Only about 1 in 5 engineering degrees go to women

about 2 months ago

Record Floods Threaten Southern China

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Record floods were expected in parts of southern China Thursday as heavy rains pushed water levels in the Pearl River delta to their highest in almost a century. Hundreds of thousands of people have been evacuated from the worst-hit parts of the region, which includes Guangdong province, a manufacturing and logistics hub that is home to China's tech capital Shenzhen. China's ministry of water resources on Wednesday placed its highest flood alert on the Pearl River basin, saying water levels at one location "surpassed historical records" and that the provincial capital Guangzhou would be impacted. Images from the city of Shaoguan, north of Guangzhou, showed residents on Wednesday making their way through flooded main roads, as water in some areas reached the tops of cars. The muddy floodwater inundated shops and buildings, and people were seen clearing away the debris. The low-lying Pearl River delta is home to the economic powerhouses of Guangzhou and Shenzhen, as well as several smaller but densely populated cities with major manufacturing and other industries. Provincial emergency management authorities said earlier this week that direct economic losses were estimated at 1.7 billion yuan ($253 million). Under the highest alert level, at-risk areas in Guangdong have been ordered to take all necessary measures including suspending work at factories and closing schools to minimise damage. Other regions in southern China, including coastal Fujian province and Guangxi, have also been affected by record rains this month, forcing hundreds of thousands to evacuate. Summer floods are common in parts of China, but these have been getting more extreme in recent years as a result of climate change. Chinese authorities so far have not directly linked this year's extreme floods to climate change. Some local media have dubbed it a "once-in-a-century flood", reporting that water levels have surpassed the highest recorded in 1931 and are approaching the area's worst floods in 1915.

Conservationists Seek Halt of Major Australian Gas Project

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Conservationists are launching a federal court challenge against a major gas project off Western Australia’s coast. Campaigners insist the plan would be, in their words, a “really, really big carbon bomb,” although the company involved says it has passed rigorous environmental scrutiny. The Scarborough gas field is a natural gas field located in the Indian Ocean, hundreds of kilometers off Australia’s west coast. Woodside Energy, an Australian company, wants to set up drilling platforms in the ocean to extract the natural gas from the untapped gas fields and send it by pipeline to a liquefied natural gas processing plant near the city of Karratha, in Western Australia. Most of the liquified natural gas would be exported to Asia. Woodside Energy says the project has “been the subject of rigorous environmental assessments by a range of regulators.” In a statement, the company’s chief executive, Meg O’Neill, said the plan would boost jobs, tax revenues and ensure gas supplies’ reliability. O’Neill said the company would “vigorously defend its position” in legal proceedings in Australia’s federal court. The case has been brought by the Australian Conservation Foundation. It is an unusual legal challenge because campaigners have argued that the Western Australia gas project would damage the Great Barrier Reef, 3,000 kilometers away, on the other side of the country. According to court documents, estimated emissions from the project would cause global temperatures to increase by almost 0.0004 degrees Celsius. Conservationists believe this would “result in the deaths of millions of corals” due to warmer ocean temperatures. The ACF has applied for an injunction against Woodside Energy's Scarborough gas project. It wants it to stop until the new federal environment minister, Tanya Plibersek, can assess whether it would harm the Great Barrier Reef by exacerbating climate change. ACF Chief Executive Kelly O’Shanassy wants the government to reconsider the plan’s approval process. “It, sort of, went through a bit of a loophole in national environmental law and what we want the courts to do is to pull that project back and say, no, it needs to be assessed for its climate impacts on the Great Barrier Reef. That is the heart of the legal case,” said O’Shanassy. Although committed to renewable energy, the recently elected center-left government in Canberra has said it would support fossil fuel projects that “stack up environmentally and then commercially.” Australians have been warned of winter blackouts as an electricity shortage hits the heavily populated east coast. Various factors have caused the energy crisis, including unprecedented wet weather and a recent cold snap in eastern Australia. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February has prompted a surge in global demand for fossil fuels. There have also been outages at Australia’s aging local coal-burning power stations. The United Nations is assessing the impact of global warming on the Great Barrier Reef, as well as localized threats, including pollution and over-fishing. Arguably Australia’s greatest natural treasure, the reef runs 2,300 kilometers down its northeastern coast and spans an area about the size of Japan.

EU Official ‘Confident’ Bloc will Back Ukraine’s Candidate Status

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European Council President Charles Michel said he is confident EU leaders will vote Thursday in favor of granting candidate status to Ukraine. EU leaders gathered in Brussels were also set to discuss the impact of Russia’s war in Ukraine on global food security, as well as additional EU economic, military and humanitarian support for Ukraine. The European Commission recommended EU candidate status for Ukraine and its smaller neighbor, Moldova, last week. The candidacy status is just the first step toward joining the 27-member group. Ukraine will need to meet political and economic conditions, such as meeting standards on democratic principles. Diplomats say the process could take a decade to complete. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said in his nightly video address to the nation that he had spoken to 11 European Union leaders Wednesday about Ukraine's candidacy and would make more calls Thursday. Earlier, he voiced his optimism at joining the EU, saying he believed all 27 EU countries would support Ukraine's candidate status. Zelenskyy said Russia carried out “massive air and artillery strikes” in eastern Ukraine’s Donbas region, adding that Russia’s goal is to “destroy the entire Donbas step-by-step.” The Ukrainian leader called for faster arms deliveries to help his forces match up against those from Russia. Kharkiv region Governor Oleh Synehubov said Wednesday shelling of the residential districts of Kharkiv or other towns in the region had continued unabated. "There is no letup in the shelling of civilians by the Russian occupiers," he wrote on the Telegram messaging app. "This is evidence that we cannot expect the same scenario as in Chernihiv or Kyiv, with Russian forces withdrawing under pressure." Ukrainian presidential adviser Oleksiy Arestovych said in a video address that Russian forces were hitting Kharkiv "with the aim of terrorizing the population" and forcing Ukraine to divert troops, Reuters reported. Microsoft reported Wednesday that Russian intelligence agencies have conducted multiple efforts to hack the computer networks of Ukraine’s allies. "The cyber aspects of the current war extend far beyond Ukraine and reflect the unique nature of cyberspace," Microsoft President Brad Smith said in the report. The Russian embassy in Washington did not immediately respond to a request for comment, Reuters reported. In the past, Moscow has denied conducting foreign cyber espionage missions, saying it "contradicts the principles of Russian foreign policy." Since the conflict began four months ago, Ukrainian entities have been attacked by Russian state-backed hacking groups, Microsoft reported. Researchers found 128 organizations in 42 countries outside Ukraine were also targeted by the same groups in espionage-focused hacks, the report found.  Nearly two-thirds of the cyberespionage targets involved NATO members, researchers found. Some information came from The Associated Press, Reuters, and Agence France-Presse. 

US Advisory Panel Recommends Stronger Flu Shots for Seniors

about 2 months ago

An advisory panel for the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended Wednesday that people ages 65 years and older choose higher-dose flu shots or ones that include an ingredient to boost immune response. The CDC commonly adopts the recommendations of the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices, but in the past it has not advised older adults to get a particular flu shot. The CDC says older people are both at a higher risk for more serious illness from the flu and tend to have a lower protective immune response. The advisory committee said that while its preference is for the higher-dose shots or adjuvanted flu vaccines, if one of those options is not available, people age 65 and older should still be vaccinated with a standard flu vaccine. Some information for this report came from The Associated Press. 

