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Sioux Falls Atheists and Atheism, Agnostics and Humanism

241 Atheism & Humanism News Articles
for July 2021
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7-31-21 Cori Bush prepared to spend 2nd night outside Capitol as eviction moratorium expiration looms
Rep. Cori Bush (D-Mo.) is prepared to spend another night outside the Capitol building as she seeks to pressure Congress into action with the pandemic-related federal eviction moratorium set to expire on Saturday night, Business Insider reports. Bush slept outside the halls of Congress on Friday night after House Democrats, despite a last-minute scramble before a weeks-long recess, were unable to pass an extension on the moratorium via unanimous consent. Assuming the deadline remains in tact, millions of Americans will reportedly be at risk of eviction. There's been some finger-pointing over who's to blame for the failure, with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) suggesting that the Biden administration alerted her about its desire for Congress to act and extend the deadline too late. "Really, we only learned about this yesterday," Pelosi told reporters on Friday, adding that there wasn't enough time to whip votes. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) was even more straightforward with her criticism, calling it "unacceptable" for President Biden to wait until Thursday to release a statement on the issue. Meanwhile, no House Republicans supported the extension bid. (Webmasters Comment: Again Republicans prove they are anti-people!)

7-31-21 Florida must plan for 'hospital surge' amid new COVID-19 wave, former Trump official says
"It's too late" for Florida to mitigate its latest COVID-19 surge "meaningfully," Thomas Bossert, who served as former President Donald Trump's homeland security adviser until 2018, tweeted Saturday. The state is in "unchartered territory," he explained, noting that it just recorded the highest number of cases in a 24-hour period since the pandemic began. More significantly, though, more than 10,000 people are currently hospitalized with an infection, which accounts for 83 percent of Florida's all-time pandemic high. New York Times' data shows hospitalizations are up 123 percent in the last 14 days, the fourth highest rate in the country. Bossert warns that there's not much Florida can do to stop the spread at this point — although the data he presents doesn't provide a locality breakdown, so the analysis may not apply to every part of the state — and instead must "change gears" and plan for a "hospital surge," particularly when it comes to pediatric capacity.

7-31-21 Biden administration officials optimistic about recent rise in U.S. vaccinations
With the Delta variant fueling another coronavirus surge in the United States, the country's vaccination rate may also be trending upward again. Cyrus Shahpar, the White House's COVID-19 data director, revealed Saturday that more than 700,000 doses of COVID-19 vaccines were administered on Friday, including 473,000 first doses. White House Chief of Staff Ron Klain chimed in, noting that it's the first time in a "long stretch" that the U.S. had four consecutive days of administering more than 700,000 shots. He added that "we are seeing more adults get their first shot than any time in the past 8-10 weeks," and the increase is "particularly strong" in states that have been hardest hit during the Delta wave. It's unclear if the pattern will hold or if it will prove to be a small sample size outlier, but either way it's good news. While the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has reported that fully vaccinated people who contract COVID-19 tend to have similar viral loads to unvaccinated people, which suggests they can spread the virus just as easily, Axios notes that such breakthrough infections are still rare, with less than 0.1 percent of the 164 million fully vaccinated Americans having tested positive for the virus. As Brown University's Dr. Ashish Jha pointed out Saturday, if you're not infected, you can't spread.

7-31-21 New delta variant studies show the pandemic is far from over
A widespread return to COVID-19 restrictions could be on the horizon. The coronavirus’s delta variant is different from earlier strains of the virus in worrying ways, health officials are discovering. And those differences may mean a return to some of the restrictions that vaccinated people thought were in the past. The variant is not only more contagious than earlier strains, it also makes people sicker. And even vaccinated people can get infected and house similar levels of viral particles in their noses as unvaccinated people, raising concern about the vaccines’ ability to curb transmission, new data indicate. But experts caution that there’s more to infectiousness than just those viral levels in the nose.

  1. Vaccinated people can get infected with delta, but the vaccines are still working. Some 350 of about 470 people, nearly 75 percent, who caught the coronavirus in a large outbreak in Barnstable County, Mass., were fully vaccinated, researchers report July 30 in Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report. Public health officials linked many of those cases to packed indoor and outdoor events at places like bars and rental homes. The delta variant, which was first identified in India, was behind 120 of 133 analyzed COVID-19 cases, or 90 percent, in the outbreak.
  2. Vaccinated people might more readily transmit delta to others, but there’s a huge caveat to that. In that Massachusetts study, both unvaccinated and vaccinated people infected with the delta variant had similar levels of coronavirus genetic material in their noses, as measured by PCR, suggesting similar viral loads. Those elevated viral loads could mean that vaccinated people might more readily transmit delta than other coronavirus variants, despite being protected from the worst of COVID-19 themselves.
  3. The delta variant can actually make people sicker. Three recent studies in Canada, Singapore and Scotland indicate that the variant raises the risk of hospitalization, intensive care unit admissions and death.
  4. Delta is much more transmissible than previous forms of the coronavirus. An unvaccinated person infected with the ancestral version of the virus that first emerged at the end of 2019 typically transmitted the virus to two to four people on average.
  5. Public health measures like vaccination and masks remain crucial tools. The CDC recommended a return to masking, because it is one of the most effective tools to prevent infection.

7-31-21 The broken American health-care system is prolonging the pandemic
Americans are taught to fear going to the doctor. Turns out this makes them less likely to get vaccinated too. For a few months, the United States was in the shocking position of beating Europe at a public health effort. America secured massive supplies of the coronavirus vaccines from the start, while the janky European Union bureaucracy was far behind — and so, for awhile, we were way ahead at getting shots into arms. But now the U.S. is back where it belongs: being humiliated by European welfare states. Nearly all the richest nations in the E.U. have since passed up America at vaccination, and soon so will Finland, the Czech Republic, Greece, and Lithuania. One under-noticed reason for this is the jalopy American health-care system. A large chunk of the U.S. population has learned to fear, distrust, and avoid the medical system if at all possible. The result is a large chunk of the population that is hesitating to get vaccinated. Now, this argument must start with a caveat: The biggest obstacle to vaccination in the U.S. is surely the deranged state of the conservative movement. Everyone from Fox News' Tucker Carlson (the top-rated cable news host in the country) down to grassroots conservative Facebook moms have been pushing psychotic anti-vaccine conspiracy theories for months, so as to harm President Biden politically. That's why rural, conservative regions are the least-vaccinated parts of the country — and why thousands of conservatives who listened to Carlson are at death's door. But America's wretched health care is not far behind in terms of factors. As writer Natalie Shure points out, a recent Kaiser Family Foundation survey found that the uninsured had the largest share of unvaccinated people out of all sub-groups studied, with just 48 percent vaccinated (Republicans were just ahead at 52 percent, though that is a much larger group). To be clear, as I previously argued, it is still the case that the mass vaccination campaign is an excellent proof-of-concept for Medicare-for-all. The reason America got so many shots done so fast at first was because the government set up mass clinics all over the country and gave them away for free. One reason we're struggling now is the ruinous side effects of the status quo health-care system. In another Kaiser survey, a third of unvaccinated folks report that they haven't gotten the shot because of cost worries, and it's obvious why. A great many medical providers view the uninsured like a hungry vulture looking at a wounded puppy. Just a few examples out of thousands: one study found that the worst-behaved hospitals charged uninsured people 10 times the cost of care; corrupt providers have reportedly tried to steal people's car accident settlements, deliberately put themselves out of insurance networks so they can bilk the sick out of tens of thousands of dollars, turned ambulance services into extortion rackets, and on and on. Millions and millions of Americans have learned the hard way that going to the doctor for any reason can easily lead to shattering financial burdens. In terms of the coronavirus, in most cases this worry is a false one, as the vaccine is indeed being given out for free in most places. But not everywhere! It turns out that — despite legal requirements from the Biden administration — providers have illegally charged some individuals for the vaccine. If you thought a global pandemic would be the time for medical swindlers to stop compulsively stealing money, you would be wrong.

7-31-21 Australia Covid: Brisbane lockdown after Delta variant cases
Millions more Australians are now in lockdown as the highly contagious Delta variant continues to spread. Authorities have imposed a snap three-day lockdown in south-eastern parts of Queensland, including Australia's third largest city Brisbane, which began at 16:00 (06:00 GMT) on Saturday. It is the latest part of the country to reimpose restrictions in a bid to cut Covid infections. Fewer than 15% of Australians are fully vaccinated against the virus. Queensland officials reported six new Covid cases there, all linked to a high school student who tested positive on Thursday. Dr Jeannette Young, chief health officer in Queensland, told reporters they were tracing any contacts of those who had tested positive and said she thought there could be "an enormous number of exposure sites" in Brisbane. "If anyone has any symptoms at all, this is the time - you must come forward and get tested immediately," she said. The restrictions imposed are the strictest yet in Queensland. People are only allowed to leave home to buy essential goods or carry out essential work, to exercise or to go for medical treatment. It comes a day after authorities deployed hundreds of soldiers in Australia's largest city Sydney to enforce its Covid lockdown. Sydney's measures will stay in place until at least 28 August. The state of New South Wales recorded a further death and 210 fresh infections on Saturday, after five weeks of lockdown. Last Saturday police arrested dozens of demonstrators who protested against the restrictions. State officials have reportedly announced they are diverting their allocated vaccine doses to Sydney, sending tens of thousands of jabs to high school students around the city so that face-to-face teaching can resume. Prime Minister Scott Morrison has faced mounting criticism for the slow pace of Australia's vaccine rollout. On Friday he announced that once 70% of the country was fully vaccinated, lockdowns would become more targeted. Mr Morrison said he believed the country could reach that goal by the end of 2021.

7-31-21 IRS ordered to hand over Donald Trump tax returns to Congress
The US justice department has ordered the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) to hand over former President Donald Trump's tax returns to Congress. The move reverses a 2019 finding that the request from the House Ways and Means Committee was "disingenuous". The decision appears to end a long legal battle over the records, and is seen as a sharp legal blow to Mr Trump. Although not required by law, every US president since 1976 - except Mr Trump - has released their tax returns. Mr Trump is yet to publicly comment on the latest developments, although he still has ways to try to fight the ruling in court. Republicans on Capitol Hill denounced the decision, describing it as politically motivated. When he was president, Mr Trump repeatedly said he was under audit by the IRS and so could not release his tax returns - although the IRS has said an audit would not stop the release of the information. The House Ways and Means Committee has previously argued that it required the Republican former president's tax returns for an investigation into whether he complied with tax law. The Trump-era justice department, however, refused to hand them over. It argued that the Democrat-controlled House of Representatives was seeking them for partisan political gain. In an opinion released on Friday, the justice department's Office of Legal Counsel determined that the committee "has invoked sufficient reasons" for requesting the tax information. "Treasury must furnish the information to the Committee," the opinion said. Among those who praised the decision was House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a Democrat, who said the American people "deserve to know the facts of his troubling conflicts and undermining of our security and democracy as president". In February, Mr Trump was ordered by the US Supreme Court to hand over his tax returns and other financial records to prosecutors in New York. The decision was a blow to Mr Trump, who had been in a legal battle to protect his records from a grand jury. He has continuously denied any wrongdoing and has called the investigation into his tax affairs a "witch hunt".

7-31-21 From Afghan interpreter to US homeless - the long road to the American dream
Zia Ghafoori, his pregnant wife and their three small children landed in the United States from their home in Kabul in September 2014. He held five US visas - a reward for 14 years of service as an interpreter with US Special Forces in Afghanistan. But the benefits stopped there. Upon arrival, Zia found himself homeless - sent to a shelter by a well-meaning volunteer who told him it would be a place for him and his family to start a new life. Seven years later, the memory still angers him. Speaking to the BBC from North Carolina, where he now lives, he recalled struggling to look his children in the eye, apologising for bringing them to the US. "I couldn't control my tears," he said. "After what I had done for both countries, I was asking myself 'is this what I deserve?'" But among his peers Zia, now 37, counts himself lucky to have made it to the US at all. Tens of thousands of Afghans have served as interpreters, fixers and local guides to US and allied soldiers since the start of Afghan War in 2001, when Western forces invaded to wrest control of the country from the Taliban. Decades after the beginning of what would become America's longest-running conflict, President Joe Biden has vowed to withdraw US troops by 11 September - even as the Taliban appear poised to return to power. Mr Biden promised that a mass evacuation of interpreters would begin before August, and on Friday, 200 Afghans out of an initial group of 2,500 arrived in the US to complete their visa applications and begin new lives. As many as 50,000 interpreters have worked with the US military. Since 2008, some 70,000 Afghans - interpreters and their families - have moved to the US under a special immigrant visa awarded for their service. But some 20,000 interpreters and their families are still seeking a way out. They face a clogged and complex visa process and the threat of a swift Taliban advance as the US winds down its 20-year war. The danger to interpreters - marked for their work for the Americans - is grave. An estimated 300 interpreters have died since 2009 while seeking a US visa - a process that can take years.

7-30-21 Fox News vs. Team USA
Conservatives' attacks on the "woke Olympics" are as ahistorical as they are silly. You'd think that an international athletic competition known for its heavy nationalist overtones and that the United States has historically dominated would be just the thing for the flag-waving MAGA crowd. But no, the 2021 Tokyo Summer Olympics has become the latest target of conservative cancel culture. As the Games began last Saturday, former President Donald Trump got the Olympics hate-race off to a flying start at a rally in Phoenix. Pointing to the U.S. women's soccer team's surprising 3-0 loss to Sweden, Trump blamed the upset on some of the American players' having taken a knee to protest racism right before the game began. That the winning Swedish players had also joined in the act did nothing to keep Trump from asserting that "wokeism makes you lose." Encouraging the Phoenix crowd to boo the team's performance,Trump claimed Americans were happy about the team's loss because it proved "woke politics" was ruining the nation. "Woke politics," Trump said, "takes the life and joy out of everything." Trump would know about taking the life and joy out of everything. Yet the former president is hardly alone in attacking the Olympics – and the American team – this year. Indeed, he's been joined by a robust chorus on the right who have made Olympic hating their sport. On Fox News, the network has taken time out from its dangerous anti-vaccination message to regularly knock Team USA. The Fox Nation host Tomi Lahren opened her Monday show with an extended rant about the "Woke-lympics." Team USA, she said, is the "largest group of whiny social justice activists the Olympics has seen in decades." While Lahren could win a gold medal in whining, it's worth pointing out that, like much of conservative logic these days, her argument doesn't hold up against the facts. Lahren and other conservative commentators contend that the U.S. athletes care more about politics than about their sports – and that this is why Team USA isn't winning. But that's just not true. While Team USA did fail to medal on the first day of the Games – something that hadn't happened since 1972 and a development that seemed to make some Fox News personalities almost giddy with the chance to America-bash – it was no indication of future performance. For one, as many have pointed out, the first day's events were in sports in which the U.S. historically hasn't exceled. More importantly, after the first day Team USA quickly raced to the front of the medal count where it will probably remain. Which makes you wonder who is really injecting politics into these Games. Definitely, some American athletes are speaking out and using their brief media spotlights to point to the issues they care about. And it's easier for them to do so this year thanks to a recent revision of the International Olympic Committee's guidelines which gives greater leeway to how competitors can "express their views." That change reflects the IOC's understanding that the Olympics have always been political events as much as they have been sporting competitions. From the 1936 Games in Hitler's Berlin to the 1968 Mexico City Games shortly after Martin Luther King's assassination to the dueling U.S.-Soviet boycotts of the 1980s, athletes and nations both have used the Games as a site of protest, propaganda, and uncritical patriotism. The very nature of the Games itself is political, of course, a showcase of nationalism and clear proof of global power imbalances set against its message of internationalism and unity. That athletes have sometimes brought their own causes to their competitions only underscores how much the Olympics matter as something far bigger than what happens on the playing field.

7-30-21 What parents with young children should know about the Delta variant
For vaccinated parents with unvaccinated young children, it might be difficult to understand, process, or navigate what the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's latest mask guidelines and potentially "misleading" internal report shared by The Washington Post now mean for their families. Well, acording to some, the good news is parents shouldn't feel like they have to panic just yet. While the Delta variant is spreading nationwide, the risk of serious disease in children still remains "really low," notes Emily Oster, a professor at Brown University. Take the U.K., for example, which may have just surpassed its Delta-driven infection peak — even with the more-infectious variant, case rates remained relatively low in children under 12. "Thankfully, for children, the risk of severe COVID remains still very small," agreed Dr. Marcella Nuñez-Smith of the White House COVID-19 Health Equity Task Force. Of course, Americans should try to prevent any and all infections, she added, but parents should be assured that nothing has changed "so drastically" in terms of a child's COVID-19 risk. Until kids can be vaccinated, the updated, Delta-driven mask guidelines can be used to inform parents' risk evaluation when indoors with individuals whose vaccination status is unknown. As an added precaution or measure, Oster suggests testing as a useful tool should you be concerned about your unvaccinated child. But again, since the risk to children remains "extremely low," simply vaccinating yourself is a great step to take in protecting your kids.

7-30-21 Covid-19 news: Pregnant women in England urged to get vaccinated
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. Research suggests covid-19 hospital admissions among pregnant women in the UK are rising. England’s chief midwifery officer Jacqueline Dunkley-Bent is urging pregnant women to get vaccinated against covid-19, as new research indicates that covid-19 hospital admissions among pregnant women are rising and that they may face an increased risk from the delta variant of the coronavirus. “Vaccines save lives, and this is another stark reminder that the covid-19 jab can keep you, your baby and your loved ones safe and out of hospital,” said Dunkley-Bent in a statement on 30 July. An estimated one in 65 people in England had covid-19 in the week to 24 July, up from one in 75 the previous week, according to the latest results of a random swab testing survey by the Office for National Statistics. Equivalent estimates for Wales and Northern Ireland were one in 210 people and one in 170 people, respectively – both increases compared to the previous week. In Scotland, an estimated one in 110 people had the virus in the most recent week, down from one in 80 the previous week. Israel has started offering third doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech covid-19 vaccine to people over the age of 60, in an effort to tackle a rise in cases of the delta coronavirus variant. “Findings show that there is a decline in the body’s immunity over time. The aim of the supplementary dose is to build it up again,” Israel’s prime minister Naftali Bennett told a news conference on 29 July. Japan is extending a state of emergency in Tokyo, which is currently hosting the Olympics amid surging coronavirus cases, and expanding it to surrounding areas as well as to the city of Osaka. The emergency measures include reduced hours at certain venues, such as restaurants and karaoke bars, and will remain in place until 31 August. China is testing all residents in the city of Nanjing for coronavirus as almost 200 people have tested positive in a new outbreak. The worldwide covid-19 death toll has passed 4.2 million. The number of confirmed cases is more than 196.7 million, according to Johns Hopkins University, though the true number of cases will be much higher. According to Our World In Data, 2.19 billion people globally have received at least one dose of a covid-19 vaccine.

7-30-21 3 cheers for the bipartisan infrastructure deal, from a skeptic of bipartisanship
The deal tells us where the parties can agree — and where they can't. Break out the bunting! Pop the champagne! With the bipartisan agreement to move forward with a $1 trillion bill, Infrastructure Week is finally here! Well, hopefully it is. The text of the bill hasn't yet been released, and there's still plenty of time for Republicans to bail. Meme-ready charts have already been ginned up showing how this bill is a piece of Swiss cheese compared to what the Democrats originally proposed, and that the climate-related spending in particular is a tiny fraction of what President Biden campaigned on. Nonetheless, I'm not being sarcastic. I think it's worth applauding the agreement, not merely in spite of the limits to what has been agreed across party lines, but in part because of them. I don't make a fetish of bipartisanship. There are certain things — like setting the rules for and running elections — that really do require either bipartisanship or strenuous nonpartisanship to prevent self-dealing and create broad confidence across the electorate. But in general, if you've got a majority, there's nothing wrong with trying to enact your agenda through partisan means. On the contrary: doing so leaves you plainly accountable to the voters for that agenda, which is a good thing. That's why Democrats were right to refuse to negotiate on privatizing Social Security in the Bush years. The proposal was unpopular, and it was something they fundamentally opposed, so they had no reason to enter into negotiations in the hopes of watering it down. Better to make Republicans own the issue and face the voters alone. They declined to do so, which is why Social Security was never privatized. Republicans made the same calculation regarding health-care reform in the Clinton years, with similarly sensible political logic. Nonetheless, it makes all the sense in the world to try to find consensus where it might actually exist, if only because our political system, with its many veto points, makes partisan lawmaking exceedingly difficult. And in this case, the Democrats have already made clear they're going to use reconciliation to try passing without Republican help anything left out of the bipartisan bill. The main function of the bipartisan bill, then, is to map out for the electorate just where the parties can agree, and where they can't. The result may prove very instructive come election time. For example, the GOP rejected a Democratic proposal to fund the infrastructure bill partly by putting more money into the enforcement budget at the IRS, where audits of wealthy taxpayers have plummeted. But this rejection shouldn't upset Democrats who believe cracking down on rich tax cheats is popular. On the contrary, they should be pleased to use that money in reconciliation to fund some of their other priorities, and to run ads against their Republican opponents on the issue. Similarly, the fact that the "human infrastructure" portion of the original bill that so many Republicans mocked will have to pass through reconciliation is a positive from a policy perspective. It will force Democrats to ask themselves which portions of the proposal are both genuinely popular and worth the money, since they will have no cover from the more broadly-popular idea of "infrastructure" and will have to find pay-fors for all of it. Since passing popular bills that are economically beneficial is how you get re-elected, this loss of cover is ultimately a political benefit.

7-30-21 Internal CDC document outlines how the Delta variant has upended COVID-19 messaging
An internal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention document obtained by The Washington Post states that the Delta variant of the coronavirus appears to cause more serious infections and is as contagious as chickenpox. The CDC reached this conclusion after looking at new, unpublished data from outside studies and outbreak investigations, the Post reports. The research also suggests that people who are vaccinated against the coronavirus but become infected by the Delta variant are able to transmit the virus just as easily as people who are not vaccinated, and it's estimated that every week, there are 35,000 symptomatic infections among the 162 million Americans who are vaccinated. This worrying information is what triggered the CDC earlier this week to change its guidelines for vaccinated people, telling them they should wear masks indoors in COVID-19 hot spots. It's not just CDC scientists who are alarmed — in an email to the Post, Robert Wachter, chairman of the Department of Medicine at the University of California at San Francisco, said when he finished reading the document, he was "significantly more concerned than when I began." The CDC wants people to get vaccinated and take preventative measures, like wearing masks, and acknowledged in the document that with the Delta variant in play, "the war has changed." It is critical that new messaging get out to the public emphasizing the importance of getting vaccinated, while also explaining that people who get the vaccine can still become infected by the virus, although it keeps them from getting severely ill. To help people better understand how Delta is changing the coronavirus game, an official told the Post that the CDC will publish the new data on Friday.

7-30-21 Covid-19: Biden tells states to offer $100 vaccine incentive as cases rise
US President Joe Biden has called for states to offer $100 (£71) to the newly vaccinated in an effort to address flagging jab rates amid virus surges. The president also issued a strict new vaccine requirement for US federal workers, the nation's largest workforce with some two million people. The order requires employees to show proof of vaccination or be subjected to mandatory testing and masking. Just under half of the US is fully vaccinated, according to official data. Speaking from the White House on Thursday, Mr Biden said that the new measures are a result of the highly contagious Delta variant's spread, made worse by a "pandemic of the unvaccinated". "People are dying and will die who don't have to die," the president said. Mr Biden added that the monetary incentive may seem unfair to already vaccinated Americans, but "we all benefit if we can get more people vaccinated". States would use money from the $1.9tn American Rescue Plan legislation to fund the incentives. Mr Biden said that the federal government will be "fully reimbursing" small or medium-sized businesses that provide workers paid time off to get vaccinated. While government workers who refuse to get vaccinated will not be fired, this move by the White House aims to set an example for other employers nationwide. But public health experts warn that weekly testing is not an effective way of stopping outbreaks. The Democratic president also addressed theories, spreading mostly in conservative circles, that the jabs are unsafe. He emphasised there "is nothing political" about the vaccines, which were developed and authorised under a Republican administration and further distributed under his. Last month, a study showed that over 99% of Covid-19 deaths have been among the unvaccinated.

7-30-21 Are America's unvaccinated changing their minds?
In the US, coronavirus infection rates are surging in every state, fuelled by the Delta variant - and a large pool of unvaccinated Americans. In Baxter County, Arkansas, the vaccination rate is only 33%. It's now one of the nation's Covid-19 hotspots. (Webmasters Comment: I know I shouldn't say this, but why don't we just let these stupid people croak!)

7-30-21 Covid-19 pandemic: Japan widens emergency over 'frightening' spike
Japan is extending a state of emergency in Tokyo and expanding it to new regions as the Olympic Games host faces a surge in Covid-19 cases. The restrictions are being imposed in areas surrounding the capital as well as in the city of Osaka. Japan's Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga warned infections were spreading at an unprecedented rate, urging the country to watch the Games from home. New cases are being fuelled by the more infectious Delta variant. "If the increase of infection does not stop, the severe symptoms cases will increase and the medical system may possibly be further under strain," Mr Suga said. Earlier, Health Minister Norihisa Tamura warned that the country had entered a new, "extremely frightening", stage of the pandemic. "I think that people cannot see ahead and, worrying how long this situation will last, they find it unbearable that they cannot return to normal daily life," Reuters quoted him as saying. Japan has had some success fighting Covid-19, keeping cases and deaths low for months, but is now seeing record cases. Daily cases nationwide topped 10,000 for the first time on Thursday, more than a third of them in the capital. Tokyo - where the Olympics are mainly taking place - has seen three straight days of record cases, even though it is already under a state of emergency. Hospitals are under increasing pressure in the city. Olympic organisers reported 27 new infections at the Games on Friday, bringing the total since the start of July to more than 200. But with strict rules in place, including a ban on spectators, organisers deny the event is driving the rise in cases. Despite this, some experts worry that holding the Olympics in such circumstances sends a confusing message to the public about the need to limit daily life. Under the state of emergency, bars and restaurants must stop serving alcohol and close early.

7-30-21 Nanjing: New virus outbreak worst since Wuhan, say Chinese state media
A Covid outbreak first discovered in the Chinese city of Nanjing has spread to five provinces and Beijing, with state media calling it the most extensive contagion after Wuhan. Almost 200 people have been infected since the virus was first detected at the city's busy airport on 20 July. All flights from Nanjing airport will be suspended until 11 August, according to local media. Officials also began city-wide testing amid criticism for their "failure". All 9.3 million of the city's residents - including those visiting - will be tested, said state-controlled Xinhua news. Posts on social media show long lines of people queuing, and authorities have reportedly urged people to wear masks, stand one metre apart and avoid talking while they wait. Officials said the highly contagious Delta variant of the virus was behind the infections, adding that cases had spread further because of how busy the airport is. Ding Jie, a health official in Nanjing, told reporters the cases were linked to cleaners who worked on a flight from Russia that arrived in the city on 10 July. The cleaners did not follow strict hygiene measures, Xinhua News reported. The airport management has been rebuked, with a senior disciplinary body of the Communist Party saying it had "problems such as lack of supervision and unprofessional management". Testing has shown that the virus has now spread to at least 13 cities including Chengdu and the capital Beijing. However, experts quoted by the Global Times said they believed the outbreak was still at an early stage and could be controlled. Local officials in Nanjing said that seven of those infected were in critical condition. The new spike in cases has led some on Chinese social media to speculate about whether the Chinese vaccines were working against the Delta variant.

7-30-21 China warns UK as carrier strike group approaches
China has warned the UK's Carrier Strike Group, led by the aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth not to carry out any "improper acts" as it enters the contested South China Sea. 'The People's Liberation Army Navy is at a high state of combat readiness' says the pro-government Global Times, seen as a mouthpiece for the ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP). China has been closely monitoring the progress eastward of the Carrier Strike Group, which is currently sailing through the South China Sea en route to Japan, while accusing Britain of "still living in its colonial days". The Royal Navy has been carrying out exercises with the Singaporean navy and Britain's Defence Secretary Ben Wallace has made no secret of the intention to conduct a so-called "Freedom of Navigation" exercise through the South China Sea. Contrary to a 2016 international court ruling, China claims much of that sea as its own and has been busy building artificial reefs and runways, some of them close to the territorial waters of neighbouring states. Both US and Royal Navy warships have recently challenged China's claims to sovereignty in the South China Sea by purposely sailing through it. So the question now is: will we see a close encounter similar to the one that took place in the Black Sea in June when the UK's HMS Defender, a Type 45 destroyer, was buzzed by Russian warplanes as it passed close to the disputed Crimean peninsula? "China is not looking for a direct confrontation with a major US ally in the South China Sea," says Veerle Nouwens, a senior research fellow at the Royal United Services Insitute (Rusi), a London think tank. "But it will certainly make its intentions clear." If the UK conducts freedom of navigation exercises through that sea, then Ms Nouwens believes we are likely to see a repeat of what happened when HMS Albion sailed through it in 2018. It was closely shadowed by a Chinese warship from just 200m away, warning it to leave, while Chinese aircraft flew low over the British vessel. (Webmasters Comment: As if we did not have enough problems with Covid-19 and runaway global warming, now we want to go rattle our rockets in the South China Sea!)

7-29-21 Biden unveils new vaccination rules for federal workers
President Biden on Thursday said that federal employees in the United States and overseas should get vaccinated against the coronavirus, and those who choose not to must wear masks at work, stay physically distanced from others, and go through weekly or twice weekly testing. The directive comes as the highly-contagious Delta coronavirus variant spreads across the country, causing the number of cases to spike. "Right now, too many people are dying or watching someone they love die and say, 'If I'd just got the vaccine,'" Biden said during an address at the White House. "This is an American tragedy. People are dying who don't have to die." Biden said he's glad that GOP leaders like Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey (R) are now urging Americans to get vaccinated. "This is not about red states and blue states," he said. "It's literally about life and death. It's about life and death." Biden added that he knows "people talk about freedom, but I learned growing up ... with freedom comes responsibility. Your decision to be unvaccinated impacts someone else. Unvaccinated people spread the virus." Before Biden made his remarks, deputy White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters "until we have more people who are vaccinated and are curbing the spread, there needs to be proper protocols to keep Americans safe." The Treasury Department also said on Thursday that Biden is "calling on state, territorial, and local governments to provide $100 payments for every newly vaccinated American, as an extra incentive to boost vaccination rates, protect communities, and save lives." Funding for this initiative would come from the $350 billion fund set up as part of the American Rescue Plan to assist local governments, states, and territories.

7-29-21 Covid-19 news: Daily new cases in the UK rise to 31,117
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. “Important to remain cautious” as daily new coronavirus cases rise in the UK, says health minister. Daily new coronavirus cases in the UK increased for the second consecutive day to 31,117 on 29 July, up from the 27,734 new cases the previous day. These recent rises have reversed a seven-day trend of declining daily case numbers. “It could be the very first signs of increasing infections in response to the ending of restrictions on 19 July,” said Simon Clarke at the University of Reading in a statement on 28 July. However, Clarke said it is still too early to know how the trend in UK cases might progress. “It is always unwise to pin too much importance on a few days’ data.” Differences between children’s and adults’ immune responses to coronavirus infection may help explain why children usually seem to get less severely ill with covid-19. Sophie Valkenburg at the University of Hong Kong and colleagues compared the immune responses in 24 children and 45 adults who tested positive for the coronavirus. They found that the children had less activation of coronavirus-specific T-cells – immune cells that can target and destroy virus-infected cells – compared to adults. The children also had lower levels of antibodies against beta-coronaviruses, the family of viruses that includes the coronavirus that causes covid-19. The researchers conclude that reduced immune responses in children may explain why they tend to experience milder disease than adults, since overzealous immune responses can contribute to severe covid-19. The study is published in the journal Nature Communications. All civilian federal employees will need to be vaccinated against covid-19 or face regular testing and other hygiene requirements, US president Joe Biden is expected to announce on 29 July. New York governor Andrew Cuomo announced similar rules for the state on 28 July, saying that state employees would be required to show proof of vaccination or take weekly coronavirus tests starting from 6 September. California also recently announced plans to require vaccinations for state employees. Almost half of all people in the US are fully vaccinated against covid-19, however the vaccination rate has slowed in recent months and coronavirus cases in the country have been rising. Japan reported 10,699 new coronavirus cases on 29 July, the highest daily increase in the country since the pandemic began. The capital Tokyo, where the Olympics are currently taking place, reported a record increase for the city of 3865 new cases on the same day, up from 3177 on 28 July and from 1979 a week earlier. “We have never experienced the expansion of the infections of this magnitude,” Japan’s chief cabinet secretary Katsunobu Kato told journalists on 29 July. The worldwide covid-19 death toll has passed 4.18 million. The number of confirmed cases is more than 196 million, according to Johns Hopkins University, though the true number of cases will be much higher. According to Our World In Data, 2.17 billion people globally have received at least one dose of a covid-19 vaccine.

7-29-21 The persistent temptation of anti-Trump outrage
Many Americans have had it with Donald Trump supporters. After the opening testimony from law enforcement officers who successfully fought off pro-Trump rioters who attacked the Capitol on Jan. 6, they are tired of claims that last year's presidential election was stolen. As face masks become the norm again, even for the fully vaccinated across the country, they are sick — both literally and figuratively — of vaccine holdouts, many of whom live in communities that voted for Trump. The current news cycle has heightened the political polarization that characterized the last two presidential elections. For some, the frustration has reached a boiling point. A Justice Department reporter for The New York Times vented in a since-deleted tweet that combating "legitimate national security threats now entails calling a politician's supporters" — she meant Trump's — "enemies of the state." An emotional reaction to the Jan. 6 committee's first hearing, perhaps, but one must ask: What if Trump had said it? All this comes with Trump's refusal to simply ride off into the sunset, as he continues to relitigate the 2020 election, but only episodically promote the vaccines that were substantially developed under his watch. Some Trump supporters have responded to obvious media bias against the 45th president by retreating to pro-Trump outlets that either have low editorial standards or traffic in misinformation for fun and profit. But concerning COVID or the Capitol, the outcomes can be dangerous. Thus there have been demands for some Republican — any Republican — to grab Trump supporters by the lapels and yell, "Cut it out!" The problem, however, is that this is precisely what a small army of Never Trumpers on the right have done since 2015 to no obvious effect, other than their own estrangement from the GOP. "The theory that vaccine efforts will improve if John Cornyn tells his voters, 'you swim in a cesspool of lies!', seems pretty doubtful," New York Times columnist Ross Douthat tweeted earlier this month. And yet this theory persists for two reasons: It is emotionally satisfying, and nothing else this side of Tucker Carlson has worked when it comes to managing hardcore Trump supporters' radical disenchantment with the political system. But a corresponding increase in rage and despair on the other side is just as counterproductive as the worst Twitter tantrum. The country needs something more. But will we get it?

7-29-21 Netflix US cast and crew must be vaccinated to work
Netflix is set to make Covid vaccinations mandatory for key cast and crew on US TV and film productions. According to reports, the US streaming company will require that "zone A" personnel - actors and crew in close contact with them - must get the jab. Other firms such as Google have said workers must get vaccinated before returning to the office. The policy will begin at its US campuses and then be rolled out globally for its 144,000 employees. Netflix has implemented the move after new standards were recently agreed between Hollywood unions and studios that would allow companies to implement mandatory vaccination policies for key cast members and crew. However, the actor Sean Penn wants the policy extended for all members of production, not just those classed as "zone A". He recently said that he would not return to work on the drama Gaslit, which is backed by the studio NBC Universal, unless all cast and crew receive the jab. Netflix is making the move after the US Disease Control and Prevention announced earlier this week that masks will once again have to be worn indoors even by people who have been fully vaccinated. It follows a spike in Covid cases due to the spread of the highly contagious Delta variant. Google chief executive Sundar Pichai said in a blog post that "anyone coming to work on our campuses will need to be vaccinated". How the policy is implemented "will vary according to local conditions and regulations, and will not apply until vaccines are widely available in your area", he said. In addition, Google will extend the full reopening of its global campuses from 1 September to 18 October due to a spike in cases caused by the Delta variant of coronavirus. People in special circumstances can apply to work from home until the end of 2021. However, any Google employee can apply to work from home permanently if they choose, and transfer offices.

7-29-21 Covid: No quarantine for fully jabbed US and EU travellers
People who were fully vaccinated in the EU or US will not need to isolate when coming to England, Scotland and Wales from an amber list country. The change will come into force at 04:00 BST on Monday. Currently, only people who received their jabs in the UK can avoid quarantine when arriving from amber list countries, except France. The UK government said the rule change would help to reunite family and friends whose loved ones live abroad. Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said it would apply to people who have been fully vaccinated with a jab approved by the EU or US, with the final dose at least 14 whole days before arrival. Travellers will still need to take either a lateral flow or PCR test pre-departure and a PCR test on the second day after they arrive. Under-18s will be exempt from isolation, and some will not have to test, depending on their age. It come as a further 27,734 cases were reported in the UK, bringing to an end a seven-day run of falling case numbers. Wednesday's case figure was, however, down significantly from a week ago, when 44,104 cases were reported. Another 91 deaths within 28 days of a positive test were also reported. Tougher rules will continue to be in place for France, which is on the amber list but still requires travellers to quarantine when they return, even if they are fully vaccinated. Mr Shapps said this advice would be reviewed at "the end of next week" as part of the rolling assessment of travel rules. As part of the changes, international cruise ships will be able to depart from England from 2 August - after a 16-month pause. Scottish Transport Secretary Michael Matheson said the change to the rules would provide "a boost for the tourism sector and wider economy while ensuring public health is protected". He added that the change would be "carefully monitored by clinicians and kept under close review". The Welsh government said the move posed "clear public health risks" - but its shared open border with England made it "ineffective" to have different arrangements.

7-29-21 Remington: US gunmaker offers $33m to Sandy Hook shooting victims
The company that made a rifle used in one of the worst school shootings in the US has offered $33m (£24m) to several victims' families. The proposed settlement for the 2012 Sandy Hook massacre from Remington, America's oldest gun-maker, came as part of a bankruptcy hearing for the company. It also comes in response to a lawsuit brought by families of nine of the 26 victims. Each family would receive some $3.66m. It is subject to the approval of the Alabama judge overseeing Remington's bankruptcy case. It falls far short of what the families sought. In February, they argued in court that wrongful death settlements could total $225m, with total punitive claims possibly exceeding $1bn. A lawyer for the families said they would "consider their next steps" regarding the offer. "Since this case was filed in 2014, the families' focus has been on preventing the next Sandy Hook," lawyer Josh Koskoff said in a statement. "An important part of that goal has been showing banks and insurers that companies that sell assault weapons to civilians are fraught with financial risk." Remington, best known for its rifles and shotguns, was founded in 1816. After it emerged that a Remington semi-automatic rifle was used in the Sandy Hook killings, victims' family members filed a lawsuit against the gun-maker alleging that the military-style weapon should never have been sold to a civilian. The case has seen many twists and turns. Remington claimed it is protected by a 2005 law that prevents gun-makers from being found liable if their products are used in crimes. In 2019, the Supreme Court allowed the case against Remington to proceed. The school shooting in Connecticut shocked the US, a nation already familiar with gun crimes in schools. The perpetrator killed 20 pupils and six teachers. He had earlier shot his mother dead. As police closed in on the school, he killed himself. Despite the deaths of young children aged six and seven, no new national gun control laws were passed in the wake of the Sandy Hook shooting.

7-29-21 China interest in Afghanistan could be 'positive', says US Blinken
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken has said China's possible involvement in Afghanistan could be "a positive thing". He said this was if China was looking towards a "peaceful resolution of the conflict" and a "truly representative and inclusive" government. His comments came after Taliban representatives visited China. China said it saw the Taliban playing an important role in the peace process and rebuilding of Afghanistan. "No one has an interest in a military takeover of the country by the Taliban, the restoration of an Islamic emirate," said Mr Blinken, who was asked about the talks while on a visit to India. He urged the Taliban to come to the "negotiating table... peacefully". Nine Taliban representatives had on Wednesday travelled to Tianjin for the talks. In a tweet, the Taliban spokesperson said China had "reiterated its commitment of continuation of their assistance with Afghans and said they will not interfere in Afghanistan's issues but will help to solve the problems and restoration of peace in the country." In a statement, China's foreign ministry said it would pursue a policy of "non-interference" in Afghanistan's internal affairs. "The hasty withdrawal of the United States and NATO troops from Afghanistan actually marked the failure of the U.S. policy towards Afghanistan, and the Afghan people have an important opportunity to stabilize and develop their own country," it added. Violence has increased in Afghanistan, with the Taliban taking control of large swathes of the country, as the US withdraws its troops ahead of a September deadline. The high-level meeting in China suggests the Taliban is being recognised on an international stage as a major political force.

7-28-21 In support of the CDC's new mask guidance
Actually, masking up is good. With the Delta variant of the COVID-19 virus spreading like wildfire in much of the country, the CDC on Tuesday again revised its guidance on mask-wearing — recommending that everyone, including vaccinated persons, wear masks indoors in high-transmission communities. There was, predictably, an immediate backlash. Missouri's Republican attorney general threatened to sue the mayor of Kansas City for re-imposing an indoor mask mandate in the city. "The federal government cares more about masks than vaccines," Reason's Robby Soave wrote on Twitter. That's silly. Federal officials have been encouraging and begging and wheedling the public to get vaccinated for months — and doing it in the face of rather vocal opposition from the Fox News crowd. But even if all the holdouts got their first shots today, putting on masks might still be the most effective short-term measure to take against Delta's spread. Why? Because immunity takes time to develop, while putting on a mask is something you can do right this minute. We already know that a single dose of the Pfizer and AstraZeneca vaccines is less effective against Delta than it has been against the original virus; people aren't considered fully vaccinated until roughly two weeks after they've received their second dose. So even if everything went perfectly with the vaccine campaign from this moment going forward, it would still be more than a month before the newly inoculated would be comfortably protected against the virus. Meanwhile, we know mask mandates can be effective. The CDC found last year that in my own state of Kansas, COVID cases dropped in the 24 counties that required facial coverings — and rose in the 81 counties that didn't. Is it fair to force vaccinated people to wear masks again because of the truculence of the unvaxxed? Probably not, though the requirement doesn't seem all that burdensome to me, particularly if it helps alleviate the pressure on our shared medical system. But one of the other benefits of a renewed mandate is that it will help Americans visually identify who is taking the ongoing pandemic seriously and who isn't — who is willing to make a tiny sacrifice for the greater good and who needs to thump their chest about freedom. Call it a vaccine passport for your face.

7-28-21 Former New York state Senate candidate charged in Capitol attack
Daniel Christmann, a Brooklyn plumber who unsuccessfully ran for the New York state Senate last year, was arrested Wednesday in connection with the Jan. 6 Capitol attack. Christmann, 38, was detained on charges of disorderly conduct, entering a restricted building, and demonstrating in a Capitol building, the Department of Justice said. Authorities say the FBI received several tips from people who saw videos Christmann posted to his "dannyforsenate" Instagram account, which showed the crowd inside the Capitol. The criminal complaint states that Christmann wrote messages online confirming he was involved in the riot, and surveillance footage captured him climbing through a window to get into the Capitol building and standing in the crowd, holding up his cell phone. After two of his friends were arrested in connection with the riot, federal authorities say Christmann messaged people and asked them to delete photos and videos showing him inside the Capitol. In 2020, Christmann attempted to become the Libertarian Party's presidential nominee, and after that campaign failed ran as a Libertarian candidate for New York state's 18th Senate District in Brooklyn; he was again unsuccessful. Since the Jan. 6 Capitol attack, more than 500 people linked to the incident have been arrested. (Webmasters Comment: Typical people hating Libertarian!)

7-28-21 The UK has chosen a dangerous path out of the coronavirus pandemic
DURING the coronavirus pandemic, we have all become amateur epidemiologists, readily discussing R numbers, herd immunity and test sensitivity in everyday conversation. Now, with the virus still nowhere near eliminated, we would do well to concern ourselves with the principles of viral evolution too. It is a widespread misconception that viruses tend to evolve to become less deadly. To really grasp what a virus is likely to do, we must look at the opportunities it has to evolve and the selection pressures that could force it to change. In these respects, the UK has stumbled into a dangerous realm. Its high infection numbers provide ample chance for evolutionary experimentation, while high-but-not-yet-high-enough levels of vaccination could prove a strong driver for new “escape variants” that can better evade the immune responses stimulated by infection or vaccination. After the hope generated by the arrival of multiple effective covid-19 vaccines, this prospect is almost too dreadful to contemplate. We have already seen more transmissible variants sweep their way to dominance. Even if its case rate does prove to be falling, with large amounts of the virus circulating when many people are only partially immune, the UK is providing ample opportunity for the virus to experiment with new ways to evade our immune systems. The UK isn’t the only country setting itself up as a breeding ground for new variants. So is every nation with high infection numbers, particularly those with many partially vaccinated people. The hope that vaccines will still protect against severe illness, and that booster shots could upgrade immune responses to new variants, is of comfort only to wealthier countries. More than 86 per cent of the global population isn’t yet fully vaccinated. Those nations that will be most harmed by new variants are those that have already lost out due to richer countries’ vaccine nationalism.

7-28-21 Covid-19 news: Rules eased for vaccinated EU or US visitors to 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. UK announces quarantine exemption for all vaccinated travellers arriving in England from the EU or US. All fully vaccinated people arriving in England from the EU or US will soon be exempt from quarantine, the BBC reported on 28 July. Currently, fully vaccinated people who were vaccinated in the UK don’t need to quarantine when returning from countries on England’s amber list – which includes the US and most EU countries – except for France. But under new rules coming into force at 04.00 BST on 2 August, people vaccinated in the EU or US will also be exempt from quarantine in England. Fully vaccinated people travelling to England from France will still need to quarantine. In a tweet on 28 July, transport minister Grant Shapps said travellers would still need to take coronavirus tests before they arrive and on their second day in England. It isn’t yet clear whether rules will also change for people travelling to Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland. An analysis of studies assessing the effectiveness of the anti-parasitic drug ivermectin found that the available evidence doesn’t support its use for treatment or prevention of covid-19 outside of clinical trials. The analysis, published in the Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, reviewed 14 studies, including 1678 participants, which compared ivermectin to no treatment, placebo or standard care. In a statement, Stephen Evans at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine said the analysis confirms previously issued advice from the World Health Organization and other health bodies. “Any benefit at any stage of the disease process from infection to prevention of death will require large carefully-conducted randomised trials. Such trials are under way now,” said Evans. People living in areas of the US experiencing substantial or high levels of coronavirus transmission are being advised to wear face masks indoors, regardless of whether or not they have been vaccinated. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced the updated guidance on 26 July, citing the need to maximise protection against the highly transmissible delta variant of the coronavirus. Thailand has begun transporting some covid-19 patients out of the capital Bangkok on sleeper trains in an effort to lift pressure on hospitals in the city as coronavirus cases continue to surge. On 26 July, the first train left Bangkok transporting asymptomatic people or those with mild symptoms to their home towns in north-east Thailand. There were 16,533 new cases and 133 deaths reported across Thailand on 27 July. The worldwide covid-19 death toll has passed 4.17 million. The number of confirmed cases is more than 195.4 million, according to Johns Hopkins University, though the true number of cases will be much higher. According to Our World In Data, 2.15 billion people globally have received at least one dose of a covid-19 vaccine.

