4-9-21 US gun violence: Biden takes action on 'international embarrassment'
US President Joe Biden has issued an order targeting homemade guns, known as "ghost guns" because they are unregistered and untraceable. "Gun violence in this country is an epidemic, and it's an international embarrassment," he said on Thursday. The president is enacting new measures through an executive order, meaning he does not need approval from Congress. It includes efforts to set rules for certain guns, bolster background checks and support local violence prevention. However, the president will have an uphill task. The right to bear arms is protected by the Second Amendment to the US Constitution and many people see gun control laws as infringing on this constitutional right. Hours after the president's address, a gunman killed one person and injured five others at a cabinet-making shop in Bryan, Texas. A state trooper was also shot and injured while taking the suspect into custody. On Wednesday, five people, including two young children, killed in South Carolina. The suspect has been named as former NFL player Phillip Adams. This followed two mass shootings in March, which left a total of 18 people dead - one in Boulder, Colorado and the other in Atlanta, Georgia. Speaking in the White House Rose Garden on Thursday, Mr Biden said 106 people are killed every day by guns in the country. "This is an epidemic for God's sake. And it has to stop," he continued. He also offered condolences to the family killed in South Carolina. Mr Biden's executive order gives the Justice Department 30 days to propose a rule that will help reduce the number of so-called "ghost guns". These guns are self-assembled, which means they do not contain a serial number and cannot be traced. Background checks are also not required to purchase the assembly kits. "Anyone from a criminal to a terrorist can buy this kit and, in as little as 30 minutes, put together a weapon," Mr Biden said. Experts say that these homemade guns are increasingly being used in crimes. Over 40% of guns being seized in Los Angeles are ghost guns, according to federal firearms officials.
4-9-21 America's gun culture in charts
US president Joe Biden's announcement on gun control throws the spotlight once again on Americans' attitudes to firearms. Here is a selection of charts and maps on where America stands on the right to bear arms. How does the US compare with other countries? There were 14,400 gun-related homicides in 2019. Killings involving a gun accounted for nearly three quarters of all homicides in the US in that year. That's a larger proportion of homicides than in Canada, Australia, England and Wales, and many other countries. (Webmaster's comment: 73% of homicides in the United States are done using guns. 1.8 times any other country!) Who owns the world's guns? While it is difficult to know exactly how many guns civilians own around the world, by every estimate the US, with more than 390 million, is far out in front. The latest figures from the Small Arms Survey, a Swiss-based leading research project, are for 2018. (Webmaster's comment: United States has 2.2 times the number of guns per person than any other country!) Switzerland and Finland are two of the European countries with the most guns per person - they both have compulsory military service for all men over the age of 18. The Finnish interior ministry says about 60% of gun permits are granted for hunting - a popular pastime in Finland. Cyprus and Yemen also have military service. How do US gun deaths break down? Figures from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show there were a total of more than 38,300 deaths from guns in 2019 - of which more than 23,900 were suicides. A 2016 study published in the American Journal of Public Health found there was a strong relationship between higher levels of gun ownership in a state and higher firearm suicide rates for both men and women. The number of mass shootings fell last year during the pandemic. According to investigative magazine Mother Jones, which has been tracking such incidents since 1982, there were only two in the whole of 2020. Mother Jones defines a mass shooting as three or more people shot dead. It does not include violent crimes like robberies or gang-related violence in its statistics. Other figures from the Gun Violence Archive suggest mass shooting may have risen last year. It uses a broader definition of shootings including those where victims are shot and injured, as well as robberies.
4-9-21 Covid infections in Canada edge closer to US rate
The rate of Covid infections in Canada is edging close to - and may overtake - US levels for the first time. It comes as Canada struggles to contain new Covid-19 variants and to ramp up its distribution of vaccines. Many provinces are bringing in new virus mitigation restrictions as hospital admissions increase. As of Tuesday, the US had fully vaccinated 19.6% of its population, compared with 8.5% in the UK and 2% in Canada. "Around the world, countries are facing a very serious third wave of this pandemic," Prime Minister Justin Trudeau warned during a news conference on Tuesday. "And right now, so is Canada." Canada has recorded more than one million positive cases and 23,000 deaths from Covid-19, according to Johns Hopkins University. Its neighbour to the south, the US, has recorded nearly 31 million cases and over 559,000 deaths from Covid. Johns Hopkins University data shows that Canada's Covid rate relative to population has risen to 180 cases per one million people as of Tuesday. This means there are around 180 new virus cases, per million residents, each day. The US is now seeing about 196 Covid cases per one million people, significantly lower than the more than 700 cases per million it was recording in January. "We've been somewhat blind to our overall performance internationally because we're sitting right next door to the United States and the disaster that clearly was their experience during this pandemic," Ontario Hospital Association president Anthony Dale told the National Post. "They have clearly experienced much worse outcomes overall than Canada, make no mistake. However, it's the future I'm worried about, and we're trending in a worrisome direction in comparison to them when it comes to community spread." Over 16,000 cases of Covid variants have been recorded across Canada, health officials said on Thursday.
4-9-21 Covid-19: Why have deaths soared in Brazil?
Brazil has recorded more than 330,000 deaths from Covid, second only to the United States, and experts are warning the current surge in cases may not peak for several weeks. The rapid spread of a coronavirus variant first discovered in Brazil has been a major cause for concern around the world. President Jair Bolsonaro has consistently played down the severity of the virus, but he is now turning his focus to the nationwide vaccination drive which his critics say has come far too late. The president has been highly sceptical about the need to take decisive action to tackle the pandemic. He continues to oppose lockdowns, but his government has now stepped up its drive to vaccinate the country's population of more than 200 million people. Brazil has by far the highest overall death toll in Latin America. In recent weeks, it has accounted for around one in four of reported Covid deaths worldwide. It remains behind Peru and Mexico as a proportion of overall population, but daily deaths are rising rapidly in Brazil. Twice the number of people died in March than in any other month of the pandemic, and the upward trend has continued, as a more transmissible variant drives infections. A recent estimate from the University of Washington predicted that Brazil could see a total of more than 500,000 deaths by July. Regional leaders say mixed messaging and a resistance to lockdowns at the national level have made local restrictions harder to enforce. Hospital intensive care beds in many states across the country are full or close to capacity. Dr Miguel Nicolelis, a Brazilian professor of neuroscience at Duke University, told the BBC: "The country is in a nationwide hospital collapse right now - it's the first time in history the public health system has collapsed. "If we can acquire the vaccine in large quantities, we could at least mitigate the situation."