US Expanding Monkeypox Testing

about 2 months ago

The United States is expanding its capacity to test for monkeypox by shipping tests to five commercial labs. The Department of Health and Human Services said Wednesday the effort will “dramatically expand testing capacity nationwide and make testing more convenient and accessible for patients and health care providers.” Health care providers will be able to start using the labs to test for monkeypox by early July, the agency said. As of Tuesday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said there have been 142 reported monkeypox infections in the United States since the first in mid-May. More than 30 countries where monkeypox is not endemic have reported cases. Some information for this report came from The Associated Press and Reuters 

New Witnesses to Detail How Trump Pushed Justice Department to Probe 2020 Election Fraud Claims

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The congressional panel investigating the causes of last year’s Jan. 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol is hearing testimony Thursday about how former President Donald Trump pushed Justice Department officials to investigate allegations of fraud in the 2020 election that he hoped would upend his loss to Democrat Joe Biden. House Select Committee Chairman Bennie Thompson said the panel would examine Trump’s "attempt to corrupt the country's top law enforcement body,” much as state officials in Arizona and Georgia testified Tuesday that Trump unsuccessfully sought to get them to appoint bogus electors to help him stay in office for another four years or overturn votes showing Biden had defeated him. In part, the Thursday hearing is expected to focus on the alleged efforts of Jeffrey Clark, a former assistant attorney general, to repeatedly push Justice Department officials to investigate election fraud claims and to force some states to “decertify” their election results showing Biden had won. Associates say Trump considered naming Clark attorney general over acting attorney general Jeff Rosen, who, like his predecessor, former attorney general William Barr, said there was no evidence of fraud substantial enough to overturn Biden’s victory. In a short video clip shown at the end of Tuesday’s hearing, Richard Donoghue, who served as acting U.S. deputy attorney general from December 2020 to January 2021, said he would have immediately quit if Trump had named Clark attorney general in the waning weeks of his administration. Thursday’s hearing is the fifth this month as the investigative panel explores Trump’s role in fomenting the attack on the Capitol as lawmakers gathered to certify Biden’s presidential victory in the Electoral College. About 2,000 Trump supporters, urged by Trump at a rally shortly beforehand to “fight like hell,” stormed into the Capitol past law enforcement officials, scuffling with police, vandalizing the building and ransacking congressional offices. More than 800 of the protesters have been charged with an array of offenses, with 300 of them already pleading guilty or convicted at trials and imprisoned for terms ranging from a few weeks to more than four years. Trump has derided the investigative panel, comprised of seven Democrats and two anti-Trump Republicans, saying its presentation is biased against him. To this day, he has claimed erroneously that he was cheated out of another term in the White House. The investigative panel’s hearings were set to end with Thursday’s session. The committee is set to release its findings in late summer. But Democratic Representative Jamie Raskin, a committee member, told reporters, “We are picking up new evidence on a daily basis with enormous velocity, and so we're constantly incorporating and including the new information that's coming out.” “There is evidence coming in from diverse sources now," he said, "and I think that people have seen that we're running a serious investigation that is bipartisan in nature, that is focused just on getting the facts of what happened, and a lot of people are coming forward now with information.” Some key officials in the Trump administration have cooperated with the committee’s investigation. But others have balked, repeatedly invoking their constitutional right against self-incrimination and refusing to answer questions about Trump’s actions and their own in the post-election period and on Jan. 6. Two former Trump advisers, Steve Bannon and Peter Navarro, refused to cooperate and were indicted on contempt of Congress charges. Republican Representative Liz Cheney, the panel’s vice chair, called on Pat Cipollone, Trump’s former White House counsel, to answer more questions than he already has. At the center of Trump’s post-election efforts was an audacious scheme to overturn the vote counts in states where Trump lost or to have fake electors supporting Trump named in states where Biden narrowly defeated him. In the United States, presidents are effectively chosen in separate elections in each of the 50 states, not through the national popular vote. Each state’s number of electoral votes is dependent on its population, with the biggest states holding the most sway. The rioters who stormed the Capitol on Jan. 6 tried to keep lawmakers from certifying Biden’s eventual 306-232 victory in the Electoral College. While the House committee cannot bring criminal charges, the Department of Justice is closely monitoring the hearings to determine whether anyone, Trump included, should be charged with illegally trying to reverse the election outcome. A prosecutor in Atlanta, the capital of Georgia, has convened a grand jury investigation to probe Trump’s actions to overturn the vote in that state. Trump asked the state’s top election official, Brad Raffensperger, to “find” him 11,780 votes — one more than Biden defeated him by — out of 5 million ballots. The investigative panel has already heard testimony that key Trump aides told him he had lost the election and that there were a minimal number of voting irregularities, not enough to overturn Biden’s Electoral College victory. In addition, Trump was told it would be illegal for then-Vice President Mike Pence to unilaterally block Biden’s victory as he presided over the congressional Electoral College vote count, as Trump privately and publicly implored Pence to do.

US UN Ambassador Tests Positive for COVID-19

about 2 months ago

The U.S. mission to the United Nations said Wednesday that Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield tested positive for COVID-19. Spokesperson Melissa Quartell said in a statement that Thomas-Greenfield is fully vaccinated and received a booster vaccination, and that she was “experiencing mild symptoms.” Quartell said the ambassador would be working from home in accordance with guidance from health officials. The statement also said Thomas-Greenfield encouraged all those eligible to get fully vaccinated against COVID-19. 

Latest Developments in Ukraine: June 23

about 2 months ago

For full coverage of the crisis in Ukraine, visit Flashpoint Ukraine. The latest developments in the conflict between Russia and Ukraine. All times EDT:   12:01 a.m.: European Union leaders are holding a summit Thursday and Friday, with a top item on their agenda — okaying Ukraine’s bid to be a candidate for the bloc — appearing to be on track.  Kyiv has pushed hard to join the 27-member bloc. Some EU countries such as Portugal and Denmark earlier expressed reservations. But last week, European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen expressed support for Ukraine. “Ukrainians are ready to die for the European perspective," said der Leyen. "We want them to live with us the European dream.”    Some information in this report came from The Associated Press, Reuters and Agence France-Presse.

