11-30-21 Covid booster shots are pushing protection to unexpected heights
Evidence suggests that vaccine booster programmes can take people’s covid-19 protection to unexpectedly high levels, but we don’t yet know how effective existing vaccines will be against the omicron variant. While the emergence of the omicron variant has caused concern worldwide, there is cause for some optimism: emerging evidence on vaccine booster programmes reveals that a third dose can take people’s coronavirus protection to unexpectedly high levels. It has long been predicted that the covid-19 vaccines from Oxford/AstraZeneca and Pfizer/BioNTech, which were designed as two-dose regimens, may eventually require a third shot. After studies suggested that vaccine effectiveness was waning, many countries began booster programmes, including the UK, which began offering third doses in September to people who are 50 or older and certain other groups. It later widened that to those aged 40 and over. There was disappointment that boosters were needed after only six months, but the initial signs for how well third jabs are working have been no let-down. In October, a randomised trial found that people who had received a third dose of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine had about 95 per cent fewer infections than people who had only had two jabs. While vaccine effectiveness tends to be lower in the wider world than in trials, real world figures have also been encouraging. In people over the age of 50, those who had a booster were about 93 per cent less likely to have a symptomatic infection than those who were unvaccinated, regardless of whether their first two jabs were AstraZeneca or Pfizer/BioNTech, according to an analysis by the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA). “It’s really impressive,” says Paul Hunter at the University of East Anglia, UK. The most recent results from the UKHSA suggest that, in the over 70s, for example, protection levels are now higher than they were in August, and seem to be continuing to rise.
11-30-21 Covid-19 news: All UK adults to be offered boosters to tackle omicron
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. All UK adults to be offered booster jab. Covid-19 vaccine booster doses will be offered to everyone over the age of 18 in the UK. The move follows a recommendation from the UK Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) yesterday, and is intended to limit the impact of the omicron coronavirus variant. The minimum gap between a person’s second vaccine dose and their booster is also to be halved from six months to three months, based on recommendations made by the JCVI. The committee also recommended that children aged between 12 and 15 should be invited for a second jab. Face coverings are now mandatory again in shops and on public transport in England, as of 4am today. The restrictions were put in place following the detection of 14 cases of omicron in the UK. Face coverings haven’t been mandated by the UK government since 19 July 2021. The omicron variant is a “cause for concern, not panic”, according to US president Joe Biden. No cases of the variant have been discovered in the US so far, but Biden said it was “almost inevitable” that they would be found soon. “We’re going to fight and beat this new variant,” he told journalists at the White House on Monday. The omicron variant was first detected in South Africa, and has prompted calls for high income countries to donate more vaccine doses to lower income countries. China’s president Xi Jinping announced yesterday that the country will give one billion doses of coronavirus vaccines to Africa. He said 600 million doses would be donated directly, while the other 400 million doses would be provided through joint partnerships between Chinese firms and African countries.
11-30-21 Covid: Omicron lockdown not needed for now, Biden says
US President Joe Biden has called the Omicron Covid-19 variant a "cause for concern, not a cause for panic" a day after it was detected in North America. He said he saw no need for a new lockdown "for now... if people are vaccinated and wear their masks". Cases have been found in Canada, and the US has imposed travel bans on eight southern African countries. Mr Biden added that pharmaceutical companies were making contingency plans for new jabs if they are needed. At the White House on Monday, the president said it was "almost inevitable" that Omicron, first reported by South Africa, would be found in the US eventually. "We're going to fight and beat this new variant," he said. Late last week, the US announced restrictions on travellers from South Africa, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Lesotho, Eswatini, Mozambique and Malawi. Canada, the UK and the EU and other countries have also restricted travel from southern Africa. On Sunday, Canada said the Omicron variant had been discovered in two patients who had recently travelled to Nigeria. A third case was announced on Monday. Mr Biden said the travel ban had bought some time for the US to study the new variant. While the World Health Organization (WHO) has deemed Omicron a "variant of concern", it is still not clear whether it is associated with more transmission or more risk of evading vaccines. ritics noted that Mr Biden accused former President Donald Trump of "hysterical xenophobia" after he limited travel from China in January 2020 as the coronavirus spread in the US. Republican Florida Governor Ron DeSantis dismissed the latest flight restrictions as a "knee-jerk reaction". The state has taken steps to ban Covid-19 vaccine and mask mandates in recent months. "In Florida, we will not let them lock you down," Mr DeSantis said. "We will not let them take your job. We will not let them harm your businesses. We will not let them close your schools."
11-30-21 Covid-19 news: All UK adults to be offered boosters to tackle omicron
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. All UK adults to be offered booster jab. Covid-19 vaccine booster doses will be offered to everyone over the age of 18 in the UK. The move follows a recommendation from the UK Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) yesterday, and is intended to limit the impact of the omicron coronavirus variant. The minimum gap between a person’s second vaccine dose and their booster is also to be halved from six months to three months, based on recommendations made by the JCVI. The committee also recommended that children aged between 12 and 15 should be invited for a second jab. Face coverings are now mandatory again in shops and on public transport in England, as of 4am today. The restrictions were put in place following the detection of 14 cases of omicron in the UK. Face coverings haven’t been mandated by the UK government since 19 July 2021. The omicron variant is a “cause for concern, not panic”, according to US president Joe Biden. No cases of the variant have been discovered in the US so far, but Biden said it was “almost inevitable” that they would be found soon. “We’re going to fight and beat this new variant,” he told journalists at the White House on Monday. The omicron variant was first detected in South Africa, and has prompted calls for high income countries to donate more vaccine doses to lower income countries. China’s president Xi Jinping announced yesterday that the country will give one billion doses of coronavirus vaccines to Africa. He said 600 million doses would be donated directly, while the other 400 million doses would be provided through joint partnerships between Chinese firms and African countries.
11-30-21 Covid: Omicron variant in Netherlands earlier than thought
The new Covid-19 variant, Omicron, was present in the Netherlands earlier than previously thought, officials say. It was identified in two test samples taken in the country between 19 and 23 November, which is before the variant was first reported by South Africa. It is not clear whether those who took the tests had visited southern Africa. It was previously thought that two flights that arrived from South Africa on Sunday had brought the first cases of the variant to the Netherlands. Fourteen people on the flights to the capital, Amsterdam, tested positive for Omicron, among 61 passengers who were found to have coronavirus. However, while the two new samples reveal Omicron was in the Netherlands earlier than thought, they do not predate the cases in southern Africa. The variant was first found in a specimen collected on 9 November, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). Early evidence suggests Omicron has a higher re-infection risk. But scientists say it will take about three weeks before it is known how the heavily mutated variant impacts on the effectiveness of vaccines. "In a special PCR test, the samples showed an abnormality in the spike protein," the National Institute for Public Health (RIVM) which announced the earlier cases, said on Tuesday. "This raised the concern that the Omicron variant... might be involved. [Health officials] will notify the people involved and start source and contact tracing," it said. The RIVM also said that a number of different strains of Omicron were found among the passengers on board the two flights on Sunday. "This means that the people were very probably infected independently from each other, from different sources and in different locations," a spokesman said. Dutch authorities, meanwhile, are also seeking to contact and test thousands of passengers who have travelled from South Africa, Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho, Mozambique, Namibia and Zimbabwe. The US, Canada, the UK and the EU have all restricted travel from southern Africa amid concern over the new variant. But the UN Secretary General António Guterres said he was "deeply concerned" about the isolation of southern Africa, adding that "the people of Africa cannot be blamed for the immorally low level of vaccinations available".
11-30-21 Dozens of former Afghan forces killed or disappeared by Taliban, rights group says
More than 100 former Afghan security forces have been killed by the Taliban or have disappeared since the militants seized control, according to a new report by Human Rights Watch. The rights group said an amnesty promised by Taliban's leadership had not prevented local commanders from targeting former soldiers and police. HRW accused the leadership of "condoning" the "deliberate" killings. A Taliban spokesman recently denied any revenge killings were taking place. The group seized control of Afghanistan in August as the US withdrew its last troops after 20 years of war, deposing the government of Ashraf Ghani. The Taliban assured former government staff that they would be safe under a general amnesty towards those who had worked for the police, army, or other branches of the state. But many doubted the substance of the amnesty. The Taliban have a long history of killing members of the security forces and civil society figures. The group is widely held responsible for a ruthless and bloody campaign of assassinations in the 18 months between early 2020 and their takeover of the country in August. The victims included judges, journalists and peace activists. Analysts say that campaign was designed to eliminate potential critics ahead of a return to power and instil fear in those left alive. According to the HRW report, published on Tuesday, the targeted killings have continued under the Taliban administration, with more than 100 people being killed or having disappeared across four provinces - Ghazni, Helmand, Kunduz, and Kandahar. The charity said the Taliban had directed members of surrendering security forces units to register to receive a letter guaranteeing their safety, but instead used the information to detain and execute or "disappear" individuals within days of their registration. The Taliban have also used employment records left behind by the former government to identify people for arrest and execution, HRW said.
11-29-21 US and Iran seek to break impasse at talks on reviving nuclear deal
Critical talks with Iran to prevent the collapse of a nuclear deal have resumed in Vienna after a five-month pause. Officials are discussing the possible return of the US to the 2015 accord, which limited Iran's nuclear activities in return for the lifting of sanctions. Iran has violated key commitments since then-President Donald Trump pulled out in 2018 and reinstated US sanctions. Joe Biden is willing to lift them if Iran reverses the breaches. But Iran wants the US to make the first move. Western diplomats have warned that time is running out to negotiate a solution because of the significant advances Iran has made in its uranium enrichment programme, which is a possible pathway to a nuclear bomb. Iran insists that its nuclear programme is entirely peaceful. The talks between Iran and the five countries still party to what is known formally as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) - China, France, Germany, Russia and the UK - began in the Austrian capital in April, with US representatives participating indirectly. A senior US official told the New York Times last week that an agreement on which steps needed to be taken and when by Washington and Tehran was "largely complete" before the Iranian presidential election in June. Ebrahim Raisi, a hardliner and strident critic of the West, won the race to succeed Hassan Rouhani, a moderate who negotiated the JCPOA with Barack Obama's administration. Mr Raisi promised before taking office in August that he would not to let the talks drag on, but he did not agree to return to Vienna until earlier this month. The Iranian foreign ministry has said it wants an "admission of culpability" from the US; the immediate lifting of all US sanctions; and a "guarantee" that no future US president will unilaterally abandon the deal again. "To ensure any forthcoming agreement is ironclad, the West needs to pay a price for having failed to uphold its part of the bargain," Iran's chief nuclear negotiator, Ali Bagheri Kani, wrote in the Financial Times on Sunday.
11-29-21 Covid: Dutch police arrest quarantine hotel escapees
Dutch police say they have detained a couple who escaped from a Covid-quarantine hotel. The arrests were made on a plane in Amsterdam's Schiphol airport just before it departed to Spain on Sunday. The Spanish man and Portuguese woman were later handed over to the country's health service, local media reported. It comes after 13 people who arrived in Amsterdam on two flights from South Africa last week tested positive for the new coronavirus variant. They are among 61 passengers who tested positive for Covid. It is not known whether the detained couple were among those passengers. Local media are reporting that they managed to flee a quarantine hotel in the north-western Kennemerland region, where travellers from South Africa are currently in self-isolation. The escapees could be prosecuted for violating Dutch quarantine rules, De Telegraaf newspaper says. An extended partial lockdown came into force on Sunday morning across the Netherlands, amid record Covid cases and concerns over the new variant. Bars, restaurants and shops - whose opening hours have already been restricted for several weeks - are required to close earlier than before, and there is a limit on the number of guests allowed in homes. People are also being encouraged to work from home where possible, but nurseries, schools and universities across the country remain open. Thousands of people protested after the measures were announced earlier this month. The Netherlands has had nearly 20,000 confirmed Covid-related deaths since the pandemic started. But data shows the country has recorded 1,124 deaths per million of its population, one of the lowest numbers in western Europe. Omicron was first reported to the World Health Organization (WHO) by South Africa on Wednesday, and early evidence suggests it has a higher re-infection risk. It has been categorised by the WHO as a "variant of concern".
11-29-21 Covid-19 news: More cases of omicron found in the UK
The latest coronavirus news updated every day including coronavirus cases, the latest news, features and interviews from New Scientist and essential information about the covid-19 pandemic. Six omicron cases identified in Scotland. Six cases of the omicron coronavirus variant have been identified in Scotland, it was announced today. Some of the individuals affected have no recent history of travel, and the source of their infections is not clear. Contact tracers are trying to find the origin of the virus in Scotland. All close contacts of suspected omicron cases are advised to self-isolate for ten days – regardless of vaccination status. The news follows the confirmation of three other UK cases of the variant over the weekend in Essex, Nottingham and London. The omicron variant poses a “very high” global risk of infection, the World Health Organisation (WHO) said on Sunday. The agency warned that “there could be future surges of covid-19, which could have severe consequences”. Member states have been urged to accelerate vaccination programmes, particularly for people who are vulnerable and those who are not yet fully vaccinated. No deaths have been linked to the variant so far. Omicron was first detected on 23 November in South Africa, and new cases have since been uncovered in the UK, the Netherlands, Denmark and Australia. Japan will ban all foreign travellers entering the country from tomorrow in light of the emergence of the omicron variant. Israel has temporarily restricted the entry of tourists as of 28 November, and Morocco has implemented a two-week suspension of incoming passenger flights as of 29 November.
11-28-21 Omicron Netherlands: 13 air passengers test positive for new variant
The new coronavirus variant Omicron has been detected in 13 people who arrived in the Dutch capital Amsterdam on two flights from South Africa. They are among 61 passengers who tested positive for coronavirus. It comes as tighter restrictions come into force in the Netherlands, amid record Covid cases and concerns over the new variant. This includes early closing times for hospitality and cultural venues, and limits on home gatherings. Omicron was first reported to the World Health Organization (WHO) by South Africa on Wednesday, and early evidence suggests it has a higher re-infection risk. It has been categorised by the WHO as a "variant of concern". The Dutch National Institute for Public Health announced the 13 Omicron cases on Sunday, but noted that its investigation had "not yet been completed", meaning the new variant could still be found in more test samples. Dutch Health Minister Hugo de Jonge made an "urgent request" for people who have returned from southern Africa to get tested for Covid "as soon as possible". "It is not unthinkable that there are more cases in the Netherlands," he told reporters. Cases of the heavily mutated variant have now been reported in a number of countries around the world, including several in Europe, such as the UK, Germany and Italy. The flights by Dutch national carrier KLM from Johannesburg arrived on Friday morning. The 600 passengers on board were held for several hours after arriving while they were tested for the virus. New York Times correspondent Stephanie Nolen, who was on one of the flights, tweeted that the passengers were not even brought water while they remained on the plane. Passengers travelling from South Africa to the UK via Amsterdam told the BBC that they were held on the tarmac at Schiphol airport for four hours, before eventually disembarking.
11-28-21 Covid: Swiss back government on Covid pass as cases surge
Swiss voters appear to have backed the government's measures to tackle Covid, early projections suggest. More than 60% opposed moves to remove some restrictions, including the Covid vaccination pass, Swiss media reported. Sunday's referendum came after organisers said the pass was an unnecessary restriction of freedoms. With just under two-thirds of the population fully vaccinated, the Swiss have one of the lowest vaccination rates in Western Europe. Now, Covid-19 infections are rising exponentially, with case numbers up by 40-50% each week. From the start of the pandemic the Swiss government has performed a tricky balancing act, trying to introduce measures to control the spread of Covid while still staying true to Switzerland's system of direct democracy, in which the government has little formal power and the people have the final say. Switzerland's lockdowns were never as strict as its neighbours'. People were allowed outside for exercise whenever they wanted and the schools only closed for a few weeks. But last summer, with cases falling dramatically, Switzerland didn't have a celebratory, UK-style "freedom" day either. Instead, a Covid certificate was introduced with proof of vaccination, negative test, or immunity through having had the virus. In September it became obligatory to enter bars, cafes, restaurants, cinemas, museums, sporting events, and face-to-face university classes. But not everyone agrees. Vaccination has long been a sensitive issue here, especially in German-speaking Switzerland. A belief that natural immunity is best led to a drop in childhood measles vaccinations that sparked a surge in measles cases across Europe. Meanwhile, in the alpine communities, a historic pride in their own independence rooted, some say, in the time when the mountain villages were cut off from the world each winter, means there is resistance to the government issuing orders.
11-28-21 Covid: Israel to impose travel ban for foreigners over new variant
Israel is to ban foreigners from entering the country for 14 days and use surveillance to halt the spread of the new Covid variant, local media report. The ban is expected to come into effect at midnight on Sunday, following full cabinet approval. Israel has so far confirmed one case of the potentially more infectious Omicron variant first detected in South Africa. Many countries have since banned travel to South Africa and its neighbours. South Africa has complained that it is being punished - instead of applauded - for discovering Omicron earlier this month. The World Health Organization (WHO) has warned the new variant is "of concern", with early evidence suggesting a higher re-infection risk. However, the WHO has warned against countries hastily imposing travel restrictions, saying they should look to a "risk-based and scientific approach". The Israeli coronavirus cabinet agreed a series of new restrictions at a crisis meeting late on Saturday and are subject to final approval by the larger cabinet. In addition to the entry ban for non-Israelis, a three-day mandatory quarantine would be required for all vaccinated Israeli nationals, and a seven-day quarantine for those who have not been vaccinated. The cabinet also authorised surveillance of confirmed coronavirus patients by the Israel's Shin Bet security agency. In a statement, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said phone-tracking technology would be used. Earlier on Saturday, the Israeli authorities had put 50 African nations on the so-called "red" list. All Israeli nationals returning from those countries must quarantine in the government-approved hotels and undergo Covid tests. A ban on foreigners entering Israel from most African countries was imposed on Friday. Israel has confirmed more than 1.3 million Covid infections since the start of the pandemic, with over 8,100 deaths, according to America's Johns Hopkins university.
11-27-21 Covid: South Africa 'punished' for detecting new Omicron variant
South Africa has complained it is being punished - instead of applauded - for discovering Omicron, a concerning new variant of Covid-19. The foreign ministry made the statement as countries around the world restrict travel from southern African countries as details of the spread emerged. Early evidence suggests Omicron has a higher re-infection risk. The World Health Organization (WHO) said on Friday that the new variant was being considered as "of concern". Several cases have been identified in Europe, including two in the UK and one in Belgium. Single suspected cases were also found in Germany and the Czech republic. The new variant has also been detected in Botswana, Hong Kong and Israel. Hundreds of passengers arriving in the Netherlands from South Africa are being tested for the new variant. Some 61 people on two KLM flights tested positive for Covid-19 and have been quarantined at a hotel near Amsterdam's Schiphol airport while they have further tests, Dutch officials said. The Netherlands is currently struggling with a record-breaking surge in cases. An extended partial lockdown comes into force there on Sunday evening. The new Omicron variant was first reported to the WHO from South Africa on 24 November. A statement by the South African foreign ministry on Saturday strongly criticised the travel bans. "Excellent science should be applauded and not punished," it said. The bans were "akin to punishing South Africa for its advanced genomic sequencing and the ability to detect new variants quicker". The statement added that the reaction had been completely different when new variants were discovered elsewhere in the world. On Friday and Saturday, a number of countries announced new measures, The WHO said the number of cases of this variant, initially named B.1.1.529, appeared to be increasing in almost all of South Africa's provinces. "This variant has a large number of mutations, some of which are concerning," the UN public health body said in a statement on Friday. It said "the first known confirmed B.1.1.529 infection was from a specimen collected on 9 November".
11-27-21 Covid: Dozens test positive on SA-Netherlands flights
Sixty-one people who arrived in Amsterdam on two flights from South Africa have tested positive for Covid-19, Dutch officials say. They have been placed in isolation at a hotel near Schiphol airport. They were among some 600 passengers held for several hours after arrival while they were tested for the virus. The Dutch authorities are carrying out further testing to see if there are any cases of Omicron, named on Friday as a variant of concern by the WHO. The variant was first reported to the World Health Organization in South Africa on 24 November. In the last few hours many countries around the world have restricted travel from the southern African region. Meanwhile the Netherlands is one of several European countries struggling to contain record numbers of infections. A partial lockdown will be extended on Sunday, with all hospitality and cultural venues forced to close between 17:00 and 05:00, at least until 19 December. The flights by Dutch national carrier KLM from Johannesburg arrived at 10:30 and 11:00 local time (09:30 and 10:00 GMT) on Friday. The Dutch government had by then already restricted travel from the region because of the new variant and arranged for the passengers to be tested and isolated. Some expressed frustration about being kept on the plane without food or drink. Passengers travelling from Cape Town to Manchester via Amsterdam told the BBC that they were held on the tarmac at Schiphol airport for four hours, before eventually disembarking. New York Times correspondent Stephanie Nolen, who was on the flight, tweeted that the passengers were not even brought water while they remained on the plane. When they were eventually allowed to leave, some passengers shared photos of themselves clustered together in a room with little ventilation. On Saturday the Dutch health authority said 61 people on the flights had tested positive.
11-27-21 Covid: US joins EU in restricting flights from southern Africa over new coronavirus variant
The US will restrict travel from South Africa and seven other southern African countries to try to contain a new coronavirus variant spreading there. From Monday, only US citizens and residents will be allowed to travel from the region. This follows a similar flight ban imposed by the EU and the UK. Canada is also introducing travel restrictions. The World Health Organization (WHO) earlier declared the new variant to be "of concern", naming it Omicron. US officials said flights from South Africa, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Lesotho, Eswatini, Mozambique and Malawi will be blocked, mirroring earlier moves taken by the EU. The ban will come into effect on Monday. In a statement, President Joe Biden called the move a "precautionary measure" taken until more is known about the variant. Canada is also shutting its borders to foreign travellers who have recently been to South Africa, Namibia, Lesotho, Botswana, Eswatini, Zimbabwe and Mozambique. Foreign citizens will be banned from Canada if they have been to the seven nations in the past 14 days. The Omicron variant was first reported to the WHO from South Africa on 24 November, and has since been identified in other countries. South Africa's health ministry has criticised the rush to impose new travel restrictions, calling them "draconian", and contrary to WHO guidance. Scientists say they still have much to learn about the virus's new mutations, and the WHO has said it will take a few weeks to understand the impact of the new variant, as experts work to determine how transmissible it is. The WHO on Friday said preliminary evidence suggested the new variant carried a higher risk of reinfection than other variants. Scientists have said it is the most heavily mutated version yet, which means Covid vaccines, which were designed using the original strain from Wuhan, China, may not be as effective.
11-27-21 Covid: Swiss vote on ending restrictions while cases surge
Swiss Health Minister Alain Berset is in a bit of bind. With just under two-thirds of the population fully vaccinated, the Swiss have one of the lowest vaccination rates in Western Europe. Now, Covid-19 infections are rising exponentially, with case numbers rising by 40% to 50% each week. So is the health minister planning new restrictions, like neighbouring Germany, or even making vaccination mandatory, like Austria? Not a bit of it. In fact, on Sunday, Switzerland votes on getting rid of some Covid restrictions altogether. From the start of the pandemic the Swiss government has performed a tricky balancing act, trying to introduce measures to control the spread of Covid, while still staying true to Switzerland's system of direct democracy, in which the government has little formal power and the people have the final say. Switzerland's lockdowns were never as strict as its neighbours. People were allowed outside for exercise whenever they wanted and the schools only closed for a few weeks. But last summer, with cases falling dramatically, Switzerland didn't have a celebratory, UK-style "freedom" day either. Instead, a Covid certificate was introduced with proof of vaccination, negative test, or immunity through having had the virus. In September it became obligatory to enter bars, cafes, restaurants, cinemas, museums, sporting events, and face-to-face university classes. Vaccination has long been a sensitive issue here, especially in German-speaking Switzerland. A belief that natural immunity is best led to a drop in childhood measles vaccinations that sparked a surge in measles cases across Europe. Meanwhile, in the alpine communities, a historic pride in their own independence rooted, some say, in the time when the mountain villages were cut off from the world each winter, means there is resistance to the government issuing orders.
11-26-21 B.1.1.529: How dangerous is the new variant found in South Africa?
There are many open questions about the new variant of SARS-CoV-2 detected in South Africa. Here's what we know so far. A new variant of SARS-CoV-2, known as B.1.1.529, with an unusually high number of mutations has been detected in South Africa and appears to have triggered a recent surge in cases there. It was first detected on 23 November in South Africa using samples taken between 14 and 16 November. Joe Phaahla, South Africa’s health minister, said yesterday that he believes the variant is behind an exponential daily rise in covid-19 cases across the country in recent days. Yesterday, the UK Health Security Agency (HSA) designated it a variant under investigation, triggering travel restrictions for people travelling to the UK from South Africa, Botswana, Lesotho, Eswatini, Zimbabwe and Namibia. The World Health Organization had listed B.1.1.529 as a variant under monitoring, but its Technical Advisory Group on SARS-CoV-2 Virus Evolution has now advised changing it to a variant of concern. The WHO has now named it Omicron after the Greek letter. National daily cases have gone from 274 on 11 November to 1000 a fortnight later. While the rate of growth has been fast, absolute numbers are still relatively low compared with the UK, which saw 50,000 cases on 26 November. More than 80 per cent of South Africa’s cases are currently in the country’s Gauteng province. All of the 77 cases sequenced in the province between 12 and 20 November were identified as being caused by the variant. The estimated reproduction number, the average number of people that an individual is likely to infect, is almost 2 in Gauteng compared with nearly 1.5 nationally. The variant has a “very unusual constellation of mutations”, says Sharon Peacock at the University of Cambridge. There are more than 30 mutations in the spike protein, the part of the virus that interacts with human cells. Other mutations may help the virus bypass our immune systems, make it more transmissible and less susceptible to treatments, according to the HSA. But the body notes that “this has not been proven”.
11-26-21 Coronavirus: Countries shut borders over new variant
More countries are tightening their travel restrictions after a new coronavirus variant was identified in southern Africa earlier this week. The UK and Singapore are among those rushing in stricter quarantine measures or banning flights from South Africa and neighbouring countries. The EU is proposing to ban flights from the region across the whole bloc. Scientists still have much to learn about the variant, but say they are very worried about it. The World Health Organization (WHO) has said it will take a few weeks to understand the impact of the new variant, as scientists work to determine how transmissible it is. The variant is very different to the others that have emerged so far. Scientists have said it is the most heavily mutated version yet, which means vaccines, which were designed using the original strain from Wuhan, may not be as effective. The new variant is yet to be given a more memorable name, like Delta or Beta, and right now is known as B.1.1.529. The WHO is expected to name it on Friday, and announce whether it is a variant of concern or just a variant of interest. The WHO says so far fewer than 100 sample sequences have been reported. Cases have mainly been confirmed in South Africa, but have also been detected in Hong Kong, Israel, Botswana and Belgium. UK Health Secretary Sajid Javid said on Friday that it is "highly likely" to have spread to other countries. Most of the cases in South Africa have been from its most populated province, Gauteng, of which Johannesburg is the capital city. Only about 24% of South Africa's population is fully vaccinated, which could see a rapid spread of cases there, Dr Mike Tildesley, a member of the Scientific Pandemic Influenza Modelling group (Spi-M), told the BBC on Friday. In Hong Kong, the variant spread during hotel quarantine between a person who had arrived from South Africa and another hotel guest who tested positive a few days later, the Department of Health revealed. Both were fully vaccinated.
11-26-21 Poorest face food crisis amid fertiliser shortage
A global shortage of fertilisers is driving up food prices and leaving poorer countries facing crisis, says the boss of a major fertiliser firm. Svein Tore Holsether, chief executive of Yara International, said higher gas prices were pushing up fertiliser costs and affecting food prices worldwide. Fertiliser requires large amounts of gas in its production. Mr Holsether said Yara had been forced to cut some production due to higher gas prices, which had led to shortages. The chief executive said developing countries would be hit hardest by the shortages, with crop yields declining and food prices rising. "It's really scary, we are facing a food crisis and vulnerable people are being hit very hard," he told the BBC's Today programme. "It's impacting food prices all over the world and it hits the wallets of many people. But for some people, especially in the developing world, this is not only a question about the wallet, but it's a question of life or death." Less fertiliser, Mr Holsether said, meant farmers in developing countries would not be able to plant as efficiently, leading to smaller crops. Farmers apply fertilizers to boost yields of crops such as corn, canola and wheat. The process of creating ammonia, which is present in many fertilisers, currently relies on hydropower or natural gas. The increase in gas prices in recent months has been triggered by several factors which have increased demand, including the unlocking of economies during the pandemic and reduced wind or rain for renewable power. This has led to a sharp rise in the cost of producing fertiliser, with the price of ammonia - the product Yara International produces more than anyone in the world - up 255% on last year. Mr Holsether said the situation was "very volatile" and called for support and funding for the World Food Programme "to avoid famine at massive scale". He said that last year Yara donated 40,000 tonnes of fertiliser, which resulted in small-hold farms in East Africa tripling their crop yields. "It says a lot about the impact that fertiliser can have," he added.
11-25-21 Ahmaud Arbery: Three US men guilty of murdering black jogger
Three white men have been found guilty of killing a black jogger last year in a case that became a rallying cry to racial justice protesters. Ahmaud Arbery, 25, was shot on 23 February 2020 in a confrontation with Travis and Gregory McMichael and their neighbour, William Bryan. The defendants said they acted in self-defence during a citizen's arrest; prosecutors said race was a factor. The men now face minimum sentences of life in prison. A mainly white jury of 12 people deliberated for about 10 hours before returning their verdict at around midday on Wednesday. The trio were found guilty of murder, aggravated assault, false imprisonment and criminal intent to commit a felony. In February the three men will face another trial in a federal hate crimes case, alleging that they targeted Arbery because he was black. Arbery was out jogging in the afternoon on the outskirts of the coastal city of Brunswick in Georgia. The elder McMichael, a neighbourhood resident, told police he believed Arbery resembled the suspect in a series of burglaries in the suburban community of Satilla Shores. Police have said no reports were filed regarding these alleged break-ins, and no stolen property was found in Arbery's possession. The McMichaels armed themselves with a pistol and a shotgun and pursued Arbery, who was unarmed, in a pickup truck through the neighbourhood. Bryan later joined the pursuit. The jury heard a 911 call in which the elder McMichael told an operator: "I'm out here in Satilla Shores. There's a black male running down the street." The younger McMichael testified during the trial that he tried to talk to Arbery while the two were still in their truck and Arbery never responded. He got out of the truck and fired his shotgun at Arbery during a struggle. Travis McMichael claimed self-defence, saying Arbery grabbed at his gun. Three shots were fired. A post-mortem examination showed Arbery had two gunshot wounds in his chest, and a gunshot graze wound on the inside of one of his wrists. Gregory McMichael, 65, his son Travis, 35, and their neighbour William "Roddie" Bryan, 52, were arrested in May 2020. Prosecutors alleged that Travis McMichael used a racial epithet and an expletive directed at Arbery as he lay on the ground. The men deny racism. (Webmasters Comment: We need to bring back hanging as a death penality!)
11-25-21 What Ahmaud Arbery's murder exposes about America
Three white men have been found guilty of murdering Ahmaud Arbery in what’s been described as a modern-day lynching. ut the long path to justice exposed a long history of unresolved racial tension in this coastal Georgia community. Discover how the trial unfolded through the eyes of Ahmaud Arbery’s family, and hear why locals vow to continue to fight for change in his honour.
