, as well as 84,996 new cases. Brazil is seeing widespread protests after the country’s president Jair Bolsonaro claimed in a televised address on 23 March that people would soon be able to resume their “normal lives”, despite the rising death toll and pressure on hospitals. Out of the country’s 26 states, 24 have a covid-19 intensive care bed occupancy of 80 per cent or more, according to a bulletin published by Brazilian health institute Fiocruz on 17 March. A new variant of the coronavirus has been detected in 206 samples in the western state of Maharashtra in India, according to a government official. The new variant was also detected in nine samples in the capital New Dehli, Sujeet Kumar Singh, director of India’s National Centre for Disease Control, told a news conference. Germany’s chancellor Angela Merkel reversed a decision to put the country under a strict lockdown over Easter, calling the decision to close shops and churches between 1 and 5 April a mistake.

3-24-21 US gun control: Biden calls for a ban on assault weapons
President Joe Biden has vowed to take "common-sense steps" to crack down on firearms following two mass shootings in the US in less than a week. He renewed his call to ban assault weapons and high-capacity magazines and urged Congress to pass bills that would end loopholes in background checks. Mr Biden was speaking a day after 10 people were shot dead in a Colorado grocery store. Eight people were killed inside spas in Georgia last week. But the president has an uphill task. The right to bear arms is protected by the Second Amendment to the US Constitution. While Democrats have called for stricter gun control measures in the aftermath of mass shootings, many conservatives, including former President Donald Trump, see any restrictions as infringing on this constitutional right. "I don't need to wait another minute, let alone an hour, to take common-sense steps that will save the lives in the future, and to urge my colleagues in the House and Senate to act," Mr Biden said at the White House on Tuesday. He pointed to the fact that, as a senator, he helped bring in a ban on assault weapons in 1994, which expired a decade later. "It brought down these mass killings. We should do it again," he said. "This is not and should not be a partisan issue. This is an American issue. It will save lives. American lives. And we have to act," he said. Mr Biden urged the Senate to approve two pieces of legislation passed by the House of Representatives, which are aimed at expanding and strengthening background checks on gun buyers. But Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell said that while they were "open to the discussion", Republicans in the chamber were not in favour of the two measures. "One thing we do know for sure is that these shooters are invariably mentally incapacitated," he said. "This is a vexing problem that is extremely hard to identify in advance." The US Senate is currently split 50-50 between Democrats and Republicans, with the vice-president holding the casting vote. However, because of Senate rules (known as the "filibuster"), in practice 60 votes are needed to get legislation through, so some Republican support is required. White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki told reporters the president was "considering a range" of executive measures to tackle gun violence that would not need the approval of Congress. She did not specify what action he might take.

3-24-21 Would Boulder's assault weapons ban really have made a difference?
A court recently struck down a local gun control law that restricted weapons like the one used by the shooter. The suspect in the shooting that killed 10 people at a grocery store in Boulder, Colorado, on Monday used an "AR-style rifle," local law enforcement have said. It's a comparatively lightweight and portable semi-automatic weapon popular with police and mass shooters. It's also a style the City of Boulder banned two years ago, amending municipal gun regulations to expand the definition of illegal weapons in light of past mass shootings nationwide. But 10 days before this attack, the ban's enforcement was suspended by a court ruling. Did that decision make these awful murders possible? The law's supporters suggest it did. "We tried to protect our city," one Colorado gun control advocate told The Washington Post. "It's so tragic to see the legislation struck down, and days later, to have our city experience exactly what we were trying to prevent." I'm not so sure it would have made a difference, and I mean that both in terms of the specific city ordinance and in regards to how gun control tends to function more generally. Any person who "was legally in possession of an assault weapon" prior to the ban had four options, the Boulder ordinance said: They could remove it from the city, render it inoperable, surrender it to police for destruction, or apply for a permit before the end of 2018. For those who chose the latter option, there were five requirements: Undergo a background check, apply for the permit from the Boulder police, secure the weapon, limit its secure storage to a few select locations (the owner's home, repair shops, licensed gun ranges, and the like), and agree to promptly file a police report if it's stolen. Anyone who didn't comply would have their weapon confiscated and could be fined or jailed. Little information about the suspect in Boulder has been released as of this writing, but an affidavit published Tuesday says investigators used "law enforcement databases" to discover he "purchased a Ruger AR556 pistol on March 16, 2021." It also lists his address as Arvada, Colorado, which is in the Denver metro area south of Boulder. That residency detail means the ordinance and the court ruling are almost certainly irrelevant to this case. Boulder's gun law couldn't have kept the suspect from buying this gun if he lived outside Boulder. Moreover, if he had a legally obtained weapon appropriately secured in his private vehicle, he was allowed to drive through Boulder with it in his car. He was also allowed to stop at the grocery store. The ordinance specifically permits that kind of transport, "regardless of the number of times the person stops in the City of Boulder." What if the suspect did live in Boulder? We're speaking hypothetically now, but it's possible (albeit improbable) a Boulder resident could have found a gun shop within city limits that had restocked AR-style guns in the 10 days immediately after the court decision. The timeline's awfully tight by the time you add in the background checks Colorado requires for most gun transfers. But yes, it's possible the ordinance would have made a difference in that counterfactual scenario.

3-24-21 Coronavirus: 'Double mutant' Covid variant found in India
A new "double mutant" variant of the coronavirus has been detected from samples collected in India. Officials are checking if the variant, where two mutations come together in the same virus, may be more infectious or less affected by vaccines.Officials are checking if the variant, where two mutations come together in the same virus, may be more infectious or less affected by vaccines.Officials are checking if the variant, where two mutations come together in the same virus, may be more infectious or less affected by vaccines. Some 10,787 samples from 18 Indian states also showed up 771 cases of known variants - 736 of the UK, 34 of the South African and one Brazilian. Officials say the variants are not linked to a spike in cases in India. India reported 47,262 cases and 275 deaths on Wednesday - the sharpest daily rise this year. The Indian SARS-CoV-2 Consortium on Genomics (INSACOG), a group of 10 national laboratories under India's health ministry, carried out genomic sequencing on the latest samples. Genomic sequencing is a testing process to map the entire genetic code of an organism - in this case, the virus. The genetic code of the virus works like its instruction manual. Mutations in viruses are common but most of them are insignificant and do not cause any change in its ability to transmit or cause serious infection. But some mutations, like the ones in the UK or South Africa variant lineages, can make the virus more infectious and in some cases even deadlier.Some 10,787 samples from 18 Indian states also showed up 771 cases of known variants - 736 of the UK, 34 of the South African and one Brazilian. Officials say the variants are not linked to a spike in cases in India. India reported 47,262 cases and 275 deaths on Wednesday - the sharpest daily rise this year. The Indian SARS-CoV-2 Consortium on Genomics (INSACOG), a group of 10 national laboratories under India's health ministry, carried out genomic sequencing on the latest samples. Genomic sequencing is a testing process to map the entire genetic code of an organism - in this case, the virus.

3-24-21 Covid-19 vaccine hesitancy is declining as global roll-out ramps up
WHEN Margaret Keenan became the first person to receive a covid-19 vaccine outside a trial last December, she was among the 7 in 10 people surveyed globally who said they would be willing to receive a dose. But the significant minority unwilling to have a vaccine led public health experts to worry about how such hesitancy might hamper efforts to achieve herd immunity. The good news is that with more than 400 million people around the world having received at least one dose of a vaccine, attitudes are changing. One survey, which included Japan and the UK, found that in 11 of 14 high-income countries, the number of people who “strongly agreed” they would get vaccinated increased by at least 9 percentage points between November 2020 and last month. Seven of these countries saw a rise of at least 20 percentage points. Meanwhile, the proportion of their population who “strongly disagreed” with getting a vaccine dropped or stayed stable. None of the surveyed countries saw a rise in unwillingness to get vaccinated. The survey also found that the number of people who were worried about side effects fell or remained constant in all nations over the same period. “It’s been exciting to see people are seeing this vaccine can get us out of this situation,” says Jeffrey Lazarus at the University of Barcelona in Spain. He says the dial on attitudes may be shifted again by new incentives, such as the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently advising that some vaccinated people in the US can mix in households without face masks or social distancing. “People are human, they need incentives. Some people say, ‘I’ll save my life, save my family, help society.’ Others say, ‘This is great, we can go for dinner if we’re all vaccinated.’ We need to reach people on all levels,” says Lazarus.

3-24-21 Coronavirus: Germany's Merkel reverses plans for Easter lockdown
German Chancellor Angela Merkel has cancelled plans for a strict lockdown over Easter, just a day after the measures were announced. Calling the plan a "mistake", Mrs Merkel said she took "ultimate responsibility" for the U-turn. The proposed lockdown was agreed with regional leaders on Monday, with restrictions set to be tightened between 1-5 April. But the plan was reversed following a crisis meeting on Wednesday. It had been widely criticised by business leaders and scientists. The head of Mrs Merkel's Christian Democratic Union (CDU) party, Armin Laschet, told a regional parliament meeting on Wednesday that the lockdown was "not enforceable in this form". "This mistake is mine alone," Mrs Merkel told reporters in Berlin. "The whole process has caused additional uncertainty, for which I ask all citizens to forgive me." "There were good reasons for it but it could not be implemented well enough in this short time," she added. The lockdown would have been Germany's strictest yet, with most shops closed and gatherings limited. For five days over Easter from 1 April, Germans would have been asked to stay at home and reduce social contact. In-person religious services would have been cancelled, large family gatherings banned and almost all shops would have been closed. "Essentially, we have a new virus," Chancellor Merkel said when announcing the now-cancelled Easter lockdown. The highly contagious UK (Kent) variant of coronavirus had become dominant, she explained, plunging the country into "a new pandemic". "It is much deadlier, much more infectious and infectious for much longer," she said, adding Germany was in a race against time to vaccinate against Covid-19. The infection rate has risen above 100 per 100,000 inhabitants in Germany. That number is critical in determining emergency decisions such as tightening lockdowns. Under the current rules, areas exceeding that infection rate over a seven-day period will not be subject to further reopenings.

3-24-21 Coronavirus: EU plan for tougher controls on vaccine exports
The European Commission has proposed tougher controls on Covid vaccine exports after it accused UK-Swedish firm AstraZeneca of failing to honour its contract to supply EU countries. The plans, to go before EU leaders on Thursday, stop short of a ban but could inflame tensions with the UK. Any shipment would be assessed on the destination country's rate of vaccinations and vaccine exports. Meanwhile, 29 million AZ doses have been inspected in a raid in Italy. The Italian government said the health squad of the military police had gone to "verify" batches at a plant in Anagni, near Rome, last weekend after a request by the European Commission. The plant has a contract with AstraZeneca to fill the vials with vaccine and label them, and will do the same for the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, which is also approved for use in the EU. La Stampa newspaper reported that the UK was a possible destination for some of the doses but a UK government official said it was not expecting such a delivery. The Italian government said "the batches that were inspected were all aimed for Belgium". AstraZeneca said 16 million of the doses were "waiting for quality control release to be dispatched to Europe" while the other 13 million were to go to countries in the Covax vaccine-sharing scheme. The raid comes weeks after the Italian government blocked the export of 250,000 doses of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine to Australia, as part of new EU regulations allowing a shipment to be stopped if a company fails to meet its obligations to the 27 member states. French government spokesman Gabriel Attal said after a cabinet meeting on Wednesday that AstraZeneca's failure to deliver on its vaccine commitments was "totally unacceptable". The latest EU proposals are aimed at securing vaccine supplies. When asked whether the aim was to punish the UK in particular, EU Health Commissioner Stella Kyriakides said: "We're dealing with a pandemic and this is not seeking to punish any countries."

3-23-21 Europeans get cold feet over covid-19 vaccines as third wave hits
The short-lived suspensions of the Oxford/AstraZeneca covid-19 vaccine by several European countries over fears of blood clotting may have increased vaccine hesitancy, just as a third wave of infections hits Europe. In mid-March, several countries, including Germany, France, Italy and Spain, suspended the vaccine’s use pending investigations into isolated cases of bleeding and blood clots. Many countries have since resumed their roll-outs after the European Medicines Agency concluded that the vaccine was safe and effective. However, trust in the vaccine has waned in the European Union. More than half of people in France, Germany and Spain surveyed during the latest controversy believe that the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine is unsafe – an increase from February – according to a YouGov poll published this week. “I am afraid that this will have a disastrous impact,” says Caroline Goujon at Montpellier Infectious Disease Research Institute in France, just when full acceptance from the population is needed “more than ever”. Coronavirus cases are rising in much of Europe. “We have now seen three consecutive weeks of growth in covid-19 cases with over 1.2 million new cases reported last week across Europe,” said Hans Kluge at the World Health Organization during a press conference on 18 March. The rate at which people in the EU are being vaccinated is lagging far behind those in the US, UK and Israel. The EU as a whole had administered around 13 doses of a covid-19 vaccine per 100 people as of 20 March, compared with 36 in the US, 44 in the UK and 112 in Israel. Scepticism around vaccines in general is prevalent in Europe. A 2016 survey of 65,819 people across 67 countries found that seven of the 10 countries with the least confidence in vaccine safety were in Europe. France had the highest level of scepticism with regard to vaccine safety of all the countries surveyed.

3-23-21 Covid-19 news: People in England to face fines for travel outside UK
The latest coronavirus news updated every day including coronavirus cases, the latest news, features and interviews from New Scientist and essential information about the covid-19 pandemic. People in England who travel outside the UK without an exemption face £5000 fine. Information released by AstraZeneca regarding results from the US trial of its covid-19 vaccine may have included outdated information, according to a US health agency. The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases said the trial’s data and safety monitoring board had “expressed concern that AstraZeneca may have included outdated information from that trial, which may have provided an incomplete view of the efficacy data”. On 22 March, AstraZeneca announced that its covid-19 vaccine was found to be 79 per cent effective at preventing symptomatic covid-19 in a large trial conducted in the US, Chile and Peru. In a statement on 23 March, AstraZeneca said: “The numbers published yesterday were based on a pre-specified interim analysis with a data cut-off of 17 February,” adding: “We will immediately engage with the independent data safety monitoring board (DSMB) to share our primary analysis with the most up to date efficacy data. We intend to issue results of the primary analysis within 48 hours.” Speaking on ABC News, US health adviser Anthony Fauci said: “This is likely a very good vaccine,” adding: “If you look at it, the data really are quite good but when they put it into the press release it wasn’t completely accurate.” Regeneron and Roche’s antibody cocktail against covid-19 reduced the risk of hospitalisation or death by 70 per cent in non-hospitalised covid-19 patients compared to a placebo in a trial. The cocktail consists of two antibodies – casirivimab and imdevimab. Germany’s coronavirus lockdown will be extended until 18 April, German chancellor Angela Merkel announced today. The country will enter an even stricter lockdown from 1 to 5 April, over the Easter period, when shops, including supermarkets, will largely be required to close. India announced it will open its vaccination drive to people over the age of 45 from 1 April. Almost 50 million people in India have received a dose of covid-19 vaccine, with frontline workers, people over 60 and people over 45 with comorbidities prioritised so far.

3-23-21 Boulder shooting: Gunman kills 10 at King Soopers grocery store
A gunman has killed 10 people, including a police officer, following an hours-long stand-off at a grocery store in the US state of Colorado. The attack in Boulder ended with police detaining an injured suspect at the King Soopers market. The shooting was live-streamed by witnesses and broadcast on YouTube. Among the dead was 51-year-old Eric Talley, who was the first police officer to respond to the shooting. "This is a tragedy and a nightmare for Boulder County," the area's district attorney, Michael Dougherty, said. "These were people going about their day, doing their shopping. I promise the victims and the people of the state of Colorado that we will secure justice." No other details have been released about the nine other victims or a motive for the attack. The grocery store is located in a busy shopping plaza in Boulder, a north-central Colorado city about 30 miles (50km) away from the state capital of Denver. The supermarket attack comes less than a week after a mass shooting that left eight dead, including six Asian women, at three spas in Atlanta. The incident began at about 14:30 local time (20:30 GMT) on Monday when the suspect entered the supermarket and began firing. Shoppers and employees of the store said they had to dive for cover or run to safety as the shooting unfolded. Some of the stand-off was captured on camera by a passer-by, showing victims near the grocery store. "I don't know what's going on... I heard gunshots, someone's down," the cameraman shouts. "There's an active shooter, get away". Gunshots can be heard as he runs away from the shop. The video continues, with police arriving on the scene and surrounding the market. The Boulder police department later warned people to avoid the area and told them not to "broadcast on social media any tactical information you might see". "We were at the checkout, and shots just started going off," said Sarah Moonshadow, a customer caught up in the shooting with her son Nicholas.

3-23-21 Child migrants: What is happening at the US border?
The US is bracing for a 20-year high in numbers of migrants arriving at the southern border, including thousands of children who are being kept in government-run detention facilities that critics say are inhumane. The record-breaking influx of children has left US immigration officials scrambling for solutions to a growing humanitarian crisis. President Joe Biden has urged migrants not to attempt to travel to the US border - "Don't leave your town or city or community," he said in a recent interview - but with Donald Trump out of office, some believe immigration to the US is now more possible. On 22 March, a Texas lawmaker released the first photos of the child detention camps from the Biden era. As of 21 March, US Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) agents were holding more than 15,500 unaccompanied children in custody, according to US media. Department of Homeland Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas has said these camps, which are often compared to jails or warehouses, are "no place for a child". At least 5,000 children have been kept for over 72 hours, the legal limit after which they are meant to be transferred to the custody of health officials in the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR). Mr Mayorkas blames pandemic restrictions and abnormally cold weather in Texas for the delay. ORR facilities are generally better equipped to take children. The shelters feature play areas, classrooms and counselling services. The organisation is also tasked with finding families or homes where the children will remain until their immigration claim is heard by the courts. In February, around 9,500 children who were not accompanied by their legal guardian were detained by American officials. More than 100,000 people in total were stopped from trying to cross into the US that month. Journalists have not yet been permitted inside the camps since President Joe Biden took office in January, although the White House says they will be. But lawyers who represent the children, and lawmakers who have toured the camps, say that they are being held in cramped and overcrowded conditions. Texas Congressman Henry Cuellar, who visited a government-run tent city in Donna, Texas, holding 1,000 people, released the first photos of the camps to be taken during the Biden presidency.

3-23-21 Child migrants: First photos emerge of Biden-era detention centres
The Biden administration has said it will open additional facilities for migrants after images from a detention centre in Texas showed children huddled together in crowded makeshift rooms. The Texas site, a government-run tent city in Donna at the US-Mexico border, is reportedly housing 1,000 people. The photos are the first to show conditions at such facilities since President Joe Biden took office. Critics have blamed Mr Biden for a surge in illegal migration to the US. Since taking office in January, Mr Biden has removed some of the restrictions for those entering the US introduced by his predecessor, Donald Trump. His administration has reversed a policy of turning away unaccompanied children at the border, instead opting to process them and place them with sponsoring families in the US. On Monday, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said the US government was working to provide further accommodation for arrivals "in the coming days and weeks". "Places where kids can have access to healthcare, can have access to educational resources - even legal resources," she said. Her comments came after images released on Monday by Texas Congressman Henry Cuellar, a Democrat, showed children at the facility in Donna sleeping on thin mattresses on the floor under foil blankets. The photos, reportedly captured at the weekend, have also raised concerns over a possible lack of social distancing during the coronavirus pandemic. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that people remain 2m (6ft) apart to help prevent the spread of virus infections. Mr Cuellar said that those being housed at the centre had been divided among eight plastic "pods" that were overcrowded. Activists have also said that those housed at the site had not been given adequate access to soap or food.

3-23-21 There is no immigration crisis
f you've been reading or watching mainstream media over the past week or so, you've undoubtedly heard a lot about a supposed screaming emergency on the U.S.-Mexico border. More migrants are trying to cross the border, which all three network Sunday shows gave frantic saturation coverage — ABC's This Week nonsensically held a panel segment on the border itself, as if that would somehow lend gravitas to a bunch of talking heads. On Monday, the networks' big morning shows all ran segments calling the story a "crisis" once more. CNN even ran a video of a repeated boat crossing that, as numerous experts testified to The American Prospect, gave every indication of being staged, possibly even by the Border Patrol. This is nonsense. There is a problem at the border, but it is not remotely a "crisis." It's an administrative challenge that could be solved easily with more resources and clear policy — not even ranking with, say, the importance of securing loose nuclear material, much less the ongoing global pandemic, or the truly civilization-threatening crisis of climate change. The mainstream media is in effect collaborating with Republicans to stoke unreasoning xenophobic panic. Here's what's happening: in short, the number of people trying to cross the border has skyrocketed over the past month. There has been a particular surge in unaccompanied children — according to the Department of Homeland Security, average apprehensions of unaccompanied children have increased from 313 per day last month to 565, on average. It's unclear why this is happening exactly, though presumably it has something to do with a new president who isn't such a racist maniac, and the hope that vaccination is beginning to beat back the coronavirus pandemic in the U.S. Now, there are genuine challenges here. Tens of thousands of people trying to sneak across the border is, at a minimum, unsafe (many have died trying to do so). And as Felipe De La Hoz writes at The New Republic, unaccompanied minors are a particularly thorny issue — the Biden administration wants to avoid the negative press of "kids in cages," but one can't simply turn young children loose with no one to care for them. The natural solution is to house them in a decent facility for a short time while host families are located. But then again, the facilities for caring for these kids are typically underfunded and loosely regulated, and often run by unscrupulous contractors with a history of abuse. But all of these problems are, in principle at least, easily fixable. With some more money the government could build more holding facilities so children aren't stuck for days or weeks. With more staff the immigration courts system could be beefed up to process asylum applications in a timely fashion (as required by U.S. law, incidentally). Probably most importantly, comprehensive immigration reform could rationalize and streamline the legal immigration process, which is currently a Kafkaesque nightmare. Outside the U.S., the problems of endemic violence and poverty in Mexico and Central America that are driving people to the border could also be at least ameliorated. Biden could send some surplus coronavirus vaccines to those countries to help their economies get back to normal. Or America could legalize and regulate recreational drugs, thus removing a major profit center of the criminal gangs that cause so much violence in Latin American countries.

3-23-21 AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine is 79 percent effective in a U.S. trial
The data affirm an independent safety review, showing no increased risk of blood clots. The coronavirus vaccine developed by AstraZeneca and the University of Oxford was effective at preventing COVID-19 symptoms, a clinical trial of more than 30,000 people in the United States, Chile and Peru finds. It’s the biggest trial to date for the vaccine, which has been beset by dosing mix-ups and fears that it could cause some people to develop dangerous blood clots. Its success — which is expected to pave the way for AstraZeneca to apply for emergency use authorization in the United States — is good news, says William Schaffner, an infectious disease physician and epidemiologist at Vanderbilt University in Nashville. “The more the merrier,” Schaffner says. Three other vaccines — Pfizer/BioNTech’s, Moderna’s and Johnson & Johnson’s — have gotten that authorization so far. AstraZeneca’s shot was 79 percent effective at preventing COVID-19 symptoms in the trial’s 32,449 participants, the company announced March 22 in a news release. Around 20,000 of those participants got the vaccine while the rest received a placebo. Approximately 60 percent of participants in the trial have health conditions that put them at risk for getting really sick with COVID-19. The vaccine was 100 percent effective in preventing severe disease and hospitalization, AstraZeneca reports. But only five people in the placebo group suffered severe disease, according to information from a World Health Organization briefing. That small number of severe COVID-19 cases makes it difficult to determine the vaccine’s exact efficacy against the worst symptoms. The shot was also 80 percent effective at preventing illness in trial participants aged 65 and older, an age group at high risk for severe COVID-19. The immune system can weaken with age, so strong protection in such a high-risk group is crucial for keeping people out of the hospital.

3-23-21 Coronavirus: Germany imposes Easter lockdown to curb new surge
Germany has extended its lockdown for three weeks, imposing an almost complete halt over the Easter holiday in response to a third wave of coronavirus infections. After talks with regional leaders, Chancellor Angela Merkel said Germany was now in a "very serious" situation. Restrictions will be even tougher from 1-5 April, when most shops will be shut and gatherings will be limited. Meanwhile, France's president wants vaccinations "morning, noon and night". Emmanuel Macron was responding to an increase in intensive care cases and warnings of an "explosion" in hospital admissions. "Essentially, we have a new virus," Chancellor Merkel said after marathon talks with the leaders of Germany's 16 states. The highly contagious UK (Kent) variant of coronavirus had become dominant in Germany, she explained, plunging the country into "a new pandemic". It is much deadlier, much more infectious and infectious for much longer. Germany was in a race against time to roll out vaccinations against the coronavirus, she added. Tuesday's lockdown extension to 18 April marks a reversal from earlier this month, when state leaders agreed to begin a cautious reopening process. For five days over Easter from 1 April, Germans are being asked to stay at home and reduce contacts: 1. In-person religious services are cancelled, 2. Big family gatherings are banned, with no more than two households, or up to five people, allowed to meet, 3. All shops are shut, apart from food shops on Saturday 3 April. The infection rate has risen above 100 per 100,000 inhabitants in Germany. A further 7,485 infections have been reported in the past 24 hours, as well as 250 deaths. An "emergency brake" will halt further reopenings in areas where infections exceed 100 new cases per 100,000 people over a seven-day period. Coronavirus infections have been surging in some parts of Europe in recent weeks as countries scramble to vaccinate their populations despite delays in rolling out jabs.

3-23-21 US city of Evanston to pay reparations to black residents
A suburb of Chicago is to become the first city in the United States to pay reparations to black residents who have suffered housing discrimination. The city council in Evanston, Illinois, voted 8-1 to distribute $25,000 (£18,000) each to 16 eligible black households to use for home repairs or as down payments on property. The funds come mostly from a new tax on legalised marijuana. Black Americans were disadvantaged by racist housing decisions. To be eligible, residents must be a black person who lived in Evanston between 1919 to 1969, or a descendant of such a person. The family must also have been a victim of discrimination in housing because of policies or practices in the city in that time. Evanston has pledged distribute $10 million over a decade. Around 16% of the city's residents are black. White residents in Evanston out-earn black residents by $46,000 a year. "We're very excited to see the first national direct benefit from some of the harms we've had to experience from the past," Kamm Howard, co-chair of the National Coalition of Blacks for Reparations in America, told CBS News. "The more local initiatives occur, the more impetus there is on the federal government to act." But not everyone has been supportive of reparations in this form. Alderman Cicely Fleming, who is herself black and voted against the plan, said she supported reparations, but said the plan assumed black people could not manage their own money. "True reparations should respect black people's autonomy and allow them to determine how repair will be managed," she said. Discussions over how to address housing discrimination increased following a report last year that illustrated how black people had faced restrictions on where they could live dating back to 1855, when the first black resident arrived. The impact over generations "was cumulative and permanent. They were the means by which legacies were limited and denied", the report stated.

3-22-21 Covid-19 news: Europe’s third wave could hit UK, says prime minister
The latest coronavirus news updated every day including coronavirus cases, the latest news, features and interviews from New Scientist and essential information about the covid-19 pandemic. The UK could soon be hit by a third wave of infections, says Boris Johnson. UK prime minister Boris Johnson has warned that the UK could soon be hit by a third wave of coronavirus infections similar to that currently being experienced by other European countries, including France, Italy and Germany. France reported more than 35,000 new coronavirus cases on 18 March, compared to just 6303 reported in the UK on the same day. “Previous experience has taught us that when a wave hits our friends, it, I’m afraid, washes up on our shores as well and I expect that we will feel those effects in due course,” Johnson told reporters on 22 March. The most recent official estimate of the UK’s R number – the average number of people each coronavirus case infects – puts it between 0.6 and 0.9. An R number below 1.0 indicates the epidemic is shrinking. But analysis of the latest results from a random swab testing survey by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) indicate “there may be early signs of an increase [in infections] for the East Midlands” in England in the week ending 13 March, the ONS said in its report. The Oxford/AstraZeneca covid-19 vaccine was found to be 79 per cent effective at preventing symptomatic covid-19 in a large trial conducted in the US, Chile and Peru, AstraZeneca announced on 22 March. The vaccine was 100 per cent effective at preventing severe disease and hospitalisation. The trial involved more than 32,000 volunteers across all age groups. AstraZeneca said an independent safety committee, which conducted a specific review of blood clots in the US trial, found “no increased risk of thrombosis or events characterised by thrombosis among the 21,583 participants receiving at least one dose of the vaccine” and found “no events” of cerebral venous sinus thrombosis (CVST) – a rare type of blood clot in a major brain vessel. Data from the trial will be reviewed by the US Food and Drug Administration, which is expected to take a few weeks to decide whether to give emergency use authorisation to the vaccine. Coronavirus cases are continuing to surge in Brazil, with the country’s health systems becoming increasingly overwhelmed. CNN reported on 22 March that in nearly every state in Brazil, occupancy rates in intensive care units are at or above 80 per cent. A few have exceeded 100 per cent, resulting in patients being turned away. On 20 March, Felipe Augusto, mayor of the coastal town of Sao Sebastiao told CNN affiliate CNN Brasil that supplies of crucial drugs required for intubating patients were due to run out in the town after 22 March. India recorded more than 260,000 new coronavirus cases last week, one of the country’s largest weekly increases since the pandemic began.