As EU Decision on Ukraine Nears, Russia Increases Bombardment of Donbas 

about 2 months ago

A day before a meeting of European Union leaders, where a vote is likely on Ukraine’s candidacy to the union, Russian forces pounded Ukraine's second-largest city, Kharkiv, and the eastern Donbas region. The EU leaders’ two-day summit begins Thursday in Brussels. Olha Stefanishyna, deputy prime minister for European and Euro-Atlantic integration, told The Associated Press the vote could come as soon as Thursday. Last week, the European Commission formally recommended EU-candidate status for Ukraine and its smaller neighbor, Moldova. On Wednesday, Stefanishyna said she was “100%” confident that Ukraine would be accepted as an EU candidate. The candidacy status is just the first step toward joining the 27-member group. Ukraine will need to meet political and economic conditions, such as standards on democratic principles. Stefanishyna told AP she thought Ukraine could be an EU member within years. Some European officials have suggested it could take decades. “We’re already very much integrated in the European Union,” she told AP. “We want to be a strong and competitive member state, so it may take from two to 10 years.” Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said in his nightly video address to the nation that he had spoken to 11 European Union leaders on Wednesday about Ukraine's candidacy and would make more calls on Thursday. Earlier, he voiced his optimism at joining the EU, saying he believed all 27 EU countries would support Ukraine's candidate status. Meanwhile, Kharkiv region Governor Oleh Synehubov said shelling of the residential districts of Kharkiv and other towns in the region had continued unabated. "There is no letup in the shelling of civilians by the Russian occupiers," he wrote on the Telegram messaging app. "This is evidence that we cannot expect the same scenario as in Chernihiv or Kyiv, with Russian forces withdrawing under pressure." Ukrainian presidential adviser Oleksiy Arestovych said in a video address that Russian forces were hitting Kharkiv "with the aim of terrorizing the population" and forcing Ukraine to divert troops, Reuters reported. On Sunday, Zelenskyy had warned that Russia was likely to intensify its attacks this week, ahead of the EU action. "Obviously, we expect Russia to intensify hostile activity this week. … We are preparing. We are ready,” he said. Zelenskyy said Wednesday of Russia’s heavy air and artillery strikes in the eastern Donbas: “Step by step they want to destroy all of the Donbas. All of it." Ukrainian Defense Ministry spokesperson Oleksandr Motuzianyk told AP that in some battles, for every artillery shell that Ukrainian forces fire, the Russian army fires at least six. Also, Microsoft reported Wednesday, Russian intelligence agencies have conducted multiple efforts to hack the computer networks of Ukraine’s allies. "The cyber aspects of the current war extend far beyond Ukraine and reflect the unique nature of cyberspace," Microsoft President Brad Smith said in the report. The Russian Embassy in Washington did not immediately respond to a request for comment, Reuters reported. In the past, Moscow has denied conducting foreign cyber espionage missions, saying it "contradicts the principles of Russian foreign policy." Since the conflict began four months ago, Ukrainian entities have been attacked by Russian state-backed hacking groups, Microsoft reported. Researchers found 128 organizations in 42 countries outside Ukraine had been targeted by the same groups in espionage-focused hacks, the report found. Nearly two-thirds of the cyberespionage targets involved NATO members, researchers found. Some information for this report came from The Associated Press, Reuters and Agence France-Presse.

Mexico Recovers Bodies of Priests, Tour Guide Killed in Church

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The bodies of two Jesuit priests and a tour guide shot dead this week in a gang-ravaged area of northern Mexico have been found after a major search, authorities said Wednesday.  The three were killed Monday after a suspected run-in with a wanted drug trafficker in the border state of Chihuahua. The crime drew swift condemnation from Pope Francis.  "We've found and recovered … the bodies of the Jesuit priests Javier Campos, Joaquin Mora and the tour guide Pedro Palma," Chihuahua Governor Maria Eugenia Campos said in a video posted to social media. Francis said he was shocked by the killings as authorities hunted for the suspect.  "So many killings in Mexico," Francis said at the end of his general audience for thousands of people in St. Peter's Square. The state prosecutor's office in Chihuahua said the three were killed after Palma took refuge in a church in the town of Cerocahui to protect himself from an attack.  The office named Jose Noriel Portillo Gil as a suspect in the killings and offered a reward of nearly $250,000 for information relating to his whereabouts.  The state said in 2018 that Portillo, who is also the prime suspect in the killing of American teacher Patrick Braxton-Andrews, was involved in the drug trade.  The three bodies were taken from the church by a group of men in the back of a pickup, Luis Gerardo Moro, head of the religious order in Mexico, said in a radio interview.  The killings followed the kidnapping of four tourists at a nearby hotel, authorities told Reuters.  Among the missing is the wife of one of the murder victims, President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador said, presumably referring to Palma.

Rwanda Hosts Showcase Commonwealth Summit, Dimmed by Rights Concerns

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Rwanda is preparing to welcome leaders of 54 nations for a Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting Friday in the capital, Kigali. The Commonwealth was formed in 1931 as the British Empire began to break up and nations claimed their independence. Its stated aim is working toward shared goals of prosperity, democracy and peace. Rwanda and four other countries are not former British colonies. This week’s summit, which has been postponed twice since 2020 owing to the coronavirus pandemic, is being overshadowed by concerns over human rights abuses in Rwanda and Britain’s plans to send asylum seekers to the African state for processing there. “The Rwandan government has been very keen to have (the meeting) in person so it can showcase the country and showcase the capital,” says Professor Philip Murphy, the director of the Institute of Commonwealth Studies at the University of London. Rwanda President Paul Kagame “wants the kind of kudos of being attached to an organization that claims that it’s values-based, it claims that it supports human rights, democracy and the rule of law... And clearly he’s a very controversial figure. Rwanda’s human rights record is questionable and controversial.” Rwanda denies the government commits human rights abuses. Supporters of Kagame say hosting the Commonwealth meeting is another milestone in the country’s rapid development since the 1994 genocide, in which around 800,000 people were killed. Human rights Civil society groups in Rwanda complain of a lack of media and political freedom. Rwandan journalist Eleneus Akanga fled the country in 2007 after the government closed his newspaper. “My crime was reporting the truth. I had written a story, or I sought to write a story about journalists that were being beaten by unknown people. And it turned out that these journalists thought that the government was beating them up using state agents. I found out later that they were going to charge me with espionage.” Akanga then fled to Britain and was granted political asylum in 2007. Asylum deal Earlier this year, Britain signed a deal with the Rwandan government to send back asylum seekers arriving on its shores for processing in Rwanda. The first flight was due to depart last week but was blocked minutes before take-off by the European Court of Human Rights. Critics say the policy breaches refugee law. The British government says the policy is legal and will deter migrants. “When people come here illegally, when they break the law, it is important that we make that distinction. That is what we are doing with our Rwanda policy,” British Prime Minister Boris Johnson told reporters June 18. British ties Britain has forged close ties with Rwanda since the latter joined the Commonwealth in 2009, says Murphy. “Kagame has got strong links with the British Conservative party. He’s got a lot of supporters there. So I think that this asylum deal probably developed on the back of that special Commonwealth relationship,” Murphy said. Exiled journalist Eleneus Akanga says the policy is contradictory. “It is astonishing when you see the British government, which has given people like myself asylum, now being the same government that is out there telling us that somehow, Rwanda has transformed so much so that it is a country they are willing to send the most vulnerable asylum seekers that there could be to, because they believe the situation has changed. And we know it hasn’t,” Akanga told VOA. Overshadowed The Commonwealth meeting will be overshadowed by the dispute over Britain’s asylum policy, says Commonwealth analyst Murphy. “In a way it’s focused international attention on Rwanda’s human rights record,” he told VOA. “Since the 1990s the Commonwealth has tried to reinvent itself as an organization that’s united more by common values than by common history. The problem is it hasn’t been very good at policing those values.”