11-25-21 Pentagon to study UFO sightings in restricted US airspace
US defence officials have announced the launch of a task force to investigate reports of unidentified flying objects in restricted airspace. The group will assess objects of interest and "mitigate any associated threats", the Pentagon said on Tuesday. A highly anticipated military report in June failed to explain dozens of reported UFO sightings and warned of possible national security risks. The new group will be overseen by top military and intelligence leaders. The Airborne Object Identification and Management Synchronization Group will "detect, identify and attribute objects of interest in [special use airspace]", Deputy Defence Secretary Kathleen Hicks said in a memo to senior Pentagon leadership on Tuesday. Their directives include reducing gaps in intelligence detection capabilities, analysing intelligence and counterintelligence data, and recommending policy in the area. The defence department has said it takes any reports of aerial incursions - identified or unidentified - "very seriously, and investigates each one". Tuesday's statement acknowledges challenges highlighted by a Pentagon report to Congress in June. Lawmakers had demanded the report after the US military reported numerous instances of unidentified objects seen moving erratically in the sky. It said of 144 reports made about the phenomena since 2004, they could not explain all but one. While the Pentagon said there were "no clear indications" of any otherworldly activity, it did not rule out the possibility that the objects were extra-terrestrial. Several possible explanations were offered at the time, including advanced technologies from another nation like China or Russia, natural atmospheric phenomena - like ice crystals - that could register on radar systems, and "developments and classified programmes by US entities". The one case identified "with high confidence" was deemed to be a "a large, deflating balloon". (Webmasters Comment: The US military is looking for some nation (China) to blame so they can attack them!)
11-25-21 US restricts trade with a dozen more Chinese technology firms
The US government has added a dozen more Chinese companies to its restricted trade list, citing national security and foreign policy concerns. Washington says that some of the firms are helping develop the Chinese military's quantum computing programme. This latest move comes as tensions grow between the US and China over the status of Taiwan and other issues. Trade was among the items discussed at a virtual summit between the leaders of both countries earlier this month. Eight Chinese-based technology firms were added to the so-called "Entity List" for their alleged role in assisting the Chinese military's quantum computing efforts and acquiring or attempting "to acquire US origin-items in support of military applications". This entity list has increasingly been used for national security reasons since the previous Trump administration. The US Commerce Department also said 16 individuals and entities operating in China and Pakistan were added to the list due to their involvement in "Pakistan's unsafeguarded nuclear activities or ballistic missile program." A total of 27 new entities were added to the list from China, Japan, Pakistan, and Singapore. Separately, the Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology was added to the department's military end user list, although the listing gave no more details other than it had produced military equipment. The new listings will help prevent American technology from supporting the development of Chinese and Russian "military advancement and activities of non-proliferation concern like Pakistan's unsafeguarded nuclear activities or ballistic missile program," Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo said in a statement. Potential suppliers to firms on the list will now need to apply for a licence before they can sell to them, with applications likely to be denied. Chinese telecoms giant Huawei was added to the list in 2019 over claims that it posed a risk US national security. The move cut it off from some of its key suppliers and made it difficult for the company to produce mobile phones. The Chinese government has previously denied that it takes part in industrial espionage. (Webmasters Comment: The chinese are kicking our ass with their technology developments!)
11-25-21 Germany's Scholz seals deal to end Merkel era
Olaf Scholz will head a three-party coalition with broad plans for Germany's transition to a green economy, under a deal to end 16 years of government led by Angela Merkel. Almost two months after his Social Democrat party won federal elections, he will go into power with the Greens and business-friendly Free Democrats. Climate protection forms a big part of the coalition deal. The parties aim to phase out coal use by 2030, eight years ahead of schedule. They will also seek to use 2% of German territory for wind power and focus on hydrogen-based energy too. By 2030, the parties want 80% of electricity to be sourced from renewable energy and 15 million electric cars to be on German roads. There are also plans to legalise the sale of cannabis in licensed premises, with controls on the quality and distribution of the drug. Germany is Europe's biggest economy, so decisions taken by the new government will have a big effect on its neighbours. In a news conference, Mr Scholz, 63, said "sovereignty of Europe is a cornerstone of our foreign policy". He highlighted Germany's friendship with France and partnership with the US. He spoke of daring to make greater progress in a coalition "on equal terms". He also pointed out that the three parties' wider memberships still had to approve what has been labelled a "traffic-light" coalition, because of the parties' red, yellow and green colours. He will only take over as chancellor from Mrs Merkel after a vote in the Bundestag, expected between 6 and 9 December. Mr Scholz will enter office during a difficult period of the Covid-19 pandemic, with Germany one of several European countries where infections have skyrocketed to record levels in recent weeks. On Wednesday, he said the coalition would ramp up vaccinations and consider making jabs compulsory for health staff and other essential worker. "The situation is bleak," Mr Scholz said. "The coronavirus is still not vanquished."
11-24-21 US jury awards $25m in damages over Unite the Right rally
A US jury has awarded $25m (£19m) in damages against the organisers of a deadly far-right rally in August 2017. The defendants were found liable in four out of six counts over the bloodshed at the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia. The civil lawsuit was filed by nine people who suffered physical or emotional injuries in the rally. A woman was killed and dozens were hurt after an avowed neo-Nazi drove a car into counter-protesters. In court, the jury awarded $500,000 in punitive damages against 12 defendants, and $1m against five white supremacist organisations. Punitive damages are awarded at a court's discretion to punish a defendant for conduct judged to be especially harmful. A total of $12m in punitive damages was also imposed against the driver of the car in the fatal incident. The jury of 11 deliberated for over three days following nearly a month of testimony at the trial in Charlottesville. The two federal conspiracy charges that jurors could not agree on alleged that the defendants had plotted to commit racially motivated violence. Roberta Kaplan, an attorney for the plaintiffs, said they plan to refile the lawsuit so a new jury can decide on those two charges. The legal action alleged that the defendants "brought with them to Charlottesville the imagery of the Holocaust, of slavery, of Jim Crow and of fascism". "They also brought with them semi-automatic weapons, pistols, mace, rods, armour, shields and torches," the lawsuit said. The defendants include several prominent figures in America's white nationalist and far-right sphere. Among those found liable in the case were Jason Kessler, the rally's main organiser, and Richard Spencer, who came up with the term "alt-right" and spoke at the event. Another defendant, Christopher Cantwell, became famous as "the crying Nazi" after an emotional YouTube video he posted once the rally went viral. The lawsuit largely rested on an 1871 law passed after the US Civil War to protect black Americans, following their emancipation from slavery, from the Ku Klux Klan.
11-24-21 Ahmaud Arbery death trial: Jury fails to reach verdict on first day of deliberations
A jury in the US state Georgia on Tuesday is yet to reach a verdict in a case of three white men accused of killing a black jogger last year. Ahmaud Arbery, 25, was fatally shot during a confrontation with Travis McMichael, his father Gregory and their neighbour, William Bryan. After deliberating for six hours, the jurors were dismissed by the judge and told to resume their work on Wednesday. Mr Arbery was shot by Travis McMichael after being pursued and confronted by the men while jogging on the afternoon of 23 February 2020. The case gained widespread attention after footage of Mr Arbery's final moments - filmed by Mr Bryan - went viral months later. The defendants each face nine criminal charges, including malice and felony murder, aggravated assault and false imprisonment. During a 13-day trial, the 12-member jury heard from more than two dozen witnesses over the course of the trial, including Travis McMichael, who was the only defendant to take the witness stand. Lawyers for the men argued in court that the defendants acted in self-defence while making a citizen's arrest, which was legal in the state of Georgia at the time. It has since been repealed. The trio say that they suspected Mr Arbery of theft from a nearby construction site. Closing arguments in the case wrapped up on Tuesday morning. In a rebuttal to the defence's argument on Tuesday, lead prosecutor Linda Dunikoski said that the men had no legal authority to confront Mr Arbery. "They don't have any authority to use verbal commands," Ms Dunikoski said. "This is a fellow citizen. This is another human being." While Travis McMichael, 35, fired the shots that killed Mr Arbery, Ms Dunikoski said that his father Gregory, 65, and Mr Bryan, 52, are equally responsible for the killing.
11-24-21 Throne Speech: Trudeau's Liberals lay out parliamentary agenda
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has laid out a legislative agenda with a focus on climate and economic recovery. The Throne Speech comes after a five month parliamentary hiatus during which voters re-elected his minority Liberals. Mr Trudeau must once again seek cross-party votes to pass new legislation. The opposition Conservatives said the speech failed to adequately address issues like rising inflation and affordability concerns. Laying out the Liberal government priorities in parliament on Tuesday was Governor General Mary Simon, the first indigenous person to serve as the Queen's representative in Canada. Reading a speech written by Mr Trudeau, Ms Simon said the government would seek to pass laws continuing Covid support, addressing climate change, strengthening gun control, and increasing efforts towards indigenous reconciliation. She also renewed the Liberal party's call for a ban on gay conversion therapy, and to provide $10 per day for childcare to families across the country. The federal government has so far signed childcare agreements with a majority of provinces. The speech also praised the people of British Columbia who are reeling from deadly and destructive rain, slides and flooding that hit last week and warned that the "Earth is in danger". "From a warming Arctic to the increasing devastation of natural disasters, our land and our people need help," said Ms Simon. After a debate over the coming weeks, Canadians legislators will vote on whether to they support the government's agenda. If they reject it, it could trigger another election, though that scenario is unlikely. The left-wing NDP party, which the Liberals hope to get support from, have backed enhanced paid sick leave, a continuation of Covid benefits, and a law outlawing gay conversion therapy.
11-24-21 Universities to combat race bias in research
Universities have launched schemes to attract hundreds of ethnic minority students into research. The initiatives follow claims of institutional racism in academia, particularly affecting black people. One analysis shows that out of nearly 20,000 PhD positions awarded over three years, 245 were to black students. The head of the UK research funding body said she was "frustrated" that the skills of so many talented people were going to waste. Jason Arday has recently been made a professor. As a young black academic, Prof Arday, currently at Durham, seems to be having a successful university career, but he says it has come at a cost. "If someone asked me what the blueprint is to become an academic, I'd have to say that if you are black or Asian it is 'how much can you suffer?', whereas if you are white there is actually a blueprint about getting into academia because if you are a person of colour the goalposts move all the time," he said. Prof Dame Ottoline Leyser, chief executive of UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) said diversity was essential if researchers were to tackle some of the world's most pressing problems. "As we have seen with the climate change summit in Glasgow, there are huge challenges facing the world. And to solve these problems, you need different people with different ways of thinking and from different backgrounds," she said. "'The current system is just too narrow and it absolutely needs to be opened up." UKRI has funded 13 projects to the tune of £8m. These are aimed at encouraging black, Asian and other ethnic minority students to study after their university degrees and to continue their careers in research. Twenty-five universities are involved, many of them working in partnership with NHS trusts, councils and businesses. Among the projects are: the development of fairer admissions criteria for Oxford and Cambridge University, a project to lay the foundations for increasing the number of black, Asian and minority ethnic female professors and a scheme across the West Midlands to improve university cultures.
11-23-21 Covid-19 news: Unvaccinated have 14 times greater risk of covid death
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. Unvaccinated individuals in the US are much more likely to die from covid-19, CDC says. Unvaccinated people in the US are at a 14 times greater risk of dying from covid-19 than those who are fully vaccinated against coronavirus, according to data from September published by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Unvaccinated individuals are also almost six times as likely to test positive for the virus. While 196.4 million people in the US are fully vaccinated, and over 36 million have received a booster dose, more than 47 million adults and 12.4 million teenagers are yet to be fully vaccinated, CDC director Rochelle Wallensky told journalists at a White House press briefing on Monday. People in England who are planning to head to crowded enclosed areas are now being advised by the UK government to first take lateral flow tests. People who are visiting individuals who are at a higher risk of becoming seriously ill with covid-19 may also “wish to take a rapid lateral flow test”, the government’s website states. It is the first time official guidance has encouraged members of the public to take covid tests before taking part in certain activities. The Pfizer/BioNTech covid-19 vaccine is 100 per cent effective in 12-to-15-year-olds at least four months after a second dose, according to trial results described in a statement by the two companies. The phase 3 trial included 2228 volunteers. While 30 of the unvaccinated volunteers developed symptomatic cases of covid-19, no such cases developed among those who had been given two doses of the vaccine. No serious safety concerns were observed during a six-month follow up period, say the two companies. All 12-to-15-year-olds in the UK are currently being offered a single dose of the vaccine.
11-23-21 Covid: Can UK avoid a Europe-style return to lockdown?
Covid infection rates have started rising sharply in parts of Western Europe, prompting the introduction of fresh restrictions and lockdowns. It has triggered fears the UK could follow suit. But there are plenty of reasons to believe Britain will escape the worst of what is being seen on the continent. In fact, the UK may well be in the strongest position of all to weather Covid this winter. To understand why that could be the case, you need to look at the reasons why cases have started to take off in Western Europe. Unlike the UK - and England in particular - many parts of Europe kept major restrictions in place for much longer. Whereas England fully unlocked in mid-July, parts of Europe did not do this until the autumn, and in many places kept tougher restrictions in place even as they did. Part of this was to do with timing. The UK was hit by the more infectious Alpha variant and then Delta sooner, meaning it was in a position to push ahead with unlocking before others. But it was also a conscious choice backed by the government's top scientists, Prof Chris Whitty and Sir Patrick Vallance. The logic - along with the benefit of ending restrictions that themselves cause harm to health - was that it was better to have the rebound in infection, the so-called exit wave, in the summer. It was felt the increase in the spread of the virus would be mitigated by the better weather, meaning more time spent outdoors, and would avoid the winter crunch when pressure on the health system increases across the board. The UK has, in effect, already had the wave the rest of Europe is seeing and has managed to avoid being swamped by it. That is mainly because of the amount of immunity built up. A combination of good vaccine rollout, particularly among the older more vulnerable groups who are the ones most at risk of serious illness, and natural immunity from infection means there is likely to be a much smaller pool of vulnerable people for the virus to infect.
11-23-21 Wisconsin: Parade incident driver to be charged with homicide
Wisconsin officials will seek to charge a driver who ploughed into a Christmas parade on Sunday with five counts of intentional homicide. It comes as hundreds of people gathered for a candlelight vigil in Waukesha to remember those who lost their lives. Darrell Edward Brooks Jr, 39, killed five people, aged between 52 and 81, and injured 48 others, including young children, in Waukesha. Police say he was fleeing a domestic dispute when he mowed into the crowd. Waukesha police also said the incident was not an act of terrorism. Several school children and grandparents were among the victims. They include members of the Milwaukee Dancing Grannies, who are a regular fixture in the city's parades. "Our group was doing what they loved, performing in front of crowds in a parade putting smiles on faces of all ages," the group wrote in a statement on Facebook. "Those who died were extremely passionate Grannies." On Monday night hundreds of people gathered for a candlelight vigil at Waukesha's Cutler Park to remember the victims. Braving freezing conditions, community members listened as an interfaith service read out the names of the victims and volunteers handed out sandwiches, hot chocolate and candles to mourners. Mayor Shawn Reilly told the crowd that the event was the "beginning of many nights where we will grieve and mourn for those we lost". Dozens of people still remain in hospital. Police said the injured were taken to six area hospitals by first responders as well as other residents who were at the parade. Eighteen children were admitted after the incident, the Children's Wisconsin paediatric hospital told reporters on Monday. Care providers described the incident as one of the state's largest mass casualty events involving children in recent history. Physicians said some children sustained serious head injuries and broken bones. The injured range in age from three to 16 and include three sets of siblings, medical staff said. Ten children required treatment in the intensive care unit. The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Milwaukee said one of its priests, multiple parishioners and students at a local Catholic school were also among the injured.
11-23-21 Wisconsin witnesses recount how SUV mowed down parade-goers
"Little girls flying through the air." Witnesses recount the moment a red SUV ploughed into a crowd at the Waukesha Christmas parade. Five people died and over 40 were injured. A person of interest was identified and the vehicle has been recovered. Footage from witnesses at the scene shows the horrific aftermath, with people trying to tend to injured children on the road.
11-23-21 Iran nuclear programme: Threat of Israeli strike grows
In the turquoise waters of the Red Sea, Israeli, Emirati and Bahraini naval forces for the first time just days ago rehearsed joint security operations with a US warship. It followed a war-game at a desert airbase just north of the Israeli port city of Eilat last month, which sent fighter planes from Israel and seven other countries roaring into the skies. Such drills aim to send a strong warning to Iran, which has recently been holding its own large military exercises, and stress strategic alliances. But they come at a time when many in Israel are worrying about whether this small country could soon feel forced to act alone to attack Iran's nuclear programme militarily. The government has allocated $1.5bn (£1.1bn) to prepare the Israeli armed forces for a potential strike against Iranian nuclear sites, and there are near-daily warnings from political and military leaders. have been seeking out the views of top Iran watchers and analysts on what might happen. "Israel has no interest in a war with Iran, but we will not allow Iran to acquire nuclear weapons," an Israeli security official tells me. "In light of Iranian progress of their nuclear programme, we are preparing for all options and scenarios, including military capabilities." The sabre-rattling comes as talks between Iran and five world powers (plus the US indirectly) on reviving the 2015 nuclear deal - known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) - are due to resume in the Austrian capital Vienna on 29 November. The JCPOA limited Iran's nuclear activities and opened its facilities up to enhanced inspections in return for the partial lifting of international sanctions. However, it was abandoned by US President Donald Trump in 2018, with Israel's approval. Just as the date for a new round of talks was fixed, Iran declared it had produced 25kg of uranium enriched to 60% purity - just below the level that would be needed for a nuclear bomb - and more than 210kg enriched to 20%.
11-22-21 Wisconsin: Five dead after car ploughs into Waukesha Christmas parade
At least five people have been killed and more than 40 injured after a car ploughed into a Christmas parade in the US state of Wisconsin, police say. School bands and a dance troupe of grannies were among those marching through the city of Waukesha when a red SUV came speeding down the road. It hit dozens of people, including children. One person is in custody. The incident does not appear "at this time" to be an act of terrorism, one official said. The suspect appeared to have been fleeing another scene when he ran into people at the parade, the law enforcement official - who is familiar with the early findings of the investigation - told the BBC's US partner CBS News. Local resident Angelito Tenorio told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel newspaper he had just finished marching in the parade when the SUV "put the pedal to the metal and just [started] zooming full speed along the parade route" at about 16:40 (22:40 GMT) on Sunday. "Then we heard a loud bang, and just deafening cries and screams from people who are struck by the vehicle," he said. Corey Montiho said his daughter's dance team was hit by the SUV. "There were pom-poms and shoes and spilled hot chocolate everywhere. I had to go from one crumpled body to the other to find my daughter," he told the paper. The parade in Waukesha - a community of about 72,000 located to the west of Milwaukee - is traditionally held every year on the Sunday before Thanksgiving, and includes fancy dress, floats, dancers and marching bands. This year's theme was "comfort and joy". Families lined the sides of the road to watch the event, which was returning after a year's absence due to the coronavirus pandemic. One video shared on social media shows the car crashing at high speed through street barriers, while another shows the vehicle driving into what looks like a group of musicians.
11-22-21 Covid-19 news: Austria goes back into lockdown
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. Austria enters its fourth lockdown as coronavirus cases surge. Austria went back into lockdown today – becoming the first European country to do so in response to the latest surge in covid-19 infections seen across the continent. It is the country’s fourth national lockdown since the pandemic began. People can only leave home for work, exercise and grocery shopping. Non-essential shops, restaurants, bars and cinemas will be closed until 12 December – though officials say lockdown measures will be reassessed in 10 days’ time. Austria is currently reporting 173,500 active coronavirus infections. 1,102 coronavirus cases per 100,000 residents were recorded on 20 November. The UK, by comparison, is currently reporting a figure of 418 cases per 100,000 people in the 7 days up to 16 November. Water cannons and tear gas were deployed against people protesting covid restrictions in Brussels on Sunday. Around 35,000 individuals gathered to protest new covid rules, which include the mandatory wearing of face coverings in public spaces and working from home. Some protesters threw objects at police, who then used water cannons and tear gas to disperse the crowds. Restrictions protests have also occured in Austria, the Netherlands, Italy and Switzerland. Time is running out to prevent a “dangerous” surge of coronavirus infections in the US, Anthony Fauci, director of the US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) said yesterday. Coronavirus cases in the US are rising again, with new cases approaching 100,000 per day. Millions of people in the US tend to travel to visit family during the Thanksgiving holiday, which this year falls on 25 November. This could lead to a further surge in cases, Fauci warns. All US adults that are eligible for a vaccine booster should get one, Fauci told CNN on Sunday. “As we’re getting into the holiday season, you want to be fully protected,” he said. “Bottom line… get boosted.”
11-22-21 Covid in Kenya: Unvaccinated to be banned from public venues
Kenyans will be barred from bars, restaurants and public transport from 21 December if they are not fully vaccinated against Covid-19, Health Minister Mutahi Kagwe says. The measures are aimed at increasing the rate of vaccinations ahead of the festive season. Less than 10% of the population is currently vaccinated. Mr Kagwe raised concern about the slow uptake, saying a 10-day vaccination campaign would begin from 26 November. Despite the concerns that some African countries have a shortage of vaccines, the Kenyan government is confident that it has enough for its inoculation campaign. It has so far administered only 6.4 million jabs out of the 10.7 million it has received. It is expecting a further eight million doses. In a statement, Mr Kagwe said Kenya had seen a decline in Covid cases over the last two months, with a positivity rate over the last 14 days ranging from 0.8% to 2.6%. "The current decline in the number of new infections may be attributed to a build-up of immunity both through natural exposure to the disease and the ongoing vaccination exercise. Nonetheless we know that it's not yet time to celebrate. "We know that during the festive periods many of the known measures against the virus such as social distancing can easily get overlooked as people make merry," Mr Kagwe added. From 21 December, people would have to be fully vaccinated to use public transport - including buses and domestic flights - or to enter hotels, bars, restaurants and game reserves, Mr Kagwe added. The same rule would apply to hospital and prison visits, as well as to government buildings for education, immigration and tax purposes, he said. The government has set a target of vaccinating 10 million people by the end of December. But this is just 20% of the total population, so the majority of the population could potentially be barred from government services. However, Mr Kagwe was also quoted as saying that the measures may not always be strictly enforced.
11-22-21 What we know so far about AY.4.2 and other new coronavirus variants
The delta variant could be overtaken by AY.4.2, a more transmissible coronavirus variant that may be less likely to cause symptoms, while another variant from central Africa is being closely monitored. After a period of relative calm in terms of the coronavirus’s evolution, further notable variants are now emerging. An offshoot of the delta variant, known as AY.4.2, appears to be slightly more infectious than the original delta, and could slowly replace it. Several other new variants are being monitored, including one that seems to have evolved undetected in Africa before spreading to Europe and beyond. None of these emerging variants appear to be hugely more infectious or better at dodging immunity than delta, so aren’t expected to trigger major waves of cases around the world. But the bad news is that it may be only a matter of time before such a variant evolves. “Something with delta-like transmissibility, but which escapes immunity better, is entirely possible, and in fact it may even be inevitable eventually,” says Tom Peacock at Imperial College London. The SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus has been constantly mutating since jumping to people from animals, but most mutants die out. Only a few new variants have a significant advantage over competing strains. The alpha variant was around 50 per cent more transmissible than older variants, and caused a wave of new cases as it spread worldwide early this year. Then came delta, which was around 50 per cent more transmissible than alpha, and triggered yet another global surge in cases.Delta has been outcompeting other variants in country after country, driving most of them to extinction. There are only a few “islands” of older variants left, says Peacock. The dominance of delta temporarily slowed down the evolution of dangerous new variants by reducing the diversity of the virus – with less genetic diversity, the virus has less opportunity to evolve. But delta itself is now spawning new variants and diversifying.
11-22-21 UK visa scheme for prize-winning scientists receives no applications
Exclusive: A fast-track visa route for Nobel prize laureates and other award-winners in science, engineering, the humanities and medicine has failed to attract any applicants. Not a single scientist has applied to a UK government visa scheme for Nobel prize laureates and other award winners since its launch six months ago, New Scientist can reveal. The scheme has come under criticism from scientists and has been described as “a joke”. In May, the government launched a fast-track visa route for award-winners in the fields of science, engineering, the humanities and medicine who want to work in the UK. This prestigious prize route makes it easier for some academics to apply for a Global Talent visa – it requires only one application, with no need to meet conditions such as a grant from the UK Research and Innovation funding body or a job offer at a UK organisation. The number of prizes that qualify academics for this route currently stands at over 70, and includes the Turing Award, the L’Oréal-UNESCO for Women in Science International Awards, and various gongs awarded by professional or membership bodies both in the UK and elsewhere. “Winners of these awards have reached the pinnacle of their career and they have so much to offer the UK,” said home secretary Priti Patel when the prestigious prize scheme launched in May. “This is exactly what our new point-based immigration system was designed for – attracting the best and brightest based on the skills and talent they have, not where they’ve come from.” But a freedom of information request by the New Scientist has revealed that in the six months since the scheme was launched, no one working in science, engineering, the humanities or medicine has actually applied for a visa through this route.
11-21-21 Covid: Netherlands and other parts of Europe see protests over new restrictions
Fresh unrest has erupted in the Netherlands against new lockdown rules amid rising Covid-19 cases in Europe. People hurled fireworks at police and set fire to bicycles in The Hague, one night after protests in Rotterdam turned violent and police fired shots. Thousands of demonstrators also took to the streets in Austria, Croatia and Italy as anger mounted over new curbs. The World Health Organization (WHO) said it was "very worried" about rising coronavirus cases on the continent. Its regional director, Dr Hans Kluge, told the BBC that unless measures were tightened across Europe, half a million more deaths could be recorded by next spring. "Covid-19 has become once again the number one cause of mortality in our region," he said, adding "we know what needs to be done" in order to fight the virus - such as getting vaccinated, wearing masks, and using Covid passes. Many governments across the continent are bringing in new restrictions to try to tackle rising infections. A number of countries have recently reported record-high daily case numbers. In the Netherlands, a second night of riots broke out on Saturday in several towns and cities. Hooded rioters set fire to bicycles in The Hague, as riot police used horses, dogs and batons to chase the crowds away. Officials have announced an emergency order in the city, and at least seven people were arrested. Police said a rock was thrown through the window of an ambulance carrying a patient. Officers in the city tweeted that five police officers were injured, with one taken away by ambulance with a knee injury. Elsewhere in the country, two top-flight football matches were briefly halted after supporters broke into the grounds and ran on to the pitch. Fans are currently banned from stadiums because of new coronavirus rules. The unrest follows a night of riots in Rotterdam condemned by the city's mayor as "an orgy of violence". Police fired warning shots and direct shots "because the situation was life-threatening", a police spokesperson told Reuters. At least three demonstrators are receiving hospital treatment for gunshot wounds, officers said. Authorities have launched an investigation. The Netherlands imposed a three-week partial lockdown last weekend after recording a record spike in Covid cases. Bars and restaurants must close at 20:00, and crowds are banned at sports events.
11-21-21 Colombia president condemns Nazi-themed police event
Colombian President Iván Duque has condemned the actions of police cadets who dressed as Nazis as part of a ceremony meant to honour Germany. The so-called cultural exchange event caused outrage after photos shared on Thursday showed cadets at the Simón Bolívar police school in SS uniforms. "Any apology for Nazism is unacceptable," Mr Duque said on Friday. The German Nazi party, led by Adolf Hitler, murdered an estimated six million Jews during World War Two. Hitler's campaign to eradicate Europe's Jewish population and other minorities became known as the Holocaust. Images from the ceremony at the police academy in the city of Tuluá earlier this week showed Nazi flags and other regalia on display, while cadets were seen wearing Swastika armbands - and one also appeared to be wearing a Hitler moustache. Police officers in Colombian uniforms were also pictured opening the event by cutting a ribbon. "I condemn any demonstration that uses or refers to symbols associated with those responsible for the Jewish Holocaust," Mr Duque wrote on Twitter. He said those involved in organising the police event in Tuluá, western Colombia, and any participants would be held to account. The head of the academy has already been sacked. The official police Twitter account that posted the images said the event in Tuluá was organised as part of an "international week" aimed at "strengthening the knowledge of our police students". The ambassadors of Germany and Israel have urged Colombia to do more to educate people about the Holocaust.
11-20-21 Kyle Rittenhouse: Calls for calm after US teen cleared of murder
There have been calls for calm in the US after a teenager who shot dead two people during racial unrest last year was cleared of all charges. Kyle Rittenhouse, 18, argued he was acting in self-defence when he shot the men and injured a third in Wisconsin. The verdict on Friday, which followed a high-profile trial that divided the US, sparked protests in some cities. But politicians, including President Joe Biden, and families of the victims have urged restraint. "What we need right now is justice, not more violence," lawyers for the family of Gaige Grosskreutz, who was shot and injured by Mr Rittenhouse, said in a statement. "I urge everyone to express their views peacefully, consistent with the rule of law," Mr Biden told reporters outside the White House. Despite the calls for calm, a riot was declared by police in the city of Portland, Oregon, on Friday evening as some 200 people broke windows and threw objects. There were also protests in Chicago and New York, but they were relatively low-key compared to the widespread civil unrest that the US had seen previously. Mr Rittenhouse said he was acting in self-defence when he fatally shot Joseph Rosenbaum, 36, and Anthony Huber, 26, and injured Mr Grosskreutz, 28, in August 2020 in the city of Kenosha, Wisconsin. The teenager and the men he shot are all white. The incident happened during violent protests over the shooting of a black man, Jacob Blake, by a white police officer. Jacob Blake's uncle was outside the court when Mr Rittenhouse was acquitted. "We're going to continue to fight and we're going to continue to be peaceful. Let freedom ring," Justin Blake said. Mr Huber's family said the verdict "sends the unacceptable message that armed civilians can show up in any town, incite violence, and then use the danger they have created to justify shooting people in the street." Mr Rittenhouse is now in an undisclosed location, a spokesman for his family told CBS. "In this whole situation there are no winners, there are two people who lost their lives and that's not lost on us at all," they said. (Webmasters Comment: It's a white privlidge to commit murder and get away with it! This little bastard went out armed looking to kill someone!)
11-20-21 Covid: WHO says it is very worried about Europe surge
The World Health Organization (WHO) is "very worried" about the spread of Covid-19 within Europe as the continent battles a fresh wave of infections. Speaking to the BBC, regional director Dr Hans Kluge warned that some 500,000 more deaths could be recorded by March unless urgent action is taken. Dr Kluge said introducing measures like mask wearing could immediately help. The warning comes as several nations report record-high infection rates and introduce full and partial lockdowns. Dr Kluge said factors like the winter season, insufficient vaccine coverage and the regional dominance of the more transmissible Delta variant were behind the spread. He called for increased vaccine uptake and the implementation of basic public health measures and new medical treatments to help fight the rise. "Covid-19 has become once again the number one cause of mortality in our region," he told the BBC, adding "we know what needs to be done" in order to fight the disease. Dr Kluge said mandatory vaccination measures should be seen as a "last resort" but that it would be "very timely" to have a "legal and societal debate" about the issue. "Before that there are other means like the Covid pass," he said, adding that this is "not a restriction of liberty, rather it is a tool to keep our individual freedom." Austria on Friday became the first European country to announce that Covid-19 vaccination would become a legal requirement. The new rules are set to come into force in February. The announcement alongside that of a new national lockdown was made in response to record case numbers and low vaccination levels. Many other European countries are also imposing new measures as cases rise. Countries including the Czech Republic and Slovakia have also announced fresh restrictions on unvaccinated people as record infection rates are recorded across the continent.
11-20-21 Netherlands: Police fire warning shots at Covid protesters
Dutch police fired warning shots and used water cannon after rioting erupted in Rotterdam over new Covid-19 measures. Protesters threw rocks and fireworks at them and set police cars ablaze.