7-28-21 Capitol riot: Policeman tells 6 January hearing he feared he would die
A police officer who defended the US Capitol during a riot by Donald Trump supporters on 6 January has said he feared he would be crushed by the mob. "This is how I'm going to die," a tearful Aquilino Gonell told a Congressional committee as an inquiry opened into the Washington DC attack. Another officer, Harry Dunn, who is black, said he was racially abused. At least 535 rioters have been arrested since the attack that left five dead, including one police officer. Prosecutors have so far secured only a few convictions. The assault led to the political impeachment and acquittal of Republican Mr Trump, who was accused by lawmakers of inciting the riot - a claim he has repeatedly denied. The inquiry in the House Select committee is being conducted almost entirely by Democrats, after most Republicans boycotted the proceedings. However, two Republicans - Liz Cheney and Adam Kinzinger - have broken ranks to join the investigation. "If those responsible are not held accountable... this will remain a cancer on our constitutional republic," Ms Cheney said as the hearing began on Tuesday. The nine-member select committee was formed after Republicans objected to an independent commission such as the one that investigated the 11 September 2001 attacks. The panel - which has powers to summon witnesses - is expected to investigate the circumstances leading up to the riot and why law enforcement bodies were ill-prepared. On Tuesday, four police officers described being beaten and assaulted by rioters who had come to disrupt the certification by Congress of President Joe Biden's election victory. Officer Gonell described the scene as a "medieval battlefield". Wiping away tears, he described returning home and pushing his wife away from him because of the amount of chemical irritant that had soaked into his uniform. The Iraq War veteran went on to criticise Republicans for what he described as their "continuous shocking attempt" to "ignore or destroy the truth" about that day.

7-28-21 CNN airs incredibly explicit and threatening voicemail D.C. officer received during Jan. 6 testimony
Washington, D.C., Metropolitan Police Officer Michael Fanone shared with CNN's Don Lemon Tonight a threatening voicemail he received while testifying in front of the Jan. 6 House select committee on Tuesday. The voicemail, which Lemon says Fanone requested air without censorship, is laced with expletives and offensive slurs, and accuses the officer of both lying and dramatically performing as he shared his account of what happened during the Capitol riot. During the hearing, Fanone said he felt he had gone "to hell and back" to protect American lawmakers and citizens, some of whom now show a "disgraceful" amount of indifference toward the events of Jan. 6. "This is what happens to people that tell the truth in Trump's America," Fanone said in response to the message. And he's unfortunately "come to expect" this kind of reaction. "It's not the first time that people have expressed similar opinions to me. Unfortunately, you know, ... there is an element in this country that believes that."

7-28-21 The intellectual right contemplates an 'American Caesar'
Jan. 6 was a badly planned rehearsal for the real deal. How does ideological change happen? Why do certain political ideas and possibilities that appear outrageous and even unthinkable at one moment in history come to be considered options worth taking seriously? What causes the Overton window to shift dramatically in one direction or another? The answer has something to do with the dynamics of partisan coalitions. To cite a fairly anodyne example, Ronald Reagan took over the Republican Party in 1980 by expanding the GOP's appeal to the right as well as to the center-left. Those who supported Gerald Ford in 1976 were joined by conservative activists who had passionately favored Barry Goldwater in 1964, right-wing populists in the South and Midwest who had cast ballots for George Wallace in 1968, and the more moderate voters across the country who came to be called "Reagan Democrats." The result was broad-based support for deep tax cuts, sharply increased defense spending, and amped up confrontation with the Soviet Union — a synthesis of positions that seemed to be a non-starter just a few years earlier but which, thanks to Reagan's political skills and their intersection with contingent changes in political culture, became a stable ideological and electoral configuration of the GOP for the next 36 years. The GOP has shed a lot of voters (as a share of the electorate) since its high-water mark in 1984. But with the rise of Donald Trump, the shape of the party's coalition also began to change. Some of the shift has been class-based, with white and Latino voters lacking a college degree flocking to the Republican Party and highly educated urban and suburban voters fleeing it. But Trump also actively courted the right-wing fringe — the militia movement, quasi-paramilitary groups like the Proud Boys, neo-Nazis, overt racists, and outright xenophobes. These voters are a tiny portion of the party, but they punch above their weight, as we learned on Jan. 6, when a small handful of these extremists took the lead in initiating the mayhem and violence on Capitol Hill that afternoon while most of the intruders simply followed along rather cluelessly. (This point, along with much else in this column, is elaborated with depth and insight in the "Aftermath of January 6th" episode of the consistently excellent Know Your Enemy podcast.) With most Republican officeholders and media personalities refusing to condemn the actions of the insurrectionary mob that invaded the Capitol to stop congressional certification of the 2020 election results — or Trump's decisive role in inciting that mob — and some of them instead endorsing an evidence-free conspiracy involving the "deep state" and the FBI, the GOP has verified that the Overton window has shifted sharply to the right. What would have until quite recently been considered unacceptable forms of political dissent have been legitimized. That's how the once unthinkable becomes a new normal.

7-28-21 Covid: No quarantine for fully jabbed US and EU travellers to England
People who have been fully vaccinated in the EU or US will not need to isolate when coming to England from an amber list country. The change will come into force at 04:00 BST on Monday. Currently, only people who received their jabs in the UK can avoid quarantine when arriving from amber list countries, except France. The government said the rule change would help to reunite family and friends whose loved ones live abroad. Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said it would apply to people who have been fully vaccinated with a jab approved by the EU or US - although travellers would still need to take tests before they arrived and on the second day when they landed. Extra, tougher rules will continue to be in place for France, which is on the amber list but still requires travellers to quarantine when they return, even if they are fully vaccinated. As well as reopening to the EU and the US, international cruises will also be allowed to restart from England. It is not yet known whether other UK nations will adopt the same changes. Earlier, Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said talks on travel were taking place between the four nations. Welsh First Minister Mark Drakeford said Wales would reflect the changes, subject to more information about how approved jabs would be verified. The travel industry has long been pushing for this change in a bid to make it easier for tourists or expats to visit. The UK's tourism sector is worth billions of pounds - and travel consultancy boss Paul Charles said the change will "pump vital cash" into the economy. "It's especially good news for our airlines who need to fill their seats across the Atlantic," he said. "The news will encourage millions of extra visitors into the UK at a time when the sector badly needs them." But although they will be able to avoid quarantine in England, US citizens are urged not to travel to the UK by their country's health protection agency, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

7-28-21 Why the CDC says it’s crucial to start wearing masks indoors again
Vaccinated people infected with the delta variant may easily spread it. Delta has changed the course of the pandemic in the United States yet again. After spurring a summer surge in COVID-19 cases, the more transmissible coronavirus variant is now driving federal health officials’ decision to recommend that everyone, regardless of vaccination status, wear masks again in indoor public places. That’s especially important in areas where infection rates are high, Rochelle Walensky, director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said during a news conference July 27 to announce revised masking guidelines. New evidence that vaccinated people with breakthrough infections of the delta variant produce just as much virus as infected, unvaccinated people prompted the new guidance. That suggests that these people may also easily spread the virus. “We have new science related to the delta variant that requires us to update the guidance regarding what you can do when you’re fully vaccinated,” Walensky said. Unvaccinated people should get vaccinated and wear masks in public indoor settings until fully vaccinated, she recommended. Additionally, fully vaccinated people in places with “high or substantial” transmission rates should also mask up when indoors again. The CDC considers substantial transmission to be 50 to 100 cases out of every 100,000 people in the population over a seven-day period. Some places are reporting more than 300 cases per 100,000 people in a week, she said. “Really an extraordinary amount of viral transmission.” And everyone in schools should wear a mask, regardless of vaccination status, the CDC recommends. This reverses the CDC’s May recommendation that fully vaccinated people could ditch the masks. That decision was based, in part, on the low chance that vaccinated people could spread the virus (SN: 5/24/21). If they do get a breakthrough infection, people vaccinated with one of the mRNA vaccines have about 40 percent less virus in their noses than infected, unvaccinated people do, researchers reported July 22 in the New England Journal of Medicine. But that data was based on infections with earlier variants of the virus.

7-28-21 Second COVID-19 infections are rare and likely mild, research finds
People who catch COVID-19 twice will likely have a milder bout with the disease the second time around, an analysis of U.K. government figures found. The research, conducted by the U.K.'s Office for National Statistics, indicates that viral loads are higher for people who are dealing with their first infection than those who have been reinfected. The more virus that's present in the body tends to lead to a more intense case of COVID-19. The study also found that the rate of reinfection was low overall, and the rate of reinfection with a "strong positive test," which suggests a higher viral load, was even lower. All told, the numbers hint that previous exposure to the coronavirus helps protect people from future run-ins. Read more at Bloomberg and check out the full research U.K. analysis here.

7-28-21 Rapper DaBaby apologises for HIV comments made at festival
Rapper DaBaby has apologised for his comments about people with HIV on stage at a music festival in the US. He tweeted last night that his comments were "insensitive" adding he had "no intentions on offending anybody" before offering "my apologies". "Anybody who done ever been [affected] by AIDS/HIV y'all got the right to be upset," he added. Dua Lipa - whose song Levitating he features on - said she was "surprised and horrified" by the comments. DaBaby also addressed the LGBT community in his tweet saying "I ain't trippin on y'all, do you. y'all business is y'all business." Performing at Rolling Loud festival in Miami over the weekend, he asked every audience member to "put your cell phone light up", apart from those who were HIV-positive or were gay men who had sex in car parks. He also made the false claim that HIV will "make you die in two or three weeks". Medication helping those with HIV to live long, healthy lives has been available for decades. DaBaby had defended his comments in an Instagram story posted on Sunday. In it he said: "What I do at the live show is for the audience at the live show. It would never translate correctly to someone looking a little five/six second clip." Around half an hour before his apology tweet, the rapper angered followers by once again appearing to defend his words. "I tell fans to put a cellphone light in the air y'all start a million man March," he wrote on Twitter. He suggested that the "same amount of support" isn't shown when a black person is killed by a police officer. One follower replied: "Why are you bringing up police brutality to deflect?? Very strange! There are hundreds of thousands of people fighting for black people's lives every day helping/doing more then you will ever do." (Webmasters Comment: This guy is just an ignorant twit!)

7-28-21 China expanding its nuclear capabilities, scientists say
China is expanding its capacity to store and launch nuclear missiles, US scientists say. Satellite images from Xinjiang province in the west of the country suggest it is building a nuclear missile silo field, a report from the Federation of American Scientists (FAS) says. US defence officials have expressed concern about China's nuclear build-up. It is the second new silo field reported to be under construction in western China in the last two months. The site could house about 110 silos, which are underground facilities used for the storing and launching of missiles. Last month, the Washington Post newspaper reported 120 silos spotted at a site in a desert area in Yumen, in Gansu province. The FAS said in its report on Monday that the new site at Hami, about 380 km (240 miles) north-west of Yumen, was at a much earlier stage of development. In 2020 the Pentagon said China was set to double its stockpile of nuclear warheads, from a low base. The news comes as the US and Russia prepare for arms control talks. The talks, between US Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman and Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov, are being seen as a first step towards reviving stalled negotiations on reducing nuclear arms. But China has so far not taken part in arms control negotiations. The US Strategic Command, the part of the Department of Defense responsible for strategic deterrence, voiced its concern about the report in a tweet. "This is the second time in two months the public has discovered what we have been saying all along about the growing threat the world faces and the veil of secrecy that surrounds it," it said. The silo field in Xinjiang was detected using commercial satellite imagery, but higher-resolution pictures were later provided by Planet, a satellite imaging company. (Webmasters Comment: We already have 1000's of missile silos. The Chinese feel they need to deter future United States aggression.)

7-27-21 'Trump sent us': Capitol police officer recounts Jan. 6 rioters' clear message
Sgt. Aquilino Gonell of the United States Capitol Police testified during the opening Jan. 6 select committee hearing on Tuesday that "nobody else" but former President Donald Trump's supporters stormed the Capitol that day. In response to a question from Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.), Gonell, who was on the front lines, said the rioters made it clear they felt Trump had given the green light to breach the building and disrupt Congress' Electoral College certification. "All of them were telling us 'Trump sent us,'" he said. While there have been conspiratorial claims stating that at least some members of the crowd were Antifa or even undercover FBI agents, Gonell dismissed that idea and suggested Trump was primarily responsible for the events that unfolded. "Nobody else, there was nobody else," he testified. "It was not Antifa. It was not Black Lives Matter. It was not the FBI. It was [Trump's] supporters that he sent ... over to the Capitol that day."

7-27-21 Americans who attend church frequently are more likely to view QAnon favorably, poll finds
Americans who attend church services at least once a month are more likely to view the QAnon conspiracy theory favorably than those who attend less frequently, an Economist/YouGov poll released Tuesday finds. On the other end of the spectrum, Americans who say they never go to church are the most likely to view QAnon unfavorably. The Economist reports it was seeking to test two theories, one being that Americans "who have no religious affiliation find themselves attracted to other causes, such as the Q craze." The other, which has been posited by the likes of Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.), is that "modern strains of Christian evangelicalism ... do not satisfy all worshipers," causing them to "find community and salvation in other groups, such as QAnon." The findings suggest the first theory likely isn't the case, while the analysis of the second one is more muddled. Though The Economist and YouGov do have data on how frequently people attend church, the survey doesn't dive into how satisfied individuals feel with their church community. "It is not clear whether those who have a favorable opinion of QAnon do so because they want membership of a social group, as Mr. Sasse and others claim, or because they are merely more suspectible to conspiratorial thinking," The Economist writes. The poll was conducted between July 10-13 among 1,500 American adults. The margin of error was 3 percentage points. Read more at The Economist.

7-27-21 Within 7 days, Bhutan fully vaccinates 90 percent of eligible adults
Over seven days, 90 percent of eligible adults in Bhutan received their second dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, the country's health ministry announced Tuesday. The mass vaccine drive started on July 20, and is "arguably the fastest vaccination campaign to be executed during a pandemic," UNICEF said. In April, Bhutan received 550,000 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine from India, and in less than two weeks was able to give abut 90 percent of eligible adults their first dose. Bhutan is a small country that lies between China and India, with a population of almost 800,000. There was a pause in the vaccination push when vaccine production was slowed down in India because of a surge in coronavirus cases, but earlier this month doses began arriving again in Bhutan, with Denmark, Croatia, and Bulgaria donating 400,000 AstraZeneca shots and the United States supplying 500,000 Moderna and 5,000 Pfizer doses. Dechen Wangmo, Bhutan's health minister, told The Associated Press the country's "aim is to achieve herd immunity among our population in the shortest possible time to avert a major public health crisis." Bhutan's small population and effective messaging are making it easier for this to happen. Bhutan's prime minister, foreign minister, and health minister are all medical professionals, AP notes, and they have been advocating the vaccine and clearing up misconceptions. Even regular citizens are part of the effort — 22,000 people in Bhutan have volunteered to staff COVID-19 testing centers, fight misinformation in their communities, and carry the vaccine to rural destinations. There are more than 1,200 vaccination centers set up in Bhutan, and health workers are traveling through harsh conditions in order to get doses to remote mountain villages. Dr. Sonam Wangchuk, a member of Bhutan's vaccination task force, told AP that "vaccination is the pillar of Bhutan's health care initiative" and "in fact, people are quite eager to come and get themselves vaccinated." (Webmasters Comment: These people are smarter than half of Americans!)

7-27-21 Eight reasons why the UK's coronavirus cases appear to be falling
One swallow doesn’t make a summer, but the recent sustained fall in covid-19 cases in the UK may represent a turning point. However, experts warn there are many other explanations for the decline that cannot be ruled out. The number of people in the UK testing positive for covid-19 has fallen for seven consecutive days, the longest sustained fall since daily cases started being recorded. According to official UK government figures, there were 23,511 new cases reported on 27 July, down from 46,558 on 20 July. There are various possibilities for the fall, says Kit Yates at the University of Bath, UK, who keeps track of the numbers for the Independent SAGE group. “One is that genuinely infections are coming down because we’ve peaked and hit the herd immunity threshold,” he says. “I don’t think many people think that is the case.” Jeffrey Lazarus at the Barcelona Institute for Global Health in Spain agrees: “At some point, with a relatively high vaccination rate and so many people infected in parts of the UK, I expect herd immunity to be reached, but I am not sure it has been reached yet.” Cases may have fallen for other reasons. People may have been cautious in the face of rising cases, or socialising more outdoors, says Yates. Large numbers of people being asked to self isolate may also be driving transmission down, says Stephen Griffin at the University of Leeds, UK. Another possibility is that cases aren’t actually falling but detection rates are. Government figures show that the number of tests being done has declined, dropping by 4.9 per cent in the week up to 22 July, the latest date for which figures are available. Yates says this may be because people are on holiday, or are preparing to go on holiday and don’t want to be forced to cancel because of a positive test. There may also be a backlog, with some labs reportedly struggling to process all the tests that are coming in, he says.

7-27-21 Covid-19 news: Health leaders warn of pressure on NHS 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. Rising covid-19 hospitalisations, long covid cases and a significant care backlog are putting pressure on health services in England, say health leaders. Health leaders in England have warned that the country’s health service is as stretched now as it was during the peak of the second wave of the coronavirus epidemic in January. NHS providers, a membership organisation for NHS trusts in England, said “the NHS is currently grappling with a very difficult combination of pressures”, including rising covid-19 hospitalisations and long covid cases, a significant care backlog and a large number of staff self-isolating due to recent rises in community cases in England. There were 218 deaths from covid-19 in England and Wales in the week to 16 July, up from 183 the previous week, according to the latest figures from the Office for National Statistics. The latest figure is the highest number of covid-19 deaths recorded across the two nations since the week to 23 April, when 260 deaths were recorded. Across the UK as a whole, daily new coronavirus cases have been falling in recent days, however there is a time lag between cases and resulting hospitalisations and deaths. “The effect of vaccines is hugely reducing the risk of hospitalisations and death,” Neil Ferguson at Imperial College London, told the BBC. “I’m positive that by late September or October time we will be looking back at most of the pandemic,” said Ferguson. Hospitals in Thailand are under growing pressure amid a recent surge of coronavirus cases. On 27 July, authorities in the capital Bangkok announced plans to convert 15 disused railway carriages into a 240-bed isolation ward for covid-19 patients. Coronavirus cases in Thailand have been rising sharply since mid-June and on 26 July there were 14,150 new daily cases reported – up from 7970 new cases reported two weeks earlier. Tokyo saw a record increase in daily new coronavirus cases of 2848 on 27 July. Cases in the city, which is currently hosting the Olympics, have been rising for the past eight days. Olympics organisers reported 16 new coronavirus cases on 26 July, including three athletes, bringing the total number of cases linked to the event to 148 since 1 July, Reuters reported.

7-27-21 January 6 select committee: What to look for as Capitol riot inquiry begins
It's been nearly seven months since the US Capitol building was breached by hundreds of Donald Trump supporters to reject Joe Biden's 2020 presidential victory. Since the 6 January attack, Trump has been impeached by the House of Representatives, put on trial in the Senate and acquitted for his role in inspiring the event. More than 535 people who entered the Capitol have been arrested on charges like assaulting police officers, impeding an official proceeding and trespassing. More than 300 suspected participants are still unidentified. This week marks the beginning of the first full congressional inquiry into the attack, held by a select committee of the US House of Representatives. The select committee - a temporary panel formed for this specific purpose - will aim to provide a complete and authoritative account of the attack. But even before hearings were due to begin on Tuesday, the endeavour has been mired by problems. Will the search for a "true" record simply become the latest recipe to deepen partisan wounds? The path to this investigatory committee has been a rocky one - and it was not anyone's preferred option. Originally, Democrats wanted a special independent commission like the one that investigated the 11 September 2001 attack on the World Trade Center and Pentagon. Such a panel would have had an equal number of former officeholders chosen from both parties. Legislation to form this commission passed the House of Representatives in May with unanimous backing from Democrats and 35 of 211 Republicans. But the proposal died in the Senate, despite support from six Republicans. Opponents - such as Minority Leader Mitch McConnell - warned that a commission would become a "purely political exercise" and would not "promote healing". In response, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi formed the select committee. It has hand-picked members and, as with an independent commission, has subpoena power. Unlike a commission, however, it has mostly Democrats because they are in the majority. Only two Republicans - Liz Cheney of Wyoming and Adam Kinzinger of Illinois - voted to form the committee.

7-27-21 White House: US to maintain Covid foreign travel restrictions
The US does not intend to lift Covid-19 travel restrictions for non-Americans, the White House has said. The decision comes amid pressure from airlines and tourism industry lobbyists to lift the sweeping ban before the end of the summer travel season. The decision was due to a rise in infections, the Delta variant's transmissibility and a recent advisory against travel to the UK. Cases in the US continue to rise, particularly among the non-vaccinated. Rising cases "appear likely to continue in the weeks ahead," said White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki to reporters on Monday, so the US "will maintain existing travel restrictions at this point". The first round of travel restrictions due to Covid were imposed by the US on China in 2020 January. Since then, the US ban has expanded to include non-US citizens who had recently visited the UK, the 26-nation Schengen bloc in Europe, Brazil, Ireland, India, Iran and South Africa. Last week, Canada announced that vaccinated Americans would be allowed to visit starting on 9 August. Despite this, the US said it will keep its borders shut to neighbours Canada and Mexico until at least 21 August. It comes days after the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said that the highly-contagious Delta variant now accounts for 80% of all US cases. On Thursday, CDC director Rochelle Walensky said that the weekly average for new infections had jumped by 53% in the previous week. Vaccination rates have slowed in the US since peaking in the spring. US officials say nearly all new cases are appearing in those who are unvaccinated, and have begun referring to Covid as a "pandemic of the unvaccinated". Latest US Covid news: 1. Starting in mid-September, all New York City municipal workers - including firefighters, police officers and teachers will be required to be vaccinated, 2. More than 50 prominent US healthcare groups have issued a joint statement calling for healthcare workers to be required to get vaccinated, 3. On Monday, the White House said that some people with the condition known as long Covid may qualify for disability assistance, 4. The Department of Veterans Affairs has become the first federal government agency to require vaccinations for its healthcare staff.

7-27-21 Thomas Barrack: Top Trump aide pleads not guilty to working as foreign agent
Billionaire investor and former Donald Trump adviser Thomas Barrack has pleaded not guilty to charges of acting as an agent of a foreign government. Mr Barrack, 74, was a key aide to Mr Trump during his 2016 campaign. He has been accused of illegally lobbying on behalf of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) during and after the election, as well as lying to the FBI. Mr Barrack entered his not guilty plea during his first court appearance on Monday in New York City. The ex-Trump official faces federal charges of conspiracy, obstruction of justice and making multiple false statements to the FBI during a 2019 interview. He was arrested in California last week. As he left court on Monday, Mr Barrack told reporters: "As you'd expect, the system is working... you'll all see that I'm 100% innocent." On Monday Matthew Grimes, a former executive at Mr Barrack's company, also pleaded not guilty to charges of illegal lobbying. A UAE citizen, Rashid Sultan Rashid Al Malik Alshahhi, 43, was charged as well and remains at large. The three men are accused of unlawfully trying to promote UAE government interests by using Mr Barrack's connections to influence officials and media appearances. They also allegedly promoted the candidacy of a UAE-favoured individual as US ambassador to Abu Dhabi. Mr Barrack, who also served as Mr Trump's inaugural committee chairman, had been friends with the former president for four decades. The wealthy investor is the latest ex-Trump aide to face criminal charges, like former campaign chairman Paul Manafort and former Trump Organization lawyer Michael Cohen. His next court appearance is 2 September. Mr Barrack is currently free on a $250m (£180m) bond, but must wear an electronic GPS ankle bracelet, restrict his travel and follow a curfew.

7-27-21 US combat forces to leave Iraq by end of year
President Joe Biden says US forces will end their combat mission in Iraq by the end of this year, but will continue to train and advise the Iraqi military. The announcement came after Mr Biden held talks with Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi at the White House. There are currently 2,500 US troops in Iraq helping local forces counter what remains of the Islamic State group. Numbers of US troops are likely to stay the same but the move is being seen as an attempt to help the Iraqi PM. The US presence in Iraq has become a major issue since top Iranian general Qasem Soleimani and the leader of an Iran-backed Shia Muslim militia were killed in a US drone strike in the capital Baghdad last year. Political parties aligned to Iran have demanded the withdrawal of all forces from the US-led global coalition against IS, despite the continuing threat posed by the Sunni jihadist group. Shia militias have meanwhile been accused by the US of carrying out hundreds of rocket, mortar and drone attacks on Iraqi military bases that host coalition forces in an apparent attempt to pressure them to leave. For the US president, the announcement marks the end of another war that began under former President George W Bush. This year he said US troops would leave Afghanistan. Speaking at the White House, Mr Biden told his Iraqi counterpart "our counter-terrorism co-operation will continue even as we shift to this new phase." Mr Kadhimi responded: "Today our relationship is stronger than ever. Our co-operation is for the economy, the environment, health, education, culture and more." He has insisted no foreign combat troops are needed in Iraq. US-led forces invaded Iraq in 2003 to overthrow President Saddam Hussein and eliminate weapons of mass destruction that turned out not to exist. Then President George W Bush promised a "free and peaceful Iraq", but it was engulfed by a bloody sectarian insurgency. US combat troops eventually withdrew in 2011. However, they returned at the request of the Iraqi government three years later, when IS militants overran large parts of the country. Following the military defeat of IS in Iraq at the end of 2017, US forces remained to help prevent a resurgence of the group.

7-27-21 DaBaby's HIV and gay comments 'perpetuate discrimination'
Rapper DaBaby has been criticised for comments he made at a US festival about people with HIV and gay men. Performing at Rolling Loud festival in Miami, he invited every audience member to "put your cell phone light up" apart from those who were HIV-positive or were gay men who had sex in car parks. He also claimed HIV will "make you die in two or three weeks". Medication helping those with HIV to live long, healthy lives has been available for decades. DaBaby's comments were supported by rapper TI, who said if Lil Nas X - who regularly asserts his sexuality onstage - was able to say and do as he liked, then DaBaby should be able to do the same. But DaBaby's faced criticism from many others, including the UK's leading HIV and Aids charity. "It's wrong for people living with HIV to be made to feel lesser or excluded because of their diagnosis - it should be unacceptable in the music industry and in society at large," says Richard Angell, campaigns director at the Terence Higgins Trust (THT). "Comments like DaBaby's perpetuate HIV-related stigma and discrimination, as well as spreading misinformation about HIV. "You can now live a long, healthy life with HIV thanks to medical progress when you're diagnosed and accessing treatment." Medication to manage HIV and stop it spreading has been available since 1996. The introduction of pre-exposure prophylaxis (Prep), which can be taken by people who do not have HIV to prevent catching it, has helped to reduce infection numbers. People who have HIV and are on treatment can be undetectable - meaning their blood carries such low amounts of the virus that they are unable to pass it on to others. DaBaby's comments have been widely criticised on social media - including by BBC Radio 1Xtra presenter, Yasmin Evans. Following the backlash, DaBaby spoke on his Instagram story, saying what he does at his shows "does not concern" people online. "What I do at the live show is for the audience at the live show. It'll never translate to somebody looking at at a five, six-second clip," he said.

7-27-21 Vatican's Cardinal Becciu on trial in $412m fraud case
A Roman Catholic cardinal who was once a close ally of Pope Francis has gone on trial in the Vatican, accused of misusing Church funds in a ruinous London property venture. Cardinal Angelo Becciu, 73, is the most senior cleric in modern times to face trial for alleged financial crimes. He is charged with spending €350m (£299m; $412m) of church money on a botched deal to buy a property in Chelsea that incurred huge losses. He denies wrongdoing. Cardinal Becciu was sacked by the Pope in September, as reports of financial misdeeds emerged. A two-year investigation exposed how the Vatican lost millions of euros, including donations from worshippers, after buying a former Harrods warehouse in Sloane Avenue, Chelsea, in 2014. The cardinal was formerly in charge of donations at the secretariat which handles Vatican funds. The charges against him include allegedly channelling money to businesses run by his brothers in their native Sardinia. Nine other defendants are also accused of crimes including extortion, embezzlement, money-laundering and abuse of office. The special courtroom is in the Vatican Museums - not the usual courtroom, as more space was required because of Covid rules and the numbers attending. The trial is expected to last for months. The two hearings this week - on technical matters - are likely to be adjourned until October. The nine others accused include: 1. Swiss lawyer René Brülhart, who previously headed the Vatican's financial regulation body, the former Financial Information Authority, and his ex-deputy Tomasso di Ruzza, 2. Monsignor Mauro Carlino, who was Cardinal Becciu's private secretary, 3. Enrico Crasso, a former Vatican investment manager, 4. Cecilia Marogna, accused of buying luxury goods with funds authorised by the cardinal for Vatican intelligence work, including efforts to free clergy held hostage in various countries. The defendants deny wrongdoing. If found guilty, they could face jail terms or fines, or both.

7-26-21 Republicans blame liberals while finally urging vaccines
The good news is that Sarah Huckabee Sanders has come out firmly in favor of COVID-19 vaccines. The less-great news is that she built her case — naturally — using the language of culture warfare. Huckabee, who served as Donald Trump's White House spokesperson and is now running for governor of Arkansas, urged the state's residents to get vaccinated in a Sunday op-ed for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. Along the way, she attacked snooty liberal leaders and institutions like President Biden and The New York Times for planting the seeds of vaccine hesitancy. "Dr. Fauci and the 'because science says so' crowd of arrogant, condescending politicians and bureaucrats were wrong about more than their mandates and shutdowns that have inflicted incalculable harm on our people and economy," Sanders wrote. "They also misjudged the Trump vaccine plan, which rolled out just as safely, quickly, and effectively as the Trump administration promised." She concluded by urging readers to ignore "fear-mongering and condescension" from liberals to "make the best, most informed decision you can." Now this kind of argument was anticipated, and even hoped for by many pro-vaccination folks on the left — just look up the number of jokes on Twitter about telling conservatives the vaccines are made from "liberal tears." If giving Trump more credit or griping about condescending libs will get more shots in more arms, by all means do it. The lives and health of millions of people are at stake. But there is a cost. Studies and polls suggest that vaccine hesitancy in America is driven, in large part, by political polarization — which means that in this case, conservative culture warring is both the cure and (in a very real sense) the disease. "To put it bluntly: Polarization is killing people," German Lopez wrote at Vox earlier this month. It may be that dissing Democrats is the best way to get conservatives to do what they should do for their own good and the good of the country, but it also reinforces "owning the libs" as a mindset. That may make it even more difficult for America to meet its next big challenge.

7-26-21 The 'potential silver lining' to a breakthrough COVID-19 infection
While no one who's vaccinated against COVID-19 should seek out a coronavirus infection, there is a "potential silver lining" to breakthrough cases, The Atlantic's Katherine Wu reports. Whenever the body encounters a pathogen like the coronavirus, it's reminded of the threat. That coaxes "cells into reinvigorating their defenses and sharpening their coronavirus-detecting skills," which prolongs the duration of protection, Wu writes. In other words, a post-inoculation infection can serve, more or less, as a "booster for the vaccine," Laura Su, an immunologist at the University of Pennsylvania, told Wu. Nicole Baumgarth, an immunologist at the University of California, Davis, added that "continuously training immune cells can be a really good thing." It bears repeating that avoiding infection, even when vaccinated, is much safer and should remain the goal, since natural infections are a lot more unpredictable. But most of those who are protected will likely add to their defenses if they do come into contact with the virus incidentally. Read more at The Atlantic.

7-26-21 Parkland shooting survivor says their dad believes it was a hoax after QAnon 'consumed his life'
An anonymous survivor of the 2018 Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting says their own father has been convinced it was a hoax and has even falsely accused them of "being part of it." A Reddit user recently posted on the QAnonCasualties subreddit that they are a survivor of the shooting in Parkland, Florida, but that their dad believes it was a hoax and the QAnon conspiracy theory has "consumed his life." On Monday, Vice spoke with the author of the post and confirmed their identity as a survivor of the shooting, which left 17 people dead in 2018. The person spoke on the condition of anonymity and was referred to only as Bill, which isn't their real name. "Back in January he saw the video of Marjorie Taylor Greene harassing David Hogg ([another] student) about the shooting being a false-flag operation, and while my dad was already into Q, he'd never gone down that particular rabbit hole and now he's convinced everything was a hoax and it breaks my f---ing heart," the Reddit post said. The user goes on to say that their father has directly claimed to them, "You're a real piece of work to be able to sit here and act like nothing ever happened if it wasn't a hoax. Shame on you for being part of it and putting your family through it too." "Bill" told Vice that their last semester at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School was already "difficult enough with Feb. 14 marking 3 years since the shooting," but the fact that "my dad thinks the absolute hell we went through, where nine of the victims were in our class, is a hoax" has made matters worse, and he explained he hasn't shared this with his classmates because it's not a "pain I want to put on them."

7-25-21 French parliament passes law mandating vaccinations for health workers
With the number of coronavirus cases and hospitalizations on the rise, the French parliament approved a law early Monday that make COVID-19 vaccinations mandatory for all health workers and creates a special pass for people to use showing they are vaccinated, had a recent negative COVID-19 test, or just got over the coronavirus. This pass will be necessary in order to board planes and trains and enter restaurants and some other public places, The Associated Press reports. Only adults will need the pass for now, but beginning Sept. 30, everyone 12 and older must have one. Health care workers have to start getting vaccinated by Sept. 15, or they could be suspended from their jobs. In France, more than 111,000 people have died of COVID-19, and President Emmanuel Macron says these new measures have to be put in place to protect the vulnerable. Lawmakers first started working on the bill six days ago, and quickly reached a compromise version that was passed by the Senate on Sunday night and National Assembly early Monday, AP reports. On Saturday, about 160,000 protesters demonstrated against the measures, accusing the government of overreach. There are now 20,000 new coronavirus infections being reported daily, up from a few thousand a day earlier this month, and Macron spoke out against the far-right politicians pushing anti-vaccine sentiment. "What is your freedom worth if you say to me, 'I don't want to be vaccinated,' but tomorrow you infect your father, your mother, or myself?" Macron said. The protesters are "free to express themselves in a calm and respectful manner," he added, but they can't wish the virus away.

7-24-21 Covid-19 news: Daily new cases in the UK fall for sixth day in a row
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. As daily UK cases fall, scientists say it is too soon to determine the full impact of lifted restrictions in England on the UK’s epidemic. Daily new coronavirus cases in the UK fell for the sixth consecutive day on 26 July. There were 24,950 new cases reported on 26 July, the lowest daily number of new cases since 4 July. However, James Naismith at the University of Oxford said that more data is needed to understand how the UK’s epidemic might progress. “Daily ups or downs in the numbers has little value in understanding disease progression,” said Naismith in a statement. Almost 60 medical groups, including the American Medical Association and the American Academy of Pediatrics, are calling for the US to make covid-19 vaccination mandatory for US healthcare workers. “Due to the recent covid-19 surge and the availability of safe and effective vaccines, our health care organizations and societies advocate that all healthcare and long-term care employers require their workers to receive the Covid-19 vaccine,” the groups said in a joint statement shared with the Washington Post. France’s parliament approved a law requiring people to have a health pass, showing that they are either fully vaccinated against covid-19, have recovered from the disease or have a recent negative coronavirus test, in order to enter bars, restaurants, trains, planes and some other public venues from the start of August. The law initially applies to all adults but will apply to everyone aged 12 and above from 30 September. Vaccinations will be mandatory for healthcare workers who are medically able to receive the vaccine, with those who don’t comply risking suspension if they are not fully vaccinated by 15 September. A survey of more than 5000 adults in England conducted by Public Health England found that 41 per cent said they had gained weight since the country’s first coronavirus lockdown in March 2020. “The past sixteen months have caused many to change their habits, so it is not a surprise to see so many people reporting weight gain,” said Alison Tedstone, chief nutritionist at Public Health England, in a statement. The worldwide covid-19 death toll has passed 4.16 million. The number of confirmed cases is more than 194.3 million, according to Johns Hopkins University, though the true number of cases will be much higher. According to Our World In Data, 2.12 billion people globally have received at least one dose of a covid-19 vaccine.

7-26-21 Covid: Fauci says US heading in wrong direction as cases rise
The US is heading "in the wrong direction" on the coronavirus pandemic as infections surge among the unvaccinated, the country's top infectious disease expert has warned. Dr Anthony Fauci said the Delta variant of Covid-19 was driving the spike in areas with low vaccination rates. He said health officials were considering revising mask guidance for vaccinated Americans to curb cases. Offering booster jabs to vulnerable people was also under review, he said. The coronavirus situation in the US is becoming "a pandemic among the unvaccinated", Dr Fauci, the chief medical adviser to US President Joe Biden, told broadcaster CNN on Sunday. More than 162.7 million people - or 49% of the population - have been fully vaccinated in the US, official data shows. The US had been a world leader in jab uptake until April, when vaccination rates started to drop off. Vaccination rates are particularly low in southern states, where fewer than half of residents have received their first dose in some cases. Meanwhile, daily coronavirus infections are on the rise again after numbers fell in May and June. The resurgence has added to the more than 34 million cases and 610,000 deaths recorded so far in the US. The trend has been attributed, in part, to the rapid spread of the highly transmissible Delta variant of Covid. The sharpest increases in Covid cases are in states with lower vaccination rates, such as Florida, Texas and Missouri. Earlier this week, US Surgeon General Vivek Murthy said 99.5% of Covid deaths were occurring among unvaccinated people. In his interview with CNN, Dr Fauci said local leaders in areas with low vaccination rates needed to do more to encourage people to get jabbed. He said he was "very heartened to hear" the Republican governors of Arkansas and Florida promoting vaccinations in their states. Both leaders have been critical of Dr Fauci's advice in the past.

7-26-21 Afghanistan: Record civilian casualties in 2021, UN reports
Afghan civilians were killed or injured at record levels in the first half of this year as violence escalated, the UN says. A new report says Afghanistan recorded more than 1,600 civilian deaths so far in 2021. That's a 47% rise compared with this time last year. And the UN warns the number of deaths could rise still further. Government forces have been fighting Taliban insurgents, who now control large parts of the country. Most international forces have withdrawn after a mission lasting nearly 20 years. Casualties in May and June rose to their highest for this period since the UN began recording the numbers in 2009. According to the UN report, anti-government forces were responsible for 64% of civilian casualties. Pro-government forces accounted for 25%, and 11% are blamed on crossfire. Of all casualties, 32% were children. Peace talks between the two sides are moving slowly. Deborah Lyons, the UN special envoy for Afghanistan, urged both sides to "take heed of the conflict's grim and chilling trajectory". "The report provides a clear warning that unprecedented numbers of Afghan civilians will perish and be maimed this year if the increasing violence is not stemmed," she said in the UN release. A US-led invasion of Afghanistan in 2001 ousted the Taliban from power. This year US President Joe Biden announced the withdrawal of US forces from the country by September. On Saturday top US commander Gen Kenneth McKenzie said their forces would continue carrying out air strikes in support of Afghan troops. He said a Taliban victory was not inevitable. However, Gen McKenzie did not say if the strikes would continue after the end of the US military mission on 31 August. Afghan officials have imposed a month-long nightly curfew across most of the country to try to halt the Taliban advance.

7-26-21 US accused of demonising China in high-level talks
The US has been told to stop "demonising" China, in their most high-level talks under President Biden. China's Vice Foreign Minister Xie Feng said relations had reached a "stalemate" because the US saw China as an "imagined enemy". He is in talks with Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman, the most senior US official to visit China in months. Mr Biden has taken a hard-line approach towards China, especially on issues like human rights and sanctions. Mr Xie had said that the US wanted to "blame China for its own structural problems", according to a statement by China's Ministry of Foreign Affairs. "It is as if when China's development is contained... America would become great again." The US Department of State had earlier said it was hoping to hold "candid exchanges" to "advance US interests and... responsibly manage the relationship". The two-day visit, which ends on Monday, sees Ms Sherman spend two days in the north-eastern port city of Tianjin. The US-China visit is widely being viewed as a preparatory step for an eventual meeting with Mr Biden and his Chinese counterpart President Xi Jinping. Tensions between both countries have been high recently. Last week, China imposed sanctions on several US individuals and organisations, including former Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross. They came after the Biden administration warned its business community against operating in Hong Kong.

7-25-21 The U.S. may be further into Delta surge than it appears
Just how far along into the latest Delta variant-fueled coronavirus surge is the United States? No one knows for sure, but former Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Scott Gottlieb is hopeful the country can "turn a corner" in just two or three weeks, he told CBS News' John Dickerson on Sunday's edition of Face the Nation. There's a couple of reasons behind the relatively optimistic outlook. For starters, Gottlieb, who has criticized the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's wide-ranging forecasts for the current wave, believes it's likely there are a lot of mild or subclinical infections in the U.S., which means the number of cases picked up by testing is probably an underestimate of the virus' actual spread. He's also looking across the pond to the United Kingdom, where cases appear to be trending downward again after rising for several weeks. The U.K., Gottlieb noted, has been a few weeks ahead of the U.S. so far and could serve as a sneak preview of the national trajectory. FiveThirtyEight's Nate Silver also thinks it's worth paying attention to the U.K., as well as India, where the Delta variant originated. Their most recent waves were big ones, but they did appear to turn around quite quickly. Of course, the U.K. needs to show that it can sustain its recent drop, and either way, the U.S. will likely have a less cohesive path out of the latest wave given the disparate vaccination rates across the country.

7-25-21 Man confronts Tucker Carlson in Montana shop, telling him he's 'the worst human being'
Tucker Carlson was confronted on Friday by a man inside a Montana fly fishing shop, who let the Fox News host know he finds him to be "the worst human being known to mankind." The man, Dan Bailey, captured the interaction on video and posted it to his Instagram page, with the footage going viral over the weekend. In the caption, Bailey wrote, "It's not everyday you get to tell someone they are the worst person in the world and really mean it! What an a—hole! This man has killed more people with vaccine misinformation, he has supported extreme racism, he is a fascist, and does more to rip this country apart than anyone that calls themselves an American." Throughout the pandemic, Carlson, the most-watched host on Fox News, has downplayed the coronavirus and stated, falsely, that it's possible the vaccine doesn't work but scientists just aren't telling the truth about it. He's also been slammed by organizations like the Anti-Defamation League for making xenophobic remarks and accused of promoting white supremacist conspiracy theories. In the short video, Bailey is heard telling Carlson, "you are the worst human being known to mankind. I want you to know that." Carlson is seen placing his hand up against Bailey's chest, and says "I appreciate that," before starting to laugh and walking away. A spokesperson for Fox News told NBC News that the confrontation was "totally inexcusable" and "no public figure should be accosted regardless of their political persuasion or beliefs simply due to the intolerance of another point of view." Bailey and Carlson were inside a store called Dan Bailey's Outdoor Company when the incident occurred, but Bailey has no connection to the shop. In a statement, the company said it treats "every customer equally and respectfully."

7-25-21 LA man who mocked Covid-19 vaccines dies of virus
A California man who mocked Covid-19 vaccines on social media has died after a month-long battle with the virus. Stephen Harmon, a member of the Hillsong megachurch, had been a vocal opponent of vaccines, making a series of jokes about not having the vaccine. "Got 99 problems but a vax ain't one," the 34-year-old tweeted to his 7,000 followers in June. He was treated for pneumonia and Covid-19 in a hospital outside Los Angeles, where he died on Wednesday. In the days leading up to his death, Mr Harmon documented his fight to stay alive, posting pictures of himself in his hospital bed. "Please pray y'all, they really want to intubate me and put me on a ventilator," he said. In his final tweet on Wednesday, Mr Harmon said he had decided to go under intubation. "Don't know when I'll wake up, please pray," he wrote. Despite his struggle with the virus, Mr Harmon still said he would reject being jabbed, saying his religious faith would protect him. (Webmasters Comment: Guess what, it didn't!) Prior to his death, had joked about the pandemic and vaccines, sharing memes saying he trusted the Bible over top US disease expert Dr Anthony Fauci. Hillsong founder Brian Houston confirmed news of his death in a tweet on Thursday. "Ben has just passed on to us the devastating news that our beloved friend, Stephen Harmon has passed away from Covid. Heartbreaking," Mr Houston said. In an Instagram post, he paid tribute to Mr Harmon. "He was one of the most generous people I know and he had so much in front of him," he wrote on Instagram. "He would always turn up to our grandkids soccer games and he will be missed by so many. RIP." He added that the church encourages its members "to follow the guidance of their doctors". California has seen a rise in Covid-19 cases in recent weeks, with the majority of those being taken to hospital unvaccinated.

7-25-21 Covid: Delta variant spreads globally as cases soar
The Delta variant of Covid-19 has now been detected in 124 territories worldwide, the World Health Organization (WHO) says. It is expected to become the dominant variant globally in the coming months, with the WHO predicting that there could be more than 200 million confirmed cases within a matter of weeks. Infections are rising, particularly in Europe and the western Pacific region. Some Western countries have started to ease restrictions as death rates have dropped. But those without access to vaccines or with a slower vaccine rollout are facing a deadlier threat. Here, BBC journalists around the world give a sense of the toll the Delta variant is taking and what impact its spread could have. With more than 1,300 deaths in a day, Indonesia has become Asia's new Covid epicentre. Hundreds of people have died in self-isolation - possibly because they could not get immediate treatment or were turned away by overwhelmed hospitals. Wirawan, a firefighter in the capital city of Jakarta, sees the worsening crisis first-hand. He and his team are tasked with picking up bodies from homes before finally delivering them for burial. Before the latest spike in cases, he arranged two or three funerals a day. Now, he gets calls for up to 24 funerals a day. That's more than he can handle, so the bodies need to wait. The country is recording more than 50,000 new daily cases, and the government is keeping emergency restrictions until at least the end of this week. It is likely to extend the measures on Monday. As the new highly transmissible Delta variant, which was first detected in India, continues to ravage the country, Indonesia is racing to vaccine its people. From 208 million people eligible for vaccines, only around 16 million have received both doses. What is the Delta variant? 1. The first cases were identified in India, but it has been reported in lots of countries around the world, 2. It is a variant of concern, meaning it has undergone some genetic changes that are potentially worrying in terms of transmissibility and vaccine escape, 3. In some countries, including the UK, Delta has become the dominant type of Covid circulating, 4. Experts say vaccines still work well to protect against severe disease caused by this variant.

