5-31-21 Growing hate crime against Asian Americans
The BBC's Michelle Fleury looks at the growing problem of hate crime directed at Asian Americans in the US. The reasons for this aren't clear, although many point the finger at politicians who for months sought to blame China for the Covid pandemic. Nationally, Asian American business leaders are mobilising to raise awareness, while Local communities struggle to contain the problem on the streets.
5-31-21 Michael Flynn marks Memorial Day weekend by saying a Myanmar-like coup 'should happen' in U.S.
Michael Flynn, former President Donald Trump's first national security adviser and a retired U.S. Army lieutenant general, spent part of his Sunday seemingly advocating for a Myanmar-style coup in the United States, CNN reports. Over the weekend, Flynn appeared at an event in Dallas called the "For God & His Country Patriot Roundup," speaking to fans of the QAnon conspiracy theory and others who believe false claims that the 2020 election was rigged. Flynn is popular with the QAnon crowd, having repeated its talking points and shared a video of its slogans, CNN reports. Online, adherents of the conspiracy have been praising the deadly military coup in Myanmar, arguing that if the same thing happened in the U.S., Trump could be put back in the White House. During a panel on Sunday, a member of the audience asked Flynn, "I want to know why what happened in Minamar [sic] can't happen here?" Flynn responded: "No reason. I mean, it should happen here. No reason. That's right." On Monday, lawyer Sidney Powell — one of the leading proponents of the groundless claim that Trump won the election and the subject of a $1.3 billion defamation lawsuit from Dominion Voting Systems — told CNN that Flynn did not encourage "any act of violence or any military insurrection." She also said, without providing any clarification or expanding on Flynn's remarks, that the media took his recorded words and "grossly distorted" them. Powell was also at the Dallas event, CNN reports, where she declared, falsely, that Trump should be "simply reinstated" and a "new inauguration day is set." (Webmaster's comment: Round these bastards up, put them in prison, and throw away the key!)
5-31-21 Texas Democrats walk out over 'discriminatory' voting bill
Democrats have walked out of the Texan House of Representatives, blocking a bill on voting that has been criticised as racially discriminatory. The Republican-led bill, which was passed in the state Senate, introduces sweeping restrictions on ways for voters to cast their ballots. Democrats walked out an hour before the midnight deadline for approval, bringing the vote to a standstill. It is now likely the bill will be reintroduced later in the year. Republican Governor Greg Abbott said he would call a special legislative session. Senate Bill 7 seeks to strike down new voting methods introduced in November when the US held elections during the coronavirus pandemic. Its terms, revised after closed-door negotiations, include a ban on drive-through voting, which was credited with encouraging record voter turnout in the city of Houston. Supporters of the legislation say it is needed to bolster the security of elections. But Democrats and civil rights groups say the bill disproportionately burdens or discourages voters from ethnic minorities, as well as the elderly and disabled. "The Republican party is running scared because they know this state is changing," said Democratic politician Julián Castro. "[The bill] is an attempt by [Republicans] to hold onto their power at the expense of everyone else." There were no substantial allegations of fraud during elections last year in Texas. Republicans have maintained a grip on all state-wide offices for three decades, and the state already has some of the most restrictive voting measures in the US. But after a historic turnout in the 2020 presidential race, Joe Biden come closer than any Democrat in 40 years to winning the state. Mr Biden has said the "un-American" bill "attacks the sacred right to vote. His predecessor as president, Donald Trump, has alleged that he lost the 2020 election because of voter fraud. While the allegation was widely debunked by US courts and international observers, Republicans have pursued stricter voting laws around the US. Since Mr Trump's defeat, 14 states have enacted more restrictive balloting measures, according to the Brennan Center for Justice. The New York-based group says 400 voting-related bills have been filed this year across the country.
5-31-21 NSA spying row: Denmark accused of helping US spy on European officials
Denmark's secret service helped the US spy on European politicians including German Chancellor Angela Merkel from 2012 to 2014, Danish media say. The Defence Intelligence Service (FE) collaborated with the US National Security Agency (NSA) to gather information, according to Danish public service broadcaster DR. Intelligence was allegedly collected on other officials from Germany, France, Sweden and Norway. Similar allegations emerged in 2013. Then, secrets leaked by US whistleblower Edward Snowden alleged tapping of the German chancellor's phone by the NSA. When those allegations were made, the White House gave no outright denial but said Mrs Merkel's phone was not being bugged at the time and would not be in future. Germany is a close ally of the US. German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier and a spokesperson for Angela Merkel have said they were not aware of Danish involvement until the DR report, which was shared with other European media over the weekend. The NSA is said to have accessed text messages and the phone conversations of a number of prominent individuals by tapping into Danish internet cables in co-operation with the FE. The alleged set-up, said in the report to have been codenamed "Operation Dunhammer", allowed the NSA to obtain data using the telephone numbers of politicians as search parameters, according to DR. DR interviewed nine sources, all of whom are said to have had access to classified information held by the FE. Along with Mrs Merkel, then-German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier and the opposition leader at the time, Peer Steinbrück, are also said to have been targeted. "Politically I view this is a scandal," Mr Steinbrück told German media. Denmark's Defence Minister Trine Bramsen, who had reportedly been earlier informed of the espionage, told DR that "systematic wiretapping of close allies is unacceptable".
5-31-21 Covid: Vietnam starts mass testing as new variant emerges
Vietnam hopes to tackle a new Covid outbreak by mass testing risk groups in Ho Chi Minh City and introducing new social distancing measures. The efforts come in response to a new cluster linked to a religious mission. Vietnam has had relative success in controlling the virus but cases have been rising over the past weeks. Over the weekend, officials warned of a new "very dangerous" hybrid variant discovered in the country. The government says the new variant combines features of the mutations first identified in India and the UK, and is easily transmissible by air. Overall, the country has registered just over 7,000 infections and 47 deaths, but the latest spike accounts for more than half of the total number of cases. The latest outbreak in Ho Chi Minh City is centred around a Christian mission which had seen at least 125 positive cases, and accounts for most of the city's infections. Those living in the vicinity of the cluster have already been tested and are in lockdown. Officials now plan to test as many as 100,000 people each day, focusing on groups considered to be high risk. In addition to testing, officials announced new social distancing measures across the city for 15 days, starting from 31 May. Shops and restaurants are closed, and religious activities have been suspended. "All events that gather more than 10 people in public are banned city-wide, but the city is considering to lower the number of people to just five," the government said. When the virus first spread beyond China in early 2020, Vietnam acted fast and decisively, closing its borders to almost all travellers except returning citizens. It then quarantined and tested everyone who entered the country. It also conducted widespread contact-tracing and testing. The government is under pressure to ramp up vaccinations to combat the re-emergence of the virus. Just over one million people or 1% of the population have received at least one dose of the vaccine so far.
5-30-21 Rep. Jamie Raskin: Democrats to 'move forward without the Senate' on Jan. 6 investigation
Democrats will continue to pursue an investigation into the events of Jan. 6 even after Republican senators blocked the creation of a bipartisan commission last week, Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.) told The Hill. "Using the filibuster to cover up the truth about Jan. 6 is a scandalous abuse of power that should bring the filibuster to an immediate and long overdue end," Raskin, who served as Democrats' top prosecutor during former President Donald Trump's second impeachment trial earlier this year, said. "Until that happens, we will now have to move forward without the Senate to figure out how to create the nonpartisan, objective investigation into the events and cause of Jan. 6 that America deserves." It's not yet entirely clear what the Democrats' course of action will be, though The Hill notes House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) has "hinted strongly that she'll create a special committee dedicated to exploring the Capitol attack." A select-committee investigation would likely provide Democrats with subpoena power, The Hill reports. Read more at The Hill.
5-30-21 Nashville hat shop faces backlash for selling anti-vaccine Nazi Jewish star
A hat shop in Nashville, Tennessee, has drawn condemnation and protests after it advertised an anti-vaccine yellow star like those forced on Jews by Nazi Germany. The shop, Hatwrks, said in a now-deleted Instagram post that it was selling the patches for $5 (£3.50). The shop was criticised online and targeted by protesters, who held a sign saying "no Nazis in Nashville". A local rabbi said the star was an insult to Jews killed under the Nazis. "Using the yellow star, or any holocaust imagery for anything, is a disservice to the memory of the six million Jews who were systematically murdered during the Holocaust," a local rabbi, Laurie Rice, told Nashville TV station WSMV. In a later Instagram post, the shop apologised "for any insensitivity". It said it did not "intend to trivialise the Star of David or disrespect what happened to millions of people". During the pandemic some conspiracy theorists have been denounced for making extreme comparisons between Covid-19 measures and the fascist policies of Nazi Germany. This week Republican congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene was criticised for equating Covid mask mandates with Nazis forcing Jews to wear yellow stars. On Friday, Hatwrks shared on its Instagram account a photo announcing the arrival of yellow-star patches. It showed a woman, reportedly the business owner, wearing a yellow Star of David with the message "not vaccinated" on her black T-shirt. An outcry followed on social media. In a tweet, a former US ambassador to Nato, Ivo Daalder, said it was "grotesque to sell this evil symbol". On Saturday, the outrage online morphed into protests outside the shop. Meanwhile, one hat company said it would stop selling its products through the shop "as a result of the offensive content and opinions shared by Hatwrks". The BBC has reached out to Hatwrks for comment but it is yet to receive a reply.
5-30-21 Brazil: Protesters blame Bolsonaro for Covid crisis
Protests have taken place across Brazil over the management of the Covid-19 crisis by the government of President Jair Bolsonaro. In the capital, Brasilia, thousands gathered in front of Congress calling for the president's impeachment, and demanding more vaccines. Demonstrations took place in other major cities, including Rio de Janeiro. Mr Bolsonaro's popularity has plummeted over his response to the pandemic. Brazil has registered nearly 460,000 deaths - the second-highest toll in the world after the US. It also has the third-highest number of coronavirus cases at more than 16 million. Saturday's protests piled further pressure on Mr Bolsonaro as Brazil's Senate holds an inquiry into his government's handling of the pandemic and the slow roll-out of the vaccine programme. Opposition parties, trade unions and social movements accuse Mr Bolsonaro of stalling the programme and disregarding the consequences. The high number of cases has brought the country's health system to the verge of collapse. The far-right leader 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. In Brasilia, protesters marched alongside a giant plastic doll of the president. Placards demanded his impeachment and called for more vaccines and emergency financial aid. There were also calls to better protect indigenous people and to stop deforestation of the Amazon. n Recife, police fired rubber bullets and tear gas at protesters who tried to march down a closed road, local media reported. In some cities, demonstrators laid thousands of symbolic crosses in tribute to those who died in the pandemic. On Thursday, the head of Brazil's prestigious Butantan Institute told a Senate committee that President Bolsonaro's actions delayed the start of the vaccination programme, the Spanish news agency Efe reports.
5-29-21 Who's behind recent rise in US anti-Semitic attacks?
As the world watched fighting rage in Israel and Gaza, US Jews endured an increase in anti-Semitic attacks on a scale not seen during previous Middle East conflicts. Experts say it is too early to tell if the high-profile assaults - including a daylight brawl in New York City's Times Square - point to a trend, or are a part of already high levels of such incidents seen across the country in recent years. Violence and harassment targeting American Jews broke out coast-to-coast amid the 11 days of fighting between Israelis and Palestinians that ended in a ceasefire on 20 May. Incidents included outdoor diners in Los Angeles who were physically attacked by a group carrying Palestinian flags, violence against orthodox Jews in New York City - home to the largest population of Jews outside of Israel - and Nazi imagery posted on a synagogue in Alaska this week. Pro-Palestinian protests and anti-Jewish vandalism at synagogues - which are quickly stepping up security due to the attacks - have also been documented in Illinois and Florida. President Joe Biden wrote on Twitter on Monday: "The recent attacks on the Jewish community are despicable, and they must stop." According to New York City police, there have been 80 anti-Semitic hate crime reports made this year, compared to 62 in the same period last year. They have stepped up patrols in Jewish communities, especially in orthodox Jewish neighbourhoods where the visibility of traditional Jewish clothing increases the likelihood of attack. The Anti-Defamation League (ADL), which tracks incidents of anti-Jewish violence and bias, says they saw a 75% increase in anti-Semitism reports to the agency's 25 regional offices after Israeli-Palestinian fighting began. The figure jumped from 127 incidents in the two weeks prior to fighting to 222 in the two weeks after violence broke out.
5-29-21 Republicans could easily win fair-and-square. They're choosing Trump instead.
The party has many very popular governors in blue states. Republicans hate them. Over the past several months, many writers (including myself) have commented on the Republican Party's turn against democracy. The GOP plainly is plotting to seize power in the future by rigging the electoral system, which is already heavily biased towards the party. As Joshua Tait writes at The Bulwark, conservatives are reaching back to the anti-majoritarian arguments of intellectuals like William F. Buckley to justify their quest for power at any cost. It's a dire threat to America's democratic institutions. But what has been less remarked upon is that it isn't at all impossible for Republicans to compete in fair elections. With just a slight moderation in policy and by putting up their strongest elected officials as leaders, they would easily be able to assemble a national majority sooner or later. Instead they are choosing Donald Trump, and trying to rig elections because that's the only way to stuff him down the nation's throat. Just consider the hugely popular Republican governors in multiple deep-blue states. In Maryland there is Larry Hogan, who was re-elected in 2018 with 55 percent of the vote; in Massachusetts there is Charlie Baker, who won in 2018 with 67 percent; and in Vermont (the home of socialist Bernie Sanders!) there is Phil Scott, who got 69 percent in 2020. Now, these governors' popularity is to some extent dependent on the peculiar circumstances of their states. In all of them the legislature is heavily dominated by Democrats, and many liberals clearly prefer to have a governor of the opposite party to provide a supposed check on one-party rule (though it's rarely worth bothering even on those terms; in Maryland and Massachusetts, especially, the Democratic machines are deeply corrupt and dead set against anything radical). That's how Mitt Romney was elected governor of Massachusetts years ago.
5-29-21 A new study suggests Trump's 2016 victory may have been a 'historical inevitability'
A new study combining historical data on demography and ideology in 21 Western democracies implies that the rise of right-wing populists like former President Donald Trump and events like Brexit "were not an abrupt departure from precedent, but rather the consequence of a 60-year-old international trend," The Economist writes. In other words, the paper, co-authored by Thomas Piketty, Amory Gethin, and Clara Martinez-Toledano, makes Trump's 2016 election victory "look like a historical inevitability." The main finding of the paper — which like any academic study has its critics — is that "income and education began diverging as predictors of ideology" decades ago. Back in 1955, for example, "both the richest and the most educated voters tended to support conservative parties," while "poorer and less-educated people mostly chose labor or social-democratic" parties. But over time, and with "striking" consistency, the most highly-educated voters moved toward the left-wing parties, while those with less schooling "slid the other way." The wealthiest voters maintained their support of conservative parties, giving the right a "coalition" of the rich and those with less education, paving the way for politics as you know them today. The shift appears to be global, Michigan State University's Matt Grossman noted on Twitter, but the United States "stands out as moving from almost no left/right division on education and a large division on income in 1970 to a large division on education and almost no division on income by 2010."
5-29-21 Republican 9/11 Commission chair warns GOP's Jan. 6 rejection sets a bad precedent
ormer New Jersey Gov. Thomas Kean (R), the former chair of the 9/11 Commission, weighed in on Republican senators' decision to block the creation of a similar exploration of the Jan. 6 Capitol riot. "It saddens me because there was no real, public reason for turning it down," he told The Guardian. "I guess some people were scared of what they'd find out. That's not a good reason for turning it down." Kean and his vice chair, former Rep. Lee Hamilton (D-Fla.) aren't viewing the news in a vacuum, however. Hamilton told USA Today that any investigation can get off-track, but "if you follow the arguments of the opponents, we would never investigate anything," while Kean added that "if we can't do it for this one, can we do it for [the handling COVID-19 pandemic]? That's very sad." In short, he told PBS NewsHour, Congress is setting the precedent that it is "incapable of telling the American people the truth about something very important that happened." Read more at The Guardian, USA Today, and PBS NewsHour.
5-29-21 Republicans block 9/11-style congressional probe of Capitol riot
Republicans in the US Senate have blocked a bill to establish a bipartisan commission to investigate the Capitol Hill riot. The measure passed the US House of Representatives last week. Members of ex-President Donald Trump's party said the riot is already being investigated by congressional panels. Democrats argued that forming a commission, similar to the one created after 9/11, would prevent any repeat of a similar invasion on the Capitol. Trump supporters stormed Congress on 6 January in a failed bid to overturn the certification of President Joe Biden's victory in November's election. The riot left five dead, including a Capitol police officer. Although 54 senators, including six Republicans, voted in favour of creating the commission, the bill failed. It needed 60 votes due to a rule called the filibuster where 60 of the 100 senators must vote in favour of a bill for it to pass. Speaking from outside an ice cream parlour in Ohio on Thursday, Mr Biden condemned Republicans, saying: "I can't imagine anyone voting against establishing a commission on the greatest assault since the Civil War on the Capitol." Also before the vote, the mother of police officer Brian Sicknick - who died a day after the attack from a stroke - visited Capitol Hill along with her son's girlfriend, Sandra Garza, to lobby lawmakers to support the commission. "Not having a January 6 Commission to look into exactly what occurred is a slap in the faces of all the officers who did their jobs that day," said Gladys Sicknick. She suggested that any members of Congress opposed to the bill should visit her son's grave in Arlington National Cemetery, just outside the US capital. More than 440 suspected participants in the attack have been arrested and officials say they expect to charge another 100. The investigation is one of the most extensive ever undertaken by the Department of Justice, and the number of cases has overwhelmed the Washington DC court system.
5-29-21 Biden budget: President sets out $6tn spending plan
US President Joe Biden has released his first annual budget - a $6tn (£4.2tn) spending plan that includes steep tax increases for wealthier Americans. The bumper proposal would include huge new social programmes and investment in the fight against climate change. But it needs approval from Congress, where Republican Senator Lindsey Graham condemned it as "insanely expensive". Under the plan, debt would reach 117% of GDP by 2031, surpassing levels during World War Two. That would be in spite of at least $3tn in proposed tax increases on corporations, capital gains and the top income tax bracket. Former President Donald Trump, a Republican, also ran up the deficit each year he was in office, and his final annual spending proposal had a price tag of $4.8tn. The Biden budget includes a $1.5tn request for operating expenditures for the Pentagon and other government departments. It also incorporates two plans he has previously publicised: his $2.3tn jobs plan and a $1.8tn families plan. Mr Biden, a Democrat, said his budget "invests directly in the American people and will strengthen our nation's economy and improve our long-run fiscal health". The White House says the proposal will help grow the economy from the bottom up and middle out. This budget promises: More than $800bn for the fight against climate change, including investments in clean energy, $200bn to provide free pre-school places for all three and four-year-olds, $109bn for two years of free community college for all Americans, $225bn for a national paid family and medical leave programme - bringing the US in line with comparable wealthy nations $115bn for roads and bridges and $160bn for public transit and railways, $100bn to improve access to broadband internet for every American household, The budget also has a noticeable absence: the Hyde Amendment, a federal provision that says taxpayer money cannot fund abortions in US states except in cases of rape and incest.
5-29-21 Footage shows US flight attendant being attacked by passenger
A dispute over Southwest Airlines' mask policy led to a passenger punching a flight attendant. Incidents like these have been on the rise in the US, according to the Federal Aviation Administration. There have been 2,500 reports of "unruly behaviour" by passengers in 2021, says the agency, compared to 100-150 during a typical year. Most of the incidents were related to the federal mask mandate.
5-28-21 WHO official pleads for a 'depoliticized' investigation into the origins of COVID-19
The investigation into the origins of the coronavirus is being "poisoned by politics," said Dr. Michael Ryan, executive director of the World Health Organization's Health Emergencies Programme, at a press briefing on Friday. "If you expect scientists to do their work ... and actually get the answers that you want ... we would ask that this be done in a depoliticized environment where science and health is the objective," not politics, he went on. WHO Executive Director Dr. Michael Ryan says media discourse about the origins of COVID is “quite disturbing.”“This whole process has been poisoned by politics,” he says. Ryan then frustratedly pointed to a lack of concrete and informative "evidence" in media speculation in the last few days, something he called "quite disturbing." Ryan's comments come just days after President Biden requested the U.S. intelligence community "redouble their efforts to collect and analyze information" on the origins of COVID-19 and "report back" to the president in 90 days, breathing life back into the once-taboo notion the virus escaped a lab in China as a result of human error. As it stands, there is no clear community consensus as to where exactly the pathogen originated, although Ryan was sure to note "all hypotheses for the origin of the virus remain on the table," per ABC News.
5-28-21 The GOP's groveling contest
George P. Bush and Ken Paxton are the latest Republicans humiliating themselves for Trump's approval. Donald Trump may no longer be president, but he still maintains a vice grip on the Republican Party. Any potential aspirant to power must pay fealty to him, even if it means stripping themselves of their dignity. Most recently, Trump has turned next year's Texas attorney general race into a race to the bottom of self-respect, and both potential candidates have filled their mouths with saliva to lick his boot heels. Trump announced Tuesday he planned to endorse either incumbent Ken Paxton or state land commissioner George P. Bush. Whatever decision he makes, either man will have earned this dubious reward. Last year, in support of Trump's lies that he won the election, Paxton filed a baseless lawsuit against Pennsylvania, Georgia, Wisconsin, and Michigan, hoping to get the Supreme Court to block the states from voting in the Electoral College. The lawsuit was understandably thrown out. It also raised questions as to whether Paxton, who is the subject of an FBI investigation, launched the stunt in pursuit of a presidential pardon. Paxton even spoke at Trump's "Stop the Steal" rally on Jan. 6, which stirred Trump's supporters into such a frenzy that they raided the Capitol. Of course, Trump didn't pardon Paxton before leaving office two weeks later, and if Trump winds up siding with Bush, Paxton would have debased himself for nothing. But if Trump backs Bush, it will only be because the latter sold his family out. As his name would suggest, Bush is the son of Jeb Bush, the man whom Trump relentlessly pilloried as "low-energy" during the 2016 Republican presidential primary campaign. Trump also went after Bush's mother, Columba, who is from Mexico, when in 2015, he retweeted someone saying "#JebBush has to like the Mexican Illegals because of his wife." Trump then said he was surprised that Jeb did not push harder for an apology to his wife during a subsequent debate.
5-28-21 Biden is reportedly planning a massive asylum overhaul at the southern border
A new Biden administration immigration proposal could lower waiting periods for asylum seekers at the southern border by years, according to government documents obtained by Buzzfeed News. The updated process as outlined in the draft policy seeks to curb immigration court backlogs and expedite new claims. A sharp "departure" from that of the Trump administration, which reportedly sought to "block" asylum protections, the new plan could "fundamentally change" border dynamics and become President Biden's "most consequential immigration policy to date," writes Buzzfeed. Depending on how it is implemented, the plan could represent President Joe Biden’s most consequential immigration policy to date and fundamentally change the dynamics at the southern border by preventing asylum cases from taking years to complete in court. To circumvent the pileup of more than a million immigration court cases, Biden's proposal shifts adjudication for new asylum claims from immigration judges to asylum officers, Buzzfeed reports. If an asylum seeker's claim is denied by an officer, the individual can appeal the decision in front of an immigration judge. A third appeal "would also be possible," Buzzfeed reports. The current asylum processing system is "unfair" and "overwhelmed," per the draft policy, which adds that "a system that takes years to get to a result is not a working system." The goal of the new, proposed process is to replace "a broken system with a more efficient one, adjudicating asylum claims expeditiously without [compromising] fairness." The Biden admin has been alluding for months about coming asylum changes. According to a draft policy, asylum officers will be given the power to decide if a migrant qualifies for protections (instead of an immigration judge).A major, major shift, and a huge get by @HaleazizThe new policy has yet to be finalized, with implementation, funding and scope still unclear.
5-28-21 Covid-19 news: More than 38% of new UK cases are due to Indian variant
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. Nearly 7000 cases of the coronavirus variant identified in India have been confirmed across the UK. As of 27 May, 38.5 per cent of new coronavirus infections in the UK were cases of the B.1.617.2 variant of the virus first identified in India, according to data from Public Health England. Mass testing and vaccination drives are continuing in areas most affected by the variant, including in Bolton, UK health minister Matt Hancock told a press briefing on the same day. Public Health England data shows that 6959 cases of the variant had been confirmed in the UK in total by 27 May, up from 3424 cases the previous week, and Hancock said the variant could account for up to three-quarters of all UK cases. The European Union’s medicines regulator authorised the Pfizer/BioNTech covid-19 vaccine for use in children aged 12 to 15. It is the first covid-19 vaccine to be authorised by the agency for use in children. The US Food and Drug Administration authorised the vaccine for emergency use in children 12 and older on 10 May. Japan extended emergency coronavirus measures in Tokyo and several other regions, as the country is seeing record numbers of severely ill covid-19 patients in hospitals. The state of emergency was due to expire at the end of May, but has now been extended until at least 20 June. The Olympics are scheduled to begin in Tokyo on 23 July. The World Health Organization (WHO) is appealing to countries that have vaccinated their most at-risk groups to accelerate sharing of covid-19 vaccine doses with other nations, particularly in Africa. At least 20 million doses of Oxford/AstraZeneca covid-19 vaccine are needed within the next six weeks to cover people in Africa who are due for second doses, said Matshidiso Moeti, WHO regional director for Africa, at an online briefing on 27 May. California launched a covid-19 vaccine lottery to incentivise people to get vaccinated. Under the programme, called Vax for the Win, 10 residents of the state who have received at least one dose of a vaccine will win $1.5 million each. Ohio, Colorado and Oregon are among other US states offering monetary prizes to people who have received a covid-19 vaccine, in an effort to tackle vaccine hesitancy.
5-28-21 President Biden to propose $6tn spending plan
US President Joe Biden will propose his 2022 budget on Friday - a $6tn (£4.24tn) plan that would add more than $1tn annually to the federal deficit. The sweeping plan, which tops Donald Trump's $4.8tn proposal last year, promises infrastructure upgrades and an expanded social safety net. The proposal will be given to Congress and needs approval to be implemented. If passed, it will bring the US to spending levels not seen since World War Two. The budget provides a picture of a president's priorities. In this case, Mr Biden's proposal reflects his vision of an expanded government with spending levels to match. President Biden's plans include more money for roads, bridges, broadband internet and water pipes. The surge of new spending would also allocate $200bn over 10 years to provide free pre-school to all three and four-year-olds and $109bn to offer two years of free community college to all Americans. Even though the Democrat will propose a number of tax increases and other methods to raise revenue, the plan would bring the national debt to record highs within the next few years. White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said on Thursday that the administration's proposals - decried by Republicans as too costly - "will put us on better financial footing over time". Congress has until the end of September to pass new spending bills. If they fail to pass a new budget, the government could partially shut down. Mr Biden's Democrats have a narrow majority in the House, and a meagre one-seat advantage over Republicans in the 100-seat Senate. Unlike most other bills, budget measures can be passed with just 51 votes instead of the 60 typically required meaning he might be able to pass some of his plans without Republican support. The budget proposal comes as the White House struggles to negotiate a deal with Democrats and Republicans on the American Jobs Plan, an infrastructure bill that Biden has pitched as a "once in a generation investment".
5-28-21 Open Skies Treaty: US tells Russia it will not rejoin key arms control deal
The US has told Russia it will not rejoin an arms control deal that permits unarmed aerial flights over dozens of participating countries. The state department said the Open Skies Treaty "has been undermined by Russia's violations" and its failure to return to compliance. Russia denies the allegations, and the country is also expected to withdraw from the treaty this year. The accord allows short-notice flights to monitor military activity. More than 30 nations participate in the treaty which came into force in 2002. "The United States regrets that the Treaty on Open Skies has been undermined by Russia's violations," the state department said on Thursday. "In concluding its review of the treaty, the United States therefore does not intend to seek to rejoin it, given Russia's failure to take any actions to return to compliance. Under Donald Trump's presidency Washington withdrew from the treaty. As a presidential candidate, Joe Biden called the move short-sighted. America's Thursday announcement means only one major arms control treaty between the two nuclear powers remains in place - the New Start treaty. It sets limits on deployments of strategic nuclear warheads and delivery systems. The announcement also comes as President Biden and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin are preparing for a summit in Geneva, Switzerland, on 16 June.
5-28-21 Russian hackers target aid groups in new cyber-attack, says Microsoft
Microsoft says another wave of Russian cyber-attacks has targeted government agencies and human rights groups in 24 countries, most in the US. It said about 3,000 email accounts at more than 150 different organisations had been attacked this week. The group responsible was the same one that carried out last year's SolarWinds attacks, which Russia's Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR) is accused of orchestrating, Microsoft said. Russia has denied both cyber-attacks. The Kremlin on Friday said it had no knowledge of the latest hacks, and called on the US tech giant to answer further questions, including how it was linked to Russia. In a blog post published late on Thursday, Microsoft said the new attacks targeted government agencies involved in foreign policy as part of "intelligence gathering efforts". It said at least a quarter of the organisations targeted were involved in international development, humanitarian and human rights work. While most were in the US, targeted victims spanned at least 24 countries. According to Microsoft, Nobelium, a group originating in Russia, launched this week's attacks by gaining access to an email marketing account used by the US federal government's aid agency, USAID. Hackers then sent emails that looked authentic but included a link which, when clicked, inserted a malicious file enabling the stealing of data and infecting other computers on a network. A spokesperson for the US Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (Cisa) told CBS News authorities were aware of the attack and were trying "to better understand the extent of the compromise and assist potential victims". Microsoft said many of the attacks targeting its customers were blocked automatically. It was not immediately clear how many of the attempts led to successful intrusions.
5-28-21 Johnson & Johnson one-shot coronavirus vaccine approved for use in UK
A single-shot coronavirus vaccine from Johnson & Johnson has been approved for use in the UK. The vaccine, developed by Johnson & Johnson’s pharmaceutical arm Janssen, has been shown to be 67 per cent effective overall at preventing moderate to severe covid-19, with studies suggesting it also offers complete protection from admission to hospital and death. Announcing that the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) had approved the safety of the jab, health secretary Matt Hancock said: “This is a further boost to the UK’s hugely successful vaccination programme, which has already saved over 13,000 lives, and means that we now have four safe and effective vaccines approved to help protect people from this awful virus. “As Janssen is a single-dose vaccine, it will play an important role in the months to come as we redouble our efforts to encourage everyone to get their jabs and potentially begin a booster programme later this year.” The UK has ordered 20 million doses of the vaccine, which England’s deputy chief medical officer, Jonathan Van-Tam, has previously said could be used for hard-to-reach groups of people, where recalling them for a second jab is not always successful. The MHRA is thought to have held back from early approval of the vaccine after concerns were raised in the US about a link to extremely rare blood clots. The clots are similar to those seen in a very small proportion of people having the Oxford/AstraZeneca jab. In April, the European Medicines Agency said a warning about unusual blood clots with low blood platelet count should be added to the product information for the vaccine. This followed eight cases of blood clots in more than seven million people vaccinated in the US.
5-28-21 Patrisse Cullors: Black Lives Matter co-founder resigns
Black Lives Matter's co-founder says she is resigning from its foundation, but not because of what she called right-wing attempts to discredit her. Patrisse Cullors said Friday would be her last day at the foundation, which she has led for nearly six years. The 37-year-old activist's finances came under scrutiny last month after it was reported she owned four homes. Black Lives Matter started as a hashtag in 2013 and has since become a global movement. Ms Cullors said she would step down from the Black Lives Matter Global Network to focus on her forthcoming second book, An Abolitionist's Handbook, and a TV development deal with Warner Bros highlighting black stories. In a statement, she said: "With smart, experienced and committed people supporting the organization during this transition, I know that BLMGNF is in good hands. "The foundation's agenda remains the same - eradicate white supremacy and build life-affirming institutions." Ms Cullors told the AP news agency her resignation had been planned for more than a year and was not related to claims that she had misused donations to acquire her property portfolio. There is no evidence to suggest that she had done so. "Those were right-wing attacks that tried to discredit my character, and I don't operate off of what the right thinks about me," she said. The BLM Foundation told AP in February that it had raised $90m (£63m) amid last year's racial justice protests following the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Minnesota. The foundation said it ended 2020 with a balance of more than $60m, after operating expenses, grants to black-led organisations and other expenses. Last month the New York Post reported that Ms Cullors - a self-described Marxist - had bought a $1.4m luxury home in Topanga Canyon, near Malibu, and owned three other homes, including a custom ranch in Georgia. Facebook banned users from sharing the story, citing privacy concerns, and a black journalist said he was locked out of his Twitter account after he posted the article.
5-28-21 Germany officially recognises colonial-era Namibia genocide
Germany has officially acknowledged committing genocide during its colonial occupation of Namibia, and announced financial aid worth more than €1.1bn (£940m; $1.34bn). German colonisers killed tens of thousands of Herero and Nama people there in early 20th Century massacres. Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said his country was asking Namibia and victims' descendants for forgiveness. But activists say the aid is not enough to address the suffering inflicted. The money will apparently be paid out over 30 years through spending on infrastructure, healthcare and training programmes benefiting the impacted communities. "We will now officially refer to these events as what they are from today's perspective: genocide," Mr Maas said, adding that colonial-era actions should be discussed "without sparing or glossing over". A spokesman for the Namibian government told AFP news agency Germany's recognition was "a first step in the right direction". Friday's statement came after five years of negotiations with Namibia - which was under German occupation from 1884 to 1915. The atrocities committed have been described by historians as "the forgotten genocide" of the early 20th Century, in what was then known as German South West Africa. The UN defines genocide as a number of acts, including killing, committed with the intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnic, racial or religious group. The genocide began in 1904 after a Herero and Nama rebellion over German seizures of their land and cattle. The head of the military administration there, Lothar von Trotha, called for the extermination of the population in response. Survivors from the Herero and Nama population were forced into the desert and later placed in concentration camps where they were exploited for labour. Many died of disease, exhaustion and starvation with some subject to sexual exploitation and medical experimentation. It is thought up to 80% of the indigenous populations died during the genocide - with a death toll in the tens of thousands.
5-27-21 Poll: Majority of Americans believe Jan. 6 Capitol riot was an attack on democracy
A majority of Americans think that when supporters of former President Donald Trump stormed the Capitol on Jan. 6 as lawmakers voted to certify President Biden's election win, it was an attack on democracy, according to a new Quinnipiac University poll released Thursday. Of the respondents, 55 percent said it was an "attack on democracy that should never be forgotten," while 39 percent said "too much is being made of" the riot and it's "time to move on." Looking at it through a political lens, 84 percent of Democrats surveyed said the riot was an attack on democracy and 74 percent of Republicans said too much is being made of it. Dozens of law enforcement officers were injured during the violent incident, and one of the rioters was shot and killed by police as she attempted to enter the Speaker's Lobby through a broken door. The House passed a bill to establish a bipartisan independent commission to investigate the Jan. 6 riot, but Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) is encouraging Republicans to block the legislation.
5-27-21 To find answers about the 1921 race massacre, Tulsa digs up its painful past
A newly discovered mass grave will be excavated this summer. n May 30, 1921, Dick Rowland, a 19-year-old Black shoe shiner, walked into an elevator in downtown Tulsa, Okla. What happened next is unclear, but it sparked the Tulsa race massacre, one of the worst episodes of racial violence in U.S. history, with a death toll estimated in the hundreds. A century later, researchers are still trying to find the bodies of the victims. A new excavation has brought renewed hope that these individuals could one day be found and identified. By some accounts, Rowland may have tripped and bumped the arm of a 17-year-old white elevator operator named Sarah Page. Others said he stepped on her foot. Some recalled hearing her scream. Others wondered if the two had been sweet on each other and had a sort of lovers’ quarrel. Whatever happened, it was a dangerous time for a young Black man to be caught in a precarious situation with a young white woman. Tulsa’s population had skyrocketed to over 100,000 people. Most of the city’s African American residents, about 11,000, lived in a section called Greenwood. The neighborhood’s concentration of thriving entrepreneurs earned it the nickname “Black Wall Street” from Booker T. Washington in the early 1910s. Greenwood became an oasis from racial prejudice and violence, says Alicia Odewale, a native Tulsan and archaeologist at the University of Tulsa. “You could buy land, create businesses and raise families.” But amid its prosperity, the city was extremely segregated: Oklahoma passed a Jim Crow law immediately after it became a state in 1907, the Ku Klux Klan had a hand in local politics, and lynching was common. Tulsa reflected the racial tensions and violence across the United States after World War I. “There’s sort of a national pandemic of racial terror that’s happening, and Tulsa is unfortunately one city among a hundred,” Odewale says. The day after the elevator incident, Rowland was arrested on a dubious charge of assault. Rumors circulated that he might be lynched. That night white mobs invaded Greenwood, setting fires, destroying property, looting shops and murdering Black residents. Instead of protecting the neighborhood, law enforcement handed out weapons and deputized white attackers. Machine gun fire echoed through Greenwood’s streets, and private planes dropped explosives and fired on those who fled.