Tariffs Give US 'Leverage' in Talks With China, Top Trade Official Says

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U.S. tariffs on Chinese goods offer a key element of leverage over Beijing, something Washington should be reluctant to relinquish, the top American trade official said Wednesday.  Progress with China's unfair trade practices has been elusive, which makes the tariffs an important tool, U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai told lawmakers.  "The China tariffs are, in my view, a significant piece of leverage and a trade negotiator never walks away from leverage," she said in testimony before the Senate Appropriations Committee.  "The United States has repeatedly sought and obtained commitments from China, only to find that lasting change remains elusive," she added.  President Joe Biden has said he is considering lifting some of the tariffs imposed by his predecessor, Donald Trump, and also plans to talk with Chinese leader Xi Jinping.  White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said Wednesday that no decision has been made on the tariffs.  "The president has been discussing this with his team," she told reporters, adding that there is no timeline for an announcement.  But any decision would likely have to come soon, as some of the tariffs are to expire starting July 6 unless they are renewed.  Successive rounds of tariffs imposed by Trump eventually covered about $350 billion in annual imports from China in retaliation for Beijing's theft of American intellectual property and forced transfer of technology.  Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen is among those arguing that removing the tariffs could ease inflation, which has reached a 40-year high and is squeezing American families.  "The tariffs we inherited; some serve no strategic purpose and raise costs to consumers," Yellen said on Sunday.  The administration is looking at "reconfiguring some of those tariffs so they make more sense and reduce some unnecessary burdens," Yellen said.  But Tai said there is a limit to what can be done to address rising prices in the short term.  Meanwhile, U.S. homebuilders issued a statement urging the administration to remove tariffs on Canadian lumber to ease the pressure on homebuyers.  "If the administration is truly interested in providing U.S. citizens relief from high inflation by removing costly tariffs, it should ensure that Canadian lumber is among the tariffs it targets for elimination," Jerry Konter, chairman of the National Association of Home Builders, said in a statement.  Washington lowered lumber tariffs in January to 11.64%, but NAHB calculates the duties have added more than $18,600 to the price of a new home since last August.  Tai told lawmakers she regularly discusses the issue with her counterparts in Ottawa to try to resolve the issue.  But she added: "That requires the Canadian government to be willing to address the fundamental challenges that we have with respect to an unlevel playing field for our industry with respect to how they govern their harvesting in their industry."

Bulgarian Government Loses No-Confidence Vote

about 2 months ago

A no-confidence vote on Wednesday toppled Bulgaria's government and Prime Minister Kiril Petkov, who had pledged to tackle corruption and took an unusually strong stance against Russia. Opposition lawmakers brought down the government, which took power six months ago, on a 123-116 vote after the ruling coalition lost its majority over disputes on budget spending and whether Bulgaria should unlock North Macedonia's EU accession. They accused the government of failing to implement fiscal and economic policies to tame surging inflation in the European Union's poorest member state. Bulgaria now faces possibly its fourth general election since April 2021, putting at risk millions of euros from EU recovery funds and its plans to adopt the euro in 2024. "This vote is only one small step in a very long way," Petkov said following the vote. "What they fail to understand is that this is not the way to win the Bulgarian people." Petkov, a 42-year-old Harvard graduate who had pledged to combat corruption, has taken a strong pro-European and pro-NATO position since Russia invaded Ukraine, an unusual stance for a country traditionally friendly toward Moscow. Petkov sacked his defense minister in February for refusing to call the Russian invasion of Ukraine a war, backed EU sanctions against Moscow and agreed to repair Ukraine's heavy military machinery while stopping short of sending arms to Kyiv. The ensuing political gridlock may also hinder Bulgaria's efforts to secure stable natural gas inflows after Moscow cut gas deliveries to the country, which was almost completely reliant on Russian gas, over Sofia's refusal to pay in rubles. Deputy Prime Minister Assen Vassilev expressed hope that parliament would vote to approve budget changes drafted to raise state pensions and support households as food and fuel prices surge.   The former coalition partner ITN left the government after accusing Petkov of disregarding Bulgaria's interests by pushing to lift its veto on North Macedonia's EU accession talks under pressure from its EU and NATO allies. Petkov has argued that any decision on the veto should be put to vote in parliament. Earlier on Wednesday, in a sudden shift, the main opposition GERB party said it would support lifting of the veto, but political bickering prevented a debate on the issue. Lawmakers will now meet again on Thursday to discuss whether Sofia should unlock Skopje's EU accession. Petkov will maintain Bulgaria's veto at the EU summit this week, unless the parliament gives him a different mandate. Petkov has rejected any coalition talks with opposition parties in the chamber but will seek defections from lawmakers to garner enough support for a new government and avoid early elections. President Rumen Radev is required to call elections within two months and appoint a caretaker administration should Petkov fail to cobble together a majority for a new cabinet and if two other parties in parliament cannot form a government. The motion against the ruling coalition was proposed by the GERB party of former Prime Minister Boyko Borissov, which is likely to benefit from fresh polls alongside pro-Russian parties like nationalist Revival in a society polarized by economic problems and the Ukraine war.

Medical Staff in Argentina to Be Tried for Maradona Death

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Eight medical personnel will stand trial for alleged criminal neglect causing Argentine football legend Diego Maradona to die in bed while receiving post-surgery care. A judge on Wednesday ordered a culpable homicide trial for the eight, who include Maradona's family doctor and nurses, based on evidence that they had failed to take "action that could have prevented the death" in November 2020. No trial date has been set. Maradona died at age 60 while recovering from brain surgery for a blood clot, and after decades of battles with cocaine and alcohol addictions. He was found dead in bed two weeks after going under the knife, in a rented house in an exclusive Buenos Aires neighborhood where he was brought after being discharged from the hospital. He was found to have died of a heart attack. A panel of 20 medical experts convened by Argentina's public prosecutor concluded last year that Maradona's treatment was rife with "deficiencies and irregularities." It said the footballer "would have had a better chance of survival" with adequate treatment in an appropriate medical facility. The experts found his caregivers had abandoned the idolized player to his fate for a "prolonged, agonizing period" leading up to his death. Prosecutors asked for his caregivers to be put on trial for negligent homicide, charging that they had abandoned him "to his fate." The eight will stand trial on a legal definition of homicide characterized by negligence committed in the knowledge that it may lead to a person's death. Charged in the case are neurosurgeon and family doctor Leopoldo Luque, psychiatrist Agustina Cosachov, psychologist Carlos Diaz, medical coordinator Nancy Forlini, nursing coordinator Mariano Perroni, nurses Ricardo Almiron and Dahiana Madrid, and clinician Pedro Paglo Di Spagna. Prosecutors have charged the defendants with being "the protagonists of an unprecedented, totally deficient and reckless hospitalization at home." They risk sentences ranging from eight to 25 years in prison. All of them have denied responsibility and none are in pre-trial detention. An investigation was opened following a complaint filed by two of Maradona's five children against Luque, whom they blame for their father's deterioration after the operation. Maradona is widely considered one of the greatest footballers in history. The former Boca Juniors, Barcelona and Napoli star suffered from liver, kidney and cardiovascular disorders when he died. He became an idol to millions of Argentines after he inspired the South American country to their second World Cup triumph in 1986. The court ruling came as Argentina celebrated its Day of the Footballer commemorating Maradona's performance in the 1986 quarterfinal against England - when he scored the infamous "hand of God" goal and then the "Goal of the Century" as voted in a FIFA poll. His death shocked fans around the world, and tens of thousands queued to file past his coffin, draped in the Argentine flag, at the presidential palace in Buenos Aires amid three days of national mourning.