7-25-21 Budapest Pride stands up for LGBT rights in Hungary
LGBT people and their supporters have marched through the capital city of Hungary to defend their rights. It comes as the government tries to limit discussion of homosexuality and transgender issues in schools. A law to limit teaching on the subject came into force this month, and Prime Minister Viktor Orban plans to back it up with a referendum. Many of Hungary's EU partners are furious, and the bloc has begun legal action that could affect EU funding for Hungary. Budapest holds this march every year, but the new law has given the 2021 event special importance. A spokesperson for Hatter, the country's leading LGBTQI rights association, told the BBC's Newshour programme that the law "encourages" and "legitimises being openly homophobic or transphobic". "That damage will remain with us for many many years," Tamas Dombos said. The event's aim is to stand up for a diverse, open and inclusive society. Thousands of people are said to have joined the march, which crossed the city's Liberty Bridge over the Danube. It was as much a celebration of identity as a protest against discrimination. One marcher held up signs that read "Group of supporting parents" and "I love you, support you, accept you". Another sign simply said "Equal rights". A "Stop LGBT" ("LMBT" in Hungarian) protest was also held in the city. Supporters of the law argue they are defending traditional Christian values.

7-25-21 Australia Covid: Anti-lockdown protesters condemned
Australian politicians have condemned protests against coronavirus restrictions amid a rise in cases. Thousands marched through Sydney on Saturday to demand an end to lockdown measures, with smaller demonstrations taking place in Melbourne and Brisbane. At least 57 people involved in the Sydney protest have been charged, while more than 500 have been fined. On Sunday, New South Wales (NSW) premier Gladys Berejiklian said the protesters "should be ashamed". "Millions and millions of people across our state are doing the right thing, and it just broke my heart that people had such a disregard for their fellow citizens," she told reporters. The state recorded 141 new infections on Sunday, the second-highest daily increase of the year. There are fears of a further rise in cases following Saturday's protests. Authorities in NSW are expected to extend the current lockdown, which is set to end on 30 July. Some 13 million Australians are back in lockdown after state governments re-imposed restrictions in recent weeks to combat the highly contagious Delta variant, which has driven up cases across the country. Fewer than 14% of the population have been fully vaccinated, a far lower percentage than most European countries and the US. Prime Minister Scott Morrison, who has been criticised for Australia's vaccine programme, has promised more doses to NSW. But he said that they could not disrupt the rollout nationwide, and stressed that the lockdown in the state would only end when it brought case numbers down. He also branded those who took part in Saturday's demonstrations "selfish" and "self-defeating", saying the protests "only risk the lockdowns running further." Meanwhile, police in Sydney announced on Sunday that two men had been charged with hitting police horses during the protest. A 33-year-old and a 36-year-old will appear in court today.

7-25-21 French parliament passes law mandating vaccinations for health workers
With the number of coronavirus cases and hospitalizations on the rise, the French parliament approved a law early Monday that make COVID-19 vaccinations mandatory for all health workers and creates a special pass for people to use showing they are vaccinated, had a recent negative COVID-19 test, or just got over the coronavirus. This pass will be necessary in order to board planes and trains and enter restaurants and some other public places, The Associated Press reports. Only adults will need the pass for now, but beginning Sept. 30, everyone 12 and older must have one. Health care workers have to start getting vaccinated by Sept. 15, or they could be suspended from their jobs. In France, more than 111,000 people have died of COVID-19, and President Emmanuel Macron says these new measures have to be put in place to protect the vulnerable. Lawmakers first started working on the bill six days ago, and quickly reached a compromise version that was passed by the Senate on Sunday night and National Assembly early Monday, AP reports. On Saturday, about 160,000 protesters demonstrated against the measures, accusing the government of overreach. There are now 20,000 new coronavirus infections being reported daily, up from a few thousand a day earlier this month, and Macron spoke out against the far-right politicians pushing anti-vaccine sentiment. "What is your freedom worth if you say to me, 'I don't want to be vaccinated,' but tomorrow you infect your father, your mother, or myself?" Macron said. The protesters are "free to express themselves in a calm and respectful manner," he added, but they can't wish the virus away.

7-24-21 Why it may be a 'grave mistake' for FDA to wait much longer for full COVID-19 vaccine approval
Zeynep Tufecki, a sociologist who has written extensively on COVID-19 throughout the pandemic, is a proponent of broadening vaccine mandates in the United States, citing precedent in the health-care sector, the military, and schools. Kentucky, she notes in a piece published Saturday in The New York Times, requires anyone working in a long-term care facility to be vaccinated against the flu and pneumococcal disease unless they have a medical or religious exemption (Brown University's Dr. Ashish Jha, another prominent voice during the pandemic, also pointed to flu vaccine mandates in nursing homes as a reason to implement them for the coronavirus). But Tufecki acknowledged that the fact that the Food and Drug Administration has still not granted full authorization for the Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson vaccines is an obstacle to imposing such requirements. Both Pfizer and Moderna, which were granted emergency use late last year, have submitted their applications for full approval, and the former is apparently set to receive the green light no later than January 2022. Tufecki, for one, hopes the stamp comes much more quickly than that, however. "It would be a grave mistake for the agency to take another six months," she writes for the Times, explaining that the extra waiting time "has allowed some anti-vaxxers to claim the vaccines are experimental." Additionally, she argues the holdup "helps feed a misunderstanding" about adverse side effects. The consensus among medical experts is that allergic reactions would occur shortly after inoculation, while other immune reactions could theoretically take longer, but would likely still occur "within the first few weeks and months after vaccination." Waiting, therefore, may suggest to some that the risk of those issues occurring down the line is higher than it is. At this point, Tufecki believes regulators have the six months of data they need, and should move quickly toward approval with the goal of increasing the U.S. vaccination rate again. Read Tufecki's full piece at The New York Times.

7-24-21 What does the Delta variant mean for the fully vaccinated?
The U.S. is seeing a surge in COVID-19 cases driven by the Delta variant. Just how dangerous is it? Here's everything you need to know.

  1. What is the Delta variant? The Delta variant of SARS-CoV-2 — the coronavirus that causes COVID-19 — was first identified in India in December 2020. After ravaging India and sweeping through Great Britain, the Delta variant is now the dominant strain in the U.S., accounting for more than 83 percent of COVID-19 infections.
  2. Is Delta more dangerous? The World Health Organization calls Delta "the fastest and fittest" of the variants, and they don't mean it as a compliment. The Delta mutation modified the protein spikes the coronavirus uses to attach to and infect cells, and those mutations make it at least twice as transmissible as the original strain.
  3. Do the vaccines still work? All three vaccines approved for emergency use in the U.S. — Pfizer/BioNTech, Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson — and others not yet approved — have proved extremely effective against the Delta variant. The vaccines appear to be about 90 percent effective at preventing serious illness and hospitalization, and 99.5 percent of U.S. COVID-19 deaths this year have been among unvaccinated people.
  4. Should vaccinated people worry about "breakthrough" infections? The CDC no longer tracks mild or moderate "breakthrough" infections — instances in which vaccinated individuals contract the virus — so we don't know exactly how common they are. But the CDC does track severe infections among fully vaccinated Americans, and as of July 12, there were 5,492 cases reported, including 1,063 deaths.
  5. Should vaccinated people wear masks? The concensus among most public health experts is that wearing a mask can't hurt, especially in situations where the risk of transmission is higher, like crowded enclosed spaces, or if you're immune compromised. "Avoiding crowded spaces and wearing a mask when you're indoors and don't know the vaccination status of those around you is a good idea," writes Tara Parker-Pope at The New York Times.
  6. How about booster shots? The Food and Drug Administration has not authorized a booster shot of a COVID-19 vaccine, and health experts say it won't be necessary to counter the Delta variant or any other probable mutations in the near future. But on Friday, the Biden administration announced it had purchased an additional 200 million Pfizer doses just in case the data proves otherwise and boosters become necessary in the fall or spring.
  7. Is that likely to happen? It's hard to say, but experts are worried. The Delta variant is also suring in Asia, the Middle East, Africa, Latin America, and Europe, and "the more uncontrolled spread, the more risk of even more dangerous variants," says Dr. Tom Frieden, former CDC director. "Variants remain the wild card for the trajectory of the pandemic.

7-24-21 What experts know so far about COVID-19 boosters for immunocompromised people
A third dose might help better protect some, but the CDC is still deciding on official guidance. People with weak immune systems don’t always mount strong defenses against the coronavirus, even after being fully vaccinated. A third COVID-19 vaccine dose might help protect some immunocompromised people, evidence suggests. But for now, there’s not enough data to say how much such a shot might help, experts with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said July 22. As a result, the agency isn’t yet recommending a third dose and says that vaccinated people in this group should keep wearing masks. With global COVID-19 cases on the rise, finding ways to protect millions of immunocompromised people who are at high risk for severe disease is crucial. In the United States, an estimated 2.7 percent of adults, or 6.8 million people, are immunocompromised. Studies suggest that until transmission of the coronavirus is squashed, millions of organ transplant recipients, cancer patients undergoing treatment and others are still susceptible to severe COVID-19, even if they are lucky enough to have access to shots (SN: 2/26/21). Of 45 vaccinated people admitted to 18 U.S. hospitals for COVID-19 from March 11 to May 5, twenty, or 44 percent, were immunocompromised, according to data presented in a July 22 meeting of the CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices. A third dose of COVID-19 vaccines can boost coronavirus-fighting antibodies in the blood of some immunocompromised patients, laboratory studies suggest. But it’s still unclear whether specific groups might benefit more than others and how effective extra doses might be at preventing severe COVID-19. The immune system, for instance, has more than antibodies in its arsenal to attack the coronavirus and prevent severe disease (SN: 1/27/21). Studies from the real world would provide a clearer picture for how well additional doses might work, and for which groups.

7-24-21 Australia Covid: Arrests at anti-lockdown protests
Demonstrations have taken place in Australian cities against tight restrictions imposed to tackle a rise in Covid cases. Thousands gathered in Sydney, with smaller protests held in Melbourne and Brisbane. People chanted "freedom" as they marched through the centre of Sydney. Officers said they had made 57 arrests. Australian governments have re-imposed lockdowns across the country amid a surge in new infections. The arrival of the highly contagious Delta variant has challenged the country's previous strategy of border closures, quarantine programmes and snap lockdowns which helped keep cases low. Vaccination rates remain the lowest among developed nations, with fewer than 14% of people jabbed. On Saturday thousands of people marched to the centre of Sydney through the suburb of Haymarket. New South Wales (NSW) health authority had moments ago declared the area a Covid hotspot, public broadcaster ABC News reports. Some held placards reading "Drop your mask, raise your voice" and "Wake Up Australia". Protesters blocked roads and gathered outside Sydney's town hall. One group threw bottles at mounted officers. "The NSW Police Force recognises and supports the rights of individuals and groups to exercise their rights of free speech and peaceful assembly, however, today's protest is in breach of the current Covid-19 Public Health Orders," a statement from the force read. Smaller events also took place in Melbourne, where people lit flares outside Parliament House, and in Brisbane, at the Botanic Gardens. Some 13 million Australians - about half its population - are now back in lockdown. Sydney has now been under lockdown for four weeks, but continues to see cases rise. NSW officials announced a record increase of 163 new infections on Saturday. State health minister Brad Hazzard echoed calls by premier Gladys Berejiklian for other states to send extra vaccine doses to NSW.

7-24-21 China imposes sanctions on US officials
China is imposing sanctions on several US individuals and organisations in response to recent US sanctions on Chinese officials in Hong Kong. Those targeted include former US Commerce Secretary, Wilbur Ross. The counter-sanctions come days before US Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman is due to visit China. The US sanctions on Chinese officials in Hong Kong were because of their role in the security crackdown in the territory. Washington also warned its business community of the growing risks of operating in Hong Kong. China introduced the National Security Law in Hong Kong last year in response to massive pro-democracy protests. It criminalises secession, subversion and collusion with foreign forces and carries a maximum sentence of life in prison. China's foreign ministry said on Friday that the recent US sanctions were designed to "groundlessly smear Hong Kong's business environment" and "gravely violate international law and basic norms governing international relations". It said it would impose sanctions on seven US individuals and entities including Mr Ross. As commerce secretary under former President Donald Trump, Mr Ross expanded the number of firms that could not trade with American firms without a prior license, including Chinese telecom giants like Huawei and ZTE. Others sanctioned by China include Sophie Richardson, Human Rights Watch's China director; Carolyn Bartholomew, chair of US-China Economic and Security Review Commission; and Adam King of the International Republican Institute. White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters that the US was "undeterred" by China's retaliation. "These actions are the latest examples of how Beijing punishes private citizens, companies and civil society organisations as a way to send political signals," she said. The relationship between Beijing and Washington became even more strained under the Trump administration. They remain sour on issues including the origins of Covid-19, human rights and cybersecurity.

7-23-21 There's 1 obvious solution to the Delta variant: Mandatory vaccination
Want to fly or go out to eat? Get your shot. The coronavirus pandemic is back in America. Just as many feared, the Delta variant has proved to be extremely contagious, and cases are skyrocketing around the country — up 171 percent nationally over the last two weeks, at time of writing. Worse, in many states well over half the population has not been vaccinated. (Despite a huge head start, the U.S. is now less vaccinated than Denmark, Spain, Italy, and Germany, and other countries are catching up fast.) In heavily-dosed states like Vermont and New Jersey, cases are up considerably, but hospitalizations much less so, because while the vaccines work less well against the Delta strain, they are still nearly 100-percent effective at preventing serious illness. But in conservative states full of Tucker Carlson-addled vaccine refuseniks, cases are skyrocketing and so are hospitalizations — and mass deaths are on the way. "I'm admitting young healthy people to the hospital with very serious COVID infections," one Alabama doctor wrote on Facebook recently. "One of the last things they do before they're intubated is beg me for the vaccine. I hold their hand and tell them that I'm sorry, but it's too late." There is a simple and obvious solution to this problem: mandatory vaccination. Wherever possible, so long as people do not have a legitimate medical reason (such as allergies to other vaccines), they should be required to get their shot. On civil liberties grounds, the case for requiring vaccination is ironclad. Even libertarian philosophers like Robert Nozick admit that the government can coerce people to prevent injury to others. The argument for strict measures to halt the spread of a super-contagious and extremely dangerous virus is essentially the same as for laws against murder. Moreover, the coronavirus vaccines are one of the most-studied treatments in the history of medicine. They are extremely safe for virtually everyone, and again, aside from people with rare vaccine-specific allergies, they are far, far less dangerous than getting COVID. Full FDA approval is simply a matter of jumping through the tedious bureaucratic hoops, and it is a foregone conclusion (hopefully happening soon). There is also a long history of mandatory vaccination in the United States and other countries. Many states imposed smallpox vaccination requirements to stem outbreaks in the 19th century, and the Supreme Court eventually ruled in 1905 that doing so is constitutional.

7-23-21 Alabama governor says it's 'time to start blaming the unvaccinated folks' for 'letting us down'
As COVID-19 cases rise in the state, Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey (R) is blasting those choosing not to get vaccinated for "letting us down." Ivey pleaded with residents of Alabama to get vaccinated against COVID-19 amid a rise in new cases, noting that "the new cases in COVID are because of unvaccinated folks," who she said are "choosing a horrible lifestyle of self-inflicted pain," per CBS 42. When a reporter, pointing out that Alabama is last in the country in its vaccination rate, asked what it will take to get more people vaccinated, Ivey said, "I don't know, you tell me." "Folks are supposed to have common sense," she said. "But it's time to start blaming the unvaccinated folks, not the regular folks. It's the unvaccinated folks that are letting us down." The reporter followed up to ask Ivey, "But as the leader of the state, don't you think it's your responsibility to try and help get this situation under control?" Ivey said she's "done all I know how to do," adding, "I can encourage you to do something, but I can't make you take care of yourself." Alabama, according to CBS, has reported over 9,900 cases of COVID-19 over the past two weeks. But The Washington Post reports that in the state, "only 33.9 percent of the eligible population has been fully vaccinated."

7-23-21 Covid-19 news: Longer gap between Pfizer shots may boost antibodies
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. Longer interval between first and second Pfizer/BioNTech jabs may boost antibody responses. A preliminary study found that a longer gap between the first and second doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech covid-19 vaccine may boost the immune response. The study measured coronavirus antibody responses in 503 healthcare workers in England who received two doses of Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine at different intervals in late 2020 and early 2021, at a time when the alpha coronavirus variant was becoming dominant. They compared a three-week gap and a 10-week gap between the first and second shot, and found that those who had the longer period between the two generated more neutralising antibodies, which can bind the virus and stop it from infecting cells. Coronavirus infections are rising in all four of the UK’s nations, according to the latest results of a random swab testing survey by the Office for National Statistics. An estimated one in 75 people in England had covid-19 in the week up to 17 July, up from one in 95 the previous week. Equivalent estimates for Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales in the week up to 10 July were one in 80 people, one in 170 people and one in 210 people, respectively. New Zealand announced it is closing its travel bubble with all of Australia for at least two months, as a number of states in Australia are experiencing outbreaks of the delta coronavirus variant. The travel bubble allowed people to travel between Australia and New Zealand without quarantining on arrival. Qantas and Air New Zealand said that from 31 July most Australia-New Zealand services would be cancelled, Reuters reported. The European Union’s medicines regulator approved the Moderna covid-19 vaccine for use in children aged 12 and above. The Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine was approved in the EU for use in children aged 12 and older in May. Preliminary data from Israel’s health ministry suggests the Pfizer/BioNTech covid-19 vaccine is less effective at preventing coronavirus infection and symptomatic covid-19 caused by the delta coronavirus variant than it is for other variants. However, while the vaccine was found to be just 40 per cent effective against infection and symptomatic disease due to delta, it remained 91.4 per cent effective at preventing severe covid-19.

7-23-21 A 'significant and far-reaching' heat wave is coming to the U.S. next week
Get your A.C. ready. A "significant and far-reaching" heat wave is expected to bake the U.S. coast to coast over the next few weeks, toppling temperature records and aggravating wildfires and drought conditions on the West coast in particular, Axios and The Washington Post report. When combined with humidity, temperatures will feel "well into the triple digits" for millions of Americans, per the Post, as the heat dome — or an area of high pressure aloft that helps to lock in place hot, dry weather, per Axios — forms this weekend over the West then migrates across the Central Plains. The pattern might also spark severe thunderstorms and strong winds in the northern Great Lakes and New England regions in late July and into August, reports the Post. The Plains could face temperatures in the mid-to-upper 90s or lower 100s, while the Southeast plans to sit pretty in the mid-to-upper 90s range. Many areas in the West could top 100 degrees, writes the Post. Although heat domes are expected this time of year, climate change is exacerbating their "intensity, duration, and frequency," writes Axios. This will be the "fifth distinct heat wave the U.S. will have seen so far this summer." Read more at Axios and The Washington Post.

7-23-21 Alabama governor says it's 'time to start blaming the unvaccinated folks' for 'letting us down'
As COVID-19 cases rise in the state, Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey (R) is blasting those choosing not to get vaccinated for "letting us down." Ivey pleaded with residents of Alabama to get vaccinated against COVID-19 amid a rise in new cases, noting that "the new cases in COVID are because of unvaccinated folks," who she said are "choosing a horrible lifestyle of self-inflicted pain," per CBS 42. When a reporter, pointing out that Alabama is last in the country in its vaccination rate, asked what it will take to get more people vaccinated, Ivey said, "I don't know, you tell me." "Folks are supposed to have common sense," she said. "But it's time to start blaming the unvaccinated folks, not the regular folks. It's the unvaccinated folks that are letting us down." The reporter followed up to ask Ivey, "But as the leader of the state, don't you think it's your responsibility to try and help get this situation under control?" Ivey said she's "done all I know how to do," adding, "I can encourage you to do something, but I can't make you take care of yourself." Alabama, according to CBS, has reported over 9,900 cases of COVID-19 over the past two weeks. But The Washington Post reports that in the state, "only 33.9 percent of the eligible population has been fully vaccinated."

7-23-21 Coronavirus: Was US money used to fund risky research in China?
As the debate continues over the origins of the coronavirus, a fresh row has erupted over virus research being carried out in China using US funds. It's linked to the unproven theory that the virus could have leaked from a lab in Wuhan, the Chinese city where it was first detected. This idea centres on research carried out on bat viruses at the Wuhan Institute of Virology. Republican Senator Rand Paul alleges that US money was used to fund research there that made some viruses (not the coronavirus) more infectious and more deadly, known as "gain-of-function". But his assertion has been firmly rejected by Dr Anthony Fauci, the US infectious diseases chief. "Gain-of-function" is when an organism develops new abilities (or "functions"). This can happen in nature, or it can be achieved in a lab, when scientists modify the genetic code or place organisms in different environments, to change them in some way. For example, this might involve scientists trying to create drought-resistant plants or modify disease vectors in mosquitoes to make them less likely to pass on infections. With viruses that could pose a risk to human health, it means developing viruses that are potentially more transmissible and dangerous. Scientists justify the potential risks by saying the research can help prepare for future outbreaks and pandemics by understanding how viruses evolve, and therefore develop better treatments and vaccines. Yes, it did contribute some funds. Dr Fauci, as well as being an adviser to President Biden, is the director of the US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), part of the US government's National Institutes of Health (NIH). This body did give money to an organisation that collaborated with the Wuhan Institute of Virology. That organisation - the US-based EcoHealth Alliance - was awarded a grant in 2014 to look into possible coronaviruses from bats. EcoHealth received $3.7m from the NIH, $600,000 of which was given to the Wuhan Institute of Virology. In 2019, its project was renewed for another five years, but was then cancelled in April 2020 because of the pandemic.

7-22-21 Louisiana reports its 3rd-highest daily case count of the pandemic
Louisiana is grappling with a sharp rise in new COVID-19 cases amid the spread of the Delta variant in the United States, and state's governor is decrying the spike as "avoidable." Data from Johns Hopkins shows an alarming spike in Louisiana's seven-day rolling average of new COVID-19 cases, as flagged by physician and scientist Eric Topol, who notes the state "now leads the country (per capita)" in its number of cases per 100,000 residents. On Wednesday, the Louisiana Department of Health reported 5,388 new COVID-19 cases, which was the third-highest daily case count since the beginning of the pandemic, according to 4WWL. Thirteen new deaths were reported. "Numbers like this are avoidable, and we should be doing better," Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards said. A spokesperson for the governor's office also said, "This is the fourth surge of COVID-19 in Louisiana. To see such a high increase right now, when vaccines are readily available all across Louisiana, is incredibly disheartening."

7-22-21 CDC reportedly 'staying the course' on its mask guidance
Amid the spread of the Delta variant of COVID-19, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is reportedly "staying the course" on its mask guidance — for now, at least. On Wednesday, The Washington Post reported that officials in the Biden administration are "debating whether they should urge vaccinated Americans to wear masks in more settings" due to a spike in cases caused by the Delta variant of COVID-19. But CBS News reported Thursday that, according to a source close to the discussions, there are "currently no plans to change the CDC guidance on masks ... We're staying the course." A federal health official also told CBS that the CDC isn't currently planning to update its mask guidance, saying, "unless there's some really compelling science that we don't know about yet that emerges, there's just simply no plan to change the guidance." The CDC announced in May that vaccinated Americans mostly wouldn't be advised to wear masks anymore. Amid a spike in cases due to the Delta variant, though, there have been some calls for the guidance to be revised. Former Surgeon General Jerome Adams, for example, said this week that "instead of vax it OR mask it, the emerging data suggests CDC should be advising to vax it AND mask it in areas" where cases are high. And the Post reported that there have been discussions about asking "all Americans to wear masks when vaccinated and unvaccinated people mix at public places or indoors." On Thursday, though, CDC Director Rochelle Walensky said that for vaccinated people, continuing to wear a mask to receive an "extra layer of protection" is an "individual choice." Walensky also noted, though, that "we are always looking at the data as the data come in."

7-22-21 Covid-19 news: Weekly cases in England hit highest level since January
The latest coronavirus news updated every day including coronavirus cases, the latest news, features and interviews from New Scientist and essential information about the covid-19 pandemic. Weekly coronavirus cases and alerts by the NHS Covid-19 app in England are both on the rise. Coronavirus infections are continuing to rise in England, with a record number of people receiving alerts from the NHS Covid-19 app telling them to self-isolate. According to the latest figures from NHS Test and Trace, 259,265 people tested positive for the coronavirus in England in the week up to 14 July – an increase of 33 per cent from the previous week and the highest weekly figure recorded since the week up to 20 January. In the same week, the number of people alerted by the NHS Covid-19 app in England and Wales increased by 16.8 per cent, hitting 618,903 in the week to 14 July – the highest weekly figure recorded to date. China rejected a World Health Organization (WHO) plan for a second phase of an investigation into the origin of the coronavirus pandemic, including investigation of the possibility that the virus escaped from a laboratory in the Chinese city of Wuhan, Reuters reported on 22 July. The second phase of investigation proposed by the WHO included audits of laboratories and markets in Wuhan. Zeng Yixin, vice minister of China’s national health commission told reporters that the WHO plan “in some aspects, disregards common sense and defies science”. Last week, WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said it was premature to rule out the possibility that the virus leaked from a laboratory and urged China to cooperate with the WHO’s investigation. US president Joe Biden said that children under 12 may be able to get vaccinated against covid-19 in the country by the end of August at the earliest. Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna both started trials of their covid-19 vaccines in children under 12 in March, with results expected in the coming months. On 21 July, Biden told a town hall in Ohio that his expectation was that “some time, maybe in the beginning of the school year, at the end of August, beginning of September, October, you’ll get a final approval” for vaccinating children.

7-22-21 Covid-19 pandemic drives US life expectancy fall
Life expectancy in the United States declined by a year-and-a-half during 2020, according to health officials. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) data showed the average US lifespan dropped from 78.8 years in 2019 to 77.3 years in 2020. Researchers said the pandemic was mostly to blame for the decline, with record-high drug deaths also noted as a contributing factor. The data comes amid a resurgence of Covid-19 cases across the country. Hospital rates are also on the rise with daily deaths now almost 50% higher than last week, according to officials. More than 600,000 Americans have died so far during the coronavirus pandemic. The 2020 drop is the sharpest annual decline seen since World War Two. The CDC's National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS) report said the overall average age of 77.3 years was the lowest seen since 2003. The report primarily attributes the decline to increased deaths due to the Covid-19 pandemic. It names unintentional injuries, largely driven by drug overdose deaths, as the second largest contributing factor. Officials said last week that drug overdoses had risen almost 30% in 2020 - reaching a record high of more than 93,000. The report, released on Tuesday, also noted that racial and ethnic disparities in life expectancy had grown during the pandemic. Hispanic men saw the sharpest decline - with 3.7 years knocked off their average life expectancy within the year alone. Black American men also saw a 3.3-year drop, down to an average of just 68 years. Black and Hispanic women also saw sharper declines than both white men and white women. "It is impossible to look at these findings and not see a reflection of the systemic racism in the US," Lesley Curtis, chair of the Department of Population Health Sciences at Duke University School of Medicine, told NPR. "The range of factors that play into this include income inequality, the social safety net, as well as racial inequality and access to health care," she added.

7-22-21 COVID-19 surges in Florida and Texas show the risk to vaccinated residents 'is effectively zero,' officials say
The number of COVID-19 cases in the U.S. has nearly tripled over the past two weeks as the highly infectious Delta variant spreads throughout the country, to a daily average of 37,000 case from fewer than 13,700 on July 6, according to Johns Hopkins. The people starting to flood regional hospitals and those dying are almost all among the 43.8 percent of Americans who are unvaccinated. Florida is one of the drivers of the upsurge in U.S. COVID-19 cases, reporting an average of about 6,500 cases a day over the past week, and Gov. Ron DeSantis is among the rush of high-profile Republicans publicly urging constituents to voluntarily get vaccinated. "If you are vaccinated, fully vaccinated, the chance of you getting seriously ill or dying from COVID is effectively zero," DeSantis said Wednesday "If you look at the people that are being admitted to hospitals, over 95 percent of them are either not fully vaccinated or not vaccinated at all." There will be the occasional "breakthrough" case, he added, but "I can tell you in Florida, your chance of surviving if you're vaccinated is close to 100 percent." One of those breakthrough cases is Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody (R), who announced Wednesday evening that she has tested positive despite being vaccinated and is "only experiencing mild symptoms." Four days ago, Moody traveled to Texas last week with DeSantis and state Senate President Wilton Simpson (R) for a press conference at the Mexico border with Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) and several other state officials. Texas is also seeing an steep uptick in coronavirus cases, and the Texas Department of State Health Services said Wednesday that of the 8,787 Texans who have died of COVID-19 since early February, at least 43 were fully vaccinated. "That means 99.5 percent of people who died due to COVID-19 in Texas from Feb. 8 to July 14 were unvaccinated, while 0.5 percent were the result of 'breakthrough infections,'" The Texas Tribune notes. Data from Britain and other high-vaccine countries backs that up. "No vaccine is 100 percent," Dr. David Lakey, the chief medical officer of the University of Texas System, told the Tribune. The COVID-19 vaccines are "really, really good at preventing severe disease and hospitalizations," but "there will always be some individuals that will succumb to the illness in the absence of full herd immunity."

7-22-21 Alabama doctor says her unvaccinated COVID patients are 'so regretful for the choice that they made'
It's too late. That's what Alabama Dr. Brytney Cobia tells unvaccinated COVID-19 patients moments before they're intubated: "One of the last things they do ... is beg me for the vaccine. I hold their hand and tell them that I'm sorry, but it's too late," writes For Cobia, caring for a patient who "could have prevented their disease but chose not to" is a different game, "mentally and emotionally." When she actually meets infected, unvaccinated patients "face to face," "it really changes your whole perspective, because they're still just a person that thinks that they made the best decision that they could with the information that they have, and all the misinformation that's out there." And when she leaves their room, all she sees is a person that is "so regretful for the choice that they made," per Cobia says she always asks if unprotected patients — who were perhaps influenced by something on Facebook, or the news — have made an appointment to discuss the vaccine with their primary care doctor. "And so far, nobody has answered yes to that question." Later, if the patient passes, Cobia tells their distraught families that the best way to honor their loved one is to get the shot. Afterwards, "I go back to my office, write their death note, and say a small prayer that this loss will save more lives." Alabama's vaccination rate is the lowest in the nation — only 33.7 percent of the population is fully vaccinated, notes State officials report 96 percent of COVID-19 deaths since April were among those who were not fully vaccinated. Read more at

7-22-21 Covid: Where and why is the US vaccine rollout slowing down?
President Joe Biden is urging Americans to get jabbed as the country's vaccination rollout slows down. Infections are rising across the country, and in some states fewer than half of residents have received their first dose. We've looked into where vaccinations are lagging, and why this might be. Supply isn't generally a problem in the US, and anyone over the age of 12 is eligible to receive an authorised vaccine. But after being one of the world leaders in vaccine uptake until the middle of April, the US vaccination rate has slowed down. The US now lags behind neighbouring Canada in terms of doses administered as share of total population, as well as the UK, Italy and Germany. It's still ahead of some other major economies, such as Japan, but the vaccination rate in the US is dropping off as it climbs elsewhere. The US still hasn't reached the target set by President Biden of 4 July for getting 70% of those over 18 vaccinated with at least one shot - currently around 68% of adults have received their first dose. New infections have more than doubled in the US in the past month - and according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the vast majority of new cases and deaths are among the unvaccinated. States in the south of the US tend to have the lowest vaccine uptake. Mississippi and Louisiana have the lowest - both with less than 40% of residents having received at least one dose. North-eastern states tend to have among the highest vaccine uptake - with about 75% of people in Vermont and Massachusetts receiving at least one dose. Prof Peter Hotez, a vaccine expert at the Baylor College of Medicine, says: "It's practically halted in the southern states - despite the widespread availability of the vaccine, we have a sharp divide." "In the southern states, and in the mountain west states, most of older adults are vaccinated but a lot of the younger ones are not - and that's where the big gap lies."

7-22-21 How anti-vaccine groups are camouflaging themselves on Facebook
Certain anti-vaccination groups are changing their names on Facebook in an attempt at evading bans from the social network, NBC News reports. Euphemisms include names like "Dance Party" or "Dinner Party," which then signal to members to use coded language and words to fit those themes. For example, during discussions that typically "perpetuate debunked theories about the vaccines," members write "danced" or "drank beer" to mean "got the vaccine," per NBC News. "Pizza" often refers to Pfizer, and "Moana" to Moderna. Users generally "play around with unofficial language about dancing to create more coded language," NBC News writes. And the charade contains on Instagram — some anti-vax influencers reportedly refer to the vaccinated as "swimmers" and the act of vaccination as "joining a 'swim club.'" Such tactics have been "ratcheting up" amid increased White House pressure on social media to "do more to contain vaccine misinformation," NBC News writes. But the playbook itself has been around for some time; anti-vaccination activists, as well as other internet extremists, have employed "leetspeak" — or modified language that replaces letters with numbers or symbols — to circumvent online detection before now, as well. Leetspeak is "part of the culture of anti-vaccination activists," siad Joan Donovan, research director at Harvard Kennedy School's Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy. Its rampant usage "underscores" the difficulty Facebook has in containing vaccine and COVID-19 misinformation, writes NBC News. Read more at NBC News.

7-22-21 Covid: China rejects WHO plan for second phase of virus origin probe
China has rejected the next stage of a World Health Organization (WHO) plan to investigate the origins of the coronavirus pandemic. The WHO wants to audit laboratories in the area the virus was first identified. But Zeng Yixin, deputy health minister, said this showed "disrespect for common sense and arrogance toward science". WHO experts said it was very unlikely the virus escaped from a Chinese lab, but the theory has endured. Investigators were able to visit Wuhan - the city where the virus was first detected in December 2019 - in January this year. But earlier this month WHO head Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus outlined the terms of the inquiry's next phase. This included looking at certain science research institutions. He has now called on China to be more co-operative about the early stages of the outbreak. He urged Beijing to "be transparent, to be open and co-operate" with investigators and provide raw patient data that had not been shared during the first probe. Speaking at a press conference on Thursday, Mr Zeng said he was extremely surprised by the WHO proposal because it focused on alleged violations of China's laboratory protocols. He said it was "impossible" for China to accept the terms, adding that the country had submitted its own origins-tracing recommendations. "We hope the WHO would seriously review the considerations and suggestions made by Chinese experts and truly treat the origin tracing of the Covid-19 virus as a scientific matter, and get rid of political interference," Reuters quoted Mr Zeng as saying. Yuan Zhiming, director of the National Biosafety Laboratory at the Wuhan Institute of Virology, also appeared at the press conference. He said the virus was of natural origin and maintained no virus leak or staff infections had occurred at the facility since it opened in 2018.

7-22-21 Monkeypox: More than 200 contacts tracked in US for rare disease
More than 200 people in 27 US states are being tracked for possible rare monkeypox infections, health officials say. They fear people may have come in to contact with a Texas man who brought the disease in from Nigeria earlier this month. The man - believed to be the first monkeypox case in the US since 2003 - was taken to hospital but is in a stable condition. So far, no new cases have been found. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says it is concerned passengers who were on board two flights the man made may have been exposed to the disease. He flew into Atlanta, Georgia from Lagos, Nigeria on 9 July, before taking a flight to Dallas, where he was hospitalised, the CDC said. It said it was working with the airlines to assess "potential risks to those who may have had close contact with the traveller". But the chances of the disease spreading on the plane were low because passengers had to wear face masks, it added. A CDC spokesperson told the BBC it was "working with state and local health departments to follow up with individuals who may have been exposed to monkeypox". "The risk to the general public is thought to be low," the spokesperson said, adding that none of the 200 people they were monitoring were thought to be "high risk". Monkeypox is a rare viral disease from the same family as smallpox, but is much less severe. It occurs mostly in remote parts of central and west African countries, near tropical rainforests. Most cases of the virus are mild, sometimes resembling chickenpox, and clear up on their own within a few weeks. Monkeypox can sometimes be more severe, however, with one in 100 cases being deadly, according to the CDC. Though rare, the disease has been discovered in the US before. A 2003 outbreak caused 47 confirmed or probable cases, and was linked to rats flown into the country.

7-22-21 Critical race theory: the concept dividing the US
Critical race theory has become a topic of fierce political debate in the US in recent months. The conflict has most prominently played out in public school districts, as parents, teachers and school administrators grapple with how to teach race, discrimination and inequality in the classroom. For supporters, it's an important framework for understanding the way systemic racism can perpetuate discrimination and disadvantage. For opponents, it's a subversive plan to indoctrinate young Americans to reject their country and its history. To start, there is an inability to even agree on what critical race theory is, where it came from and what it seeks to accomplish. Beneath the rhetoric, however, lies an ongoing fundamental dispute about equality and equity - what these concepts mean, and what government's role should be in addressing them. Critical race theory (CRT) originated as a field of legal study in the 1970s spearheaded by Derrick Bell, Harvard University's first permanently-appointed black law professor, to address what he saw as shortcomings in understanding how discrimination and inequity are perpetuated in the law. These inequities shape outcomes in society, the economy, culture and politics, he argued. The term itself first began to gain prominence in the 1990s and early 2000s, as more scholars wrote and researched on the topic. Although the field of study traditionally has been the domain of graduate and legal study, it has served recently as a framework for academics trying to find ways of addressing racial inequities through the education system - particularly in light of last summer's Black Lives Matter protests. "The George Floyd murder caused this whole nation to take a look at race and racism, and I think there was a broad recognition that something was amiss," says Marvin Lynn, a critical race theory scholar and professor of education at Portland State University.

7-22-21 I survived Norway's worst terror attack
On 22 July 2011, far-right extremist Anders Breivik set off a car bomb outside government offices in Oslo and, two hours later, attacked a summer camp for young political activists on Utøya island. Seventy-seven people were killed that day - most of them on the island. Lisa Husby was 19 years old at the time and one of the youth camp's leaders. Ten years on, she reflects on her narrow escape from the gunman and how events that day have shaped her life.

7-22-21 Nord Stream 2: US and Germany reach deal on controversial Russian gas pipeline
The US says it has reached a deal with Germany to prevent Russia from using its Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline as political leverage over Europe. The near-complete 1,230km (764 miles) pipeline under the Baltic Sea will double Russian gas exports to Germany. US official Victoria Nuland said it was "a bad pipeline", but said the deal envisaged sanctions against Moscow if it tried to blackmail Ukraine. Ukraine says the Nord Stream 2 pipeline threatens its security. The country has been fighting Russian-backed separatists in the east since 2014. Russia also annexed the Crimea peninsula from Ukraine in 2014. Kyiv fears a full-scale Russian invasion once Nord Stream 2 is fully operational. Ukraine also stands to lose about $3bn (£2.2bn) a year in gas transit fees. Poland is also opposing the pipeline, which runs from Vyborg in Russia under the Baltic Sea to Lubmin in Germany. Poland says the $10bn project threatens the security of central and eastern Europe. Russia denies this and describes the project as commercially beneficial for all involved. Under the terms of the US-German deal, Ukraine will get $50 million in green energy technology credits and a guarantee of repayment for gas transit fees it will lose by being bypassed by the pipeline through 2024, according to the Associated Press. In May, US President Joe Biden's administration waived sanctions on a company building the pipeline, despite a strong opposition from Republican lawmakers. Mr Biden's White House opposes the pipeline, but analysts say he is reluctant to risk a transatlantic rift with Germany at a time when he has been trying to reach out to European allies. Like its already operational twin Nord Stream, the new pipeline will have the capacity of 55bn cubic metres of gas per year to Europe.

7-21-21 U.S., Germany reach deal to pave way for completion of controversial Russian gas pipeline
The Biden administration officially announced an agreement with Germany on Wednesday that paves the way for the completion of the controversial Nord Stream 2 pipeline, which will transport natural gas from Russia to Germany. The U.S. has opposed the pipeline for some time because it threatens Ukraine's energy security and provides Russia with significant geopolitical leverage. But President Biden is prioritizing Washington's alliance with Berlin. In the announcement, the White House said both Germany and the U.S. are still "united in their determination to hold Russia to account" should it step out of line and will continue to support Ukraine's energy security. The agreement is attempting to back up that latter point by, among other things, aiming to "promote and support investments of at least $1 billion" for renewable energy infrastructure in Ukraine. But there's already been pushback. Ukraine, in a joint statement with Poland (which also views the pipeline as a threat), suggested the U.S.-German proposals were insufficient and called on the two countries to "adequately address the security crisis in our region." Biden was also criticized by Republican members of Congress, who think he handed Russian Vladimir Putin a gift, as well as Democrats. For example, Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) said he's "not happy about" the decision to let Russia finish the pipeline, while Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) called it a "mistake." Read more about Nord Stream 2 at The Week.

7-21-21 Unvaccinated nursing home staffers linked to rise in cases, deaths among residents
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention investigators have found that with the Delta coronavirus variant spreading across the U.S., nursing homes where there are several unvaccinated staffers are seeing outbreaks among residents, including inoculated residents, The Associated Press reports. Nursing home residents represent about 1 percent of the U.S. population but account for 22 percent of reported COVID-19 deaths, with more than 133,400 dying since last spring. Nationwide, roughly 59 percent of nursing home staffers and 80 percent of residents are vaccinated, Medicare says. In some states, however, the rates are much lower. In Mesa County, Colorado, a coronavirus hotspot, investigators found that at one nursing home facility, 42 percent of the staff and just 8 percent of residents were not fully vaccinated. There was a COVID-19 infection rate of 30 percent among vaccinated residents and staff members, with most of the cases among residents, AP reports. Vaccinated people infected by the Delta variant primarily report mild symptoms, but the elderly may "not respond fully to the vaccine," Dr. Joshua Sharfstein, vice dean for public health practice at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, told AP. There is "enormous risk" of someone coming into an elder care facility with COVID-19, he said, and "vaccinating workers in nursing homes is a national emergency because the Delta variant is a threat to even those already vaccinated." Many operators of elder care facilities do not want to make vaccines mandatory, over concerns it will lead to people quitting. At one Indiana nursing home, where 44 percent of the staff is vaccinated, seven residents died of COVID-19 during an outbreak that started in mid-June; one of the victims was vaccinated. Howard County health officer Dr. Emily Backer told AP the staff vaccination rate is "lower than we'd like. But at this point, they can't force them." Laura Gelezunas' vaccinated mother, Joann, resides in a nursing home in Missouri, and after multiple emails and phone calls, the nursing home confirmed Joann had COVID-19. The nursing home tried to pin the blame on visitors, but Gelezunas believes an unvaccinated staffer brought the virus into the nursing home. "My mom is bedridden," she told AP. "I got people taking intimate care of her and you're telling me you can't tell me that at $7,500 a month that my mom can't have someone that's vaccinated take care of her?"

7-21-21 Biden believes in bipartisanship, but admits the 'well has been so poisoned over the last 4 years'
President Biden is standing firm on bipartisanship, telling the audience at CNN's town hall in Cincinnati on Wednesday night that it produces results. Biden worked with Republicans during his time as a senator and vice president, and said he will continue to do so as president. "I'm going to say something outrageous," he told moderator Don Lemon. "I don't know you'll find any Republican I ever worked with who says I ever broke my word, didn't do exactly what I said I would do and keep my word. And I was able to get an awful lot of compromises put together to do really good things, to change things." This is still possible today, Biden said, although he acknowledged that the "well has been so poisoned over the last four years, and even now there's still this lingering effort." Republicans have come up to Biden privately to say they agree him on issues, the president said, but add that if they vote along with him, they'll face primary challenges. Still, "I think that's all beginning to move," Biden said. "I don't mean overnight, don't get me wrong, I'm not playing out some panacea here, but I think people are figuring out that if we want to ... I've always found you get rewarded for doing what you think at the time is the right thing and people really believe you believe it's the right thing to do. And so I think you're seeing it coming together." Biden thinks that on Monday, the $1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill will move forward after the procedural vote. "I'm not being facetious," he said. "You had up to 20 Republicans sign the letter saying, 'We think we need this deal.'" He's in close contact with Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio), with the pair routinely discussing the bill. "Portman is a good man," Biden said. "I talked to him before I got here, and I really mean, he's a decent, honorable man, and he and I are working on trying to get this infrastructure bill passed."

7-21-21 Biden says even people who think he's 'Satan reincarnate' have to know something happened on Jan. 6
President Biden supports a bipartisan investigation into the Jan. 6 Capitol attack, and believes anyone who watched the events unfold should, too. "I don't care if you think I'm Satan reincarnate, the fact is you can't look at that television and say, nothing happened on the 6th," he told CNN's Don Lemon during a town hall Wednesday night in Cincinnati. On Jan. 6, supporters of former President Donald Trump stormed the Capitol, seeking to stop lawmakers from certifying Biden's election victory. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) has formed a 13-member select committee to investigate the attack, and has placed eight people on the panel, including Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.). House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) selected five GOP lawmakers for the committee, and on Wednesday Pelosi rejected two of them: staunch Trump ally Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) and Rep. Jim Banks (R-Ind.), who both voted in favor of challenging the election certification. McCarthy said without all five on the committee, Republicans will not participate in the investigative process. Biden also slammed conspiracy theorists who are spreading "venom" about the coronavirus and Jan. 6 attack, telling the town hall audience, "You can't listen to people who say: This is a peaceful march." They go hand-in-hand with people who believe in the false QAnon conspiracy, Biden said, and the United States has "got to get beyond this. This is not who we are."