5-27-21 Your COVID-19 immunity could last 'possibly a lifetime'
Two new studies suggest COVID-19 immunity following infection could last a year, or "possibly a lifetime, improving over time especially following vaccination" The New York Times reported on Wednesday, hopefully allaying "lingering fears that protection against the virus will be short-lived." When taken together, the studies suggest most (but not all) vaccinated individuals who were previously infected with COVID-19 "will not need boosters," wrote the Times. Those who were vaccinated without having previously contracted the virus will likely need the extra dose. Experts expect immunity in these individuals to "play out very differently," as "immune memory" may look different following vaccination compared to natural infection. "The papers are consistent with the growing body of literature that suggests that immunity elicited by infection and vaccination for SARS-CoV-2 appears to be long-lived," said Scott Hensley, an immunologist not involved in the studies. Dr. Michel Nussenzweig, a researcher for one of the studies, added he expects antibodies in those who were previously infected and later vaccinated to "last for a long time." Results, however, also underscore the idea that previous infection is not enough to protect individuals long-term on its own — even those who have recovered should be vaccinated, wrote the Times. Read more at The New York Times.
5-27-21 Covid-19 news: Possible cause of rare vaccine-linked blood clots found
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. Preliminary research suggests rare blood clots linked to some covid-19 vaccines may be related to their DNA delivery mechanism. Researchers may have identified a cause of the rare blood clots associated with the Oxford/AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson (J&J) covid-19 vaccines. Preliminary research by Rolf Marschalek at Goethe University in Frankfurt and his colleagues indicates the problem is related to the method by which these vaccines deliver DNA instructions for the assembly of the coronavirus spike protein inside cells. This so-called viral vector technology is used in both the Astrazeneca and J&J covid-19 vaccines. US president Joe Biden has ordered the US intelligence community to increase its efforts in investigating the origins of the coronavirus pandemic. “I have asked for areas of further inquiry that may be required, including specific questions for China,” Biden said in a statement on 26 May. On 23 May, the Wall Street Journal reported that three researchers from China’s Wuhan Institute of Virology sought hospital care in November 2019 with symptoms consistent with covid-19. China’s Foreign Ministry and the director of the Wuhan National Biosafety Lab denied the report, and a World Health Organization investigation previously concluded that it was “extremely unlikely” that the virus originated in a laboratory. The head of the Japanese Doctors Union, Naoto Ueyama, said that holding the Olympic Games in Tokyo in July as planned could lead to the emergence of a “Tokyo Olympic strain” of coronavirus. Japanese officials, Olympics organisers and the International Olympic Committee have said the Olympics will go ahead with strict virus-prevention measures in place. But concerns remain about the risks posed by athletes and officials from around the world converging in Japan, Ueyama told a news conference on 27 May. Covid-19 hospitalisations in England have increased slightly, according to the weekly national influenza and covid-19 surveillance report from Public Health England (PHE) . Hospital admission rates for covid-19 rose slightly to 0.79 per 100,000 people, up from 0.75 per 100,000 people the previous week. “This is a reminder that we still have a way to go and need to remain cautious,” said Yvonne Doyle, PHE medical director, in a statement. Germany plans to offer a first dose of covid-19 vaccine to all children aged 12 and above by the end of August, according to a draft health ministry report seen by Reuters. The European Medicines Agency is expected to make a decision on whether to authorise the Pfizer/BioNTech covid-19 vaccine for use in children aged 12 to 15 on 28 May.
5-27-21 Tulsa massacre: The search for victims, 100 years on
A hundred years after white mobs rampaged through an affluent black neighbourhood, the search for bodies is a deeply personal mission for one scientist. "My job," says Dr Phoebe Stubblefield, "is to let the bones speak." Now the forensic anthropologist is at the forefront of the search for victims of the 1921 Tulsa race massacre. It is a professional - and a personal - mission for the research scientist at the University of Florida. "There are not very many black forensic anthropologists," she says. "For Tulsa, it's this rare chance of let a black person use black bodies to tell their story." As the centenary of the Tulsa massacre approaches, it remains the worst single incident of racial violence in US history. Against a backdrop of racial segregation, Ku Klux Klan rallies and lynchings, on 31 May 1921 armed white mobs went on the rampage in the prosperous black neighbourhood of Greenwood. Dozens, if not hundreds, were killed. Thousands were injured. Homes and businesses were looted and burned to the ground. Within 16 hours the area had been obliterated. Dr Phoebe Stubblefield has been working with historians and archaeologists to try to find the bodies of the victims since 1998. It has been a slow, painstaking and often frustrating process. Searches failed, but finally, two years ago, they identified an area of Oaklawn Cemetery in north Tulsa near the Greenwood area where the massacre took place. Ground-penetrating radar was used to survey the site. And in October 2020 they hit a mixture of wood and bone. "We had hit an area of coffins. While we were just trying to dig over them we exposed a little bit of cranium material...and I saw that and I said 'we've found a man's burial. I think we've found them'." They discovered 12 wooden coffins, each laid side by side, containing human remains. But scientists think more bodies could be concealed there. This was not just a burial pit. It was a mass grave. Dr Stubblefield had hoped to examine the human remains in the coffins at the site. But they are fragile and the decision was taken that analysis needed to be carried out indoors, in a climate-controlled laboratory. The bodies will now be exhumed in June. When she comes to study them, Dr Stubblefield says she will be looking for "evidence of gunshot wounds or bullets or lead scatter inside the skeleton" to help determine if the remains are the result of the massacre. Back in 1921 many of the victims died from gunshot wounds, she says, and because there were no post-mortem examantions, there's a good chance the bullets will still be there. (Webmaster's comment: The killing of blacks is still being carried on today!)
5-27-21 US and China trade officials hold 'candid' first talks of Biden era
The US and China's top trade negotiators have held "candid, pragmatic" talks, in their first meeting under the Biden presidency. US Trade Representative Katherine Tai and Chinese Vice Premier Liu He held a virtual meeting to discuss matters. Both sides said they discussed the importance of the trade relationship between the two countries. The talks follow the Trump administration's combative stance towards China and resulting trade war. The Office of the United States Trade Representative said that Ms Tai and Mr Liu "discussed the guiding principles of the Biden-Harris Administration's worker-centered trade policy and her ongoing review of the U.S.-China trade relationship, while also raising issues of concern." Both sides said they had agreed to continue their negotiations. The Chinese Commerce Ministry said in a statement that both sides held "candid, pragmatic and constructive exchanges with an attitude of equality and mutual respect", according to a report by state media outlet the Global Times. It added that both sides saw "the development of bilateral trade [as] very important." Ahead of the talks Ms Tai told the Reuters news agency that the US still faced "very large challenges" in its trade relationship with China. A bitter trade war under former President Donald Trump saw tariffs placed on a range of goods traded between the US and China. The world's two biggest economies signed a so-called "phase 1" agreement in January last year. In that pact Beijing promised to increase its purchases of US products and services by at least $200bn (£142bn) over 2020 and 2021. Ms Tai has said she is now looking at whether the terms of the deal have been met by Beijing, as some experts have suggested that China has fallen up to 40% short on its agreement to buy American goods. So far, US President Joe Biden has not pulled back on the tough trade messaging to Beijing of his predecessor. President Biden has insisted that existing tariffs will be kept in place for now as he looks to boost the US economy, which was hit hard early in the coronavirus pandemic but is now recovering. (Webmaster's comment: Why should the Chinese buy more American goods? We are behind China technologically and our goods are shoddy compared to theirs.)
5-27-21 Here are answers to 3 persistent questions about the coronavirus’s origins
Controversy is once again swirling around the origins of the coronavirus behind the COVID-19 pandemic, rekindling calls to pin down just where it came from: nature or a lab. On May 26, U.S. President Joe Biden announced he had asked the intelligence community “to redouble their efforts to collect and analyze information that could bring us closer to a definitive conclusion.” He requested a report in 90 days. Some leading virus experts also have called for an open and transparent investigation. “We must take hypotheses about both natural and laboratory spillovers seriously until we have sufficient data,” the researchers wrote May 14 in Science. The lab-leak idea garnered renewed speculation after several news articles questioned whether the pandemic started after a spillover from a lab, a scenario described in a May 23 Wall Street Journal story alleging that three researchers at the Wuhan Institute of Virology fell ill with COVID-19–like symptoms in November 2019. It’s still unknown what illness — out of many possible respiratory diseases — those people had. A March 30 World Health Organization report had previously concluded that SARS-CoV-2 probably spread to humans from animals rather than from a lab (SN: 4/1/21). But WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus has emphasized that the hunt is far from over, and that all hypotheses remain on the table. With few answers, there’s abundant uncertainty and confusion. Here we answer three key questions that keep bubbling up. 1. Why does the lab-leak hypothesis persist? The biggest reason is that we still don’t know where the coronavirus came from. Where there are gaps in knowledge, myriad hypotheses rush in. 2. What evidence will it take to prove where the virus came from? Finding a virus nearly identical to SARS-CoV-2 in a wild animal — whether bats or other animals — would go a long way toward proving that the virus came from nature. But that’s a difficult pursuit that can take years (SN: 3/18/21). 3. Why do we care, anyway? Figuring out where the newest coronavirus came from is a step toward preventing large outbreaks from happening again. That’s true no matter where the virus came from. Whether the outbreak got its start in nature or after a lab accident, the virus still probably came from an animal originally, because labs often retrieve viruses from the wild to study them.
5-27-21 Covid: China hits back as US revisits Wuhan lab leak theory
China has denounced US efforts to further investigate whether Covid-19 came from a Chinese lab. US President Joe Biden has called on intelligence officials to "redouble" their work to find out how the virus was first transmitted to humans. China's foreign ministry accused the US of "political manipulation and blame shifting". It has rejected any link between Covid-19 and a virus research lab in the Chinese city of Wuhan. Covid-19 was first detected in Wuhan in late 2019. Since then, more than 168 million cases have been confirmed worldwide and about 3.5 million deaths reported. Authorities linked early Covid cases to a seafood market in Wuhan, leading scientists to theorise that the virus had first passed to humans from animals. But recent US media reports have suggested growing evidence the virus could instead have emerged from a laboratory in China, perhaps through an accidental leak. In a statement on Wednesday, President Biden said he had asked for a report on the origins of Covid-19 after taking office, "including whether it emerged from human contact with an infected animal or from a laboratory accident". On receiving it this month, he asked for "additional follow-up". Mr Biden said the majority of the intelligence community had "coalesced" around those two scenarios, but "do not believe there is sufficient information to assess one to be more likely than the other". He said he had now asked agencies to "redouble their efforts to collect and analyse information that could bring us closer to a definitive conclusion". The announcement angered Chinese officials. Foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said it showed the US "does not care about facts or truth, and has zero interest in a serious science-based study of origins". "Their aim is to use the pandemic to pursue stigmatisation, political manipulation and blame shifting. They are being disrespectful to science, irresponsible to people's lives and counter-productive to the concerted efforts to fight the virus," he said. The spokesman also said US intelligence agencies had a "dark history" of spreading misinformation. A statement from the Chinese embassy in the US, which did not directly refer to Mr Biden's order, said "smear campaigns and blame shifting are making a comeback". (Webmaster's comment: Americans are looking for any excuse for more hate crimes and killing of our Asian citizens.)
5-27-21 German scientist believes he's found solution to blood clots linked to AstraZeneca, Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccines
Rolf Marschalek, a professor at Goethe University in Frankfurt, Germany, claims he's identified the cause of rare blood clots linked to the COVID-19 vaccines developed by Johnson & Johnson and the University of Oxford and AstraZeneca. Subsequently, he also believes he's found a way for the producers to modify their shots so the clots no longer occur, the Financial Times reports. Marschalek said his research zeroed in on the vaccines' adenovirus vectors, which "send the spike protein into the cell nucleus rather than the cytosol fluid inside the cell where the virus normally produces proteins." (The Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines, on the other hand, don't enter the nucleus.) The theory is that once the spike protein enters the nucleus, some parts splice and create mutant versions, FT reports. Hypothetically, those mutant proteins are then "secreted by cells into the body" where they may trigger potentially fatal blood clots. The research, Marschalek argues, suggests the vaccine developers could "modify the sequence of the spike protein" so that it doesn't split apart. He said Johnson & Johnson has already contacted his lab "to ask for guidance," though other scientists are urging patience. "This is still a hypothesis that needs to be proven by experimental data," Johannes Oldenburg, a professor at the university of Bonn in Germany, told FT. Read more at the Financial Times.
5-27-21 Melbourne lockdown: Fears over outbreak sparks restrictions
Australia's second most populous state Victoria will enter a seven-day lockdown to counter a fast-spreading outbreak in its capital, Melbourne. The lockdown will begin at midnight on Thursday (14:00 GMT). Authorities have so far found 26 cases, and identified 150 sites where people may have been exposed to the virus. There is growing anxiety over the outbreak which reminds many locals of a devastating second wave that swept the state last year. Victoria's acting Premier James Merlino said the outbreak involved a highly contagious strain of the virus, the B.1.617 variant. A returned traveller was infected with the strain, which Mr Merlino said was spreading "faster than we have ever recorded". Cases have been found across the state with links to a large number of venues, including packed football games at stadiums in Melbourne. "With 10,000 primary and secondary contacts of cases, with more than 150 exposure sites right around the state of Victoria, we need to act now," Mr Merlino said. "If we wait too long, this thing will get away from us." Melbourne has been there before. And this is precisely why there's a great deal of nervousness and anxiety in Australia's second city this evening as it prepares for another strict lockdown. Photos of empty supermarket shelves have circulated on social media with someone tweeting: "Here we go again!" Others are sympathising with the city saying: "Take a deep breath Melbourne." Compared to the rest of the world, 26 cases is extremely low - but there are a number of worrying factors. There are 10,000 primary and secondary contacts, so there's big potential for the number of community cases to increase. The circle of exposure sites has also widened including regional Victoria which will be a big and complex job for contact tracers. More crucially, not enough people have been vaccinated. Which has brought to light once again how slow, and frankly, at times shambolic Australia's vaccine roll out has been.
5-26-21 Biden gives U.S. intelligence community 90 days to report on COVID-19 origin theories
President Biden on Wednesday issued a statement on the investigation of the origins of the coronavirus that sparked the COVID-19 pandemic, calling on the U.S. intelligence community to "redouble their efforts to collect and analyze information" and "report back to me in 90 days." Initially, the virus was believed to have jumped to humans naturally from an animal host. The scientific community still widely subscribes to this theory, but as time has gone on without any definitive answers, the notion that the virus began to spread after a laboratory accident (the theory is not to be confused with claims that the virus was a deliberately released bioweapon) in Wuhan, China, is now considered more plausible by prominent figures, or at least plausible enough that they believe it warrants a deeper look than investigators from the Chinese government and the World Health Organization have given it so far. Indeed, Biden's statement suggests the intelligence community's only consensus, at the moment, is that there isn't "sufficient evidence" to pin down one scenario as the most likely.
5-26-21 Solving COVID: May 26, 2021
America's vaccine milestone, Pfizer's combo drug, and more
- Where things stand: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention this week confirmed that half of U.S. adults are fully vaccinated against COVID-19. That amounts to 129 million people; 160 million Americans have received at least one shot.
- Moderna vaccine proves 100 percent effective in ages 12 to 17: Moderna announced Tuesday that its COVID-19 vaccine was 100 percent effective two weeks after the second dose in adolescents aged 12 to 17. No fully vaccinated participants got sick.
- Pfizer tests COVID-19 booster, pneumococcal vaccine combo: Pfizer announced Monday that it had started a study on the "coadministration" of its pneumococcal vaccine candidate and a third "booster dose" of the COVID-19 vaccine it developed with German partner BioNTech.
- 60-second COVID-19 breathalyzer test provisionally approved in Singapore: A new 60-second coronavirus breathalyzer test has been provisionally approved for use alongside antigen rapid tests in Singapore, Reuters reported.
- Study: Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine effective against coronavirus variant first detected in India: Two weeks after the second dose, the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine was 88 percent effective against symptomatic disease from a coronavirus variant first identified in India that is spreading in the United Kingdom and could soon become the dominant strain there, a study by Public Health England found.
5-26-21 Covid-19 news: A third of health burden may come from lasting effects
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. Researchers estimate that up to 30 per cent of covid-19 health burden could be due to lasting effects requiring long-term care. As much as 30 per cent of the health burden of covid-19 could be a result of lasting effects that need long-term care, rather than deaths, according to Anna Vassall and Andrew Briggs at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine. They estimated this using measures known as disability-adjusted life years and quality-adjusted life years that capture the impact of ill health on a person’s life course. It’s “a very rough first estimate based on simple assumptions”, they write in an article published in Nature. The US, Australia, Japan and Portugal are among countries calling for a more in-depth investigation into the origins of the covid-19 pandemic. On 23 May, the Wall Street Journal reported that three researchers from China’s Wuhan Institute of Virology sought hospital care in November 2019 with symptoms consistent with covid-19. China’s Foreign Ministry and the director of the Wuhan National Biosafety Lab denied the report, and a World Health Organization investigation previously concluded that a laboratory origin of the virus was “extremely unlikely”. A lawyer for the European Union accused AstraZeneca of failing to respect its contract with the bloc for the supply of covid-19 vaccines and asked a Belgian court to impose a fine on the company. The EU is seeking €10 for each day of delay for each dose as compensation, plus an additional penalty of at least €10 million for each breach of the contract, the bloc’s lawyer, Rafael Jafferali, told a Brussels court on 26 May.
5-26-21 How effective are the different vaccines against covid-19 variants?
IT SEEMS that every time we think we are turning the tide in the coronavirus pandemic, another new variant emerges. The latest threat is the B.1.617.2 variant that is playing a large role in the terrible outbreak in India and is spreading in many other nations. The big question is, will existing vaccines work well enough to prevent major new outbreaks? We already know that several vaccines are somewhat less effective at preventing symptomatic infections by new variants. For B.1.617.2, the drop in efficacy appears to be small, but even a small drop matters when most people are only partially vaccinated or unvaccinated, says Deepti Gurdasani at Queen Mary University of London. “Any degree of escape at this point in time is concerning,” she says. A drop in efficacy not only means vaccinated people have a higher risk of being infected, it also makes it harder to reach the herd immunity threshold – beyond which the virus cannot spread widely – via vaccination. What’s more, variants that are more transmissible raise this threshold, making it even harder to reach. There is growing evidence that B.1.617.2 is more transmissible than the B.1.1.7 variant first identified in the UK. On the plus side, existing vaccines still appear to provide substantial protection against serious illness or death for all variants. “All these vaccines tend to be able to limit severe infection and hospitalisation against those different variants,” says Jamie Triccas at the University of Sydney. But there is still a risk. Ravi Gupta at the University of Cambridge says he has heard many reports from India of people dying despite being vaccinated, though mainly after having had just one dose. Control measures must therefore be maintained to keep infections down, says Gupta. “To open up with a partially vaccinated population is worrisome.” In fact, says Gurdasani, modelling studies suggest that a more transmissible variant with some ability to evade vaccines could cause a bigger wave of hospitalisations and deaths in the UK than the one in January.
5-26-21 Grand jury to consider Donald Trump charges
Prosecutors in New York have convened a grand jury to decide whether to indict former US President Donald Trump on criminal charges, local media report. They say the jury will consider evidence gathered during investigations into Mr Trump's business dealings and the alleged payment of hush money to women on his behalf. Mr Trump, 74, denies any wrongdoing, alleging a political witch hunt. US prosecutors can refer important cases to grand juries. Such juries are made up of citizens who examine the evidence in secret before deciding whether to pursue charges. The decision to convene a grand jury appears to indicate that the Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance hopes to move towards bringing charges as a result of his two-year investigation. Mr Vance went through a long court battle to obtain Mr Trump's tax records and part of his investigation has focused on tax deductions and write-offs claimed by the Trump Organization. Last week, Letitia James, the top prosecutor in New York state, said her inquiry into the Trump Organization was now a criminal probe. Her spokesperson said the inquiry into Mr Trump's property company was "no longer purely civil". Mr Trump responded by saying the prosecutor was "in desperate search of a crime".
5-26-21 George Floyd sister says Biden broke promise on bill
George Floyd's sister has boycotted a meeting with US President Joe Biden, saying he "broke a promise" to enact police reform legislation by the anniversary of her brother's death. While Bridgett Floyd attended a rally in Minneapolis, Minnesota, other family members lobbied Mr Biden at the White House to help pass the bill. The George Floyd Justice in Policing Act is stalled on Capitol Hill. On Tuesday cities in the US and abroad marked a year since Floyd's death. Former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin was convicted last month of the murder of Floyd, a 46-year-old black man, after kneeling on his neck area for more than nine minutes as he was detained on suspicion of passing a counterfeit $20 bill. He faces up to 40 years in prison when sentenced on 25 June. Mr Biden had set Tuesday as a deadline for signing police reform legislation. After meeting the president and Vice-President Kamala Harris at the White House, Floyd's brother, Philonise, told reporters: "If you can make federal laws to protect the bird which is the bald eagle, then you can make federal laws to protect people of colour." Floyd's other brother, Terrence, said it had been "a very productive conversation" in the Oval Office. But Bridgett Floyd - who instead held a moment of silence at a "Celebration of Life" event in a downtown Minneapolis park - explained why she did not go to Washington. "I was going to DC for Biden to sign a bill," she said. "Biden has not signed that bill. Biden has broke a promise." She added a message for the president: "Get your people in order." After meeting the Floyd family, the president issued a statement pledging to keep supporting the legislation. "The battle for the soul of America has been a constant push and pull between the American ideal that we're all created equal and the harsh reality that racism has long torn us apart," the president said. "At our best, the American ideal wins out. It must again." While Mr Biden, a Democrat, has led the way in publicly lobbying for passage of infrastructure and coronavirus stimulus bills, he has left much of the negotiations over police reform to lawmakers on Capitol Hill.
5-26-21 US marks anniversary of George Floyd's death
The anniversary of the murder of George Floyd was marked by moments of remembrance and calls for police reform.
5-26-21 Covid-19: Has India's deadly second wave peaked?
India has recorded 26 million Covid-19 cases - second only to the US. It is the new epicentre of the global pandemic. The second wave in recent weeks has overwhelmed the healthcare system, leaving hospitals struggling to cope and critical drugs and oxygen in short supply. But infections now seem to be slowing down. On Monday, cases fell below 200,000 for the first time since 14 April. Experts believe that at a national level, the wave is waning. The seven-day rolling average of new reported cases during the wave peaked at 392,000 and has been on a steady decline ever since for the past two weeks, according to Dr Rijo M John, a health economist. But there's a catch. Even if the second wave appears to be waning for India as a whole, it is by no means true for all states. It appears to have crested in states such as Maharashtra, Delhi and Chhattisgarh, but is still rising in Tamil Nadu, for example, as in much of the north east; and the situation in Andhra Pradesh and West Bengal is unclear. So the wave is not uniform and there are several states that are yet to find their peak in daily new cases, according to Dr John. To be sure, infections are coming down in most of the major cities. "But the weak rural surveillance complicates the picture," said Dr Murad Banaji, a mathematician at Middlesex University London. "It is possible that total transmission nationwide has not peaked yet, but this is not visible in case numbers because the infection is mostly spreading now in rural areas," he said. Such heterogeneity at the local level makes it very difficult to guess whether the India-wide trend of a sharp decline in active cases now is sustainable or not, according to Dr Sitabhra Sinha, a scientist at the Institute of Mathematical Sciences in Chennai. Bhramar Mukherjee, a University of Michigan biostatistician who has been closely tracking the pandemic, agreed. "The notion that the peak has passed may give false sense of security to everyone when their states are in fact entering the crisis mode," she said. "We must make it clear that no state is safe yet."
5-26-21 US urges 'transparent' WHO inquiry into Covid origins
The US health secretary has urged the World Health Organization to ensure the next phase of investigation into Covid-19's origins is "transparent". Speaking to a ministerial-level WHO meeting, Xavier Becerra said international experts should be allowed to evaluate the source of coronavirus. US media reports suggest growing evidence the virus could have emerged from a laboratory in China. Covid-19 was first detected in 2019 in Wuhan, in central Hubei province. Since then, more than 167 million cases and 3.4 million deaths have been reported worldwide. In March this year, the WHO issued a report written jointly with Chinese scientists on the origins of Covid-19, saying the chances of it having started in a lab were "extremely unlikely". The WHO acknowledged further study was needed. But questions have persisted and reports attributed to US intelligence sources say three members of the Wuhan Institute of Virology were admitted to hospital in November 2019, several weeks before China acknowledged the first case of the new disease in the community. Beijing has angrily rejected the reports, repeatedly suggesting the virus may have come from a US laboratory instead. Speaking to the WHO on Tuesday, US Secretary for Health and Human Services Xavier Becerra did not mention China by name. But he made it clear the US expected more rigour from the next stage of any investigation. "The Covid-19 pandemic not only stole a year from our lives, it stole millions of lives," Mr Becerra said in an address to the World Health Assembly, a conference organised by the WHO. He added: "Phase 2 of the Covid origins study must be launched with terms of reference that are transparent, science-based and give international experts the independence to fully assess the source of the virus and the early days of the outbreak." The White House said on Tuesday that it expected from the WHO an "expert-driven evaluation of the pandemic's origins that is free from interference or politicisation".
5-25-21 Moderna says its COVID-19 vaccine is 100 percent effective in adolescents
Moderna's COVID-19 vaccine in a study was found to be 100 percent effective in adolescents between the ages of 12 and 17, and the company is set to seek FDA approval for this age group. Moderna said Tuesday that in the phase 2/3 study that enrolled more than 3,700 participants, there were no COVID-19 cases reported among the group that received two doses of its vaccine, per CNBC. The vaccine was "generally well tolerated," and "no significant safety concerns have been identified to date," the company also said. "We are encouraged that mRNA-1273 was highly effective at preventing COVID-19 in adolescents," Moderna CEO Stéphane Bancel said. "It is particularly exciting to see that the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine can prevent SARS-CoV-2 infection." Pfizer in March released data showing its COVID-19 vaccine was also 100 percent effective in adolescents aged 12 to 15, and in May, the Food and Drug Administration authorized the vaccine for this age group. Moderna said Tuesday it's planning to submit data to the FDA to seek authorization for adolescents in early June. "These look like promising results," pediatrician and vaccine expert Dr. Kristin Oliver told The New York Times. "The more vaccines we have to protect adolescents from COVID, the better."
5-25-21 WHO boss wants 10 per cent of every country vaccinated by September
THE head of the World Health Organization (WHO) has called on member countries to support a massive drive to vaccinate at least 10 per cent of each country in the world by September and at least 30 per cent by December. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director-general of the WHO, announced the drive – dubbed “the sprint to September” – at the World Health Assembly meeting on 24 May. “Sprinting to our September goal means we must vaccinate 250 million more people in low and middle-income countries in just four months, including all health workers and the most at-risk groups as the first priority,” he said. The global initiative for sharing vaccines equitably, COVAX, has shipped 72 million doses to 125 countries, said Ghebreyesus. That is only enough for about 1 per cent of the people in those countries. “The number of doses available to COVAX remains vastly inadequate,” he said. COVAX had hoped to ship about three times as many doses by this point. It had been relying on doses of the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine made by the Serum Institute of India for the bulk of its supply. As the second wave of coronavirus cases in India worsened, the country stopped exporting the vaccine doses and diverted them for its own use. In a statement issued on 18 May, the Serum Institute of India said it hoped to resume deliveries to COVAX and others “by the end of the year”. That has left COVAX scrambling for alternatives. Ghebreyesus called on manufacturers to give COVAX first refusal on any additional vaccine doses, or to commit to supplying half of all they make to COVAX this year. On 21 May, COVAX announced a deal to buy 200 million doses of Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine, which would go a long way to meeting the September target. However, it isn’t clear when these doses will be delivered.
5-25-21 Covid-19 news: UK updates travel guidance for England variant hotspots
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. Local officials in England “not consulted” over new guidance for areas affected by the B.1.617.2 coronavirus variant. People in England are being advised not to travel into and out of eight areas where the B.1.617.2 coronavirus variant first identified in India is spreading. The updated UK government guidance also says that people in Kirklees, Bedford, Burnley, Leicester, Hounslow, North Tyneside, Bolton and Blackburn with Darwen should avoid meeting people from other households indoors. The US is urging citizens against travel to Japan, where the Olympics are scheduled to take place in July, because of a continuing surge of coronavirus cases in the country. Tokyo is recording a weekly average of about 650 new cases per day, the BBC reported, and hospitals have been overwhelmed in recent weeks. The United States Olympic & Paralympic Committee (USOPC), which oversees Team USA, told Reuters in a statement that it has been made aware of the updated travel advice but that it is “confident that the current mitigation practices in place for athletes and staff by both the USOPC and the Tokyo Organizing Committee, coupled with the testing before travel, on arrival in Japan, and during Games time, will allow for safe participation of Team USA athletes this summer”. Japanese officials also said they did not expect the travel advisory to affect the Olympics. covid-19 in people aged 12 to 17. Moderna said its vaccine was 100 per cent effective at preventing symptomatic infections in trials. The Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine, which was also found to be 100 per cent effective in adolescents, has already been given emergency authorisation by the US Food and Drug Administration for use in those aged 12 to 15. The Guardian reported that figures supplied by NHS trusts in England show that 32,307 people in the country “probably or definitely” contracted covid-19 while in hospital for another medical problem between March 2020 and March 2021, and 8747 of them died from the disease.
5-25-21 George Floyd anniversary: Derek Chauvin conviction 'nothing to celebrate'
The now-infamous video showing George Floyd's final moments shone a glaring spotlight on racism and police brutality against black people. For some, the rare conviction in the US of white police officer Derek Chauvin for the killing of a black man proves that justice has been served. But for many people, it's not so simple. Toni, a 28-year-old camera operator, heard April's verdict from his hotel room after a long day of location shooting for work. "I can't really describe the feeling, but it was certainly not celebratory," he says. "It's ironic that it felt more like a massive sigh of relief, a deep breath. "Did it give me more faith in the justice system? Not really." Last year, I spoke to three young black people from different parts of the world about the killing of George Floyd. A year later, I caught up with Toni Adepegba, Laëtitia Kandolo and Nia Dumas to find out what the conviction means to them, and to see whether, like me, they have struggled to find the words to articulate their feelings. Despite a brief celebration, it wasn't long after news of the conviction broke that I became aware of an acute sadness and a sense of unresolved emotion. And I wasn't alone. "I was home and I saw [the announcement] post on my Instagram and went on Twitter to find out more," recalls Laëtitia. "I don't think happy is the right word because you're happy for the first five minutes then you realise that this shouldn't have happened in the first place. "There is nothing to celebrate because you know that it's just the one time in this entire history and these murders happen every day and will continue to happen." Toni found the news hard as well. "You want to see hope, when you hear that he's been convicted on all charges you want to think or believe that things will change now," he says. "Ultimately, I think until the bigger issues are addressed these things are going to keep happening, just like with Ma'Khia Bryant." Sixteen-year-old Ma'Khia Bryant was shot dead by a white police officer in the US state of Ohio, who had been responding to an emergency call over an attempted stabbing.
5-25-21 Florida governor signs bill to ban Big Tech 'deplatforming'
Florida Governor Ron DeSantis has signed a first-in-the-nation bill that can penalise tech companies for deplatforming politicians. The legislation states that platforms can only suspend accounts for 14 days, and will be fined as much as $250,000 (£176,000) per day for violations. NetChoice, a tech lobbying group whose members include Twitter and Facebook, testified against the bill in March. The bill, believed to be the first of its kind, will take effect on 1 July. Mr DeSantis has been vocal about Big Tech, arguing that platforms such as Twitter, Facebook and YouTube are silencing conservative voices. Earlier this year, he said Big Tech had "come to look more like Big Brother". Legal challenges are expected, with opponents contending that the bill violates Americans' constitutional rights to free speech. Critics also say the new law could have unintended consequences. In March, Steve DelBianco, NetChoice's chief executive, said while testifying against the bill: "Imagine if the government required a church to allow user-created comments or third-party advertisements promoting abortion on its social media page. "Just as that would violate the First Amendment [guaranteeing the right to free speech], so too does [this bill] since it would similarly force social media platforms to host content they otherwise would not allow." Former US President Donald Trump was banned by Twitter and Facebook and suspended by YouTube after the Capitol Hill riot in January. Earlier this month, Facebook's Oversight Board decided to uphold the platform's decision, but asked the social network to review the decision within six months. With Mr Trump barred from multiple platforms, it is unclear what this new Florida law means for any potential comeback for the former president. Twitter declined to comment. Facebook and YouTube have not responded to the BBC's request for comment. Mr Trump spent the first few months of his time after leaving office in Florida. He and Mr DeSantis are seen as ideological bedfellows. According to the Tampa Bay Times, Mr DeSantis was asked if this bill was meant to help Mr Trump, to which he replied: "This bill is for everyday Floridians." (Webmaster's comment: Bullshit! This bill is for Trump!)
5-25-21 Texas to allow unlicensed carrying of handguns
Texas legislators have passed a bill which would allow most people to carry concealed handguns without a permit. Current state rules require those carrying handguns to have a licence, training and background checks. But Texas's Republican-run senate has voted to drop the restrictions, despite warnings from gun control groups that the measures could put lives at risk. Supporters say the new measures would allow Texans to better defend themselves in public. The bill has been sent to Governor Greg Abbott, who has said he will sign it into law. Texas has some of the loosest gun laws in the US and already allows rifles to be carried in public without a licence. The new measure would allow anyone aged 21 or older to carry a handgun unless they have past criminal convictions or legal restrictions on them. Supporters of the new rules, often known as "constitutional carry", say they would allow Texans to better defend themselves in public and abolish unnecessary limits on the constitutional right to bear arms. "This is a simple restoration of Texans' constitutional right under the Second Amendment, a right of the people to keep and bear arms," state Senator Charles Schwertner, a Republican, said on Monday, the Texas Tribune reports. Critics say the bill puts lives at risk. Beverly Powell, a Democratic senator, raised safety concerns from some law enforcement groups that opposed the bill. "If I sit down at a restaurant with a gentleman or a woman who has a holster on their side and a gun in it, I want to know that person is well-trained in the use of that gun," she said. Gun control groups point to mass shootings in Texas in recent years. Two shootings in August 2019 killed 30 people, a shooting at a high school in 2018 left 10 people dead and 27 people were killed in a shooting at a church in 2017. The bill would still allow businesses to ban guns on their property and keep federal background checks for some gun purchases. (Webmaster's comment: Absolutely Nuts! Expect gun deaths and mass shootings in Texas to go up!)
5-25-21 Non-kosher fish eaten in Jerusalem during early days of Judaism
Non-kosher fish was on the menu in areas that are now part of Israel and Egypt while Judaism was developing in the region and the Hebrew Bible was being written there. The Torah – the first five books of the Hebrew Bible – states that certain foods, including pork and aquatic animals that lack fins and scales, shouldn’t be eaten. Modern, practising Jewish people are prohibited from eating these foods. To explore the origin of the custom, Yonatan Adler at Ariel University in the West Bank and Omri Lernau at the University of Haifa in Israel examined ancient fish bones from 30 archaeological sites in Israel and Sinai dated from about 1550 BC to AD 640. They found that finless and scaleless fish were regularly eaten during that 2000-year period. “What people were doing in the past often leaves a footprint on the material record, just as we leave footprints today,” says Adler. “We are, as archaeologists, rifling through ancient people’s garbage, essentially, and learning about their actual behaviour. So, by looking at archaeological finds, we learn what ancient Jews were doing.” The research forms part of a larger project to determine the origins of Judaism, in this case looking at food laws. Lernau identified different fish species from about 20,000 bones and found that of the non-kosher fish, catfish was eaten the most. Other non-kosher fish that were eaten include rays and sharks. “If you have fish, especially in a place which is far from a water source, let’s say Jerusalem [where one of the 30 sites was located]. People were bringing these fish to Jerusalem, and if you brought a fish to Jerusalem, it was to eat it. You can’t really do anything with fish aside from eating it,” says Adler. Many scholars believe that the Jewish dietary laws came about because there wasn’t a precedent for eating these foods in the culture at the time, but the presence of non-kosher fish in these ancient diets suggests otherwise.
5-24-21 Covid-19 news: China denies reports of sick staff at Wuhan lab in 2019
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. Researchers at virology lab allegedly fell ill with covid-like symptoms in November 2019. Three researchers from China’s Wuhan Institute of Virology sought hospital care in November 2019 with symptoms consistent with covid-19, The Wall Street Journal has reported citing a US intelligence report. China’s Foreign Ministry and the director of the Wuhan National Biosafety Lab have denied the report, which has ignited further speculation about the origin of the covid-19 pandemic. The emergence of a novel coronavirus was first reported in Wuhan in December 2019. A World Health Organization investigation previously found that workers at the lab showed no evidence of having been infected with the virus and concluded that a laboratory origin was highly unlikely. Speaking at the WHO’s annual ministerial assembly, the WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus urged countries to support an effort to vaccinate 10 per cent of the population in all countries by September, and 30 per cent by the end of the year. The COVAX global distribution programme has so far delivered 72 million vaccine doses to 125 countries and economies, barely enough for 1 per cent of their populations, Tedros said. Trained dogs are accurate enough at sniffing out people infected with covid-19 that they could be used at airports, as an initial screening stage for people on flights from high-risk countries, a study published in the British Medical Journal suggests. Nine areas of England will pilot ways of supporting people to self-isolate when they test positive for the virus. The measures include alternative accommodation for people who live in crowded homes, but there will be no increase in financial support. India’s official covid-19 death toll has passed 300,000 as a devastating surge of infections appears to be easing in big cities but is swamping the poorer countryside. Doctors in Osaka, Japan, have warned that the city’s medical system is facing collapse under a huge wave of new coronavirus infections, with hospitals short of beds and ventilators.