Nearly 1 in 5 Adults Who Had COVID Have Lingering Symptoms, US Study Finds

about 2 months ago

Nearly 1 in 5 American adults who reported having COVID-19 in the past are still having symptoms of long COVID, according to survey data collected in the first two weeks of June, U.S. health officials said Wednesday.  Overall, 1 in 13 adults in the United States have long COVID symptoms that have lasted for three months or more after first contracting the disease and that they did not have before the infection, the data showed.  The data was collected June 1-13 by the U.S. Census Bureau and analyzed by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.  Long COVID symptoms include fatigue, rapid heartbeat, shortness of breath, cognitive difficulties, chronic pain, sensory abnormalities and muscle weakness. They can be debilitating and last for weeks or months after recovery from the initial infection.  The CDC analysis also found that younger adults were more likely to have persistent symptoms than older adults.  Women were also more likely to have long COVID than men, according to the study, with 9.4% of U.S. adult women reporting long COVID symptoms compared with 5.5% of men.  The survey found nearly 9% of Hispanic adults have long COVID, higher than non-Hispanic white and Black adults, and more than twice the percentage of non-Hispanic Asian adults.  There were also differences based on U.S. states, with Kentucky and Alabama reporting the highest percentage of adults with long COVID symptoms, while Hawaii, Maryland and Virginia reported the lowest, according to the survey. 

DOD Official Touts Sweden, Finland Joining NATO > U.S. Department of Defense > Defense Department News

by Jim Garamone, about 2 months ago

A Department of Defense official strongly urged the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to quickly approve the request of Finland and Sweden to join NATO. 

'Black Death' Likely Originated in Central Asia, Researchers Say

about 2 months ago

The Black Death, a plague that killed up to 60% of people in western Eurasia from roughly 1346 to 1353, likely originated in the Tian Shan mountains of central Asia, new research shows. Scientists recovered two genomes of an ancient strain of Yersinia pestis, the bacterium that causes plague, from human remains buried in two 14th-century cemeteries in Kyrgyzstan. The strain is the ancestor of the microbes that caused the Black Death. “The origin of the Black Death has been one of the most widely debated topics not only in medieval history, but I perhaps will not exaggerate if I say that it has been one of the most debated topics in history, period,” said historian and study co-author Philip Slavin of the University of Stirling. There are many competing theories, he said, “but without ancient DNA, you wouldn't be able actually to confirm one of those theories.” Researchers reconstructed an ancient Y. pestis genome for the first time in 2011 using samples from a burial ground in London. Since then, a handful of additional Black Death genomes from western Eurasia and many more from modern Y. pestis strains carried by rodents and their parasites — the natural reservoirs of plague — also were sequenced. But even with the new data, “it was still quite clear to us that this kind of research was not really telling us much about where it all started and when it all started,” said Maria Spyrou, a biologist at the Eberhard Karls University of Tübingen and first author of the new study. Spike in deaths The wellspring of the Black Death wouldn’t be found in a European grave. But Slavin thought that two cemeteries near Lake Issyk-Kul in Kyrgyzstan looked promising. Based on tombstone inscriptions, the area saw a spike in deaths between 1338 and 1339. Some of those deaths were blamed on an unknown “pestilence.” The researchers extracted and sequenced genetic material from seven teeth from seven individuals buried at the cemeteries. Human teeth are crisscrossed by a dense network of blood vessels, making them one of the best places in which to look for the centuries-old DNA of blood-borne pathogens like Y. pestis. Three of the seven individuals had plague DNA in their teeth, allowing researchers to reconstruct the genome of the strain that killed them. In a genetic family tree of the plague, the new strain sits right at base of what Spyrou called an “explosion of genetic diversity” — a dramatic radiation of new strains including the ones that caused the Black Death. The origin strain’s closest modern cousins are carried by marmots in the surrounding Tian Shan area, so it seems to have developed locally. “It started most likely in this Tian Shan region of central Asia,” said Spyrou. “But I don’t want to claim that we have found, I don’t know, a patient zero or outbreak zero, because this is almost impossible using the archaeological record.” Sharon DeWitte, an archaeologist at the University of South Carolina, was excited by the results, but she noted that there’s still a small chance the Black Death reached central Asia from elsewhere. “Yersinia pestis can travel pretty far without accumulating any genetic variation,” she said. “But that being said, there's strong evidence that that general area was the origin.” Why, how did it spread? Finding where the Black Death began is a major step toward understanding why and how it spilled over from animals to humans and spread so catastrophically in the 14th century. Slavin suspects trade was an important factor. “This community was situated right at the heart of long-distance trade routes known as the Silk Road,” he said. They were “extremely cosmopolitan, very multinational, very multiethnic, and [had] lots of geographic mobility.” Graves contained pearls from the Pacific and Indian oceans, silks from China or Uzbekistan and shells from the Mediterranean, said Slavin. Climate could also have been involved, said Spyrou and DeWitte. Future studies of historical climate events in central Asia could help explain the pandemic’s timing and spread. More ancient plague genomes from Asia also would help, but Slavin noted that finding similar archaeological sites or collections isn’t as straightforward as it sounds. Plague still kills people every year. Because it evolves fast and jumps from animals to humans, it’s important to understand the conditions that make it dangerous and monitor it closely, according to DeWitte. And studying past pandemics can offer lessons for the present, too. “The Black Death is basically a natural experiment where we are gathering a huge amount of data about the human populations affected, the animals that might have been involved, the bacterium that was involved, and climate conditions,” said DeWitte. “And I think all that's really important in terms of building resilience for populations moving forward so that we don't actually suffer from the worst possible outcomes of pandemic disease.”