7-21-21 Covid-19 news: England may have to reimpose restrictions in August
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. Science advisers warn England may have to bring back restrictions if hospitalisations exceed predicted peak levels. Coronavirus restrictions may have to be reimposed in England in August if hospital admissions rise above predicted peak levels, according to scientists advising the UK government. Modelling by the government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) has suggested that there will be between 1000 and 2000 hospital admissions per day at the peak of the UK’s current wave, expected to be reached in mid-August. On 20 July, the i newspaper reported that if hospital admissions exceed these estimates, SAGE members advised that measures like the mandatory wearing of face coverings and recommendations for people to work from home should be reintroduced. The delta variant of the coronavirus now makes up 83 per cent of all sequenced cases in the US, said Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on 20 July. “This is a dramatic increase, up from 50 per cent the week of 4 July,” Walensky told the US senate, adding that covid-19 deaths in the US had also risen by 48 per cent in a week to an average of 239 per day. On 21 July, the World Health Organization said that the delta variant is on track to become the dominant variant globally in the coming months. More than 4300 people in India have died of a rare fungal infection called mucormycosis, which mainly affects immunocompromised people and has recently been seen in covid-19 patients treated with drugs that suppress the immune system. India has recorded 45,374 cases of the infection, also referred to as “black fungus”, said health minister Mansukh Mandaviya, with the states of Maharashtra and Gujarat worst affected. About half of Australia’s population is under a coronavirus lockdown, with stay-at-home orders now in place in South Australia, Victoria and parts of New South Wales. According to Our World In Data, 11.4 per cent of Australia’s population was fully vaccinated as of 20 July, compared to 53.4 per cent in the UK and 48.3 per cent in the US. People who develop a weaker antibody response to the coronavirus and those who become more severely ill with covid-19 may be more likely to develop long covid, according to a small study. The study followed 146 people with covid-19, about 10 per cent of whom were still experiencing symptoms after two months. The study, published in the Journal of Clinical Immunology, also found that long covid occurred more frequently in females compared to males. The worldwide covid-19 death toll has passed 4.12 million. The number of confirmed cases is more than 191.5 million, according to Johns Hopkins University, though the true number of cases will be much higher. According to Our World In Data, 2.08 billion people globally have received at least one dose of a covid-19 vaccine.

7-21-21 CDC: U.S. life expectancy dropped by 18 months in 2020, and double that for Black and Latino Americans
Life expectancy in the U.S. fell by a year and half in 2020, the largest one-year decline since World War II, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS) reported Wednesday. The numbers were worse for Black and Hispanic Americans, whose life expectancies plummeted by about three years. For Black Americans, that was the steepest year-over-year drop since the mid-1930s. The COVID-19 pandemic was responsible for about 74 percent of the overall decline in U.S. life expectancy, the NCHS found, and 11 percent of America's 3.3 million deaths. "It's horrific," Anne Case, a professor emeritus of economics and public affairs at Princeton University, told The Washington Post. "It's not entirely unexpected given what we have already seen about mortality rates as the year went on, but that still doesn't stop it from being just horrific, especially for non-Hispanic Blacks and for Hispanics." Mark Hayward at the University of Texas called the abrupt fall in U.S. mortality "basically catastrophic." Life expectancy is the estimated number of years a child born in any given year can expect to live, a fairly reliable statistical yard stick for a country's health. A child born in 2020 could expect to live for about 77 years, 4 months, the NCHS estimated, down from 78 years, 10 months in 2019. White life expectancy was 77 years, 7 months; Black life expectancy was 71 years, 10 months; and Hispanic life expectancy, historically above the national average, fell to 78 years, 10 months. Life expectancy has generally risen a little each year since 1943, when it was 63 years, 4 months. The low point of the 20th century was 39 years, 1 month in 1918, during the last devastating global pandemic. COVID-19 wasn't the only contributor to the fall in life expectancy. There were also a record-high 93,000 drug overdose deaths, which accounted for 11 percent of the drop in expected longevity, the NCHS reported. Other contributing causes included homicide, diabetes, and cirrhosis and other liver diseases. All in all, that tells a "pretty dark story about what's happening in the U.S.," Case said. Health experts expect the life expectancy numbers to rise again, but not this year and probably not for a couple of years after that.

7-21-21 Ratings of Black-White Relations at New Low
For the second consecutive year, U.S. adults' positive ratings of relations between Black and White Americans are at their lowest point in more than two decades of measurement. Currently, 42% of Americans say relations between the two groups are "very" or "somewhat" good, while 57% say they are "somewhat" or "very" bad. The most recent rating of Black-White relations in the U.S. is not statistically different from last year's 44%. However, the reading has eroded nine percentage points over the past two years as the nation has grappled with the murder of George Floyd and the subsequent nationwide protests and calls for racial justice. As recently as 2001, 70% of U.S. adults rated Black-White relations positively. That changed after several high-profile killings of unarmed Black people by police officers around the U.S. These incidents precipitated the formation of multiple social justice movements that remain active today. The latest findings are from a June 1-July 5 Gallup poll that includes an oversample of Black Americans weighted to their correct proportion of the population. During the poll's field period, Derek Chauvin, the former police officer convicted of killing Floyd, was sentenced to one of the longest prison terms ever handed down to a U.S. police officer for unlawful use of deadly force. While White Americans have typically been more likely than Black Americans to say race relations are good, at least slim majorities of both racial groups rated them positively until 2016. Although the racially divisive events of the past few years have taken a toll on both Black and White Americans' views of race relations, Black adults' views continue to lag White adults'. Currently, 10 points separate Black and White adults' views of race relations -- 33% vs. 43%. Each reading is the lowest on record for both racial groups. This gap is identical to last year's but smaller than in 2018 (14 points). Americans' poor assessment of Black-White relations stands alone in their assessments of relations between other U.S. racial and ethnic groups. Majorities of Americans rate relations between Hispanic and White people, Black and Hispanic people, Asian and White people, and Black and Asian people as good. Full details of these data will be reported in a subsequent story.

7-21-21 US judge upholds Indiana University vaccine requirement
A federal judge has refused to block a university's requirement that students be vaccinated, in what is believed to be the first such ruling in the US. Indiana University's policy says that students, faculty and staff must have Covid-19 vaccinations by 15 August. Eight students had sued to have the rule scrapped, alleging it violated their right to make their own choices. But the judge disagreed in his ruling, noting students have other methods to avoid vaccination. In their complaint, the students alleged that their constitutional rights to "personal autonomy" and to reject medical treatment were being trampled. US District Course Judge Damon Leichty found, however, that the school's policy does not amount to forced vaccinations. The judge wrote that the students have a number of options open to them, including applying for medical deferrals, taking a semester off or attending another school. Religious and ethical exemptions are also available for students to request on the university's website. Mr Leichty, who was appointed by former President Donald Trump, added that the students are unlikely to be able to prove in court that their rights have been infringed upon. A lawyer for the students has vowed to appeal the decision. The students had cited a number of reasons for opposing the policy, including a statistically low risk of contracting Covid-19 and the unclear long-term impact of the vaccine. The legal complaint also compared the vaccination policy to the Tuskegee Study, an unethical experiment during the 1930s in which African-American patients were deliberately withheld available syphilis treatments. Indiana is one of nearly 600 colleges across the country that have required Covid-19 vaccinations this year. Vaccines have become a politically contentious issue in the US and many Americans remain hesitant about the jabs. President Joe Biden has warned that the country is falling short of their vaccination goals. US health officials have also cautioned that the number of infections in the country has begun to rise in recent days. Experts say the pandemic is unlikely to end until more people are vaccinated.

7-21-21 What life will be like now England's covid-19 restrictions have lifted
WITH more than half of adults in the UK having received two doses of vaccine against covid-19, the UK government has decided that the time has come to lift most restrictions in England and get on with life alongside the virus. Since 19 July, people in England have been free to meet up with whoever they want, wherever and whenever they like, for the first time since November 2020, and nightclubs have reopened for the first time since March 2020. Masks and social distancing are largely no longer mandated. But it won’t quite be business as usual, with a predicted spike in cases reaching 100,000 per day in mid-August. So what does it mean to “live with covid” once restrictions have lifted, and what insights can we glean for those living elsewhere too? The largest spike in recorded cases in the UK so far was in January 2021, which reached around 60,000 a day. But the current wave is different to those that came before. Thanks to vaccines protecting those most at risk, and because the virus is now spreading more among younger people, the link between cases and hospital admissions and deaths has been weakened – but not broken. Overall, UK government advisers say there is now a fourfold lower chance of hospitalisation and roughly tenfold lower chance of death, compared with the UK’s second wave of covid-19, which started in August 2020. The earliest the next wave might peak is predicted to be mid-August, although the timing hinges on how fast behaviour flips back to pre-pandemic ways, including how many close contacts people make each day, whether face masks are worn in crowded places and how many people work from home. A central case modelled for the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE), which advises the UK government, suggests there would be 100 to 200 deaths and 1000 to 2000 hospitalisations daily at the peak.

7-21-21 Covid: Anger as half of Australians in lockdown again
Anger is growing in Australia as 13 million people - about half the population - endure fresh lockdowns to quash Covid outbreaks. A third state went into lockdown on Tuesday. Stay-at-home orders are now in place in South Australia, Victoria and parts of New South Wales. Many people have expressed frustration at being back in highly policed lockdowns 18 months into the pandemic. And re-openings in the UK and the US have put pressure on the government. Fewer than 14% of people are vaccinated - the worst rating among OECD nations. Prime Minister Scott Morrison has been heavily criticised over the slow vaccination rate, but has resisted calls to apologise. "No country has got their pandemic response 100%," he told reporters on Wednesday. He again mentioned Australia's success in keeping overall infections low compared to those in many nations. 915 people have died of Covid in Australia. Mr Morrison noted that the UK had recorded more than 90 deaths in a single day on Tuesday. Until recently, Australia's strategy of border closures, quarantine programmes and snap lockdowns helped keep cases low. But the highly contagious Delta variant has challenged these defences in the past month. The outbreak in Sydney - Australia's largest city - has infected more than 1,500 people and officials reported more than 110 new cases on Wednesday, despite the city being in lockdown for a fourth week. There are fears Sydney's lockdown could extend into September. Australian authorities have said they intend to eliminate local cases completely until a majority of people are vaccinated, but in Sydney eliminating cases could take months. Victoria - which saw 22 new infections on Wednesday - will keep its lockdown until at least Tuesday. And in south Australia a seven-day lockdown has been called after five cases of the Delta variant were found.

7-21-21 Gender reveal party couple face jail over deadly California wildfire
A US couple whose gender reveal party last year was blamed for starting a deadly California wildfire face up to 20 years in prison, officials say. Refugio Manuel Jimenez Jr and Angela Renee Jimenez have been charged with several offences, including involuntary manslaughter, over the El Dorado fire. Officials say a smoke bomb used at the gender event last September sparked the blaze, in which one firefighter was killed and others were hurt. The couple have pleaded not guilty. The El Dorado fire lasted more than two months and covered over 22,000 acres of southern California, destroying homes and other properties. The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, known as Cal Fire, alleged that a "smoke-generating pyrotechnic device" used during a gender reveal party near the city of Yucaipa on 5 September was the cause of the blaze. The wildfire was eventually extinguished on 16 November. Firefighter Charles Morton was killed tackling the blaze and several other firefighters were seriously injured. On Tuesday, San Bernardino County officials said the couple who organised the gender reveal party had been charged with involuntary manslaughter and for recklessly causing a fire resulting in injury and damage to homes. They face prison sentences "extending" up to 20 years if found guilty on all charges, prosecutors said. The couple are due to appear in court on 15 September. Gender reveal parties are celebrations announcing whether expecting parents are going to have a girl or a boy. They can include prediction games, with the "big reveal" being made with fireworks and coloured smoke grenades. In recent years, several large-scale parties have gone wrong. In February, father-to-be Christopher Pekny, 28, died after a device he was building for his child's gender reveal party reportedly exploded. The US is currently battling a huge wildfire in state of Oregon that has already scorched an area larger than the city of Los Angeles, prompting thousands of evacuations.

7-20-21 Couple whose gender reveal party sparked California fire charged with involuntary manslaughter
A Southern California husband and wife who used a pyrotechnic device during a gender reveal party last September, sparking the El Dorado Fire that killed a firefighter, have been charged with involuntary manslaughter, authorities said Tuesday. Refugio Manuel Jimenez Jr. and Angela Renee Jimenez pleaded not guilty on Monday to one felony count of involuntary manslaughter and felony and misdemeanor counts related to the fire, The Associated Press reports. They were released on their own recognizance. On Sept. 5, the couple held a gender reveal at the El Dorado Ranch Park in Yucaipa. The temperature soared above 100 degrees that day, and there were strong winds. After they set off a pyrotechnic device in a field, a spark landed on the dry grass, and flames quickly spread. The family threw bottled water at the brush and called 911, but the fire was already out of control. While fighting the El Dorado Fire, Charles Morton, 39, was killed on Sept. 17 when flames overran the area where he was cutting fire breaks with his crew, the Big Bear Interagency Hotshot Squad. The fire scorched national forest land, injured 13 people, forced hundreds of evacuations, and destroyed five houses and 15 buildings.

7-20-21 Lambda, a COVID-19 'variant of interest,' reported in Houston
Houston Methodist Hospital has confirmed its first case of the Lambda coronavirus variant, the Texas hospital system announced Tuesday. First detected in Peru in December, Lambda has been designated as "a variant of interest" by the World Health Organization, and shares mutations in common with the Gamma variant, which is dominant in Brazil. While Lambda is the predominant strain in Peru, health officials say the Delta variant is still the primary concern in the U.S. "There's a lot more evidence that we have that Delta is much more contagious, the viral loads are much higher," Dr. Wesley Long, medical director of Diagnostic Microbiology at Houston Methodist, told ABC News. There are 185 COVID-19 patients in the Houston Methodist Hospital, as of Monday, and 85 percent have been diagnosed with the Delta variant; a majority are unvaccinated. The hospital system said there is an "alarming spike in the number of COVID-19 cases across the Houston area, with the steepest increase happening over the weekend. The increased hospitalizations add stress to many of our hospitals that are nearing capacity." The Delta variant, first detected in India in December, has been designated by WHO as a "variant of concern" and accounts for about 83 percent of all sequenced COVID-19 cases in the U.S., Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said on Tuesday. In Texas, 51 percent of the population 12 and older is fully vaccinated.

7-20-21 Covid-19 news: 1 in 5 NHS Covid-19 app users have contact tracing off
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. Poll finds one in five NHS Covid-19 app users have contact tracing disabled, as government urges people to self-isolate when alerted. A poll by YouGov found that one in five NHS Covid-19 app users surveyed between 15 and 16 July said they currently had the contact tracing feature turned off or Bluetooth disabled. The NHS Covid-19 app is the coronavirus contact tracing app for England and Wales and is designed to alert users if they come into contact with someone who later tests positive for the coronavirus, advising them to self-isolate. On top of the 20 per cent of users who said they had turned off contact tracing or Bluetooth in the app, a further 14 per cent of users said they currently had contact tracing switched on but had turned it off at certain times in the past. The number of excess deaths in India during the covid-19 pandemic may be 10 times higher than the official death toll, according to a study by the Center for Global Development, a non-profit think-tank based in the US. It estimates that between 3.4 million and 4.9 million more people died than would have been otherwise expected between January 2020 and June 2021, compared to India’s official covid-19 death toll of about 400,000 as of the end of June. The study extrapolated death registration data from seven states in India and used data from a survey of more than 800,000 people across all states to come up with the estimates. China reported its highest daily increase in coronavirus cases since January on 19 July. There were 65 cases confirmed in a single day in mainland China, up from 31 the day before, according to health officials. The majority of the cases were in people who had recently arrived from abroad. US president Joe Biden has urged people in the country to “please, please get vaccinated” against covid-19, as coronavirus cases continue to rise. In a speech on 19 July, Biden said that four states with low vaccination rates accounted for 40 per cent of all cases in the US during the previous week. “Get vaccinated now,” he said.

7-20-21 3 smart ideas for vaccinating the skeptics
With new cases of COVID-19 rising again nationally (and surging quite seriously in certain regions of the country), American pundits have turned their attention to solving the riddle of how to persuade vaccine skeptics to take the plunge, get the shot, and protect themselves and those around them against the highly contagious Delta variant of the disease. Three ideas stand out as especially smart. Approve the vaccines. If it sounds strange to say that the FDA should approve the Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna vaccines for use when millions of Americans have already received the shots, that's because what the FDA has been doing makes little sense. As The Week's own Noah Millman has argued, followed by Matthew Yglesias on Substack, nothing would do more to persuade skeptics that the vaccines are safe, and to encourage vaccine mandates in a range of public institutions (including the military and schools), than the FDA issuing final approval for their use. (On Monday, a federal judge upheld Indiana University's vaccine mandate, so FDA approval isn't a necessary condition of imposing and enforcing such mandates. But such approval would likely make them far more widespread.) Yes, this would mean fast-tracking the decision, but the agency already issued emergency-use approval of the vaccines in record time. That was many millions of shots ago. The vaccines work. Why not get this done now? Dougherty suggests that the most effective thing people promoting the vaccines could do is something negative — stop disrespecting the vaccine-hesitant by calling them idiots or moral defectives. Instead, those pushing the vaccines should demonstrate some empathy and understanding toward those who have reacted to well over a year of shifting "expert" counsel about how to respond to the pandemic by deciding to sit on the sidelines for a while, patiently waiting to see what happens to those who leapt to the front of the vaccination line. That soft touch might just get them to soften their own resistance. Cough up the cash. Building on Dougherty's arguments, The New York Times' Ross Douthat proposes that governments would have more luck persuading people to get vaccinated if they combined rhetorical honey with a financial incentive: $100 for getting the first of two shots followed by $1,000 for showing up for the second. For "a rounding error in the Biden infrastructure plan," such a program could make a huge difference in motivating people to come off the vaccination fence, especially if it were presented as "a limited-time offer, good only through October." Free money? Now that just might work.

7-20-21 Federal judge says Indiana University can require COVID-19 vaccines, boosting hopes for other colleges
U.S. District Judge Damon Leichty's ruling that Indiana University can require students to submit proof they have been vaccinated against COVID-19 before returning to campus was a blow to anti-vaccine activists and a welcome sign for the hundred of other public and private colleges and universities with similar vaccine requirements. The California State University and University of Connecticut systems are awaiting federal rulings from similar lawsuits. Federal courts have consistently upheld vaccination requirements at K-12 schools and in workplaces, The Wall Street Journal reported Monday, citing Arizona State University public health professor James Hodge, but this case is among the first to tackle COVID-19 vaccine mandates at public universities. Leichty, appointed by former President Donald Trump, issued his 101-page decision Sunday, dismissing the challenge to Indiana University's vaccine requirement from eight undergrad and graduate students who had claimed the requirement unconstitutionally infringed on their bodily autonomy and medical privacy rights. He said Indiana University did not violate any fundamental right enshrined in the Constitution and met the lower standard of showing its policy was "rationally related to ensuring the public health of students," as well as faculty and the broader community. Students were also given the option to remain off-campus if they declined to get vaccinated, Leichty noted, and most of the plaintiffs were granted exemptions from the vaccine requirement, allowing them to attend in-person if they wore a mask indoors and got tested regularly — requirements the student plaintiffs rejected. He also looked at the safety data for the vaccines, still under emergency authorization approval, and found little serious risk. "No one should blithely dismiss the call for further investigation, but the students' case isn't strong today," Leichty wrote.

7-20-21 The rural plague
Red America’s infuriating vaccine refusal is making America's culture chasm even wider. COVID-19 in the United States is quickly becoming a rural plague, and the surge that is ripping through hundreds of small communities around the country is a sad and inevitable consequence of our national political predicament. While it's tempting to shrug off people condemning themselves to preventable deaths or long stints in the hospital, the self-destructive vaccine refusal of America's Trumpiest regions will eventually touch all of us, prolonging the pandemic and leading to suffering and tragedy even among the vaccinated. That America's COVID crisis is once again on the rise is no longer in dispute. Nationally, the 7-day average of daily cases is up 140 percent over the past two weeks, with nearly 80,000 new cases reported on Friday alone. Over that same time period, hospitalizations and deaths have each increased by more than 30 percent. Some of the blame for these increases must go to the Delta variant, first detected in India, which is an even more wildly transmissible version of an already wildly transmissible virus. The COVID-19 that triggered the pandemic in 2019 had an R0 (r-naught) of about 2.4, meaning each infected person would infect between 2 and 3 others, on average. With Delta that number might be as high as 8. For the sake of comparison, the dreaded Norovirus stomach bug, which marches through my family's households like a disciplined battalion of marauders every winter, has an R0 of just 2. As former Trump FDA commissioner Scott Gottlieb told viewers on Face the Nation on Sunday, the Delta variant is so contagious that pretty much everyone who is unvaccinated will get it sooner or later. Even if the U.S. were closing in on herd immunity, then, Delta would be a huge challenge. But we aren't, and one look at a county-level map of cases tells a deeply disturbing story about why. It's not just that states with high vaccination rates, like New Hampshire and Vermont, are seeing fewer cases than those with lower rates. It's that cases as a percentage of the population vary dramatically within almost every state. Yes, there are pockets of anti-vaccine sentiment everywhere, but COVID-19 is now primarily ravaging small town America, including places like Central Missouri's Osage County, where cases are up 940 percent over the past 14 days. Osage has four times as many cases per 100,000 residents as St. Louis, the state's largest city, and 20 times the number in Cook County, Illinois, which includes Chicago. Just 28 percent of the population in Osage County is fully vaccinated. In fact, not a single one of the 48 counties in America averaging more than 50 daily cases per 100,000 people has more than 50 percent of its population fully vaccinated, and most are in the 20s and 30s. While there is surely an element of seasonality in the differences between states – in much of the country's northern half, people are spending lots of time outdoors, while it is peak 'trapped in the air-conditioning' season in the south and southwest – the urban-rural divide is everywhere. And that means come fall and winter, rural areas across blue America are going to get slammed too if vaccination rates don't come up, and fast. What's really going on here? At a certain point the contentious discourse about public health strategies, including whether indoor mask mandates should be re-imposed, is a diversion from the unfortunate reality that the country's growing pandemic divide is less a failure of specific policies and more an outgrowth of the all-consuming culture war.

7-20-21 Canada to open border to fully vaccinated Americans in August
Canada will open its borders to fully vaccinated Americans next month after a nearly 17-month closure. The move to ease border restrictions comes after significant gains in the country's vaccination rate and a steady drop in Covid-19 cases. If the virus progress continues, Canada will welcome all fully vaccinated international travellers by 7 September. All travellers will need to present a negative Covid-19 test before entry. The changes for American travellers and US permanent residents will go into place on 9 August. The Canadian government first shut its borders in March 2020, barring entry to all non-essential foreign travellers with few exceptions. Both the US and Canada also agreed to ban non-essential crossings along their 5,500-mile land border. The US has not yet said if it will allow Canadians to enter across the land border for non-essential travel. Canadians and permanent residents were subject to mandatory testing and 14-day quarantine upon entry, including a three night stay in a government-approved quarantine hotel. Earlier this month, Ottawa lifted those restrictions for fully vaccinated Canadians returning home. Travellers who have not received a full course of one of the four Canadian-approved vaccines - Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna, AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson - are still required to quarantine upon arrival. All those entering will have to upload proof they received a full course of a vaccine at least 14 days prior to arrival to a Canadian government app. They must also provide a negative Covid-19 test taken within three days of departure. A blanket ban on all commercial and private passenger planes from India will remain in place until at least 31 August due to ongoing virus concerns. After a slow start, in recent months Canada's vaccine program has picked up speed. Nearly half of all Canadians have been fully vaccinated, including 56% of those aged 12 and older. Almost 70% of Canadians have received at least one dose. The progress in Canada has drawn contrasts with the US, where vaccine hesitancy has stalled total vaccinations at about 48%.

7-20-21 Covid-19: India excess deaths cross four million, says study
The Covid-19 pandemic has caused excess deaths in India to cross more than four million, a new study has found. Excess deaths are a measure of how many more people are dying than would be expected compared to the previous few years. Although it is difficult to say how many of these deaths have been caused by Covid-19, they are a measure of the overall impact of the pandemic. India has officially recorded more than 414,000 Covid-19 deaths so far. The country is one of the few major economies without an estimate of excess deaths during the pandemic. Researchers from the US-based Center for Global Development used three different data sources to estimate India's excess all-cause mortality during the pandemic until 21 June. They extrapolated death registrations from seven states, accounting for half of India's population. India conducts yearly mortality surveys but has only published numbers up to 2019. Second, the researchers applied international estimates of age-specific infection fatality rates - the number of people that die from the virus - to data from two countrywide antibody tests, also called sero surveys. Third, they looked at India's consumer survey of 868,000 individuals across 177,000 households which also records whether any member of the family had died in the past four months. Taken together, the researchers found that excess deaths were estimated to be in the range of 3.4 million to 4.7 million - about 10 times higher than India's official Covid-19 death toll. This was also considerably higher than other estimates by epidemiologists, who believed India's excess deaths were five-to-seven times higher. Not all these deaths were caused by Covid-19 and an estimation of the actual death toll by the disease would be difficult to give, said Arvind Subramanian, India's former chief economic adviser and one of the authors of the study.

7-20-21 India's true COVID-19 death toll has likely surpassed 3 million, study finds
Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, official death tolls in many places have likely fallen short of the true figures, but a new study from the Center for Global Development suggests that the undercount in India may be particularly drastic, The New York Times reports. The Indian government's official fatality count currently sits at more than 400,000, a grim figure in its own right. However, researchers estimate that between 3.4 million and 4.7 million more people than would normally be expected died between January 2020 and June 2021 in India. While the precise number of excess deaths that can be attributed to COVID-19 may never be known, the authors of the study believe it's higher than 3 million. "True deaths are likely to be in the several millions not hundreds of thousands, making this arguably India's worst human tragedy," the authors said. Read more at The New York Times.

7-20-21 A weekend in America: Shootings in Washington spotlight growing problem
Families supporting the local team. A woman waiting for her ride. A six-year-old girl playing outside. In one weekend, a series of shootings affected all of these Washington DC residents - and shocked a city all too familiar with the plague of gun violence. It was the sixth inning. The Nationals Park baseball stadium, just south of Capitol Hill, was packed with thousands of fans spending their Saturday night watching the Washington Nationals play the San Diego Padres. That was when the shots rang out. Cries of "shooter" rapidly spread through the crowd. Where had the attack come from? Was a gunman inside? Families and players alike ran for cover, some hiding in the dugouts, some rushing for the exits or nearby buildings. Police eventually confirmed the shots had been fired outside the stadium. Three people were injured - including an innocent bystander who was waiting for her Uber. Later, one eight-year-old fan, Faris, told reporters: "It was my second shooting. So I was kind of prepared. I always am expecting something to happen." Faris' mother explained that last year, her daughter heard a man shot to death while she was playing with her friends. Just a day earlier, a different shooting claimed the life of six-year-old Nyiah Courtney. She was riding her scooter in her southeast DC neighbourhood - out late with her family on a warm summer night - when the shots came. Five others - including Nyiah's mother - were injured. Nyiah's death marked the city's 102nd homicide. US mass shootings, in which four or more people are shot, make national - and international - headlines. But stories involving smaller-scale attacks, like Nyiah's, often remain on the pages of local newspapers. The spree of violence in the nation's capital this weekend is one more point in a larger, worrying, trend. According to Washington DC crime statistics, the rate of assaults committed with a gun has risen each year since 2018. So far, 455 assaults with a gun have been reported in 2021. This time last year, there had been 422.

7-20-21 Twitter suspends Marjorie Taylor Greene over 'misleading' Covid posts
Twitter has suspended Republican lawmaker Marjorie Taylor Greene for posting "misleading" information about coronavirus. The social media giant said her account would be in "read-only mode" for 12 hours. Ms Greene, a Republican congresswoman, has been an outspoken critic of vaccines and the use of masks. Last month she apologised for likening coronavirus mask rules to the treatment of Jews in Nazi Germany. In two tweets on Monday, she argued that vaccines should not be required, and that Covid was not dangerous for people aged under 65 who are not obese. Both posts are still on display, but have been tagged by Twitter as "misleading". Ms Greene was suspended from Twitter in April, but the company later rescinded the ban, saying it was a mistake caused by its automated moderation system. In response to her latest suspension, Ms Greene said Silicon Valley firms were attacking free speech with support from the White House. "These Big Tech companies are doing the bidding of the Biden regime to restrict our voices and prevent the spread of any message that isn't state-approved," she said in a statement to the New York Times. Last week, Democratic President Joe Biden urged social media firms to take more action against the spread of false information about coronavirus and vaccines on their platforms. "They're killing people," Mr Biden told reporters. "The only pandemic we have is among the unvaccinated." US health officials have warned the country's current spike in Covid-19 deaths and infections is exclusively hitting unvaccinated communities. Twitter has repeatedly banned users for sharing false information, and in March it introduced a new policy with penalties for users. Under the new rules, 12-hour suspensions are given for second and third violations of its policy. A fourth breach results in a week-long ban, and a fifth leads to a full ban. In January, Twitter permanently suspended President Donald Trump for posts that it said incited violence after the storming of the US Capitol by hundreds of his supporters.

7-20-21 Luke Prokop: Nashville star becomes first active player to come out as gay
Nashville Predators' Luke Prokop has become the first active NHL player signed by a club to come out as gay. The Canadian, 19, who is yet to play for Nashville, was their third-round draft pick in 2020. In a statement on social media, Prokop said: "While the past year and a half has been crazy, it has also given me the chance to find my true self. I am no longer scared to hide who I am. "Today I am proud to publicly tell everyone that I am gay." The defenceman added: "It has been quite the journey to get to this point in my life, but I could not be happier with my decision to come out. "From a young age I have dreamed of being an NHL player and I believe that living my authentic life will allow me to bring my whole self to the rink and improve my chances of fulfilling my dreams. "I hope that in sharing who I am I can help other people see that gay people are welcome in the hockey community, as we work to make sure that hockey truly is for everyone. "I may be new to the community but I am eager to learn about the strong and resilient people who came before me and paved the way so I could be comfortable today. This is just the beginning of my journey and I am excited to see where it takes me, both in hockey and life." The Nashville Predators president/chief executive Sean Henry said the organisation was "proud" of Prokop and would "support him unequivocally in the days, weeks, and years to come". Their president of hockey operations/general manager David Poile added: "We understand his ability to be out comfortably will help him achieve his goals on and off the ice. "We are committed to ensuring nothing stands in the way of his ability. His courage is an inspiration to us, and to the LGBTQ community in Nashville." Prokop is the fourth professional ice hockey player to publicly announce he is gay, after America's Brendan Burke, who played for the RedHawks, Sweden's Lars Peter Karlsson and Denmark's Jon-Lee Olsen.

7-20-21 China says Microsoft hacking accusations fabricated by US and allies
China has denied allegations that it carried out a major cyber-attack against tech giant Microsoft. The US and other Western countries on Monday accused China of hacking Microsoft Exchange - a popular email platform used by companies worldwide. They said it was part of a broader pattern of "reckless" behaviour that threatened global security. China says it opposes all forms of cyber-crime, and has called the claims "fabricated". "The US has mustered its allies to carry out unreasonable criticisms against China on the issue of cybersecurity," foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian told reporters. The UK, EU, New Zealand and Australia were among those to join the US in accusing Chinese state-sponsored actors of "malicious cyber activity", including the Microsoft hack. Microsoft's Exchange system powers the email of major corporations, small businesses and public bodies worldwide. The hack affected at least 30,000 organisations. Microsoft has blamed a Chinese cyber-espionage group for exploiting a vulnerability in Microsoft Exchange - which allowed hackers to remotely access email inboxes. The group, known as Hafnium, was found by Microsoft's Threat Intelligence Centre to be state-sponsored and operating out of China. Western security sources believe Hafnium obtained advance knowledge that Microsoft planned to deal with the vulnerability, and so shared it with other China-based groups to exploit it while they could. The sources say the hack seems to signal a shift from a targeted espionage campaign to a smash-and-grab raid, leading to concerns that Chinese cyber-behaviour is escalating. The UK Foreign Office said the Chinese government had "ignored repeated calls to end its reckless campaign, instead allowing state-backed actors to increase the scale of their attacks".

7-20-21 Ben & Jerry's to stop sales in Israeli settlements in occupied territories
Ben & Jerry's has said it will stop selling its ice cream in Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem. The US company said sales "in the Occupied Palestinian Territory (OPT)" were "inconsistent with our values". Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said the move was "morally wrong" and would prove to be "financially wrong". The West Bank and East Jerusalem have been under Israeli control since the 1967 Middle East war. More than 600,000 Jews live in about 140 settlements there. Most of the international community considers the settlements illegal under international law, though Israel disputes this. In a statement shared to its Twitter and Instagram pages on Monday, Ben & Jerry's said its decision reflected the concerns of "fans and trusted partners". The changes would be made by allowing current licensing arrangements to expire at the end of next year, it added. "We have a longstanding partnership with our licensee, who manufactures Ben & Jerry's ice cream in Israel and distributes it in the region," the statement said. "We have been working to change this, and so we have informed our licensee that we will not renew the license agreement when it expires at the end of next year." Ben & Jerry's also runs two "scoop shops" in Israel and said it would distribute its goods in Israel through a different agreement, the details of which would be announced "when we're ready". UK firm Unilever, which has owned Ben & Jerry's since 2000, says the decision was taken and announced by Ben & Jerry's and its independent board, but it remained "fully committed" to maintaining a presence in Israel. Ben & Jerry's Israeli licensee was quoted by the Haaretz newspaper as saying: "Global Ben & Jerry's decided not to renew the agreement with us in another year and a half in light of our refusal [to comply] with their demand and stop selling throughout Israel."

7-19-21 Ben & Jerry's to stop selling ice cream in the West Bank and East Jerusalem
Ben & Jerry's announced on Monday it will stop selling its ice cream in the Israeli-occupied West Bank and contested East Jerusalem, saying it is "inconsistent with our values." The Vermont-based company, owned by Unilever, is known for supporting liberal causes, and has received pushback for years from customers who do not approve of them selling their products in places like the West Bank, where Israeli settlements are not recognized under international law. In 2015, Ben & Jerry's said it was aware of how "complex the local market can be," but was hopeful that its presence in the region was positive, CNN reports. Six years later, the company is taking a different approach, with Ben & Jerry's saying it has notified its licensee in Israel that when its deal expires at the end of 2022, it will not be renewed. After that point, Ben & Jerry's products will no longer be sold in Palestinian territories, but will be available in Israel "through a different arrangement." Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said Ben & Jerry's is now "the anti-Israel ice cream," and Israeli Minister of Interior Ayelet Shaked tweeted that the "ice cream is not in line with our taste. We will manage without you."

7-19-21 Jan. 6 defendant sentenced to 8 months after hearing that could set benchmark for similar cases
U.S. District Judge Randolph Moss on Monday sentenced Paul Hodgkins, a supporter of former President Donald Trump who stormed the Capitol on Jan. 6, to eight months in prison after Hodgkins pleaded guilty to one count of obstructing an official proceeding. The sentencing is in between the 18 months recommended by prosecutors and what Hodgkins and his lawyer were angling for: no jail time. The Associated Press writes that Moss' decision could set the bar for hundreds of similar cases involving people who were at the Capitol to disrupt the presidential election certification because they believed Trump's false claims of widespread voter fraud. But, per HuffPost, Moss said his only job was to "find a fair and just sentence" for Hodgkins, and other defendants will likely receive higher or lower sentences. Part of the reason the sentencing fell short of the prosecution's goal was that Hodgkins had no prior criminal record and quickly took responsibility, Moss said. During the hearing, Hodgkins acknowledged that President Biden is "rightfully and respectfully" the president of the United States and said his decision to take part in the riot was "foolish." (Webmasters Comment: He should have gotten 8 years!)

7-19-21 51 percent of unvaccinated individuals think the COVID-19 vaccine contains a microchip
In the latest in head-scratching news, one in five Americans believes the COVID-19 vaccine contains a microchip, a recent Economist/YouGov poll reveals. When respondents were asked how likely they thought it to be true that "the U.S. government is using [the vaccine] to microchip the population," 20 percent of U.S. adults said they thought it "definitely/probably true" and 14 percent weren't sure. 66 percent denied such a claim as "definitely/probably false." Notably, when broken down by vaccination status, 51 percent of "vaccine rejectors" believed the microchip theory, as opposed to just 9 percent of those who are fully vaccinated. On a more broad level, 85 percent of those who don't want to get vaccinated believed the "threat of the coronavirus was exaggerated for political reasons." The Economist and YouGov surveyed 1,500 people between July 10-13, 2021. Results have a margin of error of approximately 3 percent. See more results at YouGov.

7-19-21 American Academy of Pediatrics recommends all kids 2 and up wear masks inside classrooms
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children 2 and older wear masks when they return to the classroom, even if fully vaccinated. "We need to prioritize getting children back into schools alongside their friends and their teachers, and we all play a role in making sure it happens safely," Sonja O'Leary, chair of the AAP Council on School Health, said on Monday. "Combining layers of protection that include vaccinations, masking, and clean hands hygiene will make in-person learning safe and possible for everyone." Teachers and school staff members also need to wear masks, because children under 12 cannot be vaccinated at this time and there is the possibility of more variants that could spread easily among children, the AAP said. Children under the age of 2 should not wear masks, as they are a suffocation risk. Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation's top infectious disease expert, told CNN on Monday that when "you have a degree of viral dynamics in the community, and you have a substantial proportion of the population that is unvaccinated, that you really want to go the extra step, the extra mile to make sure that there's not a lot of transmission, even breakthrough infections among vaccinated individuals." The AAP is "a thoughtful group, they analyze the situation, and if they feel that's the way to go, I think that's a reasonable thing to do," he added.

7-19-21 Covid-19 news: England unlocks as UK cases continue to soar
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. Restrictions eased in England as every local area recording case rates above 100 per 100,000 people. The majority of coronavirus restrictions in England were lifted on 19 July, despite the UK as a whole reporting its highest daily increases in coronavirus cases since January in recent days. Also for the first time since January, every local area in England is recording case rates above 100 cases per 100,000 people, PA media reported on 19 July. Redcar & Cleveland in north-east England is reporting the highest case rate in the country, at 1268 cases per 100,000 people. Children aged 12 and above in England who are clinically vulnerable or who live with vulnerable adults will soon be able to get vaccinated against covid-19, UK vaccines minister Nadhim Zahawi said on 19 July. The UK’s Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) is expected to release some advice on covid-19 vaccination in children late in the afternoon on 19 July. “The JCVI looked at vulnerable children, they will recommend that vulnerable children should be protected,” Zahawi told the BBC’s Breakfast show. “Children living with vulnerable adults should also be protected, and of course 17-year-olds who are close to their 18th birthday should also be protected.” In Tokyo, where the Olympic Games are due to begin on 23 July, two South Africa footballers have become the first competitors to test positive for the coronavirus in the athletes’ village, the BBC reported. The two athletes, Thabiso Monyane and Kamohelo Mahlatsi, are confined to their rooms with meals being delivered to the door and must take daily coronavirus PCR tests. The European Union’s medicines regulator is evaluating a drug called anakinra for the treatment of severely ill covid-19 patients with pneumonia. Anakinra, also known by the trade name Kineret, works by inhibiting the activity of the immune system and is already authorised for the treatment of several inflammatory conditions, such as rheumatoid arthritis.

7-19-21 Unvaccinated Americans are the least worried about the Delta variant, poll finds
The number of new COVID-19 cases is rising in all 50 states, thanks to the more transmissible Delta variant and the sizable number of adults who aren't vaccinated. Florida, Arkansas, Louisiana, Missouri, and Nevada account for a large chunk of the new cases. But the people most at risk of contracting the Delta variant, those unvaccinated or not fully vaccinated, are also the most likely to say they aren't worried about the Delta variant, according to a CBS News poll released Sunday. The poll found that 62 percent of all U.S. adults, but only 48 percent of those unvaccinated or partially vaccinated, are concerned about the Delta variant. Among the vaccinated, 72 percent said they are worried about the variant. "Since the start of the outbreak last year, there have always been some Americans more concerned about the virus and the public health impact, generally, than others — and the former group was also more likely to get vaccinated when the shot became available," CBS News reports. And as more Americans get vaccinated, the ranks of the unvaccinated are ever more dominated by those who say they "don't trust the government" (50 percent), don't trust the science (45 percent), and are worried about the side effects (53 percent). The unvaccinated were disproportionately non-college educated and self-identified as very conservative, and only 10 percent said they would be swayed if their doctor advised them to get vaccinated. A narrow 52 percent majority said President Biden's focus on encouraging vaccinations is "about right," but 57 percent of Republicans said Biden is doing "too much" to urge Americans to get the shot. Overall, 66 percent of Americans gave Biden high marks on his handling of the pandemic, and 64 percent said the U.S. fight against COVID-19 is "going well," versus 35 percent in January. The CBS News poll was conducted by YouGov July 14-17 among 2,238 U.S. adults, and the margin of error is ± 2.4 percentage points for the whole sample.

7-19-21 Covid: Is China's vaccine success waning in Asia?
Across Asia, Chinese vaccines have played a crucial role in immunising people against Covid-19, with millions receiving either a Sinovac or Sinopharm jab. But in recent weeks, concerns have grown about their efficacy. Now, some Asian countries which made Chinese vaccines a key plank in their immunisation programmes have announced they will use other jabs. The move has raised questions, not only about whether China's vaccines can be trusted, but also about its attempts at vaccine diplomacy in Asia. Last week, Thailand announced it was changing its vaccine policy - instead of receiving two Sinovac shots, residents will now get a mix of Sinovac and AstraZeneca. Healthcare workers who are already fully vaccinated with Sinovac will also get a different jab as a booster shot. Indonesia announced a similar move the previous week, saying it was giving Moderna booster shots to healthcare workers immunised with Sinovac. The decisions followed reports that hundreds of fully vaccinated healthcare workers had caught Covid, with some of them - two in Thailand and 30 in Indonesia - dying. Both countries, which have seen slow rollouts of their vaccination programmes, have been battling new outbreaks. Thailand is now reporting record high numbers of infections and deaths, while Indonesia - the new epicentre of Covid in Asia - has seen overcrowded hospitals and oxygen shortages. The two countries said they were making the switch to increase protection, and Thai officials cited local studies which showed mixing vaccines could boost immunity. Indonesia's tourism minister Sandiaga Uno also recently told the BBC the Sinovac vaccine was "quite effective". But by choosing to switch vaccines, the Thai and Indonesian governments were essentially "saying they are concerned about vaccine failure", said Dale Fisher, who heads the World Health Organization's Global Outbreak Alert and Response Network. However, he also cautioned that there was not enough information about the healthcare workers' infections and deaths, and urged authorities to conduct a "thorough investigation".

7-19-21 Covid vaccination centres vandalised in France
Two vaccination centres have been ransacked in France, as people protested against the introduction of tougher coronavirus rules. One site in south-east France was vandalised and flooded using fire hoses on Friday night, authorities said. A day later, another clinic in the south-west was partially destroyed by an arson attack, local media reported. The incidents came on a weekend of demonstrations. More than 100,000 came out to protest on Saturday. Critics have accused President Emmanuel Macron's government of violating freedoms by introducing new rules. The most controversial of the rules include mandatory vaccinations for health workers and health passes to access most public places. Anti-vaccine graffiti was found near a vandalised vaccination centre in Lans-en-Vercors near the south-eastern city of Grenoble. Saturday's arson attack targeted a clinic in the village of Urrugne near Biarritz in the south-west. Meanwhile at a rally on Saturday, French politician Martine Wonner told protesters to "lay siege" to the offices of lawmakers who backed the government's Covid policies. A high profile sceptic of Covid vaccines, she faces a potential legal inquiry for this. She was forced to quit her opposition group in parliament on Sunday, but said her words had been misconstrued. France has seen several acts of violence and vandalism against lawmakers who supported the new vaccination rules. Yet hundreds of thousands of people have signed up for the jabs after Mr Macron set out the plan last week. His government is attempting to curb the spread of the highly contagious Delta variant, which is causing a surge in hospital admissions. More than 111,000 people have died with Covid in France during the pandemic, which has severely damaged the country's economy. Last week, a panel of scientists warned of a fourth wave in the coming months. Only a little over half of the population has received a first dose and less than 40% have had two.

7-19-21 Vaccination centers vandalized in France amid protests against COVID-19 measures
As tens of thousands of protesters hit the streets to demonstrate against France's new COVID-19 measures, two vaccination sites were vandalized, French authorities said. On Friday night, vandals used fire hoses to flood a clinic in Lans-en-Vercors, BBC News reports, and on Saturday, a site in Urrugne was partially destroyed in an arson attack. There was anti-vaccine graffiti also found near the clinic in Lans-en-Vercors. Since the start of the pandemic, at least 111,000 people have died of COVID-19 in France. New coronavirus cases are on the rise, and the French government wants to stop the spread of the highly contagious Delta variant. After scientists who advise the government warned that a fourth wave is on the way, French President Emmanuel Macron announced new mitigation measures, including mandatory vaccinations for health workers and passes to show people are fully vaccinated. This triggered the weekend's protests, where demonstrators, encouraged by far-right politician Florian Philippot, marched with signs claiming their freedom was being taken away because of the measures. Slightly more than 50 percent of the French population has received one COVID-19 vaccine dose, and less than 40 percent is fully vaccinated. Since Macron's announcement, hundreds of thousands of people have signed up to get vaccinated, BBC News reports.

7-19-21 Pegasus: Spyware sold to governments 'targets activists'
Rights activists, journalists and lawyers around the world have been targeted with phone malware sold to authoritarian governments by an Israeli surveillance firm, media reports say. They are on a list of some 50,000 phone numbers of people believed to be of interest to clients of the company, NSO Group, leaked to major news outlets. It was not clear where the list came from - or how many phones had actually been hacked. NSO denies any wrongdoing. It says the software is intended for use against criminals and terrorists and is made available only to military, law enforcement and intelligence agencies from countries with good human rights records. It said the original investigation which led to the reports, by Paris-based NGO Forbidden Stories and the human rights group Amnesty International, was "full of wrong assumptions and uncorroborated theories". But it added that it would "continue to investigate all credible claims of misuse and take appropriate action". The allegations about use of the software, known as Pegasus, were carried on Sunday by the Washington Post, the Guardian, Le Monde and 14 other media organisations around the world. Pegasus infects iPhones and Android devices, allowing operators to extract messages, photos and emails, record calls and secretly activate microphones and cameras. Media outlets working on the investigation said they had identified more than 1,000 people spanning over 50 countries whose numbers were on the list. They include politicians and heads of state, business executives, activists, and several Arab royal family members. More than 180 journalists were also found to be on the list, from organisations including CNN, the New York Times and Al Jazeera. Many of the numbers were clustered in 10 countries: Azerbaijan, Bahrain, Hungary, India, Kazakhstan, Mexico, Morocco, Rwanda, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, according to the reports.