5-24-21 Children tell of neglect, filth and fear in US asylum camps
The US has a vast system of detention sites scattered across the country, holding more than 20,000 migrant children. In a special investigation, the BBC has uncovered allegations of cold temperatures, sickness, neglect, lice and filth, through a series of interviews with children and staff. It was midnight on the Rio Grande - the imposing river that forms the border between Texas and Mexico - and lights began to flash on the Mexican side. Voices could be heard in the darkness. Figures emerged, got into a small raft, and began to cross the river. As the raft appeared on the US side, the faces of the migrants became visible. More than half of them were children. Over March and April, more than 36,000 children crossed into the US unaccompanied by an adult. This was a record high for recent years. Many children travelling alone set out on their journey hoping to reunite with a parent already in the US. More than 80% of them already have a family member in the country, the US government says. President Joe Biden has opened the border to unaccompanied children seeking asylum, somewhat relaxing former President Trump's policy of turning migrants away due to Covid-19. The children scrambled up the banks, exhausted. Two young cousins held hands. Another youth, Jordy, 17, said he had fled Guatemala because he was afraid of violent gangs operating there. But tonight he was frightened about what might await him in migrant detention centres in the US. He said he had heard stories about them. "They will put us in an icebox and ask us questions," he said. The so-called "iceboxes", notorious among migrants, are extremely cold rooms or cubicles in US Border Patrol migrant processing facilities. Jordy was told to join a line with other children. US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) guards were taking the children's shoelaces and belts, a process usually reserved for prisoners to prevent them trying to take their own lives. Jordy and the other children were then taken away by bus into the night. They were to join more than 20,000 migrant children now in US detention, held in a series of extensive camps around the country, at least 14 of which are new. In late March, CBP released disturbing images of cramped conditions within one particular facility it runs in Donna, Texas - a mass of enormous white tents looming above the small town. The facility was designed to hold 250 people but housed more than 4,000 at peak occupancy.
5-24-21 The CDC’s changes to mask guidelines raised questions. Here are 6 answers
Lifting the mask requirement for vaccinated people caught scientists off guard, experts say. The most recent federal guidance on wearing masks offered a glimmer of hope that the pandemic’s end was inching closer, but it has also caused confusion, anger and worry. On May 13, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended that fully vaccinated individuals no longer had to wear masks indoors, except in hospitals, on public transit and in other specified places. In that directive, there was incentive for people who hadn’t yet been vaccinated against COVID-19 to go get their shots, but the guidance also left even experts wondering what it meant for individuals and society as a whole. “Some unfortunately interpreted this guidance as an immediate end to the indoor mask mandates or that the COVID-19 epidemic is essentially over,” Jeffrey Duchin, a public health expert with Public Health – Seattle & King County, told reporters in an Infectious Diseases Society of America news briefing on May 20. That is not the case. The United States is still recording more than 24,000 cases and about 500 deaths each day from COVID-19. That’s the lowest level in the last 10 months, Gregory Poland, an infectious diseases expert who heads the Mayo Clinic’s Vaccine Research Group in Rochester, Minn., said May 18 in a podcast. But only 38 percent of the total population was fully vaccinated by May 20, according to the CDC. The recommendation that vaccinated people could forgo masks caught experts off guard, Poland said. “We are only just now getting to a reduced level over the last two weeks of cases, deaths and hospitalizations. By the way, we were at this same level almost one year ago and look at what happened in the intervening year.” With the current levels of vaccination, “this feels a month or two premature in my mind,” he said.
5-24-21 India records 300,000 Covid deaths as pandemic rages
The number of deaths linked to Covid-19 in India has moved past the 300,000 mark as the country continues to grapple with the pandemic. Experts warn that the real number of fatalities might be much higher as many deaths are not officially recorded. India has recorded 26 million cases - second only to the US - and is now the epicentre of the global pandemic. The country is also only the third in the world to record more than 300,000 deaths - behind the US and Brazil. It took less than a month to record its last 100,000 deaths. A deadly second wave in recent weeks has overwhelmed the country's healthcare system, with hospitals struggling to cope with the influx of patients and with critical drugs and oxygen running out. Some experts say the number of daily deaths may rise further. Dr Murad Banaji, a mathematician at Middlesex University London, has been tracking the pandemic closely. "We expect a delay between cases peaking and deaths peaking. But also, as with cases, we know there are huge variations in death surveillance and recording between states, and between urban and rural areas," he told the BBC. "Even once recorded fatalities start to fall, we'll need to be wary of reading too much into this until we stop hearing reports of large numbers of rural deaths," Dr Banaji said. Over the past days, concerns over a rising number of deadly fungus infections linked to Covid treatment have added to the overall crisis. In some places, even crematoriums have run out of space and have been forced to expand to makeshift sites in public parks. Mortality data in India is poor and deaths at home often go unregistered, especially in rural areas. There are reports of journalists counting bodies at morgues themselves, to try to get a more accurate number. Some models speculate that about a million people may have actually died. The country's vaccination drive is also not nearly making enough progress to ease the current crisis.
5-23-21 Boycotting the 2022 Olympics
Human rights activists are calling for the U.S. to boycott the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing. Will that happen? Human rights activists are calling for the U.S. to boycott the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing. Will that happen? Here's everything you need to know: (Webmaster's comment: Why doesn't the world boycott the United States over the killing of blacks by police and its treatment of black people.)
- Why is China hosting? In a controversial decision, the International Olympic Committee voted 44 to 40 in 2015 to award the 2022 Winter Olympics to China. China won partly because a number of cities had withdrawn from the bidding, including Stockholm, Sweden, and Oslo, Norway, citing the costs and lack of interest by their citizens.
- Have there been previous Olympics boycotts? They are actually not that uncommon. In 1956, several nations skipped the games in response to the Soviet Union's actions in Hungary, while Egypt, Iraq, and Lebanon boycotted the Summer Games in Melbourne, Australia, because of British and French involvement in the Suez Crisis.
- Why did the U.S. boycott in 1980? President Jimmy Carter called for a boycott of the Moscow Games in response to the Soviet Union's invasion of Afghanistan that winter. Public support for the boycott eroded after the U.S. hosted the 1980 Winter Games at Lake Placid, New York, and its men's hockey team famously upset the Soviets on the way to claiming the gold medal.
- Who supports a boycott in 2022? More than 180 human rights groups are leading the calls to skip the event over China's aggressive actions against Tibet, Taiwan, the Uighur community, and Hong Kong. A survey by the Chicago Council in March found that 49 percent of Americans support a boycott, with 46 percent opposed.
- What is President Biden's position? A State Department spokesman said last month that a boycott was "something that we certainly wish to discuss" — but the department later walked back those remarks. White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said that "we are not discussing" a boycott with allies.
- Are there alternatives? If the U.S. still decides to send its athletes, corporations that normally sponsor the Olympics could pull their support. The top American sponsors, including Airbnb, Coca-Cola, General Electric, and Visa, collectively pay over $1 billion for exclusive rights to include the Olympic rings in their promotions.
- Echoes of 1936: The present debate about China's rising aggression is drawing comparisons to one of the darkest chapters in Olympic history. Three years before the onset of World War II, Berlin hosted the 1936 Summer Olympics. There were some calls for a boycott because of reports of the Nazi government's plan to ban German Jewish athletes and its increasingly hostile treatment of Jews.
5-23-21 Does a $75m settlement make up for three decades in prison?
A historic $75m (£53m) settlement awarded to two North Carolina brothers incarcerated for more than three decades over a crime they did not commit has brought the issue of wrongful convictions back into the limelight. Henry McCollum and his half-brother Leon Brown were twice convicted for the 1983 rape and murder of an 11-year-old girl. In 2014, the emergence of new DNA evidence led to their exoneration and full pardons the following year. On Friday, they received $31m in damages each - $1m for every year spent in prison - and $13m in punitive damages. The payout represents the largest combined settlement in a wrongful conviction case in US history, according to the brothers' lawyers. "I thank God," said Mr McCollum, in tears, as he left the courtroom with his brother, nearly seven years after a judge ordered the state to free them. "There's still a lot of innocent people in prison today," Mr McCollum said. "And they don't deserve to be there." On 24 September 1983, police in the small North Carolina town of Red Springs found the body of an 11-year-old white girl in a soybean field. The next day, acting on rumours from a classmate, they arrested Mr McCollum and Mr Brown, two African-American teenagers aged 19 and 15 respectively. After several hours of interrogation with no lawyer present, officers reportedly coerced the duo into signing pre-written confessions implicating each other in the crime. Court documents stated the two brothers had cognitive difficulties and could barely read, write or understand what they were signing. Both were sentenced to death. Mr Brown became North Carolina's youngest death row inmate, but was later resentenced to life in prison. Mr McCollum went on to become the state's longest serving inmate on death row. No physical or forensic evidence ever connected either brother to the crime. In 2014, DNA test results revealed the true perpetrator: Roscoe Artis, a convicted murderer serving life in prison on separate, yet similar, charges. (Webmaster's comment: Young white girl dies, young black boys automatically convicted!)
5-23-21 Black fungus: India reports nearly 9,000 cases of rare infection
India has reported more than 8,800 cases of deadly "black fungus" in a growing epidemic of the disease. The normally rare infection, called mucormycosis, has a mortality rate of 50%, with some only saved by removing an eye. But in recent months, India saw thousands of cases affecting recovered and recovering Covid-19 patients. Doctors say there is a link with the steroids used to treat Covid. Diabetics are at particular risk. Doctors have told the BBC it seems to strike 12 to 18 days after recovery from Covid. The western states of Gujarat and Maharashtra have reported more than half of the reported cases. At least 15 more states have reported between eight and 900 cases. Following the rise in cases, India's 29 states have been told to declare the disease an epidemic. Newly opened wards to treat patients suffering from the disease around the country are filling up fast, doctors say. At the 1,100-bed state-run Maharaja Yeshwantrao Hospital in the central Indian city of Indore, the number of patients had leapt from eight a week ago, to 185 on Saturday evening. More than 80% of the patients need surgery immediately, Dr VP Pandey, head of the hospital's department of medicine, told the BBC. Dr Pandey said the hospital had set up 11 wards with a total of 200 beds to treat black fungus patients: "This surge in patients was definitely unexpected," he said. "We used to see one or two cases a year previously." He reckoned that there were at least 400 patients with the disease in Indore alone. "The black fungus infection has now become more challenging than Covid-19. If patients are not treated in time and properly, than the mortality rate can go up to 94%. The cost of treatment is expensive, and the drugs are in [short supply]," Dr Pandey said. Doctors say amphotericin B or "ampho-B" is an anti-fungal intravenous injection which has to be administered every day for up to eight weeks to patients diagnosed with mucormycosis. There are two forms of the drug available: standard amphotericin B deoxycholate and liposomal amphotericin.
5-22-21 'Science should be at the centre of all policy making'
Scientists have been front and centre in the battle against coronavirus. It's a policy making position they should continue to occupy beyond the pandemic, writes Prof Ruth Morgan. But how? The rate of ice melt, the impact of a global pandemic, the capabilities of artificial intelligence, and the impact of fake news. These are all big challenges where science informs us and pioneers the tools we need to unlock the next steps in tackling them. Yet in an age where science has never been more advanced, and where our capabilities to collect and analyse data are unsurpassed, we are still having to contend with some of the biggest threats we've ever faced. The role of science has traditionally been reserved for enabling developments. Think about getting humans to the Moon, how we've transformed medicine and surgical procedures, or created new ways of communicating and keeping our societies secure; or simply how we've come to understand the workings of our planet. But science will need to become more than this if we are to make the breakthroughs in the global issues we currently face. Science that understands people and communities must be part of the conversation. At the same time, we also need to be clear about what science can and can't do as we look for solutions. It is probably not contentious to suggest that complex global challenges need science involved in the search for those solutions. But good science is just the first step. It is individuals, teams and communities who are the changemakers, and so good science needs to incorporate a clear and nuanced understanding of people. If people are the key to making change and unlocking the solutions to complex challenges, we need to create environments that bring everyone together - the decision makers (often global leaders, governments and policy makers), along with entrepreneurs, innovators, activists, and scientists. We need many different (and perhaps disruptive) perspectives to a specific issue to find the right solutions. But it doesn't end there. For those solutions to create real change and make a difference, we must never forget that at the heart of every major challenge are the individuals and communities who are connected to that challenge, and impacted by it.
5-22-21 Covid-19: Sewage testing ramped up in England
The government has ramped up its programme to analyse wastewater for early signs of coronavirus. The sewage-testing programme now covers two-thirds of England's population. Scientists discovered early in the pandemic that genetic fragments of the virus could be detected in sewage. Samples are now being are taken at wastewater treatment plants and sent to a new lab in Exeter that is dedicated to analysing wastewater. The programme has supported the detection of local outbreaks or the presence of variants of concern, which it can link to specific communities via the sewage treatment network. Dr Jenny Harries, chief executive of the UK Health Security Agency, described it as "an additional detection system" for Covid-19. "It is enabling us to respond more effectively to outbreaks and better protect citizens." And since it can cause infections without any symptoms, Dr Harries added that it "helps us understand where it may be circulating undetected". Earlier this week, Health Secretary Matt Hancock said that the approach was being used to monitor the Indian variant of the virus and to track its spread. Because the testing is at a community level, it has helped guide some local councils to direct their testing and public health guidance. Luton Borough Council, after seeing an increase in cases of the coronavirus, used the information from wastewater testing to "understand where to put additional activity". "It's particularly useful to see where we have the variants so we can target our testing," said Luton's director of public health, Lucy Hubber. Prof Andrew Singer, from the UK's Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, played a key role in the scientific effort to establish this wastewater-based epidemiology effort in the UK. "Well over 500 locations are being monitored for coronavirus, and many of them sampled at least four days a week, thereby generating an enormous amount of data on the prevalence of the virus across the UK.
5-22-21 Covid: Argentina starts new lockdown as cases soar
Argentina has begun a new nine-day lockdown amid a resurgence of coronavirus cases and a slow vaccine rollout. President Alberto Fernández said the country was experiencing its worst moment of the pandemic. It has recorded more than 35,000 new cases a day during the past week. On Friday, Latin America and the Caribbean passed one million coronavirus deaths, almost 30% of the global total. Nearly 90% of those fatalities have been recorded in five countries: Brazil, Mexico, Colombia, Argentina and Peru. Argentina's new lockdown allows supermarkets and essential businesses to remain open, but in-person school lessons will be suspended. Restaurants can only operate home delivery and pick-up services, and people may only go out until 18:00, staying in the vicinity of their home. The government encouraged people to alert the authorities if they noticed their neighbours gathering or having parties. The restrictions are operating for a relatively short period amid concerns about the impact on the informal workforce and poorer households with limited internet access. Argentina's economy contracted nearly 10% last year, partly due to the lockdown. "I am aware that these restrictions create difficulties," said President Fernández. But he added: "Faced with this reality, there is no choice but to choose the preservation of life." The country imposed one of the world's longest quarantines last year, running from March to July. At times even exercise and dog-walking were not allowed. Borders were closed early and commercial flights into the country were banned for seven months. Nonetheless it has seen 3.4 million registered cases and 73,000 deaths in total. Earlier this week, the daily death rate hit a new domestic record of 745 people, while intensive care wards have hit their highest occupancy level since the pandemic began. The rampant Brazilian variant is said to be behind the current outbreak. The president has promised economic assistance for sectors hit by the new restrictions. He also said that more than five million doses of AstraZeneca and Sputnik V vaccines were on their way.
5-22-21 Covid: India tells social media firms to remove 'India variant' from content
India's government has instructed social media companies to remove any content that refers to the "Indian variant" of Covid-19. The IT ministry said the World Health Organization (WHO) listed the variant as B.1.617 and any reference to "Indian" was false. Geographical terms have been used to describe a number of other variants, including the UK and Brazil. India's government has faced criticism over its handling of Covid-19. It also drew anger last month after it ordered Twitter to remove posts critical of some of its actions during the pandemic. The country has been hit hard by the new variant since late March and is now second only to the US in terms of overall infections, at more than 26 million, according to Johns Hopkins University research. Covid-related deaths are close to 300,000, behind only the US and Brazil, although some experts believe India's fatalities could be considerably higher. The instruction to social media companies was carried in a government order from the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology on Friday. The note was not made public but was obtained by news agencies. Platforms were asked to "remove all the content that names, refers to, or implies 'Indian variant' of coronavirus from your platform immediately", the Press Trust of India reported. "It has come to our knowledge that a false statement is being circulated online which implies that an 'Indian variant' of coronavirus is spreading across the countries. This is completely FALSE," Agence France-Presse quoted the same letter as saying. The note says that the World Health Organization (WHO) has "not associated the term 'Indian variant' with the B.1.617 variant of the coronavirus in any of its reports". One social media executive told Reuters it would be extremely difficult to take down all references to "Indian variant". B.1.617, a more transmissible variant, was first detected in India last year and has spread to dozens of countries. A number of nations have severely restricted arrivals from India.
5-22-21 Tennessee cops mocked dying man's plea: 'I can't breathe'
A US jail inmate died gasping for breath minutes after police officers held him face down, with one taunting: "You shouldn't be able to breathe." New footage from the Tennessee facility shows how William Jennette, 48, was pinned down and tied a year ago. "Help me," he pleaded with other staff at Marshall County Jail in Lewisburg, "they're going to kill me." Asphyxia was listed as "a contributory cause of death" due to officers' use of the prone restraint. Mr Jennette's official post-mortem examination was ruled a homicide, with "acute combined drug intoxication" also listed by the medical examiner as a cause of death. The prone restraint was most recently under scrutiny in the police murder of George Floyd, a black man in Minneapolis, Minnesota, last year, 19 days after the death of Mr Jennette. The daughter of Mr Jennette, who was white, has filed a federal civil rights lawsuit over law enforcement practices in the father-of-five's death on 6 May 2020. In their lawsuit, which names seven officers as defendants, the Jennette family alleges excessive force was used at the jailhouse, located 70 miles (110km) south of Nashville. "All he wanted was help and all he got was hate," his daughter Cali Jennette told local CBS affiliate WTVF-TV. Mr Jennette was pinned down with an officer's weight on his back for a total of four minutes, according to the lawsuit. Officials have defended their handling of the incident, saying Mr Jennette was "extremely unruly". (Webmaster's comment: So they killed him!) State prosecutors closed an inquiry into the death several months ago. A grand jury reviewed the case, but decided not to bring criminal charges against the officers. Mr Jennette, a cement truck driver, had been arrested on charges of public intoxication, indecent exposure and resisting arrest. Methamphetamine was detected in his body and jail logs say he had been "hallucinating" and "detoxing". The day before his death, Mr Jennette had repeatedly banged his head into the cell wall, say officials, prompting officers to place him in a restraint chair.
5-22-21 Alabama overturns decades-old ban on yoga in schools
Yoga can legally be taught in Alabama public schools, after the southern state overturned a nearly 30-year ban. DeThe state's department of education had barred yoga in 1993, citing its connection to Hinduism. The bill, brought for the third time by a Democrat, was approved by the state's Republican legislature and governor. It limits yoga to stretches and poses, and prohibits non-English descriptions as well as "any aspect of Eastern philosophy and religious training". Chanting is also not allowed. The use of the sound "om," and the Sanskrit-based word "namaste" are also still banned. Democratic lawmaker Jeremy Gray, a former football player and certified yoga instructor, introduced the measure. He noted some of the language in the bill was "very offensive", but necessary to appease conservatives. The law, signed by Governor Kay Ivey on Thursday, leaves it up to individual local school boards to decide whether to offer lessons. Parents will also be required to sign a permission slip saying that they acknowledge that yoga is associated with the Hindu religion. In order for the bill to pass the state's Republican-majority Senate, the chamber introduced language stipulating that "school personnel may not use any techniques that involve hypnosis, the induction of a dissociative mental state, guided imagery, meditation, or any aspect of Eastern philosophy and religious training." Mr Gray's bill failed to pass twice before in previous legislative sessions, and was voted through on Thursday - the last day before lawmakers went on break. "A lot of the stuff you don't do anyway. You don't hypnotise people," he told local news site AL.com. "Really, it just seemed very offensive," Mr Gray said. "Had some phobia in it. A lot of it just didn't really make sense." The repeal faced criticism from Christian conservatives groups who argued that yoga should be considered a religious practice, which the US Constitution prohibits from promoting in government-run schools. They equated yoga with praying.
5-21-21 Covid-19 news: England sees rise in cases for first time in 5 weeks
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. Infections in England have risen for the first time in five weeks, according to the Office for National Statistics. Coronavirus infections in England appear to have risen slightly, according to the latest results from a random swab testing survey by the Office for National Statistics (ONS). It is the first time that infections in England have risen in five weeks. The percentage of people testing positive for the virus “shows early signs of a potential increase in the week ending 15 May”, the ONS said in its report, adding that “rates remain low”. An estimated one in 1110 people in England had covid-19 in the week up to 15 May, up from one in 1340 people the previous week. England’s R number – the estimated number of people each person with coronavirus infects – has also risen slightly to between 0.9 and 1.1 in the most recent estimate, compared to between 0.8 and 1.1 in the previous week’s estimate. A study found that the average death rate among critically ill covid-19 patients was above the global average in 10 African countries, including in Nigeria, Egypt and Ethiopia. The study, published in the medical journal The Lancet, analysed data from more than 3000 patients in 64 hospitals and found that 48.2 per cent of critically ill covid-19 patients died within 30 days of admission to hospital, compared to the global average of 31.5 per cent. Spain said it is lifting restrictions for people travelling to the country from the UK. People arriving in Spain from the UK will no longer need a negative PCR test for coronavirus in order to enter. However, the UK government is currently advising against non-essential travel to Spain and most other countries in the EU, and people returning to the UK from Spain will still need to quarantine on their return. People who developed blood clots with low platelets after receiving their first dose of the Oxford/AstraZeneca covid-19 vaccine should not receive a second dose of the vaccine, the EU’s medicines regulator said on 21 May. The updated recommendations are part of an on-going review by the regulator into rare blood clots associated with low levels of platelets thought to be linked to the Oxford/AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson covid-19 vaccines.
5-21-21 Covid 'hate crimes' against Asian Americans on rise
US President Joe Biden has signed a law that aims to address a rising number of anti-Asian attacks. What's behind the hatred? An elderly Thai immigrant dies after being shoved to the ground. A Filipino-American is slashed in the face with a box cutter. A Chinese woman is slapped and then set on fire. Eight people are killed in a shooting rampage across three Asian spas in one night. These are just examples of recent violent attacks on Asian Americans, part of a surge in abuse since the start of the pandemic a year ago. From being spat on and verbally harassed to incidents of physical assault, there have been thousands of reported cases in recent months. Advocates and activists say these are hate crimes, and often linked to rhetoric that blames Asian people for the spread of Covid-19. The FBI warned at the start of the Covid outbreak in the US that it expected a surge in hate crimes against those of Asian descent. Federal hate crime data for 2020 has not yet been released, though hate crimes in 2019 were at their highest level in over a decade. Late last year, the United Nations issued a report that detailed "an alarming level" of racially motivated violence and other hate incidents against Asian Americans. It is difficult to determine exact numbers for such crimes and instances of discrimination, as no organisations or governmental agencies have been tracking the issue long-term, and reporting standards can vary region to region. The advocacy group Stop AAPI Hate said it received more than 2,800 reports of hate incidents directed at Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders nationwide last year. The group set up its online self-reporting tool at the start of the pandemic. Local law enforcement is taking notice too: the New York City hate crimes task force investigated 27 incidents in 2020, a nine fold increase from the previous year. In Oakland, California, police have added patrols and set up a command post in Chinatown. Celebrities and influencers have spoken out after several disturbing incidents went viral on social media.
5-21-21 Trump slams 'wayward' Republicans for Capitol riot vote
Former US president Donald Trump blasted "wayward Republicans" after lawmakers made a rare bipartisan push to investigate the Capitol riot. With the support of 35 Republicans, the Democratic-controlled House of Representatives voted 252-175 to look into the events of 6 January. Party leaders had urged Republicans to oppose the bill, with Mr Trump labelling it a "Democrat trap". The bill appears to lack the Republican support it needs to pass in the Senate. It seeks to create an independent inquiry modelled on the commission that investigated the 9/11 attacks on New York and Washington. The legislation establishes a 10-member body, evenly split between the two main parties, that would make recommendations by the end of the year on how to prevent any repeat of the Capitol invasion. Trump supporters stormed Congress on 6 January in a failed bid to thwart certification of President Joe Biden's victory in November's election. Wednesday's vote was seen as a loyalty test to the former president for members of his party. All 10 of the House Republicans who voted to impeach Trump in the days after the Capitol riot for incitement of insurrection were among the 35 who voted for the commission. In a statement after the vote, Mr Trump hit out at the "wayward" Republican group, saying, "they just can't help themselves". "We have much better policy and are much better for the country, but the Democrats stick together, the Republicans don't," Mr Trump said, singling out several of his highest-profile Republican critics, including Utah Senator Mitt Romney. "Sometimes there are consequences to being ineffective and weak," Mr Trump added. Republican House Leader Kevin McCarthy dismissed the number of party defections in a weekly news conference on Thursday, saying: "I thought it would probably be higher."
5-21-21 Critically ill Covid-19 patients 'more likely' to die in Africa
.Hospital patients in Africa who are critically ill with Covid-19 are far more likely to die than in other parts of the world, a study suggests. A shortage of critical care resources was a key problem, it says. This includes both a lack of specialised staff and equipment such as blood oxygen monitors. The researchers hope their work will help inform the way severely ill patients are managed where resources are limited. Despite the high mortality rates of Covid-19 patients who have ended up in hospital in Africa, the continent in general has recorded some of the lowest numbers of deaths from the virus. Africa, which has 17% of the world's population, accounts for 4% of registered Covid-19 deaths. Researchers looked at more than 3,000 patients in 64 hospital across 10 African countries for the study published in the The Lancet medical journal. They found that nearly half who needed intensive care died whereas the global average was less than a third. "Mortality is way higher in Africa than any other region because of limited resources," one of the leaders of the research, Prof Bruce Biccard from the University of Cape Town in South Africa, told the BBC's Newsday programme. "In fact only one of two patients who are referred to critical care actually get into critical care. And once they're there, therapies we can provide are way less than they should be." The researchers also said that in some cases the resources that were available were underused. "It is shocking to see that 68% of hospitals had access to dialysis but only 10% of the patients received it, as well as to see that proning [turning a patient on their front] was not optimised," Dr Bruce Kirenga and Dr Pauline Byakika-Kibwika from Uganda's Makerere University said, commenting on the research. They highlighted the lack of skilled staff to use available equipment as well as poor maintenance.
5-20-21 Covid-19 news: Test and Trace delay let variant spread 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. Contact tracing delays affected eight local authorities in England in April and May. In parts of England, delays in tracing those who had contact with people who tested positive for the coronavirus may have contributed to the spread of the B.1.617.2 variant of the virus, according to local public health reports. The reports, seen by the BBC, suggest that failures in England’s NHS Test and Trace system in April and May affected eight local authorities in England, including Blackburn with Darwen, which has seen a recent surge in cases linked to the variant. The BBC reported that, although it is thought that people tested for the virus received their results, local authority staff weren’t provided with contact-tracing information through the central system. Other areas affected by this were Blackpool, York, Bath, North East Somerset, Bristol, North Somerset, Southend-on-Sea and Thurrock. UK transport minister Grant Shapps acknowledged that airports in England should separate people arriving from “red list” countries from other passengers, after travellers shared photos from London’s Heathrow airport showing red list passengers queuing beside arrivals from amber and green list countries. Red list countries are those that the UK government deems are currently at the highest risk from covid-19, including India, Brazil and South Africa among other nations. To limit the risk of virus transmission, arrivals from red list countries should be screened in separate areas at airports, Eleanor Gaunt at the University of Edinburgh told the i newspaper. “I do want to see people separated out as much as is practically possible and we have asked, and I think Heathrow will respond to this at the beginning of next month,” Shapps said during a BBC interview. The UK government is in talks about a plan to waive covid-19 vaccine patents to enable increased production of vaccines in low and middle-income countries, the Guardian reported. Earlier in May, the US declared its support for a patent waiver on covid-19 vaccines, but this needs to be approved by a consensus at the World Trade Organization. A study suggests that dogs may be better at detecting coronavirus infections in humans than many rapid lateral flow tests. Dogs detected the presence of the virus in samples with 97 per cent accuracy, the study found, and could identify negative samples with 91 per cent accuracy. A recent analysis of 64 studies found that lateral flow tests correctly identify 72 per cent of people with covid-19 and 58 per cent of uninfected people.
5-20-21 Republicans defy Trump to back Capitol riot probe
The Democratic-controlled US House of Representatives has voted, with Republican support, for a commission to investigate the Capitol riot. Thirty-five Republicans defied their party leaders and former President Donald Trump in siding with Democrats by 252-175 to establish the inquiry. Mr Trump had urged Republicans to vote against the "Democrat trap". The bill looks unlikely to pass the upper chamber. Top Senate Republican Mitch McConnell called it "slanted". The inquiry would be modelled on the commission that investigated the 9/11 attacks on New York and Washington. It would establish a 10-member body, evenly split between the two main parties, that would make recommendations by the end of the year on how to prevent any repeat of the Capitol invasion. Trump supporters stormed Congress on 6 January in a failed bid to thwart certification of President Joe Biden's victory in November's election. Wednesday's vote was seen as a loyalty test to the former president for members of his party. All 10 of the House Republicans who voted to impeach Trump in the days after the Capitol riot for incitement of insurrection were among the 35 who voted for the commission. New York congressman John Katko, who negotiated the legislation with Democrats, said: "This is about facts - it's not partisan politics." Mr Katko - the top Republican on the House Homeland Security Committee - said "the American people and the Capitol Police deserve answers, and action as soon as possible to ensure that nothing like this ever happens again". But Marjorie Taylor Greene, a Georgia Republican, said the commission was a Democratic ruse "to smear Trump supporters". Shortly before the vote, Tim Ryan, an Ohio Democrat, said on the House floor: "We have people scaling the Capitol, hitting the Capitol Police with lead pipes across the head, and we can't get bipartisanship? What else has to happen in this country?"
5-20-21 Trump fumes as New York inquiry now a criminal probe
Former US President Donald Trump has lashed out after the New York attorney general said her inquiry into the Trump Organisation was now a criminal probe. Letitia James, the state's top prosecutor, has been scrutinising the ex-Republican president's financial dealings before he took office. A spokesperson for Ms James said the inquiry into Mr Trump's property company was "no longer purely civil". Mr Trump on Wednesday said she was "in desperate search of a crime". Ms James' spokesman, Fabien Levy, told the BBC on Tuesday: "We have informed the Trump Organization that our investigation into the Organization is no longer purely civil in nature. "We are now actively investigating the Trump Organization in a criminal capacity, along with the Manhattan DA. We have no additional comment." The offices of the state attorney general and city district attorney are separate and, according to National Public Radio (NPR), have historically been rivals. The fact that they are now co-ordinating their efforts underscores the high profile of their investigation. The two prosecutors are combing through millions of pages of financial information in a search for evidence, reports NPR. The statement did not say what turned the inquiry from civil to criminal in nature, or whether the former president himself might be personally implicated in any allegations. Mr Trump accused Ms James and District Attorney Cyrus Vance, both Democrats, of being "possessed" by their political vendettas against him. A statement from his office rebuked the investigation as "a continuation of the greatest political Witch Hunt in the history of the United States". "After prosecutorial efforts the likes of which nobody has ever seen before, they failed to stop me in Washington, so they turned it over to New York to do their dirty work. This is what I have been going through for years," he wrote.
5-20-21 Nord Stream 2: Biden waives US sanctions on Russian pipeline
The Biden administration has waived sanctions on a company building a controversial gas pipeline between Russia and Germany. The US also lifted sanctions on the executive - an ally of Russia's Vladimir Putin - who leads the firm behind the Nord Stream 2 project. The move came in a report on Russian sanctions delivered to Congress by the Department of State. Critics say the pipeline is a major geopolitical prize for the Kremlin. The project, which would take gas from the Russian Arctic under the Baltic Sea to Germany, is already more than 95% complete. The Department of State report notes that Nord Stream 2 AG and its chief executive, Matthias Warnig, a former East German intelligence officer, engaged in sanctionable activity. But it concludes that it is in the US national interest to waive the sanctions. The Department of State also imposed sanctions on four Russian ships involved in the building of Nord Stream 2, though detractors said that would not be enough to stop the pipeline. President Joe Biden has said he opposes the $11bn (£7.8bn) project. His Secretary of State Anthony Blinken said during his confirmation hearing that he was "determined to do whatever we can to prevent that completion" of Nord Stream 2. On Wednesday, America's top diplomat met his Russian counterpart at an international summit in Iceland. Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Russia and the US had "serious differences", but should work together "in spheres where our interests collide". Mr Blinken said Mr Biden wanted "a predictable, stable relationship with Russia". Earlier Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said reports of the impending US sanctions waiver were "a positive signal". And Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov was quoted by the state-run Tass news agency as welcoming "a chance for a gradual transition toward the normalisation of our bilateral ties". German officials also welcomed the sanctions waiver as "a constructive step" from the Biden administration.
5-20-21 The Venezuelans fleeing to Colombia to avoid fighting
Thousands of Venezuelans have fled their country in the past month. They are running away from intense armed clashes which involve Venezuela’s army and Colombia’s rebel groups. Refugees say they were pushed out of their homes by the military and describe human rights abuses, disappearances and home break-ins. A prominent Colombian guerrilla fighter, Jesus Santrich, was killed on Tuesday in Venezuelan territory as part of the ongoing conflict. The BBC’s Daniel Pardo travelled to Arauquita, a small town on the Colombian side that is hosting the refugees who escape the fighting.
5-19-21 What's the fairest way to share covid-19 vaccines around the world?
THE covid-19 pandemic has entered a dangerous new phase, with new variants spreading widely and overwhelming healthcare systems in some countries, such as India. Vaccines promise to bring an end to the pandemic, but with supplies still severely limited, many believe we need to think more wisely about how best to use the doses we have. “Our vaccinations should go to those that are most vulnerable, in most urgent need and where they can make the most difference,” says Krishna Udayakumar at Duke University in North Carolina. That isn’t what is happening. High-income countries have bought the vast majority of vaccine doses made so far, and the small amount being distributed by the global scheme set up by the World Health Organization (WHO) and others, known as COVAX, are initially being allocated per head of population. “COVAX is purely based on pro-rata distribution models, which is a very good place to start, but can’t be the only consideration,” says Udayakumar. What’s more, not only are those high-income countries not sharing the vaccines they have bought with other countries equitably, many are sitting on stockpiles that won’t get used immediately and which those countries might not need at all. “We don’t want these doses sitting in these countries for even a day,” says Jenny Ottenhoff at ONE, an international charity campaigning to eradicate poverty and preventable diseases. “There’s way too many people around the world that need to be vaccinated.” The US alone has more vaccine doses sitting unused than have been distributed via COVAX. According to Unicef, COVAX will deliver its 65 millionth dose this week (see “How is COVAX distributing vaccines?“). “We have around 60 million doses sitting in refrigerators at the state level. The federal has more,” says Ali Mokdad at the University of Washington in Seattle. Udayakumar estimates that the US may have 70 million doses unused. “This is, in my opinion, criminal,” says Mokdad. “We should start sharing. There are people dying out there.” Globally, around 9 per cent of the world’s 8 billion people have had at least one vaccine dose, which many regard as an amazing achievement in just six months.
5-19-21 Indian coronavirus variant is threatening UK plans to end lockdown
ON 17 MAY, many people in the UK regained some of the freedoms surrendered to the coronavirus pandemic. But there are concerns that the relaxation has come too soon, with B.1.617.2 – a variant first identified in India – set to become the dominant strain in England over the coming week. England, Wales and most of Scotland have now proceeded in line with step three of the UK government’s plan for easing lockdown. That means most businesses can fully reopen, including pubs and restaurants, entertainment venues, museums, galleries and gyms. People can welcome others into their homes, and the ban on foreign travel has been lifted to some extent. However, Prime Minister Boris Johnson urged caution and said that B.1.617.2 “could pose a serious disruption to our progress”. A complete lifting of England’s restrictions, currently pencilled in for 21 June, may be delayed. Some scientists think that step three may already be a step too far. Jeremy Farrar, director of Wellcome and a member of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE), told BBC Radio 4 that he wouldn’t be meeting people indoors just yet. The key question is whether vaccination has “decoupled” infection from severe illness, he said, which would mean that a rise in infections doesn’t lead to a surge of hospitalisations, deaths and long covid. “To be honest, we don’t know that today,” he said, and warned that if B.1.617.2 proves to be resistant to vaccines, the relaxation may have to be reversed. In February, the UK government set itself four tests that must be passed in order to continue on the planned pathway for easing of restrictions in England. The fourth of these is “assessment of the risks is not fundamentally changed by new Variants of Concern”. According to Kit Yates at the University of Bath, UK, who is a member of the alternative Independent SAGE group, this test is “potentially failing”. B.1.617.2 is booming in many parts of the UK, he says.