11-20-21 Australian Open 2022: Unvaccinated players unable to compete at Grand Slam
Unvaccinated players will not be allowed to compete at the 2022 Australian Open, says tournament director Craig Tiley. There had been confusion over the issue in recent months with contradictory statements from leading Australian politicians. Defending men's champion Novak Djokovic has said he does not want to reveal his vaccination status publicly. "Novak knows he will have to be vaccinated to play," Tiley said. "We would love to have him here." Tiley also confirmed that the tournament, which runs from 17-30 January in Melbourne, would be played in front of capacity crowds. Djokovic, 34, could win a record 21st men's major title if he plays at Melbourne Park, where he is a nine-time champion. Last month, the Serb said he was uncertain if he would play, adding he was waiting for confirmation from Tiley before making a decision. Speaking earlier this week at the season-ending ATP Tour finals in Turin, Djokovic said: "The freedom of choice is essential for everyone, not just whether it's it's me or somebody else, it doesn't really matter. "Whether it's vaccination or anything else in life, you should have the freedom to choose, to decide what you want to do in this particular case, what you want to put in your body." Latest figures show 80 of the top 100 men's players have now been vaccinated against Covid-19. The Women's Tennis Association (WTA) is yet to provide BBC Sport with the vaccination uptake percentage among its players. The WTA players' council sent a letter to players in October stating it had been told all competitors would be able to travel to Melbourne. The letter also stated that all players, regardless of vaccination status, would have to show proof of a negative test within 72 hours of departure. However, Victoria Premier Daniel Andrews said in October that he did not think an unvaccinated tennis player would be given a visa to enter Australia. Australia has had some of the strictest restrictions on travel and movement during the coronavirus pandemic.
11-19-21 US House votes to pass $1.9tn social spending plan
The US House of Representatives has passed US President Joe Biden's $1.9tn (£1.4tn) Build Back Better Act after facing fierce opposition from Republicans. The sweeping social spending and climate package is considered a key pillar of Mr Biden's agenda. The vote came after a record-breaking speech from House minority leader Kevin McCarthy to delay the vote. The legislation now faces significant hurdles as it heads to the US Senate. The Build Back Better Act would expand Medicare, lower prescription drug costs and includes funding for universal pre-kindergarten and subsidies for childcare. It also includes hundreds of millions of dollars to combat climate change and a provision that would allow the government to give work permits and deportation protection to millions of undocumented immigrants. Friday's vote largely fell along party lines, with 220 voting in favour and 213 voting against. Only one Democrat, Maine's Jared Golden, voted against. The House floor erupted in cheers and applause as soon as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced the results. In a statement, Mr Biden called the act "fiscally responsible" and said it will reduce the US budget deficit over the long-term. "Above all, it puts us back on the path to build our economy back better than before by rebuilding the backbone of America: working people and the middle class," he said. On Thursday, the Congressional Budget Office said that the bill would increase the US budget deficit by $367bn between 2022 and 2031. The vote was postponed late on Thursday following a wide-ranging speech by Mr McCarthy, which - at eight hours and 32 minutes - was the longest ever on the House floor. The previous record was held by Ms Pelosi, who in 2018 spoke for eight hours and seven minutes. Mr McCarthy's marathon speech to delay the vote touched on topics ranging from Covid-19 booster shots and China to George Washington's crossing of the Delaware river and how baby carrots are made. The bill will now head to the Senate, where it faces significant hurdles, and where all 50 Democrats will be needed to pass it.
11-19-21 Biden mulls US diplomatic boycott of Beijing Olympics
US President Joe Biden has said that he is weighing a US diplomatic boycott of the 2022 Winter Olympic games due to be held in Beijing, China. "That is something we are considering," he told reporters ahead of talks with the leaders of Mexico and Canada. A diplomatic boycott would mean that no US officials are sent to attend the games. The decision comes amid rising tension in the US-China relationship. On Monday, Mr Biden held his first direct talks with China's Xi Jinping. At the White House, Biden spokeswoman Jen Psaki said that the US and China leaders did not discuss the Olympics during their three-hour virtual meeting on Monday. Both Democratic and Republican lawmakers have called for a diplomatic boycott as a means to protest against Chinese human rights abuses. A diplomatic boycott would not affect athletes, but Ms Psaki said the US is still finalising "what our presence will be" at the games, which are due to begin on 4 February. The US has accused China of genocide towards the Uighurs - a Muslim minority group which lives mostly in the autonomous region of Xinjiang. Tensions have also risen over the way China has acted to repress political freedoms in Hong Kong. Mr Biden's comment came as he was hosting Mexico President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador and Canada Prime Minister Justin Trudeau for formal talks at the White House. The talks, dubbed the Three Amigos Summit, are expected to focus on border issues, tax subsidies for electric vehicles, Covid precautions and other issues. Last month, US senators proposed a draft amendment to a bill that would ban the US State Department from spending government funds to "support or facilitate" the attendance of US diplomats at the Games. Nancy Pelosi, the most senior Democrat in Congress, has called for a boycott, saying that US leaders who attend would lose their "moral authority". Republican Senator Tom Cotton said on Thursday that diplomatic boycott of the "genocide Olympics" would be "too little, too late" and called for a total boycott of all athletes, officials and US corporate sponsors. Nikki Haley, the former US representative to the UN under Donald Trump, has also called for a complete boycott.
11-19-21 Elijah McClain family to receive $15m settlement from Colorado
Colorado city officials have confirmed the family of a black man who died following a confrontation with police will receive a $15m (£11m) settlement. Elijah McClain, 23, died in 2019 in the city of Aurora, three days after being stopped by three officers and injected with a potent sedative. The McClain family - who filed the federal civil rights lawsuit last year - has demanded accountability. The payout represents the highest wrongful death settlement in the state. Legal representatives for McClain's mother Sheneen told local TV station CBS4 Denver that she was thankful for the community's support and remained hopeful her son's death would lead to "badly needed reforms". Details of the agreement have not yet been made public by the city. McClain's case was among several to receive renewed attention following the death of another unarmed black man - George Floyd - last year. The young man was walking alone in the Denver suburb of Aurora on 24 August 2019 when he was stopped by three police officers responding to an emergency call about a "suspicious person" matching his description. There was a struggle after McClain resisted contact with the officers, who wanted to search him to see if he was armed. On body cam footage McClain, who was autistic, can be heard saying, "I'm an introvert, please respect my boundaries." Officers wrestled McClain to the ground and put him in a chokehold. McClain's family has alleged that the officers used excessive force for about 15 minutes as McClain vomited, begged for them to stop, repeatedly told them he could not breathe and briefly lost consciousness. The officers also threatened to set a police dog on him, the family said. The officers called for assistance, with fire fighters and an ambulance responding. A fire medic injected McClain with 500mg of the drug ketamine to sedate him. He was declared brain dead on 27 August.
11-19-21 The doctor fleeing Tennessee over Covid
The former head of Tennessee’s vaccine rollout, Dr Michelle Fiscus and her husband, have been forced out of their home after facing threats and taunts. Political divides over mask and vaccine mandates have only deepened since the Covid vaccine became widely available.
11-19-21 Covid: Canada authorises Pfizer vaccine for children aged 5-11
Canada has authorised the use of the Pfizer coronavirus vaccine for children between the ages of 5 and 11. Trials of the vaccine children showed similar safety and efficacy results to those recorded in trials among adults 16 to 25, according to Pfizer. Health Canada had said it would only approve the vaccine for children if its analysis demonstrated benefits outweighed any possible risks. It is the first Covid-19 vaccine approved for this age group in Canada. "This is very good news for adults and children alike," said Dr. Supriya Sharma, a senior medical advisor with Health Canada at a news conference Friday. "It provides another tool to protect Canadians, and to the relief of many parents, will help bring back a degree of normality to children's lives." Reported coronavirus cases in Canada have been on a downward trend since mid-September. But after rapid uptake in the spring, vaccination rates have plateaued in recent months. Nearly 75% of all Canadians are fully vaccinated, according to Health Canada's most recent data, including 84% of those 12 and older. Pfizer-BioNTech submitted a request for approval of a child-sized dose of its mRNA vaccine on 18 October. Its clinical trial data showed that the vaccine was highly effective at preventing Covid-19 in that age category. The paediatric doses that will be given to younger children will be one-third of what has been provided to those ages 12 and above, with doses given 21 days apart. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said last month that Canada had a deal with Pfizer to procure 2.9 million paediatric doses of the vaccine shortly after its approval. Also on Friday, the US Food and Drug Administration authorised booster shots of both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccine for all adults 18 and older who received a second shot of either Pfizer or Moderna at least six months ago. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will review and vote on the decision on Friday afternoon.
11-19-21 Austria to go into full lockdown as Covid surges
Days after Austria imposed a lockdown on the unvaccinated, it has announced a full national Covid-19 lockdown starting on Monday. Chancellor Alexander Schallenberg said it would last a maximum of 20 days and there would be a legal requirement to get vaccinated from 1 February 2022. He was responding to record case numbers and one of the lowest vaccination levels in Western Europe. Many other European countries are imposing restrictions as cases rise. "We don't want a fifth wave," said Mr Schallenberg after meeting the governors of Austria's nine provinces at a resort in the west of the country. For a long time, there had been a consensus over avoiding mandatory vaccinations, the chancellor said. However, too many people had been incited not to get the jab, because of "too many political forces, flimsy vaccination opponents and fake news", he added. The measures are yet to be finalised. Latest figures show the incidence rate has risen to 1,049.9 cases per 100,000 people in the past week, and Health Minister Wolfgang Mückstein said imposing a lockdown was a "last resort". A record 15,809 cases were reported in the past 24 hours, in a population of under nine million. Under the measures, Austrians will be asked to work from home, non-essential shops will close, and schools will remain open for children who require face-to-face learning. They will continue until 12 December, but will be reassessed after 10 days. Neighbouring Germany has seen several days of record infections this week, and Health Minister Jens Spahn has spoken of "a national emergency that requires a combined national effort". German leaders have already agreed to introduce restrictions for unvaccinated people in areas with high hospital admissions. And parliament has backed requirements for people to show Covid passes on buses and trains, and in workplaces.
11-18-21 Covid-19 news: Mask wearing cuts infections by 53 per cent
The latest coronavirus news updated every day including coronavirus cases, the latest news, features and interviews from New Scientist and essential information about the covid-19 pandemic. Review of studies reinforces the effectiveness of face coverings, handwashing and social distancing. Mask wearing is one of the most effective public health measures for preventing covid-19, reducing incidence of the disease by 53 per cent, according to a review of published research. Stella Talic at Monash University in Australia and her colleagues carried out a meta-analysis using data from 72 studies to assess the effectiveness of non-pharmaceutical interventions – measures that don’t involve drugs – at containing the virus. Handwashing was also estimated to reduce covid-19 incidence by 53 per cent, but this result was not statistically significant because only a small number of studies on it were included. Physical distancing was found to reduce incidence by 25 percent. “It is likely that further control of the covid-19 pandemic depends not only on high vaccination coverage and its effectiveness but also on ongoing adherence to effective and sustainable public health measures,” Talic and her colleagues write in the British Medical Journal. Children aged 12 to 17 who have had a covid-19 infection should not get a vaccine until 12 weeks later, according to new guidance in the UK. This could help to reduce the “very, very small” risk of heart inflammation after vaccination, experts from the UK Health Security Agency said. The current case rates of myocarditis after vaccination among under-18s are suspected to be around nine per million vaccinations, and cases have been “relatively mild”, officials said. Research suggests that myocarditis is much more likely to occur after a coronavirus infection than after vaccination. For older people and for anyone who is high risk and aged 12 or over, the current advice is that they should wait four weeks between covid infection and having a dose of vaccine. A fourth wave of the pandemic is hitting Germany “with full force”, chancellor Angela Merkel has said ahead of a crisis meeting with regional leaders. Authorities are considering new measures to replace nationwide rules that expire at the end of the month. Lothar Wieler, the director of the Robert Koch Institute, a German government agency, said the country is heading towards a serious emergency, with hospitals already struggling to find space for patients. “We are going to have a really terrible Christmas if we don’t take countermeasures now.” AstraZeneca has reported that its preventative antibody drug AZD7442 offered 83 per cent protection against covid-19 over six months in a clinical trial. The injected therapy could provide an alternative option for preventing illness in people who do not mount a good immune response to vaccines.
11-18-21 Capitol riot: 'QAnon Shaman' Jacob Chansley sentenced to 41 months in prison
A prominent supporter of the baseless QAnon conspiracy has been sentenced to 41 months in prison for his involvement in the US Capitol riot. Jacob Anthony Chansley was among the Trump supporters who tried to stop Congress from certifying the 2020 presidential election on 6 January. He earlier pleaded guilty to one felony count of obstruction in an official proceeding. His sentence is among the longest so far given in connection to the riots. In addition to his prison sentence, Chansley was sentenced to 36 months of supervised release and must pay $100 (£74) in restitution. The 34-year-old became one of the most recognisable figures from the siege after being pictured wearing horns and a bearskin headdress, with a US flag painted on his face. He referred to himself as "the QAnon Shaman". Followers of the QAnon conspiracy theory believe that former President Donald Trump was waging a secret war against a cabal of Satan-worshipping paedophiles in government, business and the media. Following his arrest, Chansley told the FBI that he came to DC in January "at the request of the president" that all "patriots" come to the city. In court on Wednesday, Chansley said he wants to "evolve" and was "wrong for entering the Capitol". "I have no excuse," he said. He also said has been asking himself "what would Jesus do?" and likened himself to Indian independence leader Mahatma Gandhi, saying: "What if we all judge Gandhi based on that he beat his wife before his spiritual awakening?" He has been in custody nearly 11 months since being arrested just days after the riot. Photographs and videos taken during the riot show Chansley carrying a spear in the Capitol. Prosecutors also say he led other protesters in prayer at the dais - a raised platform - and left a note threatening former Vice-President Mike Pence. "It's only a matter of time," the note read. "Justice is coming!" Prosecutors had recommended a sentence of 51 months in prison, arguing that the government "cannot overstate the serious" of Chansley's conduct. "His consistent rhetoric before and after the event, and his apparent ability to carry out his intentions of violently removing the 'traitors' in our government, is clear from the evidence in this case," prosecutors said.
11-18-21 Three Amigos summit: Awkward conversations for US with its neighbours
If Joe Biden was looking for respite from the tricky global challenges he has faced in recent months, he may not find harmony closer to home. The leaders of US, Canada and Mexico meet on Thursday in Washington, with plenty differences to resolve. Our correspondents in Toronto, New York and Mexico City give their perspectives on the so-called Three Amigos summit. There may be less drama in this relationship since Mr Biden took office but it hasn't been smooth sailing and there are rough seas on the horizon. One observer has said what was once a strategic partnership has become a "largely transactional" relationship. A big bone of contention is Mr Biden's embrace of "Buy American" which has become central to his trade agenda. Critics argue such protectionist policies would increase the costs of goods to consumers and potentially shut out Canadian companies from lucrative US contracts. Alarm bells are ringing "a little louder right now for me", Flavio Volpe, president of the Automotive Parts Manufacturers' Association, told the BBC. What the US really wants from Mexico is more control of migration at the southern border. Since President Biden's inauguration, US border agents have made a record 1.3 million arrests of migrants trying to cross into America - and the American public has noticed, with Republicans accusing Democrats of pursuing a policy of open borders, and public approval of President Biden's handling of immigration underwater. Ever since candidate Donald Trump's rallying cry of build a wall with Mexico, the US-Mexico border has been an extremely potent political issue, and one where Democrats are vulnerable. Conservative cable news coverage of the caravans of migrants from Central America heading through Mexico to the US border are a constant headache for the White House. After the turbulence of four years of President Trump, Mexico has welcomed a more sober tone from the Biden administration. The unhelpful rhetoric about Mexico somehow "paying for" the border wall is gone. Whether on trade or security, conversations are being conducted in what diplomats consider a more serious and less capricious manner. When combined with a solid ties with Canada too, the diplomatic tone is altogether calmer in North America. But from Mexico's point of view, there was an upside to Mr Trump's fixation on immigration - President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador found he was left largely in peace on other bilateral topics. At the outset, the Biden administration said things would be different.
11-17-21 What are President Biden's challenges at the border?
US President Joe Biden entered the White House promising to tackle immigration challenges that have remained unsolved for decades. Yet since he took office in January, the US has seen a record influx of migrants at its southern border, prompting criticism of the administration's policies from across the political spectrum. Some two million "encounters" between government agents and migrants near the border are expected by the end of 2021, Mr Biden's Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas told US senators on Tuesday - including about 125,000 unaccompanied minors who have already been taken into the government's care. In a contentious hearing with the Senate Judiciary Committee, Mr Mayorkas repeatedly defended the Biden administration's handling of immigration and border issues. But he admitted that rebuilding "a broken immigration system" will take time. Will things get worse before they get better? Here's what we know about the situation. While the number of migrants at the border had been steadily increasing since April 2020, the numbers spiked sharply after Mr Biden took office. Economic problems in Honduras, Guatemala, El Salvador, Nicaragua and Cuba worsened during the pandemic, forcing some to take on a long and perilous journey north. Gangs and violence have also been given as reasons why some left home. There was also a sense shared by some that the new US president would adopt a more relaxed border approach than his predecessor Donald Trump. Though he has avoided Mr Trump's rhetoric, Mr Biden has repeatedly called on migrants, including asylum seekers, not to attempt the journey to the US. Despite the slight decline in September, the number of migrant encounters still represents about a 33% increase from the 144,000 recorded in May 2019 - the highest total of the Trump administration. There's also been a sharp increase in the number of children crossing the border.
11-17-21 US Congress to punish lawmaker over violent clip
The US House of Representatives is poised to punish a Republican lawmaker who tweeted a cartoon depicting him attacking Democrats with swords. Arizona Congressman Paul Gosar faces a formal censure on Wednesday in the Democratic-controlled Congress. It came after he posted then deleted an anime video that Democrats say promoted violence against President Joe Biden and lawmaker Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. Mr Gosar has said the video was just a "symbolic cartoon". It comes just 10 months after supporters of Republican President Donald Trump stormed Congress in an attempt to block the certification of Mr Biden's election victory. Earlier this year Democrats stripped another Republican lawmaker, Marjorie Taylor Greene, of committee assignments for past remarks that included support for violence against Democrats. Conservatives accused them of hypocrisy for taking no punitive action against a Democratic lawmaker, Ilhan Omar, who made remarks that were construed as anti-Semitic. The House resolution, which was posted online on Tuesday, also calls for Mr Gosar to be removed from the Committee on Oversight and the Natural Resources Committee. The 90-second video posted on 8 November featured an edited version of a Japanese anime cartoon interspersed with scenes from the US-Mexico border. In one portion, characters whose faces were replaced by Mr Gosar and other prominent conservative Republicans were shown fighting other characters. One character, who had been made to look like New York congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, was seen being hit in the neck with a sword. A character altered to look like Mr Biden was also seen being attacked. In response, top Democrat Nancy Pelosi tweeted that "threats of violence against Members of Congress and the President of the United States must not be tolerated".
11-17-21 Ahmaud Arbery: Nearly all-white jury chosen in black jogger murder trial
A nearly all-white jury, with one black member, has been seated in the Georgia murder trial of three white men over the shooting of a black jogger in 2020. The judge noted the appearance of "intentional discrimination" in jury selection but said the trial over Ahmaud Arbery's killing would proceed. Gregory McMichael and his son Travis have pleaded not guilty, saying they acted in self-defence. But prosecutors argue there was racial bias at play. Opening arguments begin on Friday. Last May, Mr McMichael, 64, his 34-year-old son and neighbour William Bryan - who filmed a video of the incident - were arrested. All three have denied all charges and any accusations of racism. Mr Arbery was out on an afternoon run on 23 February when he was confronted by the McMichaels, who were armed with a pistol and shotgun. Lawyers for Mr Arbery's family have said he was unarmed at the time. The father and son later told police they believed the jogger resembled the suspect in a series of alleged break-ins and accused Mr Arbery of attacking the younger McMichael while they attempted to make a "citizen's arrest". Jury selection lasted two and a half weeks. On Wednesday, the prosecution accused the defence of eliminating potential jurors based on race, noting that defence attorneys used 11 of their allotted 24 strikes to reject black jurors. The prosecution meanwhile used all 12 of its strikes to reject white jurors. Attorneys for the McMichaels said they were "stuck between a rock and a hard place" because many prospective jurors had already formed attitudes toward the men. Three dismissed jury candidates had said in screening forms that they had supported the "I run with Maud" group which held jogs after Mr Arbery's death. One black woman in the jury pool had recorded a TikTok dance tribute, illustrating her "emotional connection to Mr Arbery", said a lawyer for Mr Bryan. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution cites a black woman on the jury pool as having said: "They hunted him down and killed him like an animal. The whole case was about racism."
11-17-21 Heated protests outside court ahead of Rittenhouse verdict
Protesters gathered outside a Wisconsin courthouse where Kyle Rittenhouse is being tried. As the jury deliberated on a verdict, demonstrators argued angrily.
11-17-21 Artists denounce Israeli ban on Palestinian civil society groups
More than 100 high-profile figures, including musicians and authors, have pledged support for six Palestinian civil society groups that Israel has designated as terrorist organisations. A statement condemns what they call the "unprecedented and blanket attack on Palestinian human rights defenders". Israel says the groups are a front for a militant faction, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), which has carried out deadly attacks. They strongly deny the charge. There has been widespread criticism of the decision to outlaw the groups, which could see their offices closed and staff arrested. The list of artists who signed the statement condemning last month's Israeli decision includes the actor Mark Ruffalo, the singer Peter Gabriel, and the author Philip Pullman. They say the groups - al-Haq, Addameer, Defence for Children International-Palestine, Bisan Center for Research and Development, the Union of Agricultural Work Committees, and the Union of Palestinian Women's Committees - are "engaged in critical human rights work". They warn that the Israeli designation "puts at risk not just the organisations themselves, but the entire Palestinian civil society and the tens of thousands of Palestinians they serve everyday". Israeli Defence Minister Benny Gantz has insisted that Israel and its military respect human rights and the activities of human rights organisations. Israeli authorities have accused the six groups, which all receive foreign aid, of being "arms" of the PFLP and of obtaining financial resources to fund terrorist activity. The PFLP, a small, left-wing faction that does not recognise the State of Israel, carried out a number of armed attacks and aircraft hijackings in the 1960s and '70s. It was also behind several suicide attacks during the second Palestinian intifada in the early 2000s. The six rights groups have denied the Israeli accusations and challenged Israel to present its evidence.
11-17-21 Covid-19 news: Hackers targeted labs crucial to UK’s pandemic response
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. A fifth of cyberattacks in UK targeted vaccine firms or health organisations. Hackers targeted labs this year that were crucial to the UK’s pandemic response, according to the National Cyber Security Centre. The watchdog said that it handled a record 777 cyberattack incidents between August 2020 and September 2021. A fifth of these targeted firms were linked to vaccines and the health sector. It also said that it helped the University of Oxford’s AstraZeneca vaccine researchers protect themselves against an attempted ransomware attack that could have had major ramifications for the UK’s pandemic response. Pfizer has allowed cheaper versions of its prospective antiviral covid-19 pill to be made in poorer countries – granting access to hundreds of millions of people. The pharmaceutical giant says it will allow generic copies of Paxlovid to be made in 95 low and middle-income countries, covering 53 per cent of the population. Ireland’s bars, restaurants and nightclubs will have a midnight curfew from Thursday to curb coronavirus infections. Ireland’s prime minister, Micheal Martin, also said that everyone should work from home unless it is “absolutely necessary” not to. Strict covid rules came into force in Beijing, China, today as the country gears up for the Winter Olympics next year. Anyone visiting the city must show a negative covid test from the past 48 hours.
11-16-21 Biden-Xi talks: China warns US about 'playing with fire' on Taiwan
Chinese President Xi Jinping has used a virtual summit with US counterpart Joe Biden to warn that encouraging Taiwanese independence would be "playing with fire". The talks are the most substantial since Mr Biden took office in January. Both sides emphasised the two men's personal relationship and the summit was an attempt to ease tensions. But they could not escape one of the most sensitive topics: the self-ruled island of Taiwan. China sees Taiwan as a breakaway province to be reunified with the mainland one day. The US recognises and has formal ties with China. But it has also pledged to help Taiwan defend itself in the event of an attack. China's state-run Global Times said Mr Xi blamed recent tensions on "repeated attempts by the Taiwan authorities to look for US support for their independence agenda as well as the intention of some Americans to use Taiwan to contain China". "Such moves are extremely dangerous, just like playing with fire. Whoever plays with fire will get burnt," it said. The White House said Mr Biden "strongly opposes unilateral efforts to change the status quo or undermine peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait". Despite the strong words on Taiwan, the meeting began with both leaders greeting each other warmly, with Mr Xi saying he was happy to see his "old friend" Mr Biden. Mr Biden said the two had "always communicated with one another very honestly and candidly," adding "we never walk away wondering what the other man is thinking". Mr Xi said the two countries needed to improve "communication" and face challenges "together". "Humanity lives in a global village, and we face multiple challenges together. China and the US need to increase communication and co-operation." said Mr Xi. The world's two most powerful nations do not see eye-to-eye on a number of issues, and Mr Biden raised US concerns about human rights abuses in Hong Kong and against Uyghurs in the north-west region of Xinjiang. China accuses the US of meddling in its domestic affairs.
11-16-21 The US city run by Muslim Americans
A walk down the main street in Hamtramck, Michigan, feels like a tour around the world. A Polish sausage store and an Eastern European bakery sit alongside a Yemeni department store and a Bengali clothing shop. Church bells ring out along with the Islamic call to prayer. "The world in two square miles" - Hamtramck lives up to its slogan, with around 30 languages spoken within its 5 sq km area. This month, the Midwestern city of 28,000 has reached a milestone. Hamtramck has elected an all-Muslim City Council and a Muslim mayor, becoming the first in the US to have a Muslim-American government. Once faced with discrimination, Muslim residents have become integral to this multicultural city, and now make up more than half its population. And despite economic challenges and intense cultural debates, residents in Hamtramck from different religious and cultural backgrounds coexist in harmony, making the city a meaningful case study for America's future of rising diversity. But will Hamtramck be an exception or a rule? The arc of Hamtramck's history from beginnings as a town of German settlers to the modern day - it was America's first majority-Muslim city - is etched in its streets. Storefronts display signs in Arabic and Bengali, embroidered Bangladeshi garments and Jambiyas, a type of short curved blade from Yemen, are seen in store windows. Muslim residents queue up to buy paczki, a kind of custard-filled Polish doughnut. "It's not unusual to see some with miniskirts and tattoos and some in burqas walking on the same street. This is all about us," said Zlatan Sadikovic, a Bosnian immigrant who owns a café in downtown Hamtramck. A stone's throw outside Detroit, which partly envelops the city, Hamtramck was once part of the epicentre of America's automotive industry, dominated by the General Motors plant that straddled its border with 'Motor City'. The first Cadillac Eldorado rolled off the assembly line in Hamtramck in the 1980s. Over the course of the 20th Century, it became known as "Little Warsaw", as Polish immigrants flocked in for the blue-collar jobs. The city was one of the stops of Polish-born Pope John Paul II's US tour in 1987. In 1970, as much as 90% of the city was of Polish origin.
11-16-21 Capitol riot: Steve Bannon defiant after surrendering to FBI
Trump ally Steve Bannon has lashed out at the Biden administration as he surrendered to the FBI to face charges over his refusal to co-operate with the congressional Capitol riot inquiry. "This is going to be the misdemeanour from hell," the former strategist said outside the FBI's Washington office. Mr Bannon, 67, faces up to a year in prison and a $100,000 (£75,000) fine if convicted. He was formally charged on Friday in the case. Mr Bannon is accused of defying a summons to testify on what he knew about plans for the protest that ended with Trump supporters storming Congress. Supporters of former President Donald Trump stormed the Congress building on 6 January as results of the 2020 election were being certified inside. Mr Trump, a Republican, has refused to acknowledge losing the election to Democratic President Joe Biden last year, making claims - without evidence - of mass voter fraud. Mr Bannon was indicted on one count of refusing to appear for a deposition and one count of refusing to provide subpoenaed documents to a committee investigating the riot. Appearing outside court on Monday afternoon, he said he believed the charges were politically motivated and vowed to fight them. "We're tired of playing defence. We're going to go on the offense on this," he said. As part of restrictions set by the court, Mr Bannon will be required to check in weekly, remain at his listed address and notify authorities of any plans to leave the Washington DC area. He was also required to surrender his passport to authorities. No plea has yet been entered, and a virtual hearing has been scheduled for Thursday morning. According to subpoena documents, Mr Bannon - who currently hosts the right-wing War Room podcast - said on the eve of the riot that "all hell is going to break loose tomorrow". His lawyers have argued that his communications involving the former president are protected. Mr Bannon's is the first such indictment to come out of the House of Representatives Select Committee's inquiry of the 6 January events. (Webmasters Comment: One of Trump's hired thugs!)
11-16-21 Covid-19 news: England and Wales record highest deaths since March
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. 995 covid-related deaths were recorded in the week ending 5 November. The week ending 5 November saw the highest number of covid-related deaths in England and Wales since March. The UK Office for National Statistics reported 995 covid-related deaths in that week, representing 8.6 per cent of all deaths. It is the largest figure since the week ending 12 March, and a 16 per cent rise on the number of covid-related deaths from the previous week. In total, 168,600 death certificates have mentioned covid-19 in the UK since the pandemic began. The highest number on a single day was 1,484 on 19 January 2021. Antidepressant use is linked to a lower risk of dying from covid-19, according to an analysis of medical records in the US. Researchers in California assessed a database of around 83,500 people diagnosed with covid-19. The 3401 individuals who were taking fluoxetine, a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI), appeared to be more likely to survive the infection. “We can’t tell if the drugs are causing these effects, but the statistical analysis is showing significant association,” says Marina Sirota at the University of California, San Francisco. Travel restrictions in India have been removed for fully vaccinated tourists for the first time since the pandemic began. Many travellers must also test negative for the virus within 72 hours of their flight, although this won’t apply to those visiting from countries that have an agreement with India in place, such as those from the US, UK and some other European countries. Amazon has been fined $500,000 by California officials for failing to “adequately notify” workers about new covid-19 cases in the workplace. Amazon employs around 150,000 people in California, most of whom work in the company’s mammoth warehouses. California state requires companies to notify workers about new coronavirus cases among employees.
11-15-21 US defends air strikes that killed civilians in Syria
The US military has defended as "legitimate" an air strike attack which killed dozens of people in Syria in 2019. The attack on so-called Islamic State fighters killed 80 people, as the group made their last stand. The US identified 16 of the dead as militants, and four as civilians. But officials could not conclude on more than 60, and a spokesperson told the BBC it was "highly likely" more civilians were killed. An independent investigation into the strike was never conducted, according to a New York Times report which accused the military of a cover-up. The air strikes occurred on 18 March 2019 in the town of Baghuz in eastern Syria - then the last stronghold of the so-called IS caliphate. Three bombs were dropped by US jets on a large group of people, despite drone footage showing the presence of civilians, according to the New York Times. Commanders ignored alarm expressed in the immediate aftermath and a subsequent investigation into the incident by the defence department's inspector general was "stripped" of any mention of the strike, the newspaper reported. It added that no thorough independent investigation had ever happened. "Leadership just seemed so set on burying this. No-one wanted anything to do with it," Gene Tate, an official who worked on the case and said he was forced out of his job, told the newspaper. US Central Command rejected the accusations. In a statement to the BBC, spokesman Cpt Bill Urban said US troops had been assured there were no civilians in the area at the time of the attack. Only afterwards, he went on, did the US become aware of high-resolution video from a drone operated by an unidentified US ally suggesting civilians had been present. And footage from that drone enabled the US to conclude their bombs had killed 16 fighters and four civilians - but could not "conclusively characterise the status of more than 60 other casualties". (Webmasters Comment: American war criminals strike again! Kill anything that moves!)