4-9-21 Covid: Australia faces vaccine delays after changing AstraZeneca advice
Australia's vaccine rollout is to be further delayed after local regulators advised limiting use of the AstraZeneca shot - the country's main vaccine. On Thursday, the government said it now recommended that people aged under 50 get the Pfizer jab over AstraZeneca's. It follows restrictions in other nations, after Europe's drug regulator found a rare blood clot risk linked to the vaccine. The move is likely to delay a goal to vaccinate all Australians this year. The country is already running about 85% behind schedule - it has inoculated about one million of its almost 26 million people so far. But Prime Minister Scott Morrison said Australia could afford the delay because it had almost no community transmission of Covid-19. On Friday, he announced that Australia had doubled its Pfizer contract to 40 million doses. But Australia so far has only received about one million Pfizer shots - with the rest to arrive "by the end of the year", the government has said. Australia also has a contract for 51 million Novovax vaccines, but it is yet to be approved by regulators. Mr Morrison strongly urged people aged over 50 to continue with their vaccine, saying any risk was very rare. "If an outbreak were to happen again... you would be putting yourself at risk if you didn't get the vaccine, because you would be exposing yourself to the more likely event of a Covid-contracted condition that could result in serious illness," he said. Critics of Australia's rollout have condemned the government for "putting all their eggs in one basket" with AstraZeneca. The setback upends timelines for potential border reopenings, overseas travel and economic recovery. Early studies have suggested that blood clotting may occur in approximately four to six out every one million people, said Australian regulators. They changed their advice for under-50s, after the European Medicines Agency (EMA) on Wednesday said it found rare cases of blood clots among some adult vaccine recipients. The EMA said the benefits outweighed the risks.
4-8-21 Covid-19 news: Italy, Spain, Belgium limit use of AstraZeneca vaccine
The latest coronavirus news updated every day including coronavirus cases, the latest news, features and interviews from New Scientist and essential information about the covid-19 pandemic. Several European countries have now restricted use of the AstraZeneca vaccine in younger people. Italy, Spain and Belgium have followed other European countries, including Germany and France, in restricting use of the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine in younger age groups. A review by the European Union’s medicines regulator concluded on 7 April that unusual blood clotting events should be listed as “very rare side effects” of the vaccine. The European Medicines Agency (EMA) said it was up to individual member states to decide who to vaccinate, but that there was no available evidence so far of specific risk factors such as age or gender. In response, Belgium announced it would restrict the vaccine to people over the age of 55 for a month, while Italy’s health minister, Roberto Speranza, said the vaccine would only be offered to people older than 60. Spain’s health minister, Carolina Darias, also said the vaccine would be temporarily limited to people older than 60 in Spain. The number of weekly deaths from covid-19 across England and Wales has fallen by about 90 per cent from the peak of the UK’s second wave, according to figures from the Office for National Statistics. There were 719 deaths involving covid-19 in the week up to 26 March, down from 8422 in the week up to 22 January. Some states in India, including Maharashtra and Odisha, are reporting shortages of covid-19 vaccines just as the country is in the midst of a second wave of infections, Reuters has reported. On 7 April, India reported a record 115,736 new COVID-19 cases.
4-8-21 US gun violence: Joe Biden to target 'ghost guns'
US President Joe Biden is to target homemade "ghost guns" as part of a new set of measures to tackle gun violence, a White House official has said. Ghost guns have no serial numbers, making them difficult to trace. They can be bought by minors and people who would not pass background checks. Mr Biden will enact the measures through an executive order, meaning he will not need approval from Congress. The move comes after high-profile mass shootings last month. A total of 18 people died in two mass shootings, one in Boulder, Colorado and the other in Atlanta Georgia. The executive order will include measures on the use of stabilising braces and community violence prevention. However, the president will have an uphill task. The right to bear arms is protected by the Second Amendment to the US Constitution and many people see gun control laws as infringing on their constitutional right. Later on Thursday, Mr Biden will say that he has given the Justice Department 30 days to propose a rule that will help reduce the number of "ghost guns". These guns are self-assembled, which means they do not contain a serial number and cannot be traced. Mr Biden will also give the Justice Department 60 days to come up with a rule on stabilising braces for pistols. Under the rule, the braces, which can be used to turn a pistol into a short-barrelled rifle, would be subject to regulation under the National Firearms Act. The Justice Department will also be asked to draft a "red flag law" which states can then use to create their own legislation. These laws authorise the courts and law enforcement to remove guns from people thought to be a risk to the community. An official told Reuters news agency that this was just the first step in tackling gun violence and that Mr Biden would continue to advocate for gun legislation. "The president will not wait for Congress to act before the administration takes our own steps, fully within the administration's authority and the Second Amendment, to save lives," the official said. Getting further steps through Congress would be difficult. The US Senate is currently split 50-50 between Democrats and Republicans, with Democratic Vice-President Kamala Harris holding the deciding vote. However, because of Senate rules, in practice 60 votes are needed to pass legislation, so some Republican support is required. Republicans have blocked significant gun control laws in the past. (Webmaster's comment: The Republicans support killing and murder!)
4-8-21 George Floyd: Expert witness criticises use of force during arrest
An expert witness has testified that "excessive" force was used by ex-officer Derek Chauvin during the arrest of unarmed black man George Floyd. Sgt Jody Stiger, a use of force expert for the Los Angeles Police Department, said that "deadly force" was used after Mr Floyd was placed in handcuffs. Mr Chauvin, 45, was filmed kneeling on Mr Floyd for over nine minutes during Mr Floyd's arrest last May. He is on trial for murder and has denied the charges against him. The footage of Mr Chauvin, who is white, with his knee on Mr Floyd's neck sparked global protests against racism. The trial is in its second week and is expected to last for at least one month. The defence is due to begin arguing its case next week. Prosecutors continued to argue that Mr Chauvin had used undue force, while the defence team sought to draw attention to Mr Floyd's alleged drug use, claiming he could be heard saying "I ate a lot of drugs" in bodycam video. As police officers are rarely convicted or charged at all for deaths that occur in custody, the verdict in this trial is being seen as an indication of how the US legal system will treat such cases in future. Sgt Stiger, who reviews use of force investigations for the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) testified for the prosecution over two days. On Tuesday, he was one of four police officers who condemned Mr Chauvin's handling of the arrest, which was sparked by Mr Floyd's alleged use of a counterfeit $20 bill. On Wednesday, he argued that "deadly force" was used by the officers who pinned Mr Floyd to the ground. He added that "no force" was necessary after Mr Floyd had been placed in handcuffs and that continuing to press down on Mr Floyd could have caused "positional asphyxia, which could cause death". "He was in the prone position. He was handcuffed. He was not attempting to resist," Sgt Stiger said. "He was not attempting to assault the officers, kick, punch or anything of that nature." Being handcuffed with hands behind the back makes it difficult for a suspect to breathe, he said. "When you add body weight to that, it just increases the possibility of death," he continued.
4-8-21 Beijing now has more billionaires than any city
Beijing is now home to more billionaires than any other city in the world, according to the latest Forbes' annual rich list. The Chinese capital added 33 billionaires last year and now hosts 100, said the business magazine. This narrowly beats New York City, which hosts 99 and has held the top ranking for the last seven years. China's quick containment of Covid-19, the rise of its technology firms and stock markets helped it gain top spot. Although Beijing now has more billionaires than the Big Apple, the combined net worth of New York City's billionaires remained US$80bn (£58bn) greater than that of their counterparts in Beijing. Beijing's richest resident was Zhang Yiming, the founder of video-sharing app TikTok and chief executive of its parent firm ByteDance. He saw his net worth double to $35.6bn. In contrast, New York City's richest resident, former Mayor Michael Bloomberg, had a fortune worth $59bn. China, along with the US, has seen its technology giants become even bigger during the pandemic as more people shopped online and looked for sources of entertainment. This saw the massive creation of personal wealth for the founders and shareholders of these tech titans. China, whose figure included Hong Kong and Macao in the Forbes count, added more billionaires to the list than any other country globally, with 210 newcomers. Half of China's new billionaires made their fortunes from manufacturing or technology ventures, including female billionaire Kate Wang, who made her money from e-cigarettes. With 698 billionaires, China is closing in on the US, which still leads with 724 billionaires. A record 493 newcomers joined the list globally last year, roughly one new billionaire every 17 hours, according to Forbes. India had the third-highest number of billionaires, with 140. In total, the 1,149 billionaires from Asia Pacific were worth $4.7tn, compared with the US billionaires' $4.4 tn. Jeff Bezos, founder and chief executive of Amazon, remains the world's richest person for the fourth consecutive year. His net worth grew by $64bn to $177bn last year.