Crowds Flock to Yellowstone as Park Reopens After Floods

about 2 months ago

Throngs of tourists gleefully watched the legendary Old Faithful geyser shoot towering bursts of steaming water while others got stuck in "bison jams" on picturesque valley roads as visitors returned Wednesday for the partial reopening of Yellowstone National Park after destructive floods.  Park managers raised the gates at three of Yellowstone's five entrances for the first time since June 13, when 10,000 visitors were ordered out after rivers across northern Wyoming and southern Montana surged over their banks following a torrent of rainfall that accelerated the spring snowmelt. The cost and scope of the damage is still being assessed, Yellowstone Superintendent Cam Sholly said Wednesday.  Empty roads and parking lots quickly grew busier by mid-morning after an estimated 2,000-3,000 vehicles entered the park in the first few hours in long lines that stretched for several miles (kilometers) at one gate.  Lonnie and Graham Macmillan of Vancouver, Canada, were among those at a so-called "bison jam" where a group of the burly animals crossed the road. The bison sighting capped a successful morning in which they'd already seen two moose and numerous deer.  They showed up at the park last week, only to get turned away as it was under evacuation. They diverted to Mount Rushmore in South Dakota for a few days and then to Wyoming's Big Horn mountains before returning to Yellowstone as soon as the chance arose.  "The whole purpose of our trip was to come here," Lonnie Macmillan said. "We weren't going to go home until we got here."  The record floods reshaped the park's rivers and canyons, wiped out numerous roads and left some areas famous for their wildlife viewing inaccessible, possibly for months to come. It hit just as a summer tourist season that draws millions of visitors was ramping up as the park celebrated its 150th anniversary a year after it tallied a record 4.9 million visits.  Some of the premier attractions at America's first national park were again viewable, including Old Faithful, which shoots bursts of steaming water almost like clockwork more than a dozen times a day.  But the bears, wolves and bison that roam the wild Lamar Valley and the thermal features around Mammoth Hot Springs will remain out of reach. The wildlife-rich northern half of the park will be shuttered until at least early July, and key routes into the park remain severed near the Montana tourist towns of Gardiner, Red Lodge and Cooke City.  Muris Demirovic, 43, of Miami and his 70-year-old mother arrived at the east entrance at about 5:30 a.m. and were second in a line of dozens of cars. He and his mother, who is from Bosnia, were on a cross country trip visiting national parks and Yellowstone was at the top of their list.  However, when they arrived, it was closed due to flooding. Demirovic and his mother toured Cody, Wyoming, went to a rodeo, walked some trails and visited a museum. They had planned to leave the Yellowstone area on Monday, but stayed when they learned the park would reopen.  "This is a once-in-a-lifetime trip for me and my mom, so I had to make sure she sees this," he said.  To keep visitor numbers down while repairs continue, park managers are using a system that with few exceptions only allows cars with even-numbered last digits on their license plates to enter on even days, while vehicles with odd-numbered last numbers can come on odd days.  Park rangers had to turn away fewer than 1% of the people lined up due to license plate issues, and they were turning them away before they got in long lines to enter the park, Sholly said.  If traffic along the park's 400 miles (644 kilometers) of roads becomes unmanageable, Sholly said officials will impose a reservation system for entrance.  Along the road to Yellowstone's south entrance in Wyoming, a long, slow-moving line of cars snaked along a road with a sign that for days had been flashing "Yellowstone closed" but now alerted drivers that the park was open with restricted access.  Gracie Brennan of Kentucky and two of her friends were going to Yellowstone as part of a tour of national parks.  "Old Faithful was the main thing I wanted to see, so if we can get there, which ever way we got to go, it doesn't really matter," Brennan said.  The reopening comes as officials in Yellowstone are still tallying the extent of the damage. Based on other national park disasters, it could take years and carry a steep price tag to rebuild. It's an environmentally sensitive landscape with a huge underground plumbing system that feeds into the park's geysers, hot springs and other thermal features. Construction season only runs from the spring thaw until the first snowfall, a narrow window that means some roads could receive only temporary fixes this year.  That's turned some Montana communities into dead ends instead of being gateways to Yellowstone, a blow to their tourism-dependent economies. They're also still struggling to clean up damage to several hundred homes and businesses that were swamped by flooding.  In Red Lodge, one of those gateway towns cut off from the park, most businesses are open even as cleanup continues. The Montana Department of Transportation is beginning repairs to the road between Red Lodge and the scenic Beartooth Highway and the National Park Service is working to restore access to some areas in the northern part of the park.  "We have to remain optimistic, but we also have to remain realistic that there's a lot of things going on and a lot of moving pieces to make it happen," said Tim Weamer, who does marketing for the Red Lodge Chamber of Commerce.  Montana Governor Greg Gianforte, who received criticism last week for not disclosing he was out of the country until two days after the flooding, was not at the park for Wednesday's reopening. Spokesperson Brooke Stroyke said Gianforte was scheduled to meet with Cabinet members and be briefed on flood response and recovery.  Wyoming Governor Mark Gordon also wasn't in the park, said his spokesperson Michael Pearlman.  Tiffany Jahn from Kenosha, Wisconsin, who was with her husband and daughter in the line at the south entrance in Wyoming, said she was excited to see anything that was still open and especially hoping to glimpse the park's wildlife.  "We were actually coming last week and we were getting messages ... saying 'Don't come, don't come,'" she said. "But we were already out here so we kind of just altered our plans and made it work."   

US Eases Immigration Requirements for Afghans

about 2 months ago

The U.S. government has eased some of the stringent requirements Afghans have to navigate as they apply to resettle in the United States.  Until now, Afghans who held civilian positions under the Taliban regime or paid it for public services such as getting a passport, have been ineligible for a U.S. visa on the basis that they have ties to a terrorist group. The Biden administration says that is no longer the case.  "[T]he Secretary of Homeland Security and Secretary of State exercised their authority under the Immigration and Nationality Act to allow the U.S. government on a case-by-case basis to grant an exemption for otherwise qualified applicants for visas and certain other immigration benefits who would otherwise not qualify due to the statute's broad inadmissibility grounds," a State Department spokesman told VOA.   "This action will allow the U.S. government to meet the protection needs of qualifying Afghans who do not pose a national security or public safety risk and provide them with the ability to access a durable immigration status in the United States," the spokesperson said, adding that Afghans who worked as civil servants during the first Taliban reign in Afghanistan from September 1996 to December 2001, and after August 15, 2021, are eligible under the policy.   Since 2006, the U.S. government, under both Republican and Democratic administrations, has applied this exemption authority more than 30 times to protect U.S. allies against inadvertent terrorism-related blockings.  "Doctors, teachers, engineers, and other Afghans, including those who bravely and loyally supported U.S. forces on the ground in Afghanistan at great risk to their safety, should not be denied humanitarian protection and other immigration benefits due to their inescapable proximity to war or their work as civil servants," the State Department spokesperson said.   Some requirements unclear  Afghans who apply for admission to the U.S. through Special Immigrant Visas (SIVs), a program enacted by Congress in 2009, must submit, among other documents, a recommendation letter from a supervisor of a U.S. project in Afghanistan.   For years, applicants were asked to have a U.S. citizen verify and sign the letter of recommendation or have a U.S. citizen as a co-signer if the supervisor was a foreign national, according to International Refugee Assistance Project (IRAP), a U.S.-based nongovernment organization.  It remains unclear whether that requirement has been dropped. According to IRAP policy expert Adam Bates, although the State Department asks applicants for the signed letters, Congress never mandated that requirement.  "The statute governing the SIV program never contained this requirement in the first place; Congress never intended for Afghan allies to have their applications delayed or rejected for lack of a letter from a U.S. citizen," Bates told VOA.  The State Department, however, said applicants should still try to obtain such a letter and did not confirm that the requirement has been dropped entirely.    Applicants "should try to obtain this letter from a U.S. citizen supervisor who knows them personally, but if that is not possible, they should try to provide a letter of recommendation signed by a non-U.S. citizen supervisor and co-signed by the U.S. citizen responsible for the contract," the State Department spokesperson told VOA, quoting SIV application requirements guidelines.  IRAP says the requirement creates unwarranted obstacles and problems for applicants who, for various reasons, cannot find a U.S. citizen to sign or co-sign a recommendation letter, an increasingly onerous task since the August 2021 withdrawal of U.S. forces and personnel, particularly for Afghans who've been forced from their jobs or compelled to change contact information.  More visas needed   Since 2014, Congress has approved 34,500 principal visas for the Afghan SIV program, excluding visas issued for dependents, of which about 16,000 visas are left.   Evacuate Our Allies, a coalition of human rights and refugee organizations including IRAP, has called on Congress to approve 25,000 additional SIV visas for Afghans.   "It would be unconscionable for SIV-qualified Afghans who risked their lives on behalf of the U.S. mission in Afghanistan to check all the bureaucratic boxes and invest the years of their lives required to make it through the SIV process only for Congress to not authorize enough visas to ensure they have pathway to safety," Bates said.  Currently, there are at least 50,000 principal applications awaiting screening and approval.  "[W]e are processing more initial applications than ever," the State Department spokesperson said.   The U.S. embassy in Kabul, the capital of Afghanistan, remains closed since August last year, but the State Department says it has increased staff in third-country embassies and consulates to enhance and expedite SIV applications.    