11-15-21 Joe Biden and Xi Jinping: What they want from talks
US President Joe Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping will hold a virtual summit on Monday as tensions between the countries deepen. The competing superpowers surprised many last week by issuing a joint declaration to address climate change, at talks in Glasgow, Scotland. But growing concerns of a military confrontation over Taiwan have thrown their differences into sharp relief. The pair's third meeting will address several thorny topics. Cybersecurity, trade and nuclear non-proliferation are subjects on the table, sources familiar with the negotiations told US media. In a statement released on Friday, the White House said "the two leaders will discuss ways to responsibly manage the competition between the United States and the PRC, as well as ways to work together where our interests align".The duo have spoken twice since Mr Biden took office in January, but both have acknowledged bumps in the relationship. Writing to the National Committee on US-China Relations non-profit last week, Mr Xi said his country was ready to work with the US to get relations back on track. He added that cooperation was "the only right choice". Our correspondents in Washington and Beijing assess how it might play out.The expectation is low, but the fact the meeting happens at all will be a major outcome in itself. Both sides intend to repair the US-China relationship, which has taken a nosedive in the past few years. Taiwan is likely to top the agenda. Biden wants Xi to pledge to maintain peace across the Taiwan Strait, as Beijing has shown growing willingness to intensify military pressure on the island. In return, the US leader will have to reassure his Chinese counterpart that America takes no position on Taiwan's sovereignty. The meeting will also be Biden's chance to convince Xi that the US administration's China strategy could be a stable framework for the bilateral relationship. Biden's China doctrine was previously summed up by his Secretary of State Antony Blinken - "competitive when it should be, collaborative when it can be, and adversarial when it must be".
11-15-21 Covid: Austria introduces lockdown for unvaccinated
About two million people who have not been fully vaccinated against Covid-19 have been placed in lockdown in Austria as the country faces a surge in cases. "We are not taking this step lightly, but unfortunately it is necessary," Chancellor Alexander Schallenberg said. Unvaccinated people will only be allowed to leave home for limited reasons, like working or buying food. About 65% of Austria's population is fully vaccinated - one of the lowest rates in Western Europe. Meanwhile, the seven-day infection rate is more than 800 cases per 100,000 people, which is one of the highest in the region. Overall, Europe has again become the area most seriously affected by the pandemic and several countries are introducing restrictions and warning of rising cases. However, the UK, which has one of the highest Covid infection rates, has yet to reintroduce restrictions, despite health leaders calling for rules like mandatory face coverings in crowded and enclosed spaces to be brought back to avoid a winter crisis. The measures introduced in Austria on Monday, which come amid growing pressure on the nation's hospitals, will initially last for 10 days. Children under the age of 12 and people who have recently recovered from the virus will be exempt. Over the weekend, hundreds of people protested outside the chancellery in the capital, Vienna, waving banners that read: "Our bodies, our freedom to decide." One female protester said she was demonstrating "to fight for my rights". "It is totally discriminatory what is happening here," she said. But Prof Eva Schernhammer, of the Medical University of Vienna, said the measures were needed, warning that hospital intensive care units were filling up. "It's already projected that within two weeks we'll have reached the limit," she said. Unvaccinated people were already barred from visiting restaurants, hairdressers and cinemas, but will now be expected to stay at home.
11-15-21 Covid-19 news: UK panel advises booster vaccine for 40 to 49-year-olds
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. 16 and 17-year-olds set to be offered second doses of covid-19 vaccines. The UK’s covid-19 vaccine booster programme will be extended to include all 40 to 49-year-olds, following a recommendation from the government’s vaccination advisers. The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) has advised that all adults over the age of 40 should be offered a booster, six months after their second dose. It has also advised 16 and 17-year-olds to come forward for a second dose of the Pfizer/BioNTech jab, which should be given at least 12 weeks after the first. Until now, boosters have been offered to people over 50 and younger people who are clinically vulnerable, and 12.6 million people have had a third covid-19 jab so far. The JCVI said people should be offered the Pfizer or Moderna jab as a booster, irrespective of which vaccine they had initially. Austria has ordered a nationwide lockdown for anyone over 12 who is not fully vaccinated against covid-19. This group – around 2 million people – will only be allowed to leave home for limited reasons, including going to work or shopping for essentials. Around 65 per cent of the population is fully vaccinated, one of the lowest rates in Europe. A new covid-19 vaccine that works via T-cells rather than antibodies is about to enter human trials. Existing covid-19 vaccines primarily aim to generate immunity based on antibodies, proteins that stick to the virus and stop it from infecting cells. T-cells are another part of the immune system that find and destroy infected cells, and they are thought to offer longer-lasting immunity. The experimental vaccine is administered via a skin patch. Emergex, the company that developed it, has been given a green light to carry out an initial trial involving 26 people in Lausanne, Switzerland, The Guardian reports.
11-14-21 US covered up deadly air strikes in Syria, New York Times reports
The US military covered up an attack that killed dozens of civilians in Syria, according to an investigation by the New York Times newspaper. The 2019 attack on so-called Islamic State (IS) fighters killed 80 people - only 16 identified as militants. An independent investigation into the strike was never conducted, according to the New York Times. Officials admitted the bombing for the first time this week, but insisted it had been justified. They said it was unclear if all of those killed aside from the 16 militants had been civilians. The BBC has contacted the US military for details of the investigation on the strikes of 18 March 2019 in the town of Baghuz in eastern Syria - then the last stronghold of the so-called IS caliphate. Three bombs were dropped by US jets on a large group of people, despite drone footage showing the presence of civilians, according to the New York Times. It said the strike was ordered by a classified US special operations unit tasked with ground operations in Syria. Commanders ignored alarm expressed in the immediate aftermath and a subsequent investigation into the incident by the Defence Department's inspector general was "stripped" of any mention of the strike, according to the newspaper. It added that no thorough independent investigation had ever happened. "Leadership just seemed so set on burying this. No-one wanted anything to do with it," Gene Tate, an official who worked on the case and who was subsequently sacked, told the newspaper. When it finally acknowledged the strike following the newspaper's investigation, US Central Command said the bombs had killed 16 fighters and four civilians. Of the remaining 60, the US military had concluded that they were not sure they were civilians "in part because women and children in the Islamic State sometimes took up arms". "In this case, we self-reported and investigated the strike according to our own evidence and take full responsibility for the unintended loss of life," the New York Times cites Cpt Bill Urban, Central Command chief spokesman, as saying. (Webmasters Comment: Another American War Crime!)
11-14-21 FBI probes cyber-attack emails sent from internal server
The FBI has launched an investigation after thousands of fake email messages were sent from one of its servers warning of a possible cyber-attack. The government agency said the incident on Saturday morning was part of an "ongoing situation", but provided no further details. The messages purported to be from the US Department of Homeland Security. They claimed to be a warning about a supposed threat and were titled: "Urgent: Threat actor in systems." The emails told recipients that they were the target of a "sophisticated chain attack" from an extortion group known as the Dark Overlord, according to the non-profit anti-spam watchdog Spamhaus. "They are causing a lot of disruption because the headers are real, they really are coming from FBI infrastructure," Spamhaus tweeted, adding that they did not include names or contact information from the sender. According to US media reports, more than 100,000 emails were sent out. In a statement on Saturday, the FBI said it was "aware of the incident this morning involving fake emails from an @ic.fbi.gov email account". The agency said the affected hardware was quickly taken offline after the issue was detected and warned the public to be "cautious of unknown senders" and to report suspicious activity to the government. It is not yet clear whether the emails were sent by an individual with cleared access to the FBI servers or if hackers were involved.
11-13-21 California and New Mexico join Colorado, open COVID-19 booster shots to all adults
New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham (D) signed an executive order Friday making all residents 18 and over eligible for COVID-19 booster shots, as rising case numbers overwhelm some hospitals in the state. Neighboring Colorado opened booster eligibility to all adults on Thursday and California, which is now in the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's "high" tier of COVID-19 transmission, has also told local health officials they should consider all adults eligible, The Associated Press reports. The CDC has approved COVID-19 booster shots for everyone who has gotten the one-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine and certain groups inoculated with the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines six months after their second dose. Federal health officials are divided on whether to approve booster shots for all adults. "COVID-19 is incredibly opportunistic and it's our job to ensure that the virus has fewer and fewer opportunities to spread," said Dr. David Scrase, New Mexico's acting health secretary. "If it's time for you to get a booster, please do so right away." California's public health officer, Tomás Aragón, told local health officials they should "not turn a patient away who is requesting a booster" and is otherwise eligible, and they should "allow patients to self-determine their risk of exposure." Dr. Kirsten Bibbins-Domingo, a professor of epidemiology at University of California, San Francisco, is on team booster. The highly contagious Delta variant is "really good at finding people, including people who got vaccinated at the beginning of the year and now that vaccination is wearing off a little bit," she told AP. "Delta is a powerful force and everybody needs that third dose."
The Justice Department charged Steve Bannon, one-time chief strategist to former President Donald Trump, with two counts of contempt of Congress on Friday for refusing to testify and provide documents to the House committee investigating the Jan. 6 siege of the U.S. Capitol. Each count carries a maximum sentence of one year in jail, and a minimum of one month, and Bannon is expected to turn himself in to federal law enforcement on Monday. "Since my first day in office, I have promised Justice Department employees that together we would show the American people by word and deed that the department adheres to the rule of law, follows the facts and the law and pursues equal justice under the law," Attorney General Merrick Garland said on Friday. "Today's charges reflect the department's steadfast commitment to these principles." The judge assigned to Bannon's case, Carl J. Nichols, was appointed to the bench by Trump. And, Politico's Betsy Woodruff Swan notes, he clerked for conservative Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas before that. Bannon's indictment ended "an otherwise yawny week in Washington" with "a jolt," Politico reports, and it appears to have caught Bannon by surprise, too, NPR's Tom Dreisbach pointed out. This is Bannon's second federal indictment in two years. Before leaving office, Trump preemptively pardoned Bannon in a case tied to misusing funds donated to build a private border wall.
11-13-21 Steve Bannon charged with contempt of Congress
Former Trump strategist Steve Bannon has been charged with contempt of Congress after refusing to give evidence about the US Capitol riot. He was summoned to testify on what he knew about plans for the protest that ended with the storming of Congress. The House of Representatives voted last month to send the case to the justice department, which opted on Friday to prosecute Mr Bannon, 67. He could face up to a year in prison and a $100,000 (£74,500) fine. Trump supporters raided the US Congress building on 6 January as lawmakers were meeting to certify the election result. Mr Trump, a Republican, has refused to acknowledge losing the election to Democratic President Joe Biden last year, making claims - without evidence - of mass voter fraud. This was the first such indictment to come out of the House of Representatives Select Committee's inquiry of the 6 January invasion of the Capitol complex. One of the contempt counts against Mr Bannon is linked to his refusal to appear for a deposition and the other is for his refusal to produce documents for the committee. The political advisor - who was fired from the White House in 2017 but remained loyal to former President Donald Trump - is expected to surrender to authorities on Monday, when he will appear in court. In a statement released on Friday, US Attorney General Merrick Garland said the indictment reflected the justice department's "steadfast commitment" to the rule of law. Subpoena documents quote Mr Bannon - who currently hosts the right-wing War Room podcast - as saying on the eve of the riot that "all hell is going to break loose tomorrow". The 67-year-old's lawyers argued that his communications involving the former president were protected. Mr Trump has urged his former aides to reject all requests to submit to depositions. He argued they have the right to withhold information because of executive privilege - a legal principle that protects many White House communications.
11-13-21 U.S. 5th Circuit appellate panel extends stay of Biden workplace vaccine requirement
A three-judge panel of the Louisiana-based U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals on Friday extended its stay of the Biden administration's workplace vaccine rule, saying the groups challenging the requirement "show a great likelihood of success on the merits." The emergency workplace safety rule would require companies with 100 or more employees to ensure that their workers either be vaccinated or masked up and tested weekly, starting in January. "A stay is firmly in the public interest," wrote Judge Kurt Engelhardt, an appointee of former President Donald Trump. "From economic uncertainty to workplace strife, the mere specter of the Mandate has contributed to untold economic upheaval in recent months." He said the rule, from the Labor Department's Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), "grossly exceeds OSHA's statutory authority," imposes an undue financial burden on companies, and may violate the Commerce Clause. His opinion was joined by Judges Stuart Kyle Duncan, also a Trump appointee, and Edith Jones, put on the court by former President Ronald Reagan. The Biden administration told the court earlier this week it believes the rule is well within OSHA's authority and a stay "would likely cost dozens or even hundreds of lives per day." The administration will likely request a hearing by the full 5th Circuit appellate court, considered the most conservative in the U.S., Politico reports, but the final say may come down to a different court. A lottery scheduled for next week will determine which appeals court will hear the multiple legal challenges to the rule.
11-13-21 'I could have been a racist killer'
In his late teens, Mike became a Nazi. Now, only six years later, he is a supporter of Black Lives Matter - and it worries him deeply to think how close he came, at the angriest stage of his life, to going out with his gun and shooting people. When Mike locked eyes for a brief moment with the man who had just fallen to the ground, he could tell that he was going to die. It was a frantic night in downtown Oakland, California, and the wind was sharp with the sting of tear gas as it whipped palm trees up into a frenzy. Three days after the murder of George Floyd, protests in support of Black Lives Matter were breaking out across the US. Mike had been protesting with his girlfriend but as night fell and the police started firing rubber bullets and tear gas, they decided to leave. They were walking back to their car, along streets filled with the black smoke of burning rubbish bins, when they saw a white van pull up. Then they heard the gunshots. The van pulled away as a man in uniform slumped to the ground. Mike moved towards him, trying to remember the first aid training he had learned in the military. But a police car arrived and a jittery gun-wielding officer jumped out and ordered Mike to leave. Later he learned that Dave Patrick Underwood, a federal officer who had been guarding the courthouse, had died at the scene. More than a year on, it still haunts Mike that he couldn't do more to save him. By coincidence, Mike had a connection to Underwood; he had been marching that day with members of his family. But he was also connected to the man who was later charged with his murder. Steven Carillo was a sergeant at the same California Air Force base where Mike had enlisted just a few years earlier. And that wasn't all. Mike had a secret. At home in his wardrobe there was a uniform made of grey-green khaki fabric, with a Nazi symbol on the collar. Mike kept it hanging there to remind himself of the person he used to be, someone who wanted to go out and kill people. Like Carillo, Mike had fallen down the rabbit hole of extremism, and become a follower of America's violent far-right.
11-13-21 Covid: Dutch partial lockdown to tackle surge in infections
Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte has announced Western Europe's first partial Covid lockdown of the winter, with three weeks of restrictions for shops, sport and catering. He said that the annoying, drastic move was in response to record infections and rising intensive care cases. Police have fired water cannon against hundreds of protesters in The Hague. Much of Europe is facing a surge in cases, blamed partly on low vaccine take-up in several countries. Austria is expected to back a lockdown for unvaccinated people this weekend. Restrictions would be imposed first in the two provinces of Upper Austria and Salzburg from Monday, according to Health Minister Wolfgang Mückstein. Denmark, which had downgraded coronavirus as no longer a "socially critical" disease, has re-instated a Covid pass that was phased out in September. The government wants to push through a law allowing workplaces to require the pass for staff. The Dutch prime minister said that fortunately the vast majority of people in the Netherlands had been vaccinated. But he said the three-week partial lockdown would start on Saturday evening. Cinemas and theatres will stay open. Social distancing of 1.5m (5ft) is being reintroduced where Covid passes are not in operation. The caretaker cabinet is also working on a change in the law to allow businesses to choose whether they want to limit entry to people who have been vaccinated or who have recovered. The catering industry has reacted angrily to the news; a spokesman told public broadcaster NOS the government had "crossed a line". Last weekend, thousands of protesters marched through The Hague in anger at existing Covid restrictions. Latest daily figures on Friday showed 16,287 new Covid cases, just short of Thursday's record but up a third on the previous week. Dutch vaccination rates are relatively high, with 82.4% of over-12s having two doses, that's 73% of the total population.
11-12-21 A record number of Americans quit their jobs in September
Over 4 million Americans — actually, a record 4.4 million Americans — quit their jobs in September, "as job openings remained near record levels according to federal data," The Washington Post reports. Resignation numbers were up from August, which saw 4.3 million people put in their two weeks. All in all, it's a "sign of how imbalances in the labor market continue to complicate the economic recovery 20 months into the pandemic," writes the Post. Even after regaining the "vast majority of jobs lost in the earliest months" of the COVID crisis, the country still has over 4 million fewer jobs than in February 2020. Reasons for the "Great Resignation" are several, reports the Post. In September, peak-Delta variant COVID cases contributed to both loss of access to child care and additional pressures pushing employees to "rethink their daily routine." Other workers were drawn to positions offering better pay and benefits. The situation's ongoing causes are much the same, economists say. Issues of child care, family care, school unpredictability, and public health all remain a problem for both in-person work and employees considering whether or not to re-enter the workforce, the Post writes. And that's without mentioning the possibility of other factors having "reshaped the traditional dynamics of the labor force after 750,000 people have died." Read more at The Washington Post.
11-12-21 Defense attorney in Arbery case tells judge 'we don't want any more Black pastors coming in here'
Kevin Gough, the attorney for one of the men charged in the killing of Ahmaud Arbery, said in a Georgia courtroom on Thursday that "we don't want any more Black pastors" coming to sit with the Arbery family during the trial. Three white men — father and son George and Travis McMichael and their neighbor William "Roddie" Bryan Jr. — stand accused of racially profiling Arbery, a 25-year-old Black man, and have been charged with murder, false imprisonment, and aggravated assault. Gough, who represents Bryan, objected Thursday to Rev. Al Sharpton joining Arbery's parents in the courtroom on Wednesday. "If we're going to start a precedent, starting yesterday, where we're going to bring high-profile members of the African-American community into the courtroom to sit with the family during the trial in the presence of the jury, I believe that's intimidating and it's an attempt to pressure," Gough said. "Could be consciously or unconsciously an attempt to pressure or influence the jury." Gough said he had "nothing personally against" Sharpton, but "we don't want any more Black pastors coming in here or other Jesse Jackson, whoever was in here earlier this week, sitting with the victim's family, trying to influence a jury in this case." Jackson has not been seen at the courthouse since the start of the trial, CNN reports, and Sharpton said in a statement that Gough showed "arrogant insensitivity" with his remarks. Gough's motion also didn't work on Judge Timothy Walmsley, who said he will not "blanketly exclude members of the public from this courtroom." This isn't the first time Gough's remarks have raised eyebrows — during the jury selection phase, the lawyer said he was worried that there weren't enough white men of a certain age and background to choose from. "It would appear that white males born in the South, over 40 years old, without four-year degrees, sometimes euphemistically known as 'Bubba' or 'Joe Six Pack,' seem to be significantly underrepresented," he said. "We have a problem with that."
11-12-21 US police officer sues boss over KKK note
A black police officer in the US state of Ohio has filed a discrimination complaint after allegedly receiving a racist note from a superior officer. Officer Keith Pool made the complaint after video footage emerged of then-Sheffield Lake Police Chief Anthony Campo placing a note on his desk reading "Ku Klux Klan" (KKK) last June. It is also alleged Mr Campo engaged in ongoing racist abuse against Mr Pool. Mr Campo has since resigned and said his actions were "a joke". Mr Pool, who became Sheffield Lake's first black officer in 2020, told reporters during a press conference on Thursday that his initial reaction had been one of shock, simply asking the then police chief: "Are you serious?" "What else can you say to the chief of police, who had done something so heinous and so awful to the first black officer ever? It's not understandable," he said. Lawyers for Keith Pool, 57, allege that Mr Campo's actions formed part of a pattern of racist behaviour. They say this included wearing a pointy hat of the KKK - a white supremacist organisation - he made in front of colleagues, harassing Mr Pool on an "ongoing basis" and creating racially offensive images mocking him and another officer, "the only Latino officer in the division". Mr Campo resigned from his position after being placed on leave by the town's mayor in July. At the time, he told local news outlet, Channel 5, that he had simply been joking during the incident. "It was just a joke that got out of hand. I hired that officer on the force, he's excellent with children, and I helped to save his job after he was in danger of being let go by another department due to age restrictions," he said. Mr Pool has also alleged that superior officers were aware of the chief's behaviour, but made no attempt to stop the abuse.
11-12-21 Colorado opens COVID-19 boosters to all adults, but CDC director is reportedly iffy on national approval
Colorado Gov. Jared Polis (D) issued an executive order Thursday opening COVID-19 booster shots to all vaccinated adults, saying that because "disease spread is so significant across Colorado, all Coloradans who are 18 years of age and older are at high risk and qualify for a booster shot." Under current federal guidelines, all adult Johnson & Johnson vaccine recipients can get a booster, but only those 65 and older or at high risk due to medical conditions or exposure at work are eligible for a third Pfizer or Moderna shot. Most top health officials in the Biden administration — including Surgeon General Vivek Murthy, top medical adviser Dr. Anthony Fauci, and chief White House coronavirus science officer David Kessler — support opening booster shots to all adults nationwide, The Washington Post reports, citing people familiar with their views. But "Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Rochelle Walensky has expressed caution about making extra shots so broadly available now," and "tension is rising among officials over how quickly to proceed and who should get the shots." Supporters of expanding booster shot eligibility point to Israel's success with third shots amid waning protections from the vaccines. Canada and Germany are among the other nations that have approved booster shots for all adults. Pfizer on Tuesday asked the Food and Drug Administration to approve its request to open its booster for all adults, and the FDA "is strongly inclined to grant it, perhaps by the end of the month — though a disagreement with the CDC could complicate matters," the Post reports. Walensky and some other top CDC officials reportedly aren't convinced young adults need boosters and are waiting to fully review the data. There are concerns that focusing on boosters will take the focus off the real imperative: getting unvaccinated people inoculated. The highest U.S. uptake in booster shots so far have been in northern, mostly rural states with few mask mandates and low vaccination rates — with the exception of Vermont, which leads the nation in both vaccination rate and booster shots — the Post reports. Meanwhile, booster shots rates are lower in states that have successfully managed the Delta surge and have high vaccination saturation, including California and New York, and Southern states with low vaccinated rates where fall outbreaks are easing.
11-12-21 Covid: Dutch set for partial lockdown as infections surge
Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte is set to declare Western Europe's first partial Covid lockdown of the winter, with three weeks of restrictions for shops, sport and catering. His caretaker government is responding to record infections and rising intensive care cases in hospitals. Much of Europe is facing a surge in cases, blamed partly on low vaccine take-up in several countries. Austria is expected to back a lockdown for unvaccinated people this weekend. Restrictions would be imposed first in the two provinces of Upper Austria and Salzburg from Monday, according to Health Minister Wolfgang Mückstein. Denmark, which had downgraded coronavirus as no longer a "socially critical" disease, has re-instated a Covid pass that was phased out in September. The government wants to push through a law allowing workplaces to require the pass for staff. According to widespread reports in Dutch media, the caretaker government agreed late on Thursday that the three-week partial lockdown would start on Saturday evening: 1. Non-essential shops, cafes, restaurants and hotels would have to close at 19:00 (18:00 GMT). 2. Professional sport would continue behind closed doors. 3, That would include the Netherlands' football World Cup qualifier against Norway on 16 November. A final decision on restrictions for cinemas and theatres still has to be taken, reports say, along with plans for the existing Covid pass to be issued only to those who have been vaccinated or who have recovered from Covid. The catering industry has reacted angrily to the leaks; a spokesman told public broadcaster NOS the government had "crossed a line". Last weekend, thousands of protesters marched through The Hague in anger at existing Covid restrictions. Latest figures on Thursday showed a record 16,364 new Covid cases over 24 hours, up a third on the previous week. Dutch vaccination rates are relatively high, with 82.4% of over-12s having two doses.
11-12-21 Qatar to reportedly represent U.S. 'diplomatic interests' in Afghanistan
The U.S. and Qatar have reportedly agreed to an arrangement in which Qatar will represent the U.S.' "diplomatic interests in Afghanistan," Reuters reports per a senior U.S. official — an otherwise "important signal of potential direct engagement between Washington and Kabul in the future after two decades of war." On Friday, Qatar will reportedly sign in accordance with the agreement, designating it the "protecting power" for U.S. interests when facilitating communication between "Washington and the Taliban government in Afghanistan, which the United States does not recognize," Reuters writes. U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken will reportedly share the news of the arrangement — which is expected to come into effect on Dec. 31 — alongside his Qatari counterpart Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani on Friday. "As our protecting power, Qatar will assist the United States in providing limited consular services to our citizens and in protecting U.S. interests in Afghanistan," said the senior State Department official who shared the news with Reuters. Under the arrangement, "Qatar will dedicate certain staff from its embassy in Afghanistan to a U.S. Interests Section and will coordinate closely with U.S. State Department and with U.S. mission in Doha," Reuters adds. Though many countries are loath to formally recognize the Taliban, especially given how they've failed to live up to "political and ethnic inclusivity" pledges, some are realizing they'll need to "engage more to prevent the deeply impoverished country from plunging into a humanitarian catastrophe," especially as winter approaches, Reuters writes. As part of a separate agreement, the U.S. official said, Qatar will also reportedly continue to temporarily host up to 8,000 Afghans who have applied for special immigrant visas, as well as their eligible family members. Read more at Reuters.
11-12-21 Capitol riot: Court temporarily blocks release of Trump files
A US appeals court has temporarily denied a bid by US Capitol riot investigators to access ex-President Donald Trump's White House records. The ruling comes two days after a court ordered the documents to be turned over to the congressional committee leading the inquiry. Lawmakers are trying to find out if Mr Trump had foreknowledge of the riot. Trump supporters stormed the Capitol building on 6 January as Congress was meeting to certify the election result. Mr Trump has refused to acknowledge losing the election to President Joe Biden last year, making claims - without evidence - of mass voter fraud. The inquiry is being conducted by a committee set up by the House of Representatives, which is dominated by President Biden's Democrats. The panel wants to see phone records, visitor logs and other White House documents that could shed light on events leading up to the attack on Congress. But on Thursday, the US Court of Appeals in Washington placed a temporary hold on a lower court's order to hand over the trove by Friday. The appeals court said it will schedule a hearing for 30 November. The case will be heard by three judges who were selected at random, according to US media. All three were appointed by Democratic presidents. Mr Trump's lawyers had said in their emergency filing to the appeals court that their client could "suffer irreparable harm through the effective denial of a constitutional and statutory right to be fully heard on a serious disagreement between the former and incumbent President". The legal battle is likely to wind up at the Supreme Court. Mr Trump - a Republican - has argued his White House communications were protected by executive privilege, under which presidential documents can be kept secret. But Mr Biden has waived executive privilege on the files. And on Tuesday, US District Judge Tanya Chutkan rejected Mr Trump's argument, writing in a 39-page decision: "Presidents are not kings, and Plaintiff is not President."
11-11-21 Federal appeals court temporarily blocks release of Trump White House records
A federal appeals court on Thursday paused the release of Trump White House records to the House select committee investigating the Jan. 6 Capitol riot. A lower court ruled earlier this week that former President Donald Trump could not keep the material secret under executive privilege, and immediately, Trump's lawyers filed an appeal. In its brief order, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit said the "purpose of this administrative injunction is to protect the court's jurisdiction to address appellant's claims of executive privilege and should not be construed in any way as a ruling on the merits." A hearing is set for Nov. 30. The National Archives was given a Friday evening deadline to turn over the first batch of records to the House select committee, including White House call and visitor logs and drafts of speeches. The House panel on Wednesday said it needs to get these documents as quickly as possible to move the investigation along. "The potential harm to the public is immense," the members stated. "Our democratic institutions and a core feature of our democracy — the peaceful transfer of power – are at stake."
11-11-21 COVID vaccine misinformation and hesitancy are 'spreading as fast as the virus' in Eastern Europe
Amid rising infections and a resurgence in cases, some parts of Europe — Central and Eastern Europe, namely — are battling vaccine hesitancy issues of their own, The Washington Post reports. "We are currently experiencing a pandemic mainly among the unvaccinated," said German Health Minister Jens Spahn at a recent news conference. "And it is massive." Germany's vaccination rate falls slighly behind Britain and France's, per the Post. The European Union's overall 65 percent vaccination rate is "buoyed in part" by uptake in heavily-vaccinated countries like Portugal, but "bogged down by lagging efforts" elsewhere. For example, only a third of the population in Romania is fully vaccinated. About 57 percent of citizens in the Czech Republic, a rate similar to that of the United States, have received both doses. In Russia, where "recorded infections are at their highest levels yet," vaccine hesitancy is likely a result of distrust in the government and in the "vaccines themslves," writes the Post, per Elizabeth King, a professor at the University of Michigan's School of Public Health. "Misinformation is spreading as fast as the virus," King said. Recently, a doctor in St. Petersburg, Russia told the Post that the "resistance from the population is huge." Conspiracy theories about both COVID and the vaccine are fueling hesitancy in Bulgaria, too. "The people in my community don't want to get vaccinated," a vaccinated Bulgarian woman, Kapka Georgieva, told the Post. "They are afraid and hearing on television and other sources that they might die. There is panic." And Volodymyr Zelensky, president of the Ukraine, recently made his own appeal to the citizens of his country, as well, where less than 1 in 5 people are fully vaccinated against COVID, per the Post. "We must get vaccinated," Zelensky, said recently to reporters. "It's the only solution."
11-11-21 With COVID-19 numbers rising, Colorado activates crisis standards of care
The highly contagious Delta variant is causing an uptick in COVID-19 hospitalizations in Colorado, and on Wednesday, the state reactivated crisis standards of care for hospitals. This allows hospitals in Colorado to prioritize staff for emergencies and have the flexibility to move workers to different units. State officials stressed that this does not mean patients won't get acute emergency treatment, and people should still go to the hospital if they need medical treatment. Because of the surge in cases, more than a third of hospitals reporting to the state said in the next week, they expect to have a shortage of intensive care unit beds, and about 40 percent will be short-staffed, 9 News reports. About 1,431 people are hospitalized with COVID-19 in Colorado, and 80 percent of them are unvaccinated. During the state's peak in December 2020, there were 1,800 COVID-19 patients hospitalized. To try to push the numbers down, Colorado is now letting anyone 18 and older receive a COVID-19 booster shot. "With an estimated 1 in 48 Coloradans infected, it is likely that all Coloradans can be exposed to COVID-19 where they live or work," Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment spokeswoman Jessica Bralish said.
11-11-21 Is a 'predictable' and 'manageable' phase of COVID finally upon us?
While the COVID-19 pandemic (unfortunately) has yet to come to an end, America may be entering a new phase of the crisis, Axios argues, "one in which the country's overall experience with this virus will be less like having a heart attack, and more like managing a lifelong chronic condition." In some ways, the transition to "endemic" COVID – meaning the virus will become a "predictable, manageable" part of our lives — is already here, Axios says, positing that though the disease is here to stay, the "worst of the pandemic is likely behind us." The U.S. is, at the moment, averaging about 74,000 new infections daily, a "4 percent increase of the past two weeks," per Axios. And when analyzing individual states, only 4 would qualify as having a low rate of transmission according to CDC guidelines. Despite that, former FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb said recently that "we're close to the end of the pandemic phase of the virus," though former White House COVID adviser Andy Slavitt disagreed and called for an end to the speculation. But here's the rub — the end of COVID's "pandemic phase" won't mean the end of COVID infections. There will still be breakthrough cases (though less severe) and winter outbreaks (though hopefully not as big or as deadly as before). And the framework for this state of play, Axios argues, has already arrived. So, as long as "no new variant emerges," (which is of course possible, but not yet an immediate threat), "we have a pretty good idea of where we're headed, and that overall landscape isn't likely to change too dramatically." Read more at Axios.