7-19-21 'Eloquently nasty' spyware from Israeli firm was reportedly used against dozens of journalists, politicians, activists
Military-grade spyware developed and licensed by the private Israeli firm NSO Group was found on the smartphones of 23 journalists, business executives, human rights activists, and at least one woman close to murdered Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi, the Post and 16 other media organizations around the world reported Sunday. Someone had also attempted to put the spyware, Pegasus, on 14 of the phones forensically analyzed by Amnesty International's Security Lab, and the digital autopsy on the remaining 30 phones studied was inconclusive. Once Pegasus infects a phone, it lets the intruder read anything; steal photos, location records, passwords, contacts, recordings, and other communications; and hijack the camera and microphone. The spyware is completely undetectable to the phone's owner, and in some cases it can infect a phone through a text message the owner never sees. NSO says it licenses its spyware to about 60 foreign governments to track down terrorists, drug traffickers, sex traffickers, and other criminals. "This is nasty software — like eloquently nasty," creating the ability to "spy on almost the entire world population," Timothy Summers, a former U.S. intelligence cybersecurity engineer, tells the Post. "There's not anything wrong with building technologies that allows you to collect data; it's necessary sometimes. But humanity is not in a place where we can have that much power just accessible to anybody." NSO Group, CEO Shalev Hulio, and a libel lawyer the company hired all strenuously denied much of the reporting by the Post and its consortium partners, insisting its software played zero role in Khashoggi's murder by Saudi agents and "no customer has ever been granted technology that would enable them to access phones with U.S. numbers." Hulio said the leaked list of 50,000 phone numbers Amnesty and the French nonprofit Forbidden Stories used to track down possible Pegasus targets had no connection to NSO, though he also told the Post "we understand that in some circumstances our customers might misuse the system," and "we have shut down systems for customers who have misused the system." An NSO source told the Post that in the past year, the company canceled contracts with Saudi Arabia and Dubai over human rights concerns. The phone numbers on the list were concentrated in 10 countries with spotty human rights records, all reported NSO client states: Mexico, Hungary, India, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan, Morocco, and Rwanda. Read more at The Washington Post.

7-19-21 China accused of cyber-attack on Microsoft Exchange servers
The UK and EU have accused China of carrying out a major cyber-attack earlier this year. The attack targeted Microsoft Exchange servers, affecting over a quarter of a million servers around the world. The EU was the first to put out a statement saying the attack came from "the territory of China", while the UK said Chinese state-backed actors were responsible. The US is expected to follow suit. The countries have also said the Chinese Ministry of State Security was responsible for other espionage activity. The US and UK have frequently called out cyber-campaigns from nation-states, but to be joined by the EU in calling out Beijing signals the gravity with which this case has been taken. Western intelligence officials say the behaviour by China was markedly more serious than anything they have seen before. In the UK, the National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) issued tailored advice to over 70 affected organisations to deal with the attack. The hackers exploited a vulnerability which allowed web shells to be placed on systems which could act as back doors, allowing further exploitation. This was then exploited by other hacking groups, leaving systems vulnerable to criminals and ransomware attacks as well as espionage. "The cyber-attack on Microsoft Exchange Servers by Chinese state-backed groups was a reckless but familiar pattern of behaviour," Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said. "The Chinese government must end this systematic cyber-sabotage and can expect to be held to account if it does not." The UK Foreign Office said the attack was highly likely to enable large-scale espionage, including acquiring personally identifiable information and intellectual property. It said the Chinese government had "ignored repeated calls to end its reckless campaign, instead allowing its state-backed actors to increase the scale of their attacks and act recklessly when caught". (Webmasters Comment: Let's blame China for everything and so we can have more hate crimes against Chinese US citizens who have had nothing to do with any of this!)

7-19-21 Biden administration transfers Guantanamo detainee to Morocco, lowering prisoner count to 39
The Biden administration on Monday released the second Guantanamo Bay detainee since former President Barack Obama left office in 2017, including a Saudi detainee transferred to a Saudi prison under in 2018 under a plea deal. The transfer of Abdul Latif Nasser, 56, to Morocco was negotiated in 2016, near the end of the Obama administration, but former President Donald Trump halted efforts to shrink the number of prisoners at the U.S. military base in Cuba. There are now 39 detainees at Guantanamo, including 11 charged with war crimes, 28 in limbo, and 10 who have been cleared for transfer to a country that agrees to certain security guarantees. President Biden has revived a federal interagency parole-type system to evaluate whether detainees can safely be remanded to custody of another country, and the renewed review panel cleared five of the 10 detainees now awaiting security deals with foreign governments. Nasser, a Taliban fighter captured by Pakistani forces in 2001, has been at Guantanamo since 2002 and was never charged with a crime. He was delivered to Moroccan government custody Monday, and his family has pledged to employ him at his brother's swimming poll cleaning business, his lawyer, Thomas Anthony Durkin, tells The New York Times. Durkin, based in Chicago, called the last four years of Nasser's 19 years in detention "collateral damage of the Trump administration's and zealous Republican war-on-terror hawks' raw politics," adding that "if this were a wrongful conviction case in Cook County, it would be worth $20 million." Obama pledged to close the Guantanamo prison but was stymied by congressional Republicans. A Biden administration official on Sunday thanked "the Kingdom of Morocco for its willingness to support ongoing U.S. efforts to close the Guantanamo Bay detention facility," but the Biden White House "has adopted a low-key approach in that effort" to "avoid igniting the same kind of backlash" Obama faced, the Times reports.

7-18-21 Louisiana city removes statue of Confederate general donated in 1922
Nearly 100 years after it was donated to the city of Lafayette, Louisiana, a statue of Confederate Gen. Alfred Mouton was taken down on Saturday, removed from its perch above the corner of Jefferson Street and Lee Avenue. The Lafayette chapter of the United Daughters of the Confederacy gave the statue of Mouton to the city in April 1922. Mouton was the son of Alexandre Mouton, a senator and the 11th governor of Louisiana. A slave owner, civil engineer, and sugar cane grower, Alfred Mouton was killed in the Battle of Mansfield in 1864. An organization called Move the Mindset pushed to have the statue removed, and the city of Lafayette joined in their legal battle last year. Before a trial was set to start on July 26, the United Daughters of the Confederacy signed a settlement to move the statue, with the city agreeing to pay $20,000 for a new base. It hasn't been announced yet where the statue will go. Hundreds of people gathered on Saturday to watch as the statue was taken down. "This is an historic day for Lafayette," Mayor-President Josh Guillory said. "This is a day that starts the process of healing for our community. We didn't have mobs of people that took a chain or a rope to tear down the statue. It's not who we are. It's not Lafayette."

7-18-21 Canada's vaccination rate overtakes US
Canada has overtaken the US in second dose vaccination rates, after months of lagging behind its southern neighbour. As of 16 July, 48.45% of Canadians are fully vaccinated against Covid-19, compared with 48.05% of Americans. If Canada's vaccine progress continues it may open its border to US travellers after a 16-month closure, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said this week. In the US, a levelling-off of vaccine rates comes amid a concerning increase in Covid-19 cases. President Joe Biden failed to meet a self-set target of 70% of adults vaccinated by the 4 July holiday weekend. About 68% of Americans aged 18 and older have received at least one shot. The White House and local governments have turned to both creative solutions and celebrity guest stars in an effort to counter vaccine hesitancy. Michigan, Ohio and California are among the states offering cash lotteries for residents who get the jab. Pop superstar Olivia Rodrigo made an appearance at the White House this week to promote vaccinations among young people, and Nascar will host a vaccine drive this weekend. The push for vaccines is now taking on added urgency, as infections increase in every state, driven by a surge in variants. Still, case numbers remain dramatically lower than in winter when they were at the peak. In Canada, too, vaccine rates have slowed in recent weeks, after a steep upswing beginning in late March. Two of Canada's northern territories - Yukon and the Northwest Territories - lead the country with roughly 75% and 72% of residents vaccinated, respectively. The uptick in vaccines has been met with a steady drop in Covid-19 cases. After a steep third wave this spring, Canada reported around 3,000 infections this week - a low not seen since last summer. With roughly 80% of eligible Canadians protected by at least one dose, Mr Trudeau said on Thursday that the country expects to begin allowing fully vaccinated US citizens and permanent residents into Canada as of mid-August for non-essential travel, and international travellers in September.

7-18-21 WHO epidemiologist: 'We're getting further away from the end' of COVID-19 pandemic
Infectious disease experts, like World Health Organization epidemiologist Maria Van Kerkhove and National Institutes of Health Director Francis Collins, are dismayed at the world's approach to the COVID-19 pandemic at the moment, The Washington Post reports. Coronavirus infections are rising swiftly in the United States and elsewhere, and deaths and hospitalizations are ticking back up, as well, largely due to stalled vaccination drives and the growing presence of the so-called delta variant, which is more transmissible. "We're getting further away from the end than we should be," Van Kerkhove told the Post. "We're in a bad place right now globally." Despite all that, people — and governments — in several parts of the world are not always adhering to the same precautions as they did earlier in the pandemic. "It's like we've been to this movie several times in the last year and a half, and it doesn't end well," Collins told the Post. "Somehow, we're running the tape again. It's all predictable." Read more at The Washington Post.

7-18-21 Fauci says polio, smallpox would still be in U.S. if vaccination drives faced similar misinformation campaigns
Dr. Anthony Fauci, the United States' top infectious disease expert, on Saturday told CNN's Jim Acosta that he's "certain" smallpox and polio would still be present in the United States if their vaccine drives faced misinformation campaigns similar to the ones currently plaguing COVID-19 inoculation efforts. "If you look at the extraordinary, historic success in eradicating smallpox and eliminating polio from most of the world — and we're on the brink of eradicating polio — if we had had the pushback for vaccines the way we're seeing for certain media, I don't think it would have been possible at all to" eradicate the two deadly diseases, Fauci said. There's no singular reason why people in the United States remain hesitant about or outright opposed to getting a COVID-19 shot, but Fauci and others, including President Biden, believe that misinformation coming through television screens and social media feeds has played a significant role in shaping people's views and, subsequently, slowed down the rollout as infections pick back up due to a combination of loosening restrictions and the spread of the more transmissible delta variant.

7-17-21 Biden calls Cuba a 'failed state,' communism a 'failed system,' says the U.S. may beam in internet access
Cuba cut off internet access Sunday after Cubans held the country's largest anti-government protest in decades. When the government partially restored the internet on Wednesday, "images and videos circulated on social media that purported to show police officers breaking into Cubans' homes and arresting suspected protesters," The Washington Post reports. President Biden said earlier this week that the U.S. "stands firmly" with Cubans and their "clarion call for freedom," and on Thursday he suggested his administration may try to ensure that Cubans can communicate online. "Communism is a failed system, universally failed system," and Cuba is, "unfortunately, a failed state and repressing their citizens," Biden said at a joint press conference with German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Thursday. "They've cut off access to the internet. We're considering where we have the technological ability to reinstate that access." Earlier Thursday, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R), two House Republicans, and the senior GOP commissioners on the Federal Communications Commission, Brendan Carr, urged Biden to approve experimental technologies to enable Cuban citizens to evade their government's internet blackouts. Carr pointed to a decommissioned system called Loon, developed by Google and a company called Raven, that uses high-altitude hot air balloons to broadcast a wireless signal to specific areas. He said the balloons could be deployed about 20 miles off the Cuban coast, in international waters, for an unspecified cost. As DeSantis was holding his press conference, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki was calling the lack of internet access "a huge issue in Cuba and one that is very challenging for the people of Cuba." Privately, Politico reports, "Biden administration officials have been discussing the logistics of how to get around Cuban censorship, but the administration is still engaged in a monthslong review of Cuba policy." Cubans could only access the internet at tourist hotels until 2013, when former President Barack Obama reached a deal with Cuba to restore diplomatic ties and allow U.S. telecommunications firms to offer internet and other services to the island, Reuters reported in 2019. Former President Donald Trump reversed many of Obama's Cuba policies, and a 2019 final report from a State Department task force concluded that the change in policies deterred U.S. companies from investing in Cuba, leaving Chinese companies to dominate the market. That's "worth challenging given concerns that the Cuban government potentially obtains its censorship equipment from Chinese internet infrastructure providers," the report advised.

7-17-21 What we know about Jan. 6
A House select committee will soon investigate the Capitol insurrection. What have we learned so far about that day? A House select committee will soon investigate the Capitol insurrection. What have we learned so far about that day? Here's everything you need to know:

  1. Who broke into the Capitol building? At least 800 people smashed their way into the building from eight locations. Most had marched in a crowd of thousands that swarmed the Capitol after then-President Trump held a "Stop the Steal" rally in Washington, D.C. During that rally, Trump repeat his false claim that the 2020 election was stolen and urged the crowd to march on the Capitol and "fight like hell" to save the country.
  2. Was the attack planned? Videos captured by participants show a core group of dozens of people outside the Capitol wearing riot gear, moving in single-file military-style formations, and shouting directions to the rest of the crowd. For weeks beforehand, there were at least 1 million social media mentions of storming the Capitol to prevent Congress from certifying Joe Biden's electoral victory.
  3. What else went wrong? Few of the badly outnumbered frontline police officers at the barricades had crowd-control tools or riot gear. At least four were dragged into the crowd, including Metropolitan Police Officer Michael Fanone, who was beaten, kicked, and tasered while pleading for his life. "Some guys started getting a hold of my gun," he said. "They were screaming out, 'Kill him with his own gun.'"
  4. Were GOP officials involved? At least 57 state and local Republican officials have been identified among the rioters. Among members of Congress, the picture is less clear. Some Republicans have ties to extremist groups: Arizona Rep. Paul Gosar met with members of a local chapter of the Oath Keepers in 2017.
  5. What has happened since? More than a dozen people have pleaded guilty to, among other charges, picketing in a Capitol building, obstruction of Congress, and conspiracy. Attorney General Merrick Garland has reportedly decided against prosecuting rioters for sedition, the rarely used charge of trying to overthrow the government, believing it will be far easier to get convictions on more concrete violations of law.
  6. What remains unknown? The House committee aims to find out why it took hours for the National Guard to arrive, what role militias played, why police were so unprepared, what Trump did during the riot, and whether any Republicans were in contact with the rioters. Far-right activist Ali Alexander said he and Reps. Gosar, Andy Biggs (R-Ariz.), and Mo Brooks (R-Ala.) "schemed up" a plan to put "maximum pressure on Congress" not to certify Biden's victory, but this claim remains unconfirmed.
  7. How the rioters portray their motives: During court hearings and in interviews, participants in the Capitol riot have offered various justifications for their actions. Some have tried to paint themselves as victims: The lawyer for Jacob Anthony Chansley, the so-called QAnon Shaman, claims he was "brainwashed" by QAnon websites and Trump propaganda, while the lawyer representing Anthony Antonio, seen in videos shouting at officers, says he contracted "Foxitis" from Fox News. (Webmsters Comment: There is no excuse for these animals. Lock them up and throw away the key!)

7-17-21 Biden says Justice Department will appeal latest DACA court ruling, urges Congress to act
The Justice Department will appeal a federal judge's Friday night ruling that would block the White House from approving new applications to the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, President Biden said in a statement Saturday. Biden called U.S. District Judge Andrew Hanen's decision "deeply disappointing," but acknowledged that it's ultimately up to Congress to pass legislation that could provide a "permanent solution" for protecting undocumented immigrants who arrived in the U.S. when they were children from deportation. DACA was implemented by executive order when former President Barack Obama was in office, but Hanen ruled that Obama exceeded his authority in doing so. Hanen said his decision does not apply to current program recipients, commonly known as Dreamers. The judge wrote that the federal government should not "take any immigration, deportation, or criminal action" that it would "not otherwise take." Read more at NPR and The New York Times.

7-17-21 How the Cuban Communist Party has lasted this long
The U.S. embargo has always been a gift to the regime. On Sunday, July 11, Cubans across the country took to the streets in an effort to bring attention to entrenched poverty, hunger, and decades of one-party rule. "This is the largest popular protest against the government that we've seen in Cuba since 1959," Cuban activist and art historian Carolina Barrero reported to The New York Times via text message. President Biden announced his solidarity with the protesters via an official press release: "We stand with the Cuban people and their clarion call for freedom and relief from the tragic grip of the pandemic and from the decades of repression and economic suffering to which they have been subjected by Cuba's authoritarian regime." On Thursday he followed up with another statement calling the country a "failed state." What Biden didn't mention is that some of the primary architects of modern Cuba are U.S. policymakers like himself. At a press conference on July 12, President Miguel Díaz-Canel accused the United States of creating "a policy of economic suffocations" with the purpose of provoking "social outbursts, misunderstandings, and dissatisfaction." History supports his claim. On October 19, 1960 — nearly two years removed from the revolution — the U.S. began the longest trade embargo in modern history by prohibiting commerce with Cuba. According to a State department memo, the goal of the policy was to block "money and supplies to Cuba, to decrease monetary and real wages, to bring about hunger, desperation, and overthrow of government." More than 60 years later, Washington's self-fulfilling prophecy may finally be coming to fruition, but it has come at the cost of thousands of lives, an entrenched economic depression, and the dignity of an entire nation. I traveled to Cuba multiple times between 2015 and 2017. I immediately saw the obvious impacts of the embargo including the dilapidated colonial buildings, stores with bare shelves, pharmacies in low supply of medicine, young women selling themselves on the boardwalk to feed their families, and antique cars outfitted with newer model engines flown in by relatives piece by piece in suitcases. As a guide named Javier Huerta told me during my first trip to the island in 2015, "Life in Cuba is dura [hard]. It requires a great deal of imagination and a high tolerance for suffering." But, he went on, "It didn't have to be this way." Javier was a proud history teacher turned tourist guide. He was passionate about his nation's past, but he loathed the idea of showing uninformed vacationers around the island. "When my first child was born I suddenly realized my pockets were empty," Javier explained. "And, well, tourism is much more profitable." "Most assume, because we lack material wealth, that we hate our government," explained Javier on a bus bound for Santa Clara, where we were scheduled to visit Che Guevara's tomb. "But it's not that simple. The revolution brought real opportunities for the working class. What's complicated our lives are the terrorist attacks and economic blockade." In 2017, with Javier in mind, I visited a museum in Havana named Memorial de La Denuncia, which is located in Miramar at the old Ministry of the Interior. The museum pays tribute to the deaths of more than 3,000 Cubans who have lost their lives at the hands of terrorist attacks, many of which were U.S.-funded. Just beyond the main entrance, there is a stairway leading to the second floor. The wall to the left of the steps is lined with thousands of small crosses, which cast long shadows upon the white-washed wall. "You see the crosses?" my guide asked. "Each one represents a Cuban who has died at the hands of your country."

7-17-21 Weapons of mass destruction
When everyone has a gun, the body count soars. A motorcyclist was roaring in and out of highway lanes on I-35 in Fort Worth when he decided that an SUV changed lanes to block him. The enraged biker, 19, raced past other vehicles, stopped the bike to block all lanes of traffic, and approached the SUV with a drawn handgun. The SUV driver jumped out and said he had kids in his vehicle. But when the motorcyclist didn't lower his gun, he raised his own and fired multiple shots, leaving the biker dying on the road. This was just one of hundreds of gun deaths last week, as our nation continues to devolve into a heavily armed Wild West. In 2020, with the pandemic, protests, and a divisive election further weakening frayed social bonds, Americans purchased more than 23 million guns — a 66 percent increase over 2019. Up to 40 percent of new gun sales, the firearm industry estimates, went to first-time buyers — with sales jumping 50 percent among Black customers and 47 percent among Hispanics. Jabril Battle, 28, an African-American account representative in Los Angeles, was one of the first-time buyers. He told The Washington Post he'd always hated "gun nuts" but was deeply unsettled by the pandemic's apocalyptic, "Mad Max" feeling of anarchy. "I was like, do I want to be a person who has a gun or doesn't have a gun?" He bought two. The fear of being outgunned feeds on itself: Americans now own an estimated 390 million guns — a per capita rate more than double that of any other country. Deadly weapons may make people feel safer, but they also serve as impulse amplifiers, transforming arguments into homicides, gang turf battles into firefights, disaffected young men into mass killers, depression into easy suicide, and police stops into tragic deaths. As we celebrated our nation's birth on the Fourth of July weekend, more than 230 Americans died by gun violence and 618 were wounded. And so it goes.

7-17-21 The migrants hunger-striking for legal status in Belgium
More than 400 undocumented migrants are on hunger strike in the Belgian capital Brussels. Many of them have lived in the country for years and they want it to be easier for them to become legal residents, which would allow them to work officially.

7-17-21 Covid misinformation on Facebook is killing people - Biden
US President Joe Biden has warned that the spread of Covid-19 misinformation on social media is "killing people". He was responding to a question from a reporter about the alleged role of "platforms like Facebook" in spreading falsehoods about vaccines and the pandemic. The White House has been increasing pressure on social media companies to tackle disinformation. Facebook says it is taking "aggressive action" to protect public health. "They're killing people," Mr Biden told reporters at the White House on Friday. "The only pandemic we have is among the unvaccinated." US health officials have warned that the country's current spike in Covid-19 deaths and infections is exclusively hitting unvaccinated communities. Earlier on Friday, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said Facebook and other platforms were not doing enough to combat misinformation about vaccines. "Obviously, there are steps they have taken," she said. "It's clear that there are more that can be taken." A spokesman for Facebook, Kevin McAlister, said the company would "not be distracted by accusations which aren't supported by the facts". "We've removed more than 18 million pieces of Covid misinformation [and] removed accounts that repeatedly break these rules," the company said in a separate statement. Facebook has faced criticism for its moderation, and misleading content about the pandemic is still widely available on its platforms. Earlier on Friday Rochelle Walensky, director of the US public health body Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), told reporters: "There is a clear message that is coming through: this is becoming a pandemic of the unvaccinated." About 67.9% of US adults have received one dose of the vaccine, while 59.2% of adults are fully vaccinated. Many eligible people refusing vaccinations in the US have said they don't trust them. In March, a report said anti-vaccine activists on Facebook, YouTube, Instagram and Twitter had reached "more than 59 million followers, making these the largest and most important social media platforms for anti-vaxxers".

7-16-21 Why the US is launching a $300 monthly child benefit
The US will start paying child benefits monthly for the first time - a seismic shift for the country that has some of the highest rates of child poverty in the developed world. Monthly payments of up to $300 (£216) per child are due to start hitting Americans' bank accounts on 15 July, running until the end of the year. Some Democrats have praised the newly-expanded tax credit, saying a monthly source of income is more reliable for families. But anti-poverty advocates, who have pushed for a monthly benefit for years, hope introducing such a programme temporarily will lay the groundwork for longer-lasting change. So how exactly does the tax credit work, and what impact is it expected to have? The update to the child tax credit is part of the American Rescue Plan, a $1.9tn economic relief package signed into law in March. The bill increased the existing benefit for the 2021 tax year to a maximum of $3,600 per child under the age of six, or $3,000 for those up to the age of 17. Under the expanded scheme, half of the credit will be paid directly to parents in monthly instalments of up to $300 per child. From 15 July through to 15 December, deposits will be made monthly into accounts on file with the US's Internal Revenue Service (IRS). Cheques or debit cards may be issued in some instances. The remaining amount can be claimed on 2021 tax returns, although families can choose to opt out of the monthly payments and receive one lump sum later instead. The White House has said that about 90% of families will receive the benefit automatically, although eligibility and the amount paid out is dependent on income. Most developed countries, including the UK, have for decades offered some form of monthly child allowance to offset the costs of having children. But the US, where fears that social welfare programmes discourage work have a long political history, has relied on an annual tax credit to offset those expenses. First introduced in 1997, how much money a family gets depends on how much a family makes - and therefore owes in tax - a design that critics say leaves out those who need it most.

7-16-21 Covid-19 news: England unlocking is ‘unethical’, say 1200 scientists
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. Plan to lift majority of restrictions in England is a threat to the world, say scientists and health leaders. More than 1200 scientists have now backed a letter in the journal The Lancet saying that the UK’s plan to lift most coronavirus restrictions in England on 19 July is an “unethical experiment”, which poses a serious threat to the rest of the world. The letter argues that lifting restrictions at a time when infection rates are rising could increase the chance of new vaccine-resistant coronavirus variants emerging. “Because of our position as a global travel hub, any variant that becomes dominant in the UK will likely spread to the rest of the globe,” Christina Pagel at University College London said during an emergency summit of scientists and doctors on 16 July. Coronavirus infections are continuing to rise across most of the UK. An estimated one in 95 people in England had covid-19 in the week up to 10 July, up from one in 160 the previous week. Equivalent estimates for Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales in the week up to 10 July were one in 90 people, one in 290 people and one in 360 people, respectively. The highly transmissible delta variant of the coronavirus accounts for almost every case. England’s chief medical officer Chris Whitty warned that covid-19 hospitalisations were doubling every three weeks and advised people to be cautious after restrictions are lifted on 19 July. WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus called on China to be more cooperative in the ongoing investigation into the origins of the coronavirus pandemic. On 15 July, he told reporters that it was premature to rule out a possible link between the coronavirus pandemic and a laboratory leak. Canada may start allowing fully vaccinated travellers from all countries into the country from September, Canada’s prime minister Justin Truedeau said on 15 July. Trudeau said that if Canada’s current positive path of vaccination rates and public health conditions continue, the border can open, NPR reported.

7-16-21 Mainline Protestantism is America's phantom limb
Mainline Protestantism is dying. Will American Christianity survive? Sometimes prayers seem like they're being answered. The 2020 "census of American religion" released by the Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI) last week included a surprising finding. Over the past few years, the proportion of Protestants who don't identify as evangelical has been rising. For the first time since the PRRI began collecting data in 2006, this group outnumber the cohort of evangelicals. The result was surprising because many observers believe non-evangelical Protestants are a dying breed. The PRRI data suggest that reports of its demise are premature. If you squint, they raise the possibility that so-called "mainline" churches, which tend be more theologically and politically liberal are making a comeback compared to their rivals. In New York, Ed Kilgore observed that "the news that mainliners are growing as evangelicals decline will be shocking to those who have been told for many years — by gloating evangelicals as well as by secular conservatives and many nonreligious observers — that liberal Protestantism is 'dead' or 'dying'." The Mainline — shorthand for denominations including Episcopalians, Presbyterians, and Methodists — might not be finished yet, but its future doesn't look as bright as advertised. In a post for Religion Unplugged, scholar Ryan Burge poured cold water on hopes for a mainline comeback. Comparing data from other sources, Burge argues that PRRI both overestimated the total number of non-evangelical Protestants and incorrectly conflated this cohort with members of mainline churches. Part of this debate revolves around methodological issues. Religion is among the most difficult phenomena to quantify. The subjective nature of religious identity is one challenge. Are you a Protestant, Catholic, Jew, or Muslim because you think you are? Because you believe certain doctrines? Or because you engage in certain practices? Ordinary people often apply less demanding criteria than do formal institutions, which is one reason that the rolls of organized religious communities lag self-reported affiliation. Considering actual membership figures, Burge came to "one clear and unmistakable conclusion — the largest traditions in the mainline are losing members at an incredibly rapid rate," not enjoying a miraculous revival. The subjectivity problem is exacerbated by desirability bias — in other words, a tendency to exaggerate opinions or behavior others regard favorably. Since religion is bound up with cultural preference, political orientation, and social status, survey respondents may give the "right" answer about their affiliation even if it does not correspond to their true beliefs or activities. Inverting the "shy Trump voter phenomenon," Christians who want to distance themselves from the Republican Party or conservative politics may now be avoiding the "evangelical" label. A third complication lies in taxonomy. The PRRI classified all Protestants who didn't say they were "born again" or evangelical as "mainline." But these categories are neither easily defined nor mutually exclusive. More confusing still, the very term "Protestant" seems to be dropping out of use among younger and less educated Christians. Finally, the big picture is dominated by the relative decline of white Christians in general from about two-thirds of the population in 1996 to under half today. The fastest growing group, meanwhile, is the religiously unaffiliated. So-called "nones" are not necessarily atheists or totally disengaged from religious life. But they do place themselves outside conventional religious categories and institutions.

7-16-21 Why the US is launching a $300 monthly child benefit
The US will start paying child benefits monthly for the first time - a seismic shift for the country that has some of the highest rates of child poverty in the developed world. Monthly payments of up to $300 (£216) per child are due to start hitting Americans' bank accounts on 15 July, running until the end of the year. Some Democrats have praised the newly-expanded tax credit, saying a monthly source of income is more reliable for families. But anti-poverty advocates, who have pushed for a monthly benefit for years, hope introducing such a programme temporarily will lay the groundwork for longer-lasting change. So how exactly does the tax credit work, and what impact is it expected to have? The update to the child tax credit is part of the American Rescue Plan, a $1.9tn economic relief package signed into law in March. The bill increased the existing benefit for the 2021 tax year to a maximum of $3,600 per child under the age of six, or $3,000 for those up to the age of 17. Under the expanded scheme, half of the credit will be paid directly to parents in monthly instalments of up to $300 per child. From 15 July through to 15 December, deposits will be made monthly into accounts on file with the US's Internal Revenue Service (IRS). Cheques or debit cards may be issued in some instances. The remaining amount can be claimed on 2021 tax returns, although families can choose to opt out of the monthly payments and receive one lump sum later instead. The White House has said that about 90% of families will receive the benefit automatically, although eligibility and the amount paid out is dependent on income. Most developed countries, including the UK, have for decades offered some form of monthly child allowance to offset the costs of having children. But the US, where fears that social welfare programmes discourage work have a long political history, has relied on an annual tax credit to offset those expenses. First introduced in 1997, how much money a family gets depends on how much a family makes - and therefore owes in tax - a design that critics say leaves out those who need it most.

7-16-21 Most people won't need a COVID-19 vaccine booster shot for years, vaccination experts predict
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices is meeting next week to discuss whether immunocompromised Americans should be authorized to receive a third dose of COVID-19 vaccine, and Pfizer said last week it will seek regulatory approval for an eventual third booster shot of its vaccine amid the rapidly spreading Delta variant. Israel said this week it will begin administering a third Pfizer dose to severely immunocompromised adults, and Britain has announced a plan to administer booster shots beginning in September. The rapid spread of the Delta mutation among unvaccinated pockets of the U.S. combined with Pfizer's announcement "has unleashed third-dose panic among the vaccinated," Politico reports. But global public health officials are outraged that vaccine-rich countries would consider third shots before health care workers in many countries have gotten their first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine. And most U.S. public health and government officials say people won't need a booster shot now or anytime soon. "There's no evidence right now that the general population needs a booster dose because we're not seeing evidence of waning immunity or substantially reduced effectiveness against the Delta variant," William Moss, executive director of the International Vaccine Access Center at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, tells Politico. "I think for most people, outside those special populations, the immunocompromised and maybe the elderly — I think most people's immunity is going to last years, to be honest." He said if a variant manages to evade the vaccines, a booster shot may be needed, but he guessed it will be three or four years, or longer, before most people need an extra dose. "I haven't seen evidence that a booster would be indicated for anybody, including the immunocompromised," Helen Boucher, an infectious-disease doctor at Tufts Medical Center in Boston, tells The Washington Post. She said the best way to protect immunocompromised people is to make sure everyone around them is vaccinated.

7-16-21 Australia Covid: Melbourne's snap lockdown sparks protest
Hours after a five-day snap lockdown was announced for the state of Victoria, protesters took to the streets of Melbourne. Rally organisers said they want to preserve "individual and economic freedoms", and so oppose the restrictions. The measures were triggered by a Delta outbreak, which has spread from Sydney.

7-16-21 Biden and Merkel 'united against Russia aggression'
The US and Germany will stand together against Russian aggression, President Joe Biden said as he welcomed outgoing Chancellor Angela Merkel to Washington. Mr Biden said he had voiced concern to Mrs Merkel over a Russia-to-Germany gas pipeline, but they agreed Moscow cannot be allowed to use energy as a weapon. The US president said the two allies also opposed anti-democratic actions by China. Mrs Merkel, who has worked with four US presidents, is leaving office. "We stand together and will continue to stand together to defend our eastern flank allies at Nato against Russian aggression," Mr Biden told Thursday's joint news conference with Mrs Merkel. He acknowledged the two did not see eye to eye on the nearly complete $11bn (£8bn) Nord Stream 2 natural gas pipeline. The White House has said it will be used by Russia as leverage over Ukraine and other neighbours. "Good friends can disagree," said Mr Biden, who recently waived sanctions against Nord Stream 2. The US president also said: "We will stand up for democratic principles and human rights when we see China or any other country working to undermine free and open societies." Despite being strong trade partners, Berlin has at times been critical of Beijing on the issue of human rights. Mr Biden also told reporters the US had no plans "at the moment" to send troops to Haiti amid growing unrest after the assassination of its president. Asked about ongoing protests in Cuba, Mr Biden said the "failed state" was repressing its citizens. "Communism is a failed system, a universally failed system," he said. "And I don't see socialism as a very useful substitute." Both leaders emphasised the amicable nature of their hour-long meeting, with Mrs Merkel referring more than once to her host as "Dear Joe". Mr Biden told his guest: "I will miss seeing you at our summits." Mrs Merkel expressed "sympathy" for the dozens of people killed by heavy flooding back home in Germany.

7-15-21 Biden, Merkel discuss controversial pipeline during White House meeting
German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Thursday became the first European leader to meet President Biden at the White House, where they discussed the controversial Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline that will go from Russia to Germany under the Baltic Sea. Biden has shared his concerns over the pipeline, which is nearly complete, saying it will make Europe more reliant on Russian gas and puts Russia in a position where it can place pressure on Ukraine. During their joint press conference on Thursday, Merkel said the "idea is and remains that Ukraine remains a transit country for natural gas, that Ukraine just as any other country in the world has a right to territorial sovereignty." Germany, she added, will take action "should Russia not respect this right of Ukraine that it has as a transit country." They both agreed that Russia can't be allowed to weaponize energy. "We stand together and will continue to stand together to defend our eastern flank allies at NATO against Russian aggression," Biden said. The leaders also spoke about the coronavirus pandemic, with Biden saying he has asked the head of his coronavirus task force for an idea of when Europeans might be able to freely travel again to the U.S. Merkel is the second-longest-serving chancellor in German history, and will not be seeking re-election in September. Biden told Merkel that "on a personal note, I will miss seeing you at our summits. I truly will." He praised the "cooperation" between Germany and the United States, saying it is "strong and we hope to continue that, and I'm confident that we will." Merkel agreed, adding, "I value the friendship."

7-15-21 Surgeon general warns coronavirus misinformation is 'a serious threat to public health'
Misinformation is "a serious threat to public health," Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy warned on Thursday, and he called on Americans to think before they post on social media. Murthy released an advisory on Thursday, urging Americans to "help slow the spread of health misinformation during the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond." False information making the rounds can "cause confusion, sow mistrust, harm people's health, and undermine public health efforts," he said. "Limiting the spread of health misinformation is a moral and civic imperative that will require a whole-of-society effort." Before posting or sharing something on social media, "take a moment to verify whether the information is accurate and whether the original source is trustworthy," Murthy suggested. "If we're not sure, we can choose not to share." He also spoke at a press briefing on Thursday, and said there are different reasons why Americans aren't getting vaccinated against the coronavirus, but "we know from polls ... that two-thirds of people who are not vaccinated either believe common myths about the COVID-19 vaccine or think some of those myths might be true." Everyone needs to "ask how we can be more accountable and responsible for the information that we share," he added, and those who have larger platforms "bear a greater responsibility to think about that." The Biden administration is worried about the sheer amount of COVID-19 misinformation spreading on Facebook. White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki on Thursday said the platform needs to "move more quickly to remove violative posts. Posts that will be within their policies' removal often remain up for days. That's too long. The misinformation spreads too quickly." She also called on Facebook to be more transparent about how many people are viewing and interacting with the health misinformation.

7-15-21 Due to surge in coronavirus cases, L.A. County reimposing indoor mask requirement
With coronavirus cases on the rise, Los Angeles County will once again make it mandatory for people — even those who have been vaccinated — to wear masks indoors. The requirement will go into effect on Saturday night. This comes one month after the county lifted most coronavirus-related restrictions on businesses. The highly contagious Delta variant of the coronavirus has been spreading in California, and there has been a drop in the vaccination rate. Over the last week, L.A. County has reported an alarming rise in the number of COVID-19 cases, with 1,077 new cases recorded every day, a 261 percent increase from two weeks earlier, the Los Angeles Times reports. This is an "all-hands-on-deck moment," Los Angeles County Health Officer Dr. Muntu Davis told reporters on Thursday, adding that "we're not where we need to be for the millions at risk of infection here ... and waiting to do something will be too late given what we're seeing now." Wearing a mask inside is one of the more effective ways to keep the virus from spreading while still allowing businesses to remain open, he said, but "anything is on the table if things continue to get worse, which is why we want to take action now." Nearly all of the new reported cases are from people who are not fully vaccinated, and Davis said he believes the mask requirement will stay in place "until we begin to see improvements." Indoor dining will continue to be allowed, but people will need to wear masks when they are not eating or drinking.

7-15-21 Australia’s covid-free status crumbles as delta variant takes hold
The highly infectious delta coronavirus variant has broken through Australia’s covid-19 defences and sparked the worst outbreak in Sydney since the beginning of the pandemic. Until this week, Australia had made it through 2021 without a single death from locally acquired covid-19. Community cases were mostly kept at zero by banning international visitors and quarantining all Australians returning from overseas, and life was largely back to normal in the country. But a new outbreak, which began in June with the infection of a Sydney limousine driver who was transporting international aircrew, is proving difficult to control. The greater Sydney area has been in lockdown since 26 June – people can only leave home for essential reasons like buying food – but the number of cases has still climbed past 800. This makes it the worst outbreak since Sydney’s first covid-19 wave in early 2020, which infected about 2000 people. Two people have died – a woman in her nineties on 10 July, followed by a man in his seventies. Cases are also starting to spread beyond Sydney to regional New South Wales and the neighbouring state of Victoria, which has also gone into lockdown. Authorities are struggling to identify and isolate all infected individuals before they pass on the virus because they are infected with the highly contagious delta variant, says Catherine Bennett at Deakin University in Melbourne. Examination of CCTV footage from a Sydney shopping centre suggested that one person caught it just by walking past an infected individual – neither of whom were wearing masks. “That’s all it takes – just drawing in air that someone’s recently exhaled,” says Bennett. Only 10 per cent of Australians are fully vaccinated against covid-19 – the lowest rate of all member countries of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, which are generally high-income nations. This low vaccination rate is also making the virus harder to control, says Bennett.

7-15-21 Covid-19 news: 203 long covid symptoms found in international study
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. Large international survey of people with long covid identifies 203 symptoms. A survey of 3762 people with confirmed or suspected long covid from 56 countries has identified 203 symptoms of the syndrome. The most commonly reported symptoms were fatigue, feeling unwell after physical or mental exertion and brain fog. Previous research showed that fatigue is the most common symptom among people with long covid, but the new survey also identified many other symptoms such as visual hallucinations, tremors, itchy skin, changes to the menstrual cycle, sexual dysfunction, heart palpitations, bladder control issues, shingles, memory loss, blurred vision, diarrhoea and tinnitus. More than half of survey respondents said they were experiencing symptoms lasting longer than six months. The number of people alerted by the NHS Covid-19 app in England and Wales increased by 46 per cent in the week to 7 July compared to the previous week, with 520,194 people told to self-isolate. Unite, a workers union, said factories across the UK are in danger of closing down due to large numbers of employees being told to self-isolate by the app. UK housing minister Robert Jenrick told Sky News that the government is concerned about the number of people missing work and is looking into the issue. Covid-19 hospitalisations and deaths are rising across Africa. The region saw a 43 per cent week-on-week increase in covid-19 deaths, according to the World Health Organization. Hospital admissions are also rising in many countries, with at least six African nations facing shortages of intensive care unit beds and oxygen, the WHO said in a statement on 15 July.A study found that people on a learning disability register, including some people with Down’s syndrome or cerebral palsy, were five times more likely to be admitted to hospital with covid-19 and eight times more likely to die from the disease during the first and second waves of the UK’s coronavirus epidemic. Spain’s constitutional court ruled that the country’s strict coronavirus lockdown in 2020 was unconstitutional. The ruling means that people who were fined for breaching lockdown rules can now reclaim the money they paid. France administered its highest number of covid-19 vaccines in a single day so far on 14 July, after French president Emmanuel Macron said that people would soon need to be vaccinated or tested to visit cafes, restaurants and bars, among other venues.

7-15-21 New book says Joint Chiefs chairman worried Trump would attempt a coup
In the days after the November presidential election, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley was concerned about what Donald Trump might do in order to stay in power, and discussed with other leaders how to block Trump should he order the military to do something dangerous or illegal, according to the new book I Alone Can Fix It: Donald J. Trump's Catastrophic Final Year. The book, out next Tuesday, is by Washington Post reporters Carol Leonnig and Philip Rucker. They interviewed more than 140 people for I Alone Can Fix It, including senior Trump administration officials and advisers. Leonnig and Rucker write that Milley, the highest-ranking military officer in the United States, would listen to Trump rant and rave, falsely claiming that the election was rigged, and it left him with a "stomach-churning" feeling. At one point, Milley told aides, "This is a Reichstag moment, the gospel of the Führer," referring to the 1933 attack on Germany's parliament building, which Adolf Hitler used to establish the Nazi dictatorship. Just days after the election, on Nov. 10, a worried Milley called former National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster to see if he believed a coup was close at hand, asking, "What the f—k am I dealing with?" He knew there were Trump allies installed in the Department of Defense, CIA, and FBI, and the book says that Milley told his close deputies that they might try to sway those agencies, "but they're not going to f—king succeed." Milley was contacted by several lawmakers and even administration officials who were worried about Trump using the military to stay in office, and he reassured them that "we're going to land this plane safely." One phone call came from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), the book says, who shared that she was worried "maniac" Trump would use a nuclear weapon. "Ma'am, I guarantee you that we have checks and balances in the system," Milley responded. After the Jan. 6 Capitol attack, Milley made it clear during logistical meetings to discuss President Biden's inauguration that they would "put a ring of steel around this city and the Nazis aren't getting in," Leonnig and Rucker write, and when he was finally at the event, sitting behind the Obamas, Milley was able to relax. Former first lady Michelle Obama asked Milley how he was feeling, and he replied, "No one has a bigger smile today than I do. You can't see it under my mask, but I do." (Webmsters Comment: Trump was a Hitler wannabe and I warned about that in early 2016! He was behaving just as Hitler did as he rose to power in Germany!)

7-15-21 The Delta variant's message to anti-vaxxers: It's your funeral
Anti-vax propaganda is maddening, but it's essential not to take the bait. The Delta variant is here. It's now responsible for the majority of COVID-19 infections in the United States and is driving a rapid rise in cases, not only in red states like Arkansas but in true blue New York City. But while the Delta variant is much more contagious than either the original strain or the Alpha variant that first appeared in Britain, and has shown greater ability to infect vaccinated individuals, all the vaccines approved for use in the United States have so far proven highly effective in preventing severe disease and death. So it's understandably maddening that much of the American right has decided this is the time to double down on making opposition to vaccination a central front in our endless culture war. It's maddening — but it is essential not to take the bait. The fact that vaccines have become a focal point at all should be the final proof that the culture war is a self-sustaining process largely untethered from substantive grievances. Republicans believe that on balance fighting helps them politically, and I suspect they are right. But it's not a war that either side can actually win by fighting, even though individual politicians and media stars can advance their own particular fortunes. For the country as a whole, the only way to win is not to play. With respect to the vaccination campaign, then, that means ignoring the anti-vaccination campaigns, and focusing on actions that don't depend on convincing the skeptical. One of the most important things the federal government could do to promote more uptake of the vaccines is for the FDA to grant them full approval. Not because this will convince the hard-core hesitant — it's just as plausible that they will see approval as evidence that political interference has rushed the process — but because it will change the legal landscape for mandatory vaccination. In particular, it would allow the military to order vaccination of all those serving in uniform, as they do with a host of other vaccines.

7-15-21 Melbourne: Australian city enters snap lockdown with 18 cases
The Australian state of Victoria - home to its second largest city, Melbourne - has begun a snap lockdown after two more local cases of the virus. The latest outbreak brings the total number of virus cases there to 18. This is the fifth lockdown for Victoria since the pandemic began and will last until Tuesday. Melbourne had largely avoided new cases despite an outbreak in neighbouring New South Wales, home to Australia's largest city, Sydney. But earlier this week, a team of Sydney furniture movers travelled to Melbourne, leading to a spread in cases. "You only get one chance to go hard and go fast. If you wait, if you hesitate, if you doubt, then you will always be looking back wishing you had done more earlier," Victoria's Premier Daniel Andrews said. "I am not prepared to avoid a five-day lockdown now," he added, only to be forced into a much longer one later on. Residents in the state of 6.6 million people will have to stay home except for food shopping, essential work, exercise and getting vaccinated. His move means that about 40% of Australia's population is now under a stay-at-home order. New South Wales is also in a five-week lockdown which will last until the end of the month. Sydney now has about 1,000 cases, primarily caused by the highly infectious Delta variant. Australia has used lockdowns and swift contact tracing to combat the virus when cases have breached its strict border controls. Only around 12% of Australia's adult population is fully vaccinated. A lack of supplies, specifically of the Pfizer vaccine, means many will not be able to get a jab until the end of the year. Vaccine rollout has been affected by widespread hesitancy around the AstraZeneca vaccine, following cases of rare blood clots linked to the jab. Australia has recorded 911 deaths and more than 31,000 cases of Covid-19 since the pandemic began.

7-15-21 Cuba protests: Tax on food and medicine imports lifted
Cuba says it will allow travellers arriving in the country to bring in food, medicine and other essentials without paying import duties. The announcement was made following the biggest anti-government protests on the Communist-run island in decades. Thousands took to the streets on Sunday to protest over food and medicine shortages, price increases and the government's handling of Covid-19. There will be no limit on such goods brought in by travellers from Monday. However, the measure is only temporary and has been derided as "too little, too late" by critics of the government. Prime Minister Manuel Marrero Cruz announced the change on Wednesday at a meeting broadcast on state television. His tone was much more conciliatory than that of President Miguel Díaz-Canel, who, as the protests spread, had called on government supporters to take to the streets to "defend the revolution". In contrast, Mr Marrero Cruz said the lifting of the import duties "was a demand made by many travellers and it was necessary to take this He added that the government would "assess things" after 31 December. Travellers to Cuba can currently bring up to 10kg of medicine into the country tax-free. However, they must pay customs duties on the limited amount of food and personal hygiene supplies they are allowed to bring in. Scrapping the import duties had been suggested by some Cubans as a way to ease the shortages of medicines and food on the island. The government had introduced the taxes to cut down on "mulas" (Spanish for mules), the name given to couriers who travel to Cuba from abroad heavily laden with foreign goods and currency. But the measure not only hit Cubans who turned to the "mulas" to bring them items they could not get hold of in state-run shops, but also those who relied on relatives abroad to provide them with badly needed food and hygiene products.