Ecuador Refuses to End State of Emergency; 18 Police Missing After Attack

about 2 months ago

Ecuador on Wednesday refused to end its state of emergency and said 18 police officers were missing following an attack by Indigenous protesters on a police station in the eastern Amazon region.  Two people have died in the 10-day protest in which the government has declared an emergency in six of Ecuador's 24 departments following violent clashes between protesters and security forces.  Around 90 civilians and 100 members of the security forces have been injured in clashes, while the interior minister said 18 officers were missing following the attack in the Amazonian city of Puyo.  Another six officers were seriously injured and three more were detained by the protesters, said Patricio Carrillo.   A protester also died in the attack in Puyo, a five-hour drive south of Quito, the government said Tuesday night.  "The mob began setting fires with police still inside patrol cars, began looting, burning public-private facilities such as the Guayaquil Bank, Red Cross, until they ended up torching the police facilities in the center of the city," said Carrillo.  Conditions for dialogue President Guillermo Lasso has proposed dialogue with the powerful Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador (CONAIE), which called the protests, in a bid to end the escalating violence.  But CONAIE leader Leonidas Iza said talks were conditioned on the state of emergency being repealed and the "demilitarization" of a public park in Quito that is a traditional rallying point for Indigenous people but is currently under the control of security forces.  "We cannot lift the state of exception because that would leave the capital defenseless, and we already know what happened in October 2019, and we will not allow that," Minister of Government Francisco Jimenez told the Teleamazonas channel.  CONAIE led two weeks of nationwide protests in 2019 in which 11 people died and more than 1,000 were injured, also generating losses of $800 million.  In the capital, Quito, Indigenous protesters occupied congress, torched the comptroller's office, and damaged public and private property. 'Sit down and talk' The capital is again the epicenter of the protests. CONAIE, which has mobilized at least 10,000 people in Quito, hundreds of whom have clashed with security forces in recent days, want the government to lower fuel prices.  "It is not the time to put more conditions, to make more demands. It is the moment to sit down and talk," said Jimenez.  "Unfortunately, there has been accidental loss of life, according to the information we have, and we cannot keep waiting."  An Indigenous protester died after he was "hit in the face, apparently with a tear gas bomb," on Tuesday following the "confrontation" with security forces in Puyo, a lawyer for the Alliance of Human Rights Organizations told AFP.  The police said "it was presumed that the person died as a result of handling an explosive device."  Murder probe Another protester died on Monday after falling into a ravine outside Quito, with police claiming that, too, was an accident.  However, the public prosecutor's office has opened a murder investigation.  The alliance said 90 people had been injured and 87 arrested since protests began on June 13.  Police said 101 officers and military personnel had been injured, with another 27 temporarily detained by protesters.  It said 80 civilians had been arrested.  Quito was relatively calm on Wednesday morning.

Why Is There a Worldwide Oil-Refining Crunch? 

about 2 months ago

Drivers around the world are feeling pain at the pump with fuel prices soaring, and costs are surging to heat buildings, generate power and operate industries. Prices were elevated before Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24. But since mid-March, fuel costs have surged while crude prices have increased only modestly. Much of the reason is a lack of adequate refining capacity to process crude into gasoline and diesel to meet high global demand.  How much can the world refineries produce daily? Overall, there is enough capacity to refine about 100 million barrels of oil a day, according to the International Energy Agency (IEA), but about 20% of that capacity is not usable. Much of that unusable capacity is in Latin America and other places where there is a lack of investment. That leaves somewhere around 82 million to 83 million bpd in projected capacity.  How many refineries have closed?  The refining industry estimates that the world lost 3.3 million barrels of daily refining capacity since the start of 2020. About a third of these losses occurred in the United States, with the rest in Russia, China, and Europe. Fuel demand crashed early in the pandemic when lockdowns and remote work were widespread. Before that, refining capacity had not declined in any year for at least three decades. Will refining pick up? Global refining capacity is set to expand by 1 million bpd per day in 2022 and 1.6 million bpd in 2023. How much has refining declined since before the pandemic?  In April, 78 million barrels were processed daily, down sharply from the pre-pandemic average of 82.1 million bpd. The IEA expects refining to rebound during the summer to 81.9 million bpd as Chinese refiners come back online.  Where is most of the refining capacity offline, and why?  The United States, China, Russia and Europe are all operating refineries at lower capacity than before the pandemic. U.S. refiners shut nearly 1 million bpd of capacity since 2019 for various reasons. Nearly 30% of Russia's refining capacity was idled in May, sources told Reuters. Many Western nations are rejecting Russian fuel.  China has the most spare refining capacity. Refined product exports are allowed only under official quotas, mainly granted to large state-owned refining companies and not to smaller independent companies that hold much of China's spare capacity. As of last week, run rates at China’s state-backed refineries averaged around 71.3% and independent refineries were around 65.5%. That was up from earlier in the year, but low by historic standards. What else is contributing to high prices?  The cost to carry products on vessels overseas has risen because of high global demand, as well as sanctions on Russian vessels. In Europe, refineries are constrained by high prices for natural gas, which powers their operations. Some refiners also depend on vacuum gasoil as an intermediate fuel. Loss of Russian vacuum gasoil has prevented certain refineries from restarting certain gasoline-producing units.  Who is benefiting from the current situation?  Refiners, especially those that export a lot of fuel to other countries, such as U.S. refiners. Global fuel shortages have boosted refining margins to historic highs, with a key spread nearing $60 a barrel. That has driven big profits for U.S.-based Valero and India-based Reliance Industries.  India, which refines more than 5 million bpd, according to the IEA, has been importing cheap Russian crude for domestic use and export. It is expected to boost output by 450,000 by year-end, the IEA said.  More refining capacity is set to come online in the Middle East and Asia to meet growing demand.

Breast cancer cells spread during sleep

by Vanessa Bleich-ETH Zurich, about 2 months ago

A new study offers a surprising finding about breast cancer: circulating cells that later form metastases mainly arise when a person is sleeping.

Couples with similar desirability are most likely to have good relationships

by Pate McCuien-U. Missouri, about 2 months ago

"...much of the anthropological work on human mating patterns are based on only people's preferences. This research focuses on people's actions."