11-11-21 Inflation is making it harder to feed and clothe a young family
Though recent inflation is impacting and hindering Americans of all walks of life, resulting price increases are having a more "emotionally powerful" effect on people's ability to feed and clothe their family, Bloomberg reports. In other words, there are some specific categories on October's CPI that "look even more dramatic" when considering their relevance to growing families. "Keeping your kids well-fed and clothed is getting more expensive," Omair Sharif of Inflation Insights LLC told Bloomberg. "Baby food prices are up 7.9% year-on-year, the fastest rate of growth since mid-2008, and seem poised to post their largest ever annual growth rate soon." Meanwhile, infant and toddler clothing increased by 7.6 percent year-on-year, "the second-fastest growth rate in the last three decades," per Bloomberg. With food prices increasing simultaneously, households are likely to lose "disposable incomes available for the purchase of other goods and services," explained Nomura economists in research published Wednesday, adding such an outcome could, however, put "downward" pressure on medium-term inflation. "Food has something in common with energy – the demand for both is relatively inelastic," the economists wrote. However, as noted by MSNBC's Chris Hayes, the same families experiencing the effects of rising prices are likely the "very same families" to benefit from President Biden's expanded child tax credit.
11-10-21 Federal judge overrules Texas Gov. Greg Abbott's ban on school mask mandates
A federal judge ruled on Wednesday that the executive order imposed by Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) banning mask mandates in schools violates the Americans with Disabilities Act, giving local officials the ability to set their own policies on face coverings. Disability Rights Texas filed the lawsuit against Abbott, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, and Texas Education Agency Commissioner Mike Morath in August, saying the order denied kids with disabilities, who are at a higher risk of illness and death from the virus, access to public education. U.S. District Judge Lee Yeakel agreed, saying on Wednesday that the order keeps children with disabilities from getting the programs, services, and activities at public schools they are entitled to receive. "The spread of COVID-19 poses an even greater risk for children with special health needs," Yeakel said. "Children with certain underlying conditions who contract COVID-19 are more likely to experience severe acute biological effects and to require admission to a hospital and the hospital's intensive care unit." In a statement, Disability Rights Texas litigation attorney Kym Davis Rogers said the ruling shows Texas isn't above federal law. "No student should be forced to make the choice of forfeiting their education or risking their health, and now they won't have to," Rogers added. A recent University of Texas/Texas Tribune poll found that 57 percent of voters in the state are in favor of mask requirements in indoor public spaces depending on local COVID conditions, and 58 percent support mask requirements for public school students and staff.
11-11-21 Covid-19 news: Coronavirus deaths in Europe rise 10 per cent in a week
The latest coronavirus news updated every day including coronavirus cases, the latest news, features and interviews from New Scientist and essential information about the covid-19 pandemic. Covid-19 cases rising in Europe but stable or falling in rest of the world. Coronavirus deaths in Europe jumped by 10 per cent in the week to 7 November, according to the latest epidemiological update from the World Health Organization (WHO). New cases of covid-19 increased by 7 per cent in Europe, while other regions saw case numbers remain stable or decline. The global number of recorded covid-19 deaths in the week was 48,000, a 4 per cent decrease from the previous week. Europe had the highest incidence of confirmed cases, with 208.9 cases per 100,000 population, ahead of the Americas which had 68.8 new cases per 100,000. Hans Kluge, the WHO director for Europe, said the region was “back at the epicentre of the pandemic” and could see another 500,000 deaths by February if more actions aren’t taken to limit the spread of the virus, Euronews reports. The countries with the highest numbers of new cases are the US, Russia, UK, Turkey and Germany. In Russia, over 1000 deaths have been reported every day since late October. Some hospitals in Germany are reportedly unable to admit new patients because of the high numbers of people needing treatment for covid-19. Tens of thousands of care home staff in England who have not had two coronavirus vaccine doses will be unable to legally work in care homes from today as a mandatory jab policy comes into effect. Staff working in registered care homes in England must have had both jabs to continue in their role unless they are medically exempt. Official figures due later today are expected to show that more than 50,000 current staff in care homes have not been recorded as having had both doses as of 7 November, four days before the deadline. Several thousand of these are understood to have self-certified as medically exempt or to have applied for formal proof. A study showing that some people may have had pre-existing immunity to the SARS-CoV-2 virus during the first wave of the pandemic has raised hopes that a universal coronavirus vaccine could be developed. The research found that some healthcare workers in the UK who were regularly tested encountered the covid-19 virus but never became fully infected with it or developed covid-19 antibodies. These people are thought to have had an immune memory in their T cells because of exposure to other coronaviruses that cause seasonal colds. Read New Scientist’s story to find out more. The number of antibiotic prescriptions in England during the first year of the covid-19 pandemic dropped by 17 per cent compared with the previous year, according to analysis by the charity Antibiotic Research UK. Prescriptions in the winter were only 4 per cent higher than in the summer, compared with a 21 per cent seasonal difference before the pandemic. The trend may be due in part to less infection transmission during lockdowns.
11-11-21 Flint water crisis: $626m settlement reached for lead poisoning victims
A US judge has approved a $626m (£467m) settlement for victims of the 2014-15 lead water crisis in Flint, Michigan. Most of the money will go to the city's children exposed to drinking poisoned water, affected adults, business owners and anyone who paid water bills. At least 12 people died after Flint switched its water supply to the Flint river in 2014 without treating the corrosive water to save money. As a result, lead in some old pipes broke off and flowed through taps. An outbreak of Legionnaires' disease followed, and nearly 100,000 residents were left without safe tap water. Thousands of city residents later filed lawsuits against the state of Michigan. "The settlement reached here is a remarkable achievement for many reasons," District Judge Judith Levy said on Wednesday. She added that the deal "sets forth a comprehensive compensation programme and timeline that is consistent for every qualifying participant". Most of the settlement will be paid by the state of Michigan, which was accused of repeatedly overlooking the public health risks. Last year, prosecutors dropped all criminal charges against officials awaiting trial over the crisis, saying a more thorough investigation was needed. Flint is a majority African-American city, where more than 40% of the residents live in poverty. In 2014, Flint switched its water supply away from Detroit's system, which draws from Lake Huron, and instead used water from the Flint river. Flint was in a financial state of emergency and the switch was meant to save the city millions of dollars. But the water from the river was more corrosive than Lake Huron's water and was not treated properly, causing lead - a powerful neurotoxin - to leach from the pipes. Residents started noticing that tap water sometimes came out blue or yellow - and many began to lose their hair, or develop rashes on their arms and face. Despite this, local officials and leaders denied anything was wrong for over a year, even as residents complained that the water tasted and looked strange. The city has since switched back to using Detroit's water system. However, many local residents still rely on bottled water for drinking, cooking and washing, saying they no longer trust the government.
11-10-21 White House estimates 900,000 kids have already gotten their first dose of the vaccine
Rough inflation numbers can't distract from this wonderful COVID milestone. The White House estimated Wednesday that almost 1 million kids ages 5 to 11 have received shots of Pfizer and BioNTech's COVID-19 vaccine since its authorization last week, says The New York Times. COVID Reponse Coordinator Jeff Zients "conservatively" judged the number of kids who have received their first shot at 900,000. He added that an "additional 700,000 pediatric vaccination appointments have been scheduled at pharmacies across the nation," writes the Times. "Our goal clearly is to vaccinate as many kids as possible," Zients said Wednesday at a White House briefing. "This is the very beginning of the program. The program is just getting up to full strength." To circumvent a lag in reporting to the Centers for Diease Control and Prevention, the White House connected with state and local health officials to conduct its own vaccination analysis, which is where it got the 900,000 number, reports the Times. Zients stopped short of setting a vaccination goal for young kids similar to President Biden's goal of partially vaccinating at least 70 percent of adults by July 4. "I want to emphasize again that we have plenty of supply for all 28 million kids ages 5 to 11," he said. "We're off to a very strong start."
11-10-21 Top aid official says thousands of Afghan refugees are entering Iran every day
Thousands of Afghan refugees fleeing the Taliban are crossing the border into Iran on a daily basis, and Jan Egeland, secretary-general of the Norwegian Refugee Council, is calling on the international community to help with food and shelter. Egeland is now in Tehran, after visiting Iran's Kerman province near the border with Afghanistan. During an interview Wednesday with The Associated Press, Egeland said that many of the refugees "called their relatives telling them they are on their way to Iran and many want to go on to Europe, so Europe should be less occupied with a few thousand [refugees] sitting on the Polish-Belorussian border. More people came today to Iran than are now on that border." The Norwegian Refugee Council estimates that since the Taliban took control of Afghanistan in August, 300,000 people have left the country for Iran. "There is no economy, there is very little assistance, and there is too little shelter and food for millions and millions in need," Egeland said. Once it's winter and the conditions are "horrific," Egeland believes hundreds of thousands of additional refugees will leave Afghanistan for Iran, which share three formal border crossings. Refugees from Afghanistan have been coming to Iran since 1979, when Soviet troops occupied the country. It's estimated that there are 800,000 registered Afghan refugees in Iran, and 3 million more who are undocumented. Iran has been supporting the new arrivals, Egeland told AP, but more aid needs to be sent to help during the cold months. "How can you expect Iran to shoulder this responsibility on their own?" Egeland said. "What Europe should do is invest in hope, possibility, opportunity inside Afghanistan and in the neighboring countries if they want to avoid people wandering towards Europe."
11-10-21 US prices rising at 6.2%, fastest rate for three decades
Americans' cost of living is rising faster than it has for three decades, with food and fuel driving the increases. The consumer prices index for October showed prices rose 6.2% over the last twelve months. It marks a sharp jump from September when prices were already rising at 5.4%. Inflation has been a growing concern for shoppers and policymakers this year as the impact of the pandemic persists. Rising prices for food, shelter, used cars and trucks and new vehicles were among the larger contributors, the Bureau for Labour Statistics said. Meat, fish and eggs rose more than other foodstuffs, while petrol, or gasoline, prices are at seven-year highs. Bottlenecks in the supply of some goods, combined with increasing demand from customers as the vaccine programme allowed the economy to reopen, are partly to blame for the rises. A shortage of staff has prompted employers to raise wages in some sectors, too, which in turn can feed into higher prices. Even excluding the cost of food and fuel, which tend to be more volatile, prices were rising strongly at 4.6%. Bessy Clarke says she has mostly noticed the price of petrol going up. "Steadily every week, it gets higher and higher," she says. "I'm actively thinking about how I need to limit my gas trips." "It takes over 30 bucks (£22) to fill my tank right now and it used to take about 23." The 29-year-old waitress from New Orleans, Louisiana says her food bills are also rising. "We go to our local grocery store, and things that were 40 to 50 bucks a couple months ago are now creeping over 60. "Even in the restaurant I work at, meat prices have gone up and now we're having to pass that price on to consumers." She's finding it impossible to save money, so is looking for a better paid job. "I just hope that it eventually stabilises," she says. Taken on a monthly basis, the Bureau for Labour Statistics said prices rose 0.9% in October, after gaining 0.4% in September, illustrating the pace of acceleration. President Joe Biden said reversing the spike in inflation was a "top priority". However, the Federal Reserve, which is responsible for monitoring inflation and is independent from the government, has said it believes the current high rate is "transitory".
11-10-21 Prosecutors seek 4 1/4 years in prison for 'QAnon Shaman' Jacob Chansley over Jan. 6 Capitol riot
Federal prosecutors asked a judge Tuesday night to give "QAnon Shaman" Jacob Chansley 51 months in prison for his "now-famous criminal acts" that "made him the public face of the Capitol riot" on Jan. 6. The four year, three month sentence would be the stiffest handed down yet for the Jan. 6 Capitol siege, and it's at the top end of the federal sentencing guidelines. Chansley, who pleaded guilty to obstructing Congress from certifying President Biden's electoral victory, is only the third Capitol rioter charged with a felony to have reached the sentencing phase, Politico reports. Prosecutors recommended 18 months for defendant Paul Hodgkins, but a federal judge gave him eight months. U.S. District Judge Royce Lamberth, who is handling Chansley's case, is scheduled to sentence the third felon, former MMA fighter Scott Fairlamb, on Wednesday; prosecutors have asked for 44 months in prison. Chansley merits the longer sentence because he spent months before the riot spreading disinformation about the election, he publicly gloated and "showed no remorse in the days after the event," he carried a spear-tipped U.S. flag into the Senate chamber, and he repeatedly refused commands from police officers, prosecutors write in their 28-page sentencing memo. "What should have been a day in which Congress fulfilled its solemn, constitutional duty in certifying the vote count of the Electoral College, ensuring the peaceful transition of power in our nation, was disrupted by a mob of thousands on Jan. 6, 2021," and Chansley "was, quite literally, their flag-bearer," the prosecutors write. He "was among the first 30 rioters to penetrate the U.S. Capitol building," and he "then stalked the hallowed halls of the building, riling up other members of the mob with his screaming obscenities about our nation's lawmakers, and flouting the 'opportunity' to rid our government of those he has long considered to be traitors." Chansley's lawyer, Albert Watkins, has said a sentence "significantly below" the 41-51-month guidelines would be appropriate and noted that by the time he is sentenced, Chansley will have already spent 10 months behind bars. (Webmasters Comment: He should be executed for Treason!)
11-10-21 Germany coronavirus: Record rise prompts warning of 100,000 deaths
One of Germany's top virologists has warned that a further 100,000 people will die from Covid if nothing's done to halt an aggressive fourth wave. Case numbers have soared and Germany on Wednesday registered its highest rate of infection since the pandemic began, with almost 40,000 cases in a day. "We have to act right now," said Christian Drosten, who described a real emergency situation. Doctors in the intensive care Covid ward at Leipzig University Hospital warn this fourth wave could be the worst yet. One patient here, a woman in her 20s, has just given birth. Her baby is fine, but staff say they don't know whether she'll survive. This state of Saxony has the highest seven-day infection rate in Germany at 459 cases per 100,000 people. The national rate is 232. It also has the lowest take-up of vaccine: 57% of the population here have been immunised. There are 18 patients on the Covid ward. Just four were vaccinated. "It's very difficult to get staff motivated to treat patients now in this fourth wave," says Prof Sebastian Stehr, who heads the department. "A large part of the population still underestimates the problem." By now, Prof Sehr says, most people will know someone who's had Covid and should, therefore, be aware of the risk of infection. "Nevertheless," he adds, "we are still seeing so many patients who are not vaccinated." Germany's health minister has publicly blamed those people for the soaring cases, describing the current situation as a "pandemic of the unvaccinated". At the start of this week, Saxony banned unvaccinated people from bars, restaurants, public events and sport and leisure facilities. At least several other states are expected to follow suit. Germany's anti-vaxxers are furious. Several thousand protested last weekend in Leipzig. "This is discrimination, and we want to express vehemently that we do not accept this in our society," said Leif Hansen, who represents anti-vax "Bewegung Leipzig" (Leipzig Movement). He doesn't trust the companies that made the vaccine or the authorities who approved it. "They say the vaccination is ok, that I should give it to my children? Never!" he told me. "I have a feeling that it should never go into my body, and I will fight all I can to prevent it coming into my body."
11-10-21 Covid-19 news: Booster shots now mandatory for French vaccine passes
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. France follows Israel in starting to make booster shots a requirement for vaccine passes for the over-65s. French people aged over 65 will have to have a third dose of the coronavirus vaccine to prove they have been fully vaccinated on their health passes from mid-December. The passes show if a person has been immunised, has recently recovered from infection or has recently had a negative test. In France they are needed for many common activities including going to restaurants and bars, libraries, the gym and for long-distance train and plane journeys. President Emmanuel Macron also said yesterday that boosters would be available for people between the ages of 50 and 65 from next month, and that use of health passes would increase. Although infection rates in France are lower than in some other European countries such as Germany, they are rising. Macron said a “fifth wave” of covid-19 had arrived in Europe. “We are not yet finished with the pandemic.” Israel has also made boosters six months after a second dose a condition for its digital vaccine certificates. Meanwhile in Wales, a requirement for covid passes showing double vaccination or a recent negative covid-19 test will be extended to theatres, concerts and museums from Monday. An antiviral medicine that can be taken at home and cuts hospitalisations and deaths from covid-19 by nearly 90 per cent could be available by very early next year, the head of Pfizer UK has said. The pills, called Paxlovid, are taken twice daily for five days, by people who are at risk of developing severe disease. Unvaccinated people in Singapore could face a hefty hospital bill if they need treatment for covid-19 from next year. The government has said it will no longer pay medical bills for people with covid-19 who are “unvaccinated by choice”.
11-10-21 Capitol riot: Judge rejects Trump bid to withhold records
A US judge has ruled a congressional committee investigating the Capitol riot can access some of ex-President Donald Trump's White House records. Mr Trump had sought to invoke executive privilege, under which presidential documents can be kept secret. The inquiry is trying to find out if Mr Trump had prior knowledge of the riot. Trump supporters stormed the Capitol building on 6 January as Congress was certifying President Joe Biden's election victory. Mr Trump has refused to acknowledge losing the election last year, claiming - without evidence - that it had been rigged. The inquiry is being conducted by a committee set up by the House of Representatives which is dominated by President Biden's Democrats. The panel wants to see a trove of phone records, visitor logs and other White House documents that could shed some light on the events leading up to the attack on Congress. It has issued summonses to several Trump aides to testify before the lawmakers. Mr Trump - a Republican - had argued his White House communications were protected and as such should not be released. But US District Judge Tanya Chutkan ruled that the National Archives, the federal agency that holds the records, should comply with the panel's request. In a 39-page ruling, Judge Chutkan said that Congress had the right to see the documents, particularly as the current president had agreed. Mr Trump "does not acknowledge the deference owed to the incumbent president's judgment. His position that he may override the express will of the executive branch appears to be premised on the notion that his executive power 'exists in perpetuity,'" the judge wrote. "But presidents are not kings, and plaintiff is not president." As a former president, Mr Trump enjoyed the right to executive privilege, she added, but the incumbent president "is best situated to protect executive branch interests". However, it is unlikely the records will be accessible in the near future. The legal battle is likely to wind up at the Supreme Court.
11-9-21 Federal judge rules Trump can't keep Jan. 6 records from House committee
A federal judge on Tuesday night ruled that White House records connected to the Jan. 6 Capitol riot can be turned over to the House select committee investigating the attack. Former President Donald Trump had tried to block investigators from getting the documents, which were requested in March and August, claiming he had executive privilege. In her Tuesday ruling, Judge Tanya S. Chutkan of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia said the first batch of materials must be handed over to the committee by Friday, NBC News reports. Chutkan wrote that the court "holds that the public interest lies in permitting ... the combined will of the legislative and executive branches to study the events that led to and occurred on Jan. 6, and to consider legislation to prevent such events from ever occurring again." This was "an unprecedented attempt to prevent the lawful transfer of power from one administration to the next," Chutkan added, and "for the first time since the election of 1860, the transfer of executive power was distinctly not peaceful." President Biden has said executive privilege should not be used to keep the documents from the House select committee, and White House Counsel Dana Remus argued the material sheds light on "events within the White House on and about Jan. 6 and bear on the select committee's need to understand the facts underlying the most serious attack on the operations of the federal government since the Civil War." In her ruling, Chutkan stated that "presidents are not kings, and plaintiff is not president. He retains the right to assert that his records are privileged, but the incumbent president 'is not constitutionally obliged to honor' that assertion."
11-9-21 Oklahoma Supreme Court throws out $465 million opioid verdict against Johnson & Johnson
The Oklahoma Supreme Court on Tuesday overturned a $465 million judgement against Johnson & Johnson for its role in marketing, selling, and distributing opioids in the state. The 5-1 ruling found that Cleveland County District Judge Thad Balkman and state prosecutors had incorrectly used public nuisance laws to find Johnson & Johnson culpable in 2019. "In reaching this decision, we do not minimize the severity of the harm that thousands of Oklahoma citizens have suffered because of opioids," the Oklahoma Supreme Court majority wrote in its ruling. "However grave the problem of opioid addiction is in Oklahoma, public nuisance law does not provide a remedy for this harm." The lone dissenter said the ruling should have been sent back to the lower court. This is the second blow against the use of public nuisance laws against companies involved in the sale and distribution of opioids; a California judge tentatively ruled last week that several large counties had not proved opioid companies had violated public nuisance laws because they had failed to show that deceptive marketing had increased prescription abuse. Public nuisance laws are being used against opioid companies across the U.S. as states and local governments try to get restitution for an opioid crisis blamed for more than 500,000 deaths in 20 years. Johnson & Johnson praised the Oklahoma ruling while state Attorney General John O'Connor said he was "disappointed" the Supreme Court had voided "a huge victory for Oklahoma citizens and their families who have been ravaged by opioids." He said his office will explore its options. Are these two rulings against opioid flooding as a public nuisance "outlier opinions or are they trendsetters?" Elizabeth Burch, a University of Georgia law professor, told The Washington Post. "I think it's too early to be able to tell right now." There's a lot more opioid litigation on the horizon, she added, so "there's a lot that remains to be seen.
11-9-21 The Republican factions most likely to support a Trump return in 2024
For example, Republicans are internally divided over the role of former President Donald Trump, who they all "heavily backed" in 2020 but can't agree on where he should position himself moving forward. More specifically, majorities in just two of Pew's four designated GOP groups — labeled the "Faith and Flag Conservatives" and the "Populist Right" — want Trump to run again. Faith and Flag Conservatives are described by Pew as "highly religious, politically engaged and both socially and economically conservative;" and 55 percent of them support a Trump 2024 run, after having largely backed him in 2020. Populist Right Republicans, however, are "very conservative on most issues but also look more skeptically at the economic system than other Republican groups, per the Post. Regardless, they are also "firmly in Trump's camp" — 57 percent believe he should take another shot at the White House. The other two GOP groups — classified as the "Ambivalent Right" and "Committed Conservatives" — feel less enthusiastic about Trump. Just 21 percent of the Ambivalent Right would enjoy if the ex-president ran again, and Committed Conservatives are overall "less likely" to want Trump to take centerstage in national politics moving forward. The typology study was mostly based on a Pew American Trends Panel survey of 10,221 adults from July 8-18. Results have a margin of error between 3.9 points and 5.4 points. See more results at The Washington Post.
11-9-21 Covid-19 news: Vaccines set to be mandatory for NHS staff 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. Frontline NHS staff will have to have both doses of vaccine by spring. The UK government is expected to announce mandatory covid-19 vaccinations for frontline National Health Service (NHS) staff in England, with a deadline of next spring for both doses. The Department of Health said it was not commenting on speculation around the timing of the announcement, which the BBC said would be later on Tuesday. However, NHS officials said they expect the move to happen. The measure is expected to affect thousands of unvaccinated staff working in the health service. Care home workers in England have already been told they must be fully vaccinated by this Thursday. According to NHS figures, tens of thousands of care home staff were not recorded as having been double jabbed yet as of 31 October. NHS Providers chief executive Chris Hopson said there are between 80,000 and 100,000 NHS workers in England who are unvaccinated. “If we get it right, actually, it could be quite a useful spur in some senses to drive the take-up up, but the bit that we just need to be careful of is avoiding scapegoating people,” he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme. More than 11,000 people who died of covid-19 in England are thought to have caught the virus in a National Health Service hospital, The Telegraph has reported. The figure was compiled from data collected by NHS trusts using Freedom of Information laws. The trusts also reported over 40,000 probable or definite hospital-acquired covid-19 infections. Some trusts refused to disclose their data, suggesting the true numbers are even higher. France’s public health authority has recommended that people under 30 should be given the Pfizer/BioNTech coronavirus vaccine in preference to the Moderna vaccine, because of a rare side effect. The risk of myocarditis, a heart condition, in this age group is around five times less in people who receive the Pfizer jab than Moderna, the Haute Autorité de Santé said.
11-9-21 Scenes of joy as first visitors arrive in US after 20-month ban
The first foreign travellers have arrived at US airports, eager to reunite with family and loved ones after a 20-month Covid-19 travel ban. The US on Monday reopened its borders to double-jabbed visitors, ending the restrictions imposed by former President Donald Trump in March 2020. The travel limitations have affected non-US citizens from over 30 countries, including the UK and EU, separating families and stalling tourism. A flood of visitors landed on Monday. "It feels good, it feels good!" Jerome Thomann, head of Paris-based travel agency Jetset Voyages told Reuters news agency, saying his team had seen an "incredible upturn" in bookings. Restrictions have been lifted for those who are fully vaccinated, and undergo testing and contact tracing. Two flights from London's Heathrow airport landed in New York City - marking the return of one of the world's busiest flight paths. Travellers arriving at John F Kennedy airport were greeted by applause, balloons and cookies. New York City last month launched an aggressive advertising campaign meant to draw foreign visitors back, in the hopes that a surge of tourism dollars will help revive its economy. The rules barred entry to most non-US citizens who had been in the UK and a number of other European countries, as well as China, India, South Africa, Iran and Brazil. Under the new rules, foreign travellers will need to show proof of vaccination before flying, get a negative Covid-19 test result within three days of travelling, and hand over their contact information. They will not have to quarantine. Alison Henry, a 63-year-old British mother, told AFP news agency: "It's been so hard - I just want to see my son." Ms Henry, from Cheshire, plans to fly to New York on Monday to see her son for the first time in 20 months. The US land borders with neighbours Canada and Mexico will also reopen for the fully vaccinated. Thousands of migrants have arrived in areas along Mexico's border with the US, hoping to take advantage of the newly relaxed rules.
11-9-21 Desperate Afghans turn to people smugglers for help fleeing the country
The evacuation flights out of Afghanistan may have largely stopped, but with international funding largely frozen and a humanitarian crisis escalating, thousands are still desperate to find a way out. The remote town of Zaranj, close to the borders of both Pakistan and Iran, is a major people smuggling hub. Smugglers there told BBC Afghanistan correspondent Secunder Kermani the number of Afghans leaving the country had more than doubled since the Taliban takeover.
11-8-21 Republicans are 3 times more likely than Democrats to believe falsehoods about COVID-19
A shocking number of Americans believe falsehoods about COVID-19 and the coronavirus vaccine, a Kaiser Family Foundation poll has found. Nearly eight in 10, or 78 percent, of those polled said they either believed or were unsure about at least one false statement about COVID-19. The false statements included things like "COVID-19 vaccines have been shown to cause infertility" and "the COVID-19 vaccines contain a microchip." Perhaps unsurprisingly, the poll found a major partisan split in the findings. "Nearly half (46%) of Republicans compared to just 14% of Democrats believe or are unsure about four or more misstatements about COVID-19," writes Kaiser. And 84% of Republicans believe or are unsure whether the government is exaggerating the number of COVID-19 deaths. Only one in five adults surveyed didn't believe any of the eight falsehoods, while nearly half believed or were unsure about one to three of them. Aside from partisan differences, the other biggest gaps were between vaccinated and unvaccinated Americans — "Unvaccinated adults are at least 20 percentage points more likely than vaccinated adults to lack knowledge about each piece of misinformation tested," says Kaiser. Kaiser Family Foundation surveyed 1,519 U.S. adults by phone between October 14-24. The margin of error was 3 percentage points.
11-8-21 Jan. 6 committee subpoenas 6 Trump advisers linked to attempt to overturn election
The House committee investigating the Jan. 6 Capitol riot issued subpoenas on Monday to demand testimony from six advisers to former President Donald Trump. Investigating lawmakers want to hear from three members of the Trump re-election campaign, reports The Washington Post: campaign manager Bill Stepien, senior campaign adviser Jason Miller, and executive campaign assistant Angela McCallum. Also subpoenaed were Trump's former national security adviser Michael Flynn, legal strategist John Eastman, and former New York City police commissioner Bernard Kerik. The six advisers are all of interest as the committee investigates the effort to overturn the 2020 presidential election. Two of those subpoenaed, Eastman and Kerik, appeared at the effort's so-called "command center" for Trump allies at the Willard Hotel in Washington, D.C. in the days before the attack on the Capitol, reports Politico. "The Select Committee needs to know every detail about their efforts to overturn the election, including who they were talking to in the White House and in Congress, what connections they had with rallies that escalated into a riot, and who paid for it all," said committee Chairman Bennie Thompson. The group of advisers have until Nov. 23 to provide the committee with requested documents, and are being asked to appear for testimony between Nov. 30 and Dec. 13. Read more at The Washington Post and Politico.
11-8-21 Capitol riot suspect is applying for asylum in Belarus, state media says
A man who is wanted by the FBI in connection with the Jan. 6 Capitol riot is seeking asylum in Belarus, the country's state media reported on Monday. Evan Neumann, 48, is wanted in the United States on several charges, including violent entry and disorderly conduct on the Capitol grounds and assaulting and resisting law enforcement during civil disorder, The Washington Post reports. On Monday, Belarusian state media released a preview of an interview conducted with Neumann, with the presenter declaring that Neumann "sought justice and asked uncomfortable questions" and "lost almost everything and is being persecuted by the U.S. government." The Post reports that Neumann told state media a lawyer suggested he go to Europe before he could be added to the FBI's Most Wanted List, and after four months in Ukraine, he crossed into Belarus on foot. He also said he doesn't think he committed any crime. Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko, known as "Europe's last dictator," has accused the U.S. of encouraging protesters who marched against Lukashenko last year, accusing him of stealing the presidential election; most of the international community agrees the election was rigged in Lukashenko's favor. Thousands of protesters were arrested and beaten, with some saying they were tortured in prison. Tim O'Connor, spokesman for the U.S. Embassy in Belarus that is based in Lithuania, told the Post in a statement that because of privacy laws, he was limited in what he could say about Neumann.
11-8-21 Red America is now dying from COVID-19 at a clearly higher rate than blue America
By the end of 2020, there was no discernible difference between the rate of people who died of COVID-19 from areas that voted for President Biden and those who voted for former President Donald Trump — but "then the vaccines arrived," and "they proved so powerful, and the partisan attitudes toward them so different, that a gap in COVID's death toll quickly emerged," David Leonhardt writes in Monday's New York Times. And now, "the gap in COVID's death toll between red and blue America has grown faster over the past month than at any previous point." Residents of heavily Trump counties were more than three times likelier to die from COVID in October than those in heavily Biden countries — 25 per 100,000 versus 7.8 per 100,000 — Leonhardt reports. "Some conservative writers have tried to claim that the gap may stem from regional differences in weather or age, but those arguments fall apart under scrutiny." In fact, he argues, the "straightforward" explanation is that "the vaccines are remarkably effective at preventing severe COVID, and almost 40 percent of Republican adults remain unvaccinated, compared with about 10 percent of Democratic adults." So while the pandemic has shifted regions, Leonhardt writes, "COVID deaths have been concentrated in counties outside of major metropolitan areas. Many of these are in red states, while others are in red parts of blue or purple states, like Arizona, Michigan, Nevada, New Mexico, Pennsylvania, Oregon, Virginia, and even California." "This situation is a tragedy, in which irrational fears about vaccine side effects have overwhelmed rational fears about a deadly virus," Leonhardt writes, but the good news is that the partisan gap very well may have peaked, thanks to promising new antiviral COVID-19 medications from Pfizer and Merck and greater natural immunity in hard-hit red America. There are caveats, like that natural immunity appears to be weaker than vaccinated immunity, and that so much about the pandemic is still mysterious. Read more at The New York Times.