4-8-21 Czech vaccines: European rights court backs mandatory pre-school jabs
The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) has backed the Czech Republic in its requirement for mandatory pre-school vaccinations. The case was brought by families who were fined or whose children were refused entry to pre-schools because they had not been vaccinated. In a landmark ruling, the court found that while the Czech policy interfered with the right to a private life, there was a need to protect public health. All the cases pre-date the pandemic. However, the issue of routine childhood vaccinations has come under increasing scrutiny due to the spread of Covid-19. This is the first ruling from the ECHR on compulsory vaccination against childhood diseases. The judges backed the Czech legislation by 16 to 1. "The... measures could be regarded as being 'necessary in a democratic society'" the court said, adding: "The objective has to be that every child is protected against serious diseases, through vaccination or by virtue of herd immunity." Under the Czech rules, parents are legally obliged to vaccinate their children against a number of childhood diseases unless this is not possible for health reasons. However, the jabs cannot be forcibly given and unvaccinated children cannot be excluded on this basis once they reach primary school age. In one of the five cases involving pre-school exclusions, a family refused to allow their daughter to received the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) jab. The child joined the school in 2006 but her place was withdrawn two years later when the family doctor informed the headteacher that the child had not received the vaccination. A Czech court later backed the school's decision on the grounds that allowing the child to continue to go to the pre-school could endanger others. Other parents had been refused pre-school places, while one father was fined for failing to fully vaccinate his children. The Czech Republic is not the only EU country with mandatory childhood vaccinations. (Webmaster's comment: Children should not have to pay for the stupidity of their parents!)
4-7-21 Covid-19 news: UK to offer under-30s alternative to AstraZeneca jab
The latest coronavirus news updated every day including coronavirus cases, the latest news, features and interviews from New Scientist and essential information about the covid-19 pandemic. UK committee advises under-30s be offered alternative to AstraZeneca jab, while EU review finds no evidence age or gender are risk factors for side effects. The UK’s Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) has advised that people under the age of 30 with no underlying health conditions should be offered an alternative covid-19 vaccine instead of the Oxford/AstraZeneca shot where possible, due to evidence linking the vaccine to rare blood clots. A review by the UK’s medicines regulator found that by the end of March, 79 people in the UK had experienced rare blood clots following vaccination with the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine – 19 of whom had died. The UK Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) said this was not definitive evidence that the vaccine caused the clots but said the link was becoming firmer. However, both the MHRA in the UK and the EU’s medicines regulator, which has also been reviewing reports of rare blood clots, emphasised that the benefits of the vaccine in preventing covid-19 continue to outweigh the risk of side effects. “The balance of benefits and risks is still very favourable for the majority of people,” said June Raine, chief executive of the MHRA, at a press conference on 7 April. Several European countries, including Germany, France and the Netherlands, had already suspended use of the vaccine in younger people over the rare blood clot concerns. The EMA said it was up to individual member states to decide who to vaccinate, but said there was currently no available evidence of specific risk factors such as age, gender or previous medical history of clotting disorders. Brazil reported more than 4000 daily deaths on 7 April, a new record for the country. Hospitals remain under severe strain. According to Brazilian health institute Fiocruz, Brazil is facing the biggest health system collapse in its history. The UK’s rollout of the Moderna covid-19 vaccine began in Wales on 7 April. The Moderna shot is the third vaccine given authorisation for use in the UK.
4-7-21 Georgia voting: Fact-checking claims about the new election law
A controversial new election law in the US state of Georgia has led to heated disagreement between Democrats and Republicans over its impact on voting. Georgia voted for Joe Biden in the 2020 election, the first time the state had chosen a Democratic presidential candidate in more than 25 years. Democrats say the new law aims to restrict voting in future elections, but Republicans who control the state's government say it expands access and increases election security. We've looked at some of the main claims. President Biden has said: "What I'm worried about is how un-American this whole initiative is. It's sick. Deciding that you're going to end voting at five o'clock when working people are just getting off work." But it's not the case that voting has to finish at 5pm. The law allows counties to set voting hours anywhere between 7am and 7pm, as was the case previously. The new law does lay out the hours that are required as a minimum on election day, saying "voting shall be conducted beginning at 9:00 A.M. and ending at 5:00 P.M.", as opposed to "during normal business hours" stated in the old law. But "normal business hours" were widely interpreted as 9am to 5pm anyway, so the practical impact of this change is negligible. Drop boxes allow voters to submit their ballots early into locked containers, rather than relying on sending them in via post or standing in long lines on election day. Democrats say the new law reduces the number of these boxes, making it harder to vote. There will be fewer in forthcoming elections, but this needs to be put in context. Prior to the 2020 election, drop boxes weren't used in Georgia. They were brought in as part of emergency Covid action. The new law does significantly reduce the number of drop boxes from the 2020 level. For example, Fulton County says it will go down from 38 to eight drop boxes.
4-7-21 Transgender youth treatment banned by Arkansas
Arkansas has become the first US state to outlaw gender confirming treatments and surgery for transgender people under the age of 18. The bill also in effect bans doctors from providing puberty blockers, or from referring them to other providers for the treatment. The Republican state governor had vetoed the bill, calling it a "vast government overreach". But the state's Republican-controlled House and Senate overruled him. The bill has faced much opposition from groups including the American Academy of Pediatrics, which said the law would block trans youth from important medical care and increase their already high risk of suicide. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) said it was preparing litigation, stating that the bill "will drive families, doctors and businesses out of the state and send a terrible and heart-breaking message to the transgender young people who are watching in fear". "This is a sad day for Arkansas, but this fight is not over - and we're in it for the long haul," Holly Dickson, executive director of ACLU in Arkansas, said in a statement. Governor Asa Hutchinson had called the bill "a product of the cultural war in America". He argued it created "new standards of legislative interference with physicians and parents as they deal with some of the most complex and sensitive matters involving young people". The override of Governor Hutchinson's veto needed only a simple majority, but passed easily in both chambers, with the House voting 72-25 in favour and the Senate 25-8. At least 16 other states are considering similar legislation. Supporters of the bill, who are almost all Republican, say they want to protect children from life-changing procedures they will later regret. They also point to side-effects of puberty blockers and cross-sex hormones, and cite occasional cases where transgender people reverse their decision to transition. But experts say each step is undertaken with the consultation of doctors, therapists and social workers, often over extended periods of time.