5-19-21 Covid-19 news: UK to give third doses in world's largest booster trial
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. Volunteers in the UK will be given a third dose of a covid-19 vaccine or a control to assess the impact on immunity. Almost 3000 fully vaccinated people in the UK will be given a third dose of a covid-19 vaccine in the world’s first large-scale clinical trial of covid-19 booster vaccines. The volunteers will be given a booster shot or a control and then have their immune systems tested to see whether the booster raises their antibody levels and increases immunity. Side effects will also be monitored. The data will inform UK authorities about whether to run an autumn booster campaign, and if so, which vaccine to use for this. It is not an admission that antibody levels are waning or that the vaccines do not protect against variants of concern, say the organisers of the Cov-Boost trial. European Union countries have agreed to ease coronavirus travel restrictions on visitors from countries outside the bloc. EU ambassadors approved a European Commission proposal from 3 May to relax the criteria for “safe” countries and to allow fully vaccinated tourists to enter. They are expected to set a new list of safe countries in the coming days, increasing the current limit on case numbers per 100,000 people in the previous 14 days from 25 to 75. An “emergency brake” mechanism could still be used to limit the risk of new coronavirus variants entering the EU, however. The United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Bahrain have said they will start offering third shots of China’s Sinopharm vaccine to people who received their second dose of the two-dose regimen more than six months ago, making them the first countries to introduce boosters. “The priority to receive an additional dose of Sinopharm is for the senior citizens and people with chronic diseases,” said the UAE’s National Emergency Crisis and Disaster Management Authority on 18 May. India reported yet another record 24-hour increase in covid-19 deaths. There were 4529 deaths from covid-19 reported on 18 May, the highest daily death toll reported by any country since the pandemic began.
5-19-21 Andrew Brown: No charges for police who shot black motorist
The officers involved in the fatal shooting of a black motorist during an attempted arrest in North Carolina will not face criminal charges. The Elizabeth City district attorney told reporters the police shooting of Andrew Brown, 42, was "justified". Officials say Mr Brown drove his car at police during the 44-second encounter. Mr Brown's family say he was "executed". A private post-mortem examination said he was shot five times, including in the back. But authorities said on Tuesday that Mr Brown was shot twice: in the shoulder and the back of the head. The other injuries were shrapnel wounds, they said. His death on 21 April sparked protests against police brutality, and comes at a time of heightened scrutiny over the use of police force on African Americans. In a news conference on Tuesday, District Attorney Andrew Womble said Mr Brown "posed an immediate threat to the safety of the officers" when he ignored commands and tried to evade arrest, using his car as a "deadly weapon". Police in full tactical gear had gone to Mr Brown's home in Elizabeth City to serve arrest and search warrants related to drug charges, Mr Womble said, and "they could not simply let him go as has been suggested". The district attorney said Mr Brown was a known drug dealer who had sold cocaine and heroin laced with fentanyl. Mr Womble said the Pasquotank County officers involved in the arrest had been briefed beforehand on Mr Brown's criminal history of charges for resisting arrest and convictions for assault. The jerky police footage showed officers approaching Mr Brown's car with guns drawn. One of the officers reaches for the driver's side door and the vehicle reverses. The same officer appears to be in the path of the car as it moves forward, and he seems to avoid being directly struck by the vehicle as he steps aside, touching the bonnet. Gunfire rings out as the car drives away from the officers. (Webmaster's comment: It's like killing blacks is a secret part of a police officers job, and now they know they can get away with it!.)
5-19-21 New York prosecutor says Trump inquiry now criminal
The New York attorney general's office says it is investigating the Trump Organization "in a criminal capacity". A spokesman for the state's top prosecutor, Letitia James, said the inquiry into Mr Trump's property company was "no longer purely civil". Ms James has been scrutinising the ex-Republican president's financial dealings before he took office. The Trumps deny wrongdoing and say the inquiry by a Democratic prosecutor is a political vendetta. Ms James' spokesman, Fabien Levy, told the BBC on Tuesday: "We have informed the Trump Organization that our investigation into the Organization is no longer purely civil in nature. "We are now actively investigating the Trump Organization in a criminal capacity, along with the Manhattan DA. We have no additional comment." The statement did not say what turned the inquiry from civil to criminal in nature, or whether the former president himself might be personally implicated in any allegations. Civil cases usually have to do with injury to individuals or other private parties, including businesses; criminal law applies in cases where the damage is thought to affect society at large, including the state. Ms James launched a civil inquiry in March 2019 into claims that Mr Trump had inflated the value of his assets to banks when seeking loans, and understated them to lower his taxes. Her office has also been seeking documents on four Trump Organization properties in Manhattan, upstate New York, Chicago and Los Angeles. Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr said in court documents last August that his office was investigating alleged "protracted criminal conduct" at the Trump Organization. Mr Vance's legal filing cited newspaper articles about purported bank and insurance fraud at the company. The Manhattan district attorney has also been investigating whether any of Mr Trump's financial records were doctored to cover up hush-money payments to two women in 2016 who say they had affairs with him.
5-19-21 Covid: France and Austria reopen bars and restaurants as lockdowns ease
Bars, shops and cultural spaces across France have reopened their doors as the country starts lifting restrictions aimed at preventing the spread of coronavirus. From Wednesday, groups of up to six people are allowed to eat together at outdoor restaurant terraces. France's nationwide curfew is also being pushed back from 19:00 to 21:00. Austria has also allowed restaurants, cinemas and theatres to open for the first time in six months. Customers with a Green Pass showing a negative test, vaccinations or recovery from an infection will now be able to take advantage of Austria's new rules. Austria's government has also announced that travellers from certain countries with low rates of infections will no longer have to quarantine from Wednesday, although they will still need to provide proof of a negative test, vaccinations or a recent infection. Most European countries appear on the approved list, although the UK and Sweden are not included. Austria entered its second nationwide lockdown in November after reporting record numbers of daily infections. Fewer than 600 new cases were reported on Tuesday, down from a peak of 9,586 on 12 November. Following months of closures, Wednesday's easing of restrictions means that along with restaurants, cafes and non-essential shops, cinemas, theatres, museums and sports venues are also welcoming customers. The BBC's Paris correspondent, Lucy Williamson, says people are excited about the prospect of a return of social life in France. One woman, our correspondent adds, had organised a day off work in order to sit through three screenings at her local cinema - back to back. Some medical experts in the country had raised concerns about the number of new daily Covid-19 infections, which now average about 13,000. But that figure is far lower than the peaks of more than 40,000 daily cases recorded as recently as last month.
5-19-21 India's holiest river Ganges is swollen with Covid victims
India's holiest river, the Ganges, has been swollen with bodies in recent days. Hundreds of corpses have been found floating in the river or buried in the sand of its banks. Those who live close to where they have washed up, in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh, fear they are Covid-19 victims. India has been overwhelmed by a devastating second wave of the pandemic in recent weeks. It has recorded more than 25 million cases and 275,000 deaths, but experts say the real death toll is several times higher. The bodies on the river banks, taken together with funeral pyres burning round-the-clock and cremation grounds running out of space, tell the story of a death toll unseen and unacknowledged in official data. The BBC spoke to local reporters, officials, and eyewitnesses in some of the worst affected districts of Uttar Pradesh and found that behind the story of the floating bodies lies traditional beliefs, poverty, and a pandemic killing people at lightning speed. The horror in Uttar Pradesh first came to light on 10 May when 71 corpses washed up on the river bank in Bihar's Chausa village, near the state border. Neeraj Kumar Singh, superintendent of police for Buxar, where Chausa is located, told the BBC that autopsies were carried out on the mostly decomposed bodies, DNA samples were taken, and the bodies buried in pits near the river bank. Officials said some of the remains could be body parts which had found their way into the Ganges after routine cremations on the banks, but they suspected the corpses had been dumped in the river. The police installed a net across the water to catch any more. A day later, six miles (10km) from Chausa, dozens of heavily decomposed bodies were found strewn on the river bank in Gahmar village in Uttar Pradesh's Ghazipur district, with feral dogs and crows feasting on them.
5-19-21 Amphotericin-B: Concern over 'black fungus' drug shortage as cases rise
An anti-fungal drug used in the treatment of a rare infection called mucormycosis, or "black fungus", is in short supply across states in India. Amphotericin B, which is manufactured by many Indian firms, is also on sale on the black market. There are many emergency appeals on social media for the drug as mucormycosis cases rise. Doctors say the infection could be triggered by the use of steroids in severely-ill Covid patients. Mucormycosis is caused by exposure to mucor mould which is commonly found in soil, plants, manure and decaying fruits and vegetables. It affects the sinuses, the brain and the lungs and can be dangerous in diabetic or severely immunocompromised people, such as cancer patients or people with HIV/AIDS. Many patients arrive for treatment late, when they are already losing vision, and doctors have to surgically remove the eye to stop the infection from reaching the brain. Last week, Maharashtra's health minister Rajesh Tope said there were 1,500 cases of the infection in the state, which is one of the worst affected in the second wave of Covid-19 in India. As many as 52 people people have died due to mucormycosis in the state since the coronavirus outbreak started last year, a senior health department told PTI news agency last week. Officials in Gujarat state said that close to 900 cases of "black fungus" had been reported in the past month. The owner of a big pharmacy in Ghaziabad city in Uttar Pradesh state told the BBC that earlier the injection had been easily available but had become difficult to procure since demand shot up three weeks ago. With a severe shortage of the drug across cities, there has been a flood of frantic SOS pleas on Twitter. Doctors say amphotericin B or "ampho-B" is an anti-fungal intravenous injection which has to be administered every day for up to eight weeks to patients diagnosed with mucormycosis. There are two forms of the drug available: standard amphotericin B deoxycholate and liposomal amphotericin.
5-19-21 We must share vaccines globally in our fight against covid-19
IN THE long term, the future is looking bright. Several coronavirus vaccines are proving far more effective than we dared hope, and while some aren’t as effective against new variants, most do still work. In the short term, however, things may get worse before they get better. Despite many countries, including the UK, starting to return to “normality” with the relaxing of restrictions, we now have another dangerous new variant – B.1.617.2, first detected in India – to contend with. It might be even better at spreading than the B.1.1.7 variant from the UK. Even the UK, which has given at least one vaccine dose to more than half its adult population, may not have vaccinated enough people to prevent another wave of cases, although it has, hopefully, vaccinated enough vulnerable people to prevent another major wave of hospitalisations and deaths. Most countries are in a much worse position. Globally, just 9 per cent of people have had at least one dose, and in lower-income countries the proportion is closer to zero. Many people will die because higher-income countries are vaccinating their entire populations rather than sharing doses once they have vaccinated the most vulnerable. Worse, some have stockpiles of unused doses building up. The US has an estimated 70 million doses sitting on shelves, which is more than the international initiative for distributing vaccines fairly, COVAX, has distributed to all the countries in the scheme so far. Experts say that as manufacturing rapidly ramps up, the US could share its excess now without any risk of running out. As New Scientist went to press, President Joe Biden had promised to send 20 million vaccine doses abroad. Higher-income countries need to share more money too. Another $45 billion or so is needed to achieve global vaccination – small change compared with the $5 to 10 trillion cost of the pandemic. This money isn’t charity. Ensuring the whole world is vaccinated is the best way to reduce the risk of further dangerous variants emerging. A variant that evades existing vaccines will cost a lot more than $45 billion, quite apart from the human toll.
5-18-21 How US police training compares with the rest of the world
More people are killed by police in the US than in any other developed country, and there are growing calls for improved training to reduce the use of lethal force. We've looked into what training US police officers receive, and how it compares with other parts of the world. About 1,000 people a year are killed by police officers in the US, according to an independent project that tracks police violence. Most are shot dead. The majority of the world's police forces carry firearms, but no developed nation uses them against their citizens as often as officers in the US - and disproportionately against African-Americans, compared with the percentage of the population they represent. Part of this is to do with gun culture - the US is home to around half of the world's civilian-held firearms. In 2020, fewer than 10% of people killed by police were recorded as unarmed. Rashawn Ray, professor of sociology at the University of Maryland, says: "In most states people can carry guns either on their body or in their vehicles, so that escalates things for police - they instantly perceive that anyone can be a threat." In 2020, 49 police officers were shot dead while on duty. In the same year, officers killed more than 20 times as many civilians - and some argue the use of force is disproportionate to the threat, with better training needed to de-escalate situations. Prof Ray says: "Nine out of 10 calls for law enforcement have nothing to do with violence at all, and while they definitely encounter violent situations that could escalate, often... it's police officers who are escalating the situation."There are around 18,000 police agencies in the US, but with no national standards on training, procedures and timescales vary across the country. On average, US officers spend around 21 weeks training before they are qualified to go on patrol. That is far less than in most other developed countries, according to a report by the Institute for Criminal Justice Training Reform (ICJTR). (Webmaster's comment: None of this will be improved until we purge the White Supremacists, Klan, and Neo-Nazis from our police forces. They join the police forces so they can kill and that's just what they do.)
5-18-21 Covid-19 news: Long covid may improve after vaccine, survey finds
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. More than half of people surveyed said their long covid symptoms improved after a first dose of covid-19 vaccine. Long covid symptoms may be eased by covid-19 vaccines, a survey suggests. The survey, which hasn’t been peer-reviewed, included 812 people with long covid (who experience long-term symptoms after the initial infection has passed) from around the world, and was conducted by advocacy group LongCovidSOS. It found that 56.7 per cent of respondents saw an overall improvement in their symptoms after receiving a first dose of covid-19 vaccine. About a quarter said their symptoms remained unchanged, while 18.7 per cent reported that their symptoms worsened following their first vaccine dose. The respondents were mainly white and female, and were contacted through social media. The European Union’s medicines regulator says the Pfizer/BioNTech covid-19 vaccine can be stored at fridge temperature for longer than previously recommended. In a statement, the European Medicines Agency said it has extended the approved storage period for an unopened, thawed vaccine vial when kept in a fridge between 2 and 8 degrees C from five days to 31 days. It said the change was approved following assessment of additional stability study data, and that the increased flexibility in storage would significantly impact planning and logistics of covid-19 vaccine rollouts in member states. The Palestine Liberation Organisation said on 17 May that Gaza’s only coronavirus testing lab is no longer functional, following bombing in Al-Rimal by Israel. World Health Organization director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus described the health situation in Gaza as “highly concerning”. He told reporters: “Covid-19 testing and vaccination has been severely impacted […] this creates health risks for the world as a whole.” India reported a record daily increase in covid-19 deaths of 4329 on 17 May. There were 263,533 new coronavirus cases reported in the same 24-hour period, down from 281,386 cases on 16 May.
5-18-21 The threat of civil war didn't end with the Trump presidency
The stage is being set for even more electoral turbulence. Donald Trump's presidency was a product of the country's political polarization, but Trump himself pushed that polarization much further than it was before he took office. His actions during his final weeks in the White House — above all, his denial of his own loss in the 2020 election and his incitement of the insurrection against Congress' formal certification of electoral votes on Jan. 6 — brought the country to the brink. But the brink of what? Most liberals and progressives assume we were facing a coup that would have kept Trump in office in defiance of both the popular and Electoral College vote. That would have overturned American democracy in favor of a form of authoritarianism. But that wouldn't have been the end of the story. It would have been the beginning — the start of a series of events that culminated in something that looks much more like a second American civil war. That is the ominous possibility that we need to keep in mind as we advance toward turbulent elections of the future. The chilling events of Jan. 6 were made possible by profoundly deep differences between Democrats and Republicans — not over policy or morals, but over reality itself. That was Trump's decisive contribution to our civic breakdown. On top of the substantive partisan disagreements that have piled up over the decades, Trump built on and radicalized the polemical style of right-wing media, combining it with the lies and intentional distortions of a well-practiced conman who considers it unacceptable ever to concede a loss. Long-standing, low-grade paranoia on the right about voter fraud now became an outright conspiracy theory denying that any result other than a victory for Trump could be considered legitimate. That got us to the insurrection on Capitol Hill. But the events that followed — dozens of Republicans voting against certification of state electoral votes, Trump's continued denial of his own loss, the bulk of his party in Congress punishing the few daring to call out the former president's Big Lie, polls indicating that the Republican base continues to believe in it, and state election officials who certified Biden's victory being replaced by Trump loyalists — show that the story isn't over. A significant chunk of the American electorate now resides in an alternative universe of facts about the nation's elections while continuing to share the same political space with the rest of the country. What might that entail four and eight years from now? The troubling truth is that precisely how events unfold will be a function not just of the margins between the candidates and which party controls Congress and the legislatures and governorships within the closest states, but also of which party holds the White House at the time. Let's assume for the sake of a thought experiment that the 2024 election pits Joe Biden against Trump or a Trumpist Republican, that Biden prevails in the popular vote by a healthy margin, that the Electoral College is decided by three states controlled by Republican officials where Biden prevailed by just a couple of percentage points, and that the GOP controls a majority of the state delegations to the House of Representatives. In this scenario, the three key state legislatures, citing unsubstantiated stories of election fraud, refuse to certify the official slate of Democratic electors and appoint an alternative slate ready to vote for the Republican candidate. This would throw the Electoral College into chaos, requiring the House to assume responsibility for the final outcome. Republicans are favored to take control of the House in 2022, but already they control a majority of the state delegations. That will very likely still be true on Jan. 6, 2025. Which means that they could declare the Republican the victor even if Biden wins the popular vote and the Electoral College — though they would of course claim to be acting on the conviction that in reality Biden lost the key states and so also fell short of the required electoral votes.
5-18-21 The backlash to police reform in Philadelphia
Philadelphia is holding a primary election Tuesday that will decide the fate of District Attorney Larry Krasner, a former public defender who has put into practice a number of important criminal justice reforms. In response, the Philadelphia police union (Fraternal Order of Police, or FOP) is sparing no expense to crush him. They have funded a right-wing challenger, Carlos Vega, blanketed the city in advertising, and are trying to convince Republicans to register as Democrats so they can vote in the primary. The cops think they own the city, and they are outraged by how Krasner has moderately infringed on their power and impunity. This election is an important test case in whether democratic authorities can successfully rein in their corrupt and incompetent police departments. As Chris Brennan and Mike Newall write at the Philadelphia Inquirer, the political context here is that violent crime is up a lot this year in Philly, and the FOP is blaming Krasner. They've parked a soft-serve ice cream truck outside his office to illustrate their accusation that he is soft on crime. (As an aside, it's important to note that many of Krasner's reforms, like decriminalizing marijuana possession and releasing elderly prisoners who are vanishingly unlikely to re-offend, which has saved the city tens of millions of dollars in incarceration costs, are not even tangentially related to the crime problem.) The theory of the FOP's attitude is that when someone commits a crime, they should be reliably punished as a deterrent. There's just one problem when it comes to Philadelphia — in order to punish criminals, first the police must catch them. Krasner has not been at all lenient towards murder or violent assault — on the contrary, he has prosecuted over 99 percent of homicides, and over 98 percent of non-fatal shootings, in which an alleged culprit was found. (As I have previously written, while Krasner is about as good as it gets when it comes to DAs, he is not some "abolish the police" radical.) But Philly cops only make an arrest in about 40 percent of homicides, and less than 20 percent of non-fatal shootings. Insofar as we accept the FOP logic here, Philly cops' abysmal investigative record must be the primary culprit behind any failure of deterrence. (In reality, it is far more likely that the pandemic is the real reason why violent crime has risen, since it has happened in almost every major city regardless of whether their DA was a reformer or not.) Indeed, even that 40 percent figure should be viewed with suspicion. After Krasner was elected in 2017, he restarted a defunct Conviction Integrity Unit to review disputed cases involving possible abuses by the justice system. Since then, 20 murder convictions in the city have been overturned (most recently on May 4), often because Philly detectives coerced false confessions from people or fabricated evidence. That figure is certainly not complete, either — a painstaking Inquirer investigation has identified 89 instances "in which witnesses and defendants made allegations that detectives fabricated statements, coerced confessions, or engaged in other improper techniques." Someone being imprisoned for a murder they did not commit — one man was exonerated after 28 years in prison, including 23 years on death row — is of course a grotesque miscarriage of justice. But it also means that the real culprit has gotten away with it. The FOP, naturally, doesn't care at all about its members beating confessions out of the wrong person. For instance, seven murder cases built by Detective James Pitts have fallen apart, and as the Inquirer's Samantha Melamed writes, "he has also been the subject of at least 11 citizen complaints and five internal investigations," and "dozens of convictions fraught with similar allegations about Pitts remain intact." But he remains on the force, thanks to misconduct investigations being handled through the police department's own notoriously lax Internal Affairs division — a system the FOP protects. The union reacted with outrage when some years ago the Justice Department recommended that police misconduct investigations be handled by an independent agency. (Even when Internal Affairs does recommend an officer be fired, they are usually reinstated thanks to the FOP's preposterously slanted contract.)
5-18-21 This is your brain on pandemic whiplash
The CDC says the fully vaccinated are safe. But not everybody is ready to take that at face value.. A few days ago, my husband and I went to the aquarium. It was our first big excursion since reaching full COVID-19 vaccine immunity, and the first time either of us had spent more than a few minutes in an indoor public space since early 2020. As we ate lunch in the sparsely-arranged cafeteria, I pulled out my phone and began scrolling. A post from a friend caught my eye: "Wow! CDC says vaccinated people can be maskless indoors and out." I stared at the screen for a while. Then I pulled my mask back up over my face and went to bus my tray. I suppose I shouldn't have been surprised. Even before the CDC's announcement, public discourse about masks had been getting increasingly antsy. I've been hearing more and more frequently, from friends and in media, that fully immunized people should be casting off our masks in low-risk situations, in the name of science, and to show our faith in vaccines. I'd be lying if I said this wasn't enticing. I'm already getting increasingly comfortable going bare-faced in certain settings, especially outdoors where transmission risk has been shown to be vanishingly small. But when it comes to indoor interactions, particularly among strangers, I'm not rushing to jettison my masks any time soon. And I'm far from alone. A recent piece in The Atlantic characterized this hesitancy, particularly among liberal Americans, as "[leaving] scientific evidence behind." I've heard similar arguments even within my politically progressive social bubble. And though I don't disagree that one's opinion on masking can be a proxy for political identity, politics does not occur in a vacuum. It springs from our core values; it's how we orient our moral compass. And for those of us whose political values have so far guded us to wear masks in public, the CDC's new guidelines offer plenty of reasons for pause. For starters, we know that wearing masks prevents disease transmission. That's a scientific fact, even if preventing that transmission is a matter of less urgency now. The vaccines against COVID-19 are stunningly effective on a broad scale, yes, and that is reason enough for everyone who can get vaccinated to do so. But the CDC itself acknowledges that there will be "breakthrough infections" — people who contract the virus despite being vaccinated — and that we still don't know how well the vaccines work for people with compromised immune systems. Plus, there are millions of Americans who cannot be vaccinated yet even if they want to, including (as of this writing) children under the age of 12. Even beyond this, nothing about the science of COVID-19 — let alone how that science has been packaged for public consumption — is straightforward. Just days before the CDC relaxed its mask guidance, The New York Times reported that the agency's publicly shared data around outdoor COVID-19 transmission was misleading, making the risk seem far greater than it actually was. And while this is good news for those eager to go mask-less outdoors, it does nothing to lessen the confusion from a year's worth of conflicting CDC recommendations and abrupt U-turns. Vaccine efficacy rates cannot capture other public-health risks, including racism and white supremacy, that linger over the decision to mask. Even in the relatively liberal Bay Area, I have Asian American friends who have voiced fears about wearing masks in public, because it makes them visible targets for abuse. Black Americans, too, have been brutalized for wearing masks in public places. The CDC's guidelines assume that those who prefer to wear masks in public will continue to do so. But when mask-wearing becomes an exception rather than a norm, it pushes those who are already othered and vulnerable, who have already borne the brunt of the pandemic's impact — including people of color, as well as disabled people and the chronically ill — even farther to the margins.
5-18-21 Walmart: Customers want to get out and shop, says boss
US customers "clearly want to get out and shop", the boss of Walmart has said after the world's biggest retailer reported stronger sales than expected. Walmart chief executive Doug McMillion said optimism had grown since the start of the year and the retail giant raised its full-year profit forecast. Spending had been boosted by stimulus cheques the government sent to most Americans, Walmart said. US like-for-like sales in the February-April period rose 6% from a year ago. Sales across the whole group rose by 2.75% to $138.3bn (£97.3bn), beating analysts' expectations. "This was a strong quarter," said Mr McMillion. "Every segment performed well, and we're encouraged by traffic and grocery market share trends. "We anticipate continued pent-up demand throughout 2021," he added. The Arkansas-based retailer said people were spending more after many received additional $1,400 stimulus cheques as part of a US coronavirus recovery package approved in early March. Sales of non-food items such as clothes, electronics and toys jumped by 20% as a result. In a call with analysts, the firm's chief financial officer said that consumers had also started buying more beauty products as lockdown restrictions ease. Teeth whiteners in particular have done well, he said. Walmart raised its profit forecast for the current financial year, predicting an increase by "high single digits", rather than a small decline. But Mr McMillion added: "Stimulus in the US had an impact, and the second half has more uncertainty than a typical year." Profits in the first quarter fell by 32% to $2.7bn, after Walmart saw losses on the sale of Asda in the UK, as well as businesses in Japan and Argentina. Online sales also lost some momentum in the three months to April, rising 37%, in comparison with a surge of 74% the year before. The firm reported that customer traffic increased in April for the first time in a year, suggesting that vaccinated shoppers may have more confidence to venture out to bricks-and-mortar stores.
5-18-21 Mississippi abortion: US Supreme Court to hear major abortion case
The US Supreme Court has agreed to hear a challenge to Mississippi's 15-week ban on abortion in a major case that will be closely watched across the US. The verdict could upend the legal right to abortion laid out in the court's 1973 landmark Roe v Wade ruling. It will be the first abortion case heard by Justice Amy Coney Barrett, a Catholic conservative who then-President Trump nominated in 2020. The court is ideologically split, with conservatives holding a 6-3 majority. The case, Dobbs v Jackson Women's Health Organization, challenges the constitutionality of abortions performed after week 15 of pregnancy. At issue in the trial, which is expected to take place in the coming months, is whether a foetus is viable outside the womb after 15 weeks. In announcing the decision to hear the case, the Supreme Court said they would review whether "all pre-viability prohibitions on elective abortions are unconstitutional." If Mississippi's ban is upheld by the Supreme Court, it could pave the way for further abortion restrictions that have been pushed for by conservatives. "Alarm bells are ringing loudly about the threat to reproductive rights," said Nancy Northup from the Center for Reproductive Rights after the trial was announced. The 1973 Supreme Court ruling legalised abortion in the US. By a vote of seven to two, the court justices ruled that governments lacked the power to prohibit abortions. The court's judgement was based on the decision that a woman's right to terminate her pregnancy came under the freedom of personal choice in family matters as protected by the 14th Amendment of the US Constitution. Roe v Wade also established that in the final trimester a woman can obtain an abortion despite any legal ban only if doctors certify it is necessary to save her life or health. Overturning Roe v Wade would not make abortion illegal, it would just allow each state to determine its own rules.
5-17-21 Covid-19 news: Antibody levels could help predict vaccine efficacy
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. Antibody levels could help predict the level of protection a person has to covid-19 following vaccination or after natural infection. A person’s levels of neutralising antibodies following covid-19 vaccination or natural infection could help predict their level of immune protection, a study suggests. Neutralising antibodies are able to successfully bind to a virus, reducing its ability to infect other cells. David Khoury at the University of New South Wales in Sydney, Australia, and colleagues analysed data from seven covid-19 vaccine studies and one study of people who had been infected with the coronavirus and recovered. Using data on immune responses and observed protection from symptomatic coronavirus infection, the researchers modelled the relationship between neutralising antibody levels and protection from disease. The team found that neutralising antibody levels were highly predictive of immune protection, and could be used to predict the efficacy of a different covid-19 vaccine. COVAX, a global initiative aiming to ensure covid-19 vaccines are shared fairly between countries, is 140 million doses short as a result of India’s covid-19 crisis, the BBC reported on 17 May. The Serum Institute of India is the scheme’s largest single supplier and has made none of its planned shipments since exports from India were suspended in March. “Unfortunately, we’re in a situation where we just don’t know when the next set of doses will materialise,” Gian Gandhi, Unicef’s COVAX co-ordinator for supply, told the BBC. “Our hope is, things will get back on track, but the situation in India is uncertain.” A covid-19 vaccine candidate developed by pharmaceutical companies Sanofi and GlaxoSmithKline was found to produce strong immune responses in a phase II trial. The two companies said a phase III trial involving more than 35,000 adults would commence in the coming weeks, with the hope of getting the vaccine approved before the end of 2021. Coronavirus restrictions were eased in England, Wales and most of Scotland on 17 May. People in England can now meet indoors in groups of up to six or with a maximum of two households.
5-17-21 The GOP's blatant disregard for democracy
In Missouri, Republican lawmakers are ignoring the will of the voters. In August 2020, Missourians commanded their leaders to expand the state's stingy Medicaid program. They wanted adults at or near the poverty line to be eligible for government-funded health-care assistance, for that assistance to include all birth control and family planning services, and to ensure their leaders wouldn't create new obstacles for potential Medicaid recipients going forward. By a margin of 53 to 47 percent, voters approved adding those provisions into the Show-Me State's constitution. Last week, the state's GOP leaders declared that they will ignore their constituents. Gov. Mike Parson (R) announced Thursday that Missouri won't expand its Medicaid program after all — that the will of the voters had been overridden by Republican legislators who simply refused to appropriate any money for the initiative. Those legislators, in turn, made it plain for months that they didn't respect the results of the statewide vote. "Even though my constituents voted for this lie," State Rep. Justin Hill (R) said in April, "I am going to protect them from this lie." This is just the latest example of the GOP disregarding some of the central tenets of democracy. Americans in recent months have rightly been embroiled in a debate over attempts by GOP lawmakers in swing states like Georgia, Florida, Arizona, and Iowa to make voting more difficult for Democratic constituencies. They are following up on former President Donald Trump's false claims that the 2020 election was stolen from him by making it easier for a Republican candidate — perhaps Trump himself — to take back the White House in 2024. No surprise there: Even rank-and-file Republican voters say the party can best win elections by changing the rules instead of doing the hard work of persuading Americans. But the party's antipathy toward democracy won't just have consequences for national elections. The Medicaid debate in Missouri shows yet again that state and local Republican officials across the country aren't much inclined to respect the will of the voters, at least not when that will gets crosswise with their own. This became obvious after the 2018 midterm elections. In Michigan, Republicans in the state legislature stripped powers from the governor, attorney general, and secretary of state after Democrats won those posts. The same thing happened in Wisconsin, where Democrat Tony Evers had just won the governorship. Both states were following the lead of North Carolina, where GOP legislators in 2016 responded to the election of Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper by cutting the size of his administration and limiting his appointment powers. In Florida, voters in 2018 overwhelmingly approved a ballot measure restoring voting rights to former felons who had completed their sentences, probation, and parole. (The state requires a supermajority of 60 percent approval to pass such measures; the voting rights measure got 64 percent support.) The measure would have made more than 1 million of Florida's citizens newly eligible to vote. Republicans in Tallahassee neutered the initiative by requiring those ex-convicts to pay all their court fees and fines before they could fill out a ballot.When legislators can't defeat progressive ideas, judges can. Last week, the Mississippi Supreme Court struck down a voter-approved medical marijuana program in a lawsuit brought by Mary Hawkins Butler, the long-time Republican mayor of Madison. Judges said the law that enables voter initiatives in Mississippi is flawed and out of date — something that was also true, but apparently not a problem, when voters approved a GOP-favored voter ID law in 2011. These efforts to undermine election results have real consequences. In Missouri, for example, Parson and his allies in the legislature have decided to walk away from more than $1 billion in federal funding to help expand the Medicaid program. As a result, more than 270,000 residents making less than $18,000 a year won't get the help they need to pay their medical bills — they'll be unnecessarily left vulnerable to illness and injury.
5-17-21 US general reflects on Afghanistan departure
America’s longest serving commander in Afghanistan, General Scott Miller, has reflected on Nato forces' time in the country ahead of his troops withdrawal. General Miller told the BBC that Nato troops are now focused on “the risks to their forces, and the risks to the future of Afghanistan”. US-led Nato forces will withdraw from Afghanistan by 11 September, 20 years on from the attack that led to their placement. General Miller emphasised they would continue to support their Afghan allies in these final months but that he expected Taliban violence would get worse.
5-17-21 AT&T and Discovery to create new streaming giant
US telecoms giant AT&T has agreed to combine its WarnerMedia business with Discovery in a deal to create a new streaming giant. The tie-up brings one of Hollywood's biggest studios and Discovery's channels under the same ownership. AT&T owns CNN, HBO and Warner Bros, after acquiring many brands in a $108.7bn (£77.1bn) purchase of Time Warner in 2018. The deal also marks the entry of another player into a crowded market. The proposed merger would put together movie giant Warner Bros. Entertainment, which owns the Harry Potter and Batman franchises, with Discovery's home, cooking, nature and science shows. "This agreement unites two entertainment leaders with complementary content strengths and positions the new company to be one of the leading global direct-to-consumer streaming platforms," said AT&T chief executive John Stankey. "It will support the fantastic growth and international launch of HBO Max with Discovery's global footprint and create efficiencies which can be re-invested in producing more great content to give consumers what they want." WarnerMedia-owned HBO and HBO Max now have around 64 million subscribers worldwide, with hits such as Game of Thrones and Succession under its belt. But it is currently dwarfed by larger rivals Netflix, which has 208 million subscribers, and Disney+, which has more than 100 million. Discovery, whose portfolio includes Animal Planet and the Discovery Channel, reaches more than 88 million US homes, while its Discovery+ streaming service, which launched in January, has 15m subscribers. Discovery's president and chief executive David Zaslav is set to lead the joint company, according to AT&T. "This is a streaming arms race and AT&T is making an offensive strategic move to further bulk up its content in the battle versus Netflix, Disney, and Amazon," Dan Ives from Wedbush Securities told the BBC.
5-16-21 Vaccinating the world
To beat COVID-19, the world needs about 7 billion doses of vaccine. How do we get there? To beat COVID-19, the world needs about 7 billion doses of vaccine. How do we get there? Here's everything you need to know:
- How is vaccination going? Very unevenly. Wealthy countries are well on their way to vaccinating a majority of their populations against COVID-19, while poor countries are scrambling to get any doses at all. Of the more than 1.25 billion doses that have made it into arms, only 0.3 percent of those were administered in poor countries.
- Why is the West so far ahead? Western governments had the money to strike early deals with top vaccine makers headquartered in their countries, preordering many different vaccines. By January 2021, rich countries had already bought up 96 percent of the doses Pfizer is scheduled to make for this year, and 100 percent of Moderna's.
- Who is exporting vaccines? Russia and China are leading the way in "vaccine diplomacy," providing millions of doses to other countries. Russia's Sputnik V is made using a deactivated adenovirus — a cold virus — to which a bit of modified COVID-19 DNA has been added, and is reportedly 92 percent effective.
- Will waiving patents help? In the long term, yes, but in the short term, no. The Biden administration endorsed waiving patents last week, but the European Union is opposed, so the World Trade Organization will continue debating the issue for months.
- What can be done in the meantime? For the more traditional adenovirus vaccines, which are easier to make than the mRNA vaccines, governments can pressure companies into "technology transfer" agreements that would see patent holders license rival companies to produce their vaccines for a small cut of the revenues. AstraZeneca has already made such deals to facilitate large-scale production in India and Japan.
- How else can the U.S. help? Because the U.S. government contributed some $2.5 billion toward the development of the Moderna vaccine, it has a great deal of leverage over how the vaccine is made and distributed. The nonprofit PrEP4All has recommended that the U.S. shift to a public production model for Moderna, to rapidly scale up vaccine-manufacturing capacity here in the U.S. for subsidized export to the rest of the world.
- India's missed opportunity: Before the pandemic, India was by far the world's biggest manufacturer of vaccines, through world leader Serum Institute of India (SII) and myriad smaller companies. The SII struck an early deal last year to manufacture AstraZeneca's vaccine under the name Covishield and took $300 million from the Gates Foundation and other donors to provide 200 million doses for the global Covax effort.
5-16-21 No alternative to vaccine passports, says Dubai airport boss
The boss of the world's busiest airport for international passengers has said Covid passports are the only way to restart mass foreign travel. Dubai Airports chief executive Paul Griffiths told the BBC: "I don't think there is an alternative." Critics of the digital systems argue they discriminate against those who cannot get vaccinated. But Mr Griffiths says he is a complete supporter of the documents, which he says are "inevitable". "I think the problem is not the vaccine passport and its discrimination. It's the need to roll things out and have a proper globally equitable vaccine programme," he said. The World Health Organisation and World Travel & Tourism Council are among those opposed to vaccine passports amid fears they will create a "two-tier society". Last month, Dr Mike Ryan from the WHO repeated concerns about the ethical and fairness issues surrounding vaccine passports. "They do need to be considered, especially in a world where vaccine is distributed in such a grossly inequitable way," he said. The aviation industry is desperately looking for ways to pick up speed after the damage wrought by government restrictions and a collapse in passenger confidence. According to the Air Transport Action Group, it was making a $3.5 trillion annual contribution to the global economy before the pandemic. However, with flights grounded, the numbers going through Dubai International Airport have collapsed in a similar way to the rest of the industry. Even so, 2020 was Dubai's seventh year in a row as the world's busiest airport for international passengers, having overtaken London Heathrow in 2014. A record 86.3 million people passed through in 2019, but as the coronavirus pandemic grounded flights, that fell 70% to 25.8 million last year. Mr Griffiths wants that number to rise again: "We need to get into risk management rather than risk avoidance."