3-22-21 Covid: The countries that nailed it, and what we can learn from them
Covid-19 has shaken the world, with more than 2.5 million deaths and 115 million cases confirmed. BBC Panorama's Jane Corbin has scoured the globe to find the best examples of strategies for combating the virus. have reported on Covid for the past year - now my mission was to find out from global leaders and senior health officials across four continents what their priorities were in tackling the virus. What has emerged strongly for me are four key areas which have been most effective in containing the spread of the virus and preventing deaths. 1. Early and effective action to control borders and monitoring of arrivals. 2. Testing, tracking and tracing everyone suspected of being infected. 3. Welfare support for those in quarantine to contain the virus. 4. Effective leadership and consistent and timely public messaging. No-one can claim to have got everything right. But the steps listed below highlight some policies from around the world that have proved effective. Piece them together and you have the blueprint for a "pandemic playbook" - a manual for managing future infectious disease outbreaks.

  1. STEP ONE: Preparation:
  2. STEP TWO: Test, track and trace:
  3. STEP THREE: Quarantine support:
  4. STEP FOUR: Protect the elderly:
  5. STEP FIVE: A vaccination strategy:
  6. 'Hefty price':

3-22-21 Covid-19: Miami Beach imposes emergency curfew over spring break 'chaos'
A state of emergency has been declared in the US city of Miami Beach over concerns large crowds gathering for spring break pose a coronavirus risk. A 20:00-06:00 curfew has been announced in the island city that will remain in effect until at least 12 April. Traffic restrictions are in place during the curfew, while businesses in the busy South Beach area must close. Miami Beach Mayor Dan Gelber said thousands of tourists had brought "chaos and disorder" to the city. "It feels like a rock concert, wall-to-wall people over blocks and blocks," Mr Gelber told CNN. "If you're coming here to go crazy, go somewhere else." Spring break is a holiday period for schools and universities in the US that usually takes place in March or April. It attracts thousands of students to Florida and other warm-weather destinations around the country. Officials warned tourists to "vacation responsibly or be arrested" prior to the holiday period, and a county-wide midnight coronavirus curfew was already in place due to the pandemic. But the Miami Beach area was thronged with revellers over the weekend, and many did not appear to be wearing masks or socially distancing. One city official described South Beach, which includes the world-famous Ocean Drive, as being "overwhelmed" by crowds on Saturday. "You couldn't see pavement and you couldn't see grass," city manager Raul Aguila said. He added that the emergency measures were "necessary not only to protect our residents but our visitors, including our spring breakers who we want to keep safe". On Sunday, Miami Beach police told CNN they had arrested at least a dozen people after the curfew had come into force. The Miami Herald newspaper said police used pepper-spray balls to enforce the curfew. Until the measures are lifted, police will prevent pedestrians and vehicles from entering the South Beach area's main party strips. On Sunday, the Miami Beach city commission voted to extend the curfew and other measures for up to three more weeks.

3-22-21 Covid vaccine: US trial of AstraZeneca jab confirms safety
Results from the long-awaited US trial of the Oxford-AstraZeneca Covid vaccine are out and confirm that the shot is both safe and highly effective. More than 32,000 volunteers took part, mostly in America, but also in Chile and Peru. The vaccine was 79% effective at stopping symptomatic Covid disease and 100% effective at preventing people from falling seriously ill. And there were no safety issues regarding blood clots. That should further reassure some EU countries that recently paused rollout of the vaccine amid concerns about a possible link. Some are already starting to use it again now that Europe's medicines regulator has completed its review and has also concluded the vaccine is safe and effective. Data from this new trial - run by experts at Columbia University and the University of Rochester in collaboration with AstraZeneca - may also prove useful in reassuring people about how well the vaccine works to protect the elderly against Covid-19 illness. Several countries initially would not authorise the use of the vaccine in adults over 65, citing lack of evidence. Around a fifth of the volunteers in this trial were over 65 and the vaccine - given as two doses, four weeks apart - provided as much protection to them as to younger age groups. Hundreds of thousands of people in the UK are already receiving the AstraZeneca vaccine every day, so these numbers are tiny by comparison. But the results are vital for the US and should clear the way for the vaccine to be approved by regulators there within the next month or two. Lead investigator of the Oxford University trial of the vaccine, Prof Andrew Pollard said: "'These results are great news as they show the remarkable efficacy of the vaccine in a new population and are consistent with the results from Oxford-led trials.

3-22-21 India coronavirus: Experts say sharp rise in Covid-19 cases 'alarming'
India recorded 260,000 fresh coronavirus cases last week - one of the worst weekly increases since the pandemic began early last year. The western state of Maharashtra accounts for nearly 70% of the national caseload. Experts say that poor adherence to safety protocols is driving the surge. Some say new variants could also be a reason, but it isn't established yet. India has so far recorded more than 11 million cases and 160,000 deaths. India's caseload began to dip at the start of 2021 with daily infections falling to less than 20,000 from a peak of over 90,000 in September. But the last few weeks have seen a sharp uptick. While Maharashtra leads the table, several other states - Kerala, Punjab, Karnataka, Gujarat, Tamil Nadu, Haryana and Madhya Pradesh - are also seeing a rise in cases. In Mumbai, Maharashtra's capital, officials have said they will roll out random rapid tests in crowded areas such as shopping centres and train stations. Last week - between 15 and 21 March - India reported 100,000 more cases than the previous week. Prominent critical care expert Dr A Fathahudeen, who has treated thousands of Covid patients, says the rise is not surprising. He adds that "a false notion of optimism" swept the country when the caseload was decreasing at the start of the year. "People had falsely assumed that India had reached the threshold of herd immunity but that is not the case," he says. Dr Fathahudeen also believes the start of the vaccination drive contributed to this because people "equated the arrival of the vaccine with normal times". "The situation is far from normal, in fact it's alarming at the moment. The vaccination drive has to be scaled up massively, and test and trace and isolation protocols have to be strengthened across the country." More than 40 million people in India have received at least one dose of a coronavirus vaccine so far, but that's less than 4% of the country's population.

3-22-21 Turkish lira falls 15% after bank governor sacked
Turkey's currency tumbled as much as 15% after President Recep Tayyip Erdogan sacked the country's central bank governor over the weekend. DNaci Agbal had been credited as a key force in pulling the lira back from historic lows. Mr Erdogan replaced him in a surprise move on Saturday, the third central bank governor exit in under two years. Mr Agbal, appointed in November, had been raising interest rates to fight an inflation rate running above 15%. The removal has shocked both local and foreign investors who had praised Turkey's central bank's recent monetary policy. The appointment of Sahap Kavcioglu, a former banker and ruling party lawmaker, sparked concerns of a reversal of recent rate hikes. The fallout from the sacking hit shares on the Istanbul stock exchange, and raised concerns about the impact Turkey's borrowing costs. Trading on the exchange was suspended for a period after a sharp fall in share prices triggered automatic circuit breakers. After dropping sharply, the lira then recovered some ground to stand about 8% lower against the US dollar after Finance Minister Lutfi Elvan said Turkey would stick to free market rules. "The authorities will be left with two choices, either it pledges to use interest rates to stabilise markets, or it imposes capital controls," said Per Hammarlund, senior strategist at SEB Research. "Given the increasingly authoritarian approach that President Erdogan has taken, capital controls are looking like the most likely choice." The lira was at one point the best performing emerging-market currency of 2021, having recovered almost a fifth from a low against the US dollar. Last week, the Turkish currency rose strongly after Mr Agbal increased interest rates by 2 percentage points, double what economists expected. Investors have been calling for tighter monetary policy in Turkey to tame its high inflation rate, as prices rise rapidly in the country. There are now concerns that Mr Erdogan's decision to install Mr Kavcioglu in the role could erode the gains made during Mr Agbal's short tenure.

3-21-21 Qantas boss: Governments 'to insist' on vaccines for flying
The boss of Australian airline Qantas has told the BBC that "governments are going to insist" on vaccines for international travellers. Coronavirus vaccines are seen as crucial to reviving an industry that saw worldwide passenger numbers fall 75.6% last year. Chief executive Alan Joyce said many governments were talking about vaccination as "a condition of entry". Even if they weren't, he thought the airline should enforce its own policy. "We have a duty of care to our passengers and to our crew, to say that everybody in that aircraft needs to be safe," Mr Joyce said. He believes that would justify changing the terms and conditions on which tickets are booked. And Mr Joyce thinks passengers would be willing to accept the change. "The vast majority of our customers think this is a great idea - 90% of people that we've surveyed think it should be a requirement for people to be vaccinated to travel internationally." But some powerful voices are among those who disagree, including the World Health Organisation. Its director of digital health and innovation, Bernardo Mariano, told the BBC: "We don't approve the fact that a vaccinations passport should be a condition for travel." He added that - regardless of what the private sector wanted - a unified approach from governments would be needed to make such a change work. Aviation is vital to the global economy. The International Air Transport Association (Iata) estimates that it supports $1.8 trillion (£1.3tn, A$2.3tn) in global economic activity. But government restrictions and fears of catching coronavirus have led to an unprecedented fall in passenger numbers in an industry which carried 4.5 billion people in 2019. Australia's government has closed its borders to almost all foreigners and has also periodically closed internal borders. Even with vaccines, Mr Joyce thinks that "once we open up our international borders, we're going to have the virus circulating". "And that's going to be a big change for a lot of Australia, to find that acceptable," he said. "We need people to understand they can't have zero risk with this virus. We manage risk in so many different other ways for other parts of life."

3-20-21 Atlanta spa shootings: How we talk about violence
In the wake of the Atlanta shootings, police offered early explanations for why the deadly rampage had occurred. But some experts say the speculation around motive drew from harmful stereotypes. The morning after the Atlanta spa shootings, local law enforcement called a news conference. The suspect, 21-year-old Robert Aaron Long, had confessed to the shooting rampage, police said, in which eight people were killed, six of them Asian women. Asked by reporters about a possible motive, Cherokee Police spokesman Capt Jay Baker replied that Mr Long had denied a racial motivation. The gunman said he was struggling with a sex addiction, Capt Baker said, and had attempted "to take out that temptation". "Yesterday was a really bad day for him, and this is what he did," Capt Baker said. Those responses, in the wake of the deadly tragedy, caused anger. It was also later discovered that Capt Baker had made controversial Facebook posts related to China and the coronavirus. By Thursday, the Sheriff's office had formally apologised and Capt Baker had been moved off the case. To many, the news conference as a whole followed a well-worn storyline. Here is what three experts in Asian-American studies said they heard. As news of the shooting spread, it soon became clear that at least six of the victims were Asian-American women, targeted in Asian-owned businesses. The ethnicity of the victims - combined with the recent rise of hate crimes against Asian Americans - gave way to a prevailing theory in the media and online: that the shooting had been racially motivated. But the notion was cast into doubt by Capt Baker as he relayed the suspect's testimony. "During our interviews, we asked that specific question, and that did not appear to be the motive," Capt Baker said. The answer - and Capt Baker's confidence - was "striking", said Ellen Wu, a professor of history and Asian-American studies at Indiana University. "It's a complete disavowal." Letting Mr Long decide for himself whether race was involved ignores the tacit expressions of racism in the US, said Vivian Truong, a historian and post-doctoral fellow in Asian studies at Vassar College.

3-20-21 Tackling vaccine misinformation in farmworker communities
Grassroots organizations are fighting vaccine access inequities, misinformation, and skepticism among immigrant groups and communities of color. As COVID-19 vaccine rollouts continue across the U.S., grassroots organizations are fighting not only vaccine access inequities — but also misinformation and skepticism among immigrant groups and communities of color. Luz Gallegos, executive director of TODEC Legal Center, an immigrant rights group, said the nonprofit has been engaging with the farmworker community to provide vaccine education in Southern California's Inland Empire and Coachella Valley since last year. They needed trusted messengers to dispel myths about the vaccine, Gallegos said. One of the most common myths she hears is that the vaccines have tracking chips, making it easier for immigration officials to follow them. Organizations like TODEC face the same hurdles across the country. Immigrant communities are still dealing with former President Donald Trump's negative immigration rhetoric. A large sector of farmworkers are undocumented and many fear getting tested, or getting health care, Gallegos said. "That hasn't made it easy for immigrants to feel at home." Riverside County is the first in the country to put farmworkers next to other front-line essential workers regardless of age or other health concerns, making them eligible to get vaccinated in the state's first phase of vaccination. TODEC helps by getting workers registered for the vaccine — and on mass vaccination days, where the clinics come to set up in the fields, volunteers offer translation services. But the need to expand vaccination eligibility at this scale is urgent, many advocates say. More than 480,000 agricultural workers have tested positive for COVID-19 nationwide, according to a study from Purdue University. It's unclear how many have died from the virus, but Gallegos said the death toll, from firsthand accounts, has overwhelmed these communities. "We're healing, we're healing, but as a community, we are very bruised," she said. Two hours away from Riverside County, in Ventura County, farmworkers there have yet to qualify for vaccines. But community volunteers are turning to radio as another means to educate and engage with farmworkers around vaccine trust — especially among those who don't speak English or Spanish. Radio Indígena, a radio station run by the Mixteco Indigena Community Organizing Project or MICOP, serves the area's Indigenous migrant community, the majority who speak Mixteco, Triqui, and Zapoteco. The station offers 40 hours of programming, including music and radio shows. Alondra Mendoza and Juan Carlos Diaz host a weekly bilingual health segment, "Camino a la Salud," or "Road to Health." They've only been hosting for four months, and have very little radio experience, but they have already become trusted community voices. Listeners call in or send their questions about the vaccine. In one recent segment, someone asks if it's true that the vaccine causes infertility. Diaz answers in Mixteco, and Mendoza follows up in Spanish, pushing back with information from the county health department. Diaz said they spend their hours poring over legal resources and community aid postings that they're able to pass along when questions come up. "We feel very confident about the information we share," he said.

3-20-21 Atlanta shooting: Biden condemns anti-Asian racism
President Joe Biden has urged Americans to speak up against hate, warning that "our silence is complicity" in the face of racist acts. Mr Biden made the remarks in Georgia where he met Asian-American leaders in the wake of Tuesday's attack on three Atlanta-area massage parlours. The shootings left eight dead, including six Asian women. Though police have not called race the motive for the attack, it came amid a spike in anti-Asian violence. Hate crimes against people of East Asian descent have risen during the Covid-19 pandemic, and racism has been an "ugly poison that has long haunted and plagued our nation," one that Americans must work to extinguish, Mr Biden said. Mr Biden also urged Congress to pass the coronavirus-related hate crimes bill introduced earlier this month by two Asian-American lawmakers. The Covid-19 Hate Crimes Act would bolster Justice Department efforts to combat such acts. The bill would "expedite the federal government's response to the rise of hate crimes exacerbated during the pandemic, support state and local governments to improve hate crimes reporting, and ensure that hate crimes information is more accessible to Asian American communities," the White House said. There has been a sharp rise in attacks on Asian Americans since the start of the pandemic, which activists have linked to rhetoric blaming Asian people for the outbreak. However, Mr Biden added that "for all the good that laws can do, we have to change our hearts". "Hate can have no safe harbour in America. It has to stop," he said. "It's on all of us, all of us together, to make it stop." The Georgia Sheriff's Office investigating the shootings removed its spokesman from the case on Thursday after social media posts emerged showing Captain Jay Baker promoting a T-shirt that called Covid-19 an "imported virus from CHY-NA". Mr Baker has faced intense criticism since his comments at the first press conference after the shooting, in which he claimed the murder suspect, Robert Aaron Long, had "a really bad day".

3-20-21 Covid: France and Poland increase lockdown measures as infections surge
France and Poland have reintroduced partial lockdowns as both countries battle a sharp rise in Covid infections in recent weeks. Some 21 million people in 16 areas of France, including the capital Paris, are affected as the country fears a third wave. In Poland, non-essential shops, hotels, cultural and sporting facilities are now closed for three weeks. The country has the highest new daily rates of Covid cases since November. Coronavirus cases are also rising exponentially in Germany, with Chancellor Angela Merkel warning it is likely that the country will now need to apply an "emergency brake" and re-impose lockdown measures. The vaccine rollout across the European Union has been hindered by delayed deliveries, as well as the suspension in several countries of the use of the Oxford-AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine, over fears of possible side effects. In France, the partial lockdown took effect from midnight on Friday. Trains leaving Paris for parts of the country where lockdown restrictions do not apply, such as Brittany and Lyon, were reportedly fully booked hours before the measures were due to come into effect. Traffic jams were reported on several roads leaving the capital. The new restrictions are not be as strict as the previous lockdown, with people allowed to exercise outdoors. Non-essential businesses are shut, but schools remain open, along with hairdressers if they follow a "particular sanitary protocol". France has reported more than 4.2 million infections since the start of the outbreak, with nearly 92,000 Covid-related deaths, according to the data compiled by Johns Hopkins University in the US. Despite assurances from the European medicines regulator that the AstraZeneca vaccine is safe and effective, some countries remain reluctant to resume their campaigns using the jab. Germany, Italy, France, Spain and the Netherlands are among the countries that have restarted their AstraZeneca vaccination campaigns.

3-20-21 Covid: Rich states 'block' vaccine plans for developing nations
Wealthy countries - including the UK - are blocking proposals to help developing nations increase their vaccine manufacturing capabilities, documents leaked to BBC Newsnight show. Several poorer countries have asked the World Health Organization to help them. But richer nations are pushing back on provisions in international law that would enable them to achieve this. This is according to a leaked copy of the negotiating text of a WHO resolution on the issue. Among those richer nations are the UK, the US, as well as the European Union. "Where we could have language in there that would make it easier for countries to produce more vaccines and more medicines within their country, it would include initiatives that would finance and facilitate that. The UK is on the opposite side of the argument of trying to remove those kinds of progressive proposals from the text," says Diarmaid McDonald, from Just Treatment, a patient group for fair access to medicines. A spokesperson for the UK government says "a global pandemic requires a global solution and the UK is leading from the front, driving forward efforts to ensure equitable access around the world to Covid vaccines and treatments". The spokesperson says the UK is one of the largest donors to international efforts to ensure over one billion doses of coronavirus vaccines get to developing countries this year. If and when governments should intervene to ensure affordable supplies of medicines is a long-standing issue. But the ability of different countries to source vaccines and drugs has been highlighted by the pandemic. Many experts say equitable access to vaccines is essential to prevent cases and deaths and to contribute to global population immunity. But the global capacity for producing vaccines is about a third of what is needed, says Ellen t'Hoen, an expert in medicines policy and intellectual property law."These are vaccines that are produced in wealthy countries and are in general kept by those wealthy countries.

3-20-21 Mar-a-Lago: 'Covid outbreak' at Trump's Florida residence
Donald Trump's main residence, Mar-a-Lago, has been partially closed after some staff members tested positive for Covid-19, US media report. The Florida resort has served as the former president's official residence since he left office in January. The club said in a statement that the Beach Club and a la carte dining room were closed, but did not specify how many people had tested positive. Mr Trump had coronavirus last October, and was vaccinated in January. At the time of his diagnosis, he was hospitalised for several days and treated with the low-dose steroid treatment dexamethasone. His wife Melania Trump and son Barron also tested positive for the virus, as did several White House officials close to the then-president. In an email to members obtained by the Washington Post, Mar-a-Lago said it was following "all appropriate response measures" and its banquet and event services would remain open. In January, images surfaced from a New Year's Eve party at Mar-a-Lago that showed a number of guests not wearing masks. The resort was handed a formal warning by Palm Beach County which said the event had violated coronavirus regulations. The New York Times reports that the club is planning to host events during the Republican National Committee spring retreat next month.

3-19-21 Covid-19 news: Fears of third wave grow as infections rise in Europe
The latest coronavirus news updated every day including coronavirus cases, the latest news, features and interviews from New Scientist and essential information about the covid-19 pandemic. Germany, France and Italy are among European countries seeing rising infections. Coronavirus cases have been rising in much of Europe in a third wave of infections, with 20 countries in the European Union reporting increasing test positivity and 15 countries reporting increasing hospital or ICU admissions due to covid-19 as of 14 March, according to the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control. “We have now seen 3 consecutive weeks of growth in covid-19 cases with over 1.2 million new cases reported last week across Europe,” said World Health Organization (WHO) Europe director, Hans Kluge, at a press conference on 18 March. Kluge said the faster-spreading B.1.1.7 coronavirus variant, which was first detected in the UK, is becoming predominant in the region, with cases reported in at least 48 out of 53 European territories so far. “The number of people dying from covid-19 in Europe is higher now than it was this time last year, reflecting the widespread hold this virus has,” Kluge added. Several European countries, including Germany, France, Italy and Spain, are resuming their rollouts of the Oxford/AstraZeneca covid-19 vaccine, after an investigation by the EU’s medicines regulator concluded its benefits outweigh its risks. A separate investigation by the WHO global advisory committee on vaccine safety came to the same conclusion. More than 20 countries had suspended use of the vaccine following reports of blood clots in some people who had received it. But within hours of the European Medicine Agency’s statement on 18 March, Germany, France, Italy, Spain, the Netherlands and at least seven other countries said they would resume vaccinations as early as 19 March. France, however, has said that only people aged 55 and over should receive the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine, while Norway, Sweden and Denmark have not yet lifted their suspensions of the shot. School pupils in the US can now sit about a metre apart in the classroom as long as they wear face coverings, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said on 19 March. Under the updated guidance, pupils are still advised to keep a distance of 2 metres apart from one another during lunch breaks and at sporting events or assemblies.

3-19-21 US and China trade angry words at high-level Alaska talks
US and Chinese officials have exchanged sharp rebukes in the first high-level talks between the Biden administration and China, taking place in Alaska. Chinese officials accused the US of inciting countries "to attack China", while the US said China had "arrived intent on grandstanding". Relations between the two superpowers are at their most strained for years. The US pledged to raise contentious issues such as Beijing's treatment of Uighur Muslims in Xinjiang. (Webmaster's comment: What about the treatment of all non-whites in America? We seem to be killing them off in large numbers!) The ill-tempered talks in Anchorage involved Secretary of State Antony Blinken and National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan on the US side, facing off with China's most senior foreign policy official, Yang Jiechi, and foreign minister Wang Yi. However, a US official said the subsequent talks behind closed doors had been "substantive, serious and direct" and ran over the planned two hours. In a blunt opening statement before the talks in private, Mr Blinken said the US would "discuss our deep concerns with actions by China, including in Xinjiang, Hong Kong, Taiwan, cyber attacks on the United States, economic coercion of our allies". "Each of these actions threaten the rules-based order that maintains global stability," he said. In response, Mr Yang accused Washington of using its military might and financial supremacy to suppress other countries. "It abuses so-called notions of national security to obstruct normal trade exchanges, and incite some countries to attack China," he added. Mr Yang said human rights in the US were at a low point, with black Americans being "slaughtered". Mr Sullivan hit back, saying Washington did not seek a conflict with China, but added: "We will always stand up for our principles for our people, and for our friends."

3-19-21 Chinese granny who fought off attacker in US praised for bravery
A 76-year-old Chinese grandmother who fought off an attacker has been hailed for her courage by many in China. Xie Xiaozhen was waiting to cross a street in downtown San Francisco when a man punched her, she said. She instinctively responded by hitting him with a wooden stick, said local news reports. There has been a rise in reports of attacks against Asian-Americans in recent months. The hashtag "Asian-American granny retaliates against attacker" went viral on Chinese microblogging site Weibo, with 1.4 billion views. Many online praised Ms Xie, saying she was "really brave", while another pointed out that she "taught him a lesson". Others pointed out that it was necessary for the Asian-American diaspora to "unite" and "fight back... or else they will always quietly suffer and be bullied". One Weibo user also called for Asian people as a whole to unite despite their differences, according to an SCMP report. "China, Japan and South Korea have never been on good terms, but people of these roots in the US, please be united because your power will be stronger." The attack took place on Wednesday when Ms Xie, who is originally from Guangdong, was waiting to cross the road. It's claimed she suddenly heard someone yell "Chinese" before she was punched in the face. She fought back using a wooden stick she saw nearby, according to reports. A video online taken right after the attack shows Ms Xie wailing as she puts an ice pack on an extremely bruised eye, while the alleged assailant is seen lying on a stretcher. San Francisco police have said a 39-year-old man was arrested and they are investigating the assault. Ms Xie's daughter said her mother was "very traumatised" after the attack, adding that her right eye was injured. "[She is] very scared and [her] eye is still bleeding," Dong-Mei Li told KPIX- TV. "The right eye still cannot see anything."

3-19-21 Anti-Asian violence: 'He slashed me from cheek-to-cheek'
Asian Americans across the US have faced a surge in discrimination and hate crimes during the pandemic. The BBC's Larry Madowo spoke with victims, organisers and experts in New York and San Francisco to find out what can be done.

3-19-21 AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine isn’t tied to blood clots, experts say
Reports of blood clots in people who received the shot had raised concerns, AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine is not associated with an increased risk of blood clots, the European Medicines Agency announced March 18. That’s the conclusion of an investigation conducted by an EMA safety committee into reports of blood clots in some vaccinated people. “This vaccine is a safe and effective option to protect citizens against COVID-19,” Emer Cooke, executive director of the EMA said March 18 in a news conference. Starting March 11, many countries, mostly in Europe, began suspending use of a COVID-19 vaccine developed by AstraZeneca and the University of Oxford because of concerns it could be linked to blood clots. Of more than 17 million people vaccinated in the European Union and the United Kingdom, there were around 470 reports of blood clots in the days after getting the shot. That rate is lower than how often people normally develop blood clots in daily life, Sabine Straus, chair of the EMA’s Pharmacovigilance Risk Assessment Committee, said during the news conference. But some uncertainties remain over a few rare case reports, Straus said. Eighteen patients who received the vaccine developed blood clots in the sinuses that drain blood from the brain, a potentially deadly condition called cerebral venous sinus thrombosis. Another seven people developed disseminated intravascular coagulation, or DIC, in which blood clots can develop throughout the body and block small blood vessels. Nine people died. But there were not enough data to conclude whether these cases might be related to the vaccine, Straus said. Based on data from before the pandemic, fewer than one DIC case might be expected by March 16 in people younger than 50 years old within two weeks of getting the vaccine, the agency said in a press release. The EMA committee, however, reviewed five such cases. There might also be 1.35 cases of sinus clots on average in that age group, but countries reported 12 by March 16.

3-19-21 Covid-19: EU states to resume AstraZeneca vaccine rollout
The EU's leading states are to restart their roll-out of the Oxford-AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine after Europe's medicines regulator concluded it was "safe and effective". The European Medicines Agency (EMA) reviewed the jab after 13 European countries suspended use of the vaccine over fears of a link to blood clots. It found the jab was "not associated" with a higher risk of clots. Germany, France, Italy and Spain said they would resume using the jab. It is up to individual EU states to decide whether and when to re-start vaccinations using the AstraZeneca vaccine. Sweden said it needed a "few days" to decide. The World Health Organization (WHO) on Thursday called on countries to continue using the vaccine, and is due to release the results of its own review into the vaccine's safety on Friday. The agency's investigation focused on a small number of cases of unusual blood disorders. In particular, it was looking at cases of cerebral venous thrombosis - blood clots in the head. Decisions to suspend use of the vaccine sparked concerns over the pace of the region's vaccination drive, which had already been affected by supply shortages. French Prime Minister Jean Castex announced new measures for his country on Thursday, saying the pandemic was clearly accelerating and a "third wave" of infections looked increasingly likely. Mr Castex, 55, said he would receive the jab himself on Friday afternoon. Emer Cooke, the agency's executive director, told a news conference: "This is a safe and effective vaccine." "Its benefits in protecting people from Covid-19 with the associated risks of death and hospitalisation outweigh the possible risks." The EMA's expert committee on medicine safety, Mrs Cooke said, had found that "the vaccine is not associated with an increase in the overall risk of... blood clots".

3-19-21 Covid: Paris lockdown as France fears third wave
The French capital is set to go into a month-long Covid lockdown as the country fears a third wave. Some 21 million people in 16 areas of France will be placed under the measures from midnight on Friday. These measures will not be as strict as the previous lockdown, Prime Minister Jean Castex said, with people allowed to exercise outdoors. France has recorded more than 35,000 new infections within the past 24 hours. Mr Castex said a "third wave" of infections in the country was looking increasingly likely. The situation in Paris is particularly worrying with 1,200 people in intensive care there, more than at the peak of the second wave in November, Health Minister Olivier Véran said. Under the new measures, non-essential businesses will be forced to close, but schools will remain open, along with hairdressers if they follow a "particular sanitary protocol". Government spokesman Gabriel Attal stressed there would be differences with the two earlier lockdowns and said further details would be given of which business could stay open or would have to shut. People will be allowed to exercise outdoors within 10km (6 miles) of their home and are not allowed to travel to other parts of the country unless they have a valid reason. Those in the affected areas will have to fill out a form to explain why they have left their homes. There is a weary resignation about Paris, as people prepare for another four weeks of tedium. Yes, we know this third lockdown won't be quite as bad as the second - which was itself a lighter version of the first. But still. Another month of bits of paper for the police; another month of having to justify a trip to the supermarket; another month without meaningful social contact. It's enough to drive you to distraction. Except it hasn't. In general, most Parisians simply knuckle under. Those who can are leaving by train or car, but because schools are staying open, most families will stick it out in the city. Everyone's made the calculation. The long Easter weekend in two weeks is a bust. But the Paris school holidays start on 17 April - exactly when the lockdown is supposed to end. That's the light that will keep people going. Spring break.