4-7-21 NYC doormen fired for not intervening in attack
Two doormen have been fired after they allegedly failed to intervene as an Asian-American woman was being attacked in New York. The 65-year-old woman was admitted to hospital after she was punched and kicked repeatedly last month. CCTV video from the attack appeared to show staff at the Manhattan building watching without intervening. The Brodsky Organization, owners of the building, said the men assisted the woman after the attacker left. The incident comes amid a rise in anti-Asian crimes in the wake of the pandemic, including a deadly attack in Atlanta in which three women of Asian descent were among the eight dead. The suspect in the New York assault, Brandon Elliot, has been charged with two counts of assault as a hate crime and one count of attempted assault as a hate crime. Footage shared by police appears to show a man approaching a woman in the street and kicking her to the ground. While she is lying on the floor outside a building entrance, he kicks her again in the stomach and the face. Staff at the building appear to watch the attack and a doorman is seen closing the door. The doormen were suspended after the attack, pending an investigation. A statement from the building's owners to CNN said that after the suspect fled the scene, the doormen assisted the woman and flagged down a police vehicle. However, it added that "required emergency and safety protocols were not followed". "We are extremely distraught and shocked by this incident, and our hearts go out to the victim," they added. The union that represents the staff members told the New York Times in a statement that the employees did assist the woman. In a longer video obtained by the New York Times, a delivery person appeared to be the sole witness when the attack happened and the doormen come out later, move towards the door and then close it. A minute later they are seen walking outside.
4-7-21 George Floyd death: Chauvin 'trained to stay away from neck'
A police trainer has testified that ex-officer Derek Chauvin was not trained to use his knee in a neck restraint as he did during George Floyd's arrest. Minneapolis use-of-force expert Lt Johnny Mercil said Mr Chauvin should also have later moved the prone Mr Floyd to a different position. Mr Chauvin, 45, was filmed kneeling on Mr Floyd for over nine minutes during Mr Floyd's arrest last May. Mr Chauvin is on trial for murder and has denied the charges against him. The footage of Mr Chauvin, who is white, with his knee on African-American Mr Floyd's neck sparked global protests against racism. With the trial in its second week, jurors have now heard from more than 20 witnesses, including four police training experts on Tuesday. The trial is expected to last for at least one month. As police officers are rarely convicted or charged at all for deaths that occur in custody, the verdict in this trial is being seen as an indication of how the US legal system will treat such cases in future. Prosecutors are seeking to prove that Mr Chauvin's actions violated his training and have focused their questions on police guidelines and strategies taught to help officers de-escalate situations. Mr Chauvin's defence attorneys have argued that Mr Floyd's efforts to resist arrest necessitated the restraint, and that the "hostile" crowd surrounding Mr Chauvin required "unique situational awareness". No witnesses at the scene were arrested, and several of them have testified that they urged officers to check Mr Floyd's pulse and provide him with medical care. Speaking at a group prayer session outside the heavily fortified courthouse on Tuesday, Mr Floyd's brother Philonise Floyd, said "after we get the verdict and we get this conviction, we'll be able to breathe". Minneapolis Police Department (MPD) training coordinator Mr Mercil told the court that officers are taught to use force in proportion to a suspect's level of resistance and it was "very important to be careful with the person". "We tell officers to stay away from the neck when possible," he said, adding that officers are told to place body weight on a suspect's shoulders when reasonable. Mr Mercil testified that based on the training that officers receive, Mr Chauvin should only have used that manner of neck restraint if there was "active aggression" involved. He said that Mr Floyd had no ability to resist or show aggression once he was face down on the ground.
4-7-21 Covid: Brazil has more than 4,000 deaths in 24 hours for first time
Brazil has recorded more than 4,000 Covid-related deaths in 24 hours for the first time, as a more contagious variant fuels a surge in cases. Hospitals are overcrowded, with people dying as they wait for treatment in some cities, and the health system is on the brink of collapse in many areas. The country's total death toll is now almost 337,000, second only to the US. But Presi He argues that the damage to the economy would be worse than the effects of the virus itself, and has tried to reverse some of the restrictions imposed by local authorities in the courts. Speaking to supporters outside the presidential residence on Tuesday, he criticised quarantine measures and suggested without evidence that they were linked to obesity and depression. He did not comment on the 4,195 deaths recorded in the previous 24 hours. To date, Brazil has recorded more than 13 million cases of coronavirus, according to the health ministry. Some 66,570 people died with Covid-19 in March, more than double the previous monthly record. "Brazil now... is a threat to the entire effort of the international community to control the pandemic," Dr Miguel Nicolelis, who has been closely tracking cases in the country, told the BBC. "If Brazil is not under control, then the planet is not going to be safe, because we are brewing new variants every week... and they are going to cross borders," he said. In most states, patients with Covid-19 are occupying more than 90% of intensive care unit beds, according to the health institute Fiocruz (in Portuguese). Several states have reported short supplies of oxygen and sedatives. But despite the critical situation, some cities and states are already easing measures limiting the movement of people. "The fact is the anti-lockdown narrative of President Jair Bolsonaro has won," Miguel Lago, executive director of Brazil's Institute for Health Policy Studies, which advises public health officials, told the Associated Press.
4-7-21 Covid: US rules out federal vaccine passports
The White House has ruled out introducing mandatory federal Covid-19 vaccination passports, saying citizens' privacy and rights should be protected. Schemes to introduce such passports have been touted around the world as a way to enable safe circulation of people while fighting the pandemic. But critics say such documents could be discriminatory. The US said it did not and would not support a "system that requires Americans to carry a credential". The country has reported more than 550,000 deaths linked to the virus and nearly 31 million cases, the highest numbers in the world, according to Johns Hopkins University. Addressing reporters, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said there would be no "federal vaccinations database" or a "federal mandate requiring everyone to obtain a single vaccination credential". "The government is not now, nor will be, supporting a system that requires Americans to carry a credential," she said. "Our interest is very simple from the federal government, which is Americans' privacy and rights should be protected, and so that these systems are not used against people unfairly." Countries around the world are looking at the introduction of so-called vaccine passports, which would be used to show that a person has been inoculated against Covid-19, as a way of safely reopening mass gatherings and travel. In England, a "Covid status certification" scheme is being developed to enable concerts and sports matches to take place. It would record whether people had been vaccinated, recently tested negative, or had already had and recovered from Covid-19. The European Union is also working on plans to introduce certificates, while in Israel a "Green Pass" is already available to anyone who has been fully vaccinated or has recovered from Covid-19, which they have to show to access facilities such as hotels, gyms or theatres.
4-6-21 Covid-19 vaccine passports tested in UK as lockdown restrictions ease
Vaccine passports for covid-19 are likely to become a “feature of our lives”, according to a UK government review of the scheme, despite mounting political opposition to making proof of vaccination a condition of entry to workplaces, shops and venues. Trials of vaccine passports, also known as certificates, will start shortly at specific events in England, including the FA cup final, and run until mid-May, the UK government announced on 5 April. The idea is that they could play an important but temporary role in the UK and internationally. The review was published as the UK prime minister, Boris Johnson, confirmed the next phase of easing restrictions will go ahead in England as planned on 12 April. The UK government said certification should “never be required” in settings including public transport and essential shops, a stance in line with the German government. Discussions on vaccine passports are being held across all four UK nations. However, more than 70 MPs from across the political spectrum have launched a campaign to oppose vaccine certificates, which they say would be “divisive and discriminatory”. The Labour party has indicated it is minded to oppose the measures if they are put to a parliamentary vote. The UK government believes certificates are likely to be used until the end of the pandemic, whether it oversees them or not, because UK businesses could choose to implement them, and other countries have already begun requiring them at borders. “I think some sort of certification is becoming almost inevitable for travel,” says Melinda Mills at the University of Oxford, co-author of a recent Royal Society report on vaccine passports. Israel, which has some of the world’s highest vaccination rates, has already introduced them, while the EU is planning a scheme in time for its summer holiday season. The aviation sector has backed certificates to kick-start international travel.