5-16-21 Covid: Taiwan orders toughest curbs amid infections spike
Taiwan's government has imposed its toughest restrictions so far, as the island tries to battle a spike in Covid-19 cases. The authorities are shutting down cinemas and entertainment venues until 28 May, while limiting gatherings to five indoors and 10 outdoors. President Tsai Ing-wen urged the public not to panic-buy basic necessities. Taiwan - which has so far survived the pandemic almost unscathed - on Sunday reported 207 new infections. The island of 23 million people has recorded 1,682 infections and 12 Covid-related deaths since the start of the pandemic. Taiwan's impressive success battling the coronavirus has been largely attributed to early and strict border controls, a ban on foreign visitors and mandatory quarantine for all Taiwanese returning home. In a separate development on Sunday, Singapore said all schools as well as junior colleges and universities would shift to home-based learning from 19 May amid a spike in infections. Singapore on Sunday reported 49 new cases, including 38 locally transmitted infections. This is the highest daily tally since last September. Singapore has so far confirmed more than 61,000 cases, with 31 deaths. The government said masks must be now worn outdoors, urging people to work and study from home. The capital Taipei remains the main infections hotspot, forcing the city authorities to raise the coronavirus alert level there. In addition, shoppers across the island are being restricted to buying just two items of some goods after supermarket shelves were emptied in recent days. President Tsai on Saturday warned that panic-buying would only increase the risk of Covid clusters. Instant noodles and food in general, as well as toilet paper, was available in sufficient quantities and could easily be stored again by retailers, the president was quoted as saying by the Taiwan News.
5-15-21 Elise Stefanik: Trump loyalist wins Republican leadership post
US Republicans have appointed New York Congresswoman Elise Stefanik, a Trump loyalist, to the third-ranking post in the House of Representatives. It follows an earlier vote to oust the incumbent chairwoman, Liz Cheney, from the role over her criticism of former President Donald Trump. The final tally of Friday's secret ballot was 134 for Ms Stefanik to 46 for her opponent, Congressman Chip Roy. Ms Stefanik's win was expected, as she had the backing of top Republicans. The move is seen as a sign Mr Trump's grip on the party is as strong as ever six months after he lost the election. "Thank you to my colleagues for electing me to serve as House Republican Conference Chair," Ms Stefanik wrote on Twitter after the vote. "I am excited to lead our unified team... to combat Biden and Pelosi's Far-Left agenda!" she added, referring to President Joe Biden and Democratic Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi. In remarks to reporters, Ms Stefanik said her predecessor - who is the daughter of ex-US Vice-President Dick Cheney - remained "a part of this Republican conference". Ms Cheney fell afoul of her party earlier this year, as she was one of 10 Republicans who voted with Democrats to impeach then-President Trump for inciting the 6 January Capitol riot. He was eventually acquitted in the Republican-controlled Senate. Ms Stefanik added on Friday that "we are united in working with President Trump", calling the former president a "critical part of our Republican team". As chairwoman, she will oversee day-to-day operations for the Republican conference, which meets regularly to determine committee assignments for lawmakers and produces fact sheets and materials to keep the party's message unified. Mr Trump issued a statement congratulating Ms Stefanik on her "overwhelming victory" and saying the "Make America Great Again movement is strong". Republican House Leader Kevin McCarthy congratulated Ms Stefanik and Mr Roy, saying: "We had a healthy debate and a good election. We've got a lot of work to do in this leadership team, in this conference." Congressman Steve Scalise, the second-highest ranking House Republican, also praised Ms Stefanik, adding that the party "is incredibly unified". (Webmaster's comment: Just like Hitler unified the Nazis!)
5-15-21 White House vows probe into migrant children kept on buses
The White House has vowed to investigate reports that migrant children were forced to remain on board buses overnight as they waited to be re-located away from the border. Biden press secretary Jen Psaki called it "outrageous" and vowed to probe "how we got to this point, how this possibly happened". According to US media, the children used the toilet and ate aboard the bus. It comes amid an unprecedented influx in migrant children to US facilities. In March, a record-breaking almost 19,000 unaccompanied migrant minors entered the US through the southern border. In April the number dropped to around 17,200. More than 50,000 parents and children travelling as families also crossed into the US that month. "There's no excuse for this kind of treatment," Ms Psaki said on Friday about the children on buses. "In terms of what the consequences will be, I just can't predict that before an investigation has concluded." According to NBC News and the Dallas Morning News, a 15-year old boy from Honduras was left on board a bus in Dallas, Texas, from Saturday to Wednesday. That was before the bus eventually departed for the long journey to be reunited with his mother in Seattle - a distance of over 2,000 miles (3,200km). The bus company owner told NBC News that some children wait on the vehicles just a few hours and others are kept overnight. He said the coaches are often littered with refuse and have overflowing bathrooms. "This is completely unacceptable," Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra told NBC. His department is legally required to take custody of the children after their first 72 hours at US migration facilities. "We're quickly investigating this to get to the bottom of what happened, and we'll work to make sure this never happens again. The safety and well-being of the children is our priority." Border crossings hit a 20-year high after the Biden administration refused to revive the Trump-era policy of expelling unaccompanied migrant children under a pandemic-related emergency order known as Title 42. The Biden administration has been scrambling to place the unaccompanied migrant children into the homes of relatives in the US.
5-15-21 Biden revokes Trump order to punish statue vandals
President Joe Biden has revoked a string of proclamations by Donald Trump, including an order to punish vandals who destroy monuments. Mr Trump issued the order amid last year's social justice protests as statues were being defaced or toppled. Mr Biden also rescinded Mr Trump's plans for a sculpture garden to honour American heroes. And he canned a 2019 proclamation that sought to bar entry to immigrants who could not afford health insurance. Mr Trump issued an order in June 2020 instructing the federal government "to prosecute to the fullest extent" any person "that destroys, damages, vandalizes, or desecrates a monument, memorial, or statue". The proclamation - which singled out "rioters, arsonists and left-wing extremists" - was a popular talking point for the Republican president at his rallies. It followed demonstrators targeting statues, many dedicated to figures from the pro-slavery Confederacy, during US-wide protests following the murder of George Floyd while in police custody in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Also among the Trump orders scrapped on Friday afternoon by Mr Biden, a Democrat, was the former president's plans for an outdoor park featuring a sculpture garden of American historical figures. Mr Trump himself chose some of the figures to be included in the project: singer Whitney Houston, 19th Century anti-slavery icon Harriet Tubman, NBA star Kobe Bryant, 18th Century frontiersman Davy Crockett, Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia and evangelist Billy Graham. The project was never funded by Congress and no site was ever picked. Mr Biden also took down Mr Trump's order in October 2019 that immigrants must prove they could cover medical costs before being allowed into the US, a policy that was quickly blocked by a federal judge. "My Administration is committed to expanding access to quality, affordable healthcare," including for non-citizens, Mr Biden said as he revoked that proclamation.
5-15-21 'Good speech' isn't winning
This is the editor’s letter in the current issue of The Week magazine. Nearly a century ago, Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis wrote that the best remedy for "falsehood and fallacies" was not the "enforced silence" of censorship, but "more speech." That foundational defense of free speech was based on an optimistic assumption that has served us well: In the marketplace of ideas, good thinking and truth will eventually triumph over bad thinking and lies. Can we be so confident of that today? Social media has deeply disrupted public discourse, eroding and bypassing filters and turning every crank into a publisher with the potential for vast reach. On Facebook and Twitter, every day brings a new tsunami of hyperpartisan argument, tribal resentment, propaganda of all flavors, death threats, conspiracy theories, and some charming baby pictures and wonderful writing and thinking. The wonderful stuff — Brandeis' "more speech" — isn't necessarily triumphing over "falsehoods and fallacies." That's why Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg now faces fraught decisions about policing his massive, privately owned platform. Zuckerberg's reluctance to serve as "an arbiter of truth" is understandable: How does Facebook screen the 4.7 billion posts that its 2.7 billion users share each day? It can't. But its rage-reinforcing algorithms, allied with and fed by the Fox News media ecosystem, have enabled tens of millions of Americans to secede into an alternative reality that facts and evidence do not penetrate. In this bubble, massive voter fraud cost Donald Trump the 2020 election, Jan. 6 was a peaceful assembly of patriots, Rep. Liz Cheney is a traitor, COVID was not dangerous, masks offered no protection, and lifesaving vaccines are part of a sinister plot. These lies have led to hundreds of thousands of avoidable deaths during the pandemic, and a violent attempt to overturn an election. They now threaten democracy itself. Truth and our better angels may prevail in the long run, but let's be honest: The outcome is uncertain.
5-14-21 Covid-19 news: England proceeds with step 3 despite surging variant
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. Indian variant could hinder progress to step 4, prime minister Boris Johnson warns. The next stage of lockdown easing in England will go ahead as planned on Monday, prime minister Boris Johnson has confirmed, despite concerns over surging cases linked to the B.1.617.2 coronavirus variant first detected in India. “But I have to level with you that this new variant could pose a serious disruption to our progress and could make it more difficult to move to step four in June,” he said at a press briefing. The UK will now aim to give people over 50 and those clinically vulnerable their second vaccine dose within eight weeks of the first, Johnson said. He added that there was “no evidence” that vaccines used in the UK are less effective against B.1.617.2. Evidence suggests that the B.1.617.2 variant is more transmissible than the so-called Kent variant that is widespread in the UK, chief medical officer Chris Whitty said, but it is not clear by how much. A second dose of Pfizer/BioNTech covid-19 vaccine produces a stronger antibody response if it is given 12 weeks after the first dose, compared with three weeks, according to a pre-print. The finding supports the decision taken in the UK to extend the time between doses beyond the interval tested in clinical trials. New data from Public Health England suggest that the vaccination programme prevented 11,700 deaths in people aged 60 and over by the end of April 2021. In new guidance for the US, people fully vaccinated against covid-19 generally don’t need to wear face masks or practice social distancing inside or outside, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has said.
5-14-21 Covid: Biden hails 'great day' as he sheds mask in Oval Office
President Joe Biden has hailed a "great day for America" as US officials said vaccinated people can go mask-less in most indoor and outdoor settings. The president removed his mask in the Oval Office with Republican lawmakers as the guidance was being announced. The advice still calls for wearing masks in crowded indoor settings like buses, planes and hospitals. The Biden administration has faced pressure to ease restrictions on fully vaccinated people. In another major step for the US in returning to pre-pandemic life, the president of the 1.7m-member American Federation of Teachers labour union called for schools to reopen fully in the autumn. It comes after Pfizer's vaccine was approved for children aged 12 to 15. The US coronavirus caseload has fallen to its lowest point since last September, with deaths at their fewest since last April. According to the new guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), physical distancing can also cease for the fully vaccinated. Mr Biden, Vice-President Kamala Harris and staff went without facial coverings during a White House Rose Garden event to trumpet the new guidelines. "We're not going to go out and arrest people," added Mr Biden, urging non-vaccinated Americans to wear masks. His Twitter account posted: "The rule is now simple: get vaccinated or wear a mask until you do. The choice is yours." The US president has no power to order Americans to get vaccinated or wear masks. The latest rules come with about 35% of Americans now fully vaccinated, though the roll-out has been losing momentum. CDC Director Dr Rochelle Walensky said on Thursday at the White House: "Anyone who is fully vaccinated can participate in indoor and outdoor activities, large or small, without wearing a mask. "If you are fully vaccinated, you can start doing the things you have stopped doing because of the pandemic. We have all longed for this moment, when we can get back to some sense of normalcy." The guidance does not apply to healthcare facilities or places such as prisons and homeless shelters. Masks are also still advised for planes and other public transport.
5-14-21 Marjorie Taylor Greene accused of 'verbal assault' on Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez
US House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi has called for an ethics inquiry into a Republican for a "verbal assault" on another lawmaker. In the halls of Congress, Marjorie Taylor Greene reportedly accused New York's Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of supporting "terrorist" groups. Ms Ocasio-Cortez later said her antagonist was the kind of person she used to throw out of bars. Both lawmakers are lightning rods for criticism on the right and left. Mrs Greene last month challenged Ms Ocasio-Cortez, known as AOC, to debate the latter's proposed climate legislation, the Green New Deal. According to Washington Post reporters that witnessed Wednesday's confrontation, Mrs Greene approached AOC in the House chamber, saying "Hey Alexandria" twice, as the other woman ignored her and continued walking away. The Georgia congresswoman, known as MTG, then reportedly raised her voice to call antifa, a loosely knit group of far-left activists, and Black Lives Matter "terrorist" groups. She also called Ms Ocasio-Cortez a "radical socialist", adding: "You don't care about the American people." Ms Ocasio-Cortez - a self-described democratic socialist - threw her arms up as she continued to walk away, reporters say. She said something in response, but it was not overheard by reporters and her office declined to say what it was. Before leaving, Mrs Greene spoke to reporters to call Ms Ocasio-Cortez "a chicken", a "coward" and "pathetic". At a press conference on Thursday, Mrs Pelosi - the most senior Democrat in Congress - condemned the "verbal assault and abuse of our colleague". "It's so beyond the pale of anything that is in keeping with bringing honour to the House [of Representatives]," she said, calling it "a matter for the Ethics Committee". "This is beneath the dignity of a person serving in Congress," Mrs Pelosi continued, calling it "a cause for trauma and fear among members".
5-14-21 US fuel pipeline 'paid hackers $5m in ransom'
A major US fuel pipeline has reportedly paid cyber-criminal gang DarkSide nearly $5m (£3.6m) in ransom, following a cyber-attack. Colonial Pipeline suffered a ransomware cyber-attack over the weekend and took its service down for five days, causing supplies to tighten across the US. CNN, the New York Times, Bloomberg and the Wall Street Journal all reported a ransom was paid, citing sources. Colonial said on Thursday that it would not comment on the issue. On Friday, Japanese consumer tech giant Toshiba said its European division in France had been hit by the same cyber-criminal gang. Following the cyber-attack, Colonial announced it would resume operations on Wednesday evening, but warned that it could take several days for the delivery supply chain to return to normal. The 5,500-mile (8,900km) pipeline usually carries 2.5 million barrels a day on the East Coast. The closure saw supplies of diesel, petrol and jet fuel tighten across the US, with prices rising, an emergency waiver passed on Monday and a number of states declaring an emergency. The average price per gallon hit $3.008 (£2.14) - the highest level seen since October 2014, according to the Automobile Association of America. US President Joe Biden reassured motorists on Thursday that fuel supplies should start returning to normal this weekend, even as more filling stations ran out of gasoline across the Southeast. According to reports, Colonial had said initially it would not be paying the ransom demanded by the hackers. Toshiba Tec France Imaging System, which is part of Toshiba, said it was hit by a similar cyber-attack by DarkSide on 4 May. However, the firm emphasised that no leaks of data had been detected and that only a minimal amount of work data was lost during the event. It said it had put protective measures in place immediately after the attack.
5-13-21 Covid-19 news: UK fights surging variant with local vaccine roll-out
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 vaccines to be offered to all adults in Blackburn and Darwen. Covid-19 vaccines will be offered to all adults in one area of Lancashire, UK, which has seen high numbers of cases linked to a coronavirus variant of concern. Extra vaccinations and surge testing will begin next week in Blackburn and Darwen, the local borough council said. The latest figures show 90.2 cases per 100,000 people in this area, the third highest rate of infections in England, with an 89 per cent increase from the previous week. Council leaders have urged the community to be extra vigilant about covid-19 precautions. South Africa’s true number of deaths from covid-19 is more than 133,000, much more than the official figure of 54,968, according to a report by the South African Medical Research Council. The total recorded deaths in the country in the last 12 months number 157,000, and 85 per cent are likely to have been caused by covid-19, the report says. Adults are more likely to report mild and moderate side effects after having a different covid-19 vaccine for their second dose to their first, according to a UK study looking at the Pfizer and AstraZeneca vaccines, published in The Lancet. Delaying second vaccine doses for people younger than 65 to prioritise people getting their first dose could lead to fewer people dying of covid-19, according to a modelling study published in the British Medical Journal. The governor of Ohio has said his state will give out $1 million prizes to five people, chosen by lottery, as an incentive for people to get a covid-19 vaccine.
5-13-21 Cuba's bid to vaccinate all citizens with home-grown covid-19 shots
Cuba has begun a mass vaccination campaign using a home-grown vaccine that hasn’t yet completed large-scale human trials. The country has five covid-19 vaccines in development, with two in such phase III trials. It is the smallest country to develop a promising vaccine candidate, and the only one in Central or South America to do so. Its ambition is to immunise its entire population with the vaccines – and with no doses of other shots on order, there is everything to lose. Cuba began rolling out its Abdala vaccine in Havana on 12 May, with phase III trials still running, in what the country’s Ministry of Public Health labelled a “public health intervention” that will eventually reach 1.7 million people. The ministry has justified the roll-out based on the growing number of cases in the country and deems the vaccine to be safe based on trials so far. It hasn’t yet been fully approved for use by the national regulatory body. Another vaccine, Soberana 02, which is also in phase III trials, is already being rolled out to 145,000 healthcare workers and researchers as part of a similar intervention to test the vaccine in high-risk populations. A successful vaccine could lift Cuba out of its worst economic and health crisis in decades. It has reported 112,000 cases of covid-19 and around 700 deaths. The toll is relatively small for the region, but cases have surged to more than 1000 a day since airports were reopened last November. There are even suggestions that a vaccine could be offered to tourists to entice them to return— a vital source of revenue for the socialist nation that is under US sanctions. Other countries in the region are looking to Cuba too, as covid-19 cases continue to surge. Argentina, Bolivia, Honduras and Mexico are discussing the possibility of procuring or manufacturing Cuban vaccines. Venezuela is trialling the Abdala vaccine and hopes to produce 4 million doses.
5-13-21 Liz Cheney: Republican ousted from leadership for challenging Trump election claims
US Republicans have voted to oust a top lawmaker, Liz Cheney, from her leadership post over her criticism of former President Donald Trump. The Wyoming lawmaker, daughter of ex-US Vice-President Dick Cheney, has held the third-ranking post in the House of Representatives since 2019. On Tuesday she said her party could not stand for truth if it upheld Mr Trump's false claims he won the 2020 election. House Republicans will probably replace her this month with a Trump loyalist. The move is seen as a sign Mr Trump's grip on the party is stronger than ever six months after he lost the election. Ms Cheney's fate was decided in less than 20 minutes by House Republicans behind closed doors on Wednesday morning. Colleagues reportedly applauded her leadership tenure, but Ms Cheney drew boos when she spoke during the session and said: "We cannot let the former president drag us backward and make us complicit in his efforts to unravel our democracy." The ballot was not recorded but lawmakers cast an overwhelming voice vote in favour of removing Ms Cheney from her post. Immediately following her removal, she told reporters: "I will do everything I can to ensure that the former president never again gets anywhere near the Oval Office." Ms Cheney has repeatedly condemned Mr Trump over his unfounded claims the 2020 vote was stolen from him. Fellow Republican lawmakers say she is relitigating the past while they want to move on and focus on the next election. Reacting to the news of Ms Cheney's removal from leadership, Mr Trump released a statement attacking her as "a bitter, horrible human being" and "a talking point for Democrats". The Democratic leader of the House, Speaker Nancy Pelosi, lavished praise on Ms Cheney as a leader of great courage, patriotism and integrity".
5-13-21 Arizona recount: Why Republicans are still tallying votes
It's been seven months since the 2020 US presidential election. Donald Trump may not have conceded, but he's out of office. Joe Biden has been president for more than 100 days. The drumbeat of policy-making has moved on to pandemic relief and infrastructure spending. And yet in Mar-a-Lago, Trump is still complaining about his election loss. In Washington, Republicans just booted Liz Cheney, who said Biden was legitimately elected, from her congressional leadership post. And in Phoenix, Arizona, they're still counting - or technically, auditing - ballots. The audit is a review of more than two million ballots cast in Maricopa County - which includes Phoenix - ordered by the Republican majority that controls Arizona's state Senate. Joe Biden carried Maricopa County by more than 45,000 votes on the way to winning Arizona by 10,457 votes. He was the first Democrat to take the state since Bill Clinton in 1992. Republican audit backers theorise that if they can find substantive evidence of fraud then it means Trump really won Arizona. If Trump really won Arizona, maybe he really won other states he narrowly lost. And if he really won enough other states, then he really won the election. All this requires extreme logical contortions, but it's what they're rolling with. It's also worth noting that the Republican-controlled Maricopa County Board of Supervisors, which ran the county's election process and reviewed its results, stands behind their original tally and has had no interest in participating in the process. The Arizona Senate is paying $150,000 for the audit to be conducted by a private Florida-based company, Cyber Ninjas, that has never done anything like this before and isn't certified by the federal government to test voting systems. The process by which the Senate chose the company is opaque, and extra costs are being covered by right-wing fundraising. Already, Cyber Ninjas - which is paying individuals $15 an hour to conduct the audit - has made some basic mistakes, such as allowing blue pens to be used on the ballots. Blue ink is used to vote so this could potentially alter voters' intentions. The company also has been accused of leaving ballots and computers unsecured. (Webmaster's comment: What a joke!)
5-13-21 Colonial Pipeline: US fuel firm resumes service after cyber-attack
The operator of the biggest fuel pipeline in the US announced it would resume operations on Wednesday evening after a five-day closure. A ransomware cyber-attack forced Colonial Pipeline to shut down the main part of its network on Friday. The 5,500-mile (8,900km) pipeline usually carries 2.5 million barrels a day on the East Coast. The closure saw supplies tighten across the US, with prices rising and a number of states declaring an emergency. Colonial Pipeline warned in a press release that it could take several days for the delivery supply chain to return to normal. "Some markets served by Colonial Pipeline may experience, or continue to experience, intermittent service interruptions during the start-up period," they added in a statement. The FBI has accused a criminal gang called DarkSide of being behind the ransomware attack. Colonial has said it will not pay the ransom demanded by the hackers. US petrol prices rose on Wednesday as motorists queued to fill up their cars on the sixth day of the Colonial Pipeline shutdown. The average price per gallon hit $3.008 (£2.14) - the highest level seen since October 2014, according to the Automobile Association of America. A spokeswoman said that the shutdown and "fluctuating demand" had led to higher prices. The pipeline operator said on Wednesday that it had restarted operations, but it warned that it would "take several days for the product delivery supply chain to return to normal". Governors in the states of Florida, Virginia, North Carolina and Georgia have all declared states of emergency, which mean they can introduce temporary rules to ease prices in their areas as a result. For many people, the image of the oil industry is one of pipes, pumps and greasy black liquid. In truth, the type of modern operation Colonial Pipeline runs is extremely digital. Pressure sensors, thermostats, valves and pumps are used to monitor and control the flow of diesel, petrol and jet fuel across hundreds of miles of piping. All this operational technology is connected to a central system - and where there is connectivity, there is a risk of cyber-attack.
5-13-21 Alireza: Alleged killing of Iranian gay man sparks outcry
The alleged murder of a 20-year-old gay Iranian man is sparking outrage and condemnation around the world. Ali Fazeli Monfared, known to friends and on social media as Alireza, was reportedly kidnapped and beheaded in Ahvaz, south-west Iran, last week. His partner told BBC Persian he believed he may have been killed by male relatives. The Iranian authorities have not commented on his death but BBC Persian obtained photos of his grave site. News of his death had been reported by 6Rang, the Iranian Lesbian and Transgender Network. The group suggested he may have been kidnapped and killed by family members after they discovered evidence of his sexuality. Alireza was last heard from on 4 May in a phone call with his mother, reports say. His body was reportedly found discarded by a palm-tree, a day after she was told he was dead and was instructed where to find his remains. The 20-year-old's partner, Aghil Abyat, said Alireza had travelled to Ahwaz to visit his mother, pick up a military service exemption card and sell his mobile phone. He was supposed to fly to Turkey to join Mr Abyat just days later, apparently in the hope of applying for asylum in Europe. In months-old voice notes, heard by BBC Persian, Alireza spoke of the difficulties of being gay in Iran and said he had received death threats from within his wider family. One friend, who spoke to BBC Persian's Soroush Pakzad, described him as a "fashionable, fun-loving young man who would have loved to get famous one day". The friend said, although she did not know Alireza was gay, she was aware he had faced pressure from his family over his appearance and his social media image. Alireza's Instagram feed, which is flooded with thousands of followers and tributes, shows him posing for selfies, having fun with friends and lip-syncing along to music.
5-12-21 Covid-19 news: Pandemic should drive global health reform, says report
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. International health experts suggest major reform at WHO to reflect lessons learned during covid-19 pandemic. In a comprehensive review of global public health action taken during the coronavirus pandemic, an international panel of public health experts has recommended major reforms at the World Health Organization (WHO). The report, put together by a group convened by the WHO, argues that the covid-19 pandemic should trigger actions to prevent future pandemics of its kind, as well as actions to accelerate the end of the current pandemic, such as more sharing of covid-19 vaccine supplies by wealthy nations. It also recommends changes to the way the WHO operates, including giving the organisation more power to investigate emerging outbreaks with pandemic potential without needing to secure prior approval from the affected country or countries, as well as limiting the WHO director-general position to a single seven-year term. The UK will hold an independent public inquiry into the handling of the coronavirus pandemic in 2022, UK prime minister Boris Johnson told parliament on 12 May. Johnson said the government was “fully committed to learning the lessons at every stage of this crisis”. He said that because of the threat posed by new coronavirus variants and a possible surge in infections during winter of 2021 in the UK, spring of 2022 would be the “right moment” to hold the inquiry. But Jo Goodman, co-founder of UK advocacy group Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice, said 2022 is “simply too late to begin” the inquiry. “Lives are at stake with health experts and scientists warning of a third wave later this year,” Goodman told the BBC. “A rapid review in summer 2020 could have saved our loved ones who died in the second wave in winter,” she said. A recent rise in coronavirus cases due to a variant first identified in India could delay England’s plans for reopening, scientists have warned. The variant, called B.1.617.2, is one of three that are closely related and has been designated as a variant of concern by Public Health England. Christina Pagel at University College London said the recent rise in B.1.617.2 cases is concerning enough to warrant a delay in the planned easing of coronavirus restrictions in England from 17 May. “We’ve done this so many times – waited until things got really bad before we realised we should have acted several weeks ago,” Pagel told the Guardian. On 12 May, Downing Street acknowledged that the government has conducted a “lessons learned” review of the covid-19 pandemic, which has not been made public. Coronavirus cases are continuing to surge in Seychelles, despite the majority of the country’s population being vaccinated mainly with China’s Sinopharm covid-19 vaccine. Among those who are fully vaccinated in the country, 57 per cent received the Sinopharm vaccine and 43 per cent received the Oxford/AstraZeneca jab. Of all the new active cases, 37 per cent are in people who are fully vaccinated, according to the health ministry.
5-12-21 Liz Cheney: Republican ousted from leadership for challenging Trump election claims
US Republicans have voted to oust a top lawmaker, Liz Cheney, from her leadership post over her criticism of former President Donald Trump. The Wyoming lawmaker, daughter of ex-US Vice-President Dick Cheney, has held the third-ranking post in the House of Representatives since 2019. On Tuesday she said her party could not stand for truth if it upheld Mr Trump's false claims he won the 2020 election. House Republicans will probably replace her this month with a Trump loyalist. The move is seen as a sign Mr Trump's grip on the party is stronger than ever six months after he lost the election. Ms Cheney's fate was decided by House Republicans in a vote behind closed doors on Wednesday morning. Colleagues reportedly applauded her leadership tenure, but Ms Cheney drew boos when she spoke during the session and said: "We cannot let the former president drag us backward and make us complicit in his efforts to unravel our democracy." The vote was not recorded but lawmakers cast an overwhelming voice vote in favour of removing Ms Cheney from her post. Immediately following her removal, she told reporters: "I will do everything I can to ensure that the former president never again gets anywhere near the Oval Office." Ms Cheney has repeatedly condemned Mr Trump over his unfounded claims the 2020 vote was stolen from him. Fellow Republican lawmakers say she is re-litigating the past while they want to move on and focus on the next election. Her political fall from grace stems from the aftermath of the Capitol riots on 6 January, when Trump supporters stormed Congress. She was one of 10 members of her party who voted days later with Democrats to impeach the then-president for incitement of insurrection. He was acquitted in the Republican-controlled Senate. Accusing her of disloyalty, rank-and-file House Republicans held a vote a month later on unseating Ms Cheney from her role as party conference chair. But the party's leader in the lower chamber, Kevin McCarthy, advised colleagues at the time against removing her. She survived the secret ballot by 145-61. Since then she has continued to upbraid Mr Trump.
5-12-21 Covid: Serious failures in WHO and global response, report finds
The Covid-19 pandemic was preventable, an independent review panel has said. The panel, set up by the World Health Organization, said the combined response of the WHO and global governments was a "toxic cocktail". The WHO should have declared a global emergency earlier than it did, its report said, adding that without urgent change the world was vulnerable to another major disease outbreak. More than 3.3 million people around the world have now died of Covid. While the US and Europe are beginning to ease restrictions and resume some aspects of pre-pandemic life, the virus is still devastating parts of Asia. India in particular is seeing record-breaking numbers of new cases and deaths, with severe oxygen shortages in hospitals across the country. Countries neighbouring India, such as Nepal, are also seeing surges of the virus. Covid-19: Make it the Last Pandemic, was compiled by the Independent Panel for Pandemic Preparedness and Response. Its aim was to find answers as to how the virus had killed more than 3.3 million people and infected more than 159 million. "The situation we find ourselves in today could have been prevented," co-chair Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, a former president of Liberia, told reporters. "It is due to a myriad of failures, gaps and delays in preparedness and response." The panel argued that the WHO's Emergency Committee should have declared the outbreak in China an international emergency a week earlier than it did. It should have done so at its first meeting on 22 January last year, the report said, instead of waiting until 30 January. The month following the WHO's declaration was "lost" as countries failed to take appropriate measures to halt the spread of the virus. The WHO was then hindered by its own regulations that travel restrictions should be a last resort, the panel said, adding that Europe and the US wasted the entire month of February and acted only when their hospitals began to fill up.
5-12-21 Coronavirus in India: 'My city is under siege from Covid-19'
The BBC's Vikas Pandey has called Delhi home for more than a decade - but life in India's capital has changed beyond recognition under a deadly second wave of Covid-19 infections. For more than a month now, people have been desperately trying to find help for their loved ones amid acute shortages of hospital beds, crucial drugs and oxygen. But thousands have died, many without receiving the treatment they needed. Here Vikas Pandey, along with his colleague Anshul Verma, take us on a journey through the city, and the daily struggle of finding medical care, oxygen cylinders and even a space at a crematorium.
5-12-21 US petrol supplies tighten after Colonial Pipeline hack
US motorists have been urged to not hoard fuel as supplies tighten due to a major pipeline remaining shut after a cyber-attack. Some drivers in the south east were seen stocking up as petrol stations began running dry and prices rose. The average price for petrol was the highest on Tuesday since November 2014, at $2.98 (£2.11) per gallon, the American Automobile Association said. North Carolina, Virginia and Florida have declared a state of emergency. But US Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm said there was no need for motorists to hoard petrol. Ms Granholm said there was not a shortage but a supply "crunch" in North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Georgia and southern Virginia, regions that typically rely on Colonial for fuel. A ransomware cyber-attack on Friday forced Colonial Pipeline to shut down the main part of its network. The operator has forecast that it will not substantially restore operations of the 5,500-mile (8,900km) pipeline network that supplies nearly half of the East Coast's fuel until the end of the week. The FBI has accused a criminal gang called DarkSide of the ransomware attack. The gang is believed to be based in Russia or Eastern Europe and avoids targeting computers that use languages from former Soviet republics, cyber experts said. Ransomware is a type of malware designed to lock computers by encrypting data and demanding payment to regain access. Russia's embassy in the US rejected speculation that the country's government was behind the attack. President Joe Biden a day earlier said there was no evidence so far that Russia was responsible. More than 7% of petrol stations in Virginia and 5% in North Carolina were out of fuel on Tuesday as demand jumped 20%, tracking firm GasBuddy said. On Tuesday, the government stepped in to issue an emergency fuel waiver lasting one week, designed to help alleviate any shortages. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) said the move, which relaxes some rules usually applied to fuel, would run until 18 May in Pennsylvania, Virginia, Maryland, and Washington DC. In addition, Georgia suspended sales tax on petrol until Saturday.
5-12-21 How did a cyber-attack lead to long queues for petrol in the US?
Across the eastern US, Americans are queuing up for petrol after a cyber-attack shut down operations for the country's biggest energy pipeline.
5-12-21 Colorado gunman killed six at party 'as he was not invited'
Colorado officials say the gunman who killed six people at a birthday party at the weekend was upset that he had not been invited. Police say Teodoro Macias, 28, fatally shot his girlfriend, Sandra Ibarra-Perez, 28, and five relatives before turning the gun on himself. The attack unfolded at the Canterbury Mobile Home Park in Colorado Springs early on Sunday. The party was for three relatives, two of whom died. The attack came less than two months after a mass shooting that left 11 dead at a grocery store in the north-central Colorado city of Boulder. Police say the Colorado Springs gunman had a "conflict" with the targeted family at a separate event about a week earlier, and was a jealous boyfriend. "At the corner of this horrendous act is domestic violence," the Colorado Springs Police Chief Vince Niski told a news conference on Tuesday. He added: "When he [Macias] wasn't invited to a family gathering, the suspect responded by opening fire." He said the killer had "displayed power and control issues", and had been in a relationship with his girlfriend for about a year. He had no criminal record. Three teenagers left the party to get an item from a neighbour shortly before the shooting unfolded and returned to the trailer after the attack, police Lt Joe Frabbiele told a news conference. Three children, aged two, five and 11, witnessed the shooting, and were not physically harmed, said police. Seventeen bullet casings were found in the mobile home. Nubia Marquez, the sister of Melvin Perez and the daughter of Joana Cruz, told the Colorado Springs Gazette the trio had shared the same birthday week and "had always liked celebrating them together". She attended the party at the Cruz family trailer park home with her husband, Freddy Marquez. But the couple told reporters they left around 22:00 local time on Saturday night. The shooting took place shortly after midnight, in the early hours of Mother's Day.
5-12-21 Cameroon jails transgender women for 'attempted homosexuality'
Two transgender women in Cameroon have been sentenced to five years in jail for contravening homosexuality laws. Their lawyers say they were found guilty of "attempting homosexuality" as well as outraging public decency and problems with their ID cards. One of them is trans celebrity Shakiro, a YouTuber who highlights the problems Cameroon's banned LGBT community faces. She and her friend Patricia have been in detention since February after their arrest at a restaurant. Cameroon is among 31 African countries that criminalises gay sex. "It's a hammer blow. It's the maximum term outlined in the law. The message is clear: homosexuals don't have a place in Cameroon," one of their lawyers, Alice Nkom, who heads the Association for the Defence of Rights of Homosexuals, told the AFP news agency. Their other lawyer, Richard Tamfu, says the pair will appeal against the verdict as there is no proof that homosexual acts were committed, just suspicion. The court in the city of Douala also fined Shakira and Patricia 200,000 CFA francs ($370; £260) each. If the two are unable to raise the money to pay the penalties, they will face another 12 months in prison on top of their five-year sentence, the BBC's Killian Ngala reports from the capital, Yaoundé. In 2016 Cameroon strengthened its anti-homosexuality laws, changing the penal code to explicitly outlaw same-sex sexual relations, our reporter says. There is animosity towards gay and transgender people in Cameroon and they can often be beaten up in public, he says. Shakiro, who has also been identified as Loïc Njeukam, is unusual for being vocal about such persecution. She has thousands of followers on Facebook and YouTube where she promotes cosmetics and talks openly about her sexuality. The trial of Shakiro and Patricia, who has also been identified as Roland Mouthe, has been high-profile, with critics saying it is a political decision to prosecute them.
5-11-21 Covid-19 news: Concern over black fungus in covid-19 patients in India
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. India’s government tells doctors to look out for signs of black fungus in covid-19 patients. A rare black fungus, which can invade the brain and cause deadly disease, is increasingly being detected in covid-19 patients in India amid its second surge of infections. The fungus, called mucormycosis, is commonly found in soil and on plants, and does not normally pose a threat as it can be dealt with by the body’s immune system. However, people with conditions that weaken the immune system, such as diabetes and some cancers, as well as, people who take medications such as steroids, which suppress the immune system, are more prone to the spores developing into an infection. Symptoms typically include a stuffy and bleeding nose, swelling and pain in the eye, drooping of eyelids and blurred or lost vision. People may also develop black patches of skin around the nose. The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has authorised the Pfizer/BioNTech covid-19 vaccine for emergency use in children aged 12 to 15. “Today’s action allows for a younger population to be protected from covid-19, bringing us closer to returning to a sense of normalcy and to ending the pandemic,” said Janet Woodcock, the acting FDA commissioner, in a statement on 10 May. Covid-19 deaths are continuing to fall across England and Wales. A total of 205 deaths mentioning covid-19 on the death certificate were registered in England and Wales in the week up to 30 April, the lowest number since the week up to 18 September last year and down from 260 the previous week, according to the Office for National Statistics. The European Union has launched a second lawsuit against AstraZeneca over alleged breaching of a supply contract for covid-19 vaccines.