3-18-21 Covid-19 news: EU regulator concludes that AstraZeneca vaccine is safe
The latest coronavirus news updated every day including coronavirus cases, the latest news, features and interviews from New Scientist and essential information about the covid-19 pandemic. European Medicines Agency concludes AstraZeneca vaccine benefits outweigh risks. The safety committee of the European Medicines Agency (EMA), which regulates drugs for the European Union, has concluded that the benefits of the Oxford/AstraZeneca covid-19 vaccine continue to outweigh the risk of side effects. Following an investigation into reports of blood clots in some people who received the vaccine, the committee has concluded that the shot is not associated with an increase in the overall risk of blood clots in those who receive it, and it is a safe and effective way to prevent covid-19, which is itself associated with an increased risk of blood clots. But the committee is still investigating whether the vaccine may be linked to very rare cases of blood clots associated with low levels of platelets in the blood, including cerebral venous sinus thrombosis (CVST) – a blood clot in a major brain vessel. The EMA said the overall number of blood clots reported after vaccination was lower than that expected in the wider population. A delay in a delivery of 5 million Oxford/AstraZeneca covid-19 vaccine doses to the UK from India could result in a reduction in the UK’s covid-19 vaccine supply in April. The shipment, produced by the Serum Institute of India, has been delayed by four weeks, the BBC reported. The UK’s Department of Health and Social Care has said the UK remains on track to offer a first dose of covid-19 vaccine to all adults by the end of July. More than 25.2 million people in the UK have received a first dose of covid-19 vaccine so far and more than 1.7 million have received a second shot. But Adam Finn at the University of Bristol, who is a member of the UK Department of Health Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation, told BBC Radio 4 that the delivery issue was likely to result in a slight delay in vaccinations for people in their 40s and younger, which could result in a rise in infections.

3-18-21 Hybrid coronaviruses from merged variants are spreading between people
Recombinant viruses formed by mash-ups of two variants of the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus are now spreading from person to person, potentially increasing the risk of dangerous new variants arising. New Scientist reported on the first detection of this kind of recombination last month, but at that point it was unknown whether the resulting hybrid was circulating in the wild. Two new analyses end any doubt. “Recombinants are circulating,” says Dave VanInsberghe at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia. Recombination is a potent source of evolutionary change in coronaviruses. The worry is that it could bring recent mutations together in new and more dangerous combinations, although there is no evidence yet of that happening. In one analysis, VanInsberghe and his colleagues estimated that up to 1 in 20 of all SARS-CoV-2 variants circulating in the UK and US are now recombinants. The team analysed over half a million SARS-CoV-2 genome sequences from around the world and found more than 1000 possible recombinants. Most remain very rare, but two are circulating widely, one in the US, UK, Singapore, Japan and Canada, and the other in the US, UK, Canada and Denmark. Neither of these two recombinants carry mutations that have been flagged up as being “of concern”, such as the ones seen in the variants first identified in the UK, Brazil and South Africa. “We have no reason to believe that the recombinants have altered transmissibility or virulence,” says VanInsberghe. Even so, he says, “these mark the first instances of widespread transmission of recombinants”. Some of the other, rarer recombinants do carry those mutations of concern. “The real worry with recombination is that you recombine two lineages that have higher transmissibility or virulence, and that could be really dangerous,” says VanInsberghe.

3-18-21 Atlanta shootings: Suspect charged with murder as victims identified
A man has been charged with murder over the killing of eight people at massage parlours in Atlanta, Georgia. Officials cannot yet confirm if the attack, in which six Asian women were killed, was racially motivated. Four victims were named on Wednesday. The suspect, named as Robert Aaron Long, faces multiple counts of murder as well as aggravated assault. Cherokee County Sheriff Frank Reynolds said the suspect may have been a patron and claimed to have a "sex addiction". The attack comes amid a sharp uptick in crimes against Asian-Americans. Four of the victims have been identified by Cherokee County officials as Ashley Yaun, 33; Paul Andre Michels, 54; Xiaojie Tan, 49; and Daoyou Feng, 44. Elcias R Hernandez-Ortiz was identified as having been injured. In a news conference on Wednesday, investigators said Mr Long, 21, of Woodstock, Georgia, admitted to the shooting spree, and said that he denied that the attack was motivated by race. He has been charged with four counts of murder and one count of aggravated assault, according to the Cherokee County Sheriff's Department. "He apparently has an issue, what he considers a sex addiction, and sees these locations as a temptation for him that he wanted to eliminate," said Capt Jay Baker, adding that Mr Long was caught with a 9mm handgun and did not resist arrest. But Capt Baker's remarks - that "yesterday was a really bad day for him and this is what he did" - came in for widespread criticism for appearing to sympathise with the alleged perpetrator. Massage parlours are known to sometimes provide prostitution services, but authorities say there is no indication yet that this is the case at the targeted locations. "These are legally operating businesses that have not been on our radar," said Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms, who added that the city would not engage in "victim shaming, victim blaming".

3-18-21 Atlanta shootings: 'It's scary just to be an Asian American woman.'
Crowds protesting against hate crimes against Asian Americans appeared in Washington DC following the Atlanta spa shootings. On Tuesday, eight people at three different parlours in and around the US city of Atlanta were killed. Six of the eight victims were women of Asian descent. Atlanta's police chief, Rodney Bryant, said it was too early in the investigation to conclude that Tuesday's shootings had not been a hate crime. Activists and advocates have pointed to an increase in racially-motivated attacks against Asian Americans throughout the pandemic. In late 2020, the UN issued a report detailing an "alarming level" of racially-motivated violence and other hate incidents against Asian Americans.

3-18-21 What is happening with migrant children at the southern US border?
The US is bracing for a 20-year high in numbers of migrants arriving at the southern border, including thousands of children who are being kept in government-run detention facilities that critics say are inhumane. A pandemic health order means that most adults and families are being summarily turned away, but the Biden administration has allowed unaccompanied children under the age of 18 to enter the US while their claims are processed. The record-breaking influx of children being held in these camps has led US officials to send in the Federal Emergency Management Agency - a government organisation that normally deals with major emergencies like natural disasters. President Joe Biden has urged migrants not to attempt to travel to the US border. "Don't leave your town or city or community," he told them in an interview with ABC News. As of 14 March, US Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) agents were holding more than 13,000 unaccompanied children in custody, according to US media. It is a huge increase on the figure reported last week, when 3,200 migrant children - mostly from Central America - were said to be in US custody. At least 3,000 children have been kept for over 72 hours, the legal limit after which they are meant to be transferred to the custody of health officials in the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR). Department of Homeland Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas has said these camps, which are often compared to jails or warehouses, are "no place for a child". Pandemic restrictions and abnormally cold weather in Texas caused a delay in processing, Mr Mayorkas said earlier this month. ORR facilities are generally better equipped to take children. The shelters feature play areas, classrooms and counselling services. The organisation is also tasked with finding families or homes where the children will remain until their immigration claim is heard by the courts. In February, around 9,500 children who were not accompanied by their legal guardian were detained by American officials. Over 100,000 people in total were stopped from trying to cross into the US that month.

3-18-21 US Border: Risking everything for an American dream
After a decline during first year of pandemic, thousands of migrants from Central America are again on the move trying to reach the United States - many of them families or unaccompanied minors. Joe Biden’s government has already asked for support from its emergency management agency to help handle a spike in the number of unaccompanied children arriving at the border with Mexico, as the influx of children is straining the system. The BBC followed some of these migrants on this dangerous journey.

3-18-21 Covid: How ethnicity and wealth affect US vaccine rollout
The US vaccination rollout among people belonging to ethnic minorities is significantly behind that of white Americans - and wealthier areas are often getting jabs first, according to the latest data. We have looked into the numbers and the possible reasons behind the disparities. Despite being about twice as likely to die from Covid, Hispanic and black Americans are being vaccinated at a much slower rate than their white counterparts, according to figures published by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). Of those who have received their first dose, 7.6% are black and 8.7% are Hispanic, despite these groups comprising more than 13% and 18% of the US population respectively. But it is important to bear in mind only about half of those vaccinated have their ethnicity recorded. And the black and Hispanic populations are younger so less likely to be in the age groups prioritised in the initial phases of the vaccination programme. But alongside other reports, it is clear vaccinations for people belonging to minorities are lagging behind the white population. A Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF) study of states reporting vaccination data by ethnicity shows white people are being vaccinated at almost twice the rate of black Americans on average, and significantly more than that in some states. "What we are seeing right now is a pretty consistent trend across the states that shows gaps in vaccinations for black and Hispanic people, although the size of those gaps varies," the KFF's Racial Equity and Health Policy Program director, Samantha Artiga, says. White people are more than twice as likely to have been vaccinated as Hispanic Americans, on average, but nearly five times in Georgia and over four times in several other states. "In many communities of colour, there is historical distrust of government - and even some healthcare systems," American Public Health Association executive director Dr Georges Benjamin says. There is a history of unethical medical experimentation on black Americans. For several decades from the 1930s, syphilis was left untreated in hundreds of black American without their knowledge, as part of an experiment, in what became known as the Tuskegee scandal.

3-18-21 India coronavirus: Can its vaccine producers meet demand?
India, one of the world's largest producers of coronavirus vaccines, is struggling to meet its export commitments. Its largest manufacturer says doses intended for the UK could be held up, and a big order to supply Nepal has also been put on hold. The Serum Institute of India (SII) - which produces Novavax and AstraZeneca vaccines - recently raised concerns about raw material shortages. Its chief executive, Adar Poonawalla, attributed this to US export bans on specific items needed to make vaccines, such as specialised bags and filters. The firm said it has also faced difficulties importing cell culture media, single-use tubing and specialised chemicals from the US. "The sharing of these...raw materials is going to become a critical limiting factor — nobody has been able to address this so far," said Mr Poonawalla. The SII has written to the Indian government asking it to intervene to ensure the uninterrupted manufacture and supply of vaccines globally. Another Indian manufacturer, Biological E, which is producing the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, has also raised concerns about possible shortages affecting vaccine production. Mahima Datla, the company's chief executive, recently said US suppliers were "reluctant to commit that they will stick to their delivery timelines". President Biden has asked his administration to identify potential shortfalls in materials required for vaccine production. He has invoked the Defense Production Act (DPA), legislation from the 1950s which gives the US president powers to mobilise the domestic economy in response to emergencies. This allows the US to restrict the export of such products as vaccine supplies, to enable it to ramp up its own production. President Trump also used these powers to restrict the export of some personal protective equipment (PPE) last year.

3-17-21 Covid-19 news: EU may restrict exports of covid-19 vaccine to UK
The latest coronavirus news updated every day including coronavirus cases, the latest news, features and interviews from New Scientist and essential information about the covid-19 pandemic. UK foreign minister says EU threats “cut across previous assurances”. The European Commission may restrict exports of covid-19 vaccines to the UK to secure more doses for its own citizens unless the UK shows more “reciprocity” in vaccine exports, the commission’s president Ursula von der Leyen said on 17 March. “With the US reciprocity is given […] there is a seamless flow back and forth of pre-products and raw materials and drug substance,” von der Leyen told a press conference. But she said the EU is still waiting for Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine doses from the UK, despite the fact that 10 million vaccine doses had been delivered to the UK from EU plants. “We are still waiting for doses to come from the UK, so this is an invitation to show us that there are also doses from the UK coming to the European Union so that we have reciprocity,” she said. UK foreign minister Dominic Raab told Reuters the threat to ban exports “cuts across the direct assurances that we had from the commission”, adding: “We expect those assurances and legal contracted supply to be respected.” More than 25 million people in the UK have now received a first dose of covid-19 vaccine, according to the UK’s Department of Health and Social Care. “This latest milestone is an incredible achievement,” UK prime minister Boris Johnson said in a statement. “We’re ahead of schedule to offer a first dose to all in these groups by the 15 April and I urge everybody eligible to come forward,” said UK health minister Matt Hancock. Poland is set to enter a new nationwide lockdown from 20 March, the country’s health minister said. Poland reported 25,052 new coronavirus cases on 17 March in its highest daily toll in 2021 so far. Several European countries are seeing rising cases, including Germany, France and Italy.China is resuming processing of visas for foreigners from several countries, but only for those who have been vaccinated with a Chinese-made covid-19 vaccine, the Guardian has reported.

3-17-21 UK variant looks set to cause a surge in global coronavirus cases
THE B.1.1.7 coronavirus variant first spotted in the UK is poised to cause a surge in cases worldwide. In many areas of Europe and North America, the variant, which is more transmissible, is now responsible for most new coronavirus infections. Globally, since late February there has been a small uptick in coronavirus infections. Before this, case numbers had been falling sharply. The big question is what happens next. “There will almost definitely be a resurgence almost everywhere,” says Nick Davies at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine. His team’s modelling suggests that this could include the UK if lockdown measures are relaxed too quickly. A global surge could also be driven by the B.1.351 variant first seen in South Africa and the P.1 variant initially spotted in Brazil, says Davies. Others disagree. “Another [global] wave due to B.1.1.7 is far from inevitable,” says David Dowdy at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in Baltimore, Maryland. Other factors are moving in a positive direction, he says. More people are getting vaccinated, the weather is getting warmer in the northern hemisphere and there is a gradual build-up of population immunity. The B.1.1.7 variant already contributed to a big second wave of cases in the UK in December, forcing the UK government to impose a strict lockdown in England in January. At the start of this wave, the B.1.1.7 variant was responsible for only a small proportion of cases. It now causes 98 per cent of all cases in the UK. Much the same thing happened in Ireland and Portugal, which also imposed lockdowns as a result. Now, cases are starting to surge in other countries, including the Czech Republic, Italy, Poland and Hungary. These countries don’t do much genome sequencing to identify the virus variant detected in new cases, so it isn’t clear how big a role B.1.1.7 has played, but reports suggest it is responsible for many, if not most, cases.

3-17-21 Covid-19 vaccine hesitancy in poorest countries is lower than US
If the huge challenge of getting covid-19 vaccines to poor countries can be overcome, will people even want them? The first study to explore the question suggests the answer is an overwhelming yes. On average 80.3 per cent of people in ten low and middle income countries said they would take a covid-19 vaccine when it became available, according to phone surveys of 46,000 people between June and January. That is much higher than some high income countries, such as the 64.6 per cent willing to take one in the United States. The first doses from the international programme for distributing covid-19 vaccines to the world’s poorest countries, COVAX, were given on 1 March in Ghana. Yet little was known about views in those countries on the rapidly-developed vaccines until the new study, which has not yet been peer-reviewed. Previous research in low and middle income countries has found a high willingness to take vaccines generally, which is thought to be partly because diseases such as measles and polio are still in the collective memory, says Mushfiq Mobarak of Yale University, an author on the new study. The main reason given for accepting a covid-19 vaccine was self-protection, with safety and efficacy most-cited among those who would reject it. “I think it’s good news, conditional on getting people to follow through with their intention. For the remainder, the 20%, the data gave us some clues on the sort of messaging we should highlight. They are telling us they’re concerned about safety and efficacy,” says Mobarak . The surveys also revealed the most trusted messengers on vaccines were not celebrities but healthcare workers, which Mobarak says should be factored into public health campaigns. The average acceptance of 80.3 per cent across ten countries masked a range of 66.5 per cent at the lowest, in Burkina Faso and Pakistan, and 96.6 per cent at the highest, in Nepal. Acceptance seemed to be unaffected by income and education levels. “It’s not the case that high socio-economic status folks are more likely to take the vaccines,” says Mobarak.

3-17-21 'The Gospel Truth?' Covid-19 vaccines and the danger of religious misinformation
As coronavirus vaccines slowly roll out across the world, leaders are working hard to build confidence in them. Religious leaders in particular can play a crucial role in convincing people to vaccinate. Many are working hard to spread the news that vaccines are safe and effective, but as the BBC’s population reporter Stephanie Hegarty has been finding out, there are figures in almost every faith who are undermining that message, with some spreading misinformation which could lead to vaccine hesitancy.

3-17-21 Moderna begins testing Covid-19 vaccine on babies and young children
The US drug company Moderna has begun studying its Covid-19 vaccine in children aged six months to 11 years old. Moderna is the first US manufacturer to test its vaccine on infants. The company plans to enrol some 6,750 children in the US and Canada for the trial. The inoculation of children and young people is seen as critical to achieving the level of herd immunity necessary to halt the pandemic. While the risk of children becoming seriously ill from the virus is smaller than for adults, there is still a risk of transmission - especially among teenagers. "This paediatric study will help us assess the potential safety and immunogenicity of our Covid-19 vaccine in this younger age population," Moderna CEO Stéphane Bancel said. Both Moderna and Pfizer began testing their Covid-19 vaccines on children aged 12 years and older last year. Results on these trials are pending. AstraZeneca announced its first trial on children last month. Johnson & Johnson has said it will test its vaccine in infants and children but has not yet released a timeline to do so.

3-17-21 US refuses to delay time between coronavirus vaccine doses
THE UK’s controversial decision to increase the time between covid-19 vaccine doses has been thrust back under the spotlight after the US hasn’t followed suit, amid warnings that the strategy may backfire. However, the UK is no longer alone in its decision, with Canada and Germany both choosing to follow a similar plan. In December, the UK made the surprise decision to lengthen the interval between doses of the Oxford/AstraZeneca and Pfizer/BioNTech vaccines from the recommended three or four weeks to 12 weeks. The rationale was that this would maximise the impact of limited supplies of the vaccine. By allowing twice as many people to be given a first dose, it would theoretically produce broader levels of protection across the population. The decision was based on recommendations from a government advisory body, the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI), which calculated that the level of protection from the first dose was quite high and that a 12-week gap would save 3000 to 4000 more lives per million doses of vaccine. The strategy appears to be working, with early results from the UK’s vaccination programme described as “spectacular”. One study of the entire population of Scotland found that by the fifth week after a first dose, the Oxford/AstraZeneca jab reduced the risk of hospitalisation by 94 per cent and the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine by 85 per cent. A similar study in Israel found that the first dose of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine was 78 per cent effective at preventing hospitalisation after 21 days. There is growing clamour in the US to pivot to the UK model. Although the US is managing to roll out about 2 million vaccines a day, it is being limited by vaccine supply, said Nancy Messonnier, director of the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases (NCIRD), at a JAMA Network webinar on 26 February. “You see op-eds and talking heads on TV news programmes saying we should be doing what the Brits are doing,” says John Moore at Weill Cornell Medicine in New York. But the US won’t be changing course, he says.

3-17-21 Trump tells Republican supporters to get vaccinated
Former US President Donald Trump has urged his Republican supporters to be vaccinated against Covid-19, saying he would recommend it. In a TV interview, he said the vaccine was "safe" and "something that works". Mr Trump's conservative fan base has been one of the main groups resistant to the vaccine programme. The former president himself was criticised during his time in office for playing down the seriousness of the pandemic. As the vaccination programme has been rolled out across the US, all other living ex-presidents have spoken out, urging Americans to get the jab. However, Mr Trump has remained largely quiet on the subject. He and his wife, Melania, were vaccinated at the White House in secret in January. "I would recommend it," Mr Trump said during an interview on Fox News Primetime on Tuesday. "I would recommend it to a lot of people that don't want to get it and a lot of those people voted for me, frankly." He added: "It's a great vaccine, it's a safe vaccine and it's something that works." A recent poll by CBS News, the BBC's partner in the US, suggested that a third of Republican supporters would not have the vaccine when it was available to them, compared to 10% of Democrats. Mr Trump's comments came a day after his successor, President Joe Biden, expressed frustration at the reluctance among some conservatives to get the jab. White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki said on Monday: "If former President Trump woke up tomorrow and wanted to be more vocal about the safety and efficacy of the vaccine, certainly we'd support that." She added: "Every other living president... has participated in public campaigns. They did not need an engraved invitation to do so."

3-17-21 Covid in Europe: Vaccine suspension hits rollout as cases rise
Several European countries are experiencing a new surge in coronavirus infections, while a number have also suspended use of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine over safety concerns. The European Medicines Agency is standing by its decision to approve the vaccine and has reiterated there is "no indication" the jab causes blood clots. It is investigating further and its results are due to be released on Thursday. Correspondents in six cities explain how Europeans are reacting to the new wave of infections and the stuttering rollout. Denmark: Vaccinations 857,792 |14.81 doses per 100 people. Increase in cases compared with last week +2,48. Denmark was the first country in Europe to suspend the AstraZeneca vaccine as a precaution, followed by Norway and Iceland. It is yet another blow to its vaccine plans, writes Adrienne Murray in Copenhagen. About 1 in 10 people here have now received at least one vaccine dose, a quarter of which were supplied by AstraZeneca. All adults were expected to be vaccinated by the end of June, but delivery delays have seen that target pushed back a number of times. Health authorities on Wednesday suggested the end of July. Danes have expressed disappointment about the rollout on Twitter. "It's simply going too slow," writes Lone Juul Lang. But most have supported the government's handling of coronavirus and a survey in January revealed that almost nine out of 10 Danes want to be vaccinated. Since the new year, infections have fallen sharply and Denmark is slowly emerging from a second lockdown. But signs of fatigue are beginning to show. Anti-lockdown protests have recently been held in some Danish cities and there's political pressure to do more. However, concerns about new variants of coronavirus, have made the government hesitant to open up faster.

3-17-21 Brazil health service in 'worst crisis in its history'
Brazil is experiencing a historic collapse of its health service as intensive care units in hospitals run out of capacity, its leading health institute, Fiocruz, has warned. Covid-19 units in all but two of Brazil's 27 states are at or above 80% capacity, according to Fiocruz. In Rio Grande do Sul state there are no intensive care beds available at all. The warning came as the country registered its highest daily death toll yet with 2,841 dying within 24 hours. That figure constitutes a large jump from the previous high of 2,286 on 10 March. In a statement [in Portuguese], Fiocruz said that the situation was "extremely critical in the entire country". "The analysis by our researchers suggests it's the biggest collapse of the hospital and health service in Brazil's history." Health officials in Brazil's most populous state, São Paulo, which on Tuesday also registered a record daily death toll, have called on the new health minister to consider imposing a national lockdown. Marcelo Queiroga - who will be formally appointed as health minister later on Wednesday - is the fourth person to hold the office since the pandemic began. He was given the job on Monday by President Jair Bolsonaro, who has faced widespread criticism over his handling of the pandemic. President Bolsonaro has consistently opposed quarantine measures introduced by state governors, arguing that the collateral damage to the economy would be worse than the effects of the virus itself. In remarks to the media on Tuesday, Mr Queiroga urged Brazilians to wear masks and wash their hands but stopped short of endorsing a lockdown or even social distancing measures. The cardiologist told CNN Brasil that while "lockdowns were used in extreme situations, they could not be government policy". That drew a strong response from João Gabbardo, the head of Sao Paulo's Covid-19 emergency body. Posting on Twitter, Mr Gabbardo said private hospitals had been requesting space in the public health system because of the demand for intensive care beds. "When he [Queiroga] takes over, he will face the worst numbers in the pandemic," Mr Gabbardo tweeted, adding: "Suggestion: do not take a stand against a national lockdown." President Bolsonaro has consistently played down the dangers of the pandemic - last week telling people to "stop whining" about Covid-19.

3-17-21 Atlanta shootings: Asian women among eight killed at three spas
Eight people, many of them women of Asian descent, have been killed in shootings at spas in the US state of Georgia. Police say the shootings took place at a massage parlour in Acworth, a suburb north of Atlanta, and two spas in the city itself. South Korea later confirmed that four of the victims were of Korean descent. Officials say a 21-year-old man was arrested and is suspected of involvement in all of the attacks. No motive has yet been established, but there are fears the crimes may have deliberately targeted people of Asian descent. Hate crimes against Asian-Americans spiked in recent months, fuelled by rhetoric that blames them for the spread of Covid-19. In an address last week, President Joe Biden condemned "vicious hate crimes against Asian-Americans who have been attacked, harassed, blamed and scapegoated." The first happened at about 17:00 (21:00 GMT) on Tuesday at Young's Asian Massage in Acworth, Cherokee County. Two people died at the scene and three were taken to hospital, where two more died, sheriff's office spokesman Capt Jay Baker said. He later confirmed the victims were two Asian women, a white woman and a white man, and said a Hispanic man had been wounded. Less than an hour later, police were called to a "robbery in progress" at Gold Spa in north-east Atlanta. "Upon arrival, officers located three females deceased inside the location from apparent gunshot wounds," police said. While there, officers were called to a spa across the street, called Aromatherapy Spa, where they found another woman shot dead. Police quoted by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution said all four Atlanta victims were Asian women. Investigators who had studied CCTV footage then released images of a suspect near one of the spas. Police said that, after a manhunt, Robert Aaron Long, of Woodstock, Georgia, was arrested in Crisp County, about 150 miles (240km) south of Atlanta. Capt Baker said investigators were "very confident" that the same suspect was the gunman in all three shootings. The identities of the victims have not yet been made public. Authorities in South Korea said they were working to confirm the nationalities of the four women of Korean descent.

3-17-21 What is happening with migrant children at the southern US border?
The US is bracing for a 20-year high in numbers of migrants arriving at the southern border, including thousands of children who are being kept in government-run detention facilities that critics say are inhumane. A pandemic health order means that most adults and families are being summarily turned away, but the Biden administration has allowed unaccompanied children under the age of 18 to enter the US while their claims are processed. The record breaking influx of children being held in these camps has led US officials to send in the Federal Emergency Management Agency - a government organisation that normally deals with major emergencies like natural disasters. President Joe Biden has urged migrants not to attempt to travel to the US border. "Don't leave your town or city or community," he told them in an interview with ABC News. As of 14 March, US Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) agents were housing 4,200 children in detention centres. The uptick is a 31% jump from less than a week earlier, when 3,200 migrant children - mostly from Central America - were reported to be held in US custody. The number of children kept over the three-day limit more than doubled in that time. Almost 3,000 children have been kept for over 72 hours, the legal limit after which they are meant to be transferred to the custody of health officials in the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR). Department of Homeland Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas has said these camps, which are often compared to jails or warehouses, are "no place for a child". Pandemic restrictions and abnormally cold weather in Texas caused a delay in processing, Mr Mayorkas said earlier this month. ORR facilities are generally better equipped to take children. The shelters feature play areas, classrooms and counselling services. The organisation is also tasked with finding families or homes where the children will remain until their immigration claim is heard by the courts. According to CBS News, the BBC's partner in the US, 565 unaccompanied children are now entering US custody every day. In February, around 9,500 children who were not accompanied by their legal guardian were detained by American officials. Over 100,000 people in total were stopped from trying to cross into the US that month.

3-16-21 Covid-19 news: UK facing pressure over inquiry into pandemic handling
The latest coronavirus news updated every day including coronavirus cases, the latest news, features and interviews from New Scientist and essential information about the covid-19 pandemic. Growing pressure for UK to launch inquiry into handling of pandemic. There is growing pressure for UK prime minister Boris Johnson to launch an inquiry into the UK’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic, including from government scientific advisers and health leaders, the Guardian has reported. Andrew Hayward, a member of the government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies, told the Guardian in a personal capacity that the government’s decision-making processes “need to be scrutinised”, with an emphasis on “learning from the future rather than culpability”. Others calling for an inquiry include Donna Kinnair, general secretary of the Royal College of Nursing, and Chaand Nagpaul, chair of the British Medical Association council. A government spokesperson said: “We are focused on protecting the NHS and saving lives and now is not the right time to devote huge amounts of official time to an inquiry.” The European Medicines Agency (EMA) has reiterated that there is “no indication” that the Oxford/AstraZeneca covid-19 vaccine has caused blood clot incidents. “The number of thromboembolic events overall in vaccinated people seems not to be higher than that seen in the general population,” EMA chief, Emer Cooke, told a virtual press conference on 16 March. Cooke added that there were similar reports about blood clots related to other coronavirus vaccines approved for use in Europe, including the Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna vaccines. On 16 March, Sweden followed Germany, France, Italy and other European countries in suspending use of the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine. Both the EMA and the World Health Organization (WHO) are investigating reports of blood clots in a small number of people who had the vaccine. The EMA is expected to release results from its investigation on 18 March. A member of the World Health Organization (WHO) team investigating the origins of the covid-19 pandemic has said wildlife farms in southern China are the most likely source. An earlier hypothesis proposed by the team was that the virus was first transmitted via frozen food. But Peter Daszak, a member of the investigative team, told NPR that the decision by China to shut down wildlife farms in February 2020 is a strong signal that the Chinese government thought the farms were the most probable pathway for a coronavirus in bats in southern China to spillover into people. The WHO is expected to release official findings from the team’s investigation in two weeks.