4-6-21 Covid-19 news: EMA says no verdict yet on AstraZeneca jab review
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 EU’s drugs regulator has been investigating reports of rare blood clots in a small number of people who received the vaccine. The European Union’s medicines regulator has denied that it has established an association between the Oxford/AstraZeneca covid-19 vaccine and rare blood clots, after an official from the agency claimed it had. Marco Cavaleri, chair of the vaccine evaluation team at the European Medicines Agency (EMA), told Italian newspaper Il Messaggero that there is a “clear” link between the vaccine and an extremely rare blood clot in the brain, but did not provide any evidence to support his claim. In a statement on 6 April, the EMA said it had “not yet reached a conclusion and the review is currently ongoing”, adding that it expected to announce findings from the review on 7 or 8 April. It’s safety committee is investigating 44 reports of cerebral venous sinus thrombosis, an extremely rare blood clot in the brain, out of 9.2 million people in the European Economic Area who received the vaccine. Both the EMA and the World Health Organization have consistently emphasised that the benefits of the vaccine in preventing covid-19 outweigh its risks. Coronavirus figures released by health authorities in several countries in South America indicate cases and deaths are continuing to surge across the continent. Brazil reported more than 28,000 new coronavirus cases in a single day on 5 April, as both Uruguay and Paraguay reported record increases in daily covid-19 deaths on the same day. Officials have linked the current surge to the P.1 coronavirus variant, originally from Brazil, which appears to be more transmissible than the original virus and may have mutations that enable it to evade antibodies from previous infection or from vaccination. On 25 March, Peru’s health minister said that 40 per cent of cases in the capital, Lima, were caused by P.1 and on 5 April he said cases had been detected “almost everywhere in Peru”, the BBC reported. Chile recorded 6196 daily new coronavirus cases on 25 March compared to 4770 daily cases two weeks earlier on 11 March, despite the fact that it had already rolled out 50.46 doses of vaccine per 100 people. Cases of the variant have also been detected in Uruguay, Paraguay, Bolivia and Argentina. UK vaccines minister Nadhim Zahawi has emphasised that no decision has been made regarding the use of vaccine passports or certificates in the UK. But he said it would be “remiss” of the government not to consider covid-19 certification as a way of fully reopening the economy. “It’s only right that we look at all these options that are available to us to take our lives back,” Zahawi told the BBC’s Breakfast show. Boris Johnson said the government was looking at the possibility of vaccination passports for overseas travel. “I think that is going to be a fact of life probably,” he told reporters. Residents of Australia and New Zealand will be able to travel between the two countries without being required to quarantine starting from 19 April, New Zealand’s prime minister Jacinda Ardern announced.
4-6-21 Janet Yellen's proposal to revolutionize corporate taxation
How to make big multinationals pay their fair share in every country. President Biden is proposing a substantial increase in the rate of corporate taxation as part of his infrastructure plan, bumping the headline rate up from 21 percent to 28 percent. This is actually below where it was before 2017, when the headline rate was 35 percent, but given the number of loopholes in the tax code, very few corporations actually paid full whack back then. If Biden's idea is passed, the effective rate of U.S. corporate tax will depend on what happens with those loopholes in Congress, which is not yet clear.More importantly, Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen is leading an effort to implement a global minimum corporate tax. This would be one of the most revolutionary economic agreements in history — blowing up the model of tax havens around the world, and drastically shifting the balance of power between corporations and national governments (especially small ones). The last several decades have seen a race to the bottom in corporate tax rates around the world, as economists Emanuel Saez and Gabriel Zucman describe in their book Triumph of Injustice: How the Rich Dodge Taxes and How to Make Them Pay. America, for example, used to have very steep taxes on the rich — a 53 percent tax on corporate profits, a 75 percent tax on the biggest inherited estates, and a 94 percent top marginal income tax rate. Figures from economist Thomas Piketty show similar rates in France, Germany, and Britain in the period after the Second World War. But these have been gradually whittled away over the years through a combination of legal innovation from tax lawyers and accountants, and learned helplessness on the part of governments — especially after the neoliberal turn in the 1980s, when taxes came to be viewed an economic drag if not legalized theft. In 1980 the average corporate tax rate in Europe was about 45 percent; in 2020 it was about 20 percent. "Looking at most of the great retreats of progressive taxation, we find the same pattern: first, an outburst of tax dodging; then, governments lamenting that taxing the rich has become impossible and slashing their rates," they write. Thanks to all the succeeding rounds of tax cuts, today ultra-billionaires pay less in tax than any other group in the U.S. According to data compiled by Saez and Zucman, people on the Forbes 400 list of the richest people in the country pay just 23 percent of their income in tax, as compared to about 40 percent for the upper-middle class or 28 percent for the very poorest. It is of course wildly outrageous for the most well-off people to be contributing so little to support the country that makes their wealth possible, and the gigantic concentration of money in so few hands is manifestly corrupting politics around the world. Low corporate taxes are a big reason for this — as you can see with their handy tool, increasing the effective corporate rate to 40 percent would bump up the Forbes 400 tax rate by about 7 percentage points. But perhaps more insidious still is the politics of tax havens created by all these cuts. One of the key legal strategies that corporations use to avoid tax is by stashing their money overseas. Google, for instance, books much of its profit in Ireland, where the headline corporate tax rate is 12.5 percent (and in practice lower than that) and Bermuda, where the corporate tax is zero. As Saez and Zucman explain, companies do this basically through trickery. By selling assets that have no market price (above all intellectual property) to foreign subsidiaries for cheap, they can then book profits relating to those assets there and pay little in tax. In an economic sense, this is tantamount to fraud. There is not anything like the level of business activity that would justify all those profits being "made" in Ireland or Bermuda. They are overwhelmingly profits made elsewhere that are sheltered from tax authorities through accounting gimmicks.
4-6-21 George Floyd: Derek Chauvin violated policy, Minneapolis police chief says
The police chief of Minneapolis has testified that ex-officer Derek Chauvin violated the agency's policy on force during the arrest of George Floyd. Chief Medaria Arradondo said the way Mr Chauvin restrained Mr Floyd was not in line with training and "certainly not part of our ethics and our values". The chief fired Mr Chauvin and the three other officers involved days after Mr Floyd's death last May. Mr Chauvin, who is on trial for murder, has denied the charges against him. Footage of Mr Chauvin, who is white, kneeling on African-American Mr Floyd's neck for more than nine minutes last year sparked global protests against racism. Monday marks the sixth day in Mr Chauvin's trial, which is expected to last for at least one month. As police officers are rarely convicted or charged at all for deaths that occur in custody, the verdict in this trial is being seen as an indication of how the US legal system will treat such cases in future. Prosecutors, who are seeking to prove that Mr Chauvin's actions violated his training, focused their questions on departmental guidelines and strategies taught to help officers de-escalate situations. Mr Arradondo told the court Mr Floyd should not have been restrained in the manner used by the officers after he stopped resisting, "and certainly [not] once he was in distress". He said the type of restraint Mr Chauvin, 45, was using came "once there was no longer any resistance and clearly after Mr Floyd was no longer responsive - and even motionless". "That is, in no way, shape or form, by policy, is not part of our training, and is certainly not part of our ethics and our values." Mr Arradondo also noted it would be rare for officers to take into custody a suspect accused of passing a counterfeit bill, as Mr Floyd was. The police chief said "talking your way out of a situation" was always better than using force, adding that officers may seek the "community's help" when available. (Webmaster's comment: A white racist wanted to murder a black so that's what he did!)