5-11-21 Car supremacy and America's traffic paradox
Complaining about traffic is practically a national pastime in the United States. With rare exceptions, if you live in a city, from about 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. or so the roads are congested. The latest Urban Mobility Report from the Texas A&M Transportation Institute found that between 1980 and 2017, the number of hours eaten up by congestion for the average auto commuter increased by 270 percent — to 54 hours per year. That's 8.8 billion hours in total, along with 3.3 billion gallons of wasted fuel, for an estimated economic hit of $179 billion.. Luckily, there is a simple and cheap way cities could use their road space more efficiently to cut down traffic: set aside some road space for high-capacity transportation methods like buses and bicycles. America just has to get rid of car supremacy — the idea that private vehicles are the only legitimate way to travel, and that other methods can be accommodated if and only if they don't occupy any space a car might use. In urban planning, there is an idea called the "Downs-Thomson Paradox," which holds that "the equilibrium speed of car traffic on a road network is determined by the average door-to-door speed of equivalent journeys taken by public transport." In other words, as the Not Just Bikes show explains, "car traffic will get worse and worse and worse until it becomes faster to take the bus or the metro or the tram." When this concept was originally developed decades ago, it was often used as an explanation for the fact that expanding road capacity does not usually reduce traffic. American cities have seen this proved thousands of times — you add a lane to a highway or street, and within a few weeks or months the road is just as jammed as it was before. Public transit comes into the picture by considering the large population of people who are neutral between transportation options. Some people love cars or trains, of course, and will go out of their way to use them, but many (perhaps most) people just want convenience — whatever option is fastest, that's what they'll take. So if driving becomes faster thanks to a new lane or road, car traffic will simply increase to the point where driving roughly matches the speed of public transit once again. That's the paradox. It gets worse in American cities because, with few exceptions, public transit consists mostly of buses that get stuck in the same traffic as cars. In my hometown of Philly, for instance, there is a legacy trolley system that partially escaped the 20th-century effort to destroy similar systems across the country. But on the surface streets, the trolleys are in traffic, and so they are slow (though once they get underground, speed accelerates dramatically). In this situation, the paradox is reinforced by eliminating the possibility that public transit can ever move faster than car traffic. A Census Bureau study on commute lengths from 2017 found fairly reasonable commute times for most American cities, at 26 minutes on average (fairly close to the European figure). But commute times on public transit were much, much worse — more than twice as long as car commutes in almost every state, and nearly three times as long in Connecticut, Nevada, and Idaho. In most American cities, public transit is an underfunded, neglected system used almost entirely by people too poor to own a car, who pay a massive time penalty as a result. It's a depressing statement about how utterly dependent America is on cars.
5-11-21 Pfizer vaccine authorised by US FDA for adolescents
The US has authorised the Pfizer vaccine for 12- to 15-year-olds amid a push to get the shot into more Americans' arms. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) said it was "a significant step in the fight against the Covid-19 pandemic". FDA Commissioner Dr Janet Woodcock said the move was aimed at "bringing us close to returning to a sense of normalcy and to ending the pandemic". Some 260 million doses have been given in the US, but demand has been falling. Ms Woodcock added in her statement: "Parents and guardians can rest assured that the agency undertook a rigorous and thorough review of all available data, as we have with all of our Covid-19 vaccine emergency use authorisations." Monday's announcement expands an emergency use authorisation that already allowed the Pfizer jab to be administered to people as young as 16 in the US. The decision follows a clinical trial by Pfizer and BioNTech involving 2,260 children aged 12-15. The participants received either two doses of the vaccine, or a placebo. There were 18 cases of symptomatic coronavirus infection in the placebo group and none among the children who received the vaccine, found the trial. The FDA's seal of approval is not the final regulatory hurdle. An advisory panel of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) will review the data soon. Immunisations could begin straight away if, as expected, the CDC committee approves the vaccine's use in adolescents. Some of New York and Oregon's biggest universities have meanwhile joined a growing number of higher education institutions requiring students and staff to have Covid-19 vaccinations before they can return to classes this autumn. The rules were announced on Monday by State University of New York, the City University of New York, the University of Oregon and Western Oregon University. Last week, US President Joe Biden announced a plan to get at least one dose of vaccine administered to 70% of the nation's population by 4 July.
5-11-21 Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine is OK for kids 12 to 15 years old, FDA says
Focus now turns to clinical trials testing COVID-19 vaccines in younger kids. Adolescents as young as 12 may soon begin rolling up their sleeves to get COVID-19 vaccines in the United States. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration granted emergency use authorization May 10 for Pfizer’s mRNA vaccine to be used in children 12 to 15 years old. It’s “a significant step in the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic,” Acting FDA Commissioner Janet Woodcock said in a news release. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices will vote on May 12 on a recommendation to extend eligibility for the vaccine to this age group, meaning the shots could be available to them within days. The move comes about a week after Canada became the first country to authorize Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine for that age group. Meanwhile, Moderna announced in a news release May 6 that early data from its trial in adolescents ages 12 and up indicate that the vaccine has 96 percent efficacy in that age group. The company says it is working with regulators to extend use of its vaccine to teens and adolescents, perhaps by the end of May. Previously, Pfizer’s vaccine was authorized for emergency use in the United States for people 16 and older. Along with other vaccine makers, Pfizer and other vaccine makers are also testing its jab in even younger children. It expects to have results for those ages 2 to 11 by September, and for those down to 6 months old by the end of the year. “My hope is that, if everything goes as planned, by early next year, 2022, we may have an [emergency use authorization] for younger [and] younger children,” says Inci Yildirim, a pediatric infectious diseases physician and vaccinologist at Yale School of Medicine. She is leading Yale’s portion of Moderna’s KidCOVE trial testing the vaccine in children from 6 months to 11 years old. Moderna’s vaccine is currently OK’d for those 18 and older.
5-11-21 Indian coronavirus variant in the UK seems to be more transmissible
A form of the coronavirus variant first identified in India, which is now spreading in the UK, appears to be passed on at least as easily as the “Kent variant” that now dominates UK infections. The variant, called B.1.617.2, was designated a “variant of concern” on 7 May by health authorities in England. B.1.617.2 is one of three sub-lineages of B.1.617, the variant that has become common in India and which some have considered, but not proven, to be one potential factor behind the crisis India has been facing. On 10 May, the World Health Organization designated B.1.617 as a variant of concern. Public Health England (PHE) has moderate confidence that the B.1.617.2 variant is on a par for transmissibility with B.1.1.7, which originated in the UK, said Sharon Peacock at the University of Cambridge at a press briefing today. The view is based on the variant’s mutations and its ability to circulate in the UK alongside the Kent variant. However, there is still much we don’t know about the Indian variants. Peacock said the moderate level of confidence was because we won’t know how readily it transmits until studies are done with more cases. “There’s a huge amount of uncertainty around this at the moment,” she said. Encouragingly, the variant doesn’t seem more harmful. “There isn’t any evidence that this causes more severe disease,” said Peacock, referring to data from the UK. She noted the mortality rate has been high in India but the country was operating in challenging circumstances, and there was no reason to think the variant caused covid-19 to be more severe. The total number of confirmed cases of the variant in the UK stands at 520, with 318 of those between 28 April and 5 May. Mapping of cases that have been genetically sequenced suggests hotspots in central and north-west England, with the highest rates in Bolton. Being officially designated a variant of concern by PHE means surge testing is available to local areas to contain its spread in tandem with contact tracing.
5-11-21 WHO says India Covid variant of 'global concern'
The World Health Organization (WHO) has classified the coronavirus variant first found in India last year as a "variant of global concern". It said preliminary studies show the B.1.617 mutation spreads more easily than other variants and requires further study. The variant has already spread to more than 30 countries, the WHO says. Three other variants from the UK, South Africa and Brazil have been given the same designation. A mutation is elevated from a "variant of interest" to a "variant of concern" (VOC) when it shows evidence of fulfilling at least one of several criteria, including easy transmission, more severe illness, reduced neutralisation by antibodies or reduced effectiveness of treatment and vaccines. The variant is being studied to establish whether it is responsible for a deadly surge in India, which is currently overwhelming hospitals and crematoriums. India reported 366,161 new infections and 3,754 deaths on Monday, down from record peaks. Experts say the actual figures could be far higher than reported. Surging cases have meant that oxygen shortages continue to be a problem and have spread beyond the capital, Delhi. Local media in the southern state of Andhra Pradesh reported that 11 Covid patients died overnight in the city of Tirupati after an oxygen tanker supplying the hospital was delayed. The Indian government says there is evidence of a link between the variant and India's deadly second wave, but that the correlation is not yet "fully established". Several states have imposed localised lockdowns, curfews and curbs on movement over the last month. However, Prime Minister Narendra Modi's government is coming under increasing pressure to announce a nationwide lockdown and stop the spread of the virus. He is also facing criticism for allowing massive gatherings at Hindu festivals and election rallies to go ahead despite rising cases.
5-11-21 Biden denies benefits are holding back job-seekers
US President Joe Biden has rejected criticism that expanded unemployment benefits are keeping Americans from taking new jobs. Mr Biden said any unemployed American offered a "suitable" job must take it, or risk losing unemployment benefits. Republicans have blamed bad economic data last week on the Democratic president's decision to extend expanded unemployment benefits. The US added 266,000 jobs in April and the unemployment rate edged up to 6.1%. Economists had predicted from 900,000 to 2 million jobs. Yet there are 7.4m unfilled positions, according to the US labour department. On Monday, Mr Biden said he was directing the US Department of Labor to work with states to reinstate requirements that those receiving unemployment benefits must show they are actively seeking work. "If you're receiving unemployment benefits and you're offered a suitable job, you can't refuse that job and just keep getting unemployment benefits," the president said. Under the $1.9tn (£1.35tn) coronavirus rescue package that Mr Biden signed into law in March, certain workers can get a $300 weekly supplemental unemployment benefit. The increased benefits are due to last until September. But some Republican governors have scrapped the added benefits, directing the dollars elsewhere. Mr Biden said at the White House on Monday: "I know there's been a lot of discussion since Friday's report that people are being paid to stay home, rather than go to work. "Well, we don't see much evidence of that. That is a major factor. We don't see that, look, it's easy to say, the line has been, because of the generous unemployment benefits, that it's a major factor in labour shortages." A recent Bank of America analyst note said that Americans who earned less than $32,000 before the pandemic would be better off for now collecting a combination of state and federal unemployment benefits, rather than working. The average US salary is around $32,000.
5-11-21 Ahmaud Arbery: US state of Georgia abolishes citizen's arrest law
The US state of Georgia has abolished American Civil War-era legislation that allowed citizen's arrests of suspected criminals. The move was prompted by the fatal shooting of jogger Ahmaud Arbery, 25, by a white man who suspected him of being a burglar, in February 2020. Mr Arbery, a black man, was pursued by Greg McMichael and his son Travis McMichael, who shot him dead. A video of the encounter drew national attention and triggered protests. A neighbour, William Bryan, joined the chase and filmed the encounter. A prosecutor initially assigned to the case had used the citizen's arrest law to argue that the shooting was justified. The outcry over the case pushed lawmakers to repeal the 1863 law, which gave citizens in Georgia the right to arrest someone they believe committed a crime. Campaigners said the law was used to round up escaped slaves and justify the lynching of African Americans. All 50 states in the US have had laws governing citizen's arrests. But on Monday Brian Kemp, Georgia's Republican governor, signed the bill that made the state the first in the country to repeal its citizen's arrest statute. "Today we are replacing this Civil War-era law, ripe for abuse, with language that balances the sacred right of self-defence of person and property with our shared responsibility to root out injustice and set our state on a better path forward," Mr Kemp said. Speaking alongside Governor Kemp, Mr Arbery's mother, Wanda Cooper-Jones, said she hoped the bill would save lives. "I think that the signing of this bill will make people think before they take action into their own hands," she said. "Unfortunately I had to lose my son in this manner but with this bill being in place, I think it will protect young men if they're jogging down the street." Gregory McMichael, 65, his 35-year-old son Travis, and neighbour William Bryan, who filmed the shooting, are awaiting trial in Georgia on state charges, including murder. All three have pleaded not guilty. They face trial in October this year. The men are also being charged with federal hate crimes and attempted kidnapping. (Webmaster's comment: Another law which could be used to kill blacks on any pretext!)
5-11-21 China census: Data shows slowest population growth in decades
China's population grew at its slowest pace in decades, according to government data released on Tuesday. The average annual growth rate was 0.53% over the past 10 years, down from a rate of 0.57% between 2000 and 2010 - bringing the population to 1.41bn. The results add pressure on Beijing to boost measures for couples to have more babies and avert a population decline. The results were announced in a once-a-decade census, which was originally expected to be released in April. The census was conducted in late 2020 where some seven million census takers had gone door-to-door to collect information from Chinese households. Given the sheer number of people surveyed, it is considered the most comprehensive resource on China's population, which is important for future planning. Ning Jizhe, head of the National Bureau of Statistics revealed that 12 million babies were born last year - a significant decrease from the 18 million newborns in 2016. However he added that it was "still a considerable number". Mr Ning added that a lower fertility rate is a natural result of China's social and economic development. As countries become more developed, birth rates tend to fall due to education or other priorities such as careers. Its neighbouring countries Japan and South Korea, for example, have also seen birth rates fall to record lows in recent years despite various government incentives for couples to have more children. Last year, South Korea recorded more deaths than births for the first time in history, raising fresh alarm in a country which already has the world's lowest birth rate. Shrinking populations are problematic due to the inverted age structure, with more old people than the young. When that happens, there won't be enough workers in the future to support the elderly, and there may be an increased demand for health and social care. Yes. In 2016, the government ended a controversial one-child policy and allowed couples to have two children. But the reform failed to reverse the country's falling birth rate despite a two-year increase immediately afterwards.
5-10-21 Covid-19 news: Further easing of restrictions in England from 17 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. Planned easing of rules in England as UK virus alert level lowered from four to three. UK prime minister Boris Johnson is expected to announce further easing of coronavirus restrictions in England during a briefing on the evening of 10 May, including a relaxation of restrictions banning indoor mixing starting from 17 May. Indoor dining will be allowed for groups of up to six people or two households and venues such as cinemas and galleries will be able to reopen. Non-essential travel abroad is also expected to be allowed from 17 May, with some destinations given a “green light” meaning travellers returning from those places to the UK won’t be required to self-isolate. Restrictions are also gradually being lifted elsewhere in Europe, including in Spain and Greece. Nepal has asked climbers on Mount Everest to return their empty oxygen canisters rather than abandoning them on mountain slopes, as the country struggles with oxygen shortages amid surging coronavirus infections. “We appeal to climbers and sherpas to bring back their empty bottles wherever possible as they can be refilled and used for the treatment of the coronavirus patients who are in dire needs,” Kul Bahadur Gurung, an official at the Nepal Mountaineering Association, told Reuters. US chief medical adviser, Anthony Fauci said people in the country might choose to wear masks beyond the covid-19 pandemic to help limit the spread of other respiratory diseases, such as influenza. “We’ve had practically a non-existent flu season this year merely because people were doing the kinds of public health things that were directed predominantly against covid-19,” Fauci told NBC on 9 May.
5-10-21 The war on the unemployed
Why Republican states are cutting off jobless benefits. For the American economy to run properly, a certain portion of the working-age population must be poor and, preferably, a little bit desperate. Or so you would think, given the hysterical reaction to last week's report showing the country's job growth lagged far behind expectations in April. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce bouyed this message with a response suggesting workers have grown too fat and sassy while collecting unemployment benefits made more generous by Congress during the pandemic. Best to cut off those benefits, instead. "The disappointing jobs report makes it clear that paying people not to work is dampening what should be a stronger jobs market," the organization said in a written statement. It added: "One step policymakers should take now is ending the $300 weekly supplemental unemployment benefit." A few GOP-led states — Arkansas, Montana, and South Carolina — jumped at the Chamber's suggestion, saying they will soon end their participation in the federal program that pays out the extra $300 a week to jobless workers. And Republicans in Congress said they would move quickly to phase out the benefit, which is already slated to end in September. "What was intended to be a short-term financial assistance for the vulnerable and displaced during the height of the pandemic has turned into a dangerous federal entitlement, incentivizing and paying workers to stay at home rather than encouraging them to return to the workplace," South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster, a Republican, said in a letter ordering the cutoff. In normal times, South Carolina's unemployment benefits are on the stingy side, ranging from $42 to $326 a week before taxes, for a maximum of 20 weeks. Like most state programs, those benefits don't come close to covering a worker's basic expenses — the state's median monthly rent alone is $894. Without the federal supplement, unemployed workers in McMaster's state will be under added pressure to take low-paying jobs or be left behind entirely. Which, it seems, is precisely the point. If unemployed workers aren't already desperate for a new job, they will be soon. This hostility toward the unemployed will come as no surprise to anybody who has been paying attention to the more predatory aspects of American capitalism, or who recoiled last year when Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick (R) suggested that older COVID-vulnerable citizens should be willing to lay down their lives for the economy, or who noted that Republicans resisted supplementing unemployment benefits even at the beginning of the pandemic when the economy was contracting by millions of jobs and those who could keep working risked exposure to a dangerous and deadly new virus. Even then, GOP officials were fearful that workers would find it too easy to sit at home. There are plenty of legitimate reasons an unemployed American might not be returning to work at the moment. The pandemic isn't over yet, and some individuals might be hesitant to risk their health. Childcare is still in short supply — job numbers for women were brutal in the April report, as they have been throughout the pandemic. (Of course, Republicans are also fighting President Biden's proposal to help parents pay for daycare.) Some people are simply reassessing what they want out of work, after COVID caused such a disruption to their lives and careers. And yes, money is an issue, too. One sector in which the worker shortage has been very evident is the restaurant industry. Story after story after story from across the nation has focused on the plight of restaurant owners who can't find enough staff to resume normal operations. But those jobs typically pay subsistence-level wages. Nationally, the median pay for food and beverage workers is $11.63 an hour, or just more than $24,000 a year. The federal poverty line for a family of three is just under $22,000. Some former restaurant workers are wondering whether it is time to find better-paying employment.
5-10-21 How Joe Biden could vaccinate the world
The case for a government-owned vaccine factory. President Biden surprised the world when his administration came out in favor of an intellectual property waiver for coronavirus vaccines. The U.S. is now backing an effort from India and South Africa to get a Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property (TRIPS) waiver at the World Trade Organization (WTO), with the intent of expanding global vaccine production. But it isn't going to be that easy. Germany's Angela Merkel has already come out against a waiver (one of the key vaccine firms, BioNTech, is based there), which could doom the effort because the WTO requires consensus. Luckily, there are other steps that Biden could take to accelerate vaccine production and distribution, which as we see in the ongoing viral conflagration happening in India, is absolutely vital. If the international community can't get behind vaccinating the world, Biden should go it alone. Despite the protestations of various Big Pharma lackeys, a TRIPS waiver will certainly help at least a little. There are reportedly factories in Bangladesh and Canada that are ready to go, if they can simply get permission. Pharma companies are scenting gigantic profits from future use of mRNA treatments, and they will for sure try to keep total control of the technology, no matter how many people get killed as a result. Now, that doesn't mean Pfizer, BioNTech, Moderna, Johnson & Johnson, and so on shouldn't make any money. They did after all put a lot of work and money into this vaccine research, and should be amply rewarded for it. But rather than letting them lock up a potentially revolutionary treatment paradigm for decades, it would be wiser to just buy out their patents for a handsome price, and put them into the public domain. As Joel Dodge writes at People's Policy Project, federal law stipulates that the "government has the power to use or manufacture any patented product, and must provide only 'reasonable' compensation to the patent holder." Innovation also happens faster when scientists around the world can collaborate with each other without fussing over who owns what. However, there are other obstacles to massively ramping up vaccine production that are probably more important than patents. As James Krellenstein and Christian Urrutia write in a report for PrEP4All (a nonprofit that advocates for HIV treatment access), reaching full vaccine production potential will require technology transfers so that other companies and countries can get the knowledge and machinery they need to boost production, and more importantly, a large direct government investment. As they argue, there is a general incentive problem with relying entirely on private sector vaccine capacity. Before the pandemic, vaccines were a relatively modest part of the pharmaceutical sector, largely because most of them are only taken once or twice — just 3.5 billion doses were produced per year of all vaccines combined. That problem was made worse by the just-in-time production model that has become standard across all business over the years, which meant companies have kept spare capacity as low as possible. Now that we need on the order of 15 billion doses as soon as possible, private companies are scrambling to meet the need. (Indeed, one reason Canada has been struggling with vaccination is that its government privatized its state-owned vaccine factory in the 1970s.) There is every reason for the U.S. government to simply build and own a permanent, large vaccine factory — both for jacking up production immediately, and to keep on hand for the future. In the context of the staggering damage the pandemic has inflicted on the global economy, the cost would be microscopic, only about $4 billion. As Krellenstein and Urrutia explain, the Moderna vaccine is the best candidate for mass production, because it is easier to scale up, more temperature-stable, easier to adapt to variants, and the American government already owns some of the intellectual property rights. (Moderna could also be hired to operate the facility.) As they write, "For less than the U.S. government spends on the COVID-19 response daily, it can build a facility to produce enough mRNA vaccine manufacturing capacity to vaccinate the entire world in one year, with each dose costing only $2."
5-10-21 US passes emergency waiver over fuel pipeline cyber-attack
The US government issued emergency legislation on Sunday after the largest fuel pipeline in the US was hit by a ransomware cyber-attack. The Colonial Pipeline carries 2.5 million barrels a day - 45% of the East Coast's supply of diesel, petrol and jet fuel. The operator took itself offline on Friday after the cyber-attack and work to restore service is continuing. The US government has relaxed rules on fuel being transported by road. It means drivers in 18 states can work extra or more flexible hours when transporting refined petroleum products. US fuel prices at the pump were largely unaffected on Monday, but there are fears that could change if the shutdown is prolonged. Independent oil market analyst Gaurav Sharma told the BBC a lot of fuel was now stranded at refineries in Texas. "Unless they sort it out by Tuesday, they're in big trouble," said Mr Sharma. "The first areas to be hit would be Atlanta and Tennessee, then the domino effect goes up to New York." He said oil futures traders were now "scrambling" to meet demand, at a time when US inventories are declining, and demand - especially for fuel for cars - is on the rise as consumers return to the roads and the economy recovers. The temporary waiver issued by the Department of Transportation enables oil products to be shipped in tankers up to New York, but this would not be anywhere near enough to match the pipeline's capacity, Mr Sharma warned. Sources said the ransomware attack was likely to have been caused by a cyber-criminal gang called DarkSide, who infiltrated Colonial's network and locked the data on some computers and servers, demanding a ransom on Friday. The gang tried to take almost 100 gigabytes of data hostage, threatening to leak it onto the internet, but the FBI and other government agencies worked with private companies to respond. The cloud computing system the hackers used to collect the stolen data was taken offline on Saturday, Reuters reported.
5-10-21 German priests defy Vatican to bless gay couples
Priests in around 100 Catholic churches in Germany are offering blessings to same-sex couples from Monday. The Love Wins movement emerged after the Catholic Church said in March that God "cannot bless sin". "Couples who take part should receive the blessing that God wants to give them - without any secrecy," the group wrote earlier. Pope Francis has previously said he believes same-sex couples show be allowed to have "civil unions". Last year, he told a documentary that these couples "have a right to be in a family". However, he has also approved the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith's stance that the Catholic Church does not have the power to bless same-sex unions. In the Catholic Church, a blessing is given by a priest or other minister in the name of the Church. The Vatican's response was "not intended to be a form of unjust discrimination, but rather a reminder of the truth of the liturgical rite", the Pope said at the time. Love Wins, however, described the Church's decision to deny same-sex couples blessings as "a slap in the face for people around the world". The movement has produced a map showing all the churches offering the blessings in the coming days. Thousands of German priests and church employees have also signed a petition calling on the Church to extend blessings to same-sex couples, while some parishes have also displayed rainbow flags outside churches. The Catholic Church in Germany is more liberal and wealthy than many other countries and the increasingly vocal acceptance of gay couples will be hard for the Vatican to ignore, the BBC's Damien McGuinness in Berlin says. Same-sex marriage has been legal in Germany since 2017 and the country has also banned so-called "gay conversion therapy" for under-18s.
5-9-21 Covid: Macron calls on US to drop vaccine export bans
French President Emmanuel Macron has called on the US to drop its restrictions on the export of Covid-19 vaccines and ingredients. His words came as a divide emerged between parts of Europe and the US over how best to increase global vaccine production. Currently, around 1.25bn doses have been administered around the world. However, less than 1% have been given to the world's 29 poorest countries, according to news agency AFP. Rich countries, by contrast, are speeding up their vaccination campaigns. In the UK , 67% of the population has received a first dose and in the US 56% of those eligible have had one jab. On Friday, the EU agreed to purchase 900 million more doses of Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine, with the option for 900 million more. South Africa and India argue that surrendering patents would mean the secret vaccine recipes would be released and other countries could start producing the life-saving jabs, potentially lowering the cost. India is currently in the grip of a devastating second wave, which yesterday alone left more than 4,000 people dead. This week the US backed the proposed waiver. The plan also has the support of the World Health Organization (WHO) and Pope Francis, who said on Saturday the world was infected with the "virus of individualism", with "the laws of... intellectual property" put "over the laws of love and the health of humanity". Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi had hoped to get the European Union's support, speaking to leaders who had gathered together on Saturday via video call. However, he failed to secure the backing he sought, with EU leaders remaining sceptical. Mr Macron argued increasing exports and production was the best way to solve the crisis. "The key to produce vaccines more rapidly for all poor countries or intermediate countries is to produce more," Mr Macron said.
5-9-21 Trump officials obtained Washington Post reporters' phone data
Trump justice department officials in the US secretly obtained phone records of journalists working for the Washington Post newspaper. Home, mobile and office telephones of the three reporters were accessed for three months in 2017, the Post said. The paper said this was related to its reporting of the Russian role in the 2016 presidential election that brought Donald Trump into office. The Post said it was "deeply troubled by this use of government power". The justice department (DoJ) defended its actions, which were meant to identify government sources who had passed classified information to the reporters. It is not the first time the US government gains access to journalists' records in this way. Mr Trump's predecessor, Barack Obama, was widely criticised for a similar move against reporters working for the Associated Press News agency. The newspaper disclosed on Friday that Post reporters Ellen Nakashima and Greg Miller, and former Post reporter Adam Entous, had all received letters on 3 May telling them their phone records for the period 15 April 2017 to 31 July 2017 had been accessed. Details would include who they had been in contact with, when and how long, but not the content of the conversations. Officials had also obtained authorisation to gain access to the reporters' emails, but had not. Though the letters did not specify when the decision was taken to access the data, a spokesman told the Post it was last year. The three-month period targeted by the investigation appears to coincide with a story the reporters had written about classified intercepts which allegedly showed that Senator Jeff Sessions, one of Donald Trump's first and most high-profile supporters during the presidential campaign - who later became attorney general, had had discussions with Russia's Ambassador to the US, Sergey Kislyak, during in 2016.
5-9-21 NYC snow days: Dismay as school snow days cancelled
Snow days have been cancelled for public schools in New York City, with students now expected to continue their classes from home. Snow days see schools and similar institutions close when there is heavy snowfall or other extreme weather. Authorities say students successfully managed the move to remote learning during lockdowns, and the days off will not continue in the new school year. But many people have been left disappointed by the decision. Before the Covid pandemic, snow days were popular and seen as a special childhood experience. They do not occur often in New York City - Mayor Bill de Blasio only declared seven during his first five years in office, according to the New York Times. The New York City Department of Education (NYCDOE), which manages the largest school district in the country, announced the change in its 2021-2022 school year calendar. While it is not clear if the change is permanent, it is a continuation of the city's move in September to stop snow days while the majority of students were schooled remotely because of the pandemic. The department said the new policy was aimed at enabling the city to meet its requirement of 180 days of schooling. "We are sad for a year without snow days," NYCDOE spokeswoman Danielle Filson told CNN. "But we must meet the state mandate and we can leverage the technology we invested in during the pandemic so our students get the instructional days required by the state," she added. Many disappointed students, parents and teachers took to social media to reminisce about snowball fights and bobsled races. "It seems like callousness bordering on cruelty to scrap one of childhood's greatest pleasures in favour of a rehash of pandemic life," New York Times opinion columnist Michelle Goldberg wrote. Others have pointed out that while snow days often placed added pressure on families to find last-minute carers, a sudden move to home learning was just as difficult.
5-9-21 Chinese dreams on Native American land: A tale of cannabis boom and bust
In the pandemic, hundreds of Chinese migrants who lost their jobs moved to a remote city on the Navajo Nation Indian reservation in New Mexico, to do what they thought was legal agricultural work. Instead, they and the local Native community found themselves pitted against one another in a bizarre cautionary tale about the boom in cannabis production in the US, and the impact on Asian migrant labourers. When Xia (not her real name) first heard about the job as a "flower cutter", she pictured roses. Details were scant, but a roommate told her it was 10 days' work for $200 a day, room and board included. Unemployed in the pandemic and unable to send money back to her adult children in southern China, Xia had been living at one of the crowded boarding houses common in the large Asian immigrant enclave of LA's San Gabriel Valley. The job sounded like a fine temporary solution. In early October, Xia and five other women made the 11-hour drive to the outskirts of Farmington, a small city nestled in the stunning but sparsely-populated high desert of northern New Mexico. When they arrived, their new boss checked them into a bright pink, roadside motel called the Travel Inn. In a series of rooms on the first floor, Xia and her co-workers sat in chairs around heaps of plant material that were delivered by rental van in the night, trimming the "flowers" off the top. These were definitely not roses - the fan-leafed plants reminded Xia of àicao, or silvery wormwood, which the Chinese burn to ward off mosquitoes. The piles smelled so strongly that the odour hung around the motel like a cloud. But for the moment, Xia was content. A convivial middle-aged mother of two, she had worked many jobs since arriving in the US in 2015 - home carer, nanny, masseuse. This was a lot less lonely. "I was happy. I could talk to other people at work," she recalls in Mandarin. "I much prefer cutting flowers." Just three days into their work, there was a knock at the door. Xia assumed it was someone calling them to dinner, until she saw men in uniforms with badges. Initially, it was impossible to communicate, until an officer who spoke Mandarin arrived. He asked the workers if they knew what kind of "flowers" they were cutting. One by one, they shook their heads.
5-8-21 George Floyd: Four police officers charged with violating civil rights
Four ex-police officers have been charged with violating the civil rights of African-American George Floyd, whose murder in Minneapolis last year sparked global outrage. A federal grand jury in Minnesota indicted the four - who include Derek Chauvin, the officer convicted in April of Floyd's murder. Prosecutors say they wilfully "deprived Mr Floyd of his constitutional rights". Chauvin was filmed kneeling on Mr Floyd's neck for over nine minutes. The former policeman was found guilty of murder and manslaughter, in a criminal case filed by the state of Minnesota. His legal team requested a new trial on Wednesday, accusing both prosecutors and jurors of misconduct. The white former officer will be sentenced next month and faces up to 40 years in prison. According to a Department of Justice statement, four officers - Alexander Keung, Thomas Lane and Tou Thao, as well as Chauvin - are accused of infringing Mr Floyd's civil rights. Count one alleges that when Chauvin knelt on Mr Floyd he broke his "constitutional right to be free from the use of unreasonable force by a police officer". The second count accuses Mr Keung and Mr Thao of failing to intervene that day, while the third count alleges that all four "saw Mr Floyd lying on the ground in clear need of medical care" and failed to help him. Chauvin has also been charged with two charges for an incident in September 2017, the statement said. The former police officer is accused of holding a 14-year-old by the throat and hitting him "multiple times in the head", as well as allegedly kneeling on his neck and upper back "after the teenager was lying prone, handcuffed, and unresisting". All the federal charges revealed on Friday are separate to those filed against the four officers by the state of Minnesota. Mr Kueng, Mr Lane, and Mr Thao are due to stand trial together later this year over Mr Floyd's death. (Webmaster's comment: They stood around and watched a man being murdered and did nothing. How is that to "Protect and Serve?")
5-8-21 Michelle Obama: Black parents have 'fear in our hearts'
The former first lady talks about the Chauvin verdict and Black Lives Matter in an interview with CBS This Morning. She says black parents have "fear in our hearts" and shared her anxieties that her daughters could be racially profiled.
5-8-21 Training cops to de-escalate
Can police officers be taught to defuse confrontations instead of using deadly force? Can police officers be taught to defuse confrontations instead of using deadly force? Here's everything you need to know: (Webmaster's comment: Don't forget that the police are full of white supremacists, Klan and neo-nazis. They joined the police to kill non-whites!)
- What is de-escalation? It's a method of policing designed to reduce shootings and other uses of force by teaching cops to act slowly, ask open-ended questions, and resist the urge to draw their guns. The average recruit receives less than 10 hours of de-escalation instruction, compared with 58 hours of firearms training, and 29 states don't require it.
- What does training look like? Cops role-play in high-stakes scenarios, with actors and experienced officers playing unhinged or threatening suspects. Trainees also study footage from real-life encounters, identifying opportunities for de-escalation.
- Does it work? Though there are no national studies comparing departments, cities that employ de-escalation have seen promising results: Louisville saw a 28 percent drop in use-of-force incidents in 2019 and a 26 percent decline in citizen injuries at the hands of police.
- How can cops avoid firing shots? One way is to change the rules of engagement. Most departments authorize officers to shoot suspects with knives if they come within 21 feet, and some 100 knife-wielding people are killed by police each year.
- Why is de-escalation training controversial? It requires officers to abandon a warrior mindset that equates citizens with enemy soldiers and crime-heavy neighborhoods with battlefields. Police training often resembles military boot camp, and police officials commonly refer to officers as "troops."
- Do cops want the new training? Many still need to be persuaded that de-escalation won't endanger their lives. The opposite is generally true, because police are safer when there are fewer violent confrontations: After Louisville instituted de-escalation training, officer injuries dropped 36 percent.
- Responding to mental health crises: People struggling with mental illness can present intense, unpredictable situations for first responders, and 222 people with mental illness were shot to death by police in 2018. The Memphis Police Department developed "crisis-intervention teams" in the late 1980s, and nearly 3,000 departments nationwide have followed suit.
5-8-21 US jobs figures fall far short of expectations
US employers hired fewer workers than expected last month despite a huge stimulus package that saw the government send $1,400 (£1,000) cheques to most Americans. Just 266,000 jobs were added in April and the unemployment rate edged up to 6.1%, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. It said a hiring spree among leisure and hospitality businesses was offset by declining courier numbers. In all, 9.8 million remain unemployed. people were out of work. In March, the Biden administration pushed through the $1.9tn stimulus package. The latest jobs figures were well below the expectations of economists, who had predicted that the gain would be anywhere from 900,000 to 2 million jobs. That would have been well ahead of the 770,000 jobs that were added in March, which was considered a sign that America's economic recovery was gaining pace. In a speech on Friday to "put today's jobs report in perspective," President Joe Biden said the new job numbers "show we're on the right track". He defended his bailout as a "year-long effort to rescue our country" and dismissed suggestions "we should be disappointed". His speech came after his Democratic party ally, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, issued a statement calling the April report "disappointing" and for Congress to approve more funds for infrastructure spending. "Today's disappointing jobs numbers will heighten investor caution and raise concerns around the resilience of the US labour market - and to what extent the pace of the Covid-19 vaccination programme will boost economic activity and employment," said Richard Flynn, UK managing director at Charles Schwab. "However, across economic metrics - from GDP to retail sales to job growth - boom conditions are evident," he said. "We are yet to see the full effect of this since the unemployment rate is one of the most lagging of economic indicators." Despite the weaker-than-expected data, the numbers are a marked improvement compared to the same period a year ago, when lockdowns put more than 20 million people out of work.
5-8-21 California's population falls in first-ever yearly decline
California's population fell between 2020 and 2021 in the first yearly decline ever reported since officials began counting the figure. On Friday the state's Finance Department said the population now stands at just below 39.5 million residents, - a drop of 182,000. The reasons are varied but involve the pause on migration due to the pandemic, officials say. It comes after the once-in-a-decade US census recorded slowing state growth. The decline of 0.46% came between January 2020 and January 2021. The loss represents approximately twice the population of the city of Santa Barbara. Since joining the US in 1850 amid a gold rush, California has become the most populous in the country. Officials say this is the first time the population has declined since 1900. The Golden State's growth began to slow after the end of the Cold War and as US defence spending declined. For the last thirty years, more people have moved out of the state than in, demographers say. The recent decline comes as the state sees an increase in yearly deaths due to the coronavirus and as the US birth rate continues to fall. The state also saw negative numbers of international migration last year, such as new university students from abroad, which officials attributed to Trump administration policies. Friday's estimates used sources including the number of new driver's licences, tax forms and school enrolments. Finance Department spokesman HD Palmer told the New York Times changing migration policies and more Covid-19 vaccinations would likely help boost the state's population. "When we do this same estimate this time next year, our demographers expect we'll have returned to a slightly positive growth rate for 2021," he said. Earlier this month, census officials announced that California would lose a seat in the US House of Representatives - for the first time ever - after other states such as Florida and Texas were found to have grown at a faster rate. Only 2.2m people were added to the state in the decade ending in April 2020.
5-8-21 'Our first day of freedom on American soil'
The US is experiencing a record number of migrants crossing the southern border. Most get expelled back to Mexico, but some seeking asylum get to stay. We follow Adrian Meza and his family from Nicaragua as they navigate their first day after being released from detention. This is their journey.