3-16-21 What is happening with migrant children at the southern US border?
The US is seeing a 20-year high in numbers of migrants arriving at the southern border, including thousands of children who are being kept in government-run detention facilities that critics say are inhumane. A pandemic health order means that most adults and families are being summarily turned away, but the Biden administration has allowed unaccompanied children under the age of 18 to enter the US while their claims are processed. The record breaking influx of children being held in these camps has led US officials to send in the Federal Emergency Management Agency - a government organisation that normally deals with major emergencies like natural disasters. As of 14 March, US Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) agents were housing 4,200 children in detention centres. The uptick is a 31% jump from less than a week earlier, when 3,200 migrant children - mostly from Central America - were reported to be held in US custody. The number of children kept over the three-day limit more than doubled in that time. Almost 3,000 children have been kept for over 72 hours, the legal limit after which they are meant to be transferred to the custody of health officials in the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR). Department of Homeland Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas has said these camps, which are often compared to jails or warehouses, are "no place for a child". Pandemic restrictions and abnormally cold weather in Texas caused a delay in processing, Mr Mayorkas said earlier this month. ORR facilities are generally better equipped to take children. The shelters feature play areas, classrooms and counselling services. The organisation is also tasked with finding families or homes where the children will remain until their immigration claim is heard by the courts. According to CBS News, the BBC's partner in the US, 565 unaccompanied children are now entering US custody every day. In February, around 9,500 children who were not accompanied by their legal guardian were detained by American officials. Over 100,000 people in total were stopped from trying to cross into the US that month.

3-16-21 Brian Sicknick: Two arrested for assault of Capitol Police officer
Two men have been charged for using bear spray on a Capitol Police officer who later died after responding to the 6 January riot. Brian Sicknick was one of five people who died following the riot, but it is not clear if he died from the bear spray - which is like pepper spray. Julian Elie Khater, 32, and George Pierre Tanios, 39, were arrested for assaulting several officers. They were charged with nine counts and face up to 20 years in prison. The pair were "working in concert and had a plan to use the toxic spray against law enforcement", according to court documents. Officer Sicknick, 42, was injured while "physically engaging with protesters" and later died in hospital. Sicknick lay in honour in the Capitol Rotunda in January - a rare distinction reserved for those who are not government or military officials. Results from Sicknick's post-mortem examination are expected on Monday - the same day that Mr Khater and Mr Tanios are expected to appear in federal court. Investigators used video of the riots to identify the men, allegedly caught on camera discussing the assaults. According to court documents, Mr Khater was recorded on video asking Mr Tanios for the bear spray at 14:14 local time near the Lower West Terrace of the Capitol, where Sicknick and other officers were standing guard. Minutes later, Mr Khater is seen on video discharging a canister of the spray into the faces of Sicknick and the other officers, according to the arrest papers. All three officers were temporarily blinded and incapacitated for more than 20 minutes, investigators said. Mr Tanios and Mr Khater are charged with nine counts including assaulting three officers with a deadly weapon, civil disorder and obstruction of a congressional proceeding. Hundreds of people have been arrested in connection with the 6 January siege of the Capitol so far, which led to the second impeachment of former President Donald Trump. President Joe Biden's newly confirmed Attorney General Merrick Garland has pledged to make the Capitol riot investigation his top priority.

3-16-21 Coronavirus: Alarm at German AstraZeneca pause as cases spike
German leaders have postponed a summit on extending the vaccine rollout as they await confirmation from the EU's medicines regulator that the Oxford-AstraZeneca drug is safe to use. Germany is among a number of European countries that have suspended its use and Vice-Chancellor Olaf Scholz said he was hopeful it could be used again. The EU regulator has again insisted the drug's benefits outweigh any risks. The German decision has been criticised by some politicians and doctors. Emer Cooke, executive director of the European Medicines Agency, said the EMA was still "firmly convinced" of the benefits of the AstraZeneca drug, and she pointed out that blood clots highlighted by some countries were relatively common in the general population. The main question was whether it was a real side-effect of the vaccine or a coincidence, she said. The agency's safety committee will further review the latest evidence and report back on Thursday. Experts from the World Health Organization (WHO) were also meeting on Tuesday but spokesman Christian Lindmeier stressed there was "no evidence" that the incidents were linked to the vaccine. The WHO has urged countries not to pause their vaccinations. In the UK, more than 11 million people have already received at least one dose of the AstraZeneca vaccine and there has been no sign of excess deaths or blood clots occurring. Germany has so far used 1.6 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine, considered second only to the Pfizer-BioNTech drug in importance to the national rollout. The planned meeting of federal and state leaders will now take place after the EMA decision, and they are expected to back the involvement of a national network of family doctors' surgeries from April, which officials hope will then enable 20 million vaccinations per month. German infections are growing "exponentially", with cases up by 20% in the past week, an expert from the RKI public health agency warned on Tuesday.

3-16-21 AstraZeneca vaccine: 'No indication' of link to blood clots
The European Union medicines regulator has reiterated there is "no indication" that the Oxford-AstraZeneca Covid jab causes blood clots, after several countries paused their rollouts. European Medicines Agency (EMA) head Emer Cooke said she remained "firmly convinced" that the benefits of the vaccine outweighed any risks. An investigation into cases of clots in a handful of recipients is ongoing. The World Health Organization has urged countries not to halt vaccinations. Vaccine safety experts from the WHO are also meeting on Tuesday to review the Oxford-AstraZeneca jab. AstraZeneca says a review of 17 million people who received doses in Europe found there were 37 cases of people who had developed blood clots. The EMA says the number of blood clots reported in vaccinated people is no higher than that seen in the general population. "We know that many thousands of people develop blood clots in the EU so what we want is to establish whether these events are caused by the vaccine or by other causes," Ms Emer said. "While the investigation is ongoing, currently, we are still firmly convinced that the benefits of the AstraZeneca vaccine in preventing COVID-19, with its associated risks of hospitalisation and death, outweigh the risks," she added. Results from the EMA's investigation are due to be released on Thursday. A number of countries have temporarily suspended use of the vaccine, including Germany, France, Italy and Spain. They said they were pausing the rollout following reports of blood clots in some recipients. Blood clots are solid clumps that form in the blood, which can be life threatening if not treated quickly. The countries stressed that it was a precautionary measure. "This is a professional decision," German Health Minister Jens Spahn said, adding that he was following the recommendation of the country's vaccine institute.

3-15-21 Covid-19 news: Germany, France and Italy suspend AstraZeneca vaccine
The latest coronavirus news updated every day including coronavirus cases, the latest news, features and interviews from New Scientist and essential information about the covid-19 pandemic. Germany, France and Italy among latest countries to pause AstraZeneca vaccine. Germany, France and Italy are among the latest countries to pause their rollouts of the Oxford/AstraZeneca covid-19 vaccine, following reports of blood clots in a small number of people who received the vaccine. The World Health Organization, the European Medicines Agency and the UK’s medicines regulator have all said there is no indication that the vaccine causes blood clots. “We are closely reviewing reports but given the large number of doses administered, and the frequency at which blood clots can occur naturally, the evidence available does not suggest the vaccine is the cause,” said Phil Bryan, vaccines safety lead at the UK’s Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency in a statement. “People should still go and get their covid-19 vaccine when asked to do so,” he said. Approximately 17 million people in the EU and UK have received a dose of the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine so far, with just 37 cases of blood clots reported as of last week, AstraZeneca said. Thailand delayed its planned rollout of the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine last week but today announced that rollout of the shots will resume. The White House is expected to unveil a public relations campaign aimed at boosting covid-19 vaccine confidence and uptake across the US. Separately, US health adviser Anthony Fauci has urged former US president Donald Trump to encourage his supporters to get vaccinated against covid-19. “It would make all the difference in the world,” Fauci told Fox News on 14 March. Germany’s association of intensive care doctors is calling for a return to stricter lockdown restrictions, following a rise in coronavirus cases.

3-15-21 US remains top arms exporter and grows market share
The US has increased its global share of arms exports to 37% during the last five years, according to a Sweden-based research institute. Increased exports by the US, France and Germany were offset by declining Russian and Chinese exports. Imports and exports remain close to their highest level since the end of the cold war, although this may change from the impact of the pandemic. The biggest growth in arms imports was seen in the Middle East. "It is too early to say whether the period of rapid growth in arms transfers of the past two decades is over," said Pieter Wezeman, a senior researcher with the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (Sipri) who collected the data. "The economic impact of the Covid-19 pandemic could see some countries reassessing their arms imports in the coming years. "However, at the same time, even at the height of the pandemic in 2020, several countries signed large contracts for major arms." International arms sales remained stable between 2016 and 2020 compared to the previous five years, Sipri said. Almost half (47%) of US arms exports went to the Middle East, with Saudi Arabia alone accounting for 24% of total US arms exports. The US is now supplying arms to 96 states while increasing its global share of arms sales during the five year period. France increased its exports of major arms by 44%, while Germany expanded its exports by 21%. Israel and South Korea both significantly increased their exports, although both remain relatively small players in arms exports. The Middle East was the fastest growing market for arms, importing 25% more in 2016-20 compared to the previous five year period. The biggest increases came from Saudi Arabia (61%), Egypt (136%) and Qatar (361%). Asia and Oceania was the largest importing region for major arms, receiving 42% of global arms transfers. India, Australia, China, South Korea and Pakistan were the biggest importers in the region.

3-15-21 Catholic Church 'cannot bless same-sex unions'
The Catholic Church does not have the power to bless same-sex unions, the Vatican office responsible for doctrine has said. It is "impossible" for God to "bless sin", the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) said on Monday. But the CDF did note the "positive elements" in same-sex relationships. In October, Pope Francis said in a documentary that he thought same-sex couples should be allowed to have "civil unions". In the Catholic Church, a blessing is given by a priest or other minister in the name of the Church. On Monday, Pope Francis approved the response by the CDF, saying it was "not intended to be a form of unjust discrimination, but rather a reminder of the truth of the liturgical rite". Some parishes in recent months, including in Germany and the US, have started giving blessings to people in same-sex relationships as a way to welcome gay Catholics to the church, Reuters news agency reported. The CDF's response was in answer to the question posed to it: "Does the Church have the power to give the blessing to unions of persons of the same sex?". It replied: "Negative". The CDF noted that marriage between a man and a woman is sacrament and therefore blessings cannot be extended to same-sex couples. "For this reason, it is not licit to impart a blessing on relationships, or partnerships, even stable, that involve sexual activity outside of marriage (i.e., outside the indissoluble union of a man and a woman open in itself to the transmission of life), as is the case of the unions between persons of the same sex," it said. In 2013, Pope Francis famously said: "Who am I to judge gay people?" Last year the pontiff said in a documentary by Evgeny Afineevsky that "homosexual people have a right to be in a family... they are children of God and have a right to a family. Nobody should be thrown out or made miserable over it". The Vatican later attempted to clarify the comments saying they were taken out of context and did not indicate support for same-sex marriage.

3-15-21 Covid-19: 'No evidence' of AstraZeneca jab problems, says WHO
The World Health Organisation has said there is no evidence that incidents involving blood clots are caused by the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine. In a statement, the WHO said it was reviewing reports relating to the jab, but it was important that vaccination campaigns continued. It was good practice to investigate potential adverse events, it added. Germany on Monday joined several other European countries in halting vaccinations as a precaution. There have been a number of cases in Europe of blood clots developing after the vaccine was administered. However, experts say the number of blood clots reported after the vaccine were no more than those typically reported within the general population. About 17 million people in the EU and the UK have received a dose of the vaccine, with fewer than 40 cases of blood clots reported as of last week, AstraZeneca said. WHO spokesman Christian Lindmeier said the body was investigating the reports. "As soon as WHO has gained a full understanding of these events, the findings and any unlikely changes to current recommendations will be immediately communicated to the public," he said. "As of today, there is no evidence that the incidents are caused by the vaccine and it is important that vaccination campaigns continue so that we can save lives and stem severe disease from the virus." The European Medical Association - which is also currently carrying out a review into incidents of blood clots - said the vaccine could continue to be administered. The UK medicines regulator also said evidence "does not suggest" the jab causes clots, as it urged people in the country to get the vaccine when asked to do so. Professor Andrew Pollard, director of the Oxford vaccine group that developed the Oxford-AstraZeneca jab, told the BBC's Today programme there was "very reassuring evidence that there is no increase in a blood clot phenomenon here in the UK, where most of the doses in Europe [have] been given so far".

3-14-21 US immigration: Disaster agency Fema brought in to help with child migrant surge
A US agency that normally deals with major emergencies and natural disasters has been brought in to help care for the rising numbers of migrant children arriving at the US southern border. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (Fema) would "help receive, shelter and transport the children" for the next 90 days, it was announced. President Joe Biden has been reversing some of his predecessor's policies. But the recent surge of arrivals is putting pressure on processing systems. There were a record number of children - 3,200 - being held in US immigration facilities on the US-Mexican border as of 8 March. Hundreds continue to arrive each day, and many are being held beyond the legal three-day limit for being processed and transferred. Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas said last week that the situation on the border was "overwhelming" but not yet a crisis. Announcing Fema's involvement, Mr Mayorkas said the agency would work with the Health and Human Services Department (HHS) to "look at every available option to quickly expand physical capacity for appropriate lodging". "Our goal is to ensure that unaccompanied children are transferred to HHS as quickly as possible, consistent with legal requirements and in the best interest of the children," he added. On the campaign trail, Joe Biden promised to reverse many of Donald Trump's restrictive migrant policies. Since taking office in January, he has ordered the reunification of migrant children with their families, ended construction of the border wall and called for reviews of legal immigration programmes terminated by his predecessor. But in the same month Mr Biden became president, 5,871 unaccompanied children crossed the border - up from 4,995 in December - according to data from the US Customs and Border Protection (CPB). As of 8 March, the number of children held in US immigration facilities had tripled in just two weeks - to 3,250. Of that number, nearly half had been in detention longer than the three-day limit and were in CBP-managed facilities that were designed for adults.

3-14-21 Breonna Taylor: Protest marks anniversary of police killing
Hundreds of people have gathered in the US city of Louisville for a rally to mark a year since the death of Breonna Taylor, a 26-year-old black paramedic shot dead when police raided her home. The incident caused outrage, spurring protests against racism and brutality. Ms Taylor was shot by officers who forced entry into her home using a "no-knock" warrant that meant they did not have to announce themselves. The three police officers who carried out the raid were eventually sacked. During the operation Ms Taylor's boyfriend Kenneth Walker shot and wounded one of the officers. Earlier this month a charge of attempted murder against him was dropped. Mr Walker said he fired once because he believed criminals were breaking in. The officers responded with 32 shots, six of which struck Ms Taylor. However, a grand jury decided not to charge any of them over Ms Taylor's death, sparking protests. During Saturday's demonstration in Louisville, speakers demanded justice for Breonna Taylor. "It's been a year and justice has not been served," Camille Bascus, a 50-year-old African American, told the AFP news agency. Ahead of the rally, Kentucky Governor Andy Beshear said in a statement that he would "never understand the unimaginable grief" of Ms Taylor's family and loved ones. "Today we remember Breonna Taylor, her tragic and unnecessary loss and the immense work we have ahead of us," he said. The FBI's Louisville field office also issued a statement saying that its investigation into Ms Taylor's death had made "significant progress" since it began last May, without providing further details. Ms Taylor's killing did not initially attract nationwide attention. But it received renewed focus after the police killing of unarmed black man George Floyd in Minneapolis, which ignited anti-racism protests around the world. The city of Louisville paid $12m (£8.6m) to Ms Taylor's family and agreed to police reforms to settle a wrongful death lawsuit. Only one of the police officers who took part in the deadly raid faced any charges linked to the botched raid. Brett Hankison was charged with endangering Ms Taylor's neighbours by firing into a next door apartment.

3-13-21 The COVID vaccine pipeline
Pharma firms are racing to produce billions of coronavirus shots. Can they deliver? Pharma firms are racing to produce billions of coronavirus shots. Can they deliver? Here's everything you need to know:

  1. What's the production target? To fulfill President Biden's goal of having enough COVID-19 vaccine for all 260 million American adults by June, Pfizer and Moderna must each deliver 200 million doses of their two-shot vaccines by that deadline.
  2. How are the vaccines made? The pipeline for Pfizer's innovative shot starts in St. Louis, where bacterial cells embedded with the DNA blueprint for the coronavirus' spike protein grow in massive steel vats.
  3. What about Johnson & Johnson? Its vaccine uses a more traditional approach, employing a harmless cold virus to deliver DNA instructions for fighting the coronavirus.
  4. Are there enough raw materials? Pfizer and Moderna need more lipids, the fatty nanoparticles that encase their fragile mRNA molecules.
  5. What else is the federal government doing? The Biden administration has helped factories secure much-needed machinery, tubing, and filtration systems.
  6. Are other firms collaborating? Yes, but it's not as simple as "giving a recipe to another restaurant," said John Grabenstein of the Immunization Action Coalition. "That 'recipe' is thousands of pages long."
  7. Calling all vaccinators: With a steadily rising number of vaccine doses being shipped each week, many states are now reporting a different kind of shortage: people to give shots.

3-13-21 Covid-19 pandemic: Italy to shut shops and schools amid infection spike
Shops, restaurants and schools will be closed across most of Italy on Monday, with PM Mario Draghi warning of a "new wave" of the coronavirus outbreak. For three days over Easter, 3-5 April, there will be a total shutdown. Italy, which one year ago imposed one of the first national lockdowns, is once again struggling to contain the rapid spread of infections. The country has reported more than 100,000 Covid-related deaths, Europe's second-highest tally after the UK. Italy's vaccination campaign has been hit by delays, as has been seen elsewhere in the European Union. Anglo-Swedish drug company AstraZeneca has announced a further shortfall in the amount of its vaccine it can supply to the European Union, blaming export restrictions imposed by some countries. It did not elaborate. In January, it announced a large cut in the 100m doses it had originally expected to deliver to the EU by March, sparking a public spat with European Commission. Last week the government in Rome blocked the export of 250,000 doses of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine to Australia to address shortfalls of vaccines. Elsewhere, Bulgaria, Denmark and Norway have all paused the use of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine over fears it causes blood clots. The World Health Organization said on Friday there was no indication this was true, stressing that countries should not stop using the vaccine. From Monday, schools, shops and restaurants will shut in more than half of Italy, including the two most populous regions containing Rome and Milan. Residents will be required to stay at home except for work, health or other essential reasons. The extra restrictions would last until Easter, Mr Draghi's office said, and over the Easter weekend the whole country would be turned into the high-risk "red zone". "I'm aware that today's restrictions will have consequences on the education of your children, on the economy and on everyone's mental health," Mr Draghi said. "But they're necessary to avoid a worsening of the situation that would require even stricter measures." Cases have been rising across Italy for the past six weeks, exceeding 25,000 a day.

3-13-21 EU closes ranks over Covid surge and vaccine delays
Europeans, like many others across the world, hoped for a better and happier year in 2021 - after seemingly endless months of Covid illness, deaths and pandemic-linked economic misery. But so far, so annus horribilis for the EU. On a number of Covid fronts. The bloc's by now infamous vaccination procurement scheme - trumpeting the securing of up to 2.6 billion doses - has so far failed to deliver. EU countries lag significantly behind Israel, the UK and the US in getting jabs into arms. A number of EU members have stumbled nationally, too, with heavily criticised roll-outs of the vaccines they did manage to obtain, in Germany, Belgium, Bulgaria and beyond. And all the while the virus continues its deadly spread. On Friday, Italy's Prime Minister, Mario Draghi, and Germany's respected Robert Koch institute for infectious diseases confirmed their respective countries were experiencing a third wave of the pandemic. Covid restrictions in Italy will be tightened from Monday, with a national lockdown planned for Easter Weekend. Countries in Central and Eastern Europe, proud of their health record during the first Covid wave, are now suffering terribly. Poland and Hungary have seen serious spikes in infection, while the Czech Republic and neighbouring Slovakia report some of the highest death rates per population in the world. This was certainly not what the European Commission had in mind back in June when it announced a "European strategy to accelerate the development, manufacturing and deployment of effective and safe vaccines against Covid-19". At the time, the UK was derided by many at home and abroad for not accepting an invitation from Brussels - even as a departing member state - to jump aboard the EU vaccine procurement scheme. "Boris Johnson's Brexit-focused government prefers to go it alone? More fool them," was the sentiment of many in the EU.

3-13-21 Amazon will not sell books that 'frame sexual identity as mental illness'
.Amazon has said that it will not sell books that frame gender or sexual identities as mental illnesses. "We reserve the right not to sell certain content," the company said in a letter to the US Congress. The retail giant was responding to Republican senators who asked why it had removed a book by a conservative author from all of its platforms. Last month, the House of Representatives passed legislation that prohibits LGBT discrimination. The landmark Equality Act, however, still needs to pass the Senate. So far, no Senate Republicans - who hold 50 of the 100 seats - have said they will vote for the bill. Amazon removed the book When Harry Became Sally, by Ryan Anderson and published in 2018, from its online stores, e-book and audio book platforms last month. The book sets out to answer "questions arising from our transgender moment", its publisher, Encounter Books, says on its website. It adds that through the book Mr Anderson "exposes the contrast between the media's sunny depiction of gender fluidity and the often sad reality of living with gender dysphoria". Shortly after When Harry Became Sally was removed from Amazon on 21 February, Republican senators Marco Rubio, Josh Hawley, Mike Braun and Mike Lee sent a letter to the retailer requesting an explanation for its decision. Among other questions, they asked: "Is this action part of a broader campaign against conservative material and voices on Amazon's platforms?" On Thursday, Amazon replied in a letter to the senators that said "all retailers make decisions about what selection they choose to offer". "We offer customers across the political spectrum a wide variety of content that includes disparate opinions," it said. "We carefully consider the content we make available in our stores, and we review our approach regularly... we have chosen not to sell books that frame LGBTQ+ identity as a mental illness."

3-13-21 Mississippi bans trans girls from school sports
Mississippi's governor has signed a law banning transgender athletes from competing in girls' sports at school. Activists say the "Mississippi Fairness Act" is the first law targeting transgender people to pass in 2021. The bill argues that boys and girls have "inherently different athletic capabilities". It is expected to face legal challenges. It comes as a swath of Republican states push back against pro-LGBT measures from the Biden administration. The law requires public high schools and institutions of higher education to "designate its athletic teams or sports according to biological sex". Coming into effect in July, it also calls for protecting schools that maintain separate sports teams from complaint or investigation. Supporters of the bill had argued that transgender women have an unfair advantage over those born female, because they have "categorically different strength, speed and endurance". It cites an article written by a trio of women's sports stars - including tennis champion Martina Navratilova - that said it would be "a denial of science" to ignore that those born male can "beat the best girls and women in head-to-head competition". Ms Navratilova has since established a group that she says will seek a "science-based, ethical approach" to "establish a middle ground that both protects girls' and women's sport and accommodates transgender athletes". She has also proposed a special provision for elite sports. The bill passed through both chambers of the state legislature by overwhelming majorities, the House by 81-28 and the Senate 34-9. Its sponsor, Republican senator Angela Burks Hill, said she introduced the legislation after seeing issues arise in other parts of the country. Opponents of transgender women athletes competing in accordance with their gender identity frequently cite a lawsuit filed against two trans females who were champion sprinters in Connecticut. Ms Hill did not identify any similar local concerns but said "numerous coaches across the state" called to say pre-emptive action was needed. Critics say that examples of transgender girls outcompeting other girls are rare, which is why the Connecticut case is so frequently cited. (Webmaster's comment: Those who oppose LGBQs are full of fear! You can see it their face!)

3-13-21 Minneapolis to pay George Floyd family $27m
The city of Minneapolis has reached a $27m (£19m) settlement with the family of George Floyd, the unarmed US black man whose death last May sparked protests worldwide. Mr Floyd's death after being trapped under the knee of police officer Derek Chauvin was captured on camera. Lawyers for the family said the footage created "undeniable demand for justice and change". Jury selection for Mr Chauvin's murder trial is currently under way. Six out of 12 jurors have been selected for hearings beginning on 29 March. The Minneapolis City Council voted unanimously to approve the pre-trial settlement, the largest ever awarded in the state of Minnesota. "That the largest pre-trial settlement in a wrongful death case ever would be for the life of a black man sends a powerful message that black lives do matter and police brutality against people of colour must end," said Floyd family attorney Ben Crump. In a video of Mr Floyd's death that went viral on social media, four police officers confront the man for allegedly using a counterfeit $20 bill at a local shop. They drag him to the ground and Mr Chauvin places his knee on Mr Floyd's neck, even as he begs for his life and says "I can't breathe". He was later pronounced dead in hospital. Lawyers for the Floyd family filed a civil suit one month later, in June 2020. They argued the city had been negligent for failing to train officers in proper restraint techniques and for not dismissing officers with a poor track record. Dozens of complaints had previously been filed against Mr Chauvin, who had been serving on the city police force for 19 years. Speaking after the settlement was announced, Mr Crump said it was but "one step" on the journey to justice. Mr Floyd's death was a catalyst for reckoning on race and bias, he said. The civil settlement comes at the end of the first week in criminal court proceedings over Mr Chauvin's murder trial.

3-12-21 Covid-19 news: AstraZeneca vaccine not linked to blood clots, says WHO
The latest coronavirus news updated every day including coronavirus cases, the latest news, features and interviews from New Scientist and essential information about the covid-19 pandemic. Countries should continue using Oxford/AstraZeneca covid-19 vaccine, says WHO. The World Health Organization (WHO) has said there is no evidence that the Oxford/AstraZeneca covid-19 vaccine causes blood clots and is urging countries to continue using it. “It’s very important to understand that, yes, we should continue to be using the AstraZeneca vaccine,” said Margaret Harris, a WHO spokesperson, at a briefing on 12 March. The WHO’s global advisory committee on vaccine safety is reviewing reports of blood clots in some people who received the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine. A number of countries, including Denmark, Norway and Iceland, have suspended its use as a precautionary measure, while Thailand has delayed its rollout of the vaccine, originally scheduled to begin on 12 March. There have been 30 cases of blood clots among the 5 million people in the European Union who have received the vaccine as of 11 March, according to the European Medicines Agency (EMA). A covid-19 vaccine developed by Novavax has been found to be 89 per cent effective at preventing covid-19 cases in a trial involving more than 15,000 participants in the UK. The effectiveness of the vaccine was 96 per cent for prevention of cases caused by the original coronavirus variant and 86 per cent for cases caused by the B.1.1.7 variant first identified in the UK. In a smaller trial conducted in South Africa, where the B.1.351 variant is highly prevalent, the vaccine was found to be 60 per cent effective among the 94 per cent of trial participants who were HIV-negative, and 49 per cent effective overall.

3-12-21 Covid pandemic: Biden eyes 4 July as ‘Independence Day’ from virus
President Joe Biden has said he is hopeful that America can "mark independence" from Covid-19 on 4 July if people get vaccinated. In his first primetime address as president, Mr Biden said he would order states to make all adults eligible for vaccinations by 1 May. Current measures prioritise people by age or health condition. Mr Biden was speaking exactly a year to the day after the outbreak was classified a global pandemic. Half a million Americans have since died - more than the death toll from World War One, World War Two, and the Vietnam War combined. Schools have been closed, businesses shuttered and people kept apart. Last year many Americans were forced to forgo the elaborate parades, fireworks displays and parties that feature in the national holiday on 4 July, which marks independence from Britain. In his speech, President Biden said he did not expect large events to be able to go ahead, but he hoped small groups could meet again. "If we do this together, by 4 July, there is a good chance you, your family and friends can get together in your backyard or in your neighbourhood and have a cookout or a barbecue and celebrate Independence Day," he said. "After a long, hard year, that will make this Independence Day truly special - where we not only mark our independence as a nation but we begin to mark our independence from this virus." The US has by far the highest death toll in the world from the virus, but death and infection rates have been declining in recent weeks as the vaccine programme picks up. The country's health system is complex and individual states are in charge of public health policy. While the federal government is responsible for getting the vaccine distributed to the states, it has largely relied on them to handle the distribution. But as part of the plans to expand vaccinations, President Biden said the number of places where people could be immunised would be increased, with veterinarians and dentists among those also allowed to vaccinate people. Mobile units will travel into local communities to provide vaccinations in underserved communities, he said.