4-6-21 Iran nuclear deal: US joins Vienna talks aimed at reviving accord
The United States has joined talks in Vienna aimed at reviving the Iran nuclear deal, which the Trump administration abandoned in 2018. President Joe Biden has said he wants to return to the landmark accord. But the six remaining state parties need to find a way for him to lift the sanctions imposed by his predecessor and for Iran to return to the agreed limits on its nuclear programme. Iran has said it will not meet the US face to face until that happens. The top US officials attending the meeting in Austria are reportedly based in a different hotel to the one hosting the meeting of the delegations from Iran and the other world powers - China, France, Germany, Russia and the UK. European officials are acting as intermediaries. "We don't underestimate the scale of the challenges ahead," US state department spokesman Ned Price told reporters on Monday. "These are early days. We don't anticipate an early or immediate breakthrough, as these discussions, we fully expect, will be difficult." World powers don't trust Iran: Some countries believe Iran wants nuclear power because it wants to build a nuclear bomb - it denies this. So a deal was struck: In 2015, Iran and six other countries reached a major agreement. Iran would stop some nuclear work in return for an end to harsh penalties, or sanctions, hurting its economy. What is the problem now? Iran re-started banned nuclear work after former US President Donald Trump pulled out of the deal and re-imposed sanctions on Iran. Even though new leader Joe Biden wants to rejoin, both sides say the other must make the first move. Mr Biden's special envoy for Iran, Robert Malley, told PBS Newshour last week that his goal was to "see whether we could agree on a road map back to compliance for both sides". He added: "The United States knows that, in order to get back into compliance, it's going to have to lift those sanctions that are inconsistent with the deal that was reached with Iran."
4-6-21 Covid surge in South America as Brazil variant spreads
Coronavirus figures released by health authorities across South America on Monday show a number of countries grappling with a spike in infections and deaths. Uruguay and Paraguay registered record numbers of daily deaths, while the total number of Covid cases surpassed the 13-million mark in Brazil. The surge has been attributed to the spread of the Brazil variant. The variant is thought to be more than twice as transmissible as the original. Brazilian public health institute Fiocruz says it has detected 92 variants of coronavirus in the country. Experts say that the development of new variants is not surprising: all viruses mutate as they make copies of themselves to spread. The P.1, or Brazil, variant has become a cause for concern is because it is thought to be much more contagious than the original strain. P.1 was first detected in travellers to Japan from the city of Manaus, in the Brazilian Amazon, and sequenced in early January. It has mutations on the spike protein, that part of the virus which attaches to human cells, and it is these mutations which are thought to make it more transmissible. The variant is thought to have emerged in Amazonas state in November 2020, spreading quickly in the state capital Manaus, where it accounted for 73% of cases by January 2021, according to figures analysed by researchers in Brazil. Preliminary data suggested it could be up to twice as infectious as the original strain, while more recent research puts that figure even higher, at 2.5 times as transmissible. As genetic sequencing is not widespread throughout the region, it is hard to determine how widely the variant has spread. However, the risk has always been deemed high, as Brazil shares borders with 10 countries. On 25 March, Peru's health minister said that 40% of cases in the capital, Lima, were caused by the Brazil variant, and on Monday he said that cases had been detected "almost everywhere in Peru".
4-5-21 The pandemic crime surge is a policing problem
Don't fall for the bad-faith campaign to cut off criminal justice reform before it really starts. The last several years have seen a building movement for criminal justice reform in America, culminating in the massive George Floyd protests around the country last summer. Progressive district attorneys like Larry Krasner in Philadelphia and Chesa Boudin in San Francisco have been elected promising to cut back on cash bail, reduce the severity of sentences, prosecute crooked or violent cops, and so forth. But reformers are running into a backlash. Krasner is up for reelection this year, and police unions are blaming him for the surge in violent crime that has happened in his city over the last year. They are backing a conservative challenger, Carlos Vega. A similar thing is happening in San Francisco, where a group of right-wing tech elites (with the typically tone-deaf slogan of "V.C. Lives Matter") are trying to recall Boudin. These arguments are a crock. A return to brutal war-on-crime tactics will not reduce crime — that will require staying the course on reform. The argument from police unions and Big Tech barons is the classic reactionary position on crime from the 1980s and '90s. These reformers are supposedly being soft on crime, so the argument goes, and so the criminal class is emboldened. Therefore we need to "get tough" and start brutally punishing offenders to set an example. Unfortunately, there are several giant holes in the argument. Take Krasner: As Joshua Vaughn writes at The Appeal, while Krasner has put through many worthy reforms (he has cut future sentences by 20,000 years compared to the prior DA) he is not even close to the radicals who think the police should be abolished altogether. Indeed, many activists have criticized him for continuing to use steep cash bail amounts for certain crimes. Krasner has not at all halted prosecution of serious crime — on the contrary, he has prosecuted over 99 percent of homicides, and over 98 percent of non-lethal shootings, in which Philadelphia police made an arrest. Unfortunately, the cops made arrests in only about 40 percent of homicides and less than 20 percent of non-lethal shootings. (The situation appears to be somewhat different in San Francisco, where murders were up modestly in 2020, but from record lows in 2019. Homicide clearance rates are apparently not yet available there for the last year, but the tech barons' complaints center around homelessness and property crime anyway. The police there have attempted to blame Boudin's policies for a record number of drug overdoses in the city.) The logic of the police unions is that if you punish murderers, there will be fewer murders. And it turns out that a great many criminals are escaping with impunity — it's just the fault of the police. On the raw numbers, any Philly murderer has a better-than-even chance of evading the cops. In fact, it's worse than that. Typically something like a third of murders basically solve themselves because the culprit is found at the scene, or there is very obvious evidence. Philly cops are doing barely better than that — meaning that if you kill someone and take any steps at all to cover your tracks, you're all but guaranteed to get away with it. Krasner is more than willing to prosecute violent offenders, but Philly cops are too lazy or incompetent to catch most of them.
4-5-21 SAG Awards: Screen Actors Guild honour The Trial of the Chicago 7
It was a big night for diversity at the Screen Actors Guild (SAG) Awards, with actors from ethnic minorities winning all four individual film categories for the first time. The 27th SAG Awards were held on Sunday as a virtual event. Viola Davis, Youn Yuh-jung, Daniel Kaluuya and the late Chadwick Boseman all triumphed in their categories. Aaron Sorkin's The Trial of the Chicago 7 won best ensemble cast in a motion picture, making history for Netflix. The ensemble prize is seen as the top honour at the SAG Awards, in the absence of a best picture category. The Trial of The Chicago 7 retells the story of the notorious courtroom drama involving a largely unrelated assortment of political activists who were accused of inciting a riot at the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago. The film stars Mark Rylance, Eddie Redmayne, Frank Langella, Sacha Baron Cohen, Michael Keaton, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Jeremy Strong, Yahya Abdul-Mateen, John Carroll Lynch and Alex Sharp. Its win means Keaton sets a new record by becoming the first person to be part of three SAG-winning ensembles, following his wins as part of 2014's Birdman and 2015's Spotlight. The SAG Awards are seen as a key indicator of which films and stars may come out on top at the Oscars, which will be presented later this month. However, the favourite to win the best picture Oscar this year, Nomadland, was not nominated for the top prize at SAG, as it centres around one character (played by Frances McDormand) rather than an ensemble cast. There was no red carpet to welcome nominees in Los Angeles this year because of the coronavirus pandemic. Instead, the awards were pre-recorded via video conference and squeezed into a one-hour broadcast. Chadwick Boseman, who died of cancer in August last year at the age of 43, won best male actor for his performance as a Blues musician in the 1920s drama Ma Rainey's Black Bottom, a film adapted from a cycle of plays by the Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright, August Wilson.