7-15-21 US drug overdose deaths hit record number amid Covid pandemic
A record number of Americans died from drug overdoses last year in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, according to official data. In total, an estimated 93,331 Americans died of overdoses in 2020 - a nearly 30% increase from the previous year. Experts say the spike indicates how deadly some drugs have become, and the disruptive impact the pandemic has had on society. The surge was partly driven by the increase in fentanyl. The powerful synthetic opioid is said to be about 50 times stronger than heroin. Experts say it has "contaminated" other drugs, as dealers add pharmaceutical fentanyl to street drugs to make them stronger. Isolation and feelings of loneliness due to the coronavirus pandemic have also been blamed for an increase in drug deaths. "This is the highest number of overdose deaths ever recorded in a 12-month period, and the largest increase since at least 1999," the director of the US National Institute on Drug Abuse, Nora Volkow, said in a statement. The figures released on Tuesday mean that about 250 overdose deaths occurred every day, or around 11 per hour. Gina Malagold's brother Dylan first overdosed in April 2020. She told BBC News that she blamed coronavirus stimulus cheques for enabling her brother's drug habit. The family struggled to find him a rehab clinic, with many beds occupied by coronavirus patients. After testing positive for Covid, Dylan self-isolated in a family cabin where he died from an overdose. "The disease is so incredible. It is a disease. We need to treat it like any other disease because that is what it is," Ms Malagold told the BBC's Koralie Barrau. The record figures came as US President Joe Biden selected a West Virginia doctor to lead the Office of National Drug Control Policy as the nation's drug tsar. If confirmed by the Senate, former West Virginia health commissioner Dr Rahul Gupta will be tasked with steering the US response to the opioid epidemic.

7-14-21 U.S. drug overdose deaths hit a 'staggering' record in 2020
The United States in 2020 saw the highest number of drug overdose deaths on record, "staggering" data from the National Center for Health Statistics showed. There were an estimated 93,331 deaths from overdoses last year amid the COVID-19 pandemic, about a 30 percent increase from 2019, a report said Wednesday, according to The Washington Post. This was the biggest jump from year to year since 2016, when the number of drug overdose deaths rose by 11,000, and it surpassed the record of 72,000 in 2019, The Associated Press reports. "This is a staggering loss of human life," Brown University public health researcher Brandon Marshall said, per AP. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention previously reported an "acceleration" of overdose deaths during the pandemic, with then-CDC Director Robert Redfield saying, "The disruption to daily life due to the COVID-19 pandemic has hit those with substance use disorder hard." According to the Post, 69,710 of the overdose deaths in 2020 involved opioids. "Every one of those people, somebody loved them," Stanford University professor Keith Humphreys told the Post. "It's terrifying. It's the biggest increase in overdose deaths in the history of the United States, it's the worst overdose crisis in the history of the United States, and we're not making progress. It's really overwhelming."

7-14-21 Easing England's covid-19 lockdown puts children in the firing line
IF THERE has been one saving grace of the covid-19 pandemic, it is that children are relatively safe from serious disease and death compared with adults. Over the first year of the pandemic, only 259 under-18s in England were admitted to intensive care with covid-19. Another 312 were treated for a serious but rare condition that developed after infection called delayed inflammatory syndrome. As the UK government prepares to lift nearly all covid-19 restrictions in England on 19 July and allow the virus to spread through the community (see Covid-19 deaths in England could peak at 100 per day in August), it might seem as if children aren’t at risk, but this isn’t the case. Under-18s make up a fifth of the UK population and very few have been vaccinated, because unlike countries such as the US, which is offering covid-19 vaccines to children who are 12 and over, the UK has decided to hold off (see Is it time for the UK to vaccinate children against covid-19?). Cases of covid-19 in the UK are growing fast, and with more than half of the adult population vaccinated, the spread of the virus will be driven into younger people, especially unvaccinated children. Effectively, the government is pursuing a “natural herd immunity” strategy, in which children are exposed to the virus until nearly all of them develop immunity. If children are at low risk of dying, does this matter? Well, when very large numbers of people are exposed to the virus, many will get ill and some will die. In the case of children, those at highest risk are those with underlying medical conditions. In the first year of the pandemic, 25 children died in the UK from either acute covid-19 or the delayed inflammatory syndrome, and that was while restrictions were in place. In addition, some 13 per cent of infected children develop persistent and sometimes debilitating symptoms. Letting the virus rip through a pool of unvaccinated people also increases the risk of a new variant emerging that can evade the protection from the vaccines we have. We have argued many times in the pages of this magazine against taking this kind of herd immunity approach to the pandemic. The same logic applies to children.

7-14-21 Vaccine refusal and the bargain of modernity
The marvels of modern life require us to trust things we don't understand. But that trust can be lost. In 1990, the British sociologist Anthony Giddens published a book called The Consequences of Modernity, in which he asks a simple question: "Why do most people, most of the time, trust in practices and social mechanisms about which their own technical knowledge is slight or nonexistent?" Giddens argued that many of the extraordinary marvels of modern life are made possible by widespread trust in what he calls "expert systems,"and noted that we encounter them routinely in daily life, in ways we rarely think about. Commercial air travel and rail transit are expert systems. So are medicine, science, and government. Every time we climb into a car built this century, we are placing our lives in the hands of engineers and computer programmers we will never meet and whose intricate handiwork we only dimly understand, if at all. And Giddens cautioned that the freely given and almost automatic trust that we place in the designers and operators of such systems shouldn't be taken for granted. Perhaps nothing has proven him right more than the choice by a large percentage of Americans to refuse the miraculous COVID-19 vaccines. Infuriatingly, resistance to vaccination has broken down along partisan lines, and the GOP's destructive embrace of this kind of conspiratorial thinking will likely kill thousands of rank-and-file Republicans. But this problem isn't just about partisanship. Instead, as Giddens taught, it is a feature of modernity as we live it, an almost inevitable byproduct of social complexity that can only be better managed rather than eradicated. Almost five years ago, Damon Linker wrote here in The Week about the way that political entrepreneurs have weaponized distrust as a means to tear down existing institutions and to replace them with something new and more radical. He lamented that the "trustworthiness of the authorities" who direct expert systems "has been under direct and continuous attack for the past several decades." Linker blamed the rise of conspiracy thinking mostly on right-wing media personalities for the "continuous artillery fire" they have trained for decades on the institutions that underpin liberal democracy. That's obviously part of the problem, especially with the COVID vaccines. Hostility to the shots was cynically cultivated by far-right figures like former President Trump and the usual suspects on Fox News and the right-wing media ecosphere. An anti-vaccine posture has now become so de rigueur on the right that it was practically a running theme of this year's Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), most theatrically when Colorado Rep. Lauren Boebert shouted "Don't come knockin' on my door with your Fauci Ouchie" to the delirious throngs. But more fundamentally, it is the dense web of expert systems, only a handful of which most individuals meaningfully understand in a single lifetime, which produces recurring crises of trust and faith in our institutions. Giddens argues that mistrust is a natural part of the lay person's relationship with science. He writes that "ignorance always provides grounds for skepticism or at least caution," given that we frequently are asked to trust expert systems with our lives, or the lives of our children, about which we might be even more protective. He calls this the "bargain with modernity" that we must make to live normally in society without being consumed by constant fear and doubt.

7-14-21 Covid-19 news: Infections surge across US as delta variant takes hold
The latest coronavirus news updated every day including coronavirus cases, the latest news, features and interviews from New Scientist and essential information about the covid-19 pandemic. US sees rising coronavirus cases as vaccination rate slows! Coronavirus infections in the US are on the rise again after months of being in decline, with the highly transmissible delta variant contributing significantly to the recent surge. About 23,600 new coronavirus cases were confirmed across the US on 12 July, up from 11,300 on 23 June, according to Johns Hopkins University. Every US state, with the exceptions of Maine and South Dakota, reported rises in cases over the past two weeks. The delta variant is now estimated to account for 58 per cent of US cases. The UK’s parliament has approved plans to make covid-19 vaccination mandatory for care home staff in England. Starting in October, anyone working in a Care Quality Commission-registered care home in England must be fully vaccinated unless they have a medical exemption. The government pushed ahead with the plan, despite employer and staff organisations warning in June that it could backfire if staff who don’t wish to get vaccinated decide to quit. London mayor Sadiq Khan said the wearing of face coverings will remain mandatory on London Transport after most coronavirus restrictions are lifted in England on 19 July. “We know from the World Health Organization that wearing a face covering, particularly indoors where you can’t keep your distance, does reduce transmission,” Khan told the BBC’s Breakfast show on 14 July. Indonesia reported a record daily rise in coronavirus infections on 14 July, with 54,517 new cases. Hospitals in the country are increasingly overwhelmed. South Korea tightened rules on social distancing in most of the country on 14 July, as it reported a record daily rise in coronavirus cases of 1615.

7-14-21 Texas Democrats defy arrest threats after fleeing to block voting law
Democrats from Texas have defied threats of arrest after fleeing the state in an effort to stop Republicans from passing a sweeping new voting law. More than 50 Democrats flew to Washington DC on Monday, in a move intended to paralyse the state's House of Representatives ahead of the vote. At least two-thirds of the chamber's 150 members must be present for a vote. On Tuesday, Republican Governor Greg Abbott threatened the missing politicians with arrest. He said they would be detained "as soon as they come back" to Texas. "They will be cabined inside the Texas Capitol until they get their job done," he said in an interview with the local television station KVUE ABC. In Austin, where the Texas State Capitol sits, House Republicans authorised state police to find and bring back the Democrats "under warrant of arrest if necessary". State police, however, have no jurisdiction outside of Texas. And Representative Eddie Morales, a Democrat who did not fly to Washington, told the Associated Press that he did not expect state police to leave Texas to detain the politicians. The voting bill that prompted the Democratic exodus would ban 24-hour polling places and add ID requirements for mail-in voting. It was proposed amid a wave of voting restrictions in Republican-led states. Republicans argue the measures are essential for election security, but Democrats see them as an attack on the right to vote. The Texas Senate passed its version of the bill on Tuesday, but the House was unable to follow suit due to the missing Democrats. It must be passed in both chambers to become law. The Democrats in Washington, who left Austin on two private jets on Monday, have vowed not to return until the 30-day special session on the bill ends next month. "Our intent is to stay out and kill this bill this session," Texas House Democratic Caucus Chairman Chris Turner said on Tuesday.

7-14-21 Voting rights: How the battle is unfolding across the US
The battle over voting rights in the US is a drama that's playing out in the Congress and state legislatures across the country. In Philadelphia on Tuesday, Joe Biden gave a fiery speech, warning that American democracy is facing its greatest threat since the Civil War. "There's an unfolding assault taking place in America today, an attempt to suppress and subvert the right to vote and fair and free elections," the president said. Biden condemned recent efforts in 17 Republican-controlled states to pass laws curtailing when and where their citizens can vote - laws conservatives have framed as a response to allegations of voting fraud repeatedly made by Donald Trump in the months after his presidential defeat. Many Republicans now believe the election was stolen from Trump - an assertion Biden called "the big lie" and one that has not been substantiated by concrete evidence. Meanwhile, in Texas the fight over voting changes has led to drastic measures, as Democratic legislators have temporarily blocked passage of voting legislation by flying to Washington, DC. There, they are pressuring congressional Democrats to enact new federal rules for conducting elections that would supersede any state actions. At the centre of this national debate is a question of what is the greatest threat to American democracy. Is it the security of an election process that in 2020 relied heavily on early and mail-in voting? Or is it a system, corrupted by the influence of big donors and powerful interests, that makes voting more difficult than necessary, particularly for historically disadvantaged groups? The Democratic effort at a national voting law centres around passage of the "For the People Act". It represents one of the most expansive federal reforms of the US election system in a generation. The bill would guarantee that voters can receive a mail-in ballot if requested, mandate a minimum of 15 days of early voting before every federal election, require paper ballots and set standards for voting machines.

7-14-21 Gun resembling Lego toy sparks backlash in US
A US gun company is facing a backlash for producing a pistol that looks like a children's toy made of Lego. Culper Precision said its customised Glock weapon, named Block19, was developed to "highlight the pure enjoyment of the shooting sports". But Danish toymaker Lego has written to the company demanding that it stop producing the weapon, which is covered in what looks like Lego bricks. Gun control campaigners described the pistol as irresponsible and dangerous. Shannon Watts, of the Everytown for Gun Safety campaign group, said her organisation had contacted Lego about the customised Block19 last week, and that the Danish company had then sent a "cease and desist" letter to Culper Precision. Ms Watts also criticised the gun company, which is based in Utah, saying there was a risk that children may be drawn to use firearms "even when guns don't look like toys". Culper Precision said in a statement that it had chosen to release the Block19 in an attempt to show that guns were "for everyone" and that "owning and shooting firearms responsibly is a really enjoyable activity". It added that the firearm could only be purchased by those legally permitted to own a gun. Culper Precision president Brandon Scott told the Washington Post newspaper that after discussions with a lawyer he decided to comply with the request from Lego. The weapon appears to have since been removed from the gun manufacturer's website. It is illegal in the US to produce a children's toy that precisely resembles a real gun, but the laws do not explicitly prevent manufacturers from making a gun that resembles a toy. Accidents involving children and firearms are on the increase in the US. More than 140 people were killed in such gun-related incidents last year.

7-14-21 Iranian intelligence operatives charged in plot to kidnap author living in Brooklyn
Four Iranian intelligence operatives have been charged with plotting to kidnap a Brooklyn journalist, author, and human rights activist who has been a vocal critic of the Iranian regime, federal prosecutors said on Tuesday. The four operatives charged are Alireza Shavaroghi Farahani, Mahmoud Khazein, Kiya Sadeghi, and Omid Noori. A fifth person, Niloufar Bahadorifar, has been accused of providing financial support to the operatives. Farahani, Khazein, Sadeghi, and Noori all live in Iran and Bahadorifar resides in California; she was arrested on July 1. Prosecutors said in court documents that over the last two years, Iranian intelligence officers have been successful in getting Iranians who live in other countries to go to places where they can be captured, and once they are sent back to Iran, they are imprisoned and executed. The court documents did not reveal the name of the person the operatives were allegedly planning to abduct and bring back to Iran, but Masih Alinejad told NBC News she was the focus of the operation, saying that she's been "targeted for a number of years, but this is the first time that such an audacious plot has been hatched and foiled." Alinejad has criticized the Iranian government for its human rights abuses and mandatory dress codes for women. She left Iran in 2009. Alinejad tweeted that she was "grateful" to the FBI for "foiling the Islamic Republic of Iran's Intelligence Ministry's plot to kidnap me. This plot was orchestrated under [Iranian President Hassan] Rouhani." Last year, Alinejad wrote in The Washington Post that she had been notified that the Iranian government wanted her returned to the country, and while it was "horrifying," it wasn't "entirely unexpected. The regime has tried many forms of intimidation to silence me over the years."

7-14-21 Is it time for the UK to vaccinate children against covid-19?
THE UK looks set to drop almost all of its covid-19 restrictions on 19 July, despite infections soaring. The UK government appears to be banking on the fact that more than half the nation has been fully vaccinated against the virus, helping minimise the number of hospitalisations from covid-19. But most under-18s, who make up about a fifth of the UK population, haven’t had jabs yet. The rationale for this is that children get less sick from covid-19 and were mainly excluded from initial vaccine trials, so there is less information on vaccine effectiveness in people of that age. While UK regulatory approval for the Pfizer/BioNTech jab was extended in June to people who are 12 or older, the body that decides whether people in the UK should in practice be offered vaccines, the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI), is still making up its mind. This is in contrast to the US, Israel, France and Spain, for example, which have either begun vaccinating children aged 12 and over or are about to. Is it time more countries followed suit? Here’s what we know about vaccinating children against covid-19. What evidence is there on child vaccination? Initial trials of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine included people aged 16 and over, so in some countries, including the US, older teens have been offered this jab from the start of the roll-out. Two further trials have been done in younger teens, testing the default.aspx Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna mRNA vaccines. Both found good effectiveness, with Pfizer/BioNTech generating higher levels of antibodies in teens than in adults. More trials in younger groups are ongoing, including some in under-12s. Side effects appeared similar to those seen in adults – in other words, a sore arm, plus broader effects like fatigue and headache.

7-14-21 Illinois becomes first state to mandate teaching Asian American history
Illinois has become the first US state to require teaching Asian American history in government-run schools. Attacks on Asian Americans have been rising since the start of the pandemic, and state officials say the law will combat false stereotypes and bigotry. Schools will be required to teach about the contributions of Asian American communities to the development of the US, as well as civil rights history. The new mandate will take effect in time for the 2022-2023 school year. "We are setting a new standard for what it means to truly reckon with our history," Democratic Governor JB Pritzker said on Friday after signing the bill into law. "It's a new standard that helps us understand one another." Students next year will learn how Asian Americans were involved with "the economic, cultural, social and political development of the United States", as well as the history of Asian Americans in Illinois and the Midwest, specifically. Illinois schools must add a unit on this material for elementary and high school students, though some experts say without providing adequate resources to teachers, it is unclear how impactful the measure will be overall. Support for the Teaching Equitable Asian American History Act gained traction after mass shootings earlier this year. In March, eight people, including six Asian women, were killed at two Atlanta, Georgia, spas; in April, four members of the Sikh community were shot dead at a FedEx store in Indianapolis, Indiana. Last year, 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, though it is difficult to determine exact numbers for such attacks. Advocates say these incidents are hate crimes linked to rhetoric blaming Asian people for the spread of Covid-19. Illinois' new law comes at a time when America's racial history - and how to teach it - is also under intense debate.

7-14-21 How medical tests have built-in discrimination against Black people
THE assumption that Black people have a lower level of cognitive function than white people was, until recently, built into a formula used by the US National Football League to settle head injury lawsuits. The NFL has now pledged to stop using this “race-norming” formula, but race-based adjustments in routine diagnostic tests remain pervasive in mainstream medicine. Although some scientific organisations are working to remove such adjustments, many contacted by New Scientist declined to take a stance on the issue, which is growing in prominence. Race-norming was first established in the 1990s by psychiatrist Robert Heaton at the University of California, San Diego, as a way to try to account for the way African American people tended to score lower than white people on cognitive tests, which are commonly used to diagnose conditions such as dementia. Subsequent research has shown that adjusting cognitive test performance to take social factors – such as education quality- into account significantly reduces this variance by race. Despite this, Katherine Possin at the University of California, San Francisco, says that race-norming of cognitive tests is still widely practised by doctors in the US today, something she says is extremely problematic. Heaton says that although observed differences in test performance between subgroups of the US population may be explained by racial discrimination, stressful life experiences, a lack of consistent access to good nutrition and healthcare, and limited educational opportunities, measuring these directly is too hard. “These are extremely difficult to measure, quantify and ‘correct for’ in interpreting test results,” said Heaton in a written statement to New Scientist. “The fact remains, that a very substantial amount of variability in the test performance of normal adults can be ‘explained’ (accounted for) by the demographic variables of age, education, sex, and race/ethnicity (together), so our best available norms ‘correct’ for these characteristics.”

7-13-21 5 members of a Texas family have been charged with allegedly participating in Capitol riot
Five members of a Texas family were arrested on Tuesday, with each person facing four federal charges of illegal entry and disorderly conduct in the Capitol during the Jan. 6 riot. More than 530 arrests have been made in connection with the Capitol attack, and while some sets of spouses and parents and their children have been detained, this is the largest family unit to get arrested so far, ABC News reports. According to the criminal complaint filed on Tuesday afternoon, Kristi Munn, Tom Munn, Dawn Munn, Josh Munn, and Kayli Munn from Borger, Texas, allegedly traveled to Washington, D.C., on Jan. 5 and participated in the Capitol riot the next day. Prosecutors say a minor was also with the family on Jan. 6 as they entered the Capitol building; the minor has not been identified or charged. None of the members of the family have entered pleas in the case yet. Using surveillance footage and social media posts, investigators pieced together the Munn family's movements during the Capitol riot. The FBI was first alerted about the family three days after the attack, when a tipster sent in screenshots of Kristi Munn's Facebook and Snapchat accounts. In an affidavit, investigators say they went on to look at the rest of the family's social media accounts, and found that on Facebook, Tom Munn allegedly wrote, "The only damage to the capital building was several windows and sets of doors. Nothing inside the capital was damaged. I can tell you, patriots NEVER made it to the chamber, There was no violence in the capital building, the crowd was NOT out of control ... they were ANGRY!!!" Read more at ABC News.

7-13-21 In Missouri, COVID-19 cases are surging and hospitalized patients are younger than ever
With the highly-contagious Delta variant spreading across the country, the number of new coronavirus cases is surging in 45 states, with just Maine, South Dakota, and Iowa reporting decreases in new cases over the past week versus the previous week. In Delaware and Arkansas, the rates of new cases are remaining steady. Data from Johns Hopkins University shows that in 34 states, the number of new cases in the past week compared to the previous week are at least 50 percent higher. Doctors say that the vast majority of the new coronavirus cases, hospitalizations, and deaths are among people who have not received COVID-19 vaccines. Missouri has one of the lowest vaccination rates in the country, with about 45 percent of residents receiving at least one dose, and the state is dealing with one of the worst outbreaks of the Delta variant. The seven-day average of new cases is close to 1,400 per day, up 150 percent from last month. To try to help combat the spread of the virus, a surge team comprised of members of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Federal Emergency Management Agency has been sent to the state. Dr. Howard Jarvis is an emergency physician in Springfield, and told CNN that if a patient is "sick enough to be admitted to the hospital, they are unvaccinated. That is the absolute common denominator amongst those patients." Before COVID-19 vaccines were available, Jarvis said doctors were seeing "a much older patient population in the emergency department and getting admitted to the hospital. In recent weeks, we've been seeing a much younger population. We're seeing a lot of people in their 30s, 40s, early 50s. We're seeing some teenagers and some pediatric patients as well." In St. Louis County, officials said the rate of new cases increased by 63 percent over the last two weeks, with County Executive Sam Page warning that "a tidal wave is coming towards our unvaccinated populations. The variant is spreading quickly, and this variant has the ability to devastate those in its wake. And that is why it is so critical to get vaccinated now."

7-13-21 France sees surge in vaccine appointments after Macron's health pass mandate
France is seeing a record number of people sign up for COVID-19 vaccines after French President Emmanuel Macron's announcement about health passes being required in certain settings. About 1.3 million people signed up for COVID-19 vaccine appointments in less than a day following a Monday address from Macron, setting a new daily record, The Associated Press reports. The surge in appointments came after Macron ordered all health care workers in France to get vaccinated by Sept. 15, while also announcing that COVID-19 health passes would be required to go to a restaurant, shopping mall, or theater, as well as to go on a train or plane, according to The Associated Press. Getting a health pass requires showing proof of being fully vaccinated, of recovering from COVID-19 recently, or of testing negative. "Vaccination is not obligatory straight away, but we are going to extend the health pass to its maximum to encourage as many of you as possible to get yourselves vaccinated," Macron said, per France 24. Most of the new sign-ups were made by people under the age of 35, according to the AP. One 22-year-old law student, Marius Chavenon, told the Associated Press that I don't think vaccination should be compulsory," but "I'm getting vaccinated because I want to have a social life and go on holidays."

7-13-21 Covid-19 news: Concern over planned easing of restrictions 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. Concerns remain ahead of the planned easing of most coronavirus restrictions in England on 19 July. UK prime minister Boris Johnson confirmed that the final stage of lockdown easing in England will go ahead on 19 July, despite doctors and scientists expressing concerns about the potential strain that rising covid-19 cases could put on hospitals. “We would get through it as we have before,” said Alison Pittard at the Faculty of Intensive Care Medicine in the UK told the BBC.“But it would be at the expense of elective care and other treatments.” The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) said that the Johnson & Johnson covid-19 vaccine may be associated with an increased risk of a rare neurological condition called Guillain-Barré syndrome, although it said that currently available evidence is insufficient to establish a causal relationship. Officials identified 100 suspected cases of the syndrome among approximately 12.8 million people who have received the vaccine so far in the US, according to preliminary reports. Guillain-Barré syndrome has previously been linked to other vaccines, including some flu vaccines. According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the risk is thought to be in the range of one or two additional cases per million flu vaccine doses administered and lower than the risk of getting Guillain-Barré syndrome from flu itself. The European Medicines Agency (EMA) recently recommended that the Oxford/AstraZeneca covid-19 vaccine should also carry a warning about an increased risk of Guillain-Barré syndrome, and it is also analysing data on the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. Both the FDA and the EMA emphasised that the benefits of the two vaccines outweigh the potential risks. French president Emmanuel Macron said that all health and social care workers will be required to get vaccinated against covid-19 by 15 September, with those failing to comply to face sanctions or fines. At least 64 people were killed by a fire in a coronavirus isolation ward at a hospital in the Iraqi city Nasiriya, Iraqi state media reported.

7-13-21 F irefighters make progress battling massive blazes in California and Oregon
Two major wildfires in California and Oregon are still burning, but amid an intense heat wave, firefighters are making steady progress as they work toward full containment. The Beckwourth Complex fire in Northern California is the largest blaze burning in the state. So far, more than 91,200 acres have been scorched near the Nevada border. Fire officials said that as of Monday evening, the fire is 26 percent contained, an improvement from 8 percent on Sunday. The Beckwourth Complex fire was sparked by lightning that hit in the Plumas National Forest, and has destroyed 20 houses in the town of Doyle. California Incident Management Operations Section Chief Jake Cagle said on Monday that the "extreme weather conditions we're dealing with" mean that the "probability of ignition" is 100 percent, should a match or ember make it to dry brush. "And it's still early," he added. "This is stuff that we expect in August, for the past five, six, seven years — now we're seeing it earlier in July." The Bootleg Fire in southern Oregon's Fremont-Winema National Forest has burned an estimated 150,800 acres, NBC News reports, but after doubling in size, it only grew by around 5,000 acres on Monday morning. The cause of this fire has not yet been determined.

7-13-21 US heatwave: Could US and Canada see the worst wildfires yet?
After record temperatures, western parts of the US and Canada are bracing themselves for the annual wildfire season. There are warnings that this season could be another highly destructive one, so we've looked at why that might be. Experts told us the potential for a record-breaking wildfire season is significant. Dr Mike Flannigan, professor of wildland fires at the University of Alberta, said that fires need three ingredients: 1. vegetation or fuel, 2. ignition (caused by humans or lightning), 4. hot, dry and windy weather. Dr Flannigan added: "It really depends on the day-to-day weather, but the potential is sky-high for parts of Canada and the American west as they are in a multi-year drought. " The US drought monitor - a partnership between the Department of Agriculture and other expert organisations - says half the nation is under some form of drought, with the most severe in western states. In June this year, parts of western Canada recorded their highest-ever temperatures. The village of Lytton in British Columbia (BC) province made headlines after it reported Canada's record temperature of 49.6C. This set off a series of wildfires, which puts the amount of land burnt in the region way ahead of the average for this time of year. Western US states are also experiencing soaring temperatures and wildfires. Another concern is the lack of compressed and hardened snow (known as snowpack) in mountainous areas this year because of higher temperatures. This usually acts as a barrier to burning, and alleviates drought conditions. Looking at the Sierra Nevada mountain range in July 2019 compared with July this year, you can see snow cover is significantly reduced in 2021. t was at a similarly low level in July 2020, a year in which California experienced record-breaking wildfires. Dr Susan Prichard, from the School of Environmental and Forest Sciences at the University of Washington, says: "That means that vegetation from low to high elevations is more predisposed to burning."

7-13-21 Texas Democrats flee state to block Republican voting law
Democratic politicians in Texas have left their state en masse in an effort to prevent Republicans there from passing a law to tighten voting rules. The move will temporarily paralyse the state's House of Representatives, which requires at least two-thirds of the 150 members be present for a vote. At least 50 House Democrats boarded two private jets from Austin to Washington DC on Monday. The move comes amid a wave of voting restrictions in Republican-led states. Republicans argue the measures are essential for election security but Democrats see them as an attack on the right to vote. The bill in Texas would ban 24-hour polling places and expand the authority of partisan poll watchers. A first vote is planned later this week. The House lawmakers took off on Monday afternoon. When they landed in Washington DC, the Democrats said they would not return until the 30-day special session had ended next month. Under Texas House rules, absent politicians can be arrested and returned to the house floor. But the authority responsible does not have jurisdiction outside Texas. In response to the exodus, Texas House Speaker Dade Phelan, a Republican, said the House would use "every available resource" to secure a quorum. Texas Democrats are again attempting to prevent state Republicans from passing new voting restrictions - and where they're going says everything about their ultimate objective. This fight, in their view, will be won or lost in Washington DC - where Democrats have control - not in Texas, where Republicans call the shots. And not only could federal legislation override the proposed changes to Texas voting laws, it would also block enacted measures in Georgia, Arizona and other key presidential battleground states. There has been concern among liberals that the Biden administration is not taking seriously the threat state-level voting laws pose to Democratic candidates in forthcoming elections - and has not shown a willingness to take aggressive action in Congress to push through new national rules. It is, however, a symbolic move. It probably only delays the inevitable in Texas and is unlikely to change the dynamic in Washington, where the Republican Senate minority has more effective means to block the Democrats than simply leaving town.

7-13-21 Top Tennessee vaccine official says she was 'terminated for doing my job'
The Tennessee state government's former top vaccine official is speaking out after her firing, saying she's "afraid for my state." Dr. Michelle Fiscus, who served as the Tennessee Department of Health's medical director for vaccine-preventable diseases and immunization programs, said she was fired Monday and given no explanation in her termination letter, the Nashville Tennessean reports. In a statement, though, Fiscus wrote that she had been facing accusations of trying to "undermine parental authority" when, in a memo, she pointed to Tennessee Supreme Court case law stating that "minors ages 14-17 years are able to receive medical care in Tennessee without parental consent." She explains that this was only an "informational memo" that she sent after she had been receiving questions about the existing rules about vaccinating minors, but it still sparked backlash and prompted claims that she was "encouraging to vaccinate children without parental consent." "It was my job to provide evidence-based education and vaccine access so that Tennesseans could protect themselves against COVID-19," she writes. "...I have been terminated for doing my job because some of our politicians have bought into the anti-vaccine misinformation campaign rather than taking the time to speak with the medical experts." Fiscus, while noting that the Tennessee Department of Health is "halting all vaccination outreach for children," went on to blast state leaders who "thought they knew better than the scientists," writing, "I am ashamed of them. I am afraid for my state. I am angry for the amazing people of the Tennessee Department of Health who have been mistreated by an uneducated public and leaders who have only their own interests in mind." She also told CNN that she's "angry that public health is political in this state" and that it's "astounding to me how absolutely political and self-centered our elected people are here," adding, "The people of Tennessee are going to pay a price."

7-13-21 US Afghanistan withdrawal: Top commander steps down
The top US and Nato general in Afghanistan has formally transferred control as the US-led military mission fast approaches its end after 20 years. General Austin "Scott" Miller stepped down on Monday, days after President Joe Biden said that US military operations would cease by 31 August. Other Nato countries, including the UK, have withdrawn nearly all military forces ahead of Mr Biden's US deadline. It comes as Taliban militants seize more territory throughout Afghanistan. In a simple ceremony on Monday, Gen Miller handed over his duties to two US generals - one who will oversee US military action from Central Command headquarters in Florida, and one who will command the roughly 650 troops to remain after the official US withdrawal. "It's important to me to say farewell," Gen Miller told the attendees, who included high ranking Afghan officials, in an emotional final address. "Our job is now not to forget." Gen Miller was the longest serving officer to oversee Nato and US forces in Afghanistan, which he called "the highlight" of his career. BBC chief international correspondent Lyse Doucet, who attended Monday's ceremony in Kabul, says his departure underscores how an era has ended - even as the US emphasises support will continue. "It's going to be far harder for the US and its allies to know what's happening on the ground in Afghanistan, to have decisive impact in areas controlled by the government, and even less, in the growing number of districts where the Taliban now say they're in charge." The Taliban recently claimed that their fighters have retaken 85% of territory in Afghanistan - a figure impossible to independently verify and disputed by the government. Other estimates say the Taliban controls more than a third of Afghanistan's 400 districts. US-led forces removed the Taliban from power in 2001. The group had been harbouring Osama Bin Laden and other al-Qaeda figures linked to the 11 September 2001 attacks in the US that triggered the invasion.

7-13-21 France sees surge in vaccine appointments after Macron's health pass mandate
France is seeing a record number of people sign up for COVID-19 vaccines after French President Emmanuel Macron's announcement about health passes being required in certain settings. About 1.3 million people signed up for COVID-19 vaccine appointments in less than a day following a Monday address from Macron, setting a new daily record, The Associated Press reports. The surge in appointments came after Macron ordered all health care workers in France to get vaccinated by Sept. 15, while also announcing that COVID-19 health passes would be required to go to a restaurant, shopping mall, or theater, as well as to go on a train or plane, according to The Associated Press. Getting a health pass requires showing proof of being fully vaccinated, of recovering from COVID-19 recently, or of testing negative. "Vaccination is not obligatory straight away, but we are going to extend the health pass to its maximum to encourage as many of you as possible to get yourselves vaccinated," Macron said, per France 24. Most of the new sign-ups were made by people under the age of 35, according to the AP. One 22-year-old law student, Marius Chavenon, told the Associated Press that I don't think vaccination should be compulsory," but "I'm getting vaccinated because I want to have a social life and go on holidays."

7-13-21 France Covid: Vaccinations mandatory for all health workers
All health care workers in France must be fully vaccinated against Covid-19 by September or risk not being paid, the government has announced. The requirement applies to doctors, nurses, office staff and volunteers. President Emmanuel Macron has also said that from next month, health passes will need to be shown to access places like shops, bars, cinemas and long-distance train journeys in France. The passes show the holder has been jabbed, or had a recent negative test. "I am aware of what I am asking of you, and I know that you are ready for this commitment, this is part, in a way, of your sense of duty," the president said in a televised address on Monday. The mandatory vaccinations will apply to anyone who comes into contact with vulnerable people, and therefore applies to everyone who works in hospitals, clinics and care homes, regardless of their role. They must be vaccinated by 15 September or risk not being paid, Health Minister Olivier Véran told France's LCI television. Health passes are already used to enter some venues, such as nightclubs which reopened for the first time at the weekend. However they will be expanded to include more places including festivals, theatres and hospitals from 21 July and will apply to those aged over 12 years old. To encourage people to get jabbed, PCR covid tests that are currently free will have to be paid for, unless accompanied with a doctor's prescription. After the president's announcement, Doctolib, the website people use to book their jabs, crashed as so many people tried secure appointments. Cases are rising in France, with the Delta variant causing a surge in hospital admissions. On Friday, a panel of scientists who advise the French government on health matters warned of a fourth wave in the coming months, and said as many as 95% of people may need to be vaccinated to control the spread. However, only a little over half of the population has received a first dose and less than 40% have had two shots.

7-12-21 U.S. COVID-19 hospitalizations are ticking up again as Delta variant spreads
With the more transmissible Delta variant spreading throughout the United States, COVID-19 hospitalizations are trending upward in more than two dozen states, New York Times data shows. Overall, the U.S. has seen an 11 percent hike in the last 14 days. While there are a few outliers on either end, there is a clear correlation between vaccination and rising cases and hospitalizations, with the Times writing that the increase in cases is "primarily due to localized outbreaks in places with low vaccination" numbers. For instance, of the states with the highest inoculation rates, only one has seen an uptick in hospitalizations over the last two weeks, per the Times data. That's Rhode Island, which has recorded a 1 percent increase. On the other end of the spectrum, 12 of the 15 states with the lowest vaccination rates have reported an increase in hospitalizations, some of them significant. The figures suggest the three COVID-19 shots that have been authorized for emergency use are still holding their own against the Delta variant, especially when it comes to severe infections — but a stagnant rollout could contribute to another surge.

7-12-21 How the discovery of 'autoantibodies' could aid in the fight against 'long COVID'
Scientists at Imperial College London have discovered distinct antibody patterns in patients with ongoing COVID-19 symptoms, spurring optimism around a potential blood test that could identify those suffering from "long COVID," The Guardian reports. The so-called "autoantibodies" identified by researchers mistakenly attack healthy tissue and cause protracted damage and symptoms like chronic fatigue, breathlessness, and headaches, the Guardian writes. And because autoantibodies are only present in long COVID patients, researchers are "fairly optimistic" about the development of a new blood test that could be used to determine whether or not a patient is suffering from the condition. Long COVID detection abilities will prove vital in providing specialty care for people with ongoing symptoms, and not just those who were previously hospitalized, per the Guardian. Danny Altmann, a professor of immunology at Imperial College London, said he hopes that "within six months we'd have a simple blood test that you could get from your GP." "It's hard to escape a prediction that 100,000 new infections a day equates to 10,000 to 20,000 long COVID cases a day, especially in young people. That's a lot of damage to a lot of lives, said Altmann. "All of us working on this could not be more alarmed." Read more about COVID long-haulers at The Week.

7-12-21 In California, K-12 students who refuse to wear a mask will be barred from campus
No mask, no school. Under California's new state regulations announced on Monday, students in Kindergarten through 12th grade who refuse to wear masks inside their classrooms and school buildings this fall will be prohibited from coming on campus. There will be exceptions for kids who have special needs or disabilities, and they will receive non-restrictive alternative face coverings on a case-by-case basis. All schools and buses will have masks to hand out to kids as needed, and face coverings will be optional outside. If a student won't wear a mask, the state regulations say, then "schools should offer alternative educational opportunities." In California, 99 percent of school districts have said they will fully reopen in the fall for in-person classes, and Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond told the Los Angeles Times the state's health rules seem to be "a safe course for ensuring that every student can come back to school in the fall. I certainly see the logic of it." Masks are especially important when there is not ample room for physical distancing, he added, and in cases where not everyone in a room is vaccinated; only people 12 and older are eligible for the coronavirus vaccine, and not everyone who can get vaccinated has done so. On Friday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released recommendations saying that schools could allow vaccinated students to go to class and not have to wear a mask. This wasn't a mandate, though, and California decided to take a stricter approach.

7-12-21 Covid-19 deaths in England could peak at 100 per day in August
More than 100 people a day are expected to die and more than 1000 a day be admitted to hospital at the peak of the UK’s current wave of covid-19 cases, the government’s scientific advisers are anticipating. Modelling released by the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) today gives the first detailed look at the impacts that might stem from around 100,000 cases per day, the number that UK health secretary Sajid Javid has warned the country could hit when restrictions lift in England on 19 July. Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have different plans for relaxing rules. Cases aren’t expected to peak until mid-August at the earliest, as covid-19 spreads to younger people who aren’t yet vaccinated. The high level of vaccination and more younger people being infected mean the link between cases and hospitalisations and deaths has been weakened but not broken. There now appears to be a fourfold lower chance of hospitalisations and roughly tenfold lower chance of deaths than during the second wave. There remains a high level of uncertainty over the predicted size of the UK’s third wave as restrictions are lifted. That uncertainty stems partly from small differences in uptake of vaccines and in their efficacy making a big difference to epidemiological models. One possibility is that there are more unvaccinated people than thought, because population numbers aren’t yet available from the census for England, Wales and Northern Ireland taken earlier this year. However, the biggest uncertainty comes from how people will behave when restrictions are waived. A central estimate of between 1000 and 2000 hospital admissions a day and 100 to 200 deaths a day in England when cases peak is based on the assumption that people’s behaviour will change slowly over several months, rather than suddenly. That means it is assuming that people will still isolate if they have symptoms or test positive, wear masks in crowded places – despite it no longer being a legal requirement – and people who can work from home will largely continue to do so.

7-12-21 Covid-19 news: Blood test to detect long covid may soon be possible
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 have discovered distinct patterns of autoantibodies in the blood of people experiencing persistent covid-19 symptoms. A blood test for “long covid” may be on the horizon as researchers have identified distinct patterns of autoantibodies – antibodies that attack and damage healthy tissues – present in people experiencing persistent covid-19 symptoms. “I’m fairly optimistic, so I’d hope that within six months we’d have a simple blood test that you could get from your GP,” Danny Altmann, who is leading the research at Imperial College London, told the BBC’s Panorama programme. Coronavirus cases are continuing to rise across Europe, with the Netherlands particularly hard-hit. On 12 July, Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte apologised for lifting coronavirus restrictions too early, as cases in the Netherlands reached their highest levels in 2021 so far. “We had poor judgment, which we regret and for which we apologise,” Rutte told journalists on 12 July. The Netherlands reported more than 7000 new cases on 9 July, up from 1000 daily new cases just a week earlier, prompting Rutte to reimpose restrictions on bars, restaurants and nightclubs. Spain, Portugal and Greece are also among countries seeing rising cases. Chinese companies Sinopharm and Sinovac have agreed to provide up to 550 million covid-19 vaccines to the COVAX programme, a World Health Organization (WHO)-backed scheme aiming to ensure equitable access to covid-19 vaccines globally. COVAX has experienced severe supply delays due to disruptions in the export of vaccines from India, a major global manufacturer. WHO covid-19 technical lead Maria Van Kerkhove said it was “devastating” to see large crowds of unmasked people screaming, shouting and singing at the Euro 2020 men’s football final in London on 12 July, highlighting the risk posed by the delta coronavirus variant. Van Kerkhove tweeted: “Am I supposed to be enjoying watching transmission happening in front of my eyes?”

7-12-21 The critical race theory fight is leading to educator 'brain drain'
A growing number of educators across the country are being fired or resigning as hostility toward critical race theory and its role in the classroom mounts, NBC News reports. Even as administrators in embattled districts insist they don't teach critical race theory (an academic framework intended for graduate students), some parents of young students and conservative activists have continued to use the phrase as a label for a "range of diversity and equity initiatives that they consider too progressive," NBC News writes. Frustrated teachers, unable to address "divisive concepts" with students, are then forced out, leading to "what educators and experts describe as a brain drain of those who are most committed to fighting racism in schools." "This is going to cause an exodus among an already scarce recruiting field in education," said Kumar Rashad, a math teacher in Louisville, Kentucky. "People aren't entering the field as much as they were, and now we have this to chase them away." Lawmakers in 22 states have already proposed limits on how schools can discuss and address racial issues, per NBC News. In Jacksonville, Florida, for example, a white English teacher was fired for displaying a Black Lives Matter banner in her highschool classroom. A social studies teacher at a Tennessee high school is "facing termination" after assigning an essay on former President Donald Trump by Ta-Nehisi Coates and "showing a video of a poetry reading about white privilege." And in Eureka, Missouri, Brittany Hogan, one district's only Black administrator, chose to resign from her role as diversity coordinator after receiving threats so severe she needed private security to patrol her house. "One of the biggest joys I have is being an educator," said Hogan. "But the job didn't seem worth my emotional and physical safety." Read more at NBC News.

7-12-21 US heatwave: Wildfires rage in western states as temperatures soar
Wildfires are raging in the west of the United States as the region is hit by a heatwave that has brought record temperatures to several areas. Communities have been told to evacuate as firefighters struggle to battle the blazes in the extreme conditions. In California, residents were urged to cut power consumption after interstate power lines were knocked out. On Saturday, two firefighters in Arizona died when their aircraft crashed while responding to a blaze. Meanwhile, Las Vegas, Nevada, matched its all-time temperature high of 47.2C (117F) on Saturday. Firefighters battling the many wildfires in the region say the air is so dry that much of the water dropped by aircraft to quell the flames evaporates before it reaches the ground. It comes just weeks after another dangerous heatwave hit North America, in which hundreds of sudden deaths were recorded, many of them suspected of being heat-related. The region experienced its hottest June on record, according to the EU's Earth observation programme. Experts say that climate change is expected to increase the frequency of extreme weather events, such as heatwaves. But linking any single event to global warming is complicated. However, a study by climate researchers said the heat that scorched western Canada and the US at the end of June was "virtually impossible" without climate change. Arizona's Bureau of Land Management paid tribute to the two "brave wildland firefighters" who died in a plane crash while performing aerial reconnaissance, command and control over the lightning-caused Cedar Basin Fire. "Our hearts are heavy tonight with sincere condolences to families, loved ones and firefighters affected by this tragic aviation accident", the agency said. The accident occurred at around noon local time (19:00 GMT) on Saturday near the small community of Wikieup. Further information was not immediately available and the firefighters have not been officially named.

7-12-21 UK bans fifth neo-Nazi group under terror laws
An American neo-Nazi group which is led from Russia is to be banned as a terrorist organisation, the Home Secretary has said. Priti Patel condemned "evil white supremacist groups, who target vulnerable people across the world". The Base will be the fifth extreme right-wing group to be proscribed in the UK under anti-terror laws. Last year BBC Panorama exposed the organisation's recruitments efforts in the UK. A BBC investigation also exposed the group's American founder Rinaldo Nazzaro and revealed how he was directing The Base from his St Petersburg home. The Base, formed in 2018, seeks to create terrorist cells in the US and other countries in an attempt to establish fascist, white ethno-states through a "race war". Members have engaged in training with weapons and explosives. Several men linked to the group are being prosecuted in the US for offences including conspiracy to murder. The group has been heavily disrupted, although leading figures like Nazzaro remain active. A formal ban in the UK, which will come into force this week if approved by MPs, will make membership or support for the group a terrorism offence with a maximum sentence of 14 years in prison. The Home Office said the group shared aims and ideologies with Atomwaffen Division, and its alias National Socialist Order, which was banned earlier this year. The other right-wing extremist groups proscribed as terror organisations are National Action and Sonnenkrieg Division - both created in the UK - as well as Feuerkrieg Division, founded in Estonia. The Panorama investigation into The Base exposed how Nazzaro and other men interviewed and groomed young recruits from Britain and other countries. The investigation showed how another leading group member, Matthew Baccari, ran a notorious neo-Nazi online forum linked to multiple terrorism prosecutions in UK courts. Nazzaro, who used to work for the FBI and the Pentagon, moved to Russia around the time he created The Base. (Webmaster's comment: All neo-Nazis shoould be in prison untill they change their beliefs!)

7-12-21 One mutation may have set the coronavirus up to become a global menace
A study pinpoints a key change that may have put a bat coronavirus on the path to infect people. A single change in a key viral protein may have helped the coronavirus behind COVID-19 make the jump from animals to people, setting the virus on its way to becoming the scourge it is today. That mutation appears to help the virus’ spike protein strongly latch onto the human version of a host protein called ACE2 that the virus uses to enter and infect cells, researchers report July 6 in Cell. That ability to lock onto the human cells was stronger with the mutated virus than with other coronaviruses lacking the change. What’s more, the mutated virus better replicates in laboratory-grown human lung cells than previous versions of the virus do. “Without this mutation, I don’t think the pandemic would have happened like it has,” says James Weger-Lucarelli, a virologist at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg. The coronavirus’s global spread might have been less likely, he says. Where exactly the coronavirus came from is still a mystery that researchers are trying to unravel (SN: 3/18/21). But figuring out how an animal virus gained the ability to infect people could help researchers develop ways to prevent it from happening again, such as with antivirals or vaccines, Weger-Lucarelli says. The new findings hint that the mutation is important, but “it’s potentially one of multiple” changes that made the jump from animals to people possible, says Andrew Doxey, a computational biologist at the University of Waterloo in Canada who was not involved in the study. “It’s not necessarily the only mutation.” Virologist Ramón Lorenzo Redondo agrees. The researchers employed an approach that is not typically used for viruses, says Redondo, of Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago. That means the method may have overlooked other important mutations.