3-12-21 Covid: Are some states lifting restrictions too soon?
A number of US states are lifting Covid restrictions, despite public health concerns about relaxing measures too soon. President Joe Biden has called moves to rapidly remove restrictions "a big mistake". So are some states in a good position to be lifting restrictions? Individual US states are in charge of their own public health policy, and despite President Biden urging caution, some are lifting restrictions. The president has emphasised the use of face coverings and social distancing until the vaccine rollout can change the nature of the virus, saying he hopes the US will be "closer to normal" by July. More than 30 states still have a mask mandate in place, which generally requires people to wear a face covering inside private businesses and public buildings. But in January and February, several states removed their mask mandates, like North Dakota, Iowa and Montana. Most states have limits on the number of people who can enter businesses such as shops, bars and restaurants, but many of these limits are also being relaxed or removed altogether. In Texas, the state-wide mask mandate and social distancing requirements are no longer in place, and all businesses were able to open at 100% capacity from 10 March. Mississippi Governor Tate Reeves has also lifted that state's mask requirement, and has now allowed businesses to open at full capacity. Arizona and West Virginia have lifted capacity limits at restaurants and bars, but are keeping face coverings and social distancing requirements in place. Connecticut will do the same from 19 March. In Michigan, restaurants and bars are now allowed to operate at 50% capacity, up from 25%. Louisiana has done the same - allowing 75% capacity up from 50%. From 19 March, restaurants outside of New York City can operate at 75% capacity, up from 50%. Restaurants in New York City itself must continue to operate at 35%.

3-12-21 Covid vaccinations: No reason to stop using AstraZeneca jab, says WHO
Countries should not stop using AstraZeneca's Covid-19 vaccine over fears it causes blood clots as there is no indication this is true, the World Health Organization says. Bulgaria, Denmark and Norway are among the countries that have paused its use. But on Friday a WHO spokeswoman said there was no link between the jab and an increased risk of developing a clot. Margaret Harris said it was an "excellent vaccine" and should continue to be used. Around 5 million Europeans have already received the AstraZeneca jab. There have been about 30 cases in Europe of "thromboembolic events" - or developing blood clots - after the vaccine was administered. There were also reports that a 50-year-old man had died in Italy after developing deep vein thrombosis (DVT). The WHO is investigating the reports, as it does any safety questions, Ms Harris said. But no causal relationship had been established between the shot and the health problems reported, she said. Bulgaria's decision to pause its rollout followed similar steps by Denmark, Iceland and Norway as well as Thailand. Italy and Austria have stopped using certain batches of the drug as a precautionary measure. "I order a halt in vaccinations with the AstraZeneca vaccine until the European Medicines Agency dismisses all doubts about its safety," Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borisov said. The European Medicines Agency, the EU's medicines regulator, said earlier there was no indication the jab was causing the blood clots. It also said the number of cases in vaccinated people was no higher than in the general population. AstraZeneca said the drug's safety had been studied extensively in clinical trials. Other countries, including the UK, Germany, Australia and Mexico, have said they are continuing their rollout. Germany's Health Minister Jens Spahn said he disagreed with the countries suspending the vaccinations. "From what we know so far, the benefit... is far greater than the risk," he said. The temporary suspensions come as a setback for a European vaccination campaign that has stuttered into life, partly due to delays in delivery of the doses.

3-12-21 Maharashtra: Nagpur becomes first major Indian city to return to lockdown
Nagpur in western India is to be the first major city in the country to return to a complete lockdown amid a sharp spike in coronavirus cases. The week-long lockdown, which starts on 15 March, will extend to adjoining areas of the district as well. Maharashtra state, where Nagpur is located, has always been a Covid hotspot, with the highest number of active and confirmed cases in India. India has recorded more than 11 million cases and 157,000 deaths so far. Caseloads have declined sharply in recent months across the country, but six states, including Maharashtra, have been reporting a fresh surge. Amaravati district, also in Maharashtra, was put under a week-long complete lockdown in February due to a spike in cases. Scientists fear that new variants could be one of the reasons for the uptick in the state. The other is laxity in following Covid-19 safety protocols. Lack of masking and social distancing, and poor test and trace has all added to the spike in Maharashtra, Dr Sanjay Oak, a member of the state's Covid task force, told the BBC recently. This comes early on in India 's vaccination drive, which began in January. More than 20 million people have been given at least one dose of a Covid vaccine so far. The vaccine drive will continue in Nagpur as planned, state cabinet minister Nitin Raut said. "Except for 25% attendance in government offices and industries, all other establishments and non-essential shops will remain closed," he added. Essential services such as hospitals and grocery shops will remain open. While restaurants will be shut, home delivery will be permitted. Police have been ordered to impose a strict curfew. The Maharashtra state government is also watching four other districts that, along with Nagpur district, are contributing to more than half of Maharashtra's current active caseload of 106,070. "We will take a decision in the next two days and the lockdown will be imposed wherever required," Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray said. Nagpur district has been reporting more than 1,000 cases daily for nearly two weeks now - and it added more than 2,000 cases in the last 24 hours. Among the districts, it currently has the country's second-highest active caseload - 13,800. Pune, also a district in Maharashtra, is at the top with more than 21, 200 active infections.

3-11-21 Covid-19 news: Antibody therapy cut severe covid-19 by 85 per cent
The latest coronavirus news updated every day including coronavirus cases, the latest news, features and interviews from New Scientist and essential information about the covid-19 pandemic. GSK antibody therapy reduced hospitalisation or death by 85 per cent in initial trial. An antibody therapy developed by UK firm GlaxoSmithKline and US-based Vir Biotechnology reduced hospitalisation or death by 85 per cent compared with a placebo, according to interim data from 583 trial participants. The companies said they plan to apply for emergency use authorisation from the US Food and Drug Administration after an independent monitoring committee recommended shortening a trial of the experimental treatment early due to evidence of “profound efficacy”. The people included in the trial will continue to be followed for another six months. GlaxoSmithKline and Vir Biotechnologies also said that a new laboratory study indicated that the therapy, called VIR-7831, was similarly effective against coronavirus variants first identified in the UK, South Africa and in travellers from Brazil. Other antibody therapies, including those developed by Eli Lilly and Regeneron Pharmaceuticals, received recommendations from US and European medicines regulators earlier this year. Denmark is pausing its rollout of the Oxford/AstraZeneca covid-19 vaccine for at least two weeks after reports of blood clots in an undisclosed number of people who had the vaccine, including one person who has reportedly died. “This is a super-cautious approach,” said Stephen Evans at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine in a statement. “The problem with spontaneous reports of suspected adverse reactions to a vaccine are the enormous difficulty of distinguishing a causal effect from a coincidence,” he added. Separately, Austria suspended use of a batch of the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine on 7 March to investigate a death from blood clotting disorders and a case of pulmonary embolism. Estonia, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania and Luxembourg have reportedly also halted use of the batch. The European Medicines Agency said there was no evidence so far linking the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine to the two Austrian cases, adding that the number of people reporting blood clots after receiving the vaccine was no higher than among the general population, with just 22 cases among the 3 million people who had received it as of 9 March. Moderna has begun trialling a coronavirus vaccine booster shot targeted at the B.1.351 coronavirus variant first identified in South Africa. Earlier findings indicated the company’s existing two-dose regimen generates a weaker antibody response against the B.1.351 variant, compared to the original virus. The first participants have now received the modified vaccine in an amendment to an on-going clinical trial, Moderna announced on 10 March. The study involves 60 participants previously vaccinated with the company’s original shots, who will receive a third shot of either another dose of the original vaccine or the booster shot at a low or high dose.

3-11-21 Three reasons Biden’s Covid bill is a big deal
Back in 2010, then Vice-President Joe Biden used a swear word to emphasise how big a deal he thought congressional passage of sweeping Democrat-backed healthcare reforms was. Eleven years later, President Biden has his own big congressional deal - a $1.9tn (£1.4tn) Covid relief bill, ambitiously dubbed the "American Rescue Plan Act". The bill, due to be signed by Biden on Friday, will not only provide direct payments to most Americans, allocate billions of dollars to Covid research, testing and vaccine distribution, but also greatly expands welfare for families with children. So will it merit a celebratory expletive? Only time will tell. There has been nothing quite like the pandemic aid bill in recent American history. It's roughly the same size as the combined total of the three legislative efforts to address the impact of Covid-19 last year. It dwarfs the $831bn American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, passed to address the Great Recession in the early days of the Obama administration (thanks in no small part to then Vice-President Biden's lobbying efforts). It is well over half of the $3.5tn that the US government brought in as revenue in 2019. In pure government muscle, Biden's effort is more akin to US expenditure in World War II or Franklin Roosevelt's Depression-era New Deal programmes in size and scope. With $1,400 payments to many Americans, extended unemployment insurance benefits and aid to businesses and state and local governments, the relief bill will unleash a gusher of money across the US. Combined with expanded rollout of the Covid-19 vaccine - which the legislation will also help fund - the US could be poised for a post-pandemic rebound of monumental proportions. A survey of economists by the Wall Street Journal sets forecasts for US growth in 2021 approaching 6%, a mark not surpassed in almost four decades. In fact, one of the growing concerns about the aid bill - also raised in the Journal article - is that it could spur economic growth that leads to debilitating inflation.

3-11-21 The Southern Baptist Convention's ominous cracks
Beth Moore has left the Southern Baptist Convention. "I am still a Baptist," the prolific Bible study author said in an interview with Religion News Service published Tuesday, "but I can no longer identify with Southern Baptists." The import of this departure, as many have observed, is difficult to explain if you don't already know who Moore is. She's something like the book club leader version of Reese Witherspoon for conservative evangelical Christians, except she also writes the books and teaches classes and draws giant women's conference crowds, and she's worked through decades of dismissal and ridicule by male coreligionists. Moore is an institution in evangelicalism generally and the SBC specifically — or she was, until she started speaking out against racism and Christian nationalism, sexism and excusal of sexual abuse, and their convergence in white evangelical support for former President Donald Trump. Though many Baptists and other evangelicals welcomed Moore's stand, it was met with severe backlash, too. Moore was rejected by critics as a heretic and, maybe worse, a liberal. This week, not quite two years after saying she hoped to serve the SBC "to my death if it will have me," she left. The question that strikes me is whether Moore is a harbinger. Is her exit a preview of Southern Baptist divisions to come, and, if so, what will those divisions mean for the whole United States? The SBC is the country's largest Protestant denomination — one in every 20 Americans is a Southern Baptist — with significant cultural and political pull. It's also a denomination in the throes of controversy, of which Moore's departure is just one part. There's a sense in which this is merely an internecine issue, as the difficulty of describing Moore's significance makes clear. But the history of politics-linked denominational splits in the United States suggests a wider relevance. In the run-up to the Civil War, church splits over slavery prefigured national disunion. I suspect the nature of church life makes these divisions come to a head inside religious organizations before that happens in society more broadly, because the intensity of community commitment forces difficult conversations that can more easily be avoided in the looser relationships outside of shared faith. If that's correct, the recent rise in political tensions within the SBC could be a bellwether all Americans would do well to notice. U.S. history has a multitude of denominational divisions, but there are two schisms that are most relevant here. One is the break-up of the Methodist Episcopal Church, which previously held the title of biggest U.S. Protestant group. Though Methodism was founded by an abolitionist, slavery had long been a matter of disagreement among American Methodists. In the early 1800s, northern and southern congregations were moving further apart on the issue. In the spring of 1844, slavery was the primary topic at the denomination's general conference meeting, where debate focused on a bishop who held slaves. Northern churches determined to secede from the denomination if he retained his post; southern churches left instead after a motion asking him to resign was successfully carried by northern votes. Their withdrawal resolution decried the northern Methodists' abolitionism as "officious, and unwarranted interference" in the southern Methodists' life and faith.

3-11-21 Covid: Are Texas and Mississippi lifting restrictions too soon?
The governors of the US states of Texas and Mississippi have lifted all compulsory Covid restrictions, despite public health concerns about relaxing measures too soon. President Joe Biden has called the move "a big mistake". So are these states in a good position to be lifting restrictions? Individual US states are in charge of their own public health policy, and despite President Biden urging caution, some are now lifting restrictions. The president has emphasised the use of face coverings and social distancing until the vaccine rollout can change the nature of the virus. More than 30 states still have a mask mandate in place, which generally requires people to wear a face covering inside private businesses and public buildings. Most states also have limits on the number of people who can enter businesses such as shops, bars and restaurants. But in Texas from 10 March, the state-wide mask mandate and social distancing requirements are no longer in place, and all businesses are able to open at 100% capacity. Texas Governor Greg Abbott said "personal vigilance to follow the safe standards is still needed to contain Covid" - but there will be no laws requiring people follow these standards. Some cities in Texas have already announced local mask mandates, but these will now be harder to enforce. Governor Abbott added that local officials "may use Covid-mitigation strategies in their county" such as limiting business capacity if regional hospital admissions rise above 15% of the capacity for seven straight days. Mississippi Governor Tate Reeves also lifted the state's mask requirement last week, and has now allowed businesses to open at full capacity. Both governors have pointed to plummeting cases and hospital admissions in recent weeks as reasons for reopening. Covid rates had been dropping in both states since the middle of January, a downward trend in line with the national picture. However, this has begun to level off and even rise slightly in recent weeks, with health experts warning the rapid relaxation of restrictions risks a further rise in cases.

3-10-21 Vaccination isn’t the quick coronavirus solution many of us hoped for
THE global covid-19 vaccine roll-out is accelerating, with in excess of 300 million doses now administered. This time last year, such an achievement would have been almost a pipe dream. Great challenges remain in ensuring the equitable distribution of vaccines across the world and persuading those who are hesitant that vaccination is in their best interests and in the interests of those around them. But even in countries where vaccines are available and take-up is high, emerging issues threaten the success of comprehensive vaccination programmes. One concern is that the vaccination strategies of some countries might not be the best path in the long term. Vaccinating the most vulnerable people first will undoubtedly save lives now, but could spur the emergence of potentially dangerous “escape” variants of the virus, and come at significant cost further down the road. Meanwhile, countries such as Australia, New Zealand and Thailand that have successfully kept the coronavirus out face different challenges. With minimal cases to contend with, these places aren’t desperate for vaccines to save lives now. But as much of the rest of the world becomes vaccinated, it will be difficult to reconcile their zero-covid border policies with those of countries learning to live – and allow travel – with the virus in some form. Finally, we know that the vaccines won’t work for everyone, which may dent the effectiveness of roll-out programmes. How can we find out whether we are still at risk after having had a jab? Promise on this front comes in the form of commercial tests that offer to measure precise levels of antibodies in the blood after infection or vaccination. Theoretically, it should be possible to keep an eye on these over time to see when levels are waning. Unfortunately, it seems doubtful whether the tests currently live up to the hope. Many of the answers to these quandaries lie in determining how much the virus can spread even among those who have been inoculated. Until then, vaccination won’t be the jab-and-go solution many of us will have hoped for.

3-11-21 Oxford-AstraZeneca: Denmark suspends vaccine 'as a precaution'
Denmark and Norway have temporarily halted use of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine as a precaution, after Danish reports of some people having blood clots after vaccination and one death. The EU medicines agency has emphasised there is no indication the vaccine had caused blood clots. It said the number of cases in vaccinated people was no higher than in the general population. Several European countries have now stopped using two batches of the drug. AstraZeneca said the drug's safety had been studied extensively in clinical trials. "Patient Safety is the highest priority for AstraZeneca," a spokesperson said. "Regulators have clear and stringent efficacy and safety standards for the approval of any new medicine, and that includes Covid-19 Vaccine AstraZeneca." Peer-reviewed data confirmed it had been "generally well tolerated", the statement added. The series of moves across Europe has come as a setback for a European vaccination campaign that has stuttered into life, partly due to delays in delivery of the AstraZeneca drug. In a separate move, the EU medicines agency has approved the single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine, the fourth in the EU. In the UK, the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) said there was no evidence the vaccine had caused problems, and people should still go and get vaccinated when asked to do so. "Blood clots can occur naturally and are not uncommon. More than 11 million doses of the Covid-19 AstraZeneca vaccine have now been administered across the UK," said Phil Bryan of the MHRA. Austria suspended use of a particular batch of the drug this week when a woman died 10 days after vaccination because of "severe blood coagulation problems". The Austrian doses were part of a batch of one million doses, identified as ABV5300, sent to 17 European countries. Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Luxemburg have also stopped using doses from that batch. The EU medicines agency said its safety committee was reviewing the Austrian case, but made clear that "there is currently no indication that vaccination has caused these conditions, which are not listed as side effects with this vaccine".

3-11-21 Covid-19: Brazil surge reaches new level as daily deaths pass 2,000
Brazil has exceeded 2,000 Covid-related deaths in a single day for the first time, as infection rates soar. The country has the second highest death toll in the world, behind the US. Experts warn the transmission rate is made worse by more contagious variants. On Wednesday, former leader Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva hit out at President Jair Bolsonaro's "stupid" decisions. Mr Bolsonaro has downplayed the threat from the virus. Earlier this week he told people to "stop whining". On Wednesday, the country recorded 79,876 new cases, the third highest number in a single day. The total number of Covid-related deaths reached 270,656, according to Johns Hopkins University in the US. It means Brazil has a rate of 128 deaths per 100,000 population - 11th highest amongst 20 of the worst affected countries in the world. The highest rates are in the Czech Republic with 208 deaths per 100,000 people and the UK with 188 deaths per 100,000 people, Johns Hopkin's figures suggest. Margareth Dalcolmo, a doctor and researcher at Fiocruz described the situation as "the worst moment of the pandemic in Brazil". Across Brazil, intensive care units (ICU) are at more than 80% capacity, according to Fiocruz. And in 15 state capitals, ICUs are at more than 90% capacity, including in Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo. Reports say the capital Brasilia has now reached full ICU capacity, while two cities - Porto Alegre and Campo Grande - have exceeded capacity. In its report, Fiocruz warned that the figures point to the "overload and even collapse of health systems". Brazilian epidemiologist Dr Pedro Hallal told the BBC World Service's Outside Source programme: "If we do not start vaccinating the population here very soon, it will become a massive tragedy." Dr Hallal, who works in Rio Grande do Sul, also said that people felt "abandoned by the federal government". "It took a long time for the politicians to act," 40-year-old Adilson Menezes told AFP news agency outside a hospital in São Paulo. "We are paying for it, the poor people," Mr Menezes said referring to the state of near collapse of Brazil's public healthcare system.

3-10-21 Covid-19 news: UK variant up to twice as deadly, study suggests
The latest coronavirus news updated every day including coronavirus cases, the latest news, features and interviews from New Scientist and essential information about the covid-19 pandemic. Study indicates B.1.1.7 coronavirus variant identified in the UK is more deadly. The B.1.1.7 coronavirus variant first identified in the UK is between 32 and 104 per cent more deadly than previous dominant variants, according to a study published in the BMJ. The study compared death rates among people in the UK infected with B.1.1.7 or other variants of the coronavirus. Earlier research has indicated the variant is also more transmissible. “The precise mechanisms responsible for increased mortality associated with the variant remain uncertain but could be related to higher levels of virus replication as well as increased transmissibility,” said Lawrence Young at the University of Warwick in a statement. Health systems in most of Brazil’s largest cities are approaching collapse due to covid-19 cases, its leading health institute, Fiocruz, has warned. More than 80 per cent of intensive care unit (ICU) beds are occupied in the capitals of 25 of Brazil’s 27 states and 15 state capitals have ICUs that are at more than 90 per cent capacity, Fiocruz has said. The cities of Porto Alegre and Campo Grande have exceeded their ICU capacity. Last week, Fiocruz said that the P.1 coronavirus variant was one of several “variants of concern” that have become dominant in six of eight states it had studied. Doctors and public health researchers have warned that “the UK’s colour-blind vaccination model disregards the unequal impact of the pandemic on minority ethnic groups”. In an article, published in the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine, they argue “the invisibility of these vulnerable groups from the priority list and the worsening healthcare inequities and inequalities are putting ethnic minorities at a significantly higher risk of covid-19 illness and death”. A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson told Sky News: “The independent JCVI’s [Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation] advice on covid-19 vaccine prioritisation was developed with the aim of preventing as many deaths as possible, with older age being the single greatest risk of death. We are following the JCVI recommendations so that we save lives.”

3-10-21 Covid: Brazil experts issue warning as hospitals 'close to collapse'
Health systems in most of Brazil's largest cities are close to collapse because of Covid-19 cases, its leading health institute warns. More than 80% of intensive care unit beds are occupied in the capitals of 25 of Brazil's 27 states, Fiocruz said. Experts warn that the highly contagious variant in Brazil may have knock-on effects in the region and beyond. "Brazil is a threat to humanity," Fiocruz epidemiologist Jesem Orellana told AFP news agency. The country has recorded more than 266,000 deaths and 11 million cases since the pandemic began. It has the second highest number of deaths in the world after the US and the third highest number of confirmed cases. Despite this, President Jair Bolsonaro has consistently opposed quarantine measures and expert advice on fighting coronavirus. On Tuesday the country recorded 1,972 Covid deaths, a new daily record. According to Fiocruz, 15 state capitals have intensive care units (ICUs) that are at more than 90% capacity including Rio de Janeiro, Brasilia and São Paulo. Two cities - Porto Alegre and Campo Grande - have exceeded ICU capacity. In its report, the institute warned that figures pointed to the "overload and even collapse of health systems". "The fight against Covid-19 was lost in 2020 and there is not the slightest chance of reversing this tragic circumstance in the first half of 2021," Fiocruz's Jesem Orellana said, quoted by AFP. "The best we can do is hope for the miracle of mass vaccination or a radical change in the management of the pandemic. Impunity in management seems to be the rule." On Tuesday, the country also recorded more than 70,000 cases, a 38% increase on last week, according to local media. The surge in cases has been attributed to the spread of a highly contagious variant of the virus - named P1 - which is thought to have originated in the Amazon city of Manaus.

3-10-21 Covid wave intensifies in Central Europe
The number of patients in intensive care has reached a new high in the Czech Republic, as several Central European countries struggle with a new wave of the virus. Czech authorities on Tuesday sent the first patient abroad for treatment in Poland as facilities struggled to cope. In Hungary, meanwhile, the number of cases in the current wave has surpassed the previous peak in December. Schools and most shops were closed on Monday amid rising infections. Cases are also on the rise in Poland, where the government recorded the highest number of daily cases since late November on Wednesday, with 17,260 new infections. A health ministry spokesman complained of "increased looseness" among Poles towards anti-Covid measures. Restrictions were relaxed last month but they have since been re-imposed in two areas in the north. The number of Czech patients treated in hospital with Covid-19 reached 8,618 on Wednesday, with 1,853 in intensive care. On Tuesday, the first Czech MP succumbed to the virus. Jiri Ventruba, 71, was a renowned paediatric neurosurgeon. A chart appeared this week emphasising how far the UK had fallen in Europe's Covid rankings showing it near the bottom with 1,440 new cases per million over the last 14 days. At the top was the Czech Republic with more than 15,000 per million. The numbers here are shockingly high. According to Our World In Data, the Czechs have the second highest number of total Covid deaths per million in the world, after miniscule San Marino. One Czech immunologist has claimed so many people have been infected, perhaps as many as 45%, that the Czech population is on the brink of achieving herd immunity, with barely any help from vaccines. Vaccinations are as sluggish here as elsewhere in Europe. For now, the Czechs appear more reticent than Hungary or Slovakia about certifying Russia's Sputnik V vaccine. In the absence of approval by the EU's medicines agency the only man who can make that happen is the health minister. But he's under intense pressure. This morning pro-Russian president Milos Zeman called for his dismissal over his continuing refusal to grant an exception and certify Sputnik.

3-10-21 George Floyd: First jurors for Derek Chauvin trial chosen
The first jurors have been picked in the trial of former police officer Derek Chauvin over the May 2020 killing of George Floyd, an unarmed black man. On Tuesday, two men and one woman were selected for the 12-member jury. Mr Chauvin, 44, is accused of second-degree unintentional murder and manslaughter in the death of Mr Floyd on 25 May last year. The less severe charge of third-degree murder was dismissed last year, but prosecutors have asked to reinstate it. The maximum sentence he faces is 40 years. Despite the dispute over the additional charge, Judge Peter Cahill moved forward with jury selection on Tuesday, after a one-day delay. The first juror selected, a chemist, who was white and in his 20s or 30s, described himself as "logical" and passionate about his work. He had not seen the video of Floyd's death, he said. The second juror, who appeared to be of mixed race and in her 20s, said she had seen the video only once and was eager to hear all the evidence as a juror. The third juror, an auditor, who was white, said that he would also examine guilt or innocence only from what is presented in the trial. All three swore to keep an open mind and weigh all the proof presented in determining the outcome of the high-profile case. The trial is scheduled to begin on 29 March. Jury selection continues on Wednesday. A total of 14 jurors are needed to make up the panel and alternates. George Floyd death: How will jurors be selected?

3-10-21 Ghislaine Maxwell's US jail conditions 'are torture' - brother
The way British socialite Ghislaine Maxwell is being treated in a New York jail is "degrading" and "amounts to torture", her brother has told the BBC. Ian Maxwell said she was being held under constant surveillance in a 6x9ft (1.8x2.7m) cell with no natural light, and the food was "basically inedible". Ms Maxwell is accused of helping the convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein groom young girls, which she denies. She is currently seeking bail, ahead of her trial which is due in July. Prison officials have not commented on her conditions. Ms Maxwell, 59, who also has US and French citizenship, has been in jail in Brooklyn since she was arrested last July at her secluded mansion in the state of New Hampshire. Her two applications for bail were unsuccessful, with prosecutors saying she was a flight risk. On Wednesday, Gloria Allred, a lawyer representing the alleged victims, told the BBC that bail "should be out of the question, it would be very upsetting to the victims". Epstein took his own life in prison in 2019. Speaking to BBC Radio 4's Today programme on Wednesday, Mr Maxwell said his sister had now been held "in effective isolation" for nearly 250 days. He said her cell had only a concrete bed and a toilet. "There is no natural light, she is under 24-hour round-the-clock surveillance with 10 cameras, including one that moves and tracks her movements," Mr Maxwell said. The water she was being given was "brown", he said, adding that the food was "highly microwaveable... and basically inedible". He said she had not been able to prepare adequately for her trial because of the detention conditions. Mr Maxwell said he believed she was losing her hair, having trouble with her eyesight and her ability to concentrate. But he said she remained "resolute" and denied suggestions that she was a suicide risk. Mr Maxwell also said that the identities of his sister's three accusers had not been revealed with only four months before the start of the trial.

3-10-21 'Right to repair' law to come in this summer
Appliances such as fridges, washing machines and TVs should last longer and be cheaper to run under new rules. Ministers have confirmed that from the summer consumers will have a right to repair on goods they buy. They are keeping a promise to implement EU rules aimed at cutting energy and bills – and reducing the need for new materials. Many consumers have complained that goods don’t last long enough, then can’t be fixed in the home. Manufacturers will be legally obliged to make spare parts for products available to consumers for the first time – a new legal right for repairs. The aim of the new rules is to extend the lifespan of products by up to 10 years, and officials estimate that higher energy efficiency standards will save consumers an average of £75 a year on bills over their lifetimes. The new rules will be estimated to reduce the 1.5 million tonnes of electrical waste said by the government to be generated in the UK each year and to contribute to reducing carbon emissions overall. Business and Energy Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng said: "Our plans to tighten product standards will ensure more electrical goods can be fixed rather than thrown on the scrap heap - putting more money back in the pockets of consumers whilst protecting the environment. "Our upcoming energy efficiency framework will push electrical products to use even less energy and material resources, saving people money on their bills and reducing carbon emissions." The issue has been promoted by the Commons Environmental Audit Committee. Its chairman, Philip Dunne MP told BBC News: “Cracking down on planned obsolescence in electrical items is key to tackling the e-waste tsunami. “We must stop using and disposing quite so much: we must take action if we are to protect the environment for generations to come.” The think tank Green Alliance has also pushed for a right to repair. Its spokeswoman Libby Peake told BBC News: “This is good news – but it’s exactly what the government said it would do on leaving the EU. “The big test is whether the UK will continue to keep track with future EU standards.”

3-9-21 US allows people vaccinated against covid-19 to mix indoors again
People can mix in private properties without social distancing or wearing face masks once they have been fully vaccinated against covid-19, US authorities have said. They can also visit unvaccinated people from a single household without masks or distancing, provided that household is at low risk for severe disease, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said on Monday. A person is deemed to be fully vaccinated two weeks after receiving their second dose of the Pfizer/BioNTech or Moderna vaccines or two weeks after being given the single-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine. The guidance, which marks a significant relaxation in restrictions, will allow many families to meet again. The CDC said the decision was underpinned by mounting evidence on the effectiveness of covid-19 vaccines at preventing asymptomatic infection and maybe transmission. While face masks and social distancing continue to be important, the CDC said a balanced approach would allow certain people to restart some lower-risk activities. It added that such a reward for being vaccinated could improve vaccine uptake. As of Monday, 59 million people had been given their first dose of a covid-19 vaccine in the US and approximately 31 million had received their second. About 2 million people are being vaccinated daily. “Today’s action represents an important first step and is based on the latest #COVID19 science,” tweeted Rochelle Walensky, director of the CDC. The new guidance applies to private settings such as people’s homes. Speaking at a White House briefing on Monday, Walensky gave the example of vaccinated grandparents now being allowed to visit their unvaccinated daughter and her children, provided they aren’t at risk of severe disease.