4-4-21 Florida declares state of emergency over toxic wastewater leak
A state of emergency has been declared in Florida after a leak from a large pond of toxic wastewater in Tampa Bay. More than 300 homes in the area have been ordered to be evacuated, and a motorway near the Piney Point reservoir has been closed off. Residents were sent a text alert telling them to leave home immediately. Officials said the 77-acre (31-hectare) reservoir holds millions of gallons of water containing phosphorous and nitrogen from an old phosphate plant. The pond where the leak was found is in a stack of phosphogypsum, a radioactive waste product from the manufacture of fertiliser. The water contains small amounts of naturally occurring radium and uranium, and the stacks can also release radon gas. Attempts to repair the leak late on Friday, by plugging the hole with rocks and other materials, were unsuccessful. Florida Governor Ron DeSantis declared the state of emergency on Saturday. Manatee County Administrator Scott Hopes told a press conference that there were concerns the water could flood the area, which is mostly agricultural. "We are talking about the potential of about 600 million gallons (2.3 billion litres) within a matter of seconds and minutes, leaving that retention pool and going around the surrounding area," he said. Thousands of gallons per minute is currently being pumped out of the reservoir now to bring the volume of water down, while other workers have been charting the path to control the flow of the water. By declaring a state of emergency, funds can be released to send more pumps and cranes to the area.
4-4-21 Covid-19: France enters third national lockdown amid ICU surge
France has entered its third national lockdown as it battles a surge in cases of Covid-19 that threatens to overwhelm the country's hospitals. All schools and non-essential shops will shut for four weeks, and a curfew will be in place from 19:00 to 06:00. On Friday, the number of seriously ill Covid patients in intensive care units (ICU) increased by 145 - the biggest jump in five months. President Emmanuel Macron has promised more hospital beds for Covid patients. France is currently battling a peak of about 5,000 Covid patients in ICUs. On Friday, the country recorded 46,677 new cases and 304 deaths. As well as the restrictions that came into force on Saturday, from Tuesday people will also need a valid reason to travel more than 10 km (six miles) from their homes. President Macron had hoped to keep France's coronavirus cases under control without having to impose another lockdown. However, the country has struggled with an EU-wide delay in the vaccine rollout, as well as several new strains of the virus. In Germany, President Frank-Walter Steinmeier called on people to play their part and get vaccinated. Speaking in a television address to the nation on Saturday, he said the country was in the middle of a third wave and that it faced more restrictions. He also admitted that mistakes had been made - specifically in testing and in the vaccine rollout - and talked about there being a "crisis of trust" in the state. "Of course, there is no single silver bullet to get out of the pandemic," President Steinmeier said. "And that is why political dispute is needed - but the arguing must not become an end in itself. "Whether it's about a federal or state level, party or coalition, or whether opinion polls are up or down - none of that can play the main role now. "We need clarity and determination, we need understandable and pragmatic regulations so that people have direction, so that this country can again achieve what it has within."
4-4-21 India Covid: Maharashtra state to see curfew and weekend lockdown
The Indian state of Maharashtra will see tighter restrictions from Monday following a sharp spike in Covid-19 infections. A night time curfew will be enforced and the state will be under a full lockdown on weekends. India saw its highest day of infections since mid-September on Sunday, with 93,249 new cases. More than half of those were in Maharashtra, which has India's largest city Mumbai as its capital. Prime Minister Narendra Modi has asked a specialist teams to visit the state and investigate why there has been such a severe spike there. Some 165,000 people have died of Covid-19 in India, and there have been 12.5 million confirmed infections. This is Maharashtra's second full lockdown and government officials had been warning the move was imminent for some time. In a televised address on Friday, Maharashtra's Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray said people were not following safety rules and some had caught Covid-19 after being vaccinated because they had stopped wearing masks. "People have become complacent. We are in a catch-22 situation - should we look at the economy or health?" Mr Thackeray said. "If this condition continues, I have told you already that in 15 days we will exhaust our [health] infrastructure," he added. Pune city, which is about 160km (100 miles) east of Mumbai, had already imposed a curfew and closed religious places, hotels, bars, shopping malls and cinemas for a week. Maharashtra is already under Covid restrictions that include a ban on public gatherings. But now, from Monday, there will be a night time curfew from 20:00 to 07:00 local time. On weekends, there will be a full lockdown starting at 20:00 on Fridays and going through till 07:00 on Mondays. Only essential businesses can operate during this time. Public transport will still run, but cinemas and playgrounds will be shut. Shops, bars and restaurants will be open only for take-away and parcel services only. Government office buildings have been told to operate at 50% capacity, with people to work from home if possible. These restrictions will last until 30 April, the government said.
4-3-21 MLB: All-Star Game leaves Georgia to protest against voting law
The US professional baseball league has said it will pull the 2021 All-Star Game and the Draft out of Georgia in protest of a restrictive voting law in the state. Major League Baseball "fundamentally supports voting rights for all Americans and opposes restrictions to the ballot box," the Commissioner of Baseball Robert D Manfred, Jr said. A new host city has not been announced. The new law has received criticism from voting rights advocates. It restricts ballot access by placing limits on absentee voting, shortens periods for run-off elections and forbids the practice of giving food or water to voters waiting to cast ballots, among other things. Georgia's Governor, Republican Brian Kemp, signed the bill into law last week. Following the league's announcement, he accused it of caving in to "fear, political opportunism, and liberal lies" and placed blame on "cancel culture and woke political activists". "We will continue to stand up for secure, accessible, fair elections," he said on Twitter. The game was scheduled to play on 13 July at Truist Park in Cobb County, just outside of Atlanta. The Braves, Georgia's Major League Baseball (MLB) team, said they are "deeply disappointed" by the decision. "Businesses, employees, and fans in Georgia are the victims of this decision," they said in a statement. The All-Star Game is an annual event that is played at different ballparks around the country and is estimated to generate anywhere from $37m to $190m for the local economy. In March, the Atlanta-Journal Constitution reported that "many of [the] surrounding hotels/motels are already completely sold out" ahead of the game. The 2020 All-Star Game was cancelled due to the pandemic. Atlanta Mayor, Democrat Keisha Lance Bottoms, tweeted in support of the MLB's decision and said she believed it would be the "[first] of many dominoes to fall" in the aftermath of the state's new voting laws.