COVID-19 Vaccine Scheme for World's Poorest Pushes for Delivery Slowdown  

about 2 months ago

Leaders of the global scheme aiming to get COVID-19 vaccines to the world's poorest are pushing manufacturers including Pfizer PFE.N and Moderna MRNA.Oto cut or slow deliveries of about half a billion shots so doses are not wasted. COVAX, the World Health Organization-led scheme, wants between 400 and 600 million fewer vaccines doses than initially contracted from six pharmaceutical companies, according to internal documents seen by Reuters. While at first the initiative struggled for shots as wealthy nations snapped up limited supply, donations from those same countries later in 2021, as well as improved output from manufacturers — alongside delivery challenges and vaccine hesitancy in a number of countries — has led to a glut of vaccine in 2022. "COVAX has called for manufacturers to acknowledge the global oversupply situation, and support collective efforts to meet the timing of countries' needs and avoid unnecessary wastage," said a spokesperson for Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, which runs the initiative alongside WHO. Gavi wants manufacturers to either reduce the size of the initial orders or at least "re-phase" them, meaning they are delivered at a later date that is more aligned with when countries need them. Future negotiations might also include getting the variant-specific vaccines currently being tested by manufacturers including Moderna and Pfizer. While Gavi is close to an agreement with some manufacturers, contract negotiations with other companies are not as advanced, according to sources close to the talks. No deals have yet been agreed. The biggest orders are with Moderna and Pfizer, alongside the Serum Institute of India, Novavax NVAX.O, Johnson & Johnson JNJ.N and Clover Biopharmaceuticals 2197.HK. "Being cognisant of local needs, we are seeking to provide pragmatic solutions to requests whenever possible," Pfizer said in an emailed statement, while Novavax said the status of its COVAX deliveries was currently "unclear." Moderna said it had nothing to add at this time. COVAX follows in the steps of other vaccine buyers in trying to cut deliveries agreed at the height of the pandemic, including European Union governments. Pfizer and Moderna have agreed to delay some shipments.  In total, COVAX has delivered more than 1.5 billion doses in the last 18 months. However, its initial aims of contributing towards the goal of vaccinating 70% of the population of every country in the world by this month have now effectively taken a back seat to protecting 100% of the most vulnerable — namely, health workers and the elderly. While 66.3% of the world's population has now had at least one COVID-19 vaccine dose, the proportion falls to 17.8% in low-income countries, according to Our World In Data. "What is critical for the global pandemic response now is not a high volume of doses, but tailored supply and support to lower-income countries," said Gavi. Documents ahead of the organization's board meeting this week, reviewed by Reuters, also show COVAX is considering extending its work to "leverage dose donations" from high-income countries to provide COVID-19 vaccines for children, as well as adults, in some of the countries the scheme supports.

Was there anything real about Elvis Presley?

about 2 months ago

Polio Found in London Sewage, But Risk of Infection Considered Low

about 2 months ago

Risk of infection from the disease, which causes paralysis in children in under 1% of cases, was low because of high vaccination rates

Malawi President Strips VP's Power After Corruption Allegations

about 2 months ago

Malawi President Lazarus Chakwera has suspended the powers of Vice President Saulos Chilima after the country's Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) accused Chilima of accepting kickbacks in return for government contracts. The bureau’s findings come a month after Britain's National Crime Agency showed that Chilima was on the list of Malawi government officials receiving kickbacks from British-Malawian businessman Zuneth Abdul Rashid Sattar. Sattar was arrested in Britain last year for allegedly providing bribes to Malawi government officials to win contracts from Malawi’s police service, defense force and immigration department. Sattar denies the accusations. In a televised address Tuesday, President Chakwera suspended the powers of Chilima, fired Malawi Police Service Inspector General George Kainja and suspended two other officials. He said the four are among 13 government officials the ACB found to have received money from Sattar between 2017 and 2021. However, Chakwera said he could not fire or formally suspend Chilima because he has no constitutional authority to do so. “The best I can do for now, which is what I have decided to do, is to withhold from his office any delegated duties while waiting for the bureau to substantiate its allegations against him,” Chakawera said, “and to make known its course of action in relation to such.” The ACB investigation said 53 public officers and 31 individuals from the private sector, civic groups and the legal community also received money from Sattar between March and October last year. Michael Kaiyatsa, executive director for the Center for Human Rights and Rehabilitation, said findings confirm how deeply corruption is entrenched in Malawi. “If you look at a report as presented by the State President, almost all the key government institutions have been mentioned,” Kaiyatsa said. “You talk of Malawi Police Service, MDF [Malawi Defense Force], Financial Intelligence Authority, the Ministry of Justice and even the State House.” Chilima’s press aide, Pilirani Phiri, said Chilima will comment on the matter at an opportune time. The United Transformation Movement, which also is Chilima’s political party, said in a statement it is shocked by the development. The party said it is reserving further comment until the matter is concluded. Kaiyatsa said Chilima should have explained himself. “His silence is not helping matters,” Kaiyatsa said. “It is actually worsening people’s perception of him. The public trust is not there anymore until he speaks up and tells us what he thinks.” In the meantime, some analysts are pushing for the immediate resignations of all those implicated in the ACB probe to pave the way for smooth investigations.

Saudi Crown Prince MBS' Whirlwind Regional Tour Reflects Preparations for Biden Visit

about 2 months ago

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman was feted as a visiting head of state during talks in both Turkey and Jordan Wednesday, along with Egypt a day earlier. In Cairo, he met top Egyptian leaders and inked $7.7 billion in 14 separate trade deals. Saudi Arabia is also a top investor in Jordan and the visit strengthened that position. MBS' regional visit had been expected for a while, but its exact timing may be tied to the shaky health of his 86-year-old father, King Salman bin Abdulaziz. Visits to Jordan and Turkey reflect both business and political relations between Riyadh and the two key regional states. Analysts say ties with Iran, the situation in Yemen and regional defense issues were part of the discussions. A visit to Iraq appears to have been postponed because of political uncertainty in the country and the inability to form a new government. Egyptian political sociologist Said Sadek tells VOA that MBS' visit has been in the works for a while, and it comes a month before Biden's trip to the region and amid growing worries over Iran's nuclear capabilities: "MBS wants to have an air-defense umbrella to besiege Iran and put a lot of pressure on Iran … to show the Iranians we can have a military option, [and this] will involve the six Gulf States, Jordan, Egypt and Israel … because of the Biden visit, the regional leaders had to make several visits to see where we stand. So, there's a lot of diplomatic activity to arrange and prepare a unified stance when Biden comes to the area." Sadek adds that Riyadh is expected to tighten ties with Israel in private and the air defense agreement is part of the strategy, although it is unlikely to have any public exchange of diplomatic relations. Egypt, he asserts, is being enticed to participate in the umbrella, albeit — he thinks — in a private, unofficial way. The Gulf States, he notes, are likely to increase energy sales to the U.S. as a part of Biden's upcoming visit. Khatter Abou Diab, who teaches political science at the University of Paris, tells VOA that bin Salman's regional trip "is one more milestone on the road to becoming king [of Saudi Arabia]," and that he is positioning himself as a top leader in an increasingly strong Arab bloc: He says is important for the Arab states to have a common position regarding the key issues of the day, including the Iranian situation, Palestine and the stance of Arab states toward the U.S., not to mention the fact the ongoing war between Russia and Ukraine has introduced even more issues into Arab-U.S. relations. MBS’ visit to Turkey follows a recent visit by Turkish President Erdogan to Riyadh, according to Khatter Abou Diab, and indicates that "Ankara has buried the hatchet over the killing of Saudi dissident Jamal Khashoggi and is now mostly interested in improving economic ties with Saudi Arabia.

June 22, 2022

about 2 months ago

A look at the best news photos from around the world.


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