7-12-21 America's vaccination rate is divided along income lines
Most unvaccinated Americans live in households that make less than $50,000 per year, Axios reports, citing the latest Census Bureau data. The economic divide in the U.S. vaccination rate isn't necessarily driven by skepticism among lower-income Americans, however. Per Axios, almost two-thirds of unvaccinated people in the demographic making less than $50,000 have reported that they will "definitely" or "probably" get the vaccine, suggesting that the holdup is often related to other factors. Julia Railman, a health policy professor at Boston University, told Axios that because "low-income workers are working hard to provide food and housing" it may be "hard for them to find a time to get vaccinated," for example. There's also reportedly some concern about having to take unpaid time off because of side effects from the shots, and Raifman said she's heard anecdotes about employees receiving less favorable hours if they miss work. Read more at Axios.

7-12-21 Covid Australia: 'Graphic' vaccine advert sparks backlash
An Australian vaccine advertisement has sparked a backlash, with many criticising its graphic depiction of a young woman suffering from Covid. The government advert shows the woman in a hospital bed gasping for air while hooked up to a ventilator. The text reads: "Covid-19 can affect anyone…Book your vaccination." But critics say the advert unfairly targets young people, considering under 40s will only be able to access the vaccines at the end of the year. Official health advice also recommends that young people wait for a Pfizer jab instead of the available AstraZeneca jab. Australia has a shortage of Pfizer supplies. The advert is currently only being shown in Sydney, which is in the grip of an outbreak of the Delta variant and is in its third week of lockdown. Authorities reported 112 new cases on Monday, taking the total to over 700 cases since the strain first emerged in mid-June. The release of the advert is part of a larger 'Arm Yourself' vaccination campaign which launched on Sunday. "Completely offensive to run an ad like this when Australians in this age group are still waiting for their vaccinations," tweeted broadcaster Hugh Riminton. "Why are we targeting young people? Shouldn't we be targeting the rising rate of vaccine hesitancy in over-55s?" said another Twitter user. Others, including health professionals, called for the clip to be taken off air, calling it "insensitive". But the government has defended the advert. Australia's Chief Health Officer Paul Kelly said it was "meant to be graphic" to "push the message home" about the need to stay home, get tested and book in vaccines. "We are only doing this because of the situation in Sydney," he said. On Sunday, authorities in Australia's largest city recorded the first death from the outbreak - the nation's first locally-contracted Covid fatality all year.

7-12-21 Covid vaccine: Thailand decides to mix jabs as cases spike
Thailand has changed its vaccine policy to mix China's Sinovac with the AstraZeneca vaccine in a bid to boost protection. The decision comes after hundreds of medical workers caught Covid despite being fully vaccinated with Sinovac. Instead of two Sinovac shots, people will now receive the AstraZeneca vaccine after their first Sinovac shot. Health workers already fully vaccinated with Sinovac will also receive a third booster from a different vaccine. This can be either the AstraZeneca vaccine, or an mRNA vaccine like Pfizer/BioNTech. This third dose will be given three to four weeks after their second Sinovac jab, said the country's National Infectious Disease Committee on Monday. AstraZeneca is currently the only other vaccine available in the country, with Pfizer/BioNTech shots donated by the US set to arrive soon. Thailand first received Sinovac vaccines from China and began giving shots to its health workers in February. On Sunday, the health ministry said out of more than 677,000 medical staff who were fully vaccinated with Sinovac, 618 were infected between April and July. One nurse has died and one medical staff is still in critical condition. According to a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine showing results from Chile, Sinovac has an efficacy rate of 65.9% against Covid-19, is 87.5% effective at preventing hospitalisation and 86.3% effective at preventing death. Thailand is currently in the midst of a spike of new infections, reporting a record high of 9,418 on Sunday. The death toll for the previous day stood at 91, also a record number. Concerns over the efficacy of the Chinese vaccine amid rising cases have sharply driven demand for other shots offered by some private clinics. Last week, one clinic selling the US Moderna vaccine on an online shopping platform saw its offer sold out within minutes. The Phyathai Hospital offered 1,800 vaccination slots for a single Moderna shot at 1,650 Thai baht ($50, £36) via Shopee.

7-12-21 Police investigating racist messages targeting English soccer players after Euro 2020 final
The English Football Association said it is "appalled" by the racist abuse being directed online toward three Black players on the English squad who missed their penalty kicks during Sunday's 2020 UEFA European Football Championship final against Italy. In a statement, the association said that it "strongly condemns all forms of discrimination" and "could not be clearer that anyone behind such disgusting behavior is not welcome in following the team. We will do all we can to support the players affected while urging the toughest punishments possible for anyone responsible." London's Metropolitan Police said the agency is now investigating the "offensive and racist" messages being posted on social media. One of the players who missed his penalty kick, Marcus Rashford, plays for Manchester United, and said in May he received racist messages after the team lost the Europa League final, The Associated Press reports. The English Football Association said it will "continue to do everything we can to stamp discrimination out of this game," but it has become so severe that the government must "act quickly and bring in the appropriate legislation so this abuse has real-life consequences."

7-12-21 How science overlooks Asian Americans
The pandemic put Asian Americans in a spotlight — and revealed how little is known about them. For years, sociologist ChangHwan Kim has sought to characterize the lives and experiences of Asian Americans. Gatekeepers in the research community, though, have often scoffed at his focus on a demographic group that looks like the picture of success in terms of education, earnings, health and other variables (SN: 4/14/21). “In my experience, if I have a study with only Asian Americans, journals are reluctant to publish that work,” says Kim, of the University of Kansas in Lawrence. An apparent lack of interest in studying Asian Americans isn’t limited to sociology; it even appears in medical research. At about 23 million people, Asian Americans represent about 7 percent of the U.S. population and are the fastest-growing demographic group in the country. Yet just 0.17 percent of the National Institutes of Health’s roughly $451 billion research funding between 1992 and 2018 went to clinical studies that included a focus on Asian Americans, researchers reported in 2019 in JAMA Network Open. Over the last year, politicians’ use of racial epithets, such as “China virus” and “kung flu”, to refer to COVID-19, alongside a surge in violence against Asian Americans, has thrust this population into the media spotlight. This attention is “a new phenomenon,” Kim says. That media gaze has showcased just how little is known about Asian Americans and, consequently, how to best meet the population’s needs. Asian Americans’ invisibility in public and scientific discourse stems from the majority-minority paradigm, Kim says. This sociological paradigm frames white Americans, the majority, as better off than minority groups across several metrics, including educational outcomes, wages and family stability. So studies of minorities often focus on issues related to marginalization and inequality. Asian Americans do not appear to fit the paradigm. “Minorities are doing worse than whites. That’s what people want to talk about,” Kim says. “Studies on Asian Americans make things complicated.”

7-11-21 Australia: New South Wales confirms first Covid-related death in 10 months
Australia has reported its first locally contracted coronavirus death this year. The authorities said a woman, in her 90s, died in Sydney. She had contracted the virus in a family setting. New South Wales reported 77 new cases on Sunday. There are now 52 people in hospital, with 15 in intensive care. Sydney is currently in lockdown, as Australia's largest city fights to contain the highly transmissible Delta strain of the virus. The reported death is the state's 57th and the first in 10 months. NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian warned that the number of new daily infections would rise further on Monday. "I'll be shocked if it's less than 100," she said at a briefing on Sunday. She said she feared that "tomorrow and the few days afterwards will be worse, much worse than we've seen today". Australia has recorded 911 deaths and more than 31,000 cases since the pandemic began. A stay-at-home order covering more than five million residents in the Greater Sydney, Wollongong and Central Coast areas was due to be lifted on Friday. It has now been extended to 16 July. The New South Wales government said it recognised the "pain and stress" that lockdown was causing families and businesses. Less than 10% of Australians are fully vaccinated. A lack of supplies, specifically of the Pfizer vaccine, means many Australians will not be able to get a jab until the final months of the year. Australia has used lockdowns and swift contact tracing to combat outbreaks of the virus when it has breached the nation's strict border defences.

7-10-21 Expect White House to face 'a lot of pressure' on Guantanamo amid Afghanistan withdrawal, defense attorney says
As the United States continues to withdraw troops from Afghanistan, "it's going to be harder for the government or deferential courts" to justify the continued detention of prisoners Guantanamo Bay, Guantanamo defense attorney Ben Farley told NPR. Following 9/11, NPR notes, Congress passed the "authorization for use of military force," which gave the executive branch the power to pursue anyone suspected of playing a role in the terrorist attacks, and the government has maintained the law includes the ability to detain prisoners without charge or trial during wartime. But how does the looming end of the the U.S.'s conflict in Afghanistan affect the Guantanamo's last 40 detainees? "One of the fraught questions for the past 20 years has been whether or not the war on terrorism extends beyond the borders of Afghanistan and nearby Pakistan," said Guantanamo defense attorney Michel Paradis. "Is the war a war against al Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan? Or is it a war against terrorism broadly? Is it a war against al Qaeda and anything that shares al Qaeda's ideology, any organization that splits off from al Qaeda?" There likely won't be a neat answer to those questions, but Farley said he expects to see "a lot of pressure put on the [Biden] administration, and on the government more generally in litigation, arguing that the armed conflict has ended and detention authority has evaporated." Read more at NPR.

7-10-21 Biden vows US action over Russian cyber-attacks
President Joe Biden has told President Vladimir Putin the US will take "any necessary action" to stop cyber-attacks from Russia, the White House says. A reporter asked Mr Biden after the hour-long phone call if Russia would face consequences, and he said: "Yes." But Moscow denied US claims they had contacted the Russians repeatedly about the cyber-attacks in the past month. Friday's call between Mr Putin and Mr Biden follows their meeting last month in Geneva. It also comes amid an increase in attacks, including one that disabled 1,500 companies this month. "I made it very clear to him that the United States expects when a ransomware operation is coming from his soil, even though it's not sponsored by the state, we expect them to act if we give them enough information to act on who that is," Mr Biden told media after the phone call. When a journalist asked whether the US could attack the servers used by the hackers, the Democratic president said: "Yes." But after Friday's call, the Kremlin said the US had not contacted Moscow about the cyber-attacks. "Despite readiness from the Russian side to jointly clamp down on criminal activity in the informational sphere, over the past month no requests have been received from the relevant US departments," said a statement from Mr Putin's office. An unnamed senior US official denied Russia's claim, telling AFP news agency the Biden administration had made "multiple, specific requests for action". The Kremlin statement added that both sides supported further co-operation on cyber-security, which Russia said "must be permanent, professional and non-politicised and should be conducted via special communication channels... and with respect to international law". A White House readout of the call states that both sides agreed to a deal that will see more humanitarian aid for Syria, signifying that the two leaders see opportunities for co-operation, despite tensions over cyberspace.

7-10-21 Charlottesville takes down Robert E Lee statue that sparked rally
A statue of an American Confederate general at the centre of a violent rally in Charlottesville nearly four years ago has been taken down. Onlookers cheered as the statue of General Robert E Lee was put onto a truck and driven away for storage. Plans to remove the statue prompted a white nationalist rally in August 2017. An anti-racism protester, Heather Heyer, was murdered by a neo-Nazi who drove into her at a counter-protest. Her killer was later sentenced to life in prison. Another statue of General Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson is also being removed. Memorials to the pro-slavery Confederacy - the southern states which revolted against the federal government during the US Civil War - have long stirred controversy. Hundreds of statues of Lee, Jackson and other famous Confederate figures exist throughout the US. Some see them as markers of US history and southern culture. But to others, they serve as an offensive reminder of America's history of slavery and racial oppression. The "Unite the Right" march held in Charlottesville, Virginia, was one of the largest such gatherings in decades, and drew hundreds of neo-Nazis, white nationalist and Ku Klux Klan members. Dozens were injured in the violence that erupted between the marchers and counter-protesters. The events stunned the US and tensions were further inflamed by former President Donald Trump's insistence that there was "blame on both sides". Charlottesville had continued to push for the removal of the Lee statue after the protests, but was prevented from acting by legal action and changes to the law. Then in April, Virginia's highest court ruled the statue could be taken down. Charlottesville had welcomed viewers to watch the statues come down early on Saturday morning. As a crane neared the monument, Charlottesville's mayor Nikuyah Walker said its removal was an important signal to the whole country. "Taking down this statue is one small step closer to the goal of helping Charlottesville, Virginia and America grapple with its sin of being willing to destroy black people for economic gains," she said.

7-10-21 Covid origins: Scientists weigh up evidence over virus's origins
Amid the misery of a pandemic that has claimed at least four million lives, the scientific search for its origins has itself become toxic. While it is now hideously ubiquitous, Sars-Cov-2 is still only an 18-month-old disease. And the search for its start was officially set in motion in 2020 by a World Health Organization investigative team. Questions over its conclusions have escalated into a heavily politicised feud. Some research scientists, who have tried to unpick the pandemic's origins, have been accused of conspiracy and cover-up - based on no evidence. Now, 21 researchers - all seeking to understand how a virus that originated in bats transferred into humans - aim to "set the record straight" by publishing their summary of the scientific evidence about the pandemic's beginning. "It's not true that we don't know where it came from - we just don't know how it got into humans," says Glasgow University virologist Prof David Robertson. It is widely accepted that an ancestor of the virus was originally a disease circulating harmlessly in wild bats. But it is vital to discover how, where and exactly when that first made its way into a person to prevent a similar future outbreak. There is no definitive piece of evidence - no Covid-positive bat or a confirmed first human case - to show conclusively how it started. That may never be known, but the scientists who wrote this latest report want to clarify the available evidence and what it means. They have published what is called a pre-print, meaning it has not yet been reviewed and edited by other experts. And its key conclusion, says Prof Robertson, is that this virus's biological properties closely match viruses that have been found in nature - in bats. This outbreak, he adds, looks very much like the emergence of the first Sars back in 2003. In that case, the virus was isolated in a widely-traded animal called a palm civet. Over the next few years researchers discovered very closely related viruses in bats, and in 2017, the ancestor of the Sars virus was found in a population of horseshoe bats in southern China. The outbreak was essentially tracked and traced back to the wild animal it came from - deadly mystery solved. "The only difference [with Covid] is that we've not found the intermediate species this time," Prof Robertson says. "But the bat virus link and the strong association to markets selling live animals are both there."

7-9-21 Trump's Jan. 6 defense is a political gift to Democrats
Will they accept it? Donald Trump has returned to political campaigning, and it's already clear what he is going to obsess over for the next year and a half until the 2022 midterms: the January 6 putsch. In a recent speech, he demanded to know "who shot Ashley Babbitt?" (the QAnon believer who was shot that day while trying to attack members of Congress) and asked "How come so many people are still in jail over Jan. 6?" This is a golden political opportunity for Democrats, if they aren't too cowardly to take it. Trump's putsch apologia is extremely unpopular, but Republicans have already given themselves no choice but to go along with it. There are basically two kinds of Republican politician: delusional Trumpist true-believers, and amoral cynics who will say or do anything to get power. The financial executive and conservative author J.D. Vance, who is trying to get elected to one of Ohio's Senate seats, is in the latter category. Because Trump commands such loyalty among the Republican base, when Vance's 2016 tweets criticizing Trump for being morally abhorrent resurfaced, Vance had to grovel at Trump's feet for days. Otherwise, he'll never get power, you see: Trump is "the leader of this movement," he told Time, "and if I actually care about these people and the things I say I care about, I need to just suck it up and support him." Vance knows Trump is a monster, and said as much when it seemed like Hillary Clinton was going to win the 2016 election. But now that sucking up to Trump is a necessary precondition for getting the votes of the hooting rubes, Vance will abase himself. (Alas, if polls are any guide he is going to get obliterated in the GOP primary.) It's an instructive example of the bind Trump has forced the GOP into. A tiny handful of party members tried to push Trump out after the putsch, but they have mostly been purged. The large minority of dedicated Trump-loving cranks, like Reps. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) and Paul Gosar (R-Ariz.), are eager to follow Dear Leader's every whim. The rest of the party would no doubt like Trump to disappear so they aren't stuck with his insane ravings, but will do absolutely nothing to make that happen. In the rest of the country, however, the January 6 putsch was extremely unpopular. An ABC/Washington Post poll done just afterwards found that 89 percent of Americans were opposed to what happened, and that 71 percent said Trump bore responsibility for what happened. A Pew poll from about the same time found Trump's approval rating collapsed to 29 percent after the putsch — the lowest level of his presidency — and that 68 percent of Americans said he should no longer be a political figure. Now, no doubt those figures have dropped somewhat in the ensuing months. The putsch was so shocking and horrible that even many Trump voters disapproved of it, and when some conservatives commit a horrible atrocity, right-wing media is temporarily on the back foot. Since then people like Tucker Carlson have invented enough deflections, excuses, and lies to puncture that momentary attack of conscience. Now, as Trump's attempt to canonize Babbitt shows, the conservative movement is nearly finished with the move from "the putsch was harmless/an antifa false flag/the FBI did it" to "the putsch was good."

7-9-21 CDC takes a 'sharp departure' in latest guidelines for schools
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has released new COVID-19 guidelines for schools ahead of the fall, saying those teachers and students who have been fully vaccinated don't have to wear masks in classrooms. The new CDC guidance recommends that schools should still maintain three feet of physical distance between students in classrooms, "combined with indoor mask wearing by people who are not fully vaccinated." It also says, though, that in cases where this isn't possible, schools should still hold classes in person while adhering to other COVID-19 precautions, The Wall Street Journal reports. No vaccines have been authorized in the U.S. for children under 12. The CDC with the guidelines was calling on schools to fully reopen this fall "even if they cannot take all of the steps the agency recommends to curb the spread of the coronavirus" in what amounted to a "sharp departure" from its prior recommendations, The New York Times wrote. Previously, the Times notes, the CDC called for universal mask use in classrooms through the end of the school year. Erin Sauber-Schatz, who helped write the guidance, explained to the Times that while "physical distancing is still a recommended strategy," not having enough space to keep students three feet apart "should not keep children out of the classroom in the fall." Dr. Richard Besser, former CDC acting director, also told the Times this was a "big moment," and it's "also a recognition that there are real costs to keeping children at home, to keeping them out of school, that school is so important in terms of children's socialization and development and it provides other supports as well."

7-9-21 Covid-19 news: England sees highest weekly infections in four months
The latest coronavirus news updated every day including coronavirus cases, the latest news, features and interviews from New Scientist and essential information about the covid-19 pandemic. One in 160 people in England are estimated to have had covid-19 in the week leading to 3 July, as cases continue to rise across the UK Coronavirus infections are continuing to rise in the UK, with the delta coronavirus variant the most common, according to the latest results from a random swab testing survey by the Office for National Statistics. An estimated one in 160 people in England had covid-19 in the week up to 3 July, up from one in 260 people the previous week and the highest estimate since February. In Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland, equivalent estimates were one in 340 people, one in 300 people and one in 100 people, respectively – all increases from the previous week. The World Health Organization (WHO) has said it isn’t yet clear whether covid-19 booster vaccines will be required to maintain protection against the disease and that further data is needed. “The question is under consideration by researchers,” the WHO told Reuters on 9 July. “There is limited data available on how long protection from current covid-19 vaccine doses lasts and whether an additional booster dose would be beneficial and for whom.” Meanwhile, pharmaceutical company Pfizer announced it plans to ask US regulators to authorise a booster dose of its covid-19 vaccine within the next month. In a joint statement on 8 July, the US Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said: “We are prepared for booster doses if and when the science demonstrates that they are needed.” The European Union’s medicines regulator recommended that myocarditis and pericarditis – two forms of inflammation affecting the heart – be listed as very rare side effects in the product information for the mRNA covid-19 vaccines produced by Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna. The European Medicines Agency’s safety committee reviewed 164 cases of myocarditis and 157 cases of pericarditis that occurred in the European Economic Area among 197 million doses of mRNA vaccine administered as of 31 May. It concluded there was a possible link between the shots and the very rare heart inflammation. Seoul, South Korea and Sydney, Australia both announced new covid-19 restrictions on 9 July aimed at tackling outbreaks of the delta coronavirus variant.

7-9-21 Biden defends decision to end Afghan military operation
US President Joe Biden has defended his decision to withdraw military forces from Afghanistan, saying that US operations will end on 31 August. The fourth US president to oversee the war also defended the speed of the US withdrawal, saying it saved lives. Mr Biden's speech comes as the Taliban militant group continues to seize territory around the country. US forces have fought in Afghanistan for nearly 20 years, following the terror attacks of 11 September 2001. Earlier this year, Mr Biden set a 11 September 2021 goal of withdrawing all US troops. Donald Trump had agreed with the Taliban to pull out US troops by May 2021, but that deadline was pushed back by Mr Biden after he took office in January. "Just one more year of fighting in Afghanistan is not a solution," Mr Biden said in a White House speech, "but a recipe for fighting there indefinitely." He also denied that a Taliban takeover is "inevitable," saying that the Taliban force of approximately 75,000 fighters is no match for the 300,000 Afghan security forces. Even after the total pull out is complete, the US is expected to keep 650 to 1,000 troops in Afghanistan to guard the US embassy, Kabul airport, and other key government installations. Recent polls have shown broad US support for leaving Afghanistan, with Republican voters more sceptical of the decision to withdraw. Mr Biden also said that efforts are being made to get translators, interpreters and other Afghans that worked with the US government out of the country. He said 2,500 special immigrant visas have been issued to allow them to come to the United States, but only half have come so far. Last month, Mr Biden assured Afghan leaders at a White House meeting that US aid will continue. (Webmaster's comment: Afghanistan is not our country! We have no business being there!)

7-8-21 Biden says the U.S. 'did what we went to do' in Afghanistan
President Biden said in a speech Thursday that the U.S. military mission in Afghanistan will conclude on Aug. 31, The Associated Press reports, bringing an end to a near 20-year war with no "mission accomplished" moment. Biden noted that, in regards to troops' withdrawal, "speed is safety" and that the United States "did what we went to do in Afghanistan: get the terrorists who attacked us on [September 11] and deliver justice to Osama bin Laden." He added: "We did not go to Afghanistan to nation-build." "I will not send another generation of Americans to war in Afghanistan, with no reasonable expectation of achieving a different outcome," said the president, maintaining his position that "just one more year" of fighting in Afghanistan is a "recipe for being there indefinitely." And when asked if he felt the "last two decades in Afghanistan" were worth it, Biden said the "job had been over for some time" — the U.S. had long accomplished its goals of bringing "Osama bin Laden to the gates of Hell" and eliminating al Qaeda's capacity to attack America. "That's why I believe that this is the right decision and, quite frankly, overdue." Biden also defended his trust in the Afghan military to defend the government from the Taliban on its own, AP notes, even as the militant group is gaining ground in real time. "It's up to the people of Afghanistan to decide on what government they want. Not us to impose the government on them. No country's ever been able to do that."

7-9-21 Audit or Fraudit? Trump supporters bank on Arizona
Democracy relies on winners and losers - but there is a section of the US electorate that won't trust results when Donald Trump is the loser. Volunteers in a bright green, blue and yellow t-shirts use matching spinning turntables to review stacks of ballots. Others photograph them or scrutinise folds in the paper. It was June 2021, and ballots from the 2020 presidential election were still being counted here in a stadium in Maricopa, Arizona's largest county. The unusual, Republican-led audit of the state's election result, in which Joe Biden was declared the winner of the race in Arizona by the slimmest of margins, began in April. The process is hailed as a "forensic" truth finding mission by former President Donald Trump and his supporters - but critics consider it a "fraudit" fueled by sore losers. The audit results have yet to be released. They will not change the outcome of the election. But the continuing effort has pitted populist voters who back Mr Trump against traditional Republican conservatives, and threatens to split the party. "There's a lot of people in Arizona that questioned whether the 2020 election was done correctly and so the State Senate asked for an audit," said Ken Bennett, a former Arizona Secretary of State and an audit spokesman. "We're out here counting every ballot." Mr Bennett says they are just trying to identify any fraud or irregularities to improve the system. But many - including some of the volunteers recounting ballots - believe that the results could be overturned and that Donald Trump could be reinstated US president this summer (he won't). The temperature outside the stadium stood at 111°F (44°C), but despite the sweltering heat, a dozen Trump supporters were gathered to pray. A handful of others sat under a pop-up shade tent with signs reading "Expose Voter Fraud" and "Ban The Machines." "We want the truth to come out. We just want the truth," said one of the men in the shade, surrounded by Trump 2020 signs. I didn't catch his name because I was politely asked to leave the private car park by a man armed with an assault rifle, which can be legally openly carried in Arizona. (Webmaster's comment: Why should we trust this audit? It is obviously biased by armed white men to win for Trump!)

7-9-21 The Trump presidency left Facebook deeply unpopular and wealthier than ever
The presidency of Donald Trump spawned one scandal after another for Facebook, from its help spreading Russian information in 2016 to the 2018 Cambridge Analytica data-harvesting revelations to Facebook's central role in facilitating the Jan. 6 Capitol insurrection. Those scandals have helped make Facebook deeply unpopular in Washington and even among its own users, The New York Times reports. At the same time, "Facebook's market valuation is now over $1 trillion." Since the 2016 election, "the same tools that allowed Facebook's business to more than double during those years — such as the News Feed that prioritized engagement and the Facebook groups that pushed like-minded people together — had been used to spread misinformation," the Times reports. "To achieve its record-setting growth, the company had continued building on its core technology, making business decisions based on how many hours of the day people spent on Facebook and how many times a day they returned," whether to spread birthday wishes or burrow down "a rabbit hole of conspiracies and misinformation." The Trump years also cracked the foundational working relationship between Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and COO Sheryl Sandberg, as Zuckerberg cultivated a friendly relationship with Trump and his top advisers and Sandberg's political acumen faltered, the Times reports. Zuckerberg started making policy decision on political speech and Trump's spread of misinformation, decisions "Sandberg often lobbied against or told allies she felt uncomfortable with." "The fault lines that the authors depict between Mark and Sheryl and the people who work with them do not exist," Facebook spokeswoman Dani Lever told the Times — which, based on more than 400 interviews, seemed unconvinced. Zuckerberg now relies less on the counsel of Sandberg or other top executives and more on "two internal metrics, known internally as GFW, Good-for-the-World, and CAU, Cares-about-users," the Times reports. "Facebook constantly polls its own users on whether they saw Facebook as one or both of those things. Both the numbers plummeted, and remained low" amid scandal after scandal, and they've "failed to rise, no matter how many promises Facebook made to do better and how many new security programs the company started." Zuckerberg again promised to do better at easing political polarization on a Jan. 27 earnings call, while Sandberg announced that quarterly revenue was up 33 percent to $28 billion, "the fastest growth rate in over two years." Read more about Facebook's lucrative travails at The New York Times.

7-9-21 Purdue signs deal on opioid settlement with 15 states
Fifteen US states have dropped their opposition to a bankruptcy plan for Purdue Pharma, clearing the way for a multi-billion dollar settlement. It marks the first step towards the OxyContin painkillers maker paying out $4.3bn (£3.1bn) to settle cases related to the opioid crisis. The New York attorney general said the funds would be used to "prevent any future devastation". A total of 10 states still oppose the proposals of pharmaceutical giant. A spokesperson for Purdue Pharma said it would work to "build a greater consensus" for its bankruptcy plan. They added it would "transfer billions of dollars of value into trusts for the benefit of the American people...who have been affected by the opioid crisis". In 2020, Purdue entered a guilty plea on criminal charges relating to its promotion of Oxycontin, which it knew was addictive. Those charges included defrauding health agencies and of making illegal payments to doctors. The company filed for bankruptcy a year previously, saying it would restructure and help tackle addiction. Reports filed in a New York court on Wednesday showed that 15 states, including New Jersey and Massachusetts, had reached an agreement with Purdue that would see its owners, the wealthy Sackler family, pay an additional $50m. The Raymond and Mortimer Sackler families said in a statement: "This resolution to the mediation is an important step toward providing substantial resources for people and communities in need. "The Sackler family hopes these funds will help achieve that goal." As part of the deal, the Purdue Pharma firm will also release millions of documents on its role in the opioid epidemic. Opioids are a class of powerful drugs found in opium poppies that can be used to block pain signals between the brain and the body. They can be found as legal prescription medications, but they can also be found as illegal street drugs, such as heroin. Opioid addiction to both legal and illegal drugs has been a serious, ongoing problem in countries such as the US, which had nearly half a million deaths from overdoses between 1999 and 2019, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (Webmaster's comment: Why are there no prison sentences for the corporate executives!)

7-9-21 Covid-19 pandemic: 'Everything you should not do, Brazil has done'
Had he lived Josildo de Moura would have celebrated his 40th wedding anniversary this December. Instead the devoted husband and father of five died of Covid in May, gasping for breath outside a neighbourhood clinic on the outskirts of São Paulo. He was 62, and like the vast majority of Brazilians, still waiting to be vaccinated. "The pain is endless," says his wife Cida, sitting at her kitchen table, ringed by her children and grandchildren. "And every day we hear about more families suffering as we suffer, losing a loved one." The losses here are staggering. More than half a million Brazilians have died with Covid-19, the second highest death toll worldwide, behind only the United States. Experts here predict their country is on course to overtake the US. How did it come to this, in a middle-income country, with an established system for vaccinating against diseases? For many, responsibility rests with Brazil's far-right President, Jair Bolsonaro. "He could have helped everybody take the right measures," says Cida, who has an unwavering voice, and tight grey curls. "He did the complete opposite. He didn't have respect for the people. It's really revolting." Even as Brazil is still burying its dead, the handling of the pandemic is being dissected by the Brazilian senate. The hearings, which began in April, are broadcast live. For many here they have become must-watch TV, a kind of telenovela of tragedy and explosive testimony. Evidence from a representative of the vaccine manufacturer Pfizer was particularly damning. He told the inquiry the company repeatedly offered to sell the government vaccines last year. It was ignored - for months. Over 100 emails were unanswered. Another witness at the inquiry accused President Bolsonaro of turning a blind eye to irregularities and massive overcharging, in a contract to buy an unapproved Covid vaccine from India. The President has denied any knowledge, and any wrongdoing. The inquiry is headed by the opposition senator, Omar Aziz, a towering figure from the hard-hit state of Amazonas, who fist-bumps his way through the corridors of parliament. His own brother, Walid, is among the dead. He lost a life-long friend to the virus on the day we met.

7-9-21 Poll: 52 percent of Americans believe COVID-19 came from a lab
A majority of Americans now back the COVID-19 lab leak theory, and "the belief is bipartisan," according to a new poll. In a Politico-Harvard survey, 52 percent of respondents said they believe that COVID-19 came out of a lab, with this including 59 percent of Republicans and 52 percent of Democrats, while 28 percent said they believe the coronavirus came from an infected animal. Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health professor Bob Blendon, who designed the poll, noted to Politico the surprising lack of a partisan divide on the question. "Usually, our polls find a big split between Republicans and Democrats, so this is unique," he said. "More conservative media have been carrying the 'lab leak' issue, and it's been a Trump talking point from the beginning, so we expected people who lean Democratic would say either 'It's not true' or 'I don't know.' But the belief is bipartisan." Blendon also noted that the shift in perception among Democrats could be a result of President Biden ordering intelligence agencies to look into the virus' origins. "That the president thought there was enough evidence to ask intelligence agencies to put together a report sends a signal to Democrats that there might be something there," Blendon explained. The idea was once seen as more of a fringe conspiracy theory, though, and former Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Robert Redfield said in June he received death threats from other scientists for backing it. Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, has said that he and other experts still believe COVID-19's origins are more likely to involve "a natural jumping of species from an animal reservoir to a human," though he has said that people should "keep an open mind." The Politico-Harvard poll spoke with 1,009 adults from June 22-27. The margin of error was 3.8 percentage points. Read more at Politico.

7-8-21 Covid-19 news: Japan bars spectators from Tokyo Olympics
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. State of emergency declared in Tokyo for the duration of the Olympic Games. Spectators will not be allowed at the Tokyo Olympic Games after the Japanese government declared a state of emergency covering the capital for the duration of the event. The measure also means bars and restaurants must close by 8pm and cannot serve alcohol. The city recorded 896 new infections today, with rising numbers spurred by the highly transmissible delta variant, and only 15 per cent of Japan’s population is fully vaccinated. The Games are set to begin on 12 July. “We must take stronger steps to prevent another nationwide outbreak, also considering the impact of coronavirus variants,” said prime minister Yoshihide Suga in reports from Kyodo News. One in 170 people in England is infected with the coronavirus and and the prevalence may be doubling every six days, according to the latest results from the React study, a survey of 47,000 volunteers. Interim findings covering June 24 to July 5 also show that infection rates for double-vaccinated people under 65 are three times lower than in unvaccinated people of the same age, demonstrating the impact of the vaccination rollout. While England has seen an increase in covd-19 cases in all age groups under the age of 75, the highest prevalence is for 13 to 17-year-olds at 1.33 per cent and 18 to 24-year-olds at 1.40 per cent. The data indicates that infections have increased in all regions – with the largest increase in London, where prevalence has reached 1.08 per cent, up more than eightfold since the previous results covering May 20 to June 7. Men were 30 per cent more likely to test positive than women. More than 100 scientists and doctors have signed a letter in the Lancet medical journal that says the UK government is conducting a “dangerous and unethical experiment” and urging it to reconsider plans to abandon all coronavirus restrictions. Any strategy that “tolerates high levels of infection is both unethical and illogical”, according to the 122 signatories who include David King, the former chief scientific adviser and chair of Independent Sage, and Chaand Nagpaul, chair of the Council for the British Medical Association.

7-8-21 Global death toll from COVID-19 officially tops 4 million
The number of people in the world who have died of COVID-19 surpassed four million on Wednesday, The Associated Press reports, citing data compiled from official sources by Johns Hopkins University. "The tally of lives lost over the past year and a half," AP notes, "is about equal to the number of people killed in battle in all of the world's wars since 1982, according to estimates from the Peace Research Institute Oslo. The toll is three times the number of people killed in traffic accidents around the globe every year. It is about equal to the population of Los Angeles or the nation of Georgia. It is equivalent to more than half of Hong Kong or close to 50 percent of New York City. Even then, it is widely believed to be an undercount because of overlooked cases or deliberate concealment." The COVID-19 vaccines have helped curb the number of new cases and fatalities — about 7,900 people are dying each day now, versus more than 18,000 a day at the pandemic's peak in January — but vaccine distribution is grossly uneven. Many African countries are just starting their vaccination drives, and vaccines are scarce in South America, which accounts for about 40 percent of daily COVID-19 deaths. Even in nations with high vaccination rates, however — Britain, Israel, and the U.S. — the more contagious Delta variant is spreading fast. The vaccines appear effective against the Delta strain, so the global challenge now involves racing to put shots in arms before that variant — or a more vaccine-resistant one — hits an area.

7-8-21 The risky reality of 'breakthrough' COVID infections
Delta is different A popular British news broadcaster named Andrew Marr appeared on BBC News at the end of June to share he'd recently contracted a "nasty" case of COVID-19. "It was really, really quite unpleasant," the 61-year-old Marr said, adding that he had "a high temperature, muscle ache, the shakes, a bad headache, and flu-like cold symptoms." That all sounds pretty textbook as far as COVID-19 stories go, but with one catch: Marr was fully vaccinated. He'd received two doses of the Pfizer vaccine back in the spring, and, by his own account, felt "if not king of the world, at least almost entirely immune." He was not. In the weeks since, I've noticed similar anecdotes cropping up. "Friend messages to tell me has COVID after 2nd vaccine," someone tweeted. "Several people I know have been (badly) infected with Delta after being fully vaccinated," wrote British journalist Kathryn Bromwich. Many of the anecdotes are coming from the United Kingdom, where I live. Here, the Delta variant of the virus is dominant and case rates are soaring despite half the adult population being fully vaccinated. But they're also trickling out of the U.S. American author John Pavlovitz shared how his family contracted the virus despite most of them having received two doses. "I was fully vaccinated and right now (as my father used to say) I feel like a sh*t sandwich without the bread," he said. Anecdotes, of course, are not scientific data. They should not be relied upon to inform policy. But they are often canaries in the coal mine, early indicators of emerging trends soon to be reflected in the numbers. And in the coming weeks and months, as cases rise again and the Delta variant spreads among highly-vaccinated populations, we will be hearing more about post-vaccination infections. They may even prove more common than we had anticipated. Policymakers should be sounding the alarm about this now — not to dampen enthusiasm about the incredible vaccines on offer, but to encourage caution as the virus continues to rage, mutate, and adapt. The pandemic isn't over, and acting like it is will only prolong it further. So-called "breakthrough infections" — when someone tests positive for a virus despite being fully vaccinated against it — have always been a reality. No vaccine is perfect. And it's a sheer statistical fact that the more people we vaccinate, the share of new infections that happen to be among vaccinated people will rise. But you could be forgiven for believing the COVID vaccines were foolproof. The scientific community was positively jubilant when the trial data about the vaccines first emerged. Ninety-five percent efficacy for a vaccine aimed at curbing an unpredictable illness that brought the entire world to a standstill and killed millions? It seemed like a miracle. "These are game changers," Dr. Gregory Poland, a vaccine researcher at the Mayo Clinic, told The New York Times last December. "We were all expecting 50 to 70 percent." For context, the flu vaccine is only 60 percent effective, and that's in a good year.

7-8-21 Trump sues Twitter, Google and Facebook alleging 'censorship'
Former US president Donald Trump has filed a lawsuit against tech giants Google, Twitter and Facebook, claiming that he is the victim of censorship. The class action lawsuit also targets the three companies' CEOs. Mr Trump was suspended from his social accounts in January over public safety concerns in the wake of the Capitol riots, led by his supporters. On Wednesday, Mr Trump called the lawsuit "a very beautiful development for our freedom of speech". In a news conference from his golf resort in Bedminster, New Jersey, Mr Trump railed against social media companies and Democrats, who he accused of espousing misinformation. "We are demanding an end to the shadow-banning, a stop to the silencing, and a stop to the blacklisting, banishing, and cancelling that you know so well," he said. The suit requests a court order to end alleged censorship. Mr Trump added if they could ban a president, "they can do it to anyone". None of the tech companies named have yet responded to the lawsuit, which was filed to a federal court in Florida. Mr Trump was joined at the announcement by former Trump officials who have since created the not-for-profit America First Policy Institute. The former president called the post that got him banned from Twitter, "the most loving sentence". According to Twitter, the tweets that resulted in Mr Trump's ban for "glorification of violence" were from 8 January, two days after the rioting in the nation's capital. The riot followed his repeated claims, without evidence, that the election was rigged in Joe Biden's favour. He wrote that the "great patriots" who voted for him will have "a giant voice" and "will not be disrespected or treated unfairly in any way, shape or form", and in another post said he would not attend President Joe Biden's inauguration. At the same time on Wednesday, Mr Trump's Republican allies in Congress released a memo describing their plan "to take on Big Tech".

7-8-21 EU increases pressure on Hungary over LGBT law
EU pressure on Hungary has intensified over a new law banning the depiction or promotion of homosexuality for the under-18s. MEPs are expected to vote shortly for a resolution urging the EU to speed up legal action over Hungary's law. EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said the law was "a disgrace" which contradicted "basic EU values". Hungarian PM Viktor Orban hit back, saying school policy was a matter for Hungary, not "Brussels bureaucrats". "Whatever they do, we will not allow [LGBT+] activists into our children's kindergartens and schools," he said. The EU has the power to reduce budget allocations to a member state seen to have breached the EU's rule-of-law standards. Critics say the law equates homosexuality with paedophilia and EU leaders have voiced strong criticism, with Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte arguing last month that Hungary "has no business being in the European Union any more". "This legislation uses the protection of children as an excuse to discriminate against people because of their sexual orientation," Mrs von der Leyen said on Wednesday. The new rules introduced by Hungary's right-wing government focus on increasing punishment for convicted paedophiles, but an amendment was passed on 15 June banning the portrayal or promotion of homosexuality among under-18s. While it could affect sex education and advertising, and even stop TV favourites such as Friends or Harry Potter being broadcast until late at night, there are also fears that vulnerable young people could be deprived of important support. Teaching sex education in schools will be limited to people approved by the government. It is not yet clear what the penalties for breaching the law will be. Hungary has introduced a number of similar decisions since Prime Minister Orban took power in 2010. In December 2020, parliament banned same-sex couples from adopting children. Earlier the same year, the country passed a law preventing people from legally changing their gender. Hungary also does not recognise gay marriage.

7-8-21 Colombia protests: Rights body criticises 'disproportionate' response
An international human rights body has condemned Colombia for "excessive and disproportionate" use of force in response to this year's anti-government protests, in which dozens died. The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights also said the security forces used "lethal force" in many situations. The government said those cases were the exception, and that claims of abuse were already under investigation. The protests were largely peaceful but occasionally turned violent. They started in April amid anger over a proposed reform that would have lowered the threshold at which salaries are taxed. The plan was withdrawn but the protests grew to cover other issues including police violence and poverty. The country's ombudsman has reported more than 50 deaths linked to clashes between the security forces and demonstrators, though human rights groups say the number is higher. About 2,300 civilians and members of the security forces have been injured. The long-awaited report by the commission, an autonomous arm of the Organization of American States, was published based on a visit in June, when it interviewed more than 500 people. The allegations of human rights violations include the indiscriminate use of firearms by police against both protesters and bystanders, gender-based violence and claims of sexual abuse. "The commission confirmed that, repeatedly and in various regions of the country, the response of the state was characterised by excessive and disproportionate use of force," the commission's president, Antonia Urrejola, said at a news conference. "In many cases those actions included lethal force," she added. The report urged the government to investigate the accusations of abuse, punish those responsible and compensate victims and their families. It also said the national police should be removed from defence ministry control, a long-held demand from protesters.

7-7-21 High vaccination rates no match for delta as covid-19 variant surges
THE highly infectious delta coronavirus variant is continuing to spread around the world, causing rising case numbers even in countries with high vaccination rates. Some countries that kept previous variants under control are struggling to contain delta, such as Thailand and Vietnam. Some nations are imposing fresh restrictions to curb delta’s spread, including Iran and Indonesia. But others are relaxing restrictions. Despite soaring case numbers, England is set to end almost all restrictions on 19 July. The health secretary, Sajid Javid, warned on 5 July that case numbers could reach 100,000 per day as a result, but wouldn’t say how many deaths the government expected. The decision to end almost all restrictions at once – including the legal requirement to wear face coverings on public transport – has been criticised. It is a “huge gamble”, tweeted Nisreen Alwan, at the University of Southampton, UK, as many young people will be infected and the long-term consequences of that remain unknown. A poll by YouGov showed that 71 per cent of people thought masks should continue to be mandatory on public transport, with just 21 per cent opposed. Delta has now been detected in 96 countries, according to Maria Van Kerkhove of the World Health Organization. Increased social mixing and travel, and the relaxation of restrictions in many countries, are contributing to its spread, Van Kerkhove said on 5 July. “The world remains largely susceptible to infection.” Delta spreads more readily than other variants. In Sydney, one person became infected after just walking past another. With older variants, local health officials said, it was thought infection could happen only with sustained contact for around 15 minutes. In the Netherlands, meanwhile, at least 165 of the 600 or so people who went to a night club on 26 June were infected, despite everyone having to show evidence of a negative test or full vaccination before entering. It isn’t clear how many were infected at the night club or who may have been infected on arrival.

7-7-21 Covid-19 news: England entry rules may ease for vaccinated travellers
The latest coronavirus news updated every day including coronavirus cases, the latest news, features and interviews from New Scientist and essential information about the covid-19 pandemic. The UK may ease some coronavirus restrictions for fully vaccinated travellers returning to England. Fully vaccinated people returning to England from countries on the UK’s “amber list” may soon no longer be required to quarantine on arrival. UK transport minister Grant Shapps is expected to announce the decision regarding arrivals on 8 July. Currently, only travellers from about 20 “green list” countries can avoid quarantine, but the amber list includes many more countries including popular holiday destinations for UK travellers such as Greece, Italy and Spain. The World Health Organization (WHO) has updated its guidelines on covid-19 patient care to include a class of drugs called interleukin-6 receptor blockers, which work by inhibiting overzealous immune responses to the coronavirus. The new recommendation follows the publication of an analysis in the Journal of the American Medical Association based on data from 27 trials of this type of drug, including of tocilizumab and sarilumab. The analysis found that, compared to standard care, the drugs reduced the odds of dying from covid-19 by 13 per cent, and reduced the odds of a patient needing to be put on a ventilator by 28 per cent among hospitalised patients. These are the first drugs found to be effective against covid-19 since corticosteroids, which include the life-saving drug dexamethasone, were recommended by the WHO in September 2020. Australia will send 2.5 million doses of the Oxford/AstraZeneca covid-19 vaccine to Indonesia, as well as funding 1000 ventilators, amid a surge of infections that has put hospitals under strain. Indonesia reported record daily rises in coronavirus cases and deaths on 7 July, with 34,379 new cases and 1040 deaths from covid-19. Spain is seeing a sharp rise in coronavirus infections thought to be driven by the delta coronavirus variant. Financial Times analysis of data from Spanish authorities suggests that the delta variant now accounts for about 30 per cent of all cases in Spain and could become dominant by 17 July.