3-9-21 Covid-19 news: Science advisers warn not to end England lockdown early
The latest coronavirus news updated every day including coronavirus cases, the latest news, features and interviews from New Scientist and essential information about the covid-19 pandemic. UK science and medical advisers urge caution on easing of restrictions in England. England’s chief medical officer Chris Whitty cautioned MPs against lifting coronavirus restrictions in England earlier than planned, saying this could increase the size and severity of future surges in infections. “It’s very easy to forget quite how quickly things can go bad if you don’t keep a very close eye on them,” said Whitty. “What we don’t want to do is to accelerate into trouble and then have to reverse straight back out again, open things up and immediately close them down,” he said. “All the modelling suggests there is going to be a further surge.” Whitty was giving evidence to MPs on the commons science and technology committee alongside the UK’s chief scientific adviser, Patrick Vallance. Asked why encouraging data couldn’t lead to an accelerated easing of restrictions, Vallance said that three to four weeks were needed to generate and analyse data, which exceeds the one-week notice that the government wants to give of changes to rules. “I think if you truncate that you are essentially flying blind,” Vallance told the committee. Greece’s tourism minister Harry Theocharis has said people who are vaccinated against covid-19, have antibodies or test negative for the coronavirus can travel to Greece during the summer of 2021. “All tourists will be subject to random testing,” Theocharis told the ITB Berlin trade show on 9 March. It has been reported that the UK government is considering the possibility of the NHS coronavirus app featuring a digital health passport, which would carry information on vaccinations and test results. UK prime minister Boris Johnson said on 8 March that vaccine passports for international travel will be “a feature of our life in the future”. Johnson & Johnson told the European Union it is facing supply issues that could disrupt plans to deliver 55 million doses of its covid-19 vaccine to the bloc in the second quarter of 2021, Reuters reports. The EU has already faced issues related to the supply of other covid-19 vaccines, including those made by Pfizer/BioNTech and Oxford/AstraZeneca. Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine, which consists of a single shot, is expected to be approved by the European Medicines Agency on 11 March and the company has committed to deliver 200 million doses to the EU in 2021.

3-9-21 People fully vaccinated against COVID-19 can socialize without masks, CDC says
Caution is still in order when visiting with unvaccinated people. As the pace of coronavirus vaccinations picks up, normal life is looking tantalizingly in reach. Nearly a year after the World Health Organization declared the coronavirus outbreak a pandemic (SN: 3/11/20), and social distancing efforts sent billions of people into isolation, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is outlining some of the social perks to getting vaccinated. Vaccinated friends can have dinner together in their homes without wearing masks or physical distancing, CDC director Rochelle Walensky said March 8 during a White House coronavirus briefing. “You can visit your grandparents if you have been vaccinated and they have been, too.” But vaccinated people still need to take precautions around the unvaccinated, especially those at high risk of getting severely ill from COVID-19, and group settings are still considered risky. These guidelines are a first step toward letting people know what aspects of normal life can resume, Walensky said, but could change as new data become available. For instance, the guidelines could become more permissive as vaccination becomes more widespread and cases continue to fall. But if new coronavirus variants that can reinfect even people who have previously had COVID-19 take hold, restrictions might be reimposed. The news comes as about 2 million coronavirus vaccine shots are being delivered into people’s arms in the United States each day. As of March 8, 59 million adults in the United States have gotten at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine. Of those, 31 million people — 9.2 percent of the U.S. population — are fully vaccinated. That means it’s been at least two weeks since they’ve gotten both doses of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines or the single shot of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

3-9-21 New US guidance says fully vaccinated people can meet without masks
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has announced that fully vaccinated Americans can return to some sense of normalcy. Those who have received the required jabs can visit with other vaccinated people and some unvaccinated people, according to the new guidelines. People are considered protected two weeks after they take the final dose of their vaccine, the CDC said. Over 30 million Americans have been fully vaccinated thus far. Health officials announced the new safety guidelines at Monday's White House coronavirus task force briefing. The recommendations say fully vaccinated Americans can: 1. Meet indoors with other fully vaccinated people without masks or social distancing, 2. Meet indoors with unvaccinated people from a single household, if they are at low risk for severe illness from the virus, 3. Skip testing or quarantine when exposed to Covid-19, unless symptoms appear. But they should continue to: 1. Avoid non-essential travel and large crowds, 2. Continue to wear face coverings and maintain social distancing in public. The CDC said there was still a risk vaccinated people could spread the disease to the unvaccinated, as data on this remains sparse. The new guidelines in particular call for mask wearing and distancing from those who are unvaccinated and may be at an elevated risk of serious Covid-related complications. CDC senior adviser Andy Slavitt told reporters: "We've begun to describe what a world looks like as we move beyond Covid-19. As more and more people get vaccinated… the list of activities will continue to grow." The US has seen a recent uptick in the number of inoculations per day. Over 90 million vaccines have been administered to date. The approval of a third vaccine, Johnson & Johnson's single-dose jab, to join the Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech versions, has also helped boost supply. But health officials warn that Covid-19 is still a serious concern.

3-9-21 Covid vaccines: How fast is progress around the world?
More than 300 million doses of the coronavirus vaccines have been administered, in more than 100 countries worldwide. However, there are vast differences in the pace of progress in different parts of the world. Some countries have secured and delivered doses to a large proportion of their population - but many more are still waiting for their first shipments to arrive. This information is regularly updated but may not reflect the latest totals for each country. Total vaccinations refers to the number of doses given, not the number of people vaccinated. It is possible to have more than 100 doses per 100 population as some vaccines require two doses per person. With an aim to give doses to nearly every adult around the world, this is the largest-scale vaccination programme in history. The US and China have administered the highest number of doses, 90 million and 52 million respectively. The UK ranks third, with more than 23 million. But while nearly all of Europe and the Americas have begun vaccination campaigns, only a handful of African countries have. Many poorer countries are relying on deliveries from Covax, an international scheme led by the World Health Organization (WHO) which is trying to ensure everyone in the world has access to a Covid vaccine. Ghana became the first country to receive vaccines through this programme on 24 February. Covax plans to deliver about two billion vaccine doses globally by the end of the year, but many vaccines require two doses per person. The vaccine produced by Pfizer and BioNTech was the first approved by the WHO. It is still the vaccine being given in the most countries, but several others have been approved for use. Most governments are starting with doses for the over-60s, health workers and people who are clinically vulnerable. In countries such as Israel and the UK, there are already promising signs the vaccines are reducing hospital admissions and deaths as well as community transmission. Worldwide, more than 200 vaccine candidates are undergoing trials to test their efficacy and safety.

3-9-21 France coronavirus: Paris cuts non-Covid treatment amid intensive care surge
Hospitals in and around Paris have been told to reduce non-Covid treatments by 40%, as demand for intensive care beds (ICU) neared saturation point. On Monday take up of ICU beds for Covid patients was just 83 short of the 1,050 capacity set aside for the region. France has tried to speed up its slow vaccination campaign but remains dogged by high infection rates. It has tried to avoid major lockdowns and its health director said on Tuesday one in Paris would be a "last resort". Jérôme Salomon told RTL radio on Tuesday this was "not on the agenda" but that the situation was being monitored "day by day". The head of the regional health authority in the Île de France, or greater Paris, region - France's most populous at 12 million - said on Monday that it was "very tense". Aurélien Rousseau said "we needed to react very fast" in giving "a firm and immediate order" to cancel 40% of scheduled non-Covid hospital care. This followed a net increase into intensive care of 35 patients per day over the past two weeks. The latest move would boost intensive care bed capacity to 1,577 by next week. Mr Salomon on Tuesday admitted the situation was tense, but that beds were being freed up. He added: "Lockdown is a last resort measure that would be submitted to the government and the president if we were under the impression the hospital system could not cope." Vaccine deliveries to France are scheduled to pass two million doses within two weeks, Industry Minister Agnes Pannier-Runacher said, with some 30 million people being offered vaccinations by the end of June. Reflecting the need to boost inoculations, MP Loïc Dombreval suggested animal veterinarians should be asked to help out with the drive. Currently France still lags well behind the UK, with only 8.4% of the population receiving a first dose, compared to 34% in Britain. Lockdowns have largely been limited to weekends in regions that require them.

3-9-21 Anti-feminist YouTube and Reddit content is a gateway to the alt-right
YouTube and Reddit users who engage with anti-feminist content can become radicalised to subscribe to alt-right beliefs, according to an analysis of 300 million comments on each platform. Manoel Ribeiro and his colleagues at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne analysed the comments posted to 115 Reddit forums and 526 YouTube channels between 2006 and 2018 to see whether there was overlap between communities that expressed hate towards women, sometimes dubbed the “manosphere”, and alt-right groups. Ribeiro wanted to investigate potential ties because of media coverage connecting people who self-describe as “involuntarily celibate”, also known as “incels”, to mass shootings – one such man was found guilty last week of murdering 10 people in Toronto, Canada, in 2018. “When the media covers these communities, they associate incels with the far right,” says Ribeiro. “Can we find evidence for that?” The researchers tracked the type of content each user engaged with, looking at general news, manosphere and alt-right content. They conducted separate research on Reddit and YouTube, rather than trying to identify people crossing between the two. The forums and channels investigated were chosen as they have been associated with anti-feminist and alt-right groups in prior academic work. The team divided anti-feminist groups into four categories: members of the anti-feminist, male-separatist group Men Going Their Own Way (MGTOW), men’s rights activists, incels, and “pick-up artists”, who share strategies for convincing women to have sex with them. “There’s a lot of anti-feminism in the far right, and I think this resonates with these anti-women communities,” says Ribeiro. To look for evidence of radicalisation, the team looked at people who in 2016 commented on YouTube videos classified as anti-feminist, and on general news videos, but had no engagement with alt-right videos and compared this with what they were doing in 2018. MGTOW members were most likely to later engage with alt-right content: by 2018, 21.9 per cent had begun commenting on alt-right videos, while less than 10 per cent of general news commenters had migrated to alt-right videos.

3-9-21 US Capitol riots: Suspect held after deportation from Kenya
An American linked to January's deadly riots at the US Capitol in Washington DC has been summoned to a court in New York after being deported from Kenya. Isaac Sturgeon, 32, of Dillon, Montana, was arrested by the FBI on arrival at JFK airport over the weekend. He is charged with seven counts including shoving a metal barricade into police officers. On Monday, he was released on a $250,000 (£181,000) bond. A mob loyal to Donald Trump stormed the Congress building on 6 January. The attack saw five people including a police officer killed, and shook the foundations of American democracy. Mr Sturgeon was brought before New York's federal court on Monday. He had been staying in Kenya since 24 January, and was planning to return to the US in April, according to court documents. According to the New York Post, which saw the documents, Mr Sturgeon was deported from the country after an arrest warrant was issued by the FBI. He flew to the East African nation after texting other people to ask whether he was wanted, the Washington Post quoted prosecutors as saying. The prosecutors also argued he posed a flight risk. The newspaper said Mr Sturgeon had told the court: "I wasn't trying to flee", adding that he travelled frequently. The prosecutors allege he was seen on an officer's body-worn camera taking part in the 6 January riots. If convicted, Mr Sturgeon - who runs a lawn care business - faces up to 20 years in prison, according to the New York Post. The US justice department has charged more than 300 people with participation in the 6 January attack. Those arrested include members of the right-wing militia groups, the Oath Keepers and the Three Percenters. The attack happened as lawmakers were inside the Capitol, moving to certify Democrat Joe Biden's election victory over Mr Trump, a Republican president at the time. (Webmaster's comment: These animals can run, but they can't hide!)

3-8-21 Covid-19 news: Pupils in England start to return to school
The latest coronavirus news updated every day including coronavirus cases, the latest news, features and interviews from New Scientist and essential information about the covid-19 pandemic. Return of pupils is first step in England’s ‘roadmap’ for easing lockdown. Pupils in England began to return to school today for the first time since a national lockdown began in January. Primary schools reopened fully but pupils can return to secondary schools only if they test negative for coronavirus. Most secondary schools are phasing reopening to allow this testing to be done. Since January, most pupils in England have been doing lessons online, with only the children of key workers allowed to physically attend schools. New Zealand has increased its order of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine to 10 million doses, enough to vaccine the entire population of nearly 5 million people. However, the full order will not arrive until the second half of the year. New Zealand has managed to eliminate the coronavirus but has had occasional outbreaks, including a recent cluster caused by the more transmissible B.1.1.7 variant from the UK. No new cases have been reported since a week-long lockdown in Auckland ended. In February, the country began vaccinating border and quarantine workers. People in the US who have been vaccinated will be allowed to meet others indoors without wearing masks, and will also not be required to isolate if they are exposed to known covid-19 cases, according to new guidance issued by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “We know that people want to get vaccinated so they can get back to doing the things they enjoy with the people they love,” said CDC director Rochelle Walensky. The guidance applies to people who are two weeks past the end of their vaccine regimen – which means two doses of the Pfizer/Biontech or Moderna vaccines, or one Johsnon & Johnson shot. However, given that we do not yet know how much vaccines prevent people from catching and transmitting the virus, it is still possible that vaccinated people may infect others. Nearly 10 per cent of the US population has now been vaccinated.

3-8-21 George Floyd death: How will jurors be selected in Derek Chauvin trial?
It was video footage seen across the world - Derek Chauvin with his knee pressed on the neck of George Floyd for about nine minutes before he died. Now the former US police officer faces trial on second-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter charges. Three other dismissed officers will stand trial together later this year, but proceedings in Mr Chauvin's trial will start on Monday, when jury selection begins. A pool of eligible local citizens has been called to appear by Hennepin County in Minnesota. From them, a jury of 12 and four alternates will be selected. It could take weeks. Although it is highly unlikely potential jurors will have no prior knowledge of the case - George Floyd's death in May last year in Minneapolis inspired weeks of global protests - they will be questioned to determine whether they will be able to judge Derek Chauvin fairly. The prosecution and defence can both ask Judge Peter Cahill to dismiss a potential juror "for cause" if they perceive bias. The prosecution can also dismiss nine potential jurors - and the defence team 15 - without giving any reason, although this can be objected to. Once 16 people have been approved, the jury can be seated. The trial itself will not begin until 29 March. Each potential juror has already been asked to fill in a 16-page questionnaire about the case. The main thrust is to determine familiarity with the case and issues such as a potential juror's own interactions with law enforcement. How potential jurors respond can lead to either defence or prosecution dismissing them. Prof Valerie Hans, a jury researcher based at Cornell Law School, says the questionnaire is more detailed and personal than most pre-trial documents, and asks about their "deepest attitudes on some of the most important political and social topics of the day". Prof Hans says the aim for the two teams is to get "a sense of whether or not a prospective juror will be open to the kinds of arguments that they intend to make over the course of the trial". The selection process is different from the UK. Jury trials there are less common, and jurors - picked at random - don't know which trial they will serve on until they've been sworn in. Jurors can only be dismissed by a judge in very specific circumstances.

3-7-21 Migrants desperate to work occupy Brussels church
Up to 200 undocumented migrants, including teenagers, have occupied St. John the Baptist in Brussels since the end of January. They're calling on the government to grant them legal status. Sixteen-year-old Mohammed Amine has been sleeping inside St. John the Baptist Church at the Béguinage, in the center of Brussels, for almost a month. Amine, originally from Morocco, isn't homeless — he's one of up to 200 undocumented migrants who have occupied the 17th-century church since the end of January. The migrants are hoping to raise awareness about their lack of rights in Belgium, and are calling on the government to grant them legal status. Belgian Secretary of State for Asylum and Migration Sammy Mahdi has described their actions as "blackmail." On the door of the church hangs a makeshift sign: "Liberté, égalité, dignité," or "Freedom, equality, dignity." Inside the church, handmade banners read: "Je ne suis pas un esclave," or "I am not a slave," and "Travailler sans avoir peur de la police," or "To work without fear of the police." Mattresses with blankets piled on top are spread out across the church floor, but Amine said it's often bitterly cold inside. "Since there are no heaters inside it is way too cold. It is, all the time, colder inside than outside the church," he said. Amine came to Belgium two years ago with his mother. The teenager said they were forced to leave as his father had become physically abusive. Amine's parents were already divorced but he said his father continued to attack his mother and demand money from her. Neighbors didn't intervene and Amine said his mother's family refused to help because they were ashamed of her divorce. "The neighbors couldn't help her and my mother's family couldn't help her, since they could not accept the idea of a divorced woman in their family." Occupying a church in such large numbers is hardly ideal during a pandemic. Karen Naessens, coordinator of the House of Compassion, a Catholic organization that works with the béguinage church to raise awareness of issues of injustice, worries about coronavirus contagion. But she said for many of the migrants, COVID-19 is the least of their concerns. "They say, 'We're at the end of our tether, we already feel dead inside.' They say, 'We cannot have the coronavirus but we cannot continue like this either.'" There is no official data on the exact number of undocumented migrants in Belgium, but estimates range from anywhere between 120,000 and 200,000 people, said Ellen Desmet, assistant professor of migration law at Ghent University. Being undocumented means having very few rights in Belgium, Desmet said. "The only rights you have as a migrant without papers in Belgium is that you have access to urgent medical care and you can have some material support. But for instance, you do not have the right to work in a legal way." Desmet said the lack of labor rights leaves many undocumented migrants open to abuse by employers. Amine's mother works as a cleaner in restaurants and in other people's homes. Most of the migrants occupying the church say they desperately want to work. The pandemic has made things a whole lot worse because many of the black-market jobs have also dried up. Some migrants, like 19-year-old Nada, who declined to share her last name, visit the church during the day to join the protest but return home at night. Nada, also from Morocco, has been living in Belgium with her mother for the past five years. She said not having any legal status leaves her feeling trapped. "You cannot do anything that you want. You cannot move, you cannot work. I want to continue my study in university, but I cannot. You feel like you are in a cage."

3-7-21 Coronavirus: US Senate passes major $1.9tn relief plan
President Joe Biden's relief bill aimed at helping Americans deal with the impact of the coronavirus pandemic has cleared a major hurdle. The $1.9tn (£1.4tn) plan was approved in the Senate on Saturday despite every Republican senator voting against. The House of Representatives - controlled by Mr Biden's Democrats - is expected to approve it next Tuesday. Mr Biden described the Senate vote as "one more giant step forward" in delivering the promise to help people. America's worst public health crisis in a century has left nearly 523,000 people dead and 29 million infected, with a current unemployment rate of 6.2%. The relief package - the third in the US since the start of the pandemic - envisages one-off payments worth $1,400 to be sent to most Americans. Mr Biden said such payments could start being distributed later this month. Republicans say the plan is too costly. Some Democrats have also voiced criticism of certain provisions and the party's leadership was forced to make a number of compromises, notably the lowering of federal unemployment benefit from $400 to $300 a week. The benefit will be extended until 6 September under the plan. "It obviously wasn't easy. It wasn't always pretty. But it was so desperately needed, urgently needed," President Biden said. He added that he hoped for a quick passage of the bill in the House so that he could sign it into law. The so-called American Rescue Plan allocates $350bn to state and local governments, and some $130bn to schools. It would also provide $49bn for expanded Covid-19 testing and research, as well as $14bn for vaccine distribution. The $1,400 stimulus cheques will be quickly phased out for those with higher incomes - at $75,000 for a single person and for couples making more than $150,000. The extension of jobless benefits until September, meanwhile, would mark a key reprieve for millions of long-term unemployed Americans whose eligibility for benefits is currently due to expire in mid-March. The bill also includes grants for small businesses as well as more targeted funds: $25bn for restaurants and bars; $15bn for airlines and another $8bn for airports; $30bn for transit; $1.5bn for Amtrak rail and $3bn for aerospace manufacturing.

3-7-21 COVID's assault on Native Americans
The coronavirus has taken a devastating toll on indigenous communities across the U.S. The coronavirus has taken a devastating toll on indigenous communities across the U.S. Here's everything you need to know:

  1. How bad were the outbreaks? Native Americans and Alaska Natives have been hit harder by the pandemic than any other community in the U.S. They are 3.5 times more likely to be infected with COVID-19 than whites, and are 1.8 times more likely to die from the disease, according to the Centers for Disease Control.
  2. Why such a heavy toll? It's partly because Native communities are so poor, and have had such limited access to health care. In some remote areas, there is one hospital for an area the size of Delaware, and the Indian Health Service, a federal program that serves 2.6 million people, is underfunded and understaffed.
  3. Why is that? Elders are revered in Native communities, and serve as repositories of history and culture. They pass down Native languages, oral histories, songs, prayers, medical knowledge, and cultural traditions.
  4. What is being done? In some areas, tribal leaders have instituted safety measures beyond state and local mandates. In the Navajo Nation they've banned large gatherings, organized pro-masking campaigns, and enforced curfews and stay-at-home orders, putting up checkpoints and threatening violators with fines and jail terms.
  5. Are Native Americans getting vaccinated? Yes. In fact, Native communities are well ahead of the general population when it comes to inoculating their members. Over half of Navajo Nation residents have received at least one shot, for example, while the Rosebud Sioux of South Dakota have been inoculated at double the state rate.
  6. New hope for neglected tribes: After decades of federal neglect, tribal leaders are cautiously optimistic about securing more money and attention from the Biden administration. On the campaign trail Biden — who notched key wins in Arizona and Nevada with help from Native voters — issued a detailed agenda of policies intended to aid Native Americans, ranging from reinstating the White House Tribal Nations Conference to investing in Native agriculture.

3-7-21 George Floyd: Why is the trial so important?
Jury selection is about to start in the trial of Derek Chauvin, the police officer accused of killing George Floyd. Onlookers in the US city of Minneapolis recorded Chauvin - who's white - kneeling on the neck of Floyd, who was black. The incident sparked protests in the US and across the world against police brutality and racism. The 46-year-old bought a pack of cigarettes at a convenience store in South Minneapolis on the evening of 25 May 2020. A shop assistant believed he used a counterfeit $20 bill and called the police after Mr Floyd refused to give the cigarettes back. Officers arrived and handcuffed him, but when they tried to put him into the squad car he resisted, and a struggle ended with Mr Floyd face-down on the street. That's when onlookers began filming. Mr Chauvin, 44, placed his left knee between Mr Floyd's head and neck, and kept it there for seven minutes and 46 seconds, according to prosecutors. Two other officers helped pin him down, while another prevented witnesses from intervening. More than 20 times Mr Floyd said he could not breathe. The video shows him go limp and get carried away by police. He was pronounced dead in hospital an hour later. The weeks-long process will begin on Monday 8 March with jury selection. Arguments are due to start on 29 March and are expected to take at least one month. The contentious process will see lawyers for both sides question dozens - or possibly hundreds of candidates - and eventually choose 16 people. Twelve jurors will be seated to decide the case, with four other alternates chosen as backups. Potential jurors have already submitted questionnaires, describing their existing knowledge of the case, any previous contact with police and their media habits. Each side can remove a potential juror from the panel, but if either side believes a juror has been relieved due to discrimination based on race, ethnicity or sex, opposing lawyers can issue a "Batson challenge". The judge then decides whether the juror stays or goes.

3-7-21 Switzerland referendum: Voters projected to ban face coverings in public
Switzerland appears to have narrowly voted in favour of banning face coverings in public, including the burka or niqab worn by Muslim women, following a controversial referendum. Projections by broadcaster SRF, based on partial results, show the measure passing by 52% to 48%. Sunday's referendum was put forward by the right-wing Swiss People's Party (SVP) which campaigned with slogans such as "Stop extremism". The government argued against the ban. It said it was not up to the state to dictate what women wear. According to research by the University of Lucerne, almost no-one in Switzerland wears a burka and only around 30 women wear the niqab. About 5% of Switzerland's population of 8.6 million people are Muslim, most originating from Turkey, Bosnia and Kosovo. Swiss people are given a direct say in their own affairs under the country's system of direct democracy. They are regularly invited to vote on various issues in national or regional referendums. It is not the first time Islam has figured in a Swiss referendum. In 2009 citizens went against government advice and voted to ban the building of minarets - a proposal also put forward by the SVP which said minarets were a sign of Islamisation. The proposal in Sunday's referendum did not mention Islam directly and was also aimed at stopping violent street protesters from wearing masks. However, the vote was widely referred to as "the burka ban". The latest proposal predated the coronavirus pandemic which has meant all Swiss adults having to wear masks in many settings. Ahead of the vote, Walter Wobmann, chairman of the referendum committee and an SVP lawmaker, described Muslim face coverings as "a symbol for this extreme, political Islam which has become increasingly prominent in Europe and which has no place in Switzerland". "In Switzerland our tradition is that you show your face. That is a sign of our basic freedoms," he said.

3-6-21 Covid-19: US Democrats push ahead with relief plan
A compromise in the US Senate means America's third major spending package to deal with the impact of the coronavirus pandemic can move forward. The $1.9tn (£1.4tn) plan has been championed by President Joe Biden as a way to help struggling citizens. Democrats in the Senate compromised over the issue of federal unemployment benefit, lowering it from $400 to $300 a week but extending it to 6 September. The Senate's final vote on the package is expected in the coming days. "Now that this agreement has reached, we are going to power through the rest of this process and get this bill done," Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer predicted. Mr Biden's Democrats and their allies have an effective majority in the evenly split Senate due to Vice-President Kamala Harris's casting vote. But the tiny margin means they need every Democratic senator to support their plans. America's worst public health crisis in a century has left nearly 523,000 people dead and 29 million infected, with a current unemployment rate of 6.2%. When the Democrat-controlled House of Representatives passed the bill last week, it called for a $400 weekly federal top-up of unemployment benefits to last until 29 August. However, moderate Democratic Senator Joe Manchin objected on the grounds that the huge bill might overheat the economy. It took 11 hours of negotiation to come up with the deal. "We have reached a compromise that enables the economy to rebound quickly while also protecting those receiving unemployment benefits," Sen Manchin said. The amendment was adopted by 50 votes to 49. While Republicans broadly backed the two previous stimulus plans, passed when they controlled both the White House and the Senate under Donald Trump, they have criticised the cost of Mr Biden's bill. The measures include direct payments of up to $1,400 to most Americans and money for vaccines, testing, local government, schools and the airline industry, as well as subsidies for health insurance. One Democratic proposal that was rejected by the Senate was an attempt to raise the minimum wage from $7.25 to $15 an hour over five years, with eight Democratic senators siding with the Republicans to vote it down.

3-6-21 Biden's Covid stimulus plan: It costs $1.9tn but what's in it?
The US is poised to pass its third major spending package of the pandemic - a $1.9tn (£1.4tn) plan that President Joe Biden has championed as a way to help struggling Americans. Leaders of his Democratic Party, which has a slim majority in Congress, are planning to pass the so-called American Rescue Plan by mid-March. Republicans say the plan is unnecessarily large and stuffed with Democratic priorities unrelated to the pandemic. But Mr Biden and his team maintain the US must "act big" and that the extra cash is being spent on those most affected by the crisis - the poor, minorities and women. Democrats on Thursday saw their push for a minimum wage hike thrown into question after a Senate arbiter ruled it must be removed from the Covid package. Here are some of the key elements, with analysis by BBC correspondent Anthony Zurcher who ranks how much each component has support from Republicans (party mascot the elephant). The plan calls on the government to send out $1,400 per person, with the payments quickly phasing out for those with higher incomes - at $75,000 for a single person and couples making more than $150,000. This will be the third stimulus cheque since the pandemic. The US approved $1,200 cheques last spring, and another $600 in late December. Supporters view the payments as critical financial support for families - many of which have seen incomes drop, even if they have not lost work entirely. But opponents say the measure is overly broad. The bill provides money to extend jobless benefits until September. That's a critical reprieve for the more than four million long-term unemployed, whose eligibility for benefits is currently due to expire in mid-March. The plan tops up weekly jobless payments by $300 - the same amount as Congress approved in December's aid package. Democrats intend to give parents of children under the age of 18 a year of monthly benefits worth $250-$300, depending on age. The measure works by temporarily increasing the worth of America's existing child tax credit from $2,000 annually to as much as $3,600, and making the benefits available in advance. (Webmaster's comment: The Republicans only want to help the rich!)

3-6-21 Coronavirus: Europe in vaccine race to save summer
Europe could be on the brink of a roaring twenties-style summer to remember, with budget airline flights packed and beachside bars brim-full of happy tourists. Or, it faces another gloomy holiday season of travel restrictions, quarantine rules and a locked-down leisure industry. In a few weeks from now we will know which it is to be - but the policy decisions which will shape the outcome are already being taken. One big question is whether EU member states will be content to leave decision-making to the European Commission in Brussels - which has bungled the vaccine-buying programme - or simply take matters into their own hands. Greece, for example, has already struck a deal to welcome tourists from Israel if they have a vaccine passport. And Cyprus has said it will welcome British tourists from 1 May, as long as they have had two doses of any vaccine approved by the European Medicines Agency (EMA). The Director-General of the Cyprus Hotels Association, Philokypros Roussonides, told the BBC: "We are really delighted with this development. It's going to be really effective and very good for airlines to schedule their flights. Cyprus is traditionally a very popular destination for British tourists." What is at stake here is not just the issue of whether wealthy northern Europeans get to enjoy a beer or an ice cream on the beach. Tourism is big business, providing 27m jobs in Europe, and generating around 10% of the EU's GDP, when you take into account the other sectors which depend on it. The economies of countries like Greece, Spain and Italy cannot recover until the tourist industry is reopened. The GDP of the Balearic Islands - which include Majorca - fell by 27% last year. If a second summer season is lost to Covid-19 the consequences will be disastrous. A tourism official in Majorca described the situation as "unsustainable" and said that if tourists were not allowed to return, many local business would disappear. Saving the summer depends on two Europe-wide problems: getting people vaccinated and then agreeing rules about whether or not the right to travel should be linked to your vaccination status.