5-8-21 India's Covid crisis: Rural hospitals unable to cope as virus spreads
As people move from lockdowns in India's big cities to rural areas, Covid-19 continues to spread. But rundown local hospitals and health centres are unable to cope with a crisis that they were never equipped for. BBC India correspondent Yogita Limaye has been inside one to uncover the conditions that patients are facing.
5-8-21 Philippines Covid surge throws country into disarray
In the Philippines, a second surge in Covid-19 cases is putting renewed pressure on the healthcare system. The country currently has the second highest number of cases in South East Asia behind Indonesia. And with one of the longest and hardest lockdowns in the world, a crippling recession has forced thousands on to the streets in search of food.
5-7-21 Covid-19 news: UK under-40s to get alternative to 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. Rates of rare blood clots after AstraZeneca vaccine seem to be slightly higher among younger people. People under the age of 40 in the UK are to be offered an alternative to the Oxford/AstraZeneca covid-19 vaccine where possible, in line with updated recommendations from the UK’s Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI). Previously, the JCVI only recommended that those under 30 be offered an alternative vaccine but it updated its guidance based on the latest evidence from the UK’s medicines regulator. The UK’s Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) said there have been 242 cases of rare blood clotting events among 28.5 million people who received the vaccine as of 28 April, 49 of which were fatal. But the rates appear to be slightly higher among younger people, with 10.1 cases per million doses of vaccine among people aged 40 to 49, compared with 17.4 cases per million doses among those aged 30 to 39. A US-backed proposal to waive patents on covid-19 vaccines has been met with opposition from Germany. In a statement on 6 May, the German government said that “the limiting factors in the production of vaccines are the production capacities and the high quality standards and not patents”. However, European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen earlier said the EU was “ready to discuss” the proposal. Globally at least 46 million people, including asylum seekers, migrants, refugees and internally displaced people, are being left out of national covid-19 vaccination programmes, suggests World Health Organization research seen by the Guardian. COVAX, a global platform for sharing vaccines equitably, has allocated 5 per cent of its vaccine doses to a “humanitarian buffer” to go to the most vulnerable 20 per cent of people in these groups but it estimates that this would only cover a maximum of 33 million people.
5-7-21 Florida governor signs voting restriction law
Florida's Republican Governor Ron DeSantis, a leading 2024 White House contender, has signed a bill tightening voting rules in his pivotal presidential swing state. The new law restricts the use of drop boxes for postal ballots, adds new ID rules, and requires voters to reapply for mail-in ballots more regularly. Republican legislators in dozens of states have pursued such bills after former President Donald Trump's false claims that there was widespread voting fraud in the 2020 election. Texas' Republican-controlled statehouse advanced a similar bill on Thursday. Florida and Texas are among the largest and fastest-growing states in the US, and the new voting laws could have far reaching consequences in future elections. Democrats argue the measures are designed to suppress votes, though Republicans maintain the legislation aims to protect election integrity. In March, Georgia's Republican governor provoked uproar and threats of corporate boycotts after he passed a voting law that Democrats warned would disenfranchise black voters. The bill tightened postal ballot ID requirements and restricted use of voting drop-boxes, but also expanded early voting access in most of Georgia's counties. On Thursday, Mr DeSantis staged a live bill-signing ceremony broadcast exclusively on Fox News' morning show. Florida's new voting law also gives partisan election observers more latitude to raise objections. And it requires people who offer voters food and drink to keep a 150ft (45m) distance from polling stations, up from 100ft previously. Back in February, Mr DeSantis said Florida had "held the smoothest, most successful election of any state in the country". But although there was no evidence of widespread voter fraud, he said new limits on postal ballots were needed to safeguard election integrity. Minutes after he signed the law on Thursday, three civil rights groups sued Florida to try to block the new measure. "The legislation has a deliberate and disproportionate impact on elderly voters, voters with disabilities, students and communities of color," said Patricia Brigham, president of the League of Women Voters of Florida.
5-7-21 Trump social media: Twitter suspends account sharing ex-president's posts
Twitter has suspended an account sharing posts from former US president Donald Trump's new communications platform. The account claimed to be tweeting "on behalf" of Mr Trump. A spokesperson for the company said the account, @DJTDesk, violated the ban evasion policy by sharing content "affiliated with a suspended account." But the BBC found similar accounts still active on the social media platform. Mr Trump was permanently banned from Twitter in January after he voiced support for rioters who stormed the US Capitol. He launched his own communications platform - titled "From the Desk of Donald J Trump" - on Tuesday. According to NBC News, the bio for the @DJTDesk account read: "Posts copied from Save America on behalf of the 45th POTUS; Originally composed via DonaldJTrump/Desk". Twitter says that although it does allow accounts to share content from Mr Trump's new website, it won't allow an individual to "circumvent" a ban. Those "evasion" rules can include "having someone else operate on your behalf, an account which represents your identity, persona, brand or business persona for a different purpose." The BBC flagged four accounts with similar bios that were also sharing content from Mr Trump's new platform. Twitter did not respond when asked what would happen to these accounts. At the time of publishing, the four accounts were still active. One had also recently tweeted about ban evasion. It is unclear who is behind the accounts, but most of them claim to be independent of the former president. Trump spokesman Jason Miller told NBC News the @DJTDesk account was not set up by, or with the permission of, anyone affiliated with the former president. Mr Trump's new communication platform, The Desk of Donald J Trump, will host statements and press releases from the former president. Visitors are able to like posts and share them on their Twitter and Facebook accounts - provided the posts themselves don't break the sites' rules.
5-7-21 US jobs growth much slower than expected
US employers hired fewer workers than expected last month despite a huge stimulus package that saw the government send $1,400 (£1,003) cheques to most Americans. Just 266,000 jobs were added in April and the unemployment rate edged up to 6.1%, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. It said a hiring spree among leisure and hospitality businesses was offset by declining courier numbers. In all, 9.8 million remain unemployed. In February 2020, before lockdowns forced millions into unemployment, 5.7 million people were out of work. In March, the Biden administration pushed through the $1.9tn stimulus package. The latest jobs figures were well below the expectations of economists, who had predicted that the gain would be anywhere from 900,000 to 2 million jobs. That would have been well ahead of the 770,000 jobs that were added in March, which was considered a sign that America's economic recovery was gaining pace. "Today's disappointing jobs numbers will heighten investor caution and raise concerns around the resilience of the US labour market - and to what extent the pace of the Covid-19 vaccination programme will boost economic activity and employment," said Richard Flynn, UK managing director at Charles Schwab. "However, across economic metrics - from GDP to retail sales to job growth - boom conditions are evident," he said. "We are yet to see the full effect of this since the unemployment rate is one of the most lagging of economic indicators." Despite the weaker-than-expected data, the numbers are a marked improvement compared to the same period a year ago, when lockdowns put more than 20 million people out of work. "While the labour market continues to recover, today's report suggests that the jobs recovery may not be quite as rapid as many had expected," said Mike Bell, global market strategist at JP Morgan Asset Management. "There was continued strong jobs growth in the leisure and hospitality sector but these gains were partially offset by declines in business services and transportation and warehousing, manufacturing and retail also saw small declines in employment."
5-7-21 German call to ban 'Jewish star' at Covid demos
Germany's anti-Semitism commissioner, Felix Klein, has urged authorities to stop protesters using the Nazis' yellow star forced on Jews in World War Two. Some protesters have replaced the word "Jude" (Jew) with the phrase "ungeimpft" (unvaccinated), equating Covid restrictions with the persecution of Europe's Jewish population. The yellow Star of David has also been seen in protests in London. Mr Klein said he hoped German cities would follow Munich in banning it. "If people pin so-called Jewish stars on themselves in demonstrations, thereby drawing comparisons that relativise the Holocaust, then the means provided by law should be applied against them," he told Tagesspiegel newspaper. The Nazis made wearing the yellow Star of David badge mandatory throughout territories they occupied, dehumanising Jews by marking them out as different. Anyone found without one faced a fine, prison or death. Anti-lockdown protesters argue that the ruling liberal establishment is violating their personal freedom and exaggerating the Covid health risks. However, the head of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, Josef Schuster, said last year it was "unspeakable" that Germans were comparing restrictions on their lives with the abuses of the Third Reich. The yellow star has appeared at protests beyond Germany too. British comedian David Baddiel drew attention to its use in London last month, and it was condemned by the Auschwitz Museum. The head of the UK-based Centre for Countering Digital Hate, Imran Ahmed, said anti-vaxxers in particular had "instrumentalised" anti-Semitism as it had given them new audiences, and he was angered by the use of the yellow Star of David. "I cannot think of many things more disgusting than comparing vaccines that will save countless lives to the industrial slaughter of Jews in the Holocaust," he told the BBC. When the yellow star appeared in January at an anti-lockdown protest in the Czech capital, Prague, the Israeli ambassador condemned it as an insult to the millions murdered by the Nazis in the Holocaust.
5-7-21 Brazil violence: Rio police accused by residents of abuses in raid
The United Nations human rights office has strongly criticised a police raid against suspected drug traffickers in Rio de Janeiro, amid allegations of abuse and extrajudicial executions. The deadliest police operation in the city's history has left 25 dead, including a police officer. Residents say police killed suspects who wanted to surrender and entered homes without a warrant. Police have denied any wrongdoing, saying officers acted in self-defence. Rio de Janeiro is one of Brazil's most violent cities, and vast areas are under the control of criminals, many of them linked to powerful drug-trafficking gangs. Security forces are often accused of disproportionate force during their anti-crime operations. Thursday's raid in Jacarezinho, one of the city's largest slums known as favelas, was carried out by about 200 police officers and an armoured helicopter with a sniper. The area is dominated by Comando Vermelho, or Red Command, one of Brazil's largest criminal organisations. A television helicopter filmed heavily armed suspects jumping from rooftops, while desperate residents posted videos on social media showing intense shootouts as they claimed police invaded their houses and used excessive violence. "There are boys who have been cornered in the house and want to surrender," one resident said, referring to the suspects. "And the police want to kill them. They have even killed some in front of us." In another video, a resident filmed a police officer standing next to a house and said: "They're cornering [the suspects]. They don't want to let the boys surrender." Public defender Maria Júlia Miranda said residents told her a suspect was killed in the bedroom of an eight-year-old girl where there were blood stains on the floor and on her bed, and that the family had witnessed the alleged execution. Ms Miranda said she was "shocked" by seeing "lots of pools of blood... and walls with bullet marks" when visiting the favela. There was also evidence that the scenes of the killings were not preserved, she said, with bodies being removed. "On these cases, there was probably an execution."
5-7-21 Americans are incoherent on immigration
For a "nation of immigrants," Americans have remarkably mixed feelings about immigration — feelings which are surely a contributing factor to our multi-decade treadmill slog toward immigration reform. Every single question sees a majority agreeing that the proposal at hand is either "very" or "somewhat" important for the United States. Dive into the demographic breakdowns and you'll find partisan trends, but often less dramatic than the past five years of immigration debate might suggest. In fact, on a two-year trendline, Republicans and Democrats are generally moving in the same direction, albeit from different starting points. So what has Americans thus united? Beefing up border security and keeping out asylum seekers — yet treating asylum seekers humanely if they somehow manage to break through our diverse defenses. The same survey also found seven in 10 Americans (including half of Republicans) want a path to legal status for immigrants in the country illegally, and another recent poll from The Associated Press found three quarters of Americans want to allow refugees to come to the United States to escape violence. It all seems so contradictory. Together, these surveys suggest the median U.S. opinion is that an undocumented immigrant inside the country should be allowed to stay, but an asylum seeker at the border should be turned away by a robust security apparatus, but a refugee trying to come from farther away should be welcomed in. Some of this is different people wanting different things. Yet with majority opinions well above 50 percent on so many of these questions, there must be overlap, and overlap doesn't make much sense. Why beef up security only to accept those who evade it? (Particularly when border security has already massively expanded — in both cost and manpower, by both Democrats and Republicans — over the past three decades.) And why the favor for refuge and disfavor for asylum? The main difference between them is location. (As the Department of Homeland Security explains: "An asylee is a person who meets the definition of refugee and is already present in the United States or is seeking admission at a port of entry.") Moreover, regardless of individuals' views, how are lawmakers supposed to turn this jumble into reasonably coherent and representative governance? I suspect the confusion around location is partly just how humans work: It's easier for us to identify with and meaningfully care about people physically closer to us. We can shrug at a major catastrophe half the world away and sob over a much smaller tragedy in our own town. Likewise, an undocumented immigrant is here illegally, but she is here. "Americans have empathy for those who live among us and who are good people — as most illegal immigrants are," Alex Nowrasteh, director of immigration studies at the Cato Institute, told me in an interview by email. "But those feelings do not extend to people on the other side of the border." (Webmaster's comment: Quote from the Statue of Liberty "Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore, Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!")
5-6-21 The insurrectionists are winning
he insurrectionists who violently invaded the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6 had a very specific goal: To bully Congress into affirming the falsehood that Donald Trump — and not Joe Biden — won the 2020 presidential election. Despite the chaos of the day, the House and Senate reconvened in the hours after the uprising and certified the election for Biden, who took the oath of office two weeks later. Trump left town to brood in Florida. Democracy held. The rioters appeared to have failed.T Now it looks as though they are winning — at least among Republicans. Sometime soon, Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) will likely be ousted from her role on the leadership team of the House GOP. Why? Because she refuses to countenance the discredited narrative of a stolen election — and, in fact, continues to openly criticize Trump for egging on the insurrection. "Trump is seeking to unravel critical elements of our constitutional structure that make democracy work — confidence in the result of elections and the rule of law," Cheney wrote Wednesday in a Washington Post op-ed. "No other American president has ever done this." She is unquestionably correct. She's also doomed. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) says he has "lost confidence" in Cheney, even though he once said Trump "bears responsibility" for the riots. (McCarthy has spent the months since binding the party more tightly to the former president.) His second-in-command, Rep. Steve Scalise (R-La.), on Wednesday called for Cheney to be replaced on the leadership team with Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-N.Y.). Cheney continues to stand her ground — with faint echoes of "nevertheless, she persisted" — but the end is coming anyway. Given a choice between the truth and the insurrectionist lie, McCarthy and the House GOP are siding with the lie. This is no surprise. Four months ago today it seemed as though Republican leaders might finally be forced to make a break with Trump. His refusal to concede the election, the outlandish (and since-disavowed) conspiracy theories his team concocted to reclaim the presidency, and the insurrection he inspired made it plain that you could be committed to American democracy, or you could be committed to Donald Trump, but you couldn't be both. Then-Vice President Mike Pence cast his lot with the Constitution, refusing Trump's entreaties to reject electoral votes for Biden. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) gave a stirring speech defending the right of the American people to choose their leaders. Govs. Brian Kemp (R-Ga.) and Doug Ducey (R-Ariz.) stood firm while Trump sought to reverse Biden's victory in their states. All three men ended up in Trump's political crosshairs as a result — with particularly dangerous results for Pence. Things have changed in the months since. Pence is laying the groundwork for a possible presidential run by emphasizing his total fealty to Trump. McConnell says he would "absolutely" support Trump if he becomes the GOP presidential nominee in 2024. In Arizona, the state is doing another recount of 2020 ballots for signs of fraud, while Georgia and a number of Republican-controlled state legislatures have passed laws tightening — one might even say "suppressing" — access to the polls in future elections. And even one Republican who voted for Trump's impeachment reportedly is angry that Cheney won't pipe down about her opposition to the former president.
5-6-21 Covid-19 news: US supports temporary waiver on vaccine patents
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. WHO chief called the announcement of US support for a vaccine patent waiver a “monumental moment in the fight against covid-19”. The US has announced its support for a waiver of intellectual property protections on covid-19 vaccines in an effort to help boost global supply. “This is a global health crisis, and the extraordinary circumstances of the COVID-19 pandemic call for extraordinary measures,” said US trade representative Katherine Tai in a statement on 5 May. “We will actively participate in text-based negotiations at the World Trade Organization (WTO) needed to make that happen,” said Tai. Of the WTO’s 164 states, 100 are said to be in favour of the waiver proposed by India and South Africa, the BBC reported. World Health Organization (WHO) director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus described the move by the US as a “monumental moment in the fight against covid-19” and a “historic decision for vaccine equity”. Pfizer and BioNTech announced that they will provide covid-19 vaccine doses for Olympic athletes attending the 2020 Games scheduled to take place in Tokyo in July this year. “This donation of the vaccine is another tool in our toolbox of measures to help make the Olympic and Paralympic Games Tokyo 2020 safe and secure,” the two companies said in a statement. Initial doses are expected to be delivered to participating delegations at the end of May, with the goal of ensuring delegations receive second doses before athletes travel to Tokyo. Coronavirus infections are surging in Nepal amid vaccine shortages, with hospitals overwhelmed. The national test positivity rate, the proportion of coronavirus tests that come back positive, is being reported at 47 per cent, the Guardian reported on 6 May. New Zealand has suspended quarantine-free travel from New South Wales in Australia into the country after two covid-19 cases were detected in Sydney.
5-6-21 Covid 'hate crimes' against Asian Americans on rise
An elderly Thai immigrant dies after being shoved to the ground. A Filipino-American is slashed in the face with a box cutter. A Chinese woman is slapped and then set on fire. These are just examples of recent violent attacks on Asian Americans, part of a surge in abuse since the start of the pandemic a year ago. From being spat on and verbally harassed to incidents of physical assault, there have been thousands of reported cases in recent months. Advocates and activists say these are hate crimes, and often linked to rhetoric that blames Asian people for the spread of Covid-19. The FBI warned at the start of the Covid outbreak in the US that it expected a surge in hate crimes against those of Asian descent. Federal hate crime data for 2020 has not yet been released, though hate crimes in 2019 were at their highest level in over a decade. Late last year, the United Nations issued a report that detailed "an alarming level" of racially motivated violence and other hate incidents against Asian Americans. It is difficult to determine exact numbers for such crimes and instances of discrimination, as no organisations or governmental agencies have been tracking the issue long-term, and reporting standards can vary region to region. The advocacy group Stop AAPI Hate said it received more than 2,800 reports of hate incidents directed at Asian Americans nationwide last year. The group set up its online self-reporting tool at the start of the pandemic. Local law enforcement is taking notice too: the New York City hate crimes task force investigated 27 incidents in 2020, a nine fold increase from the previous year. In Oakland, California, police have added patrols and set up a command post in Chinatown. Celebrities and influencers have spoken out after several disturbing incidents went viral on social media.
5-6-21 Child migrants: Massive drop in children held by border officials
The number of unaccompanied migrant children being kept in cramped government-detention facilities on the US southern border with Mexico has fallen sharply, after a 20-year high influx of border crossings led to overcrowding. The massive influx of children left US immigration officials scrambling earlier this year for facilities to house the children. The number of children being held in by US Customs and Border Protection (CPB) has dropped 88% between late March and late April, according to government officials. The decrease comes as a task force set up by President Joe Biden begins to reunite families that were separated under his predecessor Donald Trump's "zero tolerance" policy. Mr Biden has urged migrants not to attempt to travel to the US border - "Don't leave your town or city or community," he has said - but with Mr Trump out of office, some believe immigration to the US is now more possible. As of early May, US officials were holding more than 22,500 unaccompanied children who had recently crossed the border. Child migrants start off in CPB custody before being transferred to health officials in the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR). Legally, the transfer must happen in 72 hours, but back in March some 5,000 children children were found to have exceeded that legal stay. Department of Homeland Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas has said these CBP camps, which critics have compared to jails or warehouses, are "no place for a child". The number of children being specifically held in CBP facilities, which were designed for adults, dropped from a record high of 5,767 on 28 March to 677 in late April, according to Mr Mayorkas. The previous highest number of children in CPB custody was 2,600, recorded in June 2019. 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. As of 3 May, 22,195 children were in the custody of ORR health officials. Nearly 19,000 migrant children who were not accompanied by their legal guardian entered the US in March. The figure represents the largest monthly tally in US history. The latest figures, for April, have yet to be released.
5-6-21 Mario Cerciello Rega: US students found guilty of killing Italian policeman
Two US students have been found guilty of murdering a police officer in Italy following a year-long trial. Mario Cerciello Rega, 35, was stabbed to death as he investigated a drug deal gone wrong in central Rome in 2019. Californian students Finnegan Lee Elder and Gabriel Christian Natale-Hjorth were both given life sentences. Elder had admitted to stabbing Rega 11 times but maintained that he acted in self-defence, believing the police officer was a criminal. Natale-Hjorth, 20, was convicted of helping him to conceal the weapon. Under Italian law, accomplices can also be charged with murder. The two men had argued that Rega and his police partner, who were not wearing uniforms, failed to identify themselves - although the other officer denied this. Last month prosecutor Maria Sabina Calabretta argued that the pair should be given life sentences, which she described as "a just penalty". Elder and Natale-Hjorth were teenagers at the time of the incident. Rega's murder received huge amounts of attention in Italy. At the time of his death, the officer had only just returned to duty from his honeymoon. Large crowds turned out for his funeral at the same church where he was married just 43 days earlier. But there have also been questions about how the case has been handled. Elder and Natale-Hjort were on holiday in Rome when they tried to buy cocaine in the Trastevere area, near Vatican City, in July 2019. Investigators said a man named Sergio Brugiatelli helped the pair to find a dealer. But the students were allegedly sold crushed aspirin instead of drugs. Both men then stole Mr Brugiatelli's rucksack, and demanded their money back and a gram of cocaine in exchange. At this point, Mr Brugiatelli rang the police. Undercover officers Rega and his partner, Andrea Varriale, arrived soon after. During the ensuing brawl Rega was stabbed 11 times with an 18cm (7 inch) blade, which Elder brought with him from the US. Police said they later found the weapon hidden behind a false panel in the students' hotel room.
5-6-21 Covid: US backs waiver on vaccine patents to boost supply
The US has thrown its support behind a move at the World Trade Organization (WTO) to temporarily lift patent protection for coronavirus vaccines. India and South Africa proposed the plan, which they said would increase vaccine production around the world. But drugs manufacturers argue it may not have the desired effect. US Trade Representative Katherine Tai said that "extraordinary times call for extraordinary measures". Ms Tai said the US would now embark on negotiations at the WTO to try to secure the waiver, but warned this could take time. One hundred of the WTO's 164 states are said to be in favour, and a panel on intellectual property is expected to discuss the issue next month. India and South Africa were the leading voices in a group of about 60 countries which for the last six months has been trying to get the patents on vaccines set aside. However, they met with strong opposition from the previous US administration of Donald Trump, the UK and the EU. Mr Biden had proposed a waiver during the 2020 presidential election campaign. Reacting to the latest US move, the European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said "the EU is also ready to discuss any proposals that address the crisis in an effective and pragmatic manner". French President Emmanuel Macron has changed his position, now saying he is "absolutely in favour". A UK government spokesperson said the UK was "working with WTO members to resolve this issue" and was "in discussions with the US and WTO members to facilitate increased production and supply of Covid-19 vaccines". The head of the World Health Organization called the US announcement a "monumental moment" in the fight against Covid-19. The prospect of a waiver hit shares in the pharmaceutical companies Pfizer, Moderna and Novavax. Intellectual property describes creations, such as inventions, which are protected by patents, copyrights and trademarks. These prevent copying and allow the originator to be financially rewarded.
5-6-21 India Covid aid: Is emergency relief reaching those in need?
As India's devastating Covid-19 crisis mounted last month, countries around the world began sending emergency medical supplies to help stem the surge. Planeloads of ventilators, medicines and oxygen equipment began pouring into India, from countries including the UK and the US, at the start of last week. By Sunday, some 300 tonnes of supplies on 25 flights had arrived at Delhi International Airport alone. But - as cases continue to reach record levels across the country - concerns are mounting about delays in supplying the aid to those most in need. For several days, much of the cargo sat in airport hangars as hospitals called for more support. The supplies did not begin being distributed until as late as Monday evening - more than a week after the first batch of emergency assistance arrived, state officials have told local media. The Indian government has strongly denied there is a delay, issuing a statement on Tuesday evening saying it had introduced a "streamlined and systematic mechanism" for distributing the supplies. The health ministry said in the statement it was "working 24x7 to fast track and clear the goods". But on the ground, officials in some of India's worst-hit states told the BBC that they had still not received any supplies. Kerala - which recorded a record 37,190 new Covid cases earlier this week - had still not received any aid by Wednesday evening, the state's health secretary, Dr Rajan Khobragade, told the BBC. Kerala's chief minister, Prinarayi Vijayan, separately called on India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi to "urgently" send Kerala some of the country's much-needed oxygen imports. He asked that the equipment "be allotted to Kerala on a priority basis, considering the fact that Kerala has one of the highest active case loads in the country", in an open letter to Mr Modi on Wednesday.
5-5-21 India's plight could be repeated elsewhere if rising cases are ignored
THE situation in India continues to worsen, with more than 20 million cases of covid-19 recorded and health systems overwhelmed. But there is nothing unique about India that means it alone could face such a crisis. Around the world, country after country is being hit by surging coronavirus cases, driven in part by new variants that are harder to control. The pandemic is accelerating across South America, and cases are rising in many African countries too. In most low and middle-income nations, few people have been vaccinated against the coronavirus, compared with some high-income countries, where high vaccination rates are allowing restrictions to be eased. Add to this the fact that many lower-income countries don’t have the medical capacity to deal with a huge new wave, and you have a catastrophe in the making. There has been much discussion of vaccination in relation to easing India’s plight. One thing we can say, though, is that vaccines alone won’t halt a surge in cases. Chile saw case numbers soar even as it vaccinated nearly half of its population, for instance. In Israel and England, vaccination has been used as a way out of lockdown, with the lockdowns used as the main way to control surging case numbers. So far, only one country has managed to vaccinate its way out of a potential new wave of covid-19. In the US, the vaccine roll-out appears to have been ramped up in time to curb a surge due to the B.1.1.7 variant imported from the UK. The issue is that to reduce the spread of the coronavirus, the majority of a population needs to be fully immunised with a highly effective vaccine. That takes time even with ample vaccine supplies, and India has neither time nor vaccine supplies on its side. In the meantime, another national lockdown, however difficult, seems necessary. The crisis in India is a warning. Until many more countries have been able to vaccinate most of their populations, what has happened in India could occur elsewhere if rising case numbers are ignored. Those countries must plan for the worst and the global community must be ready to help.
5-5-21 Covid-19 news: Cases surge in Seychelles despite high vaccination rate
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 Seychelles reintroduces covid-19 restrictions despite high levels of vaccination. Restrictions to curb the spread of covid-19 have been reintroduced in the Seychelles due to rising cases, despite over 60 per cent of the population having been fully vaccinated. There are about 1000 active cases in the Indian Ocean archipelago, which has a population of 100,000. A third of the cases involve people who have had two vaccine doses, according to the country’s news agency. Schools have been ordered to close, shops and bars must close early and some gatherings have been banned. The Seychelles has fully vaccinated more of its population than any other nation. Around 60 per cent of vaccine doses used in the country were made by the Chinese company Sinopharm, and the rest by AstraZeneca. “It is fair to say that high vaccination rates alone are not necessarily enough to stop a surge in cases”, mathematician Christina Pagel at University College London said on Twitter. India’s daily death toll continues to climb, with another 3780 deaths related to covid-19 reported today. According to the World Health Organization’s weekly epidemiological report, India accounted for 46 per cent of cases and 25 per cent of deaths worldwide in the past week. India’s delegation at the G7 meeting in London was forced to self-isolate after two members tested positive for the virus. The crisis in India has spread to Nepal, where 44 per cent of tests are showing positive results and many hospitals are overrun with covid-19 patients, according to the Nepal Red Cross Society. Brazil’s senate has approved a bill to suspend patent protection for covid-19 vaccines, tests and medications. The bill will now be considered by the lower house of congress.
5-5-21 Covid: Canada authorises Pfizer vaccine for children aged 12 to 15
Canada has authorised the use of the Pfizer coronavirus vaccine for children between the ages of 12 and 15. It is the first country in the world to authorise the use of the vaccine for people that age. The country's health ministry made the ruling based on data from phase three clinical trials on children that age. "The department determined that this vaccine is safe and effective when used in this younger age group," a senior adviser at the ministry said. Last March, Pfizer said trials of its vaccine in children aged 12 to 15 showed 100% efficacy and a strong immune response. Children's risk of becoming very ill or dying with Covid-19 is tiny, and throughout the pandemic they have very rarely needed hospital treatment.
5-5-21 Covid vaccine: Biden aims to expand vaccines for adults and children
President Joe Biden has laid out plans to vaccinate 70% of US adults by 4 July and roll out the shots for 12- to 15-year-olds as soon as possible. Mr Biden's new goal includes having 160 million adults fully vaccinated by Independence Day. The target is well within reach as 105 million have already had the required jabs, and the US is vaccinating nearly a million adults per day. But the vaccination rate is half of what it was just three weeks ago. Mr Biden said his administration was working to win over "doubters" about the shots. Israel - a world leader in vaccination rates - has nearly fully reopened its economy and seen its number of new coronavirus cases crash to almost zero, with just over 60% of the population having received at least one shot. Herd immunity happens when enough of a population has protection against an infection that it stops being able to spread - and even people who don't themselves have immunity are indirectly protected. For Covid the estimated threshold for herd immunity is at least 65%-70% of people having protection against infection, although Mr Biden's chief medical adviser Dr Anthony Fauci has increased his estimate to 90% and the World Health Organization (WHO) has said the level is not known. Mr Biden said at the White House on Monday: "In two months let's celebrate independence as a nation and our independence from this virus. We can do this. We will do this." The Democratic president also announced a new website, vaccines.gov, that Americans can use to more easily find vaccination sites after widespread complaints that the sign-up process was too difficult for some. There is also a phone number Americans can now text to submit their postal code and learn about vaccination sites in their area. Mr Biden had previously set the goal for life to be "back to normal" by 4 July.
5-5-21 Here’s what breakthrough infections reveal about COVID-19 vaccines
Just 0.01 percent of fully vaccinated people in the U.S. are known to have caught the virus. As around 2 million people a day across the United States receive a dose of one of three COVID-19 vaccines, cases of the disease are once again on the decline thanks in part to rising immunity. But even as COVID-19 cases wane, researchers are scrutinizing ones popping up in a particular group of people: those who are fully vaccinated. Such cases, called breakthrough infections, aren’t unexpected. That’s because the vaccines are not 100 percent effective. “When people hear about breakthrough infections, they automatically think ‘oh, these vaccines are not working’ or ‘they’re not effective,’” says Richard Teran, an epidemiologist with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Epidemic Intelligence Service. “That is just not true … the majority of individuals who do get the vaccine are protected against COVID infection and also from severe disease.” All three jabs currently authorized for use in the United States — Pfizer’s, Moderna’s and Johnson & Johnson’s — proved effective at preventing COVID-19 symptoms in clinical trials. And evidence is building that Pfizer’s and Moderna’s jabs, both mRNA vaccines, thwart infection as well in immunized people (SN: 3/30/21). People are considered fully vaccinated two weeks after receiving all doses of a vaccine. But when coronavirus breakthroughs do happen, there are several important questions for experts to consider, says Francesca Torriani, an infectious diseases physician and hospital epidemiologist at the University of California, San Diego. Do the breakthrough infections cause severe disease? Or do vaccinated people tend to have milder symptoms? Another question is whether immunized people who still get infected pass the virus on to others. Lastly, did an immunized person get the infection because their immune system didn’t kick into high gear after getting the shot? Or was it that the vaccine sparked an immune response that didn’t offer much protection against, perhaps, a coronavirus variant?
5-5-21 How a small city in Brazil may reveal how fast vaccines can curb COVID-19
The aim is to follow the population of Serrana to measure large-scale effects of immunization. The city of Serrana in Brazil is a living experiment. The picturesque place, surrounded by sugarcane fields, is nestled in the southeast of one of the countries hit hardest by COVID-19. By the end of March, daily deaths in Brazil surged to 3,000 on average a day, a high in a pandemic that has claimed more than 405,000 lives there — the second worst death toll of any country in the world behind only the United States. And as vaccines slowly trickle into the country, only about 15 percent of the population has gotten at least one shot. Except in Serrana. There, nearly all the adults have gotten their shots. What happens next in this city could provide a glimpse of what the future of the pandemic could be — not only in Brazil but across the globe as vaccinations pick up. The mass vaccination is an experiment dubbed Projeto S, which will measure the real-world effectiveness of the Chinese-made CoronaVac vaccine, including how well it protects against coronavirus variants. One variant called P.1, which first emerged in the Brazilian Amazon and is now widespread throughout Brazil, shows signs of being both more contagious and able to evade antibodies trained to recognize the coronavirus (SN: 4/14/21). Among the questions the study may help answer is “whether vaccinated people protect the unvaccinated, how long does their immunity last, and what variants are circulating,” says Marcos Borges, project coordinator and director of the Serrana State Hospital. “We’ll finally be able to observe how a large set of people respond to the vaccine in real-world conditions.” Projeto S may be the best way to understand the effectiveness of vaccination against COVID-19 in the short and medium terms, says Ethel Maciel, an epidemiologist at the Federal University of Espírito Santo. “This is especially important because we don’t know when we will have most Brazilians vaccinated,” says Maciel, who is not involved in the initiative.
5-5-21 India's covid-19 crisis: What happens next and how long will it last?
As cases continue to soar, what does the country need to do to curb the epidemic, how long with the current wave last, and which other countries are at risk of a similar situation? WHILE life in some rich countries begins to return to a semblance of normality, the global coronavirus crisis is far from over. Official case numbers in India have surpassed 20 million and, globally, the week beginning 26 April was the worst since the pandemic began. Worldwide, the number of reported new daily infections hovers around 900,000, although this is a huge underestimate. More than a third of these are in India, where infections are still rising. New Scientist looks at what happens next. India’s second wave looks set to get a lot worse before it gets better. In terms of the number of people being infected, the outbreak is already by far the worst in the world. Having recorded more than 400,000 cases on 30 April, as New Scientist went to press, reported daily cases were hovering around 350,000 and some models have predicted this could pass half a million in May. Most models suggest that we will see increases in cases until the middle of May and then we will see a decline, says Gautam Menon at Ashoka University in Sonepat, India. If so, the number of deaths could keep increasing until the end of May. With hospitals already overwhelmed, this would have further devastating consequences. The US still holds the record for the highest reported daily covid-19 deaths, 4500 on 12 January, and the most reported deaths overall –nearly 600,000. Brazil is second, with 4249 deaths on 8 April and around 400,000 in total. On 3 May, India reported 3449 new deaths and, so far, it has reported just over 200,000 deaths since the pandemic began. The official figures are thought to greatly underestimate the true number of cases and deaths, however.
5-5-21 Coronavirus: How India descended into Covid-19 chaos
On Monday, a senior official from India's federal government told journalists that there was no shortage of oxygen in Delhi or anywhere else in the country. As he spoke, several small hospitals - only a few miles from where he stood in the capital - were sending out desperate messages about them running out of oxygen, putting patients' lives at risk. The chief doctor of one of the hospitals - a specialist paediatric facility - told the BBC that "our hearts were in our mouths" because of the risk of children dying. They got supplies just in time, after a local politician intervened. And yet, the federal government has repeatedly insisted that there was no shortage. "We are only facing problems in its transportation," Piyush Goyal, a senior official from India's home ministry, said. He also advised hospitals to "ensure judicious use of oxygen as per the guidelines". Several doctors who have spoken to the BBC say they are giving oxygen only to patients who need it, but there is not enough. But experts say that the shortage of oxygen is just one of the problems which shows both federal and state governments were not prepared, having failed to do enough to stop or minimise the damage of the second wave. Warnings have in fact been repeatedly issued, including: 1. In November, a parliamentary standing committee on health said there was an inadequate supply of oxygen and "grossly inadequate" government hospital beds. 2. In February, several experts told the BBC they feared an impending 'Covid tsunami' 3. In early March, an expert group of scientists, set up by the government, warned officials about a more contagious variant of coronavirus spreading in the country - only for no significant containment measures to be taken, one scientist from the group told the BBC. The government has not made any comment on the allegations. Despite this, on 8 March, the country's health minister announced that India was in the "endgame of the pandemic". So, where did it go so wrong?
5-5-21 Seychelles brings back curbs despite vaccination success
The Seychelles, which has fully vaccinated over 60% of its population against Covid-19, is bringing back restrictions amid a rise in cases. The archipelago of nearly 100,000 people recorded close to 500 new cases in the three days to 1 May and has about 1,000 active cases. A third of the active cases involved people who had had two vaccine doses, the country's news agency said. The rest had either had a single dose or were unvaccinated. Schools have been closed and sports activities cancelled for two weeks. Bars, restaurants and shops are to close early and some gatherings have been banned. "Despite all the exceptional efforts we are making, the Covid-19 situation in our country is critical right now with many daily cases reported last week," Health Minister Peggy Vidot told a press conference on Tuesday. More than four-fifths of the active cases were among Seychellois people, with the remainder made up of foreigners. The Seychelles, which relies on tourism for much of its income, began vaccinating its population in January using Chinese-made Sinopharm vaccine doses donated by the United Arab Emirates. By mid-April about 60% of the vaccine doses administered in the country were Sinopharm, with the rest Indian-made AstraZeneca vaccine doses, Bloomberg reported. Trials in China and the United Arab Emirates have put Sinopharm vaccine efficacy at 79% and 86% respectively. The World Health Organization is expected to approve the Sinopharm vaccine and other Chinese-made vaccines for use later this week. In April, China's top disease control official said the efficacy of the country's Covid vaccines was low, although he later insisted his comments had been misinterpreted. Researchers in Brazil have put the efficacy of another Chinese-made vaccine, the Sinovac vaccine, at 50.4%.