7-7-21 Europe is becoming a right-wing continent
The overall political climate in Europe has been trending rightward for some time. For a certain kind of American liberal, it's almost a reflexive gesture to wish the United States were more like Europe. There, health care is provided on a more egalitarian basis and a university education is much cheaper, if not free; sexual mores are more relaxed and gun ownership is rare; religion is vestigial and militant nationalism is strictly taboo. Widespread European distress over the presidencies of George W. Bush and Donald Trump only confirmed what American liberals knew: that the Old Country was also the dreamland of their imagined liberal American future. I wonder how it will feel when Europe becomes distinctly more right-wing than the United States. It's not an inconceivable prospect. The United Kingdom has a Tory government right now, and based on current polling their position looks increasingly secure. France's centrist president Emmanuel Macron would likely be re-elected if the election were held today, but Marine Le Pen's right-wing National Rally party polls considerably higher today in a one-on-one contest with Macron than it did in 2017. Italy's fragile coalition could be followed by a right-wing coalition of Matteo Salvini's Lega and the neofascist-derived Fratelli D'Italia. Even in Germany, where the Christian Democrat Angela Merkel's 16-year rule is coming to a close, the next government may once again be a coalition led by the CDU/CSU, if not with the center-left SDP, then in a "Jamaica coalition" with a reinvigorated center-right FDP joining the Greens by their side. Of course polls can and do change, and one election does not imply a radical cultural shift. But the overall political climate in Europe has been trending rightward for some time. After the financial crisis, and the austerity that followed, the traditional left-wing parties began to collapse, and more nationalist and extreme-right alternatives to the mainstream — the AfD in Germany, National Rally in France, UKIP in England — began to arise. The surge in immigration that followed Syria's and Libya's collapse into civil war were further sources of fuel. These parties and movements — critical of the European Union, strongly opposed to immigration, frequently more friendly to Russia — were initially and in many cases still are opposed by all the mainstream parties, but that opposition did little to stem their growth. Eventually, in countries like Hungary and Poland, they began to win elections and assume the powers of government. In Europe today, the most viable traditional parties are often mainstream right-wing parties that have sought to coopt the nationalist right's issues — most notably Boris Johnson's Tory Party, which eclipsed UKIP by adopting Brexit for itself — or parties self-consciously constituted around the technocratic center so as to unite the mainstream against the far right. True left-wing parties like Jean-Luc Mélenchon's in France or Jeremy Corbyn's Labour have largely fizzled. Meanwhile, the far right continues to produce new phenomena, most recently France's Eric Zemmour, who has outflanked Le Pen on the right by being even more nationalist than she is. If the result of all this ferment is a European political realignment that contains the far right by reviving a more inward-focused traditional conservatism, that would be good for Europe and, ultimately, for European relations with America. A Europe that was more oriented around national solidarity than global humanitarianism, open immigration, or free markets is a Europe America could readily live, work, and trade with. If by that means the continent achieved greater political stability and democratic accountability, most observers would consider it far preferable to either a lurch to the far right or a descent into civil strife.

7-7-21 Court finds Air Force largely at fault for 2017 Texas church shooting
A federal judge on Wednesday ruled that the U.S. Air Force is 60 percent responsible for the November 2017 shooting at the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas, which left 25 people dead and 22 wounded. The shooter, Devin Kelley, previously served in the Air Force, and in 2012 was investigated and court-martialed for assaulting his former wife and stepson, ABC News reports. U.S. District Judge Xavier Rodriguez concluded that "the government failed to exercise reasonable care" when it did not notify the FBI of Kelley's criminal history, which would have prevented him from legally buying a gun. Victims and relatives of those killed in the Sutherland Springs shooting filed a civil lawsuit against the government, and Rodriguez found that "the trial conclusively established that no other individual — not even Kelley's own parents or partners — knew as much as the United States about the violence that Devin Kelley had threatened to commit and was capable of committing." He said that the evidence also shows that "had the government done its job and properly reported Kelley's information into the background check system, it is more likely than not that Kelley would have been deterred from carrying out the church shooting. For those reasons, the government bears significant responsibility for the plaintiffs' harm." Kelley opened fire during a Sunday service, with his victims between the ages of 5 and 72. This was the deadliest mass shooting at a U.S. house of worship. Kelley later died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound.

7-7-21 Conservatives are leaving America wide open to the Delta variant
Vaccine refusal means a surge in new cases is all but inevitable. The United Kingdom is suffering another major coronavirus outbreak. Cases have increased by roughly 15-fold since May, and are still soaring upwards. This is despite the fact that the U.K. is one of the most-vaccinated countries in the world, with about 68 percent of the population having at least one dose and 50 percent with two. The reason is the Delta variant, which is much more contagious and possibly more deadly and now makes up the overwhelming majority of U.K. infections. There appear to be both outbreaks in clusters of people who are not vaccinated yet, and also a significant number of "breakthrough" infections that got past the vaccine — though importantly, vaccination still seems to prevent almost all serious illness, as U.K. hospitalizations have increased far, far less than cases. So far, no U.S. state has seen that kind of explosion in cases. But the Delta variant has been detected across the country, and many conservative states are far behind the U.K. in getting vaccinated. It's virtually certain that some or all of them will see major surges at some point, which will be much more deadly. Now, it should be noted that the U.K. has mostly used the AstraZeneca vaccine, which is not as good as the Pfizer and Moderna versions used for most American inoculations. Studies have also suggested a single vaccine dose is less effective against Delta, and Britain went for a "first dose first" strategy that means its share of fully vaccinated population is substantially behind leading states like Vermont (66 percent of the whole population with two shots), Massachusetts (62 percent), and Connecticut (61 percent). Most liberal states have built a reasonably strong vaccine wall that ought to prevent major outbreaks, and at least protect people from serious illness. But that is not remotely true in any conservative state. For instance, Alabama has just 40 percent with at least one dose and 32 percent fully vaxxed; Idaho has 40 and 36 percent; Wyoming has 40 and 35 percent; Louisiana has 39 and 35 percent; and Mississippi has 36 and 30 percent. Numerous other red states are only doing slightly better. It is basically impossible to avoid the conclusion that these states will see more outbreaks sooner or later — no matter how much better the mRNA vaccines are than AstraZeneca, they simply cannot create herd immunity if six-tenths of the population hasn't gotten them. There are no doubt a number of reasons for this. Red states are poorer, meaning lots of people who are less likely to have time to get the vaccine, or may have fears over cost or not being able to take time off work. Health care infrastructure is also worse in red states, so people may be struggling to find a place to get their shot. But at this point the most important factor at this point is surely political partisanship. As my colleague Joel Mathis points out, numerous conservative elites like Tucker Carlson (the most popular cable news host in the country) have spread anti-vaccine misinformation and politicized the vaccines, just like they did with masks, social distancing measures, and the virus itself. It isn't just Fox News, either — as Anna Merlan writes at Vice, the anti-vaccine crank Bret Weinstein has found a sympathetic ear among loud, credulous contrarians like Bari Weiss, Matt Taibbi, and Glenn Greenwald.

7-7-21 High vaccination rates no match for delta as covid-19 variant surges
THE highly infectious delta coronavirus variant is continuing to spread around the world, causing rising case numbers even in countries with high vaccination rates. Some countries that kept previous variants under control are struggling to contain delta, such as Thailand and Vietnam. Some nations are imposing fresh restrictions to curb delta’s spread, including Iran and Indonesia. But others are relaxing restrictions. Despite soaring case numbers, England is set to end almost all restrictions on 19 July. The health secretary, Sajid Javid, warned on 5 July that case numbers could reach 100,000 per day as a result, but wouldn’t say how many deaths the government expected. The decision to end almost all restrictions at once – including the legal requirement to wear face coverings on public transport – has been criticised. It is a “huge gamble”, tweeted Nisreen Alwan, at the University of Southampton, UK, as many young people will be infected and the long-term consequences of that remain unknown. A poll by YouGov showed that 71 per cent of people thought masks should continue to be mandatory on public transport, with just 21 per cent opposed. Delta has now been detected in 96 countries, according to Maria Van Kerkhove of the World Health Organization. Increased social mixing and travel, and the relaxation of restrictions in many countries, are contributing to its spread, Van Kerkhove said on 5 July. “The world remains largely susceptible to infection.” Delta spreads more readily than other variants. In Sydney, one person became infected after just walking past another. With older variants, local health officials said, it was thought infection could happen only with sustained contact for around 15 minutes.In the Netherlands, meanwhile, at least 165 of the 600 or so people who went to a night club on 26 June were infected, despite everyone having to show evidence of a negative test or full vaccination before entering. It isn’t clear how many were infected at the night club or who may have been infected on arrival.

7-7-21 New York governor declares gun violence a health emergency
New York has become the first US state to declare a disaster emergency order to address rising gun violence. New York state saw 51 shootings over the 4 July holiday weekend, Governor Andrew Cuomo said as he signed the executive order. The directive will funnel $138.7m (£100m) towards gun violence intervention and prevention programmes. It comes amid reports of a rise in gun deaths countrywide, including nearly 200 over the past weekend. In March, the FBI released preliminary 2020 statistics showing a significant jump - 25% - in murders from the year before. So far, the upward trend has continued into 2021. In the US, the majority of homicides are gun-related. US President Joe Biden unveiled a White House strategy to combat the rise in homicides in late June, which includes curtailing rogue gun dealers and firearms trafficking. It also delegates more funding for personnel - including law enforcement. Governor Cuomo's state disaster declaration describes gun violence as a public health crisis, and made several comparisons to the Covid-19 pandemic and the resulting public health response. "If you look at the recent numbers, more people are now dying from gun violence and crime than Covid," the Democratic governor said. "Just like we did with Covid, New York is going to lead the nation once again with a comprehensive approach to combating and preventing gun violence." Mr Cuomo's emergency declaration releases emergency funds that he will direct towards: 1. reating a gun violence prevention office, to be overseen by New York's department of health, 2. Requiring police departments to provide incident-level data on shootings, 3. Investing $57m in summer job programmes for at-risk youth 4. Combating flow of out-of-state firearms. As New York emerged as the epicentre of the US coronavirus outbreak last year, Mr Cuomo was also widely hailed by US media for his handling of the pandemic.

7-7-21 U.S. blood banks warn they have less than a 1-day supply of blood on hand, need donations
The American Association of Blood Banks says the U.S. blood supply has dropped to "red" level, signifying that most blood banks has less than a one-day supply and donations are urgently needed. Blood banks are prepared when they have three days worth of blood supply on hand, Dr. Claudia Cohn, AABB's chief medical officer, tells USA Today. "This is the worst shortage I've experienced since I've been in this in this line of work," or 15 years. The blood shortage is a combination of fewer blood drives during the COVID-19 pandemic, a return of elective surgeries as the pandemic wanes and vaccination rates rise, and an increase in demand during the seasonal increase in auto accidents, Cohn said. "A blood donation takes 60 minutes to an hour and a half, and each time they do that they're saving a life." If you are feeling healthy, the American Red Cross would like you to consider donating blood or platelets; you can find donation centers and schedule an appointment though the Red Cross Blood Donor app or website, or by phone at 1-800-RED CROSS (1-800-733-2767). You can also find blood drives and schedule an appointment at AABB's site or by phone at 1-202-393-5725.

7-6-21 Federal prosecutors say man used a Bible study group as cover for militia
A 27-year-old Marine Corps veteran from Arlington, Virginia, accused of participating in the Jan. 6 Capitol riot later formed a militia group that pretended to be a Bible study, The Washington Post reports. Fi Duong is charged with illegally entering the Capitol, obstructing the vote count, and disorderly conduct. He appeared in court on Friday, and while prosecutors asked for stricter terms, U.S. Magistrate Judge G. Michael Harvey released him to home confinement, pending trial. At the time of his arrest, Duong had several guns in his possession and materials to make 50 molotov cocktails, court records show. Details of the case against Duong were made public on Tuesday. Federal prosecutors say that Duong met an undercover federal agent during the Jan. 6 Capitol riot, and described himself as an "operator," explaining that he was wearing all black so people would think he was an anti-fascist protester. Duong allegedly entered the Capitol, delivered a letter to lawmakers, and shouted "We're coming for you Nancy," referring to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), prosecutors said. The undercover agent kept in touch with Duong, and after Duong talked about freeing arrested rioters from prison, the pair went to a jail in Lorton, Virginia, where Duong talked about testing explosives, prosecutors allege. A Bible study that Duong formed was actually a cover for a militia group, and during meetings people talked about firearms and training, court documents say. Duong allegedly told the undercover agent he was working on a manifesto so if "I get into a gun fight with the feds and I don't make it, I want to be able to transfer as much wisdom to my son as possible." Duong was building a supply of explosives, federal prosecutors said, and he told the undercover agent he wanted to use molotov cocktails to disable armored vehicles. He delayed his plans to try the explosives, and that is one reason why Harvey released him to home confinement. The undercover agent gave Duong "every opportunity to step over the line, and at every point he chose not to," the judge said. "Someone who showed so much concern for what the legal lines are should be given the opportunity to show he can continue to stay within the lines." An attorney for Duong declined to comment to the Post.

7-6-21 Brazil's Jair Bolsonaro rocked by scandal over alleged COVID-19 vaccine kickbacks
Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro already faced a challenging re-election fight, and now political observers are wondering if he'll even be in office still by the 2022 election. The threat to his presidency stems from a congressional investigation into Brazil's haphazard COVID-19 pandemic response. Instead of finding just some mix of incompetence, vaccine skepticism, and sloppiness, the congressional investigation stumbled upon some explosive investigations about kickbacks, financial irregularities, and other corruption allegations that may reach all the way to the president, The Washington Post reports. The presidency-threatening scandal involves the Brazilian government's decision to hurriedly buy an unapproved COVID-19 vaccine from India's Bharat Biotech at more than 10 times the original quote price, after holding up and haggling over several earlier vaccine offers. Health ministry officials testified that Bolsonaro was informed of the suspected corruption involving the purchase of India's Covaxin vaccine, but he failed to act or notify the appropriate authorities, which could be a crime in Brazil. "This isn't a suspicion," Sen. Omar Aziz, a leader of the congressional inquiry, told Brazil's O Globo newspaper. "This is a fact. [Bolsonaro] hasn't disproven this. He didn't send anything to the police. ... For any public servant, this would be a dereliction." On Friday, the Supreme Court authorized a criminal investigation into Bolsonaro. The president denied any wrongdoing, claimed he's "incorruptible," then claimed ignorance of the Covaxin deal, and has dismissed the investigation into his actions "an embarrassment." Bolsonaro's popularity had already taken a hit due to Brazil's COVID-19 pandemic response, which has resulted in both economic pain and more than 500,000 official deaths. Now his approval rating has cratered to the 20s. He "still retains enough political support to fend off calls for his impeachment," but "the belief that Bolsonaro wasn't corrupt has been central to his political survival," the Post reports. "Even as the virus ravaged Brazil, and an increasing number of Brazilians started to blame him for doing little to stop it, he retained his core group of supporters. At least he was honest, many said. Allegations he looked the other way on alleged corruption could undercut one of the few areas of strength he has left."

7-6-21 Covid-19 news: UK cases could hit 100,000 a day, says health minister
The latest coronavirus news updated every day including coronavirus cases, the latest news, features and interviews from New Scientist and essential information about the covid-19 pandemic. Plans to lift restrictions in England on 19 July could be followed by a surge in coronavirus cases, says UK health minister. UK health minister Sajid Javid said coronavirus cases could rise to 100,000 per day after restrictions in England are lifted on 19 July. The UK recorded an average of 25,447 new cases per day in the seven days up to 2 July. A poll by YouGov conducted on 5 July found that 71 per cent of people surveyed in England, Scotland and Wales said they think face masks should continue to be mandatory on public transport for a further period of time. The planned easing of restrictions in England from 19 July is expected to include making the wearing of face coverings voluntary, except for in hospitals and other healthcare settings. Emergency oxygen supplies are being transported to Indonesia from neighbouring Singapore, as hospitals in several Indonesian cities are experiencing shortages due to a surge in covid-19 cases. Indonesia reported a record increase in daily new covid-19 deaths on 6 July of 728. “The hospital no longer has rooms for patients who need ventilators. The ICU [intensive care unit] rooms are also full,” a spokesperson for a hospital in the city of Surabaya told the AFP news agency. Germany’s foreign minister Heiko Maas suggested that Germany should lift all remaining coronavirus restrictions once everyone in the country has been offered a covid-19 vaccine. About 56.5 per cent of people in Germany have received at least one dose of a vaccine so far, with almost 39 per cent fully vaccinated, according to the country’s health ministry. From 7 July, Germany will lift a requirement for travellers arriving in the country from the UK to quarantine, if they can prove they have been fully vaccinated or have recovered from covid-19. A report by the Health Foundation charity in the UK found that the death rate from covid-19 was 3.7 times higher for working age adults living in the poorest 10 per cent of neighbourhoods in England compared with those living in the wealthiest 10 per cent.

7-6-21 Zero-covid countries need to adapt as delta variant surges
Three countries that were leading the world in the fight against covid-19 now appear to be losing control, with cases rising in Australia, Japan and South Korea. Their new waves are being caused by a combination of the delta variant, lapses in vigilance and low rates of vaccination, say experts, but do not fundamentally change what we know about how to get the virus under control. Australia, Japan and South Korea were recently praised for their covid-19 control strategies, ranked among the five best of 37 rich nations. Along with Iceland and New Zealand, they were judged to have taken the right measures at the right time and consequently produced the best possible outcomes for health, economic growth and civil liberties, according to an analysis published in The Lancet. All five decided to pursue an “elimination”, or zero-covid strategy, which entails mass testing and tracing, supporting people to isolate, border surveillance and swift and stringent lockdowns when needed. This cannot actually eliminate the virus but keeps a lid on it. Australia has only reported one covid-19 death in the whole of 2021 thus far. “I don’t think the elimination strategy is unravelling,” says Jeffrey Lazarus of the of the Barcelona Institute for Global Health in Spain, who was a member of the team that did the analysis of the 37 nations. “ I think it’s the reality of a very transmissible, very contagious virus that’s becoming even more transmissible, and a low level of vaccination.” As of the end of June, Australia had fully vaccinated just 6 per cent of its total population, compared with 60 per cent in world-leading Israel. The main problem in Australia is supply, says Greg Dore at the University of New South Wales in Sydney. Australia had pinned some of its hopes on 51 million doses of a vaccine being developed at the University of Queensland, but early trials failed after the vaccine provoked an immune response that could have resulted in a false positive HIV test. There is also some vaccine hesitancy caused largely by the Oxford/AstraZeneca blood clot risk, says Dore.

7-6-21 Brazil's Jair Bolsonaro rocked by scandal over alleged COVID-19 vaccine kickbacks
Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro already faced a challenging re-election fight, and now political observers are wondering if he'll even be in office still by the 2022 election. The threat to his presidency stems from a congressional investigation into Brazil's haphazard COVID-19 pandemic response. Instead of finding just some mix of incompetence, vaccine skepticism, and sloppiness, the congressional investigation stumbled upon some explosive investigations about kickbacks, financial irregularities, and other corruption allegations that may reach all the way to the president, The Washington Post reports. The presidency-threatening scandal involves the Brazilian government's decision to hurriedly buy an unapproved COVID-19 vaccine from India's Bharat Biotech at more than 10 times the original quote price, after holding up and haggling over several earlier vaccine offers. Health ministry officials testified that Bolsonaro was informed of the suspected corruption involving the purchase of India's Covaxin vaccine, but he failed to act or notify the appropriate authorities, which could be a crime in Brazil. "This isn't a suspicion," Sen. Omar Aziz, a leader of the congressional inquiry, told Brazil's O Globo newspaper. "This is a fact. [Bolsonaro] hasn't disproven this. He didn't send anything to the police. ... For any public servant, this would be a dereliction." On Friday, the Supreme Court authorized a criminal investigation into Bolsonaro. The president denied any wrongdoing, claimed he's "incorruptible," then claimed ignorance of the Covaxin deal, and has dismissed the investigation into his actions "an embarrassment." Bolsonaro's popularity had already taken a hit due to Brazil's COVID-19 pandemic response, which has resulted in both economic pain and more than 500,000 official deaths. Now his approval rating has cratered to the 20s. He "still retains enough political support to fend off calls for his impeachment," but "the belief that Bolsonaro wasn't corrupt has been central to his political survival," the Post reports. "Even as the virus ravaged Brazil, and an increasing number of Brazilians started to blame him for doing little to stop it, he retained his core group of supporters. At least he was honest, many said. Allegations he looked the other way on alleged corruption could undercut one of the few areas of strength he has left."

7-5-21 Britain is going to try to 'live with' COVID. The rest of the world is watching.
In recent weeks, much of the developed world has been watching the United Kingdom for signs of what's to come next in the pandemic. The highly-vaccinated country is battling a sharp rise in COVID-19 cases among the young and unvaccinated driven almost entirely by the highly-transmissible Delta variant, threatening to derail the government's reopening roadmap and plunge the U.K. into perpetual lockdown. But so far, the data is encouraging. Hospitalizations and deaths, while rising slightly, remain low, and the government is taking this as a sign that it's time to come out of hiding and learn to "cope with" COVID. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Monday is expected to announce that England will forge ahead with the easing of most remaining COVID restrictions on July 19. Social distancing, masking, and capacity limits at businesses and restaurants are all set to be scrapped, BBC reports, as Johnson seeks to "restore people's freedoms" and shift the nation's pandemic management strategy to focus more on individual responsibility. "We need to be clear that cases are going to rise significantly," said Health Secretary Sajid Javid. "I know many people will be cautious about the easing of restrictions – that's completely understandable. But no date we choose will ever come without risk, so we have to take a broad and balanced view." The government's scientific advisers aren't convinced. They say easing restrictions during a surge — the U.K. is currently seeing more daily coronavirus cases than the entire European Union combined — could fuel the evolution of new variants. "The world is watching the U.K. to see what living with COVID and high vaccine uptake looks like," Devi Sridhar, head of the global public health program at the University of Edinburgh, told The New York Times. "The next few weeks will reveal if they've gambled correctly, or we end up having another wave of high hospitalizations."

7-5-21 Covid-19 news: Growing concern over planned easing of rules 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. Coronavirus restrictions in England set to be lifted on 19 July despite rising infections. UK prime minister Boris Johnson is expected to confirm plans to lift the majority of the remaining coronavirus restrictions in England from 19 July, despite rising cases and warnings from scientists advising the UK government. The planned easing of restrictions is expected to include making the wearing of face coverings voluntary, except for in hospitals and other healthcare settings, and no longer requiring fully vaccinated adults to take a coronavirus test or self-isolate if they come into contact with someone who tests positive for the virus. Hospitals in Indonesia are running out of oxygen amid a continuing surge in coronavirus cases. Indonesia reported a record daily increase in new coronavirus infections of 29,745 on 5 July, as well as 558 deaths from covid-19. Two hospitals in the city of Bandung said they had completely run out of oxygen on 5 July, and were forced to reject new patients seeking emergency treatment, the BBC reported. France has made it easier for citizens travelling within the country to get vaccinated against covid-19, by lifting a requirement that people get their second dose of vaccine in the same place that they received their first. “You can go to the beach and also get vaccinated. This summer, the vaccine will come to you,” said French government spokesperson, Gabriel Attal. Bangladesh has extended its strictest lockdown measures until 14 July in an effort to tackle a surge in cases driven by the delta coronavirus variant. The country reported record rises in daily new coronavirus cases and covid-19 deaths on 5 July, with 9964 new cases and 164 new deaths. The worldwide covid-19 death toll has passed 3.97 million. The number of confirmed cases is more than 183.9 million, according to Johns Hopkins University, though the true number of cases will be much higher. According to Our World In Data, more than 1.9 billion people globally have received at least one dose of a covid-19 vaccine.

7-5-21 Gang behind huge cyber-attack demands $70m in Bitcoin
The gang behind a "colossal" ransomware attack has demanded $70m (£50.5m) paid in Bitcoin in return for a "universal decryptor" that it says will unlock the files of all victims. The REvil group claims its malware, which initially targeted US IT firm Kaseya, has hit one million "systems". This number has not been verified and the exact total of victims is unknown. However, it does include 500 Swedish Coop supermarkets and 11 schools in New Zealand. Two Dutch IT firms have also been hit, according to local media reports. On Friday, cyber-security firm Huntress Labs estimated about 200 firms had been affected. The "supply chain" attack initially targeted Kaseya, before spreading through corporate networks that use its software. Kaseya said that fewer than 40 of its own customers had been affected. But because Kaseya provides software to managed service providers, firms which themselves provide outsourced IT services to other companies, the number of victims may be much greater. And the number of individual computer systems within those victim organisations could be greater still. Kaseya chief executive Fred Voccola told the Associated Press that the number of victims would probably be in the low thousands, made up of small organisations such as dental practices and libraries. "The scale and sophistication of this global crime is rare, if not unprecedented," Prof Ciaran Martin, founder of the National Cyber Security Centre, told Radio 4's Today programme. Most of REvil's members are believed to be based in Russia or countries that were formerly part of the Soviet Union. Prof Martin criticised Russia for providing a safe environment for ransomware hackers, but said that the West was making it too easy for these gangs to be paid and "unsurprisingly they are coming back for more". Experts have expressed surprise at the group's demand that the ransom should be paid in Bitcoin, as opposed to harder-to-trace cryptocurrencies such as Monero. On Twitter, Prof Martin called REvil's decision to demand payment in Bitcoin, "weird".

7-5-21 Why health experts are concerned about high turnover rate among U.S. immunization managers
The coronavirus pandemic has taken a toll on the United States' immunization managers, USA Today reports. Since COVID-19 first took hold in the U.S., 14 managers have quit, four were promoted, and six retired, reportedly most earlier than planned. All told, 24 of the 64 people who oversee the country's vaccination programs have left. Normally, the yearly turnover is about 10 people, Claire Hannan, the executive director of the Association of Immunization Managers, said. The fact that the figure more than doubled in the last year isn't entirely surprising — the managers battled burnout amid the U.S.'s largest ever vaccination campaign, which was heavily politicized at times. But it is concerning, Dr. Walter Orenstein, the director of the Emory University Vaccine Center, told USA Today, explaining that individual immunization managers have built personal relationships over the years with leaders at the state and local levels, something that will likely be tough to replace. "What works and what doesn't work in each community may be somewhat different," Orenstein said. "That's why it's so important to have people at the state and community level who have experience." Read more at USA Today.

7-5-21 What the Delta variant could mean for the Pfizer vaccine
As the Delta variant of COVID-19 makes its way across the globe, a new report from Israeli website Ynet has some good news about the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine — and some bad. First, the good news: Data from the Israel Health Ministry find the vaccine holds up well against the variant when it comes to hospitalizations and serious illness, with an efficacy rate of 93 percent according to data from June 6 to July 3, when the Delta variant really began to take hold, Bloomberg reports. That's down from 98.2 percent compared to the variants that came before, but still very good. The bad news is the data appear to indicate a significant drop in efficacy when it comes to the Pfizer vaccine preventing infection overall. Between May 2 and June 5, the vaccine had a 94.3 percent efficacy rate at preventing infection, Bloomberg explains. That rate dropped to 64 percent in the month that followed. If the data are correct, it means that even if you're fully vaccinated, you could still catch and show symptoms of COVID-19. That's always been the case, but the Delta variant makes it more likely. But the immunization still significantly reduces your chances of landing in the hospital. The Delta variant is dominant in many parts of the United States, and some states' health-care systems are already under pressure, Financial Times reports. The Pfizer vaccine is one of three COVID-19 vaccines authorized for use in the U.S.

7-5-21 Georgia: Tbilisi Pride cancelled amid violent protests
LGBT activists in Georgia have cancelled a gay rights event after their office was stormed by far-right protesters. Journalists and activists were also attacked ahead of the planned march in the capital, Tblisi, local reports say. "We cannot risk human lives and take to the streets, which are full of violent attackers," Tblisi Pride announced. The attacks have been condemned by a number of embassies, who have called for authorities to stop the violence. Activists had organised five days of Pride events, but in a statement on Monday, Tbilisi Pride said local authorities had "not only failed to secure safety of the queer community and our supporters, but actively hampered us from exercising the right of assembly" ahead of the planned march. At least 20 journalists were reportedly injured in the violence, while an LGBT rainbow flag was burned in the street. In a joint statement issued on Monday, the US, UK, the EU and a number of other diplomatic missions called on Georgian authorities "to act swiftly to protect those exercising their constitutional rights to freedom of expression and assembly, to protect journalists exercising freedom of the press, and to publicly condemn violence". Georgia's interior ministry had previously called on the organisers to cancel the Pride march due to safety concerns, while Prime Minister Irakli Gharibashviil described the event as "unacceptable for a large segment of the Georgian society". However, another activist group said the government had failed to offer security to activists and journalists and was "responsible for today's violence". The Georgian Orthodox Church, which strongly opposes LGBT activists, had also called for a public prayer meeting against the Pride event. While discrimination against sexual orientation is illegal in Georgia, the country - which lies between Eastern Europe and Western Asia - remains very conservative. In 2019, far-right protesters joined demonstrations against the premiere of Georgia's first LGBTQ film in Tbilisi.

7-5-21 Russian food firm VkusVill triggers row over lesbian family ad
Russian health food chain VkusVill has triggered a storm of criticism on social media for posting an online advertisement showing a lesbian family, then removing it and apologising. There was anger from those for and against the ad, which ran on VkusVill's website under the slogan "Recipes for family happiness". The firm said the ad was intended for people aged 18 and above. Russia bans any content deemed to be spreading gay "propaganda" to minors. In addition to that 2013 law, Russia bans gay marriage and adoption by gay couples. Instead of the photo showing the family group - mother Yuma, daughters Mila and Alina, and Alina's girlfriend Ksyusha - VkusVill now shows a conventional family under the same slogan. VkusVill translates into English as "Tasteville". The firm has placed an apology under the new photo on Instagram: "There was an article here that hurt the feelings of many of our customers, staff, partners and suppliers. We regret that this has happened, and we consider this publication to be our mistake, a manifestation of the unprofessionalism of certain employees." The company managers expressed their "sincere apologies". After removing the photo of the family VkusVill has received thousands of comments, most of them critical. "Will people really boycott curd snacks and cherries because of lesbians? Of course not... But now both sides hate the retailer," said prominent social influencer Ksenia Sobchak on Instagram. "Shame. Very disappointed," commented singer Mozee Montana. Writer and director Michael Idov tweeted: "The most hellish aspect of the VkusVill story is that there is now a family in this world, that [VkusVill] with the help of media and social networks practically doxed [made public], then added that it is so scary and unacceptable that it needs to APOLOGISE just for their photo. Unimaginable." Mila, one of the daughters shown in the controversial ad, said that after publication she had received online "threats to murder my family" and homophobic abuse. "But I also received just as many messages of support," she added.

7-4-21 Massachusetts armed group arrested after stand-off with police
Police near Boston, Massachusetts, have arrested nine people after an hours-long stand-off with an armed group. The incident began early on Saturday when an officer investigated two vehicles that had stopped by a highway near the town of Wakefield. The occupants wore military-style uniforms and were found to be carrying weapons. Nine of them fled into nearby woods when asked for information. Police later held negotiations with the group, and all were taken into custody. The incident comes ahead of celebrations around the country to mark Independence Day. Before the arrests were confirmed, State Police Superintendent Christopher Mason told reporters that the men were travelling from the state of Rhode Island for "training" in Maine. They did not specify what the training was for. Police said no threats were made, but the group could be charged with firearms offences. Initial media reports suggested the assailants had said they were an anti-government organisation. In a video posted on YouTube, a man wearing military fatigues denied this. He identified the group as Rise of the Moors. Allegedly speaking from the highway where the group were stopped, he said they had been "abiding by the peaceful laws of the United States' federal courts". On its Instagram account, which has over 17,000 followers, the Rise of the Moors says it is a non-profit organisation "dedicated to the upliftment of fallen humanity" and seeks to "continue the work that Prophet Noble Drew Ali has laid down for us". Timothy Drew, known Noble Drew Ali, founded the Moorish Science Temple of America in the 1920s. The religious group follows Islam and believes that all African-Americans can trace their lineage to Moab - an ancient kingdom in modern-day Jordan.

7-4-21 Swedish Coop supermarkets shut due to US ransomware cyber-attack
Some 500 Coop supermarket stores in Sweden have been forced to close due to an ongoing "colossal" cyber-attack affecting organisations around the world. Coop Sweden says it closed more than half of its 800 stores on Friday after point-of-sale tills and self-service checkouts stopped working. The supermarket was not itself targeted by hackers - but is one of a growing number of organisations affected by an attack on a large software supplier the company uses indirectly. Cyber researchers say about 200 businesses have been hit by this "colossal" ransomware attack, which had mainly affected the US. Cyber-security firm Huntress Labs said the hack targeted Florida-based IT company Kaseya before spreading through corporate networks that use its software. The firm believes the Russia-linked REvil ransomware gang was responsible. Kaseya said in a statement on its own website that it was investigating a "potential attack". A spokeswoman for Coop Sweden told the BBC: "We first noticed problems in a small number of stores on Friday evening around 6:30pm so we closed those stores early. Then overnight we realised it was much bigger and we took the decision not to open most of our stores this morning so that our teams could work out how to fix it. "The whole paying system at our tills and our self-service checkouts stopped working so we need time to reboot the system." It's understood that Coop doesn't use Kesaya directly on it's systems but that one of their software providers does. The case highlights the growing concern in the cyber-security world about so-called supply chain attacks where hackers are able to claim multiple victims by attacking their supplier. The US Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Agency, a federal body, said in a statement that it was taking action to address the attack and urging users of the Kesaya software to shut it down.

7-3-21 US companies hit by 'colossal' cyber-attack
About 200 US businesses have been hit by a "colossal" ransomware attack, according to a cyber-security firm. Huntress Labs said the hack targeted Florida-based IT company Kaseya before spreading through corporate networks that use its software. Kaseya said in a statement on its own website that it was investigating a "potential attack". Huntress Labs said it believed the Russia-linked REvil ransomware gang was responsible. The US Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Agency, a federal agency, said in a statement that it was taking action to address the attack. The cyber-breach emerged on Friday afternoon as companies across the US were clocking off for the long Independence Day weekend. Kaseya said one of its applications that runs corporate servers, desktop computers and network devices might have been compromised in the attack. The company said it was urging customers that use its VSA tool to immediately shut down their servers. Kaseya said in its statement that a "small number" of companies had been affected, though Huntress Labs said the number was greater than 200. It is not clear what specific companies have been affected and a Kaseya representative contacted by the BBC declined to give details. Kaseya's website says it has a presence in over 10 countries and more than 10,000 customers. "This is a colossal and devastating supply chain attack," Huntress Labs' senior security researcher John Hammond said in an email to Reuters news agency. At a summit in Geneva last month, US President Joe Biden said he told Russian President Vladimir Putin he had a responsibility to rein in such cyber-attacks. Mr Biden said he gave Mr Putin a list of 16 critical infrastructure sectors, from energy to water, that should not be subject to hacking. REvil - also known as Sodinokibi - is one of the most prolific and profitable cyber-criminal groups in the world. The gang was blamed by the FBI for a hack in May that paralysed operations at JBS - the world's largest meat supplier.

7-2-21 Covid-19 news: UK shares vaccine data to help EU approve travellers
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 prime minister “very confident” that those who received Indian-made version of AstraZeneca shot won’t have issues with EU travel. Following reports that the European Union’s covid-19 vaccine certification scheme doesn’t approve entry for people who have had a version of the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine manufactured in India, the UK’s medicines regulator has shared data on the vaccine with the EU’s regulator in an effort to assist with the bloc’s authorisation of the jab. The EU’s digital covid-19 certificate allows travellers to show their vaccination status on arrival in EU countries, exempting them from quarantine. But the digital certificate launched on 1 July doesn’t accept a version of the AstraZeneca vaccine called Covishield, which is manufactured by the Serum Institute of India, because it hasn’t yet been authorised by the European Medicines Agency (EMA). The Covishield jab has been authorised by the World Health Organization (WHO), and has formed a significant portion of the vaccines allocated to low- and middle-income countries via the WHO’s COVAX scheme. Johnson & Johnson announced that its single-shot covid-19 vaccine was found to generate a strong immune response against the delta variant of the coronavirus, lasting for at least eight months after vaccination. Analysis of blood samples from eight trial participants showed that the vaccine induced stronger immune responses to the delta variant compared to the beta variant of the virus. Preliminary results so far also indicate that the Pfizer/BioNTech, Moderna and Oxford/AstraZeneca covid-19 vaccines are largely protective against the delta variant. Australia will halve the number of international flight arrivals into the country, the prime minister Scott Morrison announced on 2 July, citing the increased risk posed by the delta coronavirus variant. The delta coronavirus variant is now estimated to account for more than 98 per cent of all new coronavirus cases in the UK, according to figures from Public Health England.

7-2-21 Bagram: Last US and Nato forces leave key Afghanistan base
The last US and Nato forces have left Afghanistan's Bagram airbase, the centre of the war against militants for some 20 years. The pull-out could signal that the complete withdrawal of foreign forces from Afghanistan is imminent. President Joe Biden has said US forces will be gone by 11 September. But the withdrawal from the sprawling base, north of Kabul, comes as the main jihadist group, the Taliban, advances in many parts of Afghanistan. The 11 September deadline is the anniversary of the attacks on America in 2001, which killed nearly 3,000 people. The attacks were carried out by al-Qaeda, an international jihadist group then based in Afghanistan with the support of the Taliban, who had been in control of the country since the 1990s. A US-led coalition invaded Afghanistan later that year to defeat both groups. America now wants to end its longest war with its huge cost in human lives and vast expense, and is leaving security to the Afghan government. Some 2,500-3,500 US troops were thought to be still in Afghanistan until recently and when they depart, fewer than 1,000 American soldiers will remain. As of May there were about 7,000 other coalition troops in Afghanistan but it is believed that most have now left, with Germany and Italy declaring their missions over on Wednesday. Meanwhile, a resurgent Taliban, buoyed by the expectation of the foreign withdrawal, has overrun dozens of districts, amid fears that a new civil war could erupt after the departure of foreign forces. Bagram is a bellwether of what's to come. This symbol of American military might was once a stronghold of Soviet forces. Now Afghan security forces will soon confront the challenge of securing this sprawling city within a city. Bagram is vital - in symbolic and strategic ways. Taliban fighters, advancing in districts across the country, have this prize in their sights. Even last October, residents of the town which has swelled all around it told us the Taliban were already in their midst. On a recent visit to the base, as the US packed up, we heard how Afghan security forces saw it as a mixed blessing. There's a wealth of military assets within its walls; but that treasure is a top target for Taliban, not to mention corrupt commanders and others eying this fortune. For the countless Afghans whose lives and livelihoods have long banked on this base - and who now feel abandoned - Bagram's new chapter is deeply worrying.

7-2-21 Covid: Australia to halve arrivals and trial home quarantine
Australia will halve the number of international arrivals it accepts after Covid outbreaks put half the population in lockdown this week. The country's strict border rules have only allowed Australians and people with exemptions to enter. From 14 July, Australia will accept just over 3,000 people a week - a measure likely to last until next year. The announcement sparked dismay among Australians who are overseas and separated from their families. But Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the measure would reduce pressure on the country's quarantine system. Virus leaks from hotel quarantine - which is mandatory for all arrivals - have been the source of numerous outbreaks across the country. Australia is maintaining a Covid-elimination strategy until it can get the majority of its population vaccinated next year. Just 8% have been vaccinated so far. Mr Morrison's government has faced criticism for its border policies over the past year, which have extended family separations and made it difficult for many Australians to return. In April, the government also temporarily blocked its citizens in India from returning during the height of a deadly wave in the South Asian nation. About 37,000 Australians remain stranded overseas. To mitigate some of the cuts, Mr Morrison said the number of repatriation flights for Australians wanting to fly home would be increased. Australia will also begin trialling home quarantine arrangements for vaccinated travellers. Mr Morrison said arrival limits would not be lifted again until most Australians get vaccinated - a goal that will not be achieved until next year due to the country's limited supply of jabs. The new rules aim to reduce the risk of Covid escaping travellers in quarantine and spreading into the wider community. It come after outbreaks of the highly infectious Delta variant plunged seven cities - including Sydney, Brisbane and Perth - into lockdowns over the past week. The virus' detection in six states and territories marked the most widespread transmission of the virus in Australia this year.

7-2-21 Trump Organization: Top executive charged with tax crimes
Former US President Donald Trump's company and its finance chief have been charged with tax-related crimes. Allen Weisselberg, 73, turned himself in to New York authorities on Thursday. He was later charged with concealing $1.7m (£1.2m) worth of income. Prosecutors say the 15-year-long scheme helped executives evade taxes by giving benefits, such as rent and school fees, that were hidden from the authorities. Lawyers for the firm and Mr Weisselberg have pleaded not guilty to tax fraud. No charges were brought against Mr Trump personally, though prosecutors said the former president had signed some of the cheques at the centre of the case. The Trump Organization is a family holding company that owns hotels, golf clubs and other properties - and the cornerstone of a global brand that encompassed book deals, TV shows and Trump-emblazoned skyscrapers. The criminal charges are the first to arise from long-running investigations into alleged fraud by both the Manhattan district attorney and the state attorney general. The inquiry by District Attorney Cyrus Vance focused on whether Mr Weisselberg and other company executives received benefits such as apartment rentals or leased cars without reporting them properly on their tax returns. The charges announced on Thursday include tax fraud and falsifying business records. At the hearing at Manhattan's criminal court, prosecutor Carey Dunne said this was a "sweeping and audacious" scheme involving "off-the-books payments". "It was orchestrated by the most senior executives who were financially benefiting themselves and the company, by getting secret pay raises at the expense of state and federal taxpayers," he said. Mr Weisselberg "is prepared to fight these charges in court," his lawyers said. Mr Trump and his allies have said the investigations are politically motivated. The indictment was served as Mr Trump has been discussing a potential comeback run for president in 2024.

7-1-21 Trump Org and CFO charged with 'sweeping and audacious' tax crimes
The Trump Organization pleaded not guilty on Thursday to charges of fraud and tax crimes in connection with a "15-year-long scheme to compensate a top executive off the books," The New York Times and The Associated Press report. That executive, longtime CFO Allen Weisselberg, was hit with grand larceny, tax fraud, and other charges for allegedly avoiding taxes on approximately $1.7 million in "indirect" compensation, receiving tax refunds to which he wasn't entitled, and falsifying tax records, Buzzfeed News reports. "To put it bluntly, this was a sweeping and audacious illegal payments scheme," said Carey Dunne, general counsel for the Manhattan district attorney. Charges were revealed at a state Supreme Court arraignment in Manhattan. The executive allegedly evaded taxes on perks like rent, cars, and tuition for family members that were paid for by the Trump Organization but left unreported. Weisselberg pleaded not guilty, and his lawyers said he plans to "fight these charges in court," per the Times. The CFO surrendered to the D.A. Thursday morning. Investigators have long been looking at Weisselberg and the Trump Organization for evidence of tax-related crimes, the Times writes. Former President Donald Trump was not personally charged in the indictment, but the district attorney's office signaled earlier on Thursday that the investigation remains "active" and "ongoing."

7-1-21 Covid-19 news: Booster vaccines in England planned for September
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 vaccination committee advises that covid-19 vaccine booster programme should start in September. The UK’s Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) published interim advice on covid-19 booster vaccines in England, advising that any potential booster programme should begin in September in order to maximise protection in those who are most vulnerable to serious covid-19 ahead of the winter months. Expanding the official list of covid-19 symptoms in the UK could help identify more covid-19 cases and ensure people know when to self-isolate, a group of medical researchers and public health specialists wrote in an article published in the BMJ. Official UK government guidance advises people to get a PCR test if they have any of three covid-19 symptoms, including a high temperature, a new, continuous cough and a loss or change in sense of smell or taste. However, the World Health Organization lists 13 symptoms associated with covid-19, with additional symptoms such as sore throat and headache. “Most spread is from symptomatic cases around the time of symptom onset, and interrupting transmission depends on early identification and isolation of contagious individuals. The narrow UK case definition therefore limits this detection, restricting the effectiveness of the test, trace and isolate programme,” the researchers wrote. A 10-week decline in coronavirus infections recorded across Europe has ended and there will be a new wave in the region “unless we remain disciplined”, said World Health Organization Europe director Hans Kluge at a briefing on 1 July. Kluge urged countries to accelerate their covid-19 vaccination drives to help ensure maximum protection against the highly transmissible delta variant of the virus. As of 6 June, an estimated 962,000 people in private households in the UK were experiencing self-reported “long covid” symptoms for more than a month after their first suspected coronavirus infection, according to a survey by the Office for National Statistics. The figure is down slightly from 1.02 million people as of 2 May. Russia began offering covid-19 booster vaccines to people in Moscow on 1 July, as part of an effort to contain a surge of coronavirus infections thought to be linked to the delta variant.

7-1-21 Supreme Court upholds Arizona voting restrictions in 'a sign of what's to come'
The Supreme Court has upheld voting restrictions in Arizona, ruling two laws don't violate the Voting Rights Act. In a 6-3 decision, the court upheld an Arizona policy requiring ballots to be tossed if they're cast in the wrong precinct, as well as a law that only voters, their family members, or their caregivers may deliver ballots, NBC News reports. Critics argued the laws disadvantaged minority voters. The majority opinion was written by Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito. "Arizona's out-of-precinct policy and HB 2023 do not violate [Section 2] of the VRA, and HB 2023 was not enacted with a racially discriminatory purpose," the court said. Alito also wrote that "mere inconvenience cannot be enough to demonstrate a violation" of the law, and that "the mere fact there is some disparity in impact does not necessarily mean that a system is not equally open or does not give everyone an equal opportunity to vote." The court declined to "announce a test to govern all VRA [Section 2] challenges to rules that specify the time, place, or manner for casting ballots," Alito wrote, per NPR. The court's ruling was a "sign of what's to come," Axios wrote, as it could be "paving the way for new limitations across the country." The ruling also suggested, The New York Times wrote, that "challenges to new state laws making it harder to vote would face a hostile reception from a majority of the justices," and law professor Rick Hasen told NBC, "This significantly dilutes the Voting Rights Act. Minority groups will now have to meet a much higher standard beyond showing that a change presents a burden to voting."

7-1-21 Immigration: Is US-Mexico border seeing a surge in migrants?
President Joe Biden's immigration policies are being heavily criticised by Republicans, as large numbers of undocumented migrants cross the US-Mexico border. Former president Donald Trump says migrants are coming over the border "like this country has never seen". So what are the numbers? The number of migrants intercepted at the border had been steadily rising since April 2020, but since President Biden took charge in January there has been a sharp increase. In May, the latest month with published data, US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) recorded its highest monthly total in more than 20 years of just over 180,000 migrants, mostly single adults. The head of homeland security in the US, Alejandro Mayorkas, said in March: "This is not new. We have experienced migration surges before - in 2019, 2014, and before then as well." During the Trump administration, migrant encounters hit a monthly high of more than 144,000 in May 2019. There has also been an increase in the number of children crossing the border since President Biden took office. March saw more than 19,000 minors encountered there, compared to about 12,000 at the same point in 2019. During the Trump administration, the 2019 financial year (running from October 2018 to September 2019) saw more than 800,000 migrants apprehended at the border - the most since 2007. But the 2021 financial year has already passed the 2019 total, even though it still has four months to run. There were years in the early 2000s when more than one million migrants were intercepted crossing the US-Mexico border, with a peak of more than 1.6 million in 2000. CBP records the weight of drugs seized at the border and the amount captured there has increased slightly since President Biden entered office. However, it remains well below the peaks seen under Mr Trump. The vast majority of seizures are of marijuana, with large amounts of cocaine and methamphetamine also being found. The first five months of 2021 have seen less drugs seized (by weight) coming over the border than the first five months of 2020.

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Atheism News & Humanism Articles for June 2021