11-8-21 Trump, Tanzania, and the deadly toll of pandemic denial
Tanzania's COVID cover-up shows the cost of dimwitted authoritarianism. Former President Donald Trump's performance in fighting the coronavirus pandemic was the worst in the industrialized world. Other leaders were very bad (looking at you, Anders Tegnell) but nobody else in rich countries matched Trump's combination of maliciousness and addle-brained incompetence. But at least one other president did worse: Tanzania's John Magufuli, who refused to admit COVID-19 was a problem, suppressed discussion of the pandemic, and ultimately died of the disease himself, along with many of his top political allies. It's a stark lesson in the deadly cost of denying the pandemic. Just how bad was Magufuli's denial strategy? Joe Parkinson at The Wall Street Journal has a long investigation into the situation stuffed with horrifying stories. Coffin salesmen are seeing a booming trade, and graveyards are overflowing with corpses that hazmat-clad government workers bury in secret at night. Everyone knows thousands and thousands of people are dying of COVID, but nobody is allowed to say it publicly. Magufuli's denial started early. He called the pandemic a "Satanic myth" from Western imperialists and refused to do any kind of lockdown. Political opponents and reporters were threatened with imprisonment for criticizing his strategy. Few Tanzanians were tested for COVID, and the government collected little data on COVID hospitalizations or deaths. The result was a massive explosion of cases that tore through the population. Magufuli responded by recommending quack herbal remedies and building "steam therapy" booths that would supposedly heal the illness. People who discussed the pandemic online were threatened with a $1,800 fine and a year in jail, while opposition news organizations who wouldn't be silent lost their broadcasting licenses. When vaccines were developed, Magufuli claimed they were ineffective and dangerous. It seems he didn't want pandemic news interfering with his alleged plan to rig Tanzania's 2020 elections. Though Magufuli did succeed in arranging another term for himself (and, later, arresting multiple opposition leaders), eventually his behavior caught up with him: "By this spring, the president was dead, along with six other senior politicians and several of the country's generals," Parkinson writes. The government refused to admit it, but it was certainly COVID in every case. It's important to be clear that there is nothing specifically African about all this. It's the classic move dimwitted authoritarians in weak, corrupt states tend to make in response to serious problems: pretend they don't exist and punish people for speaking up. Moreover, every one of Magufuli's instincts was remarkably similar to Trump's. Our former president also repeatedly downplayed the pandemic, promised it would magically vanish, and recommended quack remedies. His idiot carelessness likewise meant he eventually contracted the virus. But Trump didn't have the level of authoritarian power Magufuli held to enforce his deranged will — and Trump's access to the best doctors and therapies in the world saved his life. The distinction here is less about intent than differing societal safeguards and, as a result, differing consequences. (And the reason Tanzania, like much of Africa, can't match U.S. safeguards is the devastating legacy of the European slave trade, colonialism, economic imperialism, and the Cold War, all of which grossly disrupted political communities across the continent.) Tanzania's miserable pandemic record also cuts against arguments that authoritarian systems are better suited to controlling pandemics than democracies. It's true China has done exceptionally well relative to the Western average (though its initial bungling helped loose the virus in the first place), but that's the effect of a strong state with competent administration. Beijing's authoritarianism wasn't the source of its success; its competence was. If an authoritarian regime is incompetent or malevolent, the bottom can be very low indeed.
11-8-21 Will Biden's infrastructure bill save the Democrats?
Why one legislative victory won't be enough to prevent a shellacking in next year's midterm elections. At long last President Biden's bipartisan infrastructure bill has passed. It happened late on Friday night, and it took a few Republicans to get it done, but it got done. The legislation has lots of important goodies in it: More than $1 trillion for roads and bridges, railroads, clean water, broadband, and more. The question now is whether all that stuff will help Democrats the next time voters go to the polls. Biden, at least, hopes so. "They want us to deliver," the president said Saturday. "Last night we proved we can. On one big item, we delivered." Despite the legislative victory, there is still every reason to think Democrats will take a shellacking in next year's midterm elections and lose their majorities in Congress. Last week's win by Republican Glenn Youngkin in the Virginia gubernatorial race probably is a harbinger of things to come, for three reasons: Progressives aren't happy. GOP members had to help the infrastructure bill across the line because members of "The Squad" mostly wouldn't. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) and her progressive colleagues didn't want to pass the bill without also passing the separate "Build Back Better" bill that expands the safety net with new investments in education, childcare, and health care. Some moderate Democrats pledged Friday that a vote is coming soon, but that didn't assuage the skepticism of the progressives. Indeed, Ocasio-Cortez spent Sunday putting a damper on Biden's happy talk about the infrastructure victory. While Biden proclaimed the just-passed bill will help the United States get rid of lead pipes and deliver clean drinking water to "every kid in this country," the congresswoman shot back that the claim isn't quite true: The BBB bill, she said, contains additional money to complete the job of replacing lead pipes. "I want to protect our party from the disappointment and collapse in turnout from communities like mine that occurs when we tell them we did things we didn't do," Ocasio-Cortez wrote on Twitter. "We shouldn't promise all lead pipes will be fixed if that is not the case. Some will, most won't. We must push for BBB." If that bill doesn't get passed — and honestly, who knows at this point? — Dems will head into the midterm elections with a restless base of voters. That probably wouldn't be great. Democrats are losing the "vibes war." The Atlantic's Derek Thompson last week suggested that Youngkin won Virginia in part because voters are grumpy about the economy — even though there are signs the economy is improving. "They lost a vibes war," he wrote of Democrats. "Despite many positive economic trends, Americans are feeling rotten about the state of things — and, understandably, they're blaming the party in power." In fact, Americans are feeling rotten about the state of pretty much everything. In an NBC News poll released last week, just 25 percent of respondents said the country is on the "right track" — worse than 32 percent who felt positive at the same stage of President Obama's first term more than a decade ago. (Democrats got wiped out in those midterms, if you recall.) Most alarmingly for Democrats, voters perceive them as feckless, probably due in part to the endless congressional haggling over Biden's agenda: Voters trust Republicans at "being effective and getting things done" by a 13-point margin. Friday's passage of the infrastructure bill might start to reverse those numbers somewhat. For the moment, however, the numbers — and the vibes — aren't on their side. Good governance doesn't always get rewarded. It's a good thing Democrats led the way in securing new money to repair bridges, roads, and railroads across the land. It's great that rural areas will have a chance to share the advantages of broadband internet that big city residents have long enjoyed. America's infrastructure has been crumbling for a long time; it's a sign of how far our expectations for Congress have fallen that doing what should've been done anyway is a major legislative victory.
11-8-21 The infrastructure bill will pour $15 billion into replacing lead pipes. Newark shows it can be done.
The $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill Congress sent to President Biden's desk Friday night, with more than $550 billion in new spending, is a major investment in America's roads, bridges, airports, electric grid, broadband, and other physical upgrades. But the portion that will perhaps improve lives the most is the $55 billion in water infrastructure, including $15 billion to replace lead pipes. Lead in drinking water is tied to developmental delays in children and brain, kidney, and blood damage. The infrastructure money won't solve every city's water problems. Jackson, Mississippi, for example, says it needs $1 billion to fix its dilapidated water and sewage systems, but Mississippi will get $459 million to spend on water improvements across the state. The leaders of Jackson, which is 82 percent Black, say they already have plans drawn up to fix their water infrastructure — but they're not optimistic the Republicans who run the state will parcel out an equitable portion for their city, The Washington Post reports. "Anyone who thinks Mississippi will change the very consistent practice of not investing in Black people, they're delusional," Andre Perry at the Brookings Institution tells the Post. "Although the problems with Jackson's water supply are extreme, they are not unique," the Post adds. "Cities such as Newark, Detroit, and Philadelphia — to name just a few — have experienced diminished water quality and reliability as their systems age." But Newark is ahead of schedule to replace all its lead-lined water pipes with copper, The Associated Press reports. Under pressure from residents and sued by the Natural Resources Defense Council, Newark began replacing its 20,000 lead water service lines in 2019, AP reports. "Less than three years after the work began, the replacement project, initially projected to take up to 10 years, is nearly complete." Newark's success is attributable to an influx of state and local money, changes to state law and city ordinances that allow renters to admit workers into their buildings, and legal and political pressures. The city also says it sped up the job by training 75 unemployed and underemployed residents to work on the line replacement. The stars appear to have aligned in Newark while the state may prevent adequate federal investments in Jackson's water systems. But the stakes are high to get this done: the NRDC estimates the U.S. has as many as 12 million lead service lines that need replacing.
11-8-21 John Oliver explains the U.S. power grid and the challenge of upgrading it for America's electric future
"Electricity is such an integral part of modern life it is hard to believe that we used to have to sell people on the idea of electric appliances," John Oliver said on Sunday's Last Week Tonight, showing a TV ad from 1959. "Specifically tonight we're going to talk about the power grid, the system of generators that produce electricity and the vast latticework of wires that get it to our homes. The grid is probably something that you probably don't think much about until it goes down — which, unfortunately, has been happening more and more in recent years." "While things are bad now, they could get a lot worse in the future, because the U.S. has a goal of net-zero carbon emissions by 2050 — which we absolutely must meet," Oliver said. "But one study estimates that's going to require a 40-60 percent in peak electricity consumption," with the shift to electric cars and heating, and "all that electricity is going to have to come from somewhere." The U.S. power grids — 600,000 miles of transmission lines and 5.5 million miles of local distribution lines — have been called the "supreme engineering achievement of the 20th century," Oliver said. But most power lines are long past their 50-year life expectancies, and climate change has made them more vulnerable. Upgrading the grid will require lots of little changes, but "our shift to renewable energy is going to require a fundamental shift in what our grid looks like," Oliver said. You can build coal plants near large coastal cities, but most wind farms will need to be in middle America, and it may be an "uphill battle" to convince "a Midwestern farmer 'We need to build something in your backyard so someone in California can power their electric car.'" Luckily, "the physical generation of renewable energy isn't really the problem here," he said. "The key issue is the transmission of it." And there are fixes for that, too, though not easy or cheap ones. "For far too long, whenever we've experience blackouts, we've tended to think of it as the power grid failing," Oliver said, "but the truth is, it's not failing us — we are failing it by asking it to do something it was not designed to do in conditions that it was not designed to handle." He ended his show with a bang, then a slight whimper.
11-8-21 US reopens borders to vaccinated travellers after 20 months
The US has reopened its borders to double-jabbed foreign visitors, ending a 20-month entry ban. The ban was imposed by former President Donald Trump due to Covid-19. It has affected non-US citizens from over 30 countries, including the UK and EU states, separating families and stalling tourism. Airlines are expecting a flood of visitors as the restrictions are lifted for those who are fully vaccinated, and undergo testing and contact tracing. "It feels good, it feels good!" Jerome Thomann, head of Paris-based travel agency Jetset Voyages told Reuters news agency, saying his team had seen an "incredible upturn" in bookings. In an effort to stop the spread of coronavirus, US borders were initially closed to travellers from China in early 2020. The restrictions were then extended to other countries. The rules barred entry to most non-US citizens who had been in the UK and a number of other European countries, as well as China, India, South Africa, Iran and Brazil. Under the new rules, foreign travellers will need to show proof of vaccination before flying, get a negative Covid-19 test result within three days of travelling, and hand over their contact information. They will not have to quarantine. Alison Henry, a 63-year-old British mother, told AFP news agency: "It's been so hard - I just want to see my son." Ms Henry, from Cheshire, plans to fly to New York on Monday to see her son for the first time in 20 months. The US land borders with neighbours Canada and Mexico will also reopen for the fully vaccinated. Thousands of migrants have arrived in areas along Mexico's border with the US, hoping to take advantage of the newly-relaxed rules. In southern Mexico, a new caravan of thousands of mainly Central American migrants - many of them children - has crossed from Chiapas to Oaxaca state, with the ultimate aim of reaching the border and being accepted into the US. The Migrant Alliance Group, a Mexico-based advocacy group, has warned that false information is being spread about the new rules in some communities - with many asylum seekers assuming that they will now receive more favourable treatment from border officials.
11-8-21 U.S. opens its borders to fully vaccinated visitors from Mexico, Canada, 31 other countries
The U.S. on Monday lifted travel restrictions on visitors from 33 countries, including Canada, Mexico, and European nations, for the first time since the early days of the coronavirus pandemic. All travelers will have to show proof they have been fully inoculated with one of the COVID-19 vaccines approved by U.S. regulators or the World Health Organization, and visitors from everywhere but Canada and Mexico will have show a negative coronavirus test to enter. The U.S. travel and tourism industries were eagerly bracing for a deluge of travelers, and foreign nationals who have not seen loved ones in the U.S. for nearly 20 months were excited about the lifted travel ban, but people from green-lighted countries who were vaccinated with one of the shots not approved by the U.S. or WHO — namely Russia's Sputnik V and China's CanSino — were scrambling to get a Pfizer or Moderna booster. This is less of an issue in Canada, where the WHO-approved AstraZeneca vaccine was widely used, than in Mexico, which ordered nearly 20 million doses of Sputnik V and 12 million of CanSino. "They screwed those of us who got this vaccine," Mexico City resident and Sputnik V recipient Rosenda Ruiz, 52, told The Associated Press. "There are lots of Mexicans who want to travel, but we can't. I am thinking of getting whatever other vaccine I can get." Hungary also inoculated 1 million citizens with Sputnik V, as did, to a lesser extent, Slovakia. The WHO last week called Europe an "epicenter of the pandemic," especially in areas of Central and Eastern Europe where there are low vaccination rates.
11-8-21 How will the US deal with a shortage of 80,000 truckers?
In the car park of an abandoned shopping centre in Long Island, New York, instructors at Sunny Truck Driving School put students through their paces. They are training a new generation of lorry drivers, more commonly called truck drivers in the US, to help fill the gaps in a nationwide driver shortage - a situation that is adding to the country's supply chain problems. This shortage of drivers is not new, but an increase in freight demand as the US economy reopened after lockdowns, waves of baby boomer retirements and the pandemic have made it worse. The American Trucking Associations (ATA) estimates that the US is short 80,000 truckers - an all time high for the industry. And if nothing changes, the shortfall could reach 160,000 over the next decade. The lack of drivers has made it hard to get products from ports to shop shelves and is driving up prices for a wide variety of products ahead of the winter holidays. Since images of stranded shipping containers on the US West Coast emerged, the Long Island driving school - that's been around for more than 25 years - has seen the number of interested applicants who want to train as truck drivers grow. "That has attracted people who weren't looking into this industry before," says the school's operations manager Tejbir Batth. Waiting times to join its commercial driver's licence courses have tripled - rising from four to 12 weeks. To keep up with demand, the school recently bought three new tractor trailers and has doubled its staff. "It's a very good problem to have in a business, to grow and grow as fast as you can," he says. New incentives and a change in circumstances due to the pandemic are enticing people in to train as truck drivers who perhaps weren't interested in the industry before. "I see a lot of folks coming from, you know, grocery stores, from gas stations or even from city cabs," says Mr Batth. When New York City shut down at the start of the pandemic, many taxi and ride-hailing drivers were suddenly left with no work. Some are now moving into trucking, like Muhammad Sohail who is taking classes at Sunny Truck Driving School to obtain his Class A commercial driver's licence.
11-8-21 Afghans facing 'hell on earth' as winter looms
This is a country which is starting to feel the very real fear of hunger. The weather is turning from early autumn warmth to a sharp chill. Several areas are reporting drought, which adds to the sense of growing catastrophe. At Maidan Wardak, 50 miles west of Kabul, a crowd of several hundred men had gathered in the hope of getting flour from an official distribution point. The flour was provided by the World Food Programme. Taliban soldiers kept the crowd reasonably quiet, but people who were told they weren't eligible for a hand-out were angry and frightened. "The winter is nearly here," said one old man. "I don't know how I'll get through it if I can't make bread." The WFP is faced with having to raise its supplies to Afghanistan to help more than 22 million people. If the weather is as bad as experts are predicting this winter, the expectation is that large numbers will be threatened with acute hunger and widespread famine. I spoke to the executive director of the WFP, David Beasley, when he paid a visit to Kabul on Sunday. His analysis of the situation was alarming. "It is as bad as you possibly can imagine," said Mr Beasley. "In fact, we're now looking at the worst humanitarian crisis on Earth. "Ninety-five percent of the people don't have enough food, and now we're looking at 23 million people marching towards starvation," he added. "The next six months are going to be catastrophic. It is going to be hell on Earth." Before the Taliban took power in Afghanistan in August, there was confidence that the government of President Ashraf Ghani would be able to cope with the threat of a bad winter, given the help of the international community. That help evaporated when Mr Ghani's government collapsed. Western countries have cut off their aid to the country, since they don't want to be seen to help a regime which bars girls from education and is in favour of reintroducing the full range of sharia punishments. But will those countries just stand by now and allow millions of innocent people to face acute hunger? Mr Beasley challenges the governments and the billionaires of the developed world to face up to the urgent need for help.
11-8-21 Covid-19 news: Get booster to avoid Christmas restrictions, says Javid
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. Eligible people who do not take up boosters could face travel restrictions. More than 10 million people have had covid-19 booster vaccines or third doses in the UK, as politicians urged others who are eligible to get their jabs. People over 50 and those most at risk from covid-19 are among those eligible for a covid vaccine booster shot. From today, the NHS booking system will allow people to book a booster appointment five months after their second dose. The latest figures show that 10,062,704 people in the UK have received a booster or third dose, with 409,663 receiving one on Saturday. But about 30 per cent of over-80s and 40 per cent of over-50s in England are yet to receive a booster, the Department of Health and Social Care said. Deaths from covid-19 are increasingly occurring in vaccinated people, because of immunity waning over time, said Susan Hopkins, chief medical adviser at the UK Health Security Agency. “It is particularly the older age groups, so the over-70s in particular, but also those who are clinically vulnerable, extremely vulnerable, and have underlying medical conditions,” she said. The UK will begin rolling out the covid-19 antiviral drug molnupiravir in a clinical trial later this month, Susan Hopkins at the UK Health Security Agency has said. Molnupiravir, developed by Merck and Ridgeback Biotherapeutics, was approved by the UK medicines regulator last week. Trials have shown that it halves the risk of unvaccinated people needing hospital treatment or dying, and further trials are needed to see how it works in the vaccinated population, Hopkins said. Restrictions on travelling to the US from 33 countries have been lifted today. The ban, covering the UK, much of Europe, China and India, has been in place since early 2020. Proof of vaccination and a recent negative covid-19 test are now required to enter the US.
11-8-21 How to choose a COVID-19 vaccine booster shot
Evidence and expert opinion help one staff writer vaccine decide which dose to get next. It’s been a little over six months since I got my second dose of the COVID-19 vaccine from Pfizer and its German partner BioNTech, and a phone call from my state health department over the weekend reminded me that I am eligible for a booster. But do I really need to get a third COVID-19 shot? If so, which of the three authorized or approved vaccines available in the United States should I get? To make my decision, I looked at the evidence and talked to some experts. What I found out could be useful to anyone deciding on a booster. Let’s start with Johnson & Johnson. Everyone who got that shot as their initial vaccine is recommended to get a booster, U.S. health officials and experts say (SN: 10/19/21). That’s because the antibody response from that one-dose vaccine isn’t as high as for the two-dose mRNA vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna, and it is waning. “It doesn’t go away entirely,” says Sachin Nagrani, medical director of Heal, a company that provides primary health care in people’s homes via telehealth visits and house calls. But a few months after the J&J shot, “it seems like your immune response is less protective.” There are few studies on J&J boosters, but the AstraZeneca vaccine, which is built on similar technology but not available in the United States, could provide some clues (SN: 11/23/20; SN: 2/27/21). Both vaccines use adenoviruses to deliver DNA instructions for building the coronavirus’s spike protein to cells. Studies show combining AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine with a boost from the Pfizer shot (or sometimes Moderna) was more effective than getting another dose of AstraZeneca. For instance, in Sweden, a double dose of AstraZeneca was about 50 percent effective at preventing symptomatic illness. But AstraZeneca followed by Pfizer was 67 percent effective and AstraZeneca boosted with Moderna was 79 effective, researchers reported October 18 in the Lancet Regional Health – Europe.
11-7-21 Surgeon general defends Biden's vaccine mandate: 'Appropriate and necessary'
Surgeon General Vivek Murthy defended the Biden administration's "necessary" vaccine mandate for employers on Sunday after an appeals court temporarily put it on hold. Murthy spoke with ABC News after a federal appeals court temporarily halted President Biden's mandate that companies with 100 or more employees beginning on Jan. 4 require workers get vaccinated or be tested for COVID-19 weekly. "The president and the administration wouldn't have put these requirements in place if they didn't think that they were appropriate and necessary, and the administration is certainly prepared to defend them," Murthy said on ABC's This Week. The United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit on Saturday cited "grave statutory and constitutional" issues while temporarily pausing the vaccine mandate, which is facing legal challenges from numerous states, Reuters reports. Solicitor of Labor Seema Nanda in response said the Labor Department is "confident in its legal authority" and is "fully prepared" to defend the requirement in court. On ABC, Murthy argued COVID-19 vaccine requirements of this kind "make so much sense" because taking "every measure possible to make our workplaces safe" is both "good for people's health" and "good for the economy." To those who argue the mandate will harm the economy, Murthy responded that "what's really hurting the economy is actually COVID itself," pointing to disruptions caused by workers getting sick with COVID-19 or having to quarantine due to exposure to the coronavirus. When asked if the Biden administration could extend the vaccine mandate to smaller companies, assuming it survives the current legal challenges, Murthy said "nothing is off the table at this moment," though the administration's focus for now remains on "implementing the current rule."
11-7-21 Biden: Infrastructure bill is 'monumental step forward'
President Joe Biden has hailed the passage of his landmark $1tn (£741bn) infrastructure spending package as a "monumental step forward". Negotiations over the sweeping public works bill - which passed the House of Representatives with 228-206 vote - created a bitter split among Democrats. "Finally, infrastructure week," Mr Biden told reporters. "I'm so happy to say that: infrastructure week." A more ambitious social spending bill favoured by liberals was put on hold. The infrastructure package now heads to Mr Biden's desk to be signed into law. Billed as a "once-in-a-generation" spending measure, the infrastructure legislation proposes $550bn in new federal expenditure, over the next eight years, to upgrade highways, roads and bridges, and to modernise city transit systems and passenger rail networks. The agreement also sets aside funding for clean drinking water, high speed internet, and a nationwide network of electric vehicle charging points. It is the largest federal investment in the country's infrastructure for decades and is seen as a major domestic win for the US president. "We took a monumental step forward as a nation", Mr Biden told reporters. "We did something that's long overdue... a once-in-a-generation investment that's going to create millions of jobs modernising infrastructure, our roads, our bridges, our broadband, all range of things". It will be financed in several ways, including unspent emergency relief funds from the Covid pandemic. Its passage marks a huge achievement for the Biden administration amid low approval ratings and a defeat for the Democrats in Virginia's gubernatorial election this week. Three months ago, 19 Republicans joined with Democrats to approve the legislation in the evenly split Senate, a rare bipartisan feat in an increasingly divided Congress. On Friday the bill passed the House with support from 13 Republicans, too. But more liberal lawmakers balked at its final version, complaining that key liberal policies had been dropped in exchange for the bipartisan win.
11-7-21 US court blocks Biden's vaccine mandate for companies
A US appeals court has temporarily blocked President Joe Biden's plans for a vaccine mandate for businesses. The law would require workers at private companies with more than 100 employees to get fully vaccinated against Covid-19 or be tested weekly. But the court found "grave statutory and constitutional" issues with the rule, set to be introduced in January. It said it was suspending the mandate and gave the Biden administration until Monday to respond. Five Republican-led states - Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina and Utah - as well as private companies and religious groups, had filed legal challenges against the mandate. They accused the president of overstepping his authority. Louisiana's Attorney General Jeff Landry tweeted that the court's decision was a "major win for the liberty of job creators and their employees". If enforced, the ruling by the the fifth US circuit court of appeals would be a blow to the Biden administration's sweeping measures to extend vaccination. Mr Biden says the mandate, which would cover more than two-thirds of the nation's workers, would set a national standard of safety at work. On Thursday, the president said employees at large companies would have to be fully vaccinated by 4 January, calling vaccination "the single best pathway out of this pandemic". Many businesses in the US already require their employees to be vaccinated. There are also requirements for military and federal contractors. But opponents say it is not constitutional for a president to impose such a sweeping nationwide rule. Republican Texas Governor Greg Abbott, who has opposed government mandates on vaccines and masks, applauded the court's decision. "We will have our day in court to strike down Biden's unconstitutional abuse of authority," he said. But Labor Department solicitor Seema Nanda said it was "confident in its legal authority" to issue the rule. "We are fully prepared to defend this standard in court," she said.
11-7-21 Astroworld: Criminal investigation into Texas festival crowd surge
Police in Houston, Texas, have opened a criminal investigation into the deaths at the Astroworld festival on Friday. At least eight people died and scores of people were hurt after a crowd surge on the opening night of the music event in Houston, Texas. The victims were aged between 14 and 27. The identities of some of them are expected to be released on Sunday. Police are also investigating reports that somebody in the audience had been injecting people with drugs. The incident began around 21:15 on Friday (02:15 GMT Saturday) when panic broke out as the crowd began to press towards the front of the stage during the rapper Travis Scott's headline set. As the crush began causing injuries to people, panic grew and the casualties quickly overwhelmed the on-site first aiders, officials said. Some 300 people were treated for injuries such as cuts and bruises. The police investigation into the tragedy will involve the homicide and narcotics divisions, and will review video from the scene to explore the causes of the surge and what had prevented people from being able to escape. Several concert goers had to be revived with the anti-drug overdose medicine, including a security officer who police said appeared to have an injection mark. "We do have a report of a security officer... that he was reaching over to restrain or grab a citizen and he felt a prick in his neck," Houston Police Chief Troy Finner said. "When he was examined he went unconscious," he added. "He was revived and the medical staff did notice a prick that was similar to a prick that you would get if somebody is trying to inject." In his first statement since the event on Twitter, Travis Scott thanked the police and emergency services and said he was "committed to working together with the Houston community to heal and support the families in need". Later he posted a video message on Instagram, in which he encouraged anyone with information about the incident to contact the authorities.
11-7-21 Criminal investigation ongoing after deaths at Astroworld music festival
After at least eight people were killed and dozens injured in a crowd surge at the Astroworld music festival in Houston on Friday, a criminal investigation is ongoing. Houston Police Chief Troy Finner said during a news conference that officials are working to "get down to the bottom of" what happened at the music festival, and "this is now a criminal investigation that's going to involve our homicide division, as well as narcotics," The Washington Post reports. The investigation is expected to last "quite some time," Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner (D) said. Houston Fire Chief Samuel Peña previously said "scores" of people were injured at the festival after a crowd "began to compress towards the front of the stage," causing "panic," while rapper Travis Scott was performing. An investigation will examine "what caused, one, the issue of the crowd surge, and two, what prevented people from being able to escape that situation," Peña said, per CNN. According to the Post, officials are also reviewing reports that an officer might have been drugged, with Finner saying this officer "felt a prick in his neck" before he "went unconscious." Judge Lina Hidalgo said it "may well be that this tragedy is the result of unpredictable events, of circumstances coming together that couldn't possibly have been avoided," per The Associated Press. But Hidalgo vowed that "until we determine that, I will ask the tough questions." Scott spoke out on Saturday and said his "prayers go out to the families and all those impacted by what happened," adding the Houston Police Department "has my total support as they continue to look into the tragic loss of life."
11-7-21 Harvey Milk: US Navy launches ship named for gay rights leader
The US Navy has launched a ship named after a gay rights activist forced to resign from the service because of his sexuality in the 1950s. The USNS Harvey Milk was launched in San Diego on Saturday in a service attended by Navy Secretary Carlos Del Toro and Milk's nephew, Stuart. It is one of six new ships to be named after famed US civil rights leaders. Others include former Chief Justice Earl Warren and slain presidential candidate Robert Kennedy. Milk served as a diving officer and Lieutenant aboard the submarine rescue ship USS Kittiwake during the Korean War. But he was forced out of the service following two weeks of interrogation about his sexuality in 1955. He later became one of America's first openly gay politicians, elected in 1977 to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors. But a year later he was shot and killed by Dan White, a former city supervisor with whom he had frequently clashed. Speaking at the ceremony, Secretary Del Toro said that it had been wrong that Milk had been forced to "mask that very important part of his life" during his time in the Navy. "For far too long, sailors like Lt. Milk were forced into the shadows or, worse yet, forced out of our beloved Navy," Del Toro said. "That injustice is part of our Navy history, but so is the perseverance of all who continue to serve in the face of injustice." When the Obama administration first announced its intention to name a ship after Milk in 2016 some expressed opposition to the move. They suggested that Milk would have disapproved of lending his name to a Navy ship given his well known opposition to the Vietnam War.
11-6-21 Biden hails bipartisan infrastructure package as 'once-in-a-generation' investment
President Biden on Saturday praised the passage of a bipartisan $1.2 trillion infrastructure package, saying he doesn't "think it's an exaggeration to suggest that we took a monumental step forward as a nation.". The bill cleared the Senate in August, and on Friday night, the House passed it as well with a 228-206 vote; 13 Republicans, mostly moderates, joined nearly all the Democrats in voting for it. The measure delivers on one of Biden's campaign promises to upgrade infrastructure in the United States, and will fund improvements to roads, bridges, passenger and freight rail, water systems, and the power grid in all 50 states. This is a "once-in-a-generation" investment, Biden said, and "for all of you at home who feel left behind and forgotten in an economy that's changing so rapidly — this bill is for you. The vast majority of the thousands of jobs that will be created do not require a college degree. This is a blue collar blueprint to rebuild America, and it's long overdue." The package provides the most significant investment in American bridges and roads in 70 years, passenger rail in 50 years, and public transit ever, Biden said, and a formal signing ceremony will be held "soon," as he wants to make sure the lawmakers who worked on the legislation can attend. Biden said he's ready to see the progress that will be made, and has "enormous faith in the ingenuity and in the integrity of the American people."
11-6-21 Ahmaud Arbery murder trial: Prosecutors reveal full footage of black jogger's death
Georgia prosecutors have shown the full footage of the fatal shooting of a black jogger at the trial of three white men accused of his murder. The prosecutors argued 25-year-old Ahmaud Arbery was attacked by men who pursued him because of racial bias. On the opening day of arguments, the court was also shown video from the first police officer on the scene. Defendants Gregory and Travis McMichael and William Bryan deny all charges and have said they acted in self-defence. Mr Arbery was shot and killed during the confrontation with the McMichaels on 23 February 2020. The case erupted into public view after footage of Mr Arbery's final moments surfaced online months later. Mr McMichael, 65, his son Travis, 35, and neighbour Mr Bryan, 52, who filmed the incident, say they pursued Mr Arbery in order to make a citizen's arrest - allowed at the time under Georgia law. They say they suspected he had stolen from a nearby construction site. The McMichaels have also said they acted in self defence, accusing Mr Arbery of attacking Travis when they tried to stop him. In her opening statement, lead prosecutor Linda Dunikoski told the jury: "All three of these defendants did everything they did based on assumptions - not on facts, not on evidence." Ms Dunikoski showed an extended version of the mobile phone footage taken by Mr Bryan. "Mr Arbery was under attack by strangers with the intent to kill him," she said. "The only thing Mr Arbery did was run away." "They didn't simply follow Mr Arbery. All three 'trapped him like a rat' with their two pickup trucks," said Ms Dunikoski, using the elder Mr McMichael's own words. She added that Mr Bryan tried to hit the jogger four times with his car, getting so close that Mr Arbery's palm prints and T-shirt fibres were later visible on the vehicle. "No-one said 'I'm making a citizen's arrest today'," she told the jury. The first witness called by prosecutors to testify was Glynn County police officer William Duggan, who described the bloody scene before his bodycam footage was shown to jurors. (Webmasters Comment: They all should be convicted of murder and executed!)