5-5-21 George Floyd killer Derek Chauvin asks for new trial
The white former Minneapolis police officer convicted last month of the murder of the black man George Floyd has requested a new trial. Derek Chauvin's legal team have filed court documents alleging misconduct by both prosecutors and jurors. Chauvin, who was captured on video kneeling on Mr Floyd's neck for more than nine minutes, was found guilty of murder and manslaughter. His lawyer says his client was deprived of a fair trial. The rare verdict against a police officer was considered a milestone in the racial history of the US and was widely applauded by Americans. Chauvin faces up to 40 years in prison. He will be sentenced next month. US media report that the request for a new trial was expected and is a common move following a conviction. The New York Times quoted experts as saying it was unlikely that the jury's decision would be overturned because of the evidence in the case. In court documents Eric Nelson argues that the process was not impartial because of pre-trial publicity. He writes that it was "so pervasive and so prejudicial" before and during the trial, that it amounted to a "structural defect in the proceedings". The motion also alleges that errors were made by the judge and that there was prosecutorial misconduct and witness intimidation. Supporters of Chauvin have pointed to juror Brandon Mitchell, who was pictured last August at an event in Washington held on the 57th anniversary of the civil rights movement's historic March on Washington. The event included a Get Your Knee Off Our Necks protest at which speakers including Martin Luther King's son demanded racial equality. Mr Mitchell was pictured wearing a T-shirt bearing the slogan "Get your knee off our necks" and "BLM", referring to the Black Lives Matter movement. Jurors in the Chauvin case were asked before the trial whether they or people they knew well had "participated in protests about police use of force or police brutality". Mr Mitchell - the only juror in the trial to give media interviews - says he answered no to that question. (Webmaster's comment: No way is whitey going to send a white police officeer to prison for killing a black person!)
5-4-21 Covid-19 news: People in the UK may be able to holiday abroad in weeks
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 expected to release “green list” of countries for non-essential travel this week. People in the UK may be able to travel to Europe within weeks, as ministers are reportedly considering which countries would be on the UK’s initial “green list” for non-essential travel. The list of countries, from which returning travellers won’t be required to self-isolate, is expected to be released this week. It is illegal for people in the UK to travel abroad for a holiday until 17 May. “We will be able to confirm ahead of the 17th at the earliest what measures are used for those initial countries that are available for travel,” UK trade minister Liz Truss told Sky News on 4 May. The initial list is only expected to include about 10 countries, but Spain, France and Greece are among those that could be added to the list by the end of June, the Telegraph reported. On 3 May, UK prime minister Boris Johnson said putting too many countries on the list would risk an “influx of disease”. European Union leaders are discussing plans for allowing non-essential travel to the bloc from outside countries. Under a proposal put forward by the European Commission on 3 May, fully vaccinated people or those travelling from countries with low enough case numbers would be able to travel to the EU for non-essential reasons. It isn’t yet known if the UK would be included. India has recorded more than 20 million coronavirus cases since the start of the pandemic, although this is likely to be an underestimate. More than 355,000 new cases were reported on 4 May, down from more than 400,000 daily new cases on 30 April. However, testing numbers have also fallen. Hospitals in India remain overwhelmed, with continuing oxygen shortages. New restrictions have been imposed in many states, with the northern state of Bihar one of the latest to announce a full lockdown. Nepal is in urgent need of at least 1.6 million doses of the Oxford/AstraZeneca covid-19 vaccine for people who are due to receive their second dose. “People who have already got the first dose will be in difficulty if they don’t receive their second dose within the stipulated time,” said Samir Adhikari, an official from Nepal’s health ministry in Kathmandu. The country is appealing to other nations and international organisations to help supply the required doses. A study, which analysed health records of 17 million people in England during 2020, has confirmed that people from ethnic minority groups were at an increased risk from covid-19 during the first and second waves of the epidemic compared to white people. The research, published in the scientific journal the Lancet, found that disparities for covid-19 hospital admissions and deaths narrowed for most ethnic minority groups compared to white ethnic groups between the first and second waves, but that disparities between white and South Asian groups widened over the same time period. The US Food and Drug Administration is expected to authorise the Pfizer/BioNTech covid-19 vaccine for use in adolescents aged 12 to 15 by early next week, the New York Times reported.
5-4-21 The surge in U.S. coronavirus cases shows a shift in who’s getting sick
Younger, unvaccinated people aren’t just getting mild infections; they’re landing in the ER too. When COVID-19 cases once again began rising in the United States this spring, it may have felt like déjà vu, a repeat of the early months of the pandemic. While cases are now starting to drop in many, but not all, of the hot spots, the country is still seeing upwards of 50,000 new cases a day, and for a few days in mid-April, those numbers topped 70,000, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. This may seem more manageable than the 200,000-plus case days in December and January, but the latest numbers are comparable to the case counts during last summer’s surge. This time, though, the demographics of many of the people getting sick are different: While it varies by state, they’re typically younger, and remain at risk because they are not yet vaccinated. More transmissible coronavirus variants, particularly one called B.1.1.7, appear to be driving the new surge. And, as businesses continue to reopen and vaccination efforts run into low demand, public health experts worry that the same communities that have been vulnerable throughout the pandemic may be hit hard all over again. In the past year, demographic trends among individuals infected with COVID-19 have shown that adults over the age of 65 have been more likely to die from the disease. Black residents, Hispanic/Latino residents and other minority groups, have been both more likely to get sick and more likely to face severe illness. Now, however, vaccinations are protecting a majority of seniors, while many minority communities and not-yet-vaccinated younger adults, those under age 50, remain vulnerable to infection. And this younger crowd isn’t just getting asymptomatic or mild COVID-19 cases: A greater share of those now hospitalized are younger adults compared to their share of total hospitalizations in earlier months. Nationwide, about 9,000 COVID-19 patients under age 50 were admitted to hospitals in the second week of April, compared with about 6,000 people in that age group a month earlier — while admissions for patients over age 60 have stayed at constant levels since late February.
5-4-21 The Americans hesitant about the Covid vaccine
Certain demographics in the US, such as African Americans and Republicans, are more hesitant about the Covid vaccine than others. One public health expert stresses that listening may be the most important thing to do to address their concerns. This is how some some vaccine advocates are reaching out.
5-4-21 India passes 20 million cases amid oxygen shortage
India has recorded more than 20 million Covid infections, but the government says that cases are "slowing down". The country added more than 355,000 cases on Tuesday, down from more than 400,000 daily cases on 30 April. But testing numbers have dipped as well, sparking fears that India's true caseload is far higher. Case numbers, however, have been consistently falling in Maharashtra state, which had driven the second wave since early April. Meanwhile an oxygen shortage has shown no signs of abating and people in several hotspot cities, including the capital Delhi, are struggling for treatment. India's second wave, fuelled by lax safety protocols and massive public festivals and election rallies, has also overwhelmed its hospitals. Delays in testing, diagnosis and treatment, as well as a shortage of critical care beds and crucial drugs, has resulted in a spike in deaths too. The country has so far reported more than 222,000 deaths due to the virus. But experts say India's Covid death toll is vastly under-reported as official tallies don't appear to match what people are witnessing on the ground - long lines at crematoriums, mass funeral pyres and cities running out of space to bury or cremate the dead. Many states have introduced restrictions, from full lockdowns to night curfews. The northern state of Bihar, which has been adding about 13,000 daily cases in recent days, is the latest to announce a full lockdown -only essential services, such as government offices, groceries and hospitals, will be open. While India's daily caseload does appear to have fallen, it's too early to say if infections are slowing down. Given delays in testing and official record-keeping, experts typically look at weekly averages rather than daily cases for a more accurate picture. And on average, India's cases were rising this past week - but at a slower rate than the previous week.
5-4-21 Joe Biden raises Trump refugee cap after backlash
President Joe Biden has lifted the US annual refugee cap, bowing to backlash from his party after he initially opted to stick by the Trump-era figure. The Democratic president is raising the cap from 15,000 to 62,500 after outrage from progressives and refugee agencies. Mr Biden said the lower figure "did not reflect America's values". Reports said the president was concerned about letting in more people amid a record influx at the US-Mexico border. The new figure of 62,500 "erases the historically low number" set by former President Donald Trump, Mr Biden said on Monday. He also said his administration intended to raise the number of refugees admitted next year to 125,000. But he acknowledged the "sad truth" that the US would not achieve either target this year or next, arguing that his administration had to "undo the damage" of the previous one. The lower ceiling "did not reflect America's values as a nation that welcomes and supports refugees", Mr Biden said. About 2,000 refugees were let into the US between October and March, according to the Refugee Processing Center. The Biden administration has been accused of seeking to deflect blame on to the Trump administration for having, as the White House says, "dismantled" the immigration system down at the US-Mexico border. Mr Trump did gradually slash the refugee cap through his tenure, bringing the number down from 110,000 in President Barack Obama's last year in office to the record low of 15,000. But World Relief, a humanitarian organisation, last month said White House claims that the US refugee resettlement programme needed to be rebuilt after the Trump years were "a completely false narrative" and "a purely political calculation". Mr Biden had vowed during his election campaign to hike the US cap on refugees. But in April he stunned many supporters with an emergency declaration that the admission of up to 15,000 refugees was "justified by humanitarian concerns and is otherwise in the national interest".
5-4-21 Mexico apologises to Mayan people for historic abuses
Mexico's president has apologised to the indigenous Mayan people for abuses committed against them over the five centuries since the Spanish conquest. Andrés Manuel López Obrador spoke at an event also attended by Guatemalan leader Alejandro Giammattei in the south-east state of Quintana Roo. He focused on the 1847-1901 Caste War revolt in which around 250,000 people are believed to have lost their lives. Mexico is due to hold legislative and municipal elections shortly. "We offer the most sincere apologies to the Mayan people for the terrible abuses committed by individuals and national and foreign authorities in the conquest, during three centuries of colonial domination and two centuries of an independent Mexico," Mr Lopez Obrador said. Guatemala's Alejandro Giammattei said the Mayan people still faced suffering and neglect. "We have managed as a region to overcome aspects such as slavery, internal wars, and open confrontations between peoples," he said. "However, by revisiting our history, we can analyse the present and realise that we are still facing the loss of human lives but now at the hands of organised crime, because of malnutrition, and the tireless search for the dream and opportunities that so many people pursue." It isn't entirely surprising that Andrés Manuel López Obrador is the president to make this official apology to the Mayan people: he first made his name as a vocal activist for indigenous rights in his home state of Tabasco. But that makes it no less historic. It will come as something of an important milestone to Mayan leaders who have long pushed for greater recognition of the wholesale slaughter of their people and near eradication of their culture and customs by the Spanish and Mexican governments. However, the timing will also be met with some scepticism. There is just a month before vital legislative and municipal elections, and President López Obrador continues to push forward with his pet project of the Tren Maya - a tourist train which will run through a region called the Riviera Maya - despite overwhelming local opposition.
5-3-21 US-China relations: Blinken accuses China of acting more aggressively
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken has accused China of acting more aggressively abroad and more repressively at home. He said in an interview with CBS News the US did not want to hold China down but would not allow it to undermine the rules-based international order. He noted that a military confrontation was profoundly against the interests of both countries. Tensions have soared in recent times over trade, espionage and the pandemic. The China-US relationship is crucial to both sides and the wider world, with Beijing repeatedly calling on the new administration in Washington to improve relations which deteriorated under President Joe Biden's predecessor, Donald Trump. Mr Blinken told CBS' 60 Minutes that Mr Biden and Chinese leader Xi Jinping had talked about a wide range of topics in their first phone conversation, which lasted two hours, in February. "President Biden made clear that in a number of areas we have real concerns about the actions that China has taken, and that includes in the economic area, and that includes the theft of intellectual property," he said. He stopped short of calling China an enemy even though the US has accused Beijing of stealing hundreds of billions of dollars in trade secrets and intellectual property. "We don't have the luxury of not dealing with China," he said. "There are real complexities to the relationship, whether it's the adversarial piece, whether it's the competitive piece, whether it's the co-operative piece." But, he said, although China was acting like "someone who's trying to compete unfairly and increasingly in adversarial ways... we're much more effective and stronger when we're bringing like-minded and similarly aggrieved countries together to say to Beijing: 'This can't stand, and it won't stand'." Mr Blinken is visiting London for the first face-to-face meeting of foreign ministers from the G7 industrialised countries in more than two years. President Biden, in his first address to Congress last week, made the point that he was not seeking conflict with China and said he had told President Xi in his call that "we welcome the competition" to be the dominant global power. (Webmaster's comment: United states has been attacking other nations since they attacked Panama in 1903 to get the Panama channel. They have undercut democratically elected governments in South America, the Middle East, Asia and Africa all for "American corporate interests." At the same time they lynched and murdered Blacks and are still doing so. The United States is not a good model for government.)
5-3-21 Brazil: Vaccinating the Amazon against Covid
With more than 400,000 deaths – the world’s second-highest toll of the pandemic – Brazil is trying to speed up its slow vaccination programme. The government of Jair Bolsonaro is accused by critics of failing to buy and roll out doses early enough. The BBC has followed Brazilian healthcare workers delivering vaccines to one of the most isolated parts of a vast country.
5-3-21 EU unveils plans for overseas tourists to return
The EU Commission has recommended easing restrictions on non-essential travel from overseas. Under the plans, anyone who has received the last dose of an EU-approved vaccine at least two weeks beforehand will be permitted to travel. "Time to revive EU tourism industry and for cross-border friendships to rekindle - safely," EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen tweeted. The EU currently only allows non-essential travel from seven countries. But the proposals will also contain an "emergency brake" allowing member states to limit travel quickly in response to new variants or a deteriorating health situation in non-EU countries. This would be reviewed every two weeks. Discussions on the plans will begin on Tuesday. The EU has already announced plans for a digital certificate, which would cover anyone who is either vaccinated against Covid-19, has a negative test or has recently recovered. Member states will be able to accept tourists from outside the EU if they have received an approved jab, the European Commission said on Monday, although this could be extended for vaccines that have completed the World Health Organization's (WHO) emergency use listing process. In addition, children who have not been able to receive a vaccine should be able to travel with their parents as long as they present a negative test, although further testing may be required on arrival. Until the EU-wide pass, known as the digital green certificate, is launched, countries "should be able to accept certificates from non-EU countries based on national law", the European Commission added. This decision would include "ability to verify the authenticity, validity and integrity of the certificate and whether it contains all relevant data". The plans will increase also the threshold number of cases in countries from which all travel is allowed - subject to quarantine or testing - from 25 infections per 100,000 people to 100. This, the proposals note, is still far below the EU average of more than 420 per 100,000.
5-3-21 Americans still conflicted over outdoor masks
Vaccination rates are on the rise in the US and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has issued new guidance about when and where Americans should be masking up. On the National Mall in Washington, DC, tourists are divided on the new rules.
5-2-21 US and Nato start to formally withdraw troops from Afghanistan
The US has started formally withdrawing troops from Afghanistan, beginning the end of what President Joe Biden called "the forever war". The US and Nato have had a presence in Afghanistan for almost 20 years. But the withdrawal, which runs until 11 September, comes amid escalating violence, with Afghan security forces on high alert for reprisal attacks. The Taliban have warned they are no longer bound by an agreement not to target international troops. Under a deal signed last year between the militants and then-President Donald Trump, foreign forces were to have left by 1 May while the Taliban held off attacking international troops. Officials told Reuters during this time the Taliban has been protecting western military bases from rival Islamist groups. That has not stopped Taliban attacks on Afghan forces and civilians. US General Scott Miller warned against attacks on foreign troops as they start to withdraw. "Make no mistake, we have the military means to respond forcefully to any type of attacks against the coalition and the military means to support the Afghan security forces," he said in a video posted on Twitter. US President Joe Biden last month pushed back the 1 May pullout, saying some troops would stay on until 11 September this year, the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, citing the security situation. A Taliban spokesman said "this violation in principle has opened the way for [Taliban fighters] to take every counter-action it deems appropriate against the occupying forces". But he also said Taliban fighters would await instructions from leaders before mounting attacks. Some analysts suggested with a US deadline for withdrawal in place large-scale attacks could be averted. Meanwhile the US faces the logistical challenge of packing up and leaving. The AP report the military has been taking inventory, deciding what will be shipped back and what will be sold as junk on Afghanistan's markets.
5-2-21 Mitt Romney loudly booed at Utah Republican convention
US Senator Mitt Romney has been booed by Republicans at a convention in Utah. The Utah senator and former presidential candidate was the only Republican to vote twice to impeach ex-President Donald Trump. As Mr Romney took the stage at a state party convention in West Valley City, delegates shouted that he was a "communist" and a "traitor". Amid the jeering, he asked the crowd: "So what do you think about President Biden's first hundred days?" Mr Romney added that he was "a person who says what he thinks, and I don't hide the fact that I wasn't a fan of our last president's character issues". He started to say "and I'm also no fan...", but then had to stop speaking again because of the volume of the booing. After a pause, the senator asked the crowd of 2,100 delegates: "Aren't you embarrassed?" State party chair Derek Brown then stepped in and pleaded with everyone to "please... show respect". Despite this show of disapproval, a motion to censure Mr Romney for his votes to impeach Mr Trump failed narrowly. Mr Romney urged people to "come together in strength and unity" before leaving the stage. A moderate Republican, Mr Romney is not facing re-election to the Senate in 2022. This incident is seen as an example of how, despite his election loss last year, Mr Trump continues to be popular within the party. A CNN poll released this week suggested 70% of Republicans still believe Mr Trump's allegations that President Joe Biden did not legitimately win the election - despite the claims being repeatedly proven to be false. Mr Trump is the only president in US history to have been impeached twice. The first time, in December 2019, was for asking Ukraine for dirt on his political opponents. The second was for inciting a deadly storming of the Capitol on 6 January this year, after repeating his claim of electoral fraud. Before the riot, he told a crowd of supporters to "fight like hell". He was acquitted at both impeachment trials.
5-2-21 India coronavirus: New record deaths as virus engulfs India
India has recorded its highest daily coronavirus death toll since the pandemic began - a day after it became the first country to register more than 400,000 new cases. Its health ministry said 3,689 people had died within the past 24 hours. Prime Minister Narendra Modi met the health minister on Sunday morning to review the crisis. Hospitals are battling to treat patients amid a chronic shortage of beds and medical oxygen. Amid the crisis, vote counting started on Sunday for elections held in five states: Assam, West Bengal, Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Puducherry. The outcomes are being watched for signs of how the pandemic has affected support for Mr Modi and his Hindu nationalist party, the BJP. He has been criticised for allowing rallies to take place during polling in March and April. Results so far from West Bengal, where Mr Modi had been seeking a win, instead suggest the TMC party of fierce Modi critic Mamata Banerjee will comfortably retain power. India has recorded more than 19 million cases of coronavirus - second only to the US. It has also confirmed more than 215,000 deaths, though the real toll is thought to be far higher. Experts have cited low testing rates and the number of people dying at home, especially in rural areas, as contributing factors to under-reported figures. The country's previous highest daily death toll, also reported this week, was 3,645. Brazil and the US have both registered daily tolls of more than 4,000 during the course of the pandemic. In India, distressing images of families begging for hospital beds and life-saving supplies have been emerging for more than 10 days, while morgues and crematoriums remain overwhelmed. Twelve people died on Saturday at Delhi's Batra Hospital after it ran out of oxygen - for the second time in a week.
5-2-21 Backlash after China Weibo post mocks India Covid crisis
A social media post from an account linked to the Chinese Communist Party has sparked controversy for appearing to mock India over its coronavirus crisis. The post on Chinese site Weibo showed an image of a rocket launch in China alongside a photo of the bodies of Covid victims being cremated in India. Text with it read: "Lighting a fire in China VS lighting a fire in India." The post, which appeared on Saturday afternoon, has since been deleted. It was reportedly published by an account belonging to an official Chinese law enforcement agency - the Communist Party's Central Political and Legal Affairs Commission - which has millions of followers on Weibo, a popular microblogging site in the country. Users responding to the post, which was later shared using screenshots of the original, wrote that it was "inappropriate" and that China "should express sympathy for India". Hu Xijin, the editor-in-chief of China's Global Times media outlet, wrote: "Hold high the banner of humanitarianism at this time, show sympathy for India, and firmly place Chinese society on a moral high ground." The Weibo post appeared a day after Chinese President Xi Jinping sent a message of condolence to Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi over the country's deepening Covid-19 crisis. Mr Xi said China was willing to enhance co-operation with India and provide any additional help where needed. India is struggling to cope with a devastating second wave of coronavirus, with hospitals battling to treat patients amid a chronic shortage of beds and medical oxygen. On Sunday, India recorded a daily coronavirus death toll of 3,689 - the highest since the pandemic began. It came a day after the country became the first to record more than 400,000 new cases within a 24-hour period.
5-2-21 Caitlyn Jenner opposes trans girls in women's sports as unfair
Caitlyn Jenner, candidate for California governor and former Olympic gold medallist, says she opposes trans girls participating in women's sports. Ms Jenner, who came out as a trans woman in 2015, told a reporter: "It just isn't fair. And we have to protect girls' sports in our schools." The Republican candidate for governor gave what appeared to be an impromptu interview to the TMZ website. A number of US states are considering a ban on trans girls in women's sports. Mississippi signed such a ban into law in March, although it is expected to face appeals. The Human Rights Campaign - the largest LGBT advocacy group in the US - says some 17 other states are considering similar legislation. Caitlyn Jenner was one of the US's most successful athletes in the decathlon during the 1970s and won gold in the Montreal Olympics in 1976. In recent years, she has been a household name thanks to her involvement in the hit reality show Keeping Up with the Kardashians. Before transitioning, she was married to Kris Jenner and the pair have two daughters, Kendall and Kylie. Ms Jenner, who has been described as the highest-profile American to come out as transgender, was asked for her opinion on the hot-button issue of trans athletes while out walking her dog to get a coffee. "This is a question of fairness," she said. "That's why I oppose biological boys who are trans competing in girls' sports in school. It just isn't fair. And we have to protect girls' sports in our schools." Ms Jenner then took to Twitter to reiterate her stance. The 71-year-old announced her bid to run as a Republican in the Democratic stronghold state of California two weeks ago. Confirmation of a recall election is expected after a petition against current Governor Gavin Newsom, a Democrat, reached the number required to trigger a vote. Voters would be asked if they want Mr Newsom to stay or another candidate to take on the job. Ms Jenner's views on trans athletes put her at odds with many activists in the trans community, who argue that legislation targeting trans children is dangerous and discriminatory.
5-2-21 Police traffic stops and racism
As social justice advocates target police violence against people of color, traffic stops are under growing scrutiny. As social justice advocates target police violence against people of color, traffic stops are under growing scrutiny. Here's everything you need to know: (Webmaster's comment: In Minnesota black women would be pulled over and the police officer would demand a blowjob through the car window or the woman would get a ticket! TRUE! My girl friend at the time experienced it so offen she had to quit driving!)
- Why are traffic stops important? Scores of studies have shown the same pervasive pattern: Black people are more likely to be pulled over for traffic violations, and more likely to be searched when they're stopped. The most comprehensive study of the issue comes from Stanford University's Open Policing Project, which in 2020 found "persistent racial bias" in nearly 100 million police stops made by 21 state agencies and 35 municipal departments.
- How strong is the evidence for that charge? Multiple studies have come to the same conclusion. An ABC News analysis of data from city police departments last year, for example, found stark disparities in traffic stops.
- What is the impact of the stops? Traffic stops are the most common interaction between citizens and police, with some 50,000 drivers pulled over daily — about 20 million stops a year. Police have a huge amount of discretion in deciding whom to pull over, and people of color are often singled out for scrutiny and harassment.
- Why is that? Police are trained to believe that every citizen they pull over may be an armed criminal, so some cops approach stops with adrenalized fear and hair-trigger aggression. Consider the case of Army Lt. Caron Nazario, who was approached by two cops pointing guns and pepper sprayed in the face after a December traffic stop.
- What's being done about this? Some cities and states are putting restrictions on when police can pull people over. A new law in Virginia prevents police from pulling over drivers solely because of minor violations.
- How would that work? Municipalities would create a separate agency responsible for traffic issues, staffed by unarmed agents without the power to arrest or conduct searches. Cameras would be used to target violations like expired registrations as well as speeding and red-light running.
- How the courts back the police: The courts have generally given police wide latitude to stop and arrest motorists. In the 1996 case Whren v. United States, the Supreme Court ruled police can use a minor infraction as justification for stopping a driver in pursuit of an unrelated crime.
5-1-21 Global praise for Biden's stance on Armenia, followed by Turkish anger
In a wide-ranging speech Monday evening, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan described U.S. President Joe Biden's formal acknowledgment of the Armenian genocide as "unfounded, unfair and unrealistic." "As Turkey, we believe that it is inhumane to contest the sufferings of history," Erdogan said, calling for outside experts to visit Turkey's archives to hear its side of the story. "If you call it 'genocide,' you should look in the mirror and evaluate yourselves." U.S. lawmakers, Western human rights groups, and the Armenian government applauded Biden's move on Saturday to recognize the World War I-era killings of as many as 1.5 million Armenians in the Ottoman Empire — the precursor of modern Turkey — as a genocide. A grateful Armenia said it appreciated Biden's "principled position" as a step toward "the restoration of truth and historical justice." Biden was following through on a campaign promise he made a year ago — the annual commemoration of Armenian Genocide Remembrance Day — to recognize that the events that began in 1915 were a deliberate effort to kill and deport Armenians. He argued last year that failing to call the atrocities against the Armenian people a genocide would pave the way for future mass atrocities. Biden's use of the term is a first for a sitting U.S. president — except for a passing remark made by Ronald Reagan in 1981, which followed decades of Cold War-era efforts to avoid the issue. The move upsets U.S.-Turkey relations. But Turkish leaders weren't the only ones pushing back on Biden's acknowledgment. Earlier Monday, a small group of demonstrators gathered outside the American consulate in Istanbul to protest Biden's decision. And they brought along a marching band. "They just believe that calling it a genocide is ridiculing the Turkish nation, making them look like monsters," said Ragip Soylu, Turkey correspondent for the Middle East Eye, referring to the predominant thinking in Turkey. One poll from 2015 says that only 9 percent of Turks want the government to accept the claims of genocide. The foundational story of modern-day Turkey lies in World War I and its aftermath. Of course, people take it personally, Soylu said — these are Turkey's forefathers we're talking about.
5-1-21 US and Nato start to formally withdraw troops from Afghanistan
The US has started formally withdrawing troops from Afghanistan, beginning the end of what President Joe Biden called "the forever war". The US and Nato have had a presence in Afghanistan for almost 20 years. But the withdrawal, which runs until 11 September, comes amid escalating violence, with Afghan security forces on high alert for reprisal attacks. The Taliban have warned they are no longer bound by an agreement not to target international troops. Under a deal signed last year between the militants and then-President Donald Trump, foreign forces were to have left by 1 May while the Taliban held off attacking international troops. Officials told Reuters during this time the Taliban has been protecting western military bases from rival Islamist groups. That has not stopped Taliban attacks on Afghan forces and civilians. But US President Joe Biden last month some troops would stay on until 11 September this year, the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, citing the security situation. A Taliban spokesman said "this violation in principle has opened the way for [Taliban fighters] to take every counter-action it deems appropriate against the occupying forces." But he also said Taliban fighters would await instructions from leaders before mounting attacks. Some analysts suggested with a US deadline for withdrawal in place large-scale attacks could be averted. Meanwhile the US faces the logistical challenge of packing up and leaving. The AP report the military has been taking inventory, deciding what will be shipped back and what will be sold as junk on Afghanistan's markets. On 11 September 2001, attacks in America killed nearly 3,000 people. Osama Bin Laden, the head of Islamist terror group al-Qaeda, was quickly identified as the man responsible. The Taliban, radical Islamists who ran Afghanistan and protected Bin Laden, refused to hand him over. So, a month after 9/11, the US launched air strikes against Afghanistan.
5-1-21 What police reform requires
The military mindset must go. The city of Newark, New Jersey, has long served as a symbol of urban decline, poverty, and crime. After the U.S. Justice Department concluded in 2014 that its police department was riddled with racism and brutality, the department hired more Black and Hispanic cops, trained cops on how to avoid violence, and began carefully reviewing every use of force. Bad cops were forced out. In 2020, Newark's 1,100 cops did not fire a single shot, or pay out a cent to settle police brutality cases. And over the past five years, crime has dropped by 40 percent. Police reform isn't quick or easy, but it's possible. It requires minimizing traffic stops, which are tainted by racism and often lead to violence, and ending the "comply or else" standard in police "warrior" training. Perhaps most importantly, says detective Patrick Skinner of the Savannah, Georgia, police, it requires police to live in the community and view citizens as "neighbors" rather than as dangerous enemy combatants in a war zone. Skinner is a former CIA officer who spent a decade in counterterrorism efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan. He moved back to his hometown to be a cop and was chagrined to find many fellow cops calling the people they police "civilians" — a tip-off to an Us-against-Them mindset. "We have to stop treating people like we're in Fallujah," Skinner says. "It doesn't work." What does work, he and other police reformers say, is for officers to see themselves as respectful public servants who must earn their communities' trust. Skinner says he constantly reminds himself to "slow down," to assess complex situations before acting, to see everyone — even people who commit crimes — as human beings deserving respect. For many police departments, these are radical ideas. But the alternative to reform is 1,000 more police shootings every year, endless rage and protests, and warfare in the streets.
5-1-21 Florida plans to fine social media for banning politicians
A controversial new bill that would stop tech companies from deplatforming politicians has been approved by both houses in Florida's legislature. The bill must now be signed off by Trump ally, Governor Ron DeSantis. The legislation allows platforms to suspend accounts, but only for 14 days, and could fine the platforms as much as $250,000 per day for violating the law. NetChoice, a group that promotes free expression on the internet, testified against the legislation last month. Donald Trump was banned by Twitter and suspend by Facebook and YouTube after the deadly Capitol Hill riots in January. Since leaving office, Donald Trump has spent much of his time in Florida and is believed to be close with Mr DeSantis, as well as other high-ranking Florida Republicans. However, critics say the law could have unintended consequences. Last month, Steve DelBianco, NetChoice's chief executive, said while testifying against the bill: "Imagine if the government required a church to allow user-created comments or third-party advertisements promoting abortion on its social media page." "Just as that would violate the First Amendment [guaranteeing the right to free speech], so too does [this bill] since it would similarly force social media platforms to host content they otherwise would not allow." Although the bill was passed in the state's House and Senate on Thursday, it's likely tech companies will challenge it in court - saying the bill violates American's First Amendment rights. In February, Mr DeSantis said Big Tech had "come to look more like Big Brother". The bill includes a clause that exempts a company "that owns and operates a theme park or entertainment complex" - which allows Disney to be exempt from this bill. Florida is home to the Disney World theme park. NBC Miami reported some law makers saw this as "hypocritical". "If Facebook buys a theme park, does that prevent us from being able to regulate what happens on Facebook?" asked Andrew Learned a Democratic member of Florida's House of Representatives. "So, if they bought a theme park and named it Zuckerland and he met the definition of a theme park under Florida statute, then yes," said Republican Representative Blaise Ingoglia.
5-1-21 Elliot Page on Oprah Winfrey: Transition surgery 'life-saving'
Elliot Page says having transition surgery has been a "life-saving" experience. The Oscar-nominated star of Juno has opened up about coming out as a trans man in an interview with Oprah Winfrey. He told Winfrey it was "crucial and important" to announce his transition at a time when the trans community is facing a "horrible backlash". It was his first TV interview since he announced his transition in an open letter on social media in December. The Canadian-born actor, 34, said having top surgery had allowed him to "feel comfortable in my body for probably the first time". Top surgery involves the removal of the breast tissue to create a masculine chest. Page said the surgery had given him a new energy, "because it is such a freeing, freeing experience". "Not only has it been life-changing for me, I do believe it's been life-saving and it's the case for so many people. And because there is such an attack on trans healthcare right now, when already there's such lack of access." The actor was referring to a swathe of laws in states across the US outlawing young transgender people from accessing certain medical treatments. The interview, which will be released on Apple TV+ on Friday, was Page's first since he came out as transgender in December, an announcement that was hailed by Hollywood's transgender community as "inspiring". The actor said making the announcement had been "crucial and important". "In this time we're in right now and especially with this horrible backlash we're seeing towards trans people, particularly trans youth, it really felt imperative," he said. During the interview, Page became tearful when asked what had brought him the "most joy" in transitioning. Page said it was the "little things", such as being able to wear a T-shirt. "It's getting out of the shower and the towel's around your waist and you're looking at yourself the mirror and you're just like, 'There I am'. And I'm not having the moment where I'm panicked," he said. Page received international acclaim for starring as a pregnant teenager in the 2007 film Juno.
5-1-21 India coronavirus: Over-18s vaccination drive hit by shortages
India has become the first country to report more than 400,000 new coronavirus cases in a single day, as its nationwide vaccine drive launches amid a supply crisis. Some 3,523 deaths were officially recorded in the past 24 hours - but the real figure is thought to be far higher as many fatalities go unreported. All adults in India are now eligible to be vaccinated. But several states say they do not have the doses to carry out the exercise. India had previously focused on vaccinating frontline workers and the over-45s. The country is facing acute shortages of medical oxygen and hospital beds, as a devastating second wave of Covid-19 batters its health system. About 150 million shots have been given, equivalent to 11.5% of India's 1.3 billion people. Despite being the world's biggest producer of vaccines, the country is suffering an internal shortage and has placed a temporary hold on all exports of AstraZeneca to meet domestic demand. More than 13 million people aged 18-45 have registered for the jab, but states including central Madhya Pradesh and hard-hit Maharashtra have said they will not start vaccinating this age group on 1 May as planned due to supply problems. Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal asked people not to queue up for injections as the Indian capital had not yet received doses. "As soon as vaccines arrive we will let you know, then you can come for shots. We appeal to you not to crowd vaccine centres in the next few days," Mr Kejriwal said. He later announced that the lockdown in Delhi would be extended by another week. Experts believe India should ramp up vaccination in areas of high transmission and in five states where elections are being held. Bhramar Mukherjee, a biostatistician at the University of Michigan, told the BBC the country needed to administer 10 million shots daily "instead of being complacent with three million".
5-1-21 Covid: Australians could face jail or fines if they return from India
Australian citizens returning home from India could face up to five years in jail and fines after the government made the journey temporarily illegal. The health ministry said the ruling had been made "based on the proportion of people in quarantine who have acquired a Covid-19 infection in India". Earlier this week, Australia banned all flights from India. There are an estimated 9,000 Australians in India, 600 of whom are classed as vulnerable. This will be the first time Australians have been criminalised for returning to their country, Australian media report. One doctor told ABC that the government's move was disproportionate to the threat posed by those returning from India. "Our families are quite literally dying in India overseas... to have absolutely no way of getting them out - this is abandonment," GP and health commentator Dr Vyom Sharmer said. From Monday, anyone who has been in India within 14 days of their intended arrival date in Australia will be banned from entering the country. Failing to comply with the new ruling could result in a five-year jail sentence, an A$66,000 (£37,000) fine, or both. The decision will be reviewed on 15 May, the health ministry said. "The government does not make these decisions lightly," Health Minister Greg Hunt said in the statement. "However, it is critical the integrity of the Australian public health and quarantine systems is protected and the number of Covid-19 cases in quarantine facilities is reduced to a manageable level." There's an inscription inside the front jacket of every Australian passport. It calls for protection and assistance for citizens when they're in strife abroad. "The Commonwealth of Australia… requests all those whom it may concern to allow the bearer, an Australian citizen, to pass freely without let or hindrance and to afford him or her every assistance and protection of which he or she may stand in need."
5-1-21 Covid: Fears of 'impending doom' in Pakistan
For Mahwish Bhatti, choosing a private laboratory to be vaccinated against the coronavirus was a last resort. "I was desperate. I panicked," the 35-year-old from Lahore, Pakistan, told the BBC over the phone. "My mother was still waiting for her second dose of the vaccine, so I thought my turn would never come. I thought to myself, I will just buy whatever vaccine is available." Bhatti, who lost her job recently, had to pay more than 12,000 rupees ($78; £56) to a private lab from her personal savings to get the Russian-made Sputnik V jab. She laughingly adds: "I did get one jab of vaccines, but also one jab to my wallet." But the decision may yet turn out to be one of the best she has ever made. Bhatti is now among the less than 2% of the country to receive a dose so far - able to skip the long line by paying a price out of reach to many Pakistanis. And now cases are on the rise, hitting record highs this week. The funeral pyres burning just across the border in India are a stark reminder of just how quickly matters can escalate when it comes to Covid. Already Pakistan has seen active cases go from as low as 16,000 in the first week of March, to more than 140,000 new cases in April alone, as well as over 3,000 deaths - making it the worst month since the pandemic began. Official data reveals that bed capacity in the intensive care units (ICUs) of Lahore's major public and private hospitals reached more than 93% on 28 April, while some of the major cities in the largest and worst-hit province, Punjab, are seeing over 80% utilisation of ventilators and beds with oxygen. Should the number of infections continue to grow, Pakistan may not just be facing a shortage of beds. Federal Minister for Planning Asad Umar pointed out the country was already using 90% of its oxygen supply, with more than 80% already going towards healthcare needs. Prime Minister Imran Khan has warned Pakistan - with less than one doctor per 963 people - could be headed for disaster.