3-6-21 Amanda Gorman: US poet says security guard labelled her 'suspicious'
Amanda Gorman, the young poet who found global fame after performing at President Joe Biden's inauguration, has shared her experience of alleged racial profiling by a security guard. The 22-year-old said on Twitter that she was accosted on a walk home on Friday and told "you look suspicious". "This is the reality of black girls: One day you're called an icon, the next day, a threat," she wrote. Gorman received widespread acclaim for her reading of The Hill We Climb. Her poem was seen as a rousing and timely call for national unity - delivered at the US Capitol just weeks after it was the scene of deadly riots. Tweeting about her experience, Gorman described being "tailed" by the security guard who she said offered no apology after she was able to prove she lived in her own apartment building. In revealing her experience, she re-shared a post she made in February which said: "We live in a contradictory society that can celebrate a black girl poet & also pepper spray a 9 yr old" - in reference to a recent incident in Rochester, New York. "Yes see me, but also see all other black girls who've been made invisible. I can not, will not, rise alone." In a second tweet about the incident, Gorman added: "In a sense, he was right. I AM A THREAT: a threat to injustice, to inequality, to ignorance." Gorman's social media posts have been widely shared - highlighted as an example of the everyday prejudice faced by black people in the US. "Let this story sink in," Mark Keam, a state legislator in Virginia, tweeted. "And realise how - while I'm glad it ended safe for @TheAmandaGorman - this type of confrontation is an every day occurrence for millions of our fellow Americans." In her inauguration poem, Gorman described herself as "a skinny black girl descended from slaves and raised by a single mother [who] can dream of becoming president, only to find her self reciting for one".

3-6-21 LeBron James: NBA star's voting rights group starts new campaign
US basketball star LeBron James' voting rights group has launched a campaign against voter suppression as some states consider new restrictions. The Protect Our Power campaign aims to stop such policies, which would disproportionately affect black voters. Republican legislatures have been advancing laws to limit where and when people can vote amid unproven allegations of election fraud in 2020. Georgia, a key state in the election, is at the centre of the rights battle. Other rights organisations have joined up with James' More Than A Vote group to focus on the issue in Georgia. In a video announcing the new campaign on Friday, James says: "This isn't the time to put your feet up." "Posting hashtags and black squares", he says, is not enough. "It's always been more than a vote. It's a fight and it's just getting started." Speaking over images of the January Capitol siege, he says: "They saw what we're capable of, and they fear it". The typically Republican state flipped during the 2020 presidential election, helping hand President Joe Biden his White House win. Voters there also delivered victory to two Democratic Senate candidates in January, giving Democrats a slim majority in the upper chamber of Congress. Republicans remain in control of Georgia's state government, however, and have now approved bills that would cut voter access. Measures include limiting the use of drop boxes to return ballots, requiring photo identification for voting by mail and cutting back early voting on weekends. Conservatives argue the "common-sense" restrictions are necessary to keep the electoral process fair. Advocates say these measures would disproportionately affect black voters, who are a third of voters in the state, especially as many church voting drives happen on Sundays. Other states led by Republicans have put forth similar measures. James launched More Than A Vote following national protests over the death of George Floyd last year. American football quarterback Patrick Mahomes, basketball star Jalen Rose and actor Kevin Hart are also members.

3-6-21 QAnon Shaman: 'I regret entering that building with every fibre of my body'
Jake Angeli spoke to the US news programme 60 Minutes from jail about his role in the January 6 riots at the US Capitol. Angeli faces felony charges of violent entry and disorderly conduct. (Webmaster's comment: He only regrets getting caught. He's a white pig and should get 20 years!)

3-5-21 Republicans' deadly pandemic impatience
I was wrong: The United States' coronavirus vaccine rollout is going much better than I thought it would. First, multiple excellent vaccines were developed and approved much faster than any in history, and now they are being delivered at speed. The number of vaccinations administered per day has gradually accelerated past two million, and with a great deal more supply coming soon, within the next couple months it ought to be available to everyone in most states. (My own parents recently got their second doses, which was a profound relief.) That makes it all the more maddening that some conservative states are jumping the gun on returning to normal. If all Americans just hung tight for another couple months — or better still, clamped down even more to squelch the ongoing spread — we could save tens of thousands of lives. But some Republican politicians are apparently determined to get as many of their own constituents killed as possible. Texas got the ball rolling this week, when Governor Greg Abbott abruptly announced that he was completely removing all pandemic control measures — allowing all businesses to open up without any restrictions or requirements, and even repealing the statewide mask mandate. Mississippi Governor Tate Reeves did the same thing days later. The background here is that progress in slowing the third wave of coronavirus cases has stalled out around 65,000 cases per day, or roughly at the peak of the summer 2020 wave. That naturally obscures a lot of variation: Cases are still falling in South Carolina, for instance, but they are stalled at a high level in New York. Worse, cases appear to be spiking in both Mississippi and Texas, and both states are among the worst laggards at getting shots into arms. People have become numb to it, but an average of about 2,000 people a day have been dying from COVID-19 since mid-February, which is as bad as it got during the first wave of the virus. These deaths are all the more tragic since we are so close to being able to vaccinate everyone — and once people have gotten any of the vaccines, their risk of death drops nearly to zero, and people can thus see other vaccinated folks in person and indoors as much as they want. A very serious containment effort could have halted the spread, and therefore every single death since the vaccines were proved to work has been completely gratuitous. Yet if Abbott's action sparks competitive idiot posturing from other Republicans, or even Democrats like New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, another at least regional wave of cases is highly likely. (To be fair, Governor Jim Justice of West Virginia and Ohio Governor Mike DeWine have so far gone the opposite direction.) Now if that does happen, such a wave will surely be considerably less deadly than previous ones. Roughly half of the over-65 population has been vaccinated already, and perhaps a third of the population as a whole has already been infected. That means infections will spread somewhat slower, and the people that do come down with COVID-19 will be much less likely to become seriously ill or die. That said, the virus is not to be trifled with. Nearly a fifth of American COVID-19 deaths have occurred in people under 65 years old, and untold numbers of people who didn't die are suffering severe chronic side effects. Meanwhile, Israel has vaccinated over half of its population, and over 90 percent of people over 50 years old — but even there it is still struggling with outbreaks, thanks to pockets of vaccine resistance and the virus's extreme contagiousness. The government may delay relaxing containment measures until the spread is slowed. It's hard to know just what thoughts are going through the minds of people like Abbott. There is the classic American politician thing of wanting to avoid leadership and action at any cost, so that when bad things happen they can pretend it is someone else's fault. Then there's how the pandemic has been sucked into the conservative grievance industrial complex, leading to the idea that mask requirements are totalitarian and that "freedom" means a person should be able to infect others with a deadly disease at will. Abbott may be putting on a political performance for this crowd, claiming the crown of being the first state governor to stuff his constituents into the COVID-19 meatgrinder to own the libs. We surely shouldn't rule out sheer bloody-minded stupidity. Whatever the reason, the effect will be obvious: more avoidable sickness and death.

3-5-21 Covid-19 news: WHO chief supports waiving covid-19 vaccine patentso
The latest coronavirus news updated every day including coronavirus cases, the latest news, features and interviews from New Scientist and essential information about the covid-19 pandemic. Covid-19 vaccine patents should be waived, says WHO chief. World Health Organization (WHO) director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus has said he supports the temporary waiving of covid-19 vaccine patents to enable countries to manufacture and sell vaccine copies at reduced cost. “I don’t believe that globally we’re exercising our full manufacturing muscle at present. For example, some manufacturers have not been able to produce successful vaccine candidates, which is to be expected, but their production facilities could be repurposed for those vaccines that have been proven to work,” he wrote in the Guardian. “Waiving patents temporarily won’t mean innovators miss out. Like during the HIV crisis or in a war, companies will be paid royalties for the products they manufacture.” Australia has asked the European Commission to review its decision to approve Italy’s blocking of a shipment of covid-19 vaccine doses to the country. In January, the European Commission launched a mechanism to allow monitoring the export of covid-19 vaccines produced in the European Union, and on 4 March Italy blocked a shipment of 250,000 doses of Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine being sent to Australia. “Australia has raised the issue with the European Commission through multiple channels,” Greg Hunt, Australia’s health minister, told journalists on 5 March. Japan is also concerned about the export ban. The country’s vaccine minister told Reuters: “We want to work with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to secure the vaccines bound for Japan.” Germany’s health minister expressed concern about the export ban, saying it could disrupt global covid-19 vaccine supply chains. Willingness to receive a covid-19 vaccine has risen in the UK and globally in recent months, according to a survey on attitudes towards vaccination in 15 countries, conducted by researchers at Imperial College London. In February, 77 per cent of people surveyed in the UK said they would accept a covid-19 vaccine if one was available to them, up from 55 per cent in November. Other countries included in the poll were Australia, Canada, Denmark, France, Germany, Israel, Italy, Japan, The Netherlands, Norway, Singapore, South Korea, Spain and Sweden. Scepticism about the vaccine was highest in France, with only 40 per cent of respondents in February saying they would accept a covid-19 vaccine, although this still represents an increase from 25 per cent in November.

3-5-21 What Republicans talk about when they talk about the 'working class'
Democrats think of the working class as essentially the working poor. Republicans mean an entirely different set of voters. Ever since Donald Trump seized control of the GOP, Republicans have been talking about turning themselves into a "worker's party." From the start, Democrats have treated the aspiration as absurd — at best delusional and at worst a cynical marketing ploy. Sure, the Trump administration started several trade wars and embraced intentional cruelty on the southern border to discourage immigration. But neither yielded any measurable benefit for American workers. Meanwhile, the only major legislative achievement of the past four years, passed when the GOP controlled the presidency and both houses of Congress, was a massive corporate tax cut. When it comes to representing and advancing the interests of the working class, the Democrats remain the only game in town. But what if, as in so much else, the two parties are talking past each other when they appeal to the working class? When Democrats champion the working class, they tend to mean the working poor — unskilled or low-skilled labor earning meager wages with few if any benefits: service workers, manual laborers, house cleaners, and so forth. These are people focused on getting by, putting food on the table, paying bills, getting access to affordable medical care and public transportation, and so forth. When Republicans say they aim to become a working-class party, Democrats assume they mean they're trying to make inroads with this economic group. This strikes Democrats as wildly implausible, even ridiculous — and for good reason, since little if anything in Republican rhetoric and policy priorities seems to address itself to this group's interests or anxieties. But that's because Republicans are talking about an entirely different set of voters. Texas Sen. Ted Cruz helpfully summarized what the GOP means by "working class" in a recent tweet promoting his speech at the Conservative Political Action Conference: "The Republican Party is not just the party of country clubs, the Republican Party is the party of steel workers, construction workers, pipeline workers, police officers, firefighters, waiters, and waitresses." Waiters and waitresses earn a wide range of income depending on how much they bring home in tips. Police officers and firefighters begin careers with modest wages, but they enjoy generous benefits, including pensions that allow for early and comfortable retirement. Steel workers, pipeline workers, and construction workers are highly skilled employees — think carpenters, welders, electricians, and operators of heavy machinery — who often earn a comfortable salary. Aside from those on the low end of restaurant and building work, these are middle-class professions leading to decent wages and benefits. Many are also independent contractors, which makes them small-business owners. These are the people Republicans are talking about when they make appeals to the working class — and they aren't at all the same groups Democrats are talking about when they use the same term. What separates the two broad groups isn't labor unionization, since service workers on the Democratic side and construction workers and police officers on the Republican side are typically organized for collective bargaining. What separates them far more is economic class. When unionized workers earn relatively low wages with minimal benefits, they lean left. When they earn middle-class or higher wages with good benefits, they lean right. (Though when workers are both middle-class and highly educated, as unionized professionals like journalists tend to be, they tilt left once again.)

3-5-21 Republicans' deadly pandemic impatience
Greg Abbott gave up on containment just months before the end of the pandemic. was wrong: The United States' coronavirus vaccine rollout is going much better than I thought it would. First, multiple excellent vaccines were developed and approved much faster than any in history, and now they are being delivered at speed. The number of vaccinations administered per day has gradually accelerated past two million, and with a great deal more supply coming soon, within the next couple months it ought to be available to everyone in most states. (My own parents recently got their second doses, which was a profound relief.) That makes it all the more maddening that some conservative states are jumping the gun on returning to normal. If all Americans just hung tight for another couple months — or better still, clamped down even more to squelch the ongoing spread — we could save tens of thousands of lives. But some Republican politicians are apparently determined to get as many of their own constituents killed as possible. Texas got the ball rolling this week, when Governor Greg Abbott abruptly announced that he was completely removing all pandemic control measures — allowing all businesses to open up without any restrictions or requirements, and even repealing the statewide mask mandate. Mississippi Governor Tate Reeves did the same thing days later. The background here is that progress in slowing the third wave of coronavirus cases has stalled out around 65,000 cases per day, or roughly at the peak of the summer 2020 wave. That naturally obscures a lot of variation: Cases are still falling in South Carolina, for instance, but they are stalled at a high level in New York. Worse, cases appear to be spiking in both Mississippi and Texas, and both states are among the worst laggards at getting shots into arms. People have become numb to it, but an average of about 2,000 people a day have been dying from COVID-19 since mid-February, which is as bad as it got during the first wave of the virus. These deaths are all the more tragic since we are so close to being able to vaccinate everyone — and once people have gotten any of the vaccines, their risk of death drops nearly to zero, and people can thus see other vaccinated folks in person and indoors as much as they want. A very serious containment effort could have halted the spread, and therefore every single death since the vaccines were proved to work has been completely gratuitous. Yet if Abbott's action sparks competitive idiot posturing from other Republicans, or even Democrats like New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, another at least regional wave of cases is highly likely. (To be fair, Governor Jim Justice of West Virginia and Ohio Governor Mike DeWine have so far gone the opposite direction.) Now if that does happen, such a wave will surely be considerably less deadly than previous ones. Roughly half of the over-65 population has been vaccinated already, and perhaps a third of the population as a whole has already been infected. That means infections will spread somewhat slower, and the people that do come down with COVID-19 will be much less likely to become seriously ill or die. That said, the virus is not to be trifled with. Nearly a fifth of American COVID-19 deaths have occurred in people under 65 years old, and untold numbers of people who didn't die are suffering severe chronic side effects. Meanwhile, Israel has vaccinated over half of its population, and over 90 percent of people over 50 years old — but even there it is still struggling with outbreaks, thanks to pockets of vaccine resistance and the virus's extreme contagiousness. The government may delay relaxing containment measures until the spread is slowed.

3-5-21 Voting rights: How the battle is unfolding across the US
The battle over voting rights in the US is a drama that's playing out concurrently in the Congress and state legislatures across the country. On one side are Republicans in state capitols, intent on passing laws curtailing when and where their citizens can vote - citing allegations of voting fraud repeatedly made by Donald Trump in the months after his presidential defeat to Joe Biden. On the other are Democrats in Washington, DC, who are pushing legislation to take those decisions out of the hands of state politicians by setting federal rules for conducting elections. At the centre of the debate is a question of what is the greatest threat to American democracy. Is it the security of an election process that in 2020 relied heavily on early and mail-in voting? Or is it a system, corrupted by the influence of big donors and powerful interests, that makes voting more difficult than necessary, particularly for historically disadvantaged groups? On Wednesday night the House of Representatives passed what its supporters have labelled the "For the People Act". It represents one of the most expansive federal reforms of the US election system in a generation. The bill would guarantee that voters can receive a mail-in ballot if requested, mandate a minimum of 15 days of early voting before every federal election, require paper ballots and set standards for voting machines. It would prohibit states from disenfranchising felons who have completed their sentences and enact new restrictions on undisclosed so-called "dark money" political contributions. Many new voters would be automatically registered under the legislation, which also requires technology companies to disclose information about political advertising, create new government support for small donor-funded candidates and seek to end the practice of "gerrymandering" voting maps for partisan advantage. The House approved the bill by a nearly party line vote, with one Democrat - Bennie Thompson of Mississippi - opposing because of concerns that the redistricting provision would disadvantage black voters.

3-5-21 US sees jobs surge as hope for rebound rises
Hiring surged in the US last month as virus cases dropped, the vaccination campaign gained steam and restaurants and bars brought back workers. Employers added 379,000 jobs in February, breaking a two-month streak of minimal gains. The growth was stronger than analysts had expected, but the activity did not significantly dent the jobless rate. It dipped from 6.3% to 6.2%, reflecting the millions that remain out of work because of the virus. "This number is a surprise, but it's essentially all about the reopening boost to the jobs market arriving earlier than expected," said Brian Coulton, chief economist at Fitch Ratings. "The leisure and transport sector accounted for a very high share of the job gains in the private sector, as social distancing restrictions were eased," he added. "Stripping those sectors out, the gains were much more subdued." In addition to bars and restaurants, retailers and manufacturers were among the employers adding jobs. Construction firms and local governments shed positions, while many sectors were little changed. "The recovery is gaining momentum now," said Julia Pollak, chief economist at job search site ZipRecruiter. But she said February's gains were "consistent not with a robust rebound, but with the tepid reawakening of the labour market from the Covid winter hibernation". Roughly 10 million people were unemployed last month - almost double the number a year ago before the virus prompted widespread lockdowns and social distancing, the Labor Department said. That count did not include the millions more that have stopped looking for work or identified as employed, but are not working because of the pandemic. Minorities and low-wage workers have been particularly hard hit. While the jobless rate fell for most groups last month, it rose among black workers from 9.2% to 9.9%. Federal Reserve chairman Jerome Powell said on Thursday he expected hiring to pick up in coming months, as the virus abates and authorities ease restrictions on activity. But he said it was unlikely the US would return to its pre-pandemic employment levels this year. Despite the gains last month, the number of jobs at hotels and restaurants is down 20% from a year earlier.

3-5-21 Baby bust: US birth rate falls during pandemic
Despite spending more time at home due to the pandemic, the US is in the midst of a baby bust, not a baby boom. US births have been falling for nearly a decade and 2019 saw the fewest births in 35 years, but the final numbers for 2020 could slip even lower. An estimated 300,000 fewer babies are expected in 2021, according to a study by Brookings Institution think tank. It comes as the pandemic has created a turbulent labour market that has disproportionately hurt working women. Last year, women slightly outnumbered men in the workforce, but their labour market participation has now dropped to 57%, the lowest level since 1988, according to the National Women's Law Center. Amid extensive school and day care closures, as well as limits on public gatherings, millions of women have been forced to balance supervising and teaching their children with work and other responsibilities. Surveys revealed that many couples are delaying pregnancies, having sex less often and want fewer children because of the pandemic and its economic costs, according to the Guttmacher Institute. "When the labour market is weak, aggregate birth rates decline; when the labour market improves, birth rates improve," wrote the authors of the Brookings Institute study, Melissa Kearney and Philip Levine. And online searches for pregnancy-related terms were down last year, according to Google Trends data. Official birth data for the entire country will not be released for a few more months, but a CBS News compilation of annual data from 32 states showed 95,000 fewer births in 2020 than in the previous year. Data from 32 out of 50 US states has found that the nation's birth rate in 2020 fell by more than 4%. In December 2020 alone, California saw 10% fewer births and Hawaii saw 30% fewer than the previous December. As the US faces a worsening multi-year decline in births, politicians are exploring monthly child benefits and tax credit options.

3-5-21 What is Biden doing differently at US border?
On the campaign trail, Joe Biden made sweeping promises to reform US immigration, vowing to "take urgent action" and undo the policies of Donald Trump. And since taking office, the Democrat has ordered the reunification of migrant children with their families, ended construction of the border wall and called for reviews of legal immigration programmes terminated by his predecessor. But for those seeking entry at the US southern border, the Biden administration has asked for patience, saying it needs time to prepare for an influx of arrivals. "We're not saying 'don't come,'" Mr Biden's top homeland security official Alejandro Mayorkas said this week. "We're saying 'don't come now.'" Here's a look at what Mr Biden has - and hasn't - done so far, and how it differs from Mr Trump. Depends who you ask, but numbers are definitely rising. In January, the month that Mr Biden took office, 5,871 unaccompanied children crossed the border - up from 4,995 in December - according to data from US Customs and Border Protection (CPB). And CPB reported an average of nearly 3,000 arrests per day in January, compared with an average of about 1,800 arrests in January 2020. But the Biden administration has disputed that there is yet a "crisis" at the border. "The answer is no," Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas told a reporter this week. "I think there is a challenge at the border that we are managing." And the uptick is still modest compared with 2019, when border officials apprehended more than 76,000 unaccompanied minors. But pressure is building at the southern border, and some reports suggest the numbers are on pace to overtake the record highs of that year. Behind closed doors, Mr Mayorkas's comments suggest he might agree. He told senior officials last month to "prepare for border surges now" according to emails obtained by the Washington Times. And this week Russell Hott, a senior official with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) told staff in an email that arrivals of unaccompanied minors and families at the US border this year is expected to be the "the highest numbers observed in over 20 years," according to the Washington Post newspaper.

3-5-21 Covid: Bolsonaro tells Brazilians to ‘stop whining’ as deaths spike (Trump's Buddy!)
President Jair Bolsonaro has told Brazilians to "stop whining" about Covid-19, as he criticised measures to curb the virus despite a surge in cases and deaths. His comments came a day after Brazil saw a record rise in deaths over a 24-hour period. Brazil is facing its worst phase of the pandemic yet, leaving its health system in crisis. In response some cities and states have imposed their own restrictions. Brazil's health ministry says more than 260,000 people have died with Covid-19, the second-highest pandemic death toll in the world after the US. On Thursday, another 1,699 deaths were added to that tally, a slight decrease on Wednesday's record 1,910. Meanwhile, a further 75,102 cases of coronavirus were reported, the second-highest daily rise on record. The explosion of cases has been attributed to the spread of a highly contagious variant of the virus thought to have originated in the Amazon city of Manaus. Yet on Thursday Mr Bolsonaro continued to downplay the threat posed by the virus. "Stop whining. How long are you going to keep crying about it?" Mr Bolsonaro said at an event. "How much longer will you stay at home and close everything? No one can stand it anymore. We regret the deaths, again, but we need a solution." The comments were met with a furious response from São Paulo's governor, João Doria, who has been particularly scathing of Mr Bolsonaro's handling of the pandemic. Speaking to the BBC, Mr Doria called President Bolsonaro "a crazy guy" for attacking "governors and mayors who want to buy vaccines and help the country to end this pandemic". "How can we face the problem, seeing people die every day? The health system in Brazil is on the verge of collapse," Mr Doria said. President Bolsonaro has consistently opposed quarantine measures introduced by governors, arguing that the collateral damage to the economy will be worse than the effects of the virus itself. "Unfortunately, Brazil has to fight, at this moment, two viruses: the coronavirus and Bolsonaro virus. This is a sadness for the Brazilians," Mr Doria said.

3-4-21 Covid-19 news: Vaccines for new variants could be fast-tracked in UK
The latest coronavirus news updated every day including coronavirus cases, the latest news, features and interviews from New Scientist and essential information about the covid-19 pandemic. Approval of covid-19 vaccines modified to work against virus variants could be accelerated in the UK The B.1.1.7 coronavirus variant first identified in the UK is between 43 and 90 per cent more transmissible than the original virus, a study published in the scientific journal Science has estimated. “Without stringent control measures, including limited closure of educational institutions and a greatly accelerated vaccine roll-out, covid-19 hospitalisations and deaths across England in 2021 will exceed those in 2020,” the authors of the study write in their paper, adding that the spread of the variant at similar rates in other countries, including Denmark, Switzerland and the US, is “concerning”. The European Medicines Agency (EMA) has announced a rolling review of the Sputnik V covid-19 vaccine developed in Russia. The Sputnik V vaccine prompted concern among immunologists last year after it was approved in Russia in August before any detailed results from advanced clinical trials were released. But in early February, interim results from a phase III trial indicated the vaccine is 91.6 per cent effective at preventing symptomatic covid-19. World Health Organization Europe director Hans Kluge told a press briefing on 4 March that the EMA’s announcement was a “welcome development”, adding that: “[in Europe] we desperately need to enlarge our portfolio of vaccines”. Italy has blocked a shipment of 250,000 Oxford/AstraZeneca covid-19 vaccine doses to Australia. In January, the European Commission launched a mechanism to enable monitoring of covid-19 vaccines produced in Europe and being exported out of the European Union. The rate of covid-19 Infections in England is shrinking less quickly than it was earlier in 2021, according to recent results from the REACT study by researchers at Imperial College London. The study indicates one in 204 people were infected between 4 and 23 February, down only slightly from one in 196 during the period between 4 and 13 February, suggesting the fall in infections seen since January has slowed. Germany is expected to approve the Oxford/AstraZeneca covid-19 vaccine for use in people over the age of 65.

3-4-21 US Capitol police warn of possible militia plot to breach Congress
Security has been ramped up at the US Capitol in Washington in response to "a possible plot to breach" the building. The move was prompted by intelligence that a militia group planned the attack for 4 March - the day conspiracy theorist group QAnon believes Donald Trump will return for a second term. The House of Representatives cancelled Thursday's session, but the Senate will continue with its agenda. A mob loyal to Mr Trump stormed the Congress building in January. That attack came as lawmakers were inside moving to certify Democrat Joe Biden's election victory. Mr Trump still refuses to admit losing the election. The riot saw five people including a police officer killed and shook the foundations of American democracy. The head of the Capitol police force later resigned. "As of late February, an unidentified group of militia violent extremists discussed plans to take control of the US Capitol and remove Democratic lawmakers on or about 4 March and discussed aspirational plans to persuade thousands to travel to Washington DC to participate," a new intelligence bulletin issued by the FBI and Department of Homeland Security says. Following that assessment, the US Capitol Police referred in a statement to "a possible plot to breach the Capitol by an identified militia group on Thursday, March 4". "We have already made significant security upgrades to include establishing a physical structure and increasing manpower to ensure the protection of Congress, the public and our police officers. "Due to the sensitive nature of this information, we cannot provide additional details at this time." Supporters of an extremist conspiracy theory known as QAnon falsely believe Thursday will mark Mr Trump's return to the White House for a second term. They have latched on to this date because, before the 20th amendment of the US Constitution - adopted in 1933 - moved the swearing-in dates of the president and Congress to January, American leaders took office on 4 March.

3-4-21 Why are QAnon believers obsessed with 4 March?
Their hero is no longer president, but some followers of the fringe QAnon conspiracy theory have latched onto obscure, irrelevant laws in an attempt to keep the faith. It's been six weeks since the inauguration of President Joe Biden, and it would seem that Donald Trump's best chance of regaining the presidency would be the 2024 election. But some of his fervent followers who support the baseless QAnon conspiracy theory believe he'll be coming back sooner - and will somehow be returned to power on 4 March. The idea stems from the belief among some QAnon followers that the United States turned from a country into a corporation after the passage of the District of Columbia Organic Act of 1871. It's an odd, unfounded theory drawn from the sovereign citizen movement, an extreme libertarian fringe that opposes federal laws, general taxation and even the US currency on the grounds that they restrict individual rights. Believers in the QAnon offshoot maintain that every US president, act and amendment passed after 1871 is illegitimate. But the theory is based on a false interpretation of the Organic Act, which merely turned the District of Columbia into a municipal corporation, better known as a local governing body, and has no relation to a president or the US as a whole. Before the 20th amendment of the US Constitution - adopted in 1933 - moved the swearing-in dates of the president and Congress to January, American leaders took office on 4 March. That's why QAnon followers have latched on to this date to underpin their latest theory. The date 4 March began spreading among QAnon followers only days after Mr Biden was sworn in on 20 January. That completely predictable event caused tumult in the world of QAnon - a wide-ranging, completely unfounded theory that says Mr Trump is waging a secret war against elite Satan-worshipping paedophiles. (Webmaster's comment: Absolutely Nuts!)

3-4-21 Covid: Biden says ‘Neanderthal thinking’ behind lifting of mask rules
President Joe Biden has criticised the lifting of mask requirements in the states of Texas and Mississippi, calling it "Neanderthal thinking". "I think it's a big mistake," he said. Masks, social distancing and other measures were still important, despite the role vaccines were playing in containing the pandemic, he said. Texas and Mississippi will also allow all businesses to open at full capacity. Other states have announced a relaxation of some rules. The US has recorded 28.7 million infections and 519,000 deaths related to Covid-19 since the pandemic began. Some 78 million vaccine doses have been administered but Mr Biden said this was not a reason to end public health measures. "The last thing we need is Neanderthal thinking that in the meantime everything's fine, take off your mask, forget it," Mr Biden said. "It still matters." Senior health officials in his administration have warned about the continued spread of the virus - and highly contagious variants of it - hampering the progress of the country's vaccination programme. "Now is not the time to release all restrictions," Rochelle Walensky, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), said. "The next month or two is really pivotal in terms of how this pandemic goes." Mississippi Governor Tate Reeves, a Republican, reacted to Mr Biden's comments with a terse tweet. "Mississippians don't need handlers," Mr Reeves wrote in the tweet. "As numbers drop, they can assess their choices and listen to experts. I guess I just think we should trust Americans, not insult them." A spokesperson for Texas Governor Greg Abbott said he was "clear in telling Texans that Covid hasn't ended". But the spokesperson told Politico that "Texas now has the tools and knowledge to combat Covid while also allowing Texans and small businesses to make their own decisions". "It is clear from the recoveries, the vaccinations, the reduced hospitalisations, and the safe practices that Texans are using, that state mandates are no longer needed. We must now do more to restore livelihoods and normalcy for Texans."