11-6-21 US lawmakers approve $1tn in infrastructure spending
The US Congress has passed a landmark $1tn (£741bn) infrastructure spending package, delivering a major domestic win to President Joe Biden. Negotiations over the sweeping public works bill - which passed the House of Representatives with 228-206 vote - created a bitter split among Democrats. Meanwhile the House is moving forward with a more ambitious social spending bill favoured by liberal lawmakers. The infrastructure package now heads to Mr Biden's desk to be signed into law. Billed as a "once-in-a-generation" spending measure, the infrastructure legislation proposes $550bn in new federal expenditure, over the next eight years, to upgrade highways, roads and bridges, and to modernise city transit systems and passenger rail networks. The agreement also sets aside funding for clean drinking water, high speed internet, and a nationwide network of electric vehicle charging points. It is the largest federal investment in the country's infrastructure for decades. "Tonight, we took a monumental step forward as a nation," Mr Biden said in a statement. "Generations from now, people will look back and know this is when America won the economic competition for the 21st Century." It will be financed in several ways, including unspent emergency relief funds from the Covid pandemic. Its passage marks a huge achievement for the Biden administration amid low approval ratings and a defeat for the Democrats in Virginia's gubernatorial election this week. Three months ago, 19 Republicans joined with Democrats to approve the legislation in the evenly split Senate, a rare bipartisan feat in an increasingly divided Congress. On Friday the bill passed the House with support from 13 Republicans, too. But more liberal lawmakers balked at its final version, complaining that key liberal policies had been dropped in exchange for the bipartisan win. Six Democrats voted against it, including Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York and Ilhan Omar of Minnesota. The group of six - dubbed The Squad - are among the most left-wing and progressive members of the House.
11-5-21 House passes bipartisan infrastructure bill with 13 GOP votes, sends it to Biden's desk
The House late Friday night approved the bipartisan infrastructure bill that was approved by the Senate in August. The final vote, 228 to 206, came at the end of another day of Capitol Hill drama. In the end, 13 Republicans voted yes on the bill and six Democrats voted no. House progressives had held up the bill to get Senate and House centrists to move on the other half of President Biden's domestic agenda, the Build Back Better bill. The infrastructure bill finally made it to the floor after Congressional Progressive Caucus chairwoman Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) and centrist leader Josh Gottheimer (D-N.J.) struck an agreement to pass the Build Back Better bill no later than Nov. 15, probably, and send it to an uncertain fate in the Senate. Drama aside, the infrastructure bill finally heads to Biden's desk, with lots of money for roads, bridges, rail, broadband, electric vehicle charging stations, and other physical infrastructure spending. So yes, infrastructure week is finally over.
11-5-21 Covid-19 news: Antiviral drugs cut serious illness risk by nearly 90%
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. First antiviral approved for use by vulnerable people at home. A new antiviral therapy cuts the risk of being hospitalised or dying from covid-19 by nearly 90 per cent. The treatment, called Paxlovid, is given twice daily for five days to people outside of hospital who are at risk of severe illness. Paxlovid, made by US firm Pfizer, is a combination of two drugs; a compound currently called PF-07321332, which blocks activity of an enzyme that the coronavirus needs to replicate. The second drug is called ritonavir; developed as a treatment for HIV, it helps slow the breakdown of PF-07321332. In a placebo-controlled trial of 1219 people from all over the world, 0.8 per cent of people who received Paxlovid within three days of a positive covid-19 test required hospital treatment, compared with 7 per cent of people who received a placebo. The equivalent figures were 1 and 6.7 per cent for those who got treatment within five days. The results have not yet been fully published, but were announced today in a press release from Pfizer. Opening windows for ten minutes every hour will help reduce the risk of catching the coronavirus indoors, people in England are being told in a public information campaign launching today. The key message of the campaign, running on radio stations and in the press, is to “Stop coronavirus hanging around”, by improving ventilation. Europe is once again at the “epicentre” of the covid-19 pandemic, thanks to countries relaxing prevention measures and uneven vaccine coverage, the World Health Organization has said. Hans Kluge, the WHO’s Europe director, said yesterday that all European countries were either facing “a real threat of covid-19 resurgence or already fighting it”.
11-5-21 Covid: Pfizer says antiviral pill 89% effective in high-risk cases
An experimental pill to treat Covid developed by the US company Pfizer cuts the risk of hospitalisation or death by 89% in vulnerable adults, clinical trial results suggest. The drug - Paxlovid - is intended for use soon after symptoms develop in people at high risk of severe disease. It comes a day after the UK medicines regulator approved a similar treatment from Merck Sharp and Dohme (MSD). Pfizer says it stopped trials early as the initial results were so positive. The UK has already ordered 250,000 courses of the new Pfizer treatment, along with another 480,000 courses of MSD's molnupiravir pill. Health and Social Care Secretary Sajid Javid called the results "incredible", and said the UK's medicines regulator would now assess its safety and effectiveness. "If approved, this could be another significant weapon in our armoury to fight the virus alongside our vaccines and other treatments," he said. The Pfizer drug, known as a protease inhibitor, is designed to block an enzyme the virus needs in order to multiply. When taken alongside a low dose of another antiviral pill called ritonavir, it stays in the body for longer. Three pills are taken twice a day for five days. The combination treatment works slightly differently to the Merck pill, which introduces errors into the genetic code of the virus. Pfizer said it plans to submit interim trial results for its pill to US medicines regulator the FDA as part of the emergency use application it started last month. The company's chairman and chief executive Albert Bourla said the pill had "the potential to save patients' lives, reduce the severity of Covid-19 infections, and eliminate up to nine out of 10 hospitalisations". Vaccines against Covid-19 are seen as the best way of controlling the pandemic but there is also demand for treatments that can be taken at home, particularly for vulnerable people who become infected.
11-5-21 Pfizer says effectiveness of COVID antiviral pill is 'beyond our wildest dreams'
A pill to treat COVID-19 from Pfizer significantly cut the risk of hospitalization and death in a clinical trial, the company has announced. Pfizer said Friday its pill to treat COVID-19, Paxlovid, in a clinical trial was shown to reduce the risk of hospitalization or death by 89 percent when it was given within three days of the onset of symptoms, The New York Times reports. The trial consisted of participants "who are at high risk of progressing to severe illness," Pfizer said, and there were no deaths among the group treated with Paxlovid compared to 10 deaths in the placebo group, per ABC News. Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla described the news as a "real game-changer," adding the data suggests the pill "has the potential to save patients' lives, reduce the severity of COVID-19 infections, and eliminate up to nine out of ten hospitalizations." Pfizer executive Annaliesa Anderson also told The New York Times the "results are really beyond our wildest dreams." At the same time, Nahid Bhadelia, founding director of the Center for Emerging Infectious Diseases Policy & Research, noted to Stat News, "The promise of oral antivirals will only be recognized if they're available at your local pharmacy, and you can afford it, and you can get the test that tells you that you're positive for COVID, so you can actually take advantage of this drug. So, the promise is there, but the rest of the pieces need to come together." The news comes one day after Britain on Thursday became the first country to authorize an oral antiviral pill to treat COVID-19 from Merck. Merck has applied for FDA authorization in the U.S., which could come this year, according to ABC News. Pfizer said Friday it will submit its data to the Food and Drug Administration "as soon as possible," and Bourla told CNBC the company will likely do so before Thanksgiving.
11-5-21 US sees sharp jobs growth and higher wages
US employers hired more new workers in October than expected, after a slowdown in the summer. Firms added 531,000 jobs and the unemployment rate fell slightly to 4.6%, official figures showed. Hiring figures for September were also revised upwards. The spread of the Delta variant and slower growth had suppressed hiring over the summer, along with an apparent reluctance from parts of the workforce to return to work. That has left many employers scrambling for staff and struggling to meet growing demand. Many are raising wages to attract and retain staff and the Labor Department said year-on-year average wages had risen 4.9%. Revised data for September showed that many more jobs were created that month, 312,000, than the 197,000 initially reported. Figures for August were also revised upwards from 366,000 to 483,000. Taken together the data shows a strong upward trend, although jobs growth is still below the rates seen in the first half of the year. Analysts welcomed the report as a strong indication of post-pandemic recovery. "It shows that we're seeing the jobs market healing to the point where we could expect even larger gains next month as more people return to the labour force," said Peter Cardillo, chief market economist at Spartan Capital Securities in New York. However the participation rate, which shows what proportion of potential workers are in jobs or looking for one, remained flat, suggesting not everyone is ready for a return to normal. "The participation rate idled at 61.6% which is consistent with people being hesitant about returning to the workforce," Joe Manimbo, senior market analyst at Western Union Business Solutions in Washington said. "The market wants to see people come off the sidelines and return to the labour force." Fear of Covid infection, childcare challenges, relocations and other lifestyle changes have kept some people out of the labour market. With government support coming to an end, children back in school and savings made during the pandemic running down economists expect more people to return to work.
11-5-21 Why the latest jobs report should calm fears of stagflation
The U.S. Labor Department on Friday released some stellar new jobs numbers, reporting that the U.S. economy added 531,000 gigs in October as unemployment fell to 4.6 percent. Such above-expectations results, argues Neil Irwin for The New York Times, "take the 'stag' out of the stagflation scare." Despite the country's protracted reopening amid Delta variant-driven chaos, Friday's numbers "present a straightforward, sunny story" — Americans are heading back to work, and fast. Even if its not the "off-the-charts job growth" some would expect, it's certainly not giving way to a period of "stagflation," Irwin argues, or a time when stagnant growth meets higher prices. "Stagnant economies don't add 531,000 jobs in a month, and they don't exhibit a low and rapidly falling unemployment rate," he writes. The pandemic's "hyper-speed recovery" and the resulting numbers show that, "for all the discussion of labor shortages," employers keep managing to find workers. And though businesses are surely paying more for these employees, the findings "undermine any narrative that the pandemic has caused large masses of people to leave the workforce permanently, whether due to government stimulus benefits or personal factors." There is still an inflation problem causing "real pain, especially for people whose wages have not kept up with rising prices," Irwin writes. But 2020's rebound is not the same as the "glacial recovery" of the 2010s, where workers returned to work far too slowly. Instead, the data highlights what Irwin says is a "one sided economic problem" — "high inflation and its attendant problems" — not a double-sided issue where "high inflation and stagnant growth are both causing people pain."
11-5-21 Inflation: Global food prices hit fresh 10-year high, UN says
Global food prices have hit the highest level in over a decade after rising by more than 30% in the last year, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) says. The agency's figures highlighted the soaring cost of cereals and vegetable oils around the world. Vegetable oil prices hit a record high after rising by almost 10% in October. Disruptions to supplies, high commodity prices, factory closures and political tensions are helping to push up prices. The FAO said its measure of cereal prices was up by more than 22% compared to a year earlier. The price of wheat was one of the major contributors to this rise, up almost 40% in the last 12 months after major exporters - such as Canada, Russia and the US - had poor harvests. "In the case of cereals, we're facing a situation where one could say it's climate change which is ultimately causing falling production," Peter Batt, an agribusiness expert at Curtin Business School told the BBC. "We've had pretty bad years [of harvests] in a lot of places." The FAO said its index of vegetable oil prices was pushed up by rises in the cost of palm, soy, sunflower and rapeseed oils. In the case of palm oil, prices have been driven higher after output from Malaysia was "subdued" due to ongoing shortages of migrant workers, the FAO said. Labour shortages are helping to push up the cost of production and transportation of food in other parts of the world too. Mr Batt said: "The other problem that has emerged is getting the product out. For example, here in Australia we've had a lot of ships arrive to take the food away but we can't get crew to come in because of Covid." Shipping disruptions are also pushing up milk prices, with the cost of dairy products rising by almost 16% over the last year. Brigit Busicchia from Macquarie University said speculation on global markets is also contributing to price volatility: "Since the 1990s, the deregulation of commodity futures trading has made it possible for institutional investors to enter this market on a large scale."
11-5-21 States and cities continue 'sweetening the deal' with vaccination incentives for young kids
With young kids ages 5 to 11 now eligible for Pfizer and BioNTech's COVID-19 vaccine, the shot incentives we've all grown to know and love (and in some cases ignore) will, in some places, continue "sweetening the deal," CNN reports. In New York City, kids are eligible for $100 or tickets to city attractions (like the Statue of Liberty) if they receive their first dose at a city-operated vaccine site. "We really want kids to take advantage, families take advantage of that," said Mayor Bill de Blasio on Thursday. "We want our kids and our families to be safe." A similar $100 gift card is available for Chicago children ages 5 to 11 if they get their shot at one of the city's public heath events or clinics, reports CNN. Chicago's large school district is even closing on Nov. 12 for a Vaccination Awareness Day, allowing students an opportunity to get their shots without missing class. "It is rare that we make a late change to the school calendar, but we see this as an important investment in the future of this school year and the health and wellbeing of our students, staff, and families," Chicago Schools Chief Executive Officer Pedro Martinez told parents, per CNN. The $100 reward could also soon be available in Louisiana, officials said. And in San Antonio, Texas, any parent or guardian that gets their child vaccinated at a public health clinic is eligible for a $100 grocery store gift card. As of Thursday, the U.S. had fully vaccinated over 58 percent of its total population, according to CDC data. Read more at CNN.
11-5-21 'Europe is back at the epicenter' of COVID-19, WHO warns. 'Enough idiocy,' Italian official tells anti-vaxxers.
The World Health Organization warned Thursday about rising COVID-19 cases and deaths in Europe. In the past week alone, the Europe region saw 1.8 million new COVID-19 cases and 24,000 deaths, or 59 percent of global cases and nearly half the world's coronavirus deaths. "If we stay on this trajectory, we could see another half a million COVID-19 deaths in Europe and Central Asia by the first of February next year," warned WHO Europe chief Dr. Hans Kluge. "We are at another critical point of pandemic resurgence," Kluge said. "Europe is back at the epicenter of the pandemic — where we were one year ago." Kluge and other public health officials attributed the looming fourth coronavirus wave to low vaccination rates in some areas, the Delta variant's contagiousness, and a relaxation of public mitigation efforts like masking. Kluge said if 95 percent of Europeans just wore masks in public, 188,000 lives could be saved in the next three months. Eight of the 53 countries in the WHO's European region have vaccinated more than 70 percent of their population, but two have immunized less than 10 percent. The worst outbreaks are in Russia, Ukraine, and elsewhere in low-vaccination Central and Eastern Europe. Germany, with 67 percent of its population fully vaccinated, recorded a pandemic-high 33,949 new COVID cases on Wednesday. Spain, with about 80 percent of its population fully vaccinated, is one of the few European countries not seeing a rise in infections. But Italy saw a 16.6 percent increase in cases over the past week, despite 72 percent of its population fully immunized, a national health pass, and stringent new rules requiring workers to be vaccinated or test negative for COVID-19. One outbreak, in the northeastern city of Trieste, is directly tied to a large anti-vaccination protest there two weeks ago, The New York Times reports. "The situation in Trieste is particularly worrisome," said Dr. Fabio Barbone, the epidemiologist working to contain the outbreak in Trieste's region, Friuli-Venezia Giulia. Regional president Massimiliano Fedriga had some more direct words for the anti-vaxxers flocking to Trieste: "It is the moment to say with clarity: Enough idiocy." Cases have declined sharply in the U.S. over the past six weeks. But Dr. Mike Ryan, a WHO official in Europe, warned that Europe's experience is a "warning shot for the world." And Dr. Eric Topol, a medical researcher at California's Scripps Research Institute, agrees.
11-5-21 Ahmaud Arbery: Nearly all-white jury chosen in black jogger murder trial
A nearly all-white jury, with one black member, has been seated in the Georgia murder trial of three white men over the shooting of a black jogger in 2020. The judge noted the appearance of "intentional discrimination" in jury selection but said the trial over Ahmaud Arbery's killing would proceed. Gregory Mc But prosecutors argue there was racial bias at play. Opening arguments begin on Friday. Last May, Mr McMichael, 64, his 34-year-old son and neighbour William Bryan - who filmed a video of the incident - were arrested. All three have denied all charges and any accusations of racism. Mr Arbery was out on an afternoon run on 23 February when he was confronted by the McMichaels, who were armed with a pistol and shotgun. Lawyers for Mr Arbery's family have said he was unarmed at the time. The father and son later told police they believed the jogger resembled the suspect in a series of alleged break-ins and accused Mr Arbery of attacking the younger McMichael while they attempted to make a "citizen's arrest". Jury selection lasted two and a half weeks. On Wednesday, the prosecution accused the defence of eliminating potential jurors based on race, noting that defence attorneys used 11 of their allotted 24 strikes to reject black jurors. The prosecution meanwhile used all 12 of its strikes to reject white jurors. Attorneys for the McMichaels said they were "stuck between a rock and a hard place" because many prospective jurors had already formed attitudes toward the men. Three dismissed jury candidates had said in screening forms that they had supported the "I run with Maud" group which held jogs after Mr Arbery's death. One black woman in the jury pool had recorded a TikTok dance tribute, illustrating her "emotional connection to Mr Arbery", said a lawyer for Mr Bryan. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution cites a black woman on the jury pool as having said: "They hunted him down and killed him like an animal. The whole case was about racism."
11-4-21 Support for Legal Marijuana Holds at Record High of 68%
More than two in three Americans (68%) support legalizing marijuana, maintaining the record-high level reached last year. Gallup has documented increasing support for legalizing marijuana over more than five decades, with particularly sharp increases occurring in the 2000s and 2010s. In 2013, a majority of Americans, for the first time, supported legalization. As was the case in 2020, solid majorities of U.S. adults in all major subgroups by gender, age, income and education support legalizing marijuana. Substantive differences are seen, however, by political party and religion. While most Democrats (83%) and political independents (71%) support legalization, Republicans are nearly evenly split on the question (50% in favor; 49% opposed). Weekly and semiregular attendees of religious services are split on the issue as well, while those who attend infrequently or never are broadly supportive of legalizing marijuana.
11-4-21 Justice Department sues Texas over new voting restrictions
The Department of Justice filed a lawsuit on Thursday over Texas' new voting restrictions, which were signed into law by Gov. Greg Abbott (R) in September. The law bans 24-hour and drive-thru voting, expands access for partisan poll watchers, and imposes restrictions on absentee ballots, which the Justice Department alleges violates the Civil Rights Act of 1964. In a statement, Attorney General Merrick Garland said democracy in the United States "depends on the right of eligible voters to cast a ballot and to have that ballot counted. The Justice Department will continue to use all the authorities at its disposal to protect this fundamental pillar of our society." The new Texas voting law was crafted by GOP state lawmakers, and Abbott has said the restrictions will "solidify trust and confidence in the outcome of our elections by making it easier to vote and harder to cheat."
11-4-21 Texas woman who said she wouldn't go to jail for Capitol riot sentenced to 60 days in prison
After tweeting that she was "definitely not going to jail" for participating in the Jan. 6 Capitol riot, a Texas real estate broker was sentenced on Thursday to 60 days in prison and ordered to pay a $1,500 fine. Jennifer Leigh Ryan, 51, pleaded guilty to one charge of "parading, demonstrating, or picketing in the Capitol building." Judge Christopher Cooper said her case "has generated a fair amount of public interest. And as a result, people will be interested to know what sentence you get. That sentence will tell them something about how the courts and how our country responded. And I think that the sentence should tell them that we take it seriously ... and that it should never happen again." On Jan. 6, Ryan posted on social media that she came to Washington, D.C., in order to "storm the Capitol," CBS News reports, and was seen on Facebook Live entering the Capitol building. Later, she tweeted: "We just stormed the Capitol. It was one of the best days of my life." In a January interview with CBS Dallas-Fort Worth, Ryan said she went to D.C. at the behest of former President Donald Trump. "I feel like I was basically following my president," she said. "I was following what we were called to do. He asked us to fly there. He asked us to be there." Two months later, Ryan — whose PayPal account was shut down after she asked people to send her money to cover legal fees and "business losses" — seemed certain that she was in the clear. "Definitely not going to jail," Ryan tweeted. "Sorry I have blonde hair white skin a great job a great future and I'm not going to jail. Sorry to rain on your hater parade. I did nothing wrong." During her sentencing Thursday, she took a more contrite tone, telling the judge, "This is not anything that remotely resembles who I am."
11-4-21 'A historic day': Britain becomes first country to authorize Merck's COVID-19 pill
In what's being lauded as "a big step forward" in the fight against the ongoining coronavirus pandemic, drug regulators in Britain on Thursday approved drug company Merck's experimental COVID-19 treatment, making the U.K. the first country in the world to authorize the oral antiviral pill, The Washington Post and Reuters report. British health secretary Sajid Javid decreed Thursday "a historic day" for his country, adding that the drug's approval "will be a game changer for the most vulnerable and the immunosuppressed, who will soon be able to receive the groundbreaking treatment," per The New York Times. Merck's oral COVID treatment is the first of its kind to be authorized, "with the green light coming ahead of potential U.S. regulatory clearance," Reuters writes. U.S. counterparts will meet this month to discuss the stateside authorization of the drug, known as molnupiravir. Javid also said the U.K.'s National Health Service is working in conjunction with the government to make plans "to deploy molnupiravir to patients through a national study as soon as possible." A global clinical trial showed molnupiravir reduced COVID hospitalizations and deaths by almost half in higher-risk adult patients with mild to moderate illness, per the Post. Experts believe the pill's (hopeful) widespread authorization will live up to its "huge potential" to fight COVID — because pills are easier to take, make, and store, they will likely be "particularly useful in lower- to middle-income countries with weaker infrastructure and limited vaccine supplies," the Post explains. Suerie Moon, co-director of the Global Health Center at the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies of Geneva, said the authorization is "very significant in terms of giving patients and the public a large confidence that this treatment can be widely used."
11-4-21 Nursing school applications are up amid pandemic
The coronavirus pandemic has pushed hospitals across the United States to the brink, but that hasn't scared away future medical workers — in fact, enrollment in nursing programs across the country rose almost 6 percent over the last year, the American Association of Colleges of Nursing said Wednesday. Michael Usino, assistant dean at Pennsylvania's Temple University, told CBS News that initially, the college was afraid students "were going to be seeing the news in social media and what's happening in the hospitals and on the front lines and be dissuaded from nursing." Instead, nursing school applications were up by 15 percent this fall compared to 2019, when roughly 7,500 people applied for 110 spots in the program. Usino said nursing schools are "very lucky" this next generation of students is "feeling that inspiration to actually want to serve the community." Student Emily Greene has family and friends working in the medical field, and she told CBS News watching them serve "tirelessly" made her "motivated and more excited to be in health care." She has been warned about possible burnout, and Temple University has crafted its curriculum so students learn how to focus on their mental health and carve out time for self care.
11-4-21 Biden pours cold water on reported $450,000 payments to migrant families separated under Trump
President Biden on Wednesday said the U.S. won't be paying $450,000 to migrant children and parents separated from each other under former President Donald Trump's "zero tolerance" immigration policy. Last week, The Wall Street Journal reported that the Justice Department and other federal agencies were in settlement talks with the separated families, and each plaintiff could get up to $450,000 in restitution. The reported payment talks have been a hot topic among Republican lawmakers and on conservative media networks, and a Fox News correspondent asked Biden on Wednesday if he thought such payments would draw more migrants to the border. "If you guys keep sending that garbage out, yeah," Biden said. "But it's not true." When a reporter followed up, Biden shook his head. "$450,000 per person? Is that what you're saying?" he asked. "That's not going to happen." The White House referred questions about Biden's comments to the Justice Department, which said it "will not comment on ongoing litigation." But the ACLU, one of the organizations leading the settlement talks on behalf of the migrants, said Wednesday night that the DOJ had assured it the talks were continuing. "If we can't achieve true restitution," ACLU executive director Anthony Romero told the Journal, "we'll take our case on behalf of our clients to court." About 5,500 children were separated from their families at the border under Trump's policy, the ACLU says, citing federal data. So far, about 940 families have filed claims, and officials aren't sure how many more will follow suit. "By pursuing a settlement, the government is seeking to avoid trials that could be even costlier," the Journal reports, citing lawyers who have experience with large-scale cases involving alleged emotional distress. "The people familiar with the matter have said the talks are ongoing and the final numbers could shift. Most of the families that crossed the border from Mexico to seek asylum in the U.S. included one parent and one child, which could mean payments close to $1 million per family. Many families would likely get smaller payouts, depending on their circumstances."
11-4-21 Deadly US drone strike in Kabul did not break law, Pentagon says
A US drone strike that killed 10 Afghan civilians was an error that did not violate any laws, a Pentagon inspector said following an investigation. "It was an honest mistake," US Air Force Inspector Lieutenant General Sami Said told reporters. The strike on 29 August killed three adults, including a man who worked for a US aid group, and seven children. It took place as Western nations attempted to evacuate Afghans after the Taliban took control of the country. The youngest child to be killed was two-year-old Sumaya, and the eldest 12-year-old Farzad, the family told the BBC. Speaking shortly afterwards Ramin Yousufi, a relative, said it had been a "brutal attack" based on "wrong information". "Why have they killed our family? Our children? They are so burned out we cannot identify their bodies, their faces," he said. Lt Gen Said said there had been "execution errors, combined with confirmation bias and communications breakdowns" that led to "regrettable civilian casualties". But he said an investigation had found "no violation of law, including the Law of War". "It's not criminal conduct, random conduct, negligence," he added. He said the US personnel who carried out the drone strike genuinely believed they were targeting "an imminent threat" from the Islamic State (IS) group to US forces and diplomatic staff at Kabul airport. It came days after IS-K, the group's Afghanistan branch, said they were behind a devastating bomb attack outside Kabul airport, where thousands of Afghans had gathered to try to flee the country, killing at least 170 people including 13 US service personnel. The US military said it had intelligence that IS was planning a second attack on evacuation operations. "What likely broke down was not the intelligence but the correlation of that intelligence to a specific house," Lt Gen Said said. The intelligence had involved a white Toyota Corolla car thought to contain explosives. But Lt Gen Said said that the US had then tracked the wrong car. "We just didn't pick up the Toyota Corolla that we believe we should have picked up." (Webmasters Comment: This was a war crime and all those involved should be tried as war criminals!)
11-4-21 At least 7 people who attended Trump's Jan. 6 rally won election to public office Tuesday
Tuesday was a good day for Republicans, but it wasn't a clean sweep for Republican candidates who participated in the Jan. 6 "Stop the Steal" rally for former President Donald Trump. None of them were arrested after the ensuing riot, though at least one said he was visited by the FBI. Most of the 13 candidates identified by BuzzFeed News said they did not breach the U.S. Capitol in the violent siege that followed the rally, but most of them appear to have at least marched to the Capitol. And at least seven of those Jan. 6 rally goers won their elections for state or local office on Tuesday, The Washington Post reports. HuffPost counts eight. Three of the six GOP Jan. 6 rallygoers won their races for seats in the Virginia House of Delegates. Two of them, Dave LaRock and John McGuire, while Marie March won an open seat. March, HuffPost reports, ran an ad bragging about her attendance at the rally and, in a now-deleted Facebook post, said she was willing to "fight and die" in a "coming Civil War." "We're in a very conservative district, and a lot of people do like Donald Trump," March told The Associated Press on Wednesday. "He was the sitting president of the United States of America at the time. We went to see him speak." The other Jan. 6 participants won seats on city councils in Nampa, Idaho; Watchung, New Jersey; and Mansfield, Connecticut; and on local school boards in Braintree, Massachusetts, and Hunterdon County, New Jersey. Dozens of other people who attended the Jan. 6 rally, premised on the false believe that the election was stolen from Trump, are running for higher office in 2022, when more states and national races are on the ballot.
11-4-21 Glenn Youngkin wins in Virginia: Key takeaways from bad night for Biden
If the Virginia governor election was indeed the first shot of the 2022 mid-term elections, it landed squarely between the Democrats' eyes. For the first time in more than a decade, Virginia - a state that was comfortably Democratic in last year's presidential election - will have a Republican governor. Glenn Youngkin, a businessman making his first run for elected office, defeated former governor and veteran political fundraiser Terry McAuliffe, and he did it with political coattails. Republican candidates also won the attorney general and lieutenant governor races, the latter making history with the first woman and person of colour to hold that job. The party may end up taking control of the Virginia House of Delegates, as well. Of course, this is just one election in one state - turnout was up on the last governor's election in 2017 but pales compared to the 75% of voters who went to the polls in Virginia last year for the presidential race. However, a near upset for Democrats in the solidly-blue New Jersey governor's race as well suggests this is more than just a local phenomenon. The congressional mid-terms that will determine control of the US Congress and the governors of 36 states are still a year away. There are, however, some early insights to glean from Tuesday's results. After last year's electoral defeat, some Republicans were concerned that the Democratic Party had established a durable political coalition of city-dwellers, ethnic minorities and white suburbanites. On Tuesday, however, Youngkin and the Republicans carved out their own winning formula. The way they did that in Virginia was by eating into the Democratic suburban support while continuing to attract the overwhelming backing of rural voters who turned out for Donald Trump in two straight presidential elections.
11-4-21 Biden rejects blame for shock Virginia election defeat
Joe Biden has rejected suggestions that his Democratic party's shock loss in the Virginia governor's race was a verdict on his presidency. Mr Biden argued that the miring of his legislative agenda in a Capitol Hill logjam did not sway the outcome. He cited "Trump voters", schools, jobs and petrol prices as other reasons for the surprise defeat of Terry McAuliffe. Republican Glenn Youngkin, a political newcomer, came from behind to win the Virginia governor's race on Tuesday. Meanwhile, the New Jersey governor's race went down to a nail-biting dead heat between the Democratic incumbent, Phil Murphy, and a little-known Republican challenger, Jack Ciattarelli. US media have projected Mr Murphy will win that race, though his opponent has not yet conceded. At the White House on Wednesday, Mr Biden was asked whether he accepted any blame for Tuesday's political earthquake in Virginia. He said voters are "upset and uncertain about a lot of things", including the pandemic, education, the economy and the price of petrol. Mr Biden conceded Democrats should have passed his signature $1.75tn (£1.3tn) package of social and climate programmes and a $1tn infrastructure bill before Tuesday's vote. He added: "But I'm not sure I would be able to have changed the number of very conservative folks who turned out in the red districts who were Trump voters." Mr Biden took several questions from reporters after making comments to promote coronavirus vaccines as American children aged 5 to 11 became eligible for the shots. The president encouraged parents to get their young jabbed to "help us keep our schools open". Rising inflation, a slow economic recovery, a historic immigration crisis at the southern US border, and a chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan have also hit Mr Biden's approval rating. He is one of the most unpopular presidents ever at this point during a first term, according to opinion polls.
11-4-21 Covid: Record German cases as WHO warns of Europe deaths
Germany has recorded almost 34,000 daily Covid cases in the past 24 hours, its highest number so far, in what the health minister is calling a "massive pandemic of the unvaccinated". Sixteen million Germans have not had a jab. However hospital intensive care cases are still lower than in spring. The World Health Organization has warned of a possible half a million more deaths in Europe by February. Europe head Hans Kluge blamed insufficient vaccine take-up. He said a relaxation of public health measures was also behind the rise in Covid cases in the WHO's European region, which covers 53 countries including parts of Central Asia. So far the WHO has recorded 1.4m deaths across the region. While the Covid numbers in Germany are still well below the UK's average daily case numbers of more than 41,000, public health officials there are worried that a fourth wave of infection could lead to a large number of deaths and pressure on the health system. In the past 24 hours 165 deaths have been recorded, up from 126 a week ago. Lothar Wieler of Germany's RKI institute spoke of terrifying numbers. "If we don't take counter-measures now, this fourth wave will bring yet more suffering," he said. Among the many Germans who have not been vaccinated are more than three million over-60s, seen at particular risk. German restaurants and cafes require people to have proof of vaccination or recovery before entry, or in many cases a negative test, but the rules are not always applied. Health Minister Jens Spahn said he had been asked more times for his vaccination certificate in one day in Rome at the weekend than he had been over four weeks in Germany. But as Hans Kluge points out, the surge in cases is not confined to Germany. Russia and Ukraine have seen the most dramatic rises in infections and deaths.
11-4-21 Covid-19 news: 28 million years of life lost globally to covid
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 pandemic has led to the loss of at least 28 million years of life. The pandemic led to the loss of 28 million years of life globally in 2020 – though this figure is likely to be a severe underestimate as it only looked at 37 countries. Researchers at the University of Oxford calculated how many years of life had been lost due to coronavirus in 37 countries, including Russia, the US and Italy. They did this by analysing excess deaths in each nation, the ages of those who died, and each country’s average life expectancy. They calculated that more than 28 million years of life had been lost across 31 of the countries they analysed. Six countries, including New Zealand, Denmark and South Korea, did not see an increase in loss of years of life as a result of the pandemic. However globally, the total lost years of life due to the pandemic will be much higher, and the team’s analysis did not include many Asian, African or South American countries due to a lack of data. The researchers also looked at life expectancy declines in each country for 2020. The biggest falls were seen in Russia, the US and Bulgaria. In England and Wales, male life expectancy dropped by 1.2 years, while female life expectancy dropped by 0.8-years. Coronavirus infections nearly doubled in over-65s between September and October in England. In the latest survey by Imperial College London, about 0.8 per cent of 65 to 74-year-olds tested positive for coronavirus, while 0.67 per cent of over-75s had covid-19 in between 19 and 29 October. But school-children continue to be most at risk from infection with nearly six per cent of five-to-17-year-olds testing positive for the virus.India’s home-grown vaccine, Covaxin, has been approved for emergency use by the World Health Organisation. It is the seventh jab to be approved by the intergovernmental body. More than 105 million doses of the vaccine have been administered to people in India so far.
11-3-21 U.S. surpasses 750,000 COVID-19 deaths
On Wednesday, the United States hit another grim milestone in the coronavirus pandemic, with the country's COVID-19 death toll surpassing 750,000. Johns Hopkins University has been tallying the COVID-19 deaths, and if the Americans known to have died of the virus since February 2020 made up a state, it would be more populous than Alaska, Vermont, and Wyoming, The Washington Post reports. Over the summer, the highly contagious Delta variant began sweeping through areas with higher numbers of unvaccinated people, causing more deaths and hospitalizations. Florida resident Lisa Wilson has seen firsthand the devastation of COVID-19, she told the Post. Six members of her family died in three weeks over the summer, including her 89-year-old grandmother who was told by some relatives that she was too old to get vaccinated. The other five people who died — Wilson's uncle and cousins — also had not been vaccinated. Wilson, her husband, and their four adult children are all vaccinated. Some of her relatives still refuse to get the vaccine, saying it's too new and their faith is stronger, and "we aren't angry, but upset about them not having the interest to take it," Wilson told the Post. Her cousin Gilbert Grantlin III is a minister who presided over four of the family funerals in September, and he is urging his relatives to get vaccinated. "When do we finally do what needs to be done and protect our family?" he said. Grantlin has pushed back at relatives who say they won't get vaccinated for religious reasons, telling them, "The vaccine does not contradict your belief. The Bible tells us that 'for lack of knowledge, my people will perish.'" Read more at The Washington Post.
11-3-21 Senate Republicans block debate on major voting rights bill
Senate Republicans on Wednesday once again blocked debate on the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, which Democrats want to pass in order to curb strict voting restrictions being put in place by GOP-controlled state legislatures. The bill would restore provisions of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 that the Supreme Court struck down in 2013, giving the Justice Department the chance to review some state election laws before they are implemented. Just one Republican, Sen. Lisa Murkowski (Alaska), voted with Democrats to advance the bill, which the House passed in August. It was clear ahead of time that the bill would fall short of the 60 votes necessary to overcome procedural hurdles, but the vote was held in part to show Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) that the filibuster he supports is keeping the Senate from passing voting rights legislation, The Guardian reports. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said that Wednesday was "a low, low point in the history of this body," and Democrats will "continue our fight for voting rights and find an alternative path forward, even if it means going at it alone, to defend the most fundamental liberty we have as citizens." One group calling on the Senate to get rid of the filibuster is the organization Fix Our Senate, and its spokesman Eli Zupnik told The Guardian that Republicans have now blocked federal voting rights legislation four times in 2021. "It is "crystal clear that [Republican Senate Minority Leader] Mitch McConnell and Senate Republicans will weaponize the filibuster to block progress," he said. "Our question now to President Biden and Senate Democrats is this: What are you going to do about it?"
11-3-21 Covid: US fully approves Pfizer vaccine for children over five
The US has approved the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine for children aged five to 11, clearing the way for millions of young Americans to get vaccinated. The decision by Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Director Rochelle Wolensky comes after careful consideration from US drug regulators. The US is already giving the vaccine to those aged 12 and over. This approval affects some 28 million US children. Experts argue that jabbing the young is necessary for a return to normal life. The authorisation comes after expert panels at the CDC and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) weighed the risks and benefits of vaccinating children against Covid-19. FDA officials determined that the vaccine was around 91% effective in preventing Covid in young children, and that their immune response was comparable to that seen in people aged 16 to 25. No serious side effects were found by researchers. Children aged five to 11 are given a jab with a third of the dosage given to adults, creating a new logistical challenge for drug suppliers and doctors. Smaller needles are also used and the second jab is required three weeks after the first. In a statement, President Joe Biden said the child vaccine "will allow parents to end months of anxious worrying about their kids, and reduce the extent to which children spread the virus to others". Covid has led 2,300 schools to close this year, affecting 1.2 million pupils and 78,000 teachers since August, NBC reported on Tuesday, citing a senior CDC official. Among those between five and 11 years old, there have been about 1.8 million Covid cases confirmed in the US, according to the CDC. Fewer than two hundred have died, and most of those had underlying medical conditions. Some medical experts say that, given the persistence of the Delta variant and the return to in-person schooling, vaccinating children is a crucial next step in fighting the pandemic.
11-3-21 Covid-19 news: US to give vaccines to 5-to-11-year-olds this week
The latest coronavirus news updated every day including coronavirus cases, the latest news, features and interviews from New Scientist and essential information about the covid-19 pandemic. Covid-19 jabs for elementary-school-aged children given final sign-off. The US is gearing up to offer covid-19 vaccines to 5-to-11-year-olds this week, after the Pfizer/BioNTech jab passed its final hurdle of approval by the country’s Centers for Disease Control and Prevention yesterday. The vaccine has been approved for this age group at one third of the dose used for adults and teenagers. The child-sized doses will be packaged in bottles with orange lids to avoid mix-ups. Vaccines could start being offered this week, but it will be next week before roll-out would be “fully up and running”, Jeff Zients of the White House said on Monday. There would be “millions more doses packed, shipped and delivered and thousands of additional sites coming online each day”, he said. In the UK, the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency is still reviewing the children’s vaccine. Yesterday Pfizer reported that its earnings and sales more than doubled in the past quarter, mainly thanks to its covid-19 vaccines. A member of the UK government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) stepped down at the end of October. Sir Jeremy Farrar, head of the Wellcome health charity, had been advocating for more restrictions, such as face mask wearing, to be brought in due to the UK’s current high level of coronavirus infections, according to Sky News. “The high levels of transmission seen in the UK remain concerning,” he said. “My focus now must be on our work at Wellcome. This includes supporting the international research effort to end the pandemic.” The Netherlands has reintroduced covid restrictions, one of the first western European countries to do so after measures were relaxed over summer. They will include new requirements to wear face masks, asking people to work from home half the week where possible and extending the use of covid passes to restaurant terraces and museums. According to data from Johns Hopkins University, 7727 new covid-19 cases were reported in the Netherlands on 2 November, compared with 33,546 in the UK.
11-3-21 Glenn Youngkin: Win for Republican in Virginia governor vote
Republican Glenn Youngkin has been elected as Virginia's next governor in a major upset, with his Democratic opponent conceding the race. Mr Youngkin was 2.1 points ahead of Terry McAuliffe with 99% of votes counted. Mr McAuliffe, who served as governor from 2014-18, saw his opinion poll lead vanish in recent weeks. The ballot has been widely seen as a referendum on Joe Biden's presidency, and defeat will unnerve the Democrats. Mr Biden won by 10 points in Virginia in the presidential election just a year ago. In a speech to cheering fans, Mr Youngkin promised to get to work straight away to transform the state. "We work in real people time, not government time," the Republican declared. Mr McAuliffe said he had "come up short" but insisted the state remained on a path towards "inclusion, openness and tolerance for all". The state's current, Democratic governor, Ralph Northam, was unable to stand for re-election as Virginia does not allow governors to serve consecutive terms in office. In more potential good news for Republicans in the state, their candidate, former US Marine Winsome Sears, is tipped to become the first black female lieutenant governor of the state, which was the former seat of the pro-slavery Confederacy during the American Civil War. The Republican candidate for Virginia attorney general, Cuban American Jason Miyares, was also leading that vote count. And Republicans seemed to be closing in on control of the state's House of Delegates. In other elections across the US on Tuesday: 1. In New Jersey, Republican challenger Jack Ciattarelli is neck and neck with Democratic Governor Phil Murphy. 2. Amid surging crime, Minneapolis voters rejected a proposal to replace the city's police department with a new Department of Public Safety, more than a year after the murder of George Floyd by an officer. 3. As expected, Democrat Eric Adams won New York City's mayoral election to replace his party colleague Bill de Blasio; Republican challenger Curtis Sliwa was involved in an argument at his polling station after turning up to vote with a pet cat and being told his furry friend Gizmo could not enter. 4. Pittsburgh picked its first black mayor, Democrat Ed Gainey.
11-3-21 Minneapolis rejects move to replace police department
Voters in Minneapolis have rejected a proposal to replace the city's police with a new department of public safety. The decision comes six months after a white Minneapolis officer was convicted of murder for killing George Floyd. Floyd's filmed murder led to several days of riots in the city and calls to "defund the police". Unlike the police, who report to the mayor, the department of public safety would have been jointly overseen by the mayor and the 13-member city council. Mental health professionals would have been dispatched for most non-violent crimes, but police officers would have still been available should an arrest need to be made. The move was championed by Minneapolis Congresswoman Ilhan Omar and the state's attorney general, Keith Ellis, who oversaw the case against George Floyd's killer, former officer Derek Chauvin. Mayor and fellow Democrat Jacob Frey, who was also on the ballot on Tuesday, had opposed the move. Floyd's girlfriend Courteney Ross told the Minneapolis Tribune that she was not sure if the measure could prevent another black man from dying like Floyd. "If I could say yes to that I would say vote yes, but I don't know," said Ms Ross. Minneapolis is currently seeing a severe high crime wave, with violent crimes on track to outrank last year's record high. It comes as part of a national crime surge. A Reuters investigation in September found that officer interactions with residents plummeted in the year after Floyd's death in May 2020. Critics say that the data suggested officers had abandoned their duty to keep the peace.
11-2-21 Minneapolis rejects measure to replace police force, Austin rejects measure to expand police force
Voters in Minneapolis rejected a proposal Tuesday that would have replacing the city's police department with a new Department of Public Safety, a push fueled by the murder of George Floyd by a Minneapolis Police officer. Opponents of the initiative, including Mayor Jacob Frey (D), argued that there was no concrete plan to create a new public safety department. The part of the city charter that would have been changed requires Minneapolis to have a minimum number of officers based on population. Voters in Austin, meanwhile, overwhelmingly rejected a proposed amendment Tuesday that would have required the the Austin Police Department to have at least two officers for every 1,000 residents — which, at current levels, would have required hiring 300 to 700 new officers over the next year, at an estimated cost of $54 million to $120 million a year. Proposition A, which failed by a 2-to-1 margin, was put on the ballot by a Republican-aligned group called Save Austin Now. As Radley Balko notes, there is a little something for everyone in Tuesday's police-related ballot initiatives.
11-2-21 CDC advisory panel unanimously backs Pfizer vaccine for kids ages 5 to 11
America is one step closer to a COVID-19 vaccine for kids ages 5 to 11 following a pivotal approval from a CDC advisory panel, who on Tuesday unanimously recommended Pfizer and BioNTech's COVID vaccine for use in young children, CNBC reports. Panel experts reportedly spent the day reviewing a similar FDA emergency use authorization that came down last week and deliberating "a rare side effect called myocarditis, inflammation of the heart," per The New York Times. But per Dr. Matthew Oster, a CDC scientist who presented data on the condition at the meeting, "getting COVID I think is much riskier to the heart than this vaccine, no matter what age or sex," he said. CDC Director Rochelle Walensky will now decide whether or not to accept the panel's recommendation, though she is expected to as early as late Tuesday, notes CNBC. In the event of approval, the approximately 28 million children in the 5 to 11 age group could begin their getting shots within the next several days, per NPR.
11-2-21 CDC director signs off on COVID-19 vaccine for kids 5 to 11
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Rochelle Walensky has signed off on administering the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine to children ages 5 to 11. Walensky's final approval came after the Food and Drug Administration authorized and a CDC panel formally recommended shots for kids — a dose that is a third of the amount given to teenagers and adults. There are 28 million American children between the ages of 5 and 11, and this is their first opportunity to get vaccinated against COVID. "As a mom, I encourage parents with questions to talk to their pediatrician, school nurse, or local pharmacist to learn more about the vaccine and the importance of getting their children vaccinated," Walensky said in a statement released Tuesday night. Earlier in the day, she declared that there are American children "in the second grade who have never experienced a normal school year. Pediatric vaccination has the power to help us change all of that." President Biden praised the decision as a "turning point," which will "allow parents to end months of anxious worrying about their kids, and reduce the extent to which children spread the virus to others. It is a major step forward for our nation in our fight to defeat the virus." The CDC said the vaccination of children should begin "as soon as possible," with kids getting two doses three weeks apart, administered via a smaller needle. Pediatric vials have orange caps, so they are not mixed up with the vials that are meant for adults and have purple caps, The Associated Press reports. Pfizer's study of 2,268 kids found that the smaller dose is almost 91 percent effective at preventing symptomatic COVID-19.
11-2-21 Only 34 NYPD cops placed on leave over vaccine mandate, but firefighters are apparently staging sick-out
New York City's requirement that all city employees get vaccinated against COVID-19 took force on Monday, and Mayor Bill de Blasio said about 9,000 city workers were placed on unpaid leave for failing to comply — or a little over 2 percent of the city's 378,000 workforce. And despite warnings of threats to public safety, only 34 New York Police Department officers were placed on leave, along with 40 civilian NYPD workers. "I would remind people that's 34 out of roughly 35,000 workforce," Police Commissioner Dermot Shea said Monday. "That's very fluid, that could go up as the day goes on, it could also go down as people get their vaccinations status." Overall, 91 percent of New York City workers are vaccinated, de Blasio said Saturday night, up from 83 percent 24 hours earlier. As of Monday morning, 85 percent of the NYPD had gotten at least one shot of vaccine, up from 70 percent before de Blasio issued his mandate on Oct. 20. "With that remaining 15 percent, it's very important to remember that there is a process where people can request reasonable accommodations for religious or medical reasons," Shea added. The Daily Show cheekily suggests the 85 percent of compliant cops are just following their own advice. An unusually high number of NYPD officers retired early in October, the New York Daily News reports — 163 cops, versus 55 in October 2020. And 2,300 New York City firefighters have called in sick since de Blasio announced the vaccine requirement, FDNY Commissioner Daniel Nigro said Monday. As of Monday, 77 percent of firefighters are vaccinated, up from 58 before the mandate was announced. Nigro said hundreds of the firefighters "most definitely are" faking their sicknesses. "We know that's related to protests against the mandate. It's obvious," he elaborated. "Generally, two hundred people come into our medical office every day. In this past week, it's been seven hundred a day. Most, or the majority of them, are unvaccinated. This is completely unacceptable." He said "we'll look into discipline for these members," and de Blasio said "when people do this kind of thing, there are consequences." The Late Show illustrated the conundrum with a dark homage to Paw Patrol.
11-2-21 Covid-19 news: One in four infected adults in England aren’t isolating
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. Self-isolation compliance falls in 35 to 54-year-olds. One in four people between the ages of 35 and 54 are failing to self-isolate for a full ten days after testing positive for coronavirus, according to the Office for National Statistics. The figures are based on a survey of 881 people in England conducted in late September and early October. The researchers found that only 75 per cent of participants isolated for ten days after a positive covid-19 test. It is a major drop from the 86 per cent who reported full compliance in July. The opposite trend was seen in people aged between 18 and 34, with 82 per cent reporting full compliance in the latest survey as opposed to 75 per cent in July. Around 9000 New York City public workers were put on unpaid leave on Monday for not being vaccinated. The city’s vaccine mandate for public sector workers came into effect yesterday. One in four firefighters in the city are still not vaccinated, while one in six police staff are also unjabbed. Indonesia has become the first country in the world to give emergency authorisation for the Novavax vaccine. Studies have shown that it is about 90 per cent effective against symptomatic covid-19. Disneyland Shanghai in China has been shut for at least two days due to a single visitor testing positive for coronavirus. The move comes as the country aims to hit zero coronavirus infections by the time it hosts the Winter Olympics early next year.
11-2-21 China urges families to store basic supplies in case of emergency
China's government has urged families to stock up on essential supplies in case of emergencies. No reason was given for the notice from the Ministry of Commerce, but it came amid ongoing coronavirus lockdowns and concerns over vegetable supplies after unusually heavy rain damaged crops. The ministry also asked local authorities to keep supply chains running smoothly and prices stable. State media later sought to quell concerns amid reports of panic buying. "As soon as this news came out, all the old people near me went crazy, panic buying in the supermarket," one user wrote on the Chinese social media site Weibo. The Economic Daily, a Chinese Communist Party-backed newspaper, urged its readers not to be alarmed, saying the government's advice was aimed at making sure that households were prepared if a lockdown was announced in their area. The People's Daily newspaper said such notices were not unusual, but that it had come at this time because of issues including a rise in vegetable prices and recent Covid cases. Food prices traditionally rise in China as winter nears, but the price of vegetables has surged in recent weeks because of the extreme weather. Meanwhile, the country is continuing to use strict lockdowns to tackle coronavirus. China hopes to reach zero infections before it hosts the Winter Olympics, which begin in February. Ninety-two new cases of coronavirus were reported in China on Monday, and Shanghai Disneyland was shut down for at least two days after a weekend visitor tested positive for Covid-19 after returning home.
11-1-21 The policing problem SCOTUS could fix — but won't
For a while in 2020, "there was some hope that the Supreme Court might walk back its 50-year jurisprudence on qualified immunity, the doctrine that makes it nearly impossible to recover damages when police violate the Constitution," The Washington Post's Radley Balko noted last week. There was political momentum on the issue after the murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis police — I wrote about this at the time — and, as Balko recalls, "the court ruled last term in favor for the plaintiffs in two cases involving horrific abuse by prison guards." Last month, however, SCOTUS unanimously overturned two appeals court decisions, granting qualified immunity to officers in use-of-force cases in Oklahoma and California. And on Monday, the court declined to hear Frasier v. Evans, a case in which police officers in Denver violated the First Amendment rights of a man, Levi Frasier, who was recording their conduct, including "officers hitting [a] suspect in the face and knocking a pregnant woman onto the ground." The City of Denver had instructed its officers on the right to record police since 2007, and the defendants here had taken a course covering exactly this subject just a year before the incident. The record also plainly supported the conclusion that the officers' subjective motive was retaliation against Frasier for recording them: one of them yelled "Camera!" as Frasier recorded them using force on an arrestee; the officers followed Frasier to his van and demanded both his identification and the video; they threatened to arrest him after he refused to volunteer his video; they illegally searched his tablet for the recording; and they let him leave only when they thought he did not have any video recording of them. If that seems like unlawful conduct for which law enforcement officers, of all people, should be held to account, well, welcome to frustration about qualified immunity — and about the Supreme Court's apparent refusal to correct this problem of the court system's own making.
11-1-21 Marjorie Taylor Greene has racked up at least $15,500 in mask-related fines
Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) has had at least $15,500 deducted from her congressional pay this year to cover her fines for refusing to wear a mask on the House floor, The Washington Post reports. The mask rule was established in January at the recommendation of the Capitol attending physician; it was briefly lifted in June, but put back in place a month later because of the highly contagious Delta variant. There is a $500 fine for the first offense, and $2,500 for each one after, with the money taken out of the lawmaker's paycheck. The House Ethics Committee on Monday said in a press release that Greene, who was fined in May, August, and September, has been disciplined four more times over the last month, resulting in $15,500 in fines. Her spokesman, Nick Dyer, told the Post she's actually been fined nearly two dozen times for not wearing a mask, and has been hit with $48,000 in fines. Greene, who received backlash over the summer for comparing mask mandates to Nazis forcing Jewish people to wear Star of David badges, said in a statement she "will continue my stand on the House floor against authoritarian Democrat mandates, because I don't want the American people to stand alone."
11-1-21 Covid-19 news: Global coronavirus toll hits 5 million recorded deaths
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. Global recorded covid-19 death toll hits 5 million. The number of total recorded deaths from covid-19 worldwide has hit five million, less than two years since the pandemic begun. Around 7000 people around the globe are dying from the virus each day, according to figures compiled by Johns Hopkins University in the US. But the true figure is likely to be more than double that. Analysis by The Economist suggests the toll is probably closer to 16.7 million deaths – after taking into account those who died from the disease without knowing they had contracted the virus and those who could not be treated for other illnesses because hospitals were overwhelmed with covid-19 patients. Booster jabs are now available at walk-in sites in England for those who received their second dose at least six months ago and who meet certain eligibility criteria, such as being aged 50 or over, or being a frontline health or social worker. It means over 30 million people who meet these criteria will no longer have to book an appointment to get a booster shot. More than six million have had a booster jab or a third dose so far, according to NHS England. Activists from developing countries have been excluded from COP26 due in part to global vaccine inequality, climate change activists have claimed.Lidy Nacpil, of the Asian People’s Movement on Debt and Development, who is based in the Philippines, told The Guardian: “The challenges and complications related to vaccines, visas and quarantine requirements that the UK failed to adequately address are the main reasons why we will not be at COP26."
11-1-21 Covid-19 deaths pass five million worldwide
More than five million people are known to have died of Covid-19 worldwide, 19 months since the pandemic began, according to Johns Hopkins University. Vaccines have slowed the death rate, but some health experts say the true toll could be far higher. The milestone comes amid warnings from health officials that cases and deaths in some places are rising for the first time in months. Nearly 250 million cases of the virus have been recorded worldwide. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates the pandemic's real global death toll could be two to three times higher than official records. In the US, more than 745,800 people have died, making it the country with the highest number of recorded deaths. (Webmasters Comment: Because it also leads in arrogance and ignorance!)It is followed by Brazil, with 607,824 recorded deaths, and India, with 458,437. But health experts believe these numbers are under reported, partly because of deaths at home and those in rural communities. It has taken the world longer to reach the latest one million deaths than the previous two. It took over 110 days to go from four million deaths to five million. That is compared to just under 90 days to rise from three million to four million. While vaccines have helped reduce the fatality rate, the WHO warned last week that the pandemic was "far from over". Its director general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus pointed to a rise in cases in Europe, where countries with low vaccination rates are seeing soaring infections and deaths. Last week, Russia recorded its highest number of daily cases and deaths since the start of the pandemic. Russia accounts for 10% of the last million deaths recorded globally. Romania has one of the world's highest Covid mortality rates, and hospitals are struggling to cope. It has the second-lowest vaccine rate in the European Union. More than seven billion vaccine doses have been administered worldwide, but there is a gap between rich and poor nations. Only 3.6% of people in low income countries have been vaccinated, according to Oxford University's Our World in Data.
11-1-21 World surpasses 5 million COVID-19 deaths as the U.S. settles into a new normal
More than 5 million people worldwide have died from COVID-19 in less than two years, according to Johns Hopkins University's count early Monday. That's about the same number of people who have live in Los Angeles and San Francisco combined, The Associated Press notes, or have died in all battles between nations since 1950. COVID-19 is now the No. 3 cause of death worldwide, after heart disease and stroke. Nearly half of the world's recorded deaths are from wealthier countries that make up one-eighth of the world's population — the U.S., Britain, the European Union, and Brazil — AP reports. The U.S. alone accounts for 740,000 deaths, the most of any official count, though many countries are believed to have much larger death tolls than their official numbers. "What's uniquely different about this pandemic is it hit hardest the high-resource countries," said Dr. Wafaa El-Sadr, director of Columbia University's ICAP global health center. "That's the irony of COVID-19." Wealthier countries have larger proportions of populations vulnerable to the coronavirus — elderly people, cancer survivors, nursing home residents — while poorer countries tend to have larger numbers of young people. Wealthier countries also have more access to COVID-19 vaccines, and outbreaks have been shifting around the globe. Russia, Ukraine, and other parts of Eastern Europe are currently hot spots of COVID-19 and vaccine misinformation. Meanwhile, "the pandemic appears to be winding down in the United States in a thousand subtle ways, but without any singular milestone, or a cymbal-crashing announcement of freedom from the virus," The Washington Post reports. New infections have dropped below 75,000 a day, nearly half the number from August, but more than 1,000 people are dying of COVID-19 in the U.S. on any average day, the Post notes. Nobody knows if there will be another surge this winter. "My feeling now is that we're nearing a steady state where things might get a little better or worse, for the next few years," says Bob Wachter, chairman of the Department of Medicine at the University of California at San Francisco. "It's not great, but it is what it is."
11-1-21 U.S. military jury slams CIA torture of Guantanamo detainee as a 'stain on the moral fiber of America'
A jury of eight senior U.S. military officials sentenced Majid Khan, a suburban Baltimore high school graduate turned al Qaeda courier, to 26 years in prison on Friday, about the lowest sentence under court instructions for the terrorism-related charges he pleaded guilty to in 2012. But seven of the eight jurors also signed on to a letter asking for clemency for Khan and condemning his brutal treatment in CIA black sites before he was sent to the Guantanamo Bay prison camp in 2009. The jurors were the first to hear testimony from someone subjected to the "enhanced interrogation techniques" approved by the George W. Bush administration after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. Former President Barack Obama ended the program upon taking office in 2009. Khan described sexual assault, "rectal feeding" with a garden hose, being dunked in ice water to simulate drowning, and being kept in chains, naked, in dark dungeon-like secret CIA prisons in Pakistan, Afghanistan, and a third country. Khan's torture was first disclosed in a 2014 Senate Intelligence Committee report. "Mr. Khan was subjected to physical and psychological abuse well beyond approved enhanced interrogation techniques, instead being closer to torture performed by the most abusive regimes in modern history," the jury foreman wrote in a handwritten letter obtained by The New York Times and published Sunday night. "This abuse was of no practical value in terms of intelligence, or any other tangible benefit to U.S. interests. Instead, it is a stain on the moral fiber of America; the treatment of Mr. Khan in the hands of U.S. personnel should be a source of shame for the U.S. government." Khan has been cooperating with the U.S. government, and under a plea agreement not disclosed to the jurors, he will probably be free for release as soon as February or as late as 2025. His help is expected in the prosecution of five other Guantanamo prisoners being tried for planning and aiding the 9/11 attacks. He would be returned to another country that is not Pakistan, where his wife and daughter he has never met currently reside.
11-1-21 Washington Post investigation details red flags federal law enforcement overlooked before Jan. 6
In the weeks before the Jan. 6 Capitol attack, tips were coming into the FBI and Department of Homeland Security about explicit threats of violence made by people who said they planned on going to Washington, D.C., when Congress was certifying President Biden's victory, but top federal law enforcement officials didn't appear to understand the gravity of what was taking place, The Washington Post reports. On Sunday, the Post published an investigation into the events of Jan. 6, after speaking with more than 230 people and going through thousands of internal law enforcement reports and memos, court documents, videos, images, and audio recordings. Tips came in from across the U.S. about people vowing online to go to D.C. to fight for former President Donald Trump. The country's regional homeland security offices — known as fusion centers — were getting reports from social media companies about users who wrote of disrupting Congress on Jan. 6 and hurting lawmakers, the Post reports. The leaders of the fusion centers shared tips on a call a few days before Jan. 6, and afterward the head of D.C.'s fusion center became so concerned, he asked the city's health department to call local hospitals and tell them to prepare for a mass casualty event. On Dec. 20, one tipster called the FBI and said some Trump supporters, under the impression they had "orders from the president," were discussing ways to sneak guns into D.C., where they intended to "overrun" police and arrest members of Congress, the Post reports. One dismissed threat specifically mentioned Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah), the Post reports. In late December, the FBI received three screenshots of a Parler user threatening to kill politicians and stating, "Don't be surprised if we take the #capital building." The FBI mostly considered such posts to be "largely aspirational" and protected under the First Amendment, senior FBI officials told the Post. One informant voluntarily sent screenshots to the FBI, saying Three Percenters militia members "literally" took a Dec. 19 Trump tweet about the "big protest" on Jan. 6 — "be there, will be wild" — and a "Fight for Trump" video he later posted as "a call to arms," the Post reports. Several of the agencies contacted by the Post for comment said they are complying with investigations and learning from what happened to prevent future acts of violence. Trump spokesman Taylor Budowich told the Post its investigation was "fake news" and claimed the people who stormed the Capitol were "agitators not associated with" Trump.
11-1-21 John Oliver wants to redirect your alarmist misperceptions about America's homelessness problem
There are at least 580,000 people in the U.S. experiencing homelessness — probably lots more — and that steadily rising number is expected to grow a lot in the next four years, John Oliver said on Sunday's Last Week Tonight. "With this rise in homelessness has come a corresponding rise in the rhetoric around it," and not just from the usual suspects. "I know it is easy to criticize Fox News for being alarmist — alarmism is their whole thing," Oliver said, showing a clip from the Texas capital. "But the truth is, even some residents of Austin, famously a blue dot in a red state, have said it's been a struggle to reconcile their feelings about their homeless neighbors." And Austinites are hardly alone. "The story of homelessness in this country is grounded in a failure of perception compounded by failures of policy," Oliver said. "And like so many things, the modern version of this issue was turbo-charged by Ronald Reagan," who not only cut programs for the poor and slashed housing subsidies but also helped convince lots of people "that homeless isn't related to economic policy" but rather personal failings and choices. Over the past 13 years, local governments have criminalized everything from loitering to living in cars, "so when you hear fearmongering about rising crime among the homeless, it's worth asking yourself if those crimes were actually crimes — or just someone sat down," Oliver said. The way to solve homelessness is to give people homes, but NIMBYism is a real problem, everywhere. "If you're wondering why homelessness continues to get worse in this country, one reason is that there are a lot of people — even liberals — who believe that homelessness is a personal failing, poverty can be avoided, and their own good fortune not only makes them better than the unhoused, but more worthy of comfort," Oliver said. "It is basically Reagan's attitude from a Whole Foods crowd." The big thing Oliver said he wants viewers to remember is that we need "a collective change of perceptions," where we stop believing "the unhoused are a collection of drug-addict criminals who've chosen this life for themselves instead of people suffering the inevitable consequences of gutted social programs and a nationwide divestment from affordable housing." But he seems resigned to the idea you'll mostly just get that "Raining Tacos" song stuck in your head.