3-4-21 Mississippi storm: Living in a US city with no drinking water
Over 160,000 residents in Mississippi have been without drinkable water for two weeks after a historic winter storm. The National Guard has been deployed to distribute water to the community.

3-4-21 Thousands of asylum seekers cross US-Mexico border after year-long wait
Asylum seekers who have been waiting at the border for over a year while they pursued their cases have started entering the US this week. After taking office in January, President Biden announced it would suspend enrolment in the Trump administration’s Migration Protection Protocols program, known as MPP, also known as the “remain in Mexico” program.

3-3-21 Covid-19 news: US will have vaccine doses for all adults by end of May
The latest coronavirus news updated every day including coronavirus cases, the latest news, features and interviews from New Scientist and essential information about the covid-19 pandemic. US to have enough covid-19 vaccines for all adults by end of May. US president Joe Biden announced the US is on track to have enough covid-19 vaccine doses to vaccinate its entire adult population by the end of May. “Great news, but stay vigilant,” said Biden. “It’s not over yet,” he added. More than 76 million people in the US have received a first dose of covid-19 vaccine so far – equivalent to about 23 per cent of the population. Not all adults will be vaccinated by the end of May, as the vaccines will take time to administer, but the country is on track to meet Biden’s target of delivering 100 million doses in his first 100 days in office. The governor of Texas, Greg Abbott, announced that the state will lift its requirement for people to wear face coverings and will allow businesses to reopen at full capacity next week. This is in contrast to advice from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which on 1 March warned of a potential fourth surge of cases before the majority of people in the country are vaccinated. A preliminary study led by researchers at the University of Bristol, UK, indicates that a single dose of the Pfizer/BioNTech or Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine reduces the risk of hospitalisation with covid-19 by about 80 per cent among people aged 80 and over. The results add to earlier findings from an analysis by Public Health England, which found that a single dose of either vaccine is 80 per cent effective at preventing hospitalisation among people over 80. “This adds to growing evidence showing that the vaccines are working to reduce infections and save lives,” Mary Ramsay, Public Health England’s head of immunisation, told the BMJ. Austria will receive an additional 100,000 doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech covid-19 vaccine to administer to all adults in the Schwaz district of the Tyrol province, where there are currently 66 active cases of people infected with the B.1351 coronavirus variant first identified in South Africa.

3-3-21 How Biden's immigration bill would empower future Trumps
There's a lot to like about the bill — but the elements pertaining to guest worker programs have major problems. President Joe Biden has undone some of his predecessor's malevolent immigration legacy with executive authority. But accomplishing the rest of his immigration agenda will require legislative action, which is why he has worked with congressional Democrats to craft the U.S. Citizenship Act of 2021. There is much to like in the bill, which was unveiled in February and is being pushed in Congress. However, thanks to labor pressures, there are some unfortunate elements pertaining to guest worker programs for both low and high-skilled immigration that will sow the seeds for mischief by future Trumps. Biden needs to rethink them pronto. Within his first few days in office, Biden used executive means to scrap some of Trump's worst anti-immigration actions. He ended the "Muslim" travel ban, reinstated the DACA program that shielded DREAMers (those who have grown up in America after they were brought here without proper authorization as minors) from deportation, and revived the refugee program that Trump all but gutted. Then, last week, he lifted Trump's COVID-related ban on immigrant visas for the foreign spouses and children of Americans, the other child separation policy that few had heard about. But Biden can't use his executive authority to permanently legalize the undocumented population or make other fundamental reforms, which is where the U.S. Citizenship Act comes in. Sponsored by Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) and Rep. Linda Sánchez (D-Calif.), this legislation would open a clean eight-year-path to citizenship for the vast majority of the 11 million undocumented migrants in the U.S., without the enforcement poison pills that restrictionists had managed to stuff in previous efforts by Presidents Barack Obama and George W. Bush. There is no wall funding or enhanced detentions and deportations or increased border patrolling. To the contrary, the bill would allow agricultural workers who've clocked 2,300 work hours in the country to apply for green cards, just like high-skilled immigrants can do today. And Biden's bill doesn't ignore the problems that high-skilled immigrants face either. It proposes a series of steps to expedite the process they go through to obtain a green card, which grants permanent residency. It would: 1. Raise the annual number of employment-based green cards from 140,000 to 170,000 for them. 2. Recapture some 220,000 green cards left over from countries that have not used their annual quota over the past decades and make them available to high-demand countries like India whose nationals are experiencing a 100-year backlog. 3. Count the green cards received by the family members of foreign professionals as one application — not separate ones — instantly doubling the annual number of employment-based green cards available. This too would go a long way toward easing the horrendous green card wait times that some nationalities are facing. 4. Make F-1 student visas "dual intent" so that their holders are no longer barred from applying for green cards. 5. Exempt international STEM students with a Ph.D. from a U.S. university from the numeric limit on green cards. This is all great stuff. So what's the problem? Namely that the administration is primarily helping immigrants stuck in America's broken immigration system, not fundamentally fixing the system to ease future flows. Indeed, the bill as written will set the country up for yet another immigration war, just as happened after President Ronald Reagan's immigration reforms. Reagan handed amnesty to undocumented workers without offering more legal avenues for future low-skilled immigrants, causing the undocumented population to soar again. This allowed the nativist opponents of Reagan's amnesty in his own party to declare his reforms a failure and demand ever more border enforcement. Biden is making the same mistake — and compounding it.

3-3-21 Covid: Biden promises vaccines for all US adults by end of May
The US will have enough coronavirus vaccines for every adult by the end of May, President Joe Biden has said. This will be two months earlier than previously expected, but Mr Biden said the vaccination drive must be extended, too, and people convinced to take it. And he warned people to "stay vigilant" because "this fight is far from over", with new variants a major concern. His caution is at odds with some states, which are relaxing restrictions in order to boost their economies. Mr Biden's new timeline does not mean all adults in the US will be vaccinated by the end of May, as the jabs will take longer to administer. Although there has been a sharp fall in confirmed cases since the start of the year - the figure of 68,000 a day now is well down on the 8 January peak of 300,000 - that drop has levelled off over the past week, fuelling fears of another wave. More than 76 million vaccination doses have been administered - covering 15.3% of the population and the US remains on track to meet Mr Biden's pledge of delivering 100 million Covid-19 vaccine doses in his first 100 days in office. Some 1.74 million doses are being administered every day. The president said that drug manufacturer Merck - which this year discontinued work on its own vaccine - would now be helping Johnson & Johnson to produce its newly approved one-shot drug. "We're now on track to have enough vaccine supply for every adult in America by the end of May," he said, adding it was "the type of collaboration between companies we saw in World War Two". But the president acknowledged that supply was only one issue, with the nation needing to extend its vaccination drive and convince people to take the shots. "We need vaccinators, people who put the shots in people's arms, millions of Americans' arms," he said. "Great news, but stay vigilant," Mr Biden said. "It's not over yet."

3-3-21 What is Biden doing differently at US border?
On the campaign trail, Joe Biden made sweeping promises to reform US immigration, vowing to "take urgent action" and undo the policies of Donald Trump. And since taking office, the Democrat has ordered the reunification of migrant children with their families, ended construction of the border wall and called for reviews of legal immigration programs terminated by his predecessor. But for those seeking entry at the US southern border, the Biden administration has asked for patience, saying it needs time to prepare for an influx of arrivals. "We're not saying 'don't come,'" Mr Biden's top homeland security official Alejandro Mayorkas said this week. "We're saying 'don't come now.'" Here's a look at what Mr Biden has - and hasn't - done so far, and how it differs from Mr Trump. Depends who you ask, but numbers are definitely rising. In January, the month that Mr Biden took office, 5,871 unaccompanied children crossed the border - up from 4,995 in December - according to data from US Customs and Border Protection (CPB). And CPB reported an average of nearly 3,000 arrests per day in January, compared with less than 30,000 for the whole month last year. But the Biden administration has disputed that there is yet a "crisis" at the border. "The answer is no," Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas told a reporter this week. "I think there is a challenge at the border that we are managing." And the uptick is still modest compared with the 2019, when border officials apprehended more than 76,000 unaccompanied minors. But pressure is building at the southern border, and some reports suggest the numbers are on pace to overtake the record highs of that year. Behind closed doors, Mr Mayorkas's comments suggest he might agree. He told senior officials last month to "prepare for border surges now" according to emails obtained by the Washington Times.

3-3-21 Capitol riot 'inspiration for extremism', FBI boss warns
The number of US homegrown terror cases has risen sharply, the FBI boss has said, as he warned that the deadly January Capitol riot may serve as 'inspiration' for extremists. Some 2,000 FBI domestic terror probes are open, up from 1,400 at the end of 2020, Director Christopher Wray said. Arrests of "racially motivated violent extremists," including white supremacists, have tripled since 2017. For the first time, Mr Wray called the Capitol siege "domestic terrorism". The attack could be "inspiration to a number of terrorist extremists," he told a Senate hearing on Tuesday. Over 260 people have been arrested in connection with the storming of the US Capitol to date. In his first public testimony since the 6 January Capitol attack, Mr Wray warned that accepting such behaviour "would make a mockery of our nation's rule of law". He noted extremists and "bad actors" were mobilising online, using encrypted messaging platforms to evade authorities. "Terrorism today, and we saw it on January 6th, moves at the speed of social media," Mr Wray said, adding that without a solution, "it's not going to matter how bulletproof the legal process is, or how horrific the crime is, or how heart-breaking the victims are". Mr Wray said the greatest dangers are likely from "lone actors" who have been radicalised online and are "motivated either by jihadist inspirations or by a variety of domestic inspirations". Mr Wray denied a theory floated by some supporters of former President Trump that the Capitol attack was carried out by left-wing agitators in disguise. FBI investigations to date revealed "quite a number" of the extremists participating in the riot belonged to far-right anti-government militias, he said. "Foreign adversaries" were also taking advantage of the 6 January riot to "amplify their own narratives," he added. Mr Wray had not previously spoken publicly about the attack at the US Capitol, although he has worked with local law enforcement and briefed lawmakers in private.

3-3-21 Covid: Brazil's daily deaths reach all-time high
Brazil on Tuesday registered its highest daily number of Covid deaths since the pandemic started. The health ministry said 1,641 people had died with Covid in the previous 24 hours. The record was reached as scientists said that a new variant first found in Brazil appears more contagious. Brazil, where more than a quarter of a million people have died with Covid, has the second highest coronavirus death toll after the United States. Across the country, there have been more than 10.5 million confirmed cases of coronavirus. Only the US and India have registered more. The pandemic spread quickly after first arriving in Brazil and reached a first peak at the end of July, when daily new cases were above 70,000 and daily deaths above 1,500. Cases and deaths across Brazil fell until early November before a second wave saw cases rise again, a rise which appears to have further accelerated since January. In a week where scientists and health workers have been sounding alarm bells over the deteriorating situation, these numbers come as no surprise. In some parts of Brazil, hospitals have run out of intensive care beds, and some patients are even being moved to different states to be able to receive treatment. The capital Brasilia is in lockdown and a curfew has been introduced in several states including São Paulo. Many expect restrictions to get tighter in the coming days, despite the president publicly denouncing lockdown measures. And that's part of the problem - there's a total lack of faith in the federal government to do anything about the pandemic. Take the daily numbers for example - the official government figures were a record 1,641 yesterday but ever since the health ministry stopped publishing them briefly last year, a media consortium decided to publish its own and yesterday put the total at 1,726. Whatever the number, the death toll is clearly creeping up and there's no solution in sight to reverse it.

3-2-21 Covid-19 news: England and Wales deaths falling fastest among over 80s
The latest coronavirus news updated every day including coronavirus cases, the latest news, features and interviews from New Scientist and essential information about the covid-19 pandemic. Deaths from covid-19 in England and Wales are falling quickest among people over 80. Covid-19 deaths in England and Wales are falling fastest among people aged 80 and over, figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) suggest, indicating that the vaccination programme has had an impact on deaths from the disease. People aged 80 and over were included in the top four priority groups for covid-19 vaccination. According to analysis of ONS data by the Guardian, 1622 people aged 80 and above were reported to have died from covid-19 in the week up to 19 February, down from 5300 four weeks earlier and equivalent to a reduction of 69 per cent. Among people aged between 70 and 79, there was a reduction in covid-19 deaths of 65 per cent over the same period, and the equivalent figure was 55 per cent for people aged 0 to 69. Germany is expected to start easing some coronavirus restrictions from 8 March. Under new draft rules, a maximum of five people from two households would be allowed to meet. Currently, meetings are restricted to a maximum of two people. Some shops and salons would also be allowed to reopen. The draft plans for easing measures will be discussed by national and state government leaders on 3 March. A World Health Organization (WHO) panel is advising against the use of the malaria drug hydroxychloroquine to treat covid-19 patients. In a statement, the panel said hydroxychloroquine is “no longer a research priority” and that “resources should be used to evaluate other more promising drugs to prevent covid-19”. The WHO has said it is “unrealistic” to expect the coronavirus pandemic will be over by the end of 2021. “I think it will be very premature, and I think unrealistic, to think that we’re going to finish with this virus by the end of the year,” Michael Ryan, executive director of the WHO’s Health Emergencies Program, told a press conference on 1 March.

3-2-21 Covid-19 variants pose 'real threat' to vaccine progress, CDC warns
The spread of highly contagious coronavirus variants is threatening to fuel a "potential fourth surge of cases" in the US, a top health official has warned. The head of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said she was concerned by recent Covid-19 data. Dr Rochelle Walensky said about 70,000 new cases a day had been recorded last week - "a very high number". There were nearly 2,000 deaths a day in the same period, she added. "Please hear me clearly: at this level of cases, with variants spreading, we stand to completely lose the hard-earned ground we have gained," Dr Walensky said. "These variants are a very real threat to our people and our progress." There are many different versions, or variants, of Covid-19 circulating, but health experts are particularly concerned about a few which appear to be more contagious, including those first detected in the UK, South Africa and Brazil. The CDC has predicted the highly contagious B.1.1.7 variant first found in the UK will become the dominant strain in the US this month. Given this, Dr Walensky said she was "really worried" about reports of US states "rolling back the exact public health measures we have recommended to protect people from Covid-19". "We have the ability to stop a potential fourth surge of cases in this country. Please stay strong in your conviction," she said. In total, the US has recorded more than 28 million infections and 500,000 deaths related to Covid-19, according to World Health Organization (WHO) data. Daily infections and deaths fell steeply after a peak in January, when vaccinations against the disease started to be ramped up. But the CDC says, until more people are vaccinated, variants could drive a spike in cases, threatening health systems already under strain. More than 2,463 infections involving variants of concern have been reported, according to CDC data. Most of those cases - at least 2,400 - are of the UK variant.

3-2-21 Covid: France approves AstraZeneca vaccine for over-65s
The French government says older people with pre-existing conditions can now get AstraZeneca's Covid-19 vaccine, revising its stance on the issue. "People affected by co-morbidities can be vaccinated with AstraZeneca, including those aged between 65 and 74," the health minister said. Last month France approved use of the vaccine for under-65s only, citing lack of data for older people. Since then studies have shown the jab is highly effective among the elderly. The Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine is widely used across the UK, but several EU countries are still limiting it to the under-65s, including Germany. The EU drugs regulator has approved it for all adults, but it is up to each member to set its own roll-out policy. In a further development, Canada's immunisation commission on Monday advised against giving the AstraZeneca vaccine to over-65s, saying clinical trial data for that age group was too limited. Speaking on television, French Health Minister Olivier Véran said people with pre-existing conditions - such as high blood pressure or diabetes - could get the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine from GP surgeries, hospitals and "within days" from pharmacies. The policy would apply to those over 50, including those aged 65 to 75, he said. Those aged over 75 will still be offered either Pfizer or Moderna jabs in a vaccination centre, he added. In January French President Emmanuel Macron said the AstraZeneca vaccine was "quasi-ineffective" for older age groups - a claim strongly rejected at the time by the UK officials and scientists. But after a European Council meeting on Friday, he said: "If this is the vaccine I'm offered, obviously I would take it. As more data has emerged, French health officials have tried to convince people that it is just as safe and effective as other Covid-19 vaccines.

3-2-21 Will COVID-19 wind up saving lives?
By spurring vaccine development, the pandemic is one crisis that hasn’t gone to waste. The light at the end of the tunnel is growing brighter. Emergency-use approval for a third COVID-19 vaccine (from Johnson & Johnson) is now secured, and four million doses have immediately shipped. Over 200 million doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines are expected by month-end, and 50 million doses of the AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine (which is expected be approved next month) should follow by the end of April. The day when anyone can get a COVID vaccine is now within view. It's already time to start worrying about the next set of problems, from inadequate uptake by vaccine-resistant communities to ensuring poorer countries get adequate supplies of the vaccine, so that we can truly put this pandemic to an end. Before doing that, it's worth pausing to recall once again how extraordinary it is that we have vaccines at all on this timetable. For all the manifest failures in both controlling the pandemic and in adapting to life under it — as well as the continued public health messaging failures that may be hampering the vaccine rollout and exacerbating inequities in distribution — the biomedical accomplishment that will make it possible to end the COVID emergency remains well-nigh miraculous. So what would you say if I told you we could have gotten here years ago — and not just for COVID, but for myriad other killers? There's a sense in which that statement is actually true. The revolutionary mRNA-based technology used by the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines (though not the one from Johnson & Johnson) is the fruit of decades of research and development. But already in 2013 a Novartis lab was able to assemble a vaccine against a novel virus using mRNA technology, and begin animal testing, all within a month of sequencing the virus itself. That's where things stopped, though. The next steps to develop and deploy the vaccine would have been vastly more expensive, and not primarily because of the lengthy testing and approval process. Entirely new manufacturing capacity would have had to be brought on line, for an entirely speculative product. Without a prospective revenue stream, there was little reason to invest billions of dollars on a blue-sky basis. Novartis sold its vaccine business in 2015. COVID-19 itself was sequenced in January of 2020, (by the Chinese) and the initial vaccine candidates were developed within days of that event — much as in 2013. What changed was the enormous infusion of funding, which made it possible not only to develop the vaccines so fast, but to build out the manufacturing capacity necessary to deliver an entirely new type of vaccine for hundreds of millions and ultimately billions of people. That's not the end of the story, though. The same and related technologies are now poised to deliver more wonders to fight many other diseases — some of which have been plaguing humanity for all of human history and doing far more harm than COVID ever will. Take malaria, for example. It kills on the order of half a million people per year, most of them young children. The extremely negative effect of malaria on economic development has cost far more lives and immiserated entire populations. Malaria has been so harmful to human beings for so long that it has exerted measurable selection effects on the human genome. There's a reason why people who evaluate charitable giving based on cost per life saved rate anti-malaria efforts like distributing insecticide-laced bed nets as among the most effective philanthropic efforts in the world.

3-2-21 CPAC 2021: Who won the Republican civil war?
If you're looking for evidence of a Republican civil war, the Conservative Political Action Conference was not the place to be. No grappling with the party's future in the face of Donald Trump's defeat. No pondering the loss of control of the US Senate. No reflecting on continued minority status in the House of Representatives. And certainly no regret over the January assault on the US Capitol by a mob of Trump supporters. The annual gathering of right-wing activists isn't exactly a representative cross-section of the Republican Party, but it does show where the passions of grassroots and youth organisers reside. And within the confines of a sprawling hotel conference centre in Orlando, Florida the Republican fight over the future of conservatism, if it ever happened, appeared to be over with hardly a metaphorical shot fired. It's still Donald Trump's party - and on Sunday, he basked in the reflected glow of the crowd's adoration. "Miss me yet?" Trump asked the thousands, many maskless, cheering in the ballroom. "I stand before you today to declare that the incredible journey we began together... is far from over." Also far from over is Trump's fixation on his election loss last year. During an extended riff on the topic Sunday evening, which included a criticism of the US Supreme Court for declining to overturn the results, the CPAC crowd responded with a chant of "You won! You won! You won!" Trump's 38 days of self-imposed seclusion after leaving the White House haven't lessened his willingness to traffic in the kind of unsupported claims of election fraud that culminated in the attack on the US Capitol - an event he made no mention of during his speech. Trump did coyly hint at a 2024 president bid, however, saying that he might beat the Democrats "for a third time". There has been a tradition in modern US politics for former presidents to refrain from direct criticism of their successors, at least in the opening days of a new administration. On Sunday this became only the latest tradition that Trump discarded, as he lashed out at Democrat Joe Biden for his handling of immigration and the coronavirus pandemic recovery.

3-2-21 Poland activists acquitted over LGBT Virgin Mary
Three Polish women have been found not guilty of offending religious feelings over posters depicting the Virgin Mary with a rainbow halo. The activists displayed the images in 2019 in response to an Easter display describing "gender" and "LGBT" as sins. The icon used in the artwork, "Our Lady of Czestochowa", is revered by many Polish Catholics. The women would have faced up to two years in prison if found guilty in the case. The decision comes just days after a heavy metal singer in Poland launched a legal defence fund for artists accused of blasphemy. The case began in April 2019 when the women put up the posters and stickers around the city of Plock to protest against what one of the activists described as the "exclusion of LGBT people from society". "Nobody should be excluded from society," Elzbieta Podlesna told the BBC at the time. "Sexual orientation is not a sin or a crime and the Holy Mother would protect such people from the Church and from priests who think it is okay to condemn others." But the charges were supported by some politicians, with the country's then-Interior Minister Joachim Brudzinski responding that "all that nonsense about freedom and 'tolerance' does not give ANYONE the right to insult the feelings of the faithful." Activists have accused Poland of breaching EU obligations over its response to LGBT activists. President Andrzej Duda, an ally of the ruling nationalist Law and Justice Party (PiS), was narrowly re-elected to a second term in 2020. But during the campaign, he described campaigns for LGBT rights as "even more destructive" than communism and proposed including a ban on same-sex marriage and adoption in the country's constitution. Poland does not currently recognise same-sex unions - whether those are marriages or civil unions. Same-sex couples are also legally banned from adopting children.

3-1-21 Iran nuclear deal: Tehran rules out informal talks on reviving accord
Iran has ruled out holding an informal meeting with the US and European powers on ways to revive a nuclear deal, insisting that America must lift all of its unilateral sanctions first. Iran's foreign ministry spokesman said it was not an appropriate time for the talks proposed by the European Union. The US said it was disappointed but that it remained ready to "re-engage in meaningful diplomacy" on the issue. Tensions have soared since the US left a nuclear deal with Iran in 2018. Then-President Donald Trump re-imposed crippling economic sanctions to force Iran to renegotiate the 2015 accord, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). Iran refused and retaliated by rolling back a number of key commitments. The US has now expressed intent to rejoin the deal under President Joe Biden. But Washington insists Tehran must return to full compliance with the agreement first, while Iran says that will only happen once sanctions are lifted. "Considering the recent actions and statements by the United States and three European powers, Iran does not consider this the time to hold an informal meeting with these countries, which was proposed by the EU foreign policy chief," spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh was quoted by Iranian media as saying. A White House spokesman said the US would now consult with other parties to the nuclear deal - the UK, France, China, Russia and Germany - "on the best way forward". Last Tuesday, Iran started to restrict some site inspections by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). The move is aimed at putting further pressure on the US and other parties to the JCPOA to ge

3-1-21 Khashoggi: Journalist's fiancée demands 'punishment' for Saudi prince
The fiancée of the murdered Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi has called for Saudi Arabia's crown prince to be "punished without delay" over his killing. "This will not only bring the justice we have been seeking.... but it could also prevent similar acts recurring," Hatice Cengiz said in a statement. It comes after a US intelligence report found that Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman had approved Khashoggi's murder. Saudi Arabia has rejected the report. Crown Prince Mohammed, who is effectively the kingdom's ruler, has denied any role in the murder. Khashoggi was killed while visiting the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, Turkey, in October 2018 and his body was dismembered. The 59-year-old journalist had once been an adviser to the Saudi government and close to the royal family, but he fell out of favour and went into self-imposed exile in the US in 2017. From there, he wrote a monthly column in the Washington Post in which he criticised the policies of Prince Mohammed. In his first column for the newspaper, Khashoggi said he feared being arrested in an apparent crackdown on dissent overseen by the prince. "It is essential that the crown prince, who ordered the brutal murder of a blameless and innocent person, should be punished without delay," Ms Cengiz said on Monday. "If the crown prince is not punished, it will forever... endanger us all and be a stain on our humanity," she added. Ms Cengiz, a Turkish academic researcher, made a plea that world leaders distance themselves from the crown prince and impose punishments such as sanctions on Saudi Arabia. "Starting with the Biden Administration, it is vital for all world leaders to ask themselves if they are prepared to shake hands with [Prince Mohammed]," she said. "I urge everyone to put their hands on their hearts and campaign to punish the crown prince," Ms Cengiz added.

3-1-21 Covax: Ivory Coast and Ghana begin mass Covid vaccination rollouts
African countries are starting mass Covid inoculation drives using vaccines supplied through a scheme set up to share doses fairly with poorer nations. Ivory Coast is one of the first to benefit from the UN-backed Covax distribution initiative, with injections beginning on Monday. Ghana is also launching its vaccination drive this week. Ghana's President Nana Akufo-Addo on Monday became the first to receive a coronavirus vaccine through the scheme. Mr Akufo-Addo urged people to get inoculated and not to believe conspiracy theories casting doubt on the programme, which will see some 600,000 doses of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine rolled out nationwide on Tuesday. "It's important that I set the example that this vaccine is safe by being the first to have it, so that everybody in Ghana can feel comfortable about taking this vaccine," he said. The rollout will initially focus on the most vulnerable - those aged over 60 or with serious underlying health issues - and essential workers, such as medical professionals, teachers, police and even some journalists. But pregnant women and those under the age of 18 are not part of the vaccination campaign. Authorities have said they do not have enough data on the possible side effects of the vaccines on such groups. Nana Akufo Addo and his wife were vaccinated in a ceremony broadcast live on television to encourage other Ghanaians to get their jabs. Some Ghanaians have expressed misgivings about the safety of the vaccines. While some believe it is a ploy by the government to reduce the country's population by making them infertile, others think the vaccines might be fake. In a televised address to the nation on Sunday, the president stressed that the vaccines had been declared safe by the country's Food and Drugs Authority (FDA), and there was no reason to doubt their safety. "Taking the vaccines will not alter your DNA, it will not embed a tracking device in your body, neither will it cause infertility in women or men," he assured. Ghana's FDA has also approved Russia's Sputnik V vaccines for emergency use, and the certification process is ongoing for other vaccines. The country is also exploring the possibility of getting some local manufacturers the needed licence to produce some of the existing vaccines, while Ghanaian scientists are working with their counterparts on the continent to develop a vaccine.

3-1-21 CPAC: Trump rules out new political party in speech to conservatives
Donald Trump says he has no plans to launch a new political party, telling a conservative conference in Florida that it would split the Republican vote. In his first speech since Democrat Joe Biden became president, he also hinted that he might run for office again in 2024. Mr Trump strongly criticised his successor, saying US policy had gone from "America first to America last". The speech comes weeks after Mr Trump was acquitted in an impeachment trial. The Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) is the country's largest meeting of conservative activists and politicians, and usually gives insight into the direction of the Republican Party. Mr Trump's appearance at the meeting on Sunday suggests he has continued influence over the party despite some senior politicians distancing themselves recently from the ex-president. The mood of the conference in Orlando - which began on Thursday - has been extremely pro-Trump, with loyalists including Texas Senator Ted Cruz and his son Donald Trump Jr among the speakers. The former president remains banned from social media platforms, including Facebook and Twitter, over his response to January's deadly riot at the US Capitol. He has been living at his Mar-a-Lago Florida golf resort since leaving the White House in January. The 74-year-old former president was cheered by supporters when he appeared on stage at the Hyatt Regency Hotel more than an hour late. Many people in the crowd were not wearing masks. "I stand before you today to declare that the incredible journey we began together four years ago is far from over," he said. "We are gathered this afternoon to talk about the future - the future of our movement, the future of our party, and the future of our beloved country." He dismissed any idea that he might start a new political party - describing rumours he would do so as "fake news". "Wouldn't that be brilliant? Let's start a new party so we can divide our vote and never win," he joked. "We have the Republican Party. It's going to unite and be stronger than ever before." (Webmaster's comment: It's going to be hard to get rid of the new Hitler!)

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Atheism News & Humanism Articles for February 2021