4-3-21 US lifts Trump-era sanctions against ICC prosecutor
The US has lifted sanctions on the International Criminal Court (ICC) top prosecutor Fatou Bensouda. The sanctions were imposed under former President Donald Trump over the court's investigation's into alleged war crimes by the US in Afghanistan, and US ally Israel in the Palesti The US is not a member of the ICC. The US has also removed Phakiso Mochochoko, head of the ICC's Jurisdiction, Complementarity and Cooperation Division, from the Specially Designated Nationals list, and has terminated a separate 2019 policy on visa restrictions on specific ICC personnel. Mr Blinken said in a statement that Washington continued to "disagree strongly with the ICC's actions relating to the Afghanistan and Palestinian situations", and that it objected to the ICC's "efforts to assert jurisdiction over personnel of non-States Parties such as the United States and Israel". "We believe, however, that our concerns about these cases would be better addressed through engagement with all stakeholders in the ICC process rather than through the imposition of sanctions," he said. He added that the US was encouraged by reforms being considered to help the ICC "prioritise its resources and to achieve its core mission of serving as a court of last resort in punishing and deterring atrocity crimes". Last year, the Trump administration accused the ICC of infringing on the US's national sovereignty when it launched its investigation into potential war crimes committed by US troops, the Taliban and Afghan forces in Afghanistan. Announcing the sanctions, Mr Blinken's predecessor Mike Pompeo called the court a "thoroughly broken and corrupted institution". The ICC responded that the sanctions were an attack on international justice and the rule of law. Ms Bensouda is leaving her job in June, and will be succeeded by British human rights lawyer Karim Khan. (Webmaster's comment: It's been proven again and again that the United States military forces are leading war criminals in the Middle East Wars!)
4-3-21 Derek Chauvin trial: Homicide chief criticises force used on George Floyd
The top homicide investigator in the US city of Minneapolis has said former police officer Derek Chauvin used "totally unnecessary" force when arresting George Floyd. Richard Zimmerman was testifying on the fifth day of Mr Chauvin's murder trial. White officer Mr Chauvin was filmed kneeling on African-American Mr Floyd's neck for more than nine minutes last May, sparking global protests. The 45-year-old has denied charges of murder and manslaughter. In his testimony on Friday, Lieutenant Zimmerman said he arrived on the scene after Mr Floyd's death in order to help ensure evidence was secured and witnesses were found. He said officers were responsible for the safety and wellbeing of anyone they arrested. "Totally unnecessary," he said, when asked about Mr Chauvin's actions. "If your knee is on a person's neck, that can kill them." He added that he could see no reason for Mr Chauvin to keep his knee on Mr Floyd for more than nine minutes. "First of all, pulling him down to the ground facedown and putting your knee on a neck for that amount of time is just uncalled for," he said. "I saw no reason why the officers felt they were in danger, if that's what they felt... and that's what they would have to have felt to be able to use that kind of force." Paramedics, bystanders and Mr Floyd's girlfriend are among those who have taken the stand since the trial began on Monday. At its opening, prosecutor Jerry Blackwell said Mr Chauvin had "betrayed his badge" and claimed he used "excessive and unreasonable force". Defence lawyers have indicated they will argue that Mr Floyd died of an overdose and poor health, and the force used in his arrest was reasonable. Footage from both witnesses' mobile phones and the police officers' bodycams have been shown to the jury at length. (Webmaster's comment: The police are supposed to "Serve and Protect", not kill people!)
4-3-21 Belgian police 'are supposed to protect us'
Campaigners in Belgium are calling for urgent reform of the police after a series of high profile deaths.Most were from minority ethnic backgrounds. No officer – in any of the cases - has been jailed. t’s prompted accusations that the police are acting with impunity.The Belgian Federal force said it couldn’t comment on ongoing investigations but unions told the BBC the police were not institutionally racist.
4-3-21 Covid-19: Italy returns to strict lockdown for Easter
Italy has entered a strict three-day lockdown to try to prevent a surge in Covid-19 cases over Easter. All regions are now in the "red zone" - the highest tier of restrictions - as the country battles a third wave, with about 20,000 new cases a day. Non-essential movement is banned, but people are allowed to share an Easter meal at home with two other adults. Churches are also open, but worshippers are being told to attend services within their own regions. For the second year, Pope Francis will deliver his Easter message to an empty St Peter's Square. Following the holiday weekend, different regions will then remain in either "orange zone" or "red zone" restrictions until the end of the month. Italy's restrictions come as countries across Europe try to control a surge in cases of the virus, while struggling with a delayed vaccine rollout. More than 110,328 people in total have died of the coronavirus in Italy, and there have been 3.6 million confirmed infections. Just over a year after Italy became the first western nation to be hit by a coronavirus epidemic. In February 2020 people in many northern areas were told to stay at home and the lockdown was later extended to the rest of the country. Free movement was restored in June, but Italy is now facing a third wave of Covid-19. On 1 April, it registered 23,634 new cases and 501 deaths. Under the new lockdown measures, all non-essential shops are closed and cafes and restaurants are running a takeaway-only service. Red zone restrictions normally mean all non-essential travel is banned, but over the Easter weekend an exception is being made to allow people to visit friends and relatives within their regions for a holiday meal. The Italian government also announced it was placing 70,000 extra police officers on surveillance nationwide, in order to enforce the lockdown rules.
4-3-21 India Covid: Maharashtra to go into lockdown unless cases fall
The chief minister of the western Indian state of Maharashtra has warned a full lockdown could be imposed unless Covid-19 cases begin to fall. Uddhav Thackeray said people were failing to take precautions and warned the state's health system could become "inadequate" within weeks. Maharashtra recorded at least 47,828 cases on Friday. The same day, India reported 81,466 new cases, and 469 deaths - the highest daily spike since December. In a televised address, Mr Thackeray said: "Consider this a warning that I could impose a complete lockdown in the next couple of days if things remain the same." Some people were getting Covid-19 after being vaccinated because they had stopped wearing masks, he added. Last Sunday, he asked officials to prepare a plan to impose a lockdown and said people were not following safety rules. But the idea of new restrictions has been met with resistance from the opposition parties, members of the public and even from within the government. Pune city has already imposed a curfew and closed religious places, hotels, bars, shopping malls and cinemas for a week. The government has also brought down the cost of PCR and rapid antigen tests in a bid to tackle the outbreak. Since the pandemic began, India has reported more than 12.2 million cases and more than 163,000 deaths. It is the third-highest number of Covid-19 infections in the world after the US and Brazil. India's Covid caseload had fallen sharply in January with fewer than 15,000 infections daily. But cases began to spike again in March largely because of poor test-and-trace and lax safety protocols. On Thursday, India launched the third phase of its coronavirus vaccination drive with those above the age of 45 eligible for the jab. In the first two phases, frontline workers and people above the age of 60 were vaccinated.
4-2-21 Stock markets hit new records on Biden spending plan
Asian markets rose on Friday following a record-breaking session on Wall Street. The S&P 500 broke the 4000-point barrier for the first time, while the Nasdaq and Dow Jones also made gains. Investors were buoyed by President Joe Biden's new $2.3tn (£1.7tn) infrastructure spending plan and growing optimism about the economy. Markets in Tokyo and Seoul were up more than 1%, while Shanghai was also in positive territory. Trading was thin in Asia, as markets in Hong Kong and Australia were closed for Good Friday. The latest highs in the US point to renewed confidence among investors that the economic recovery is gaining pace. The S&P 500 has gained 7% since the start of 2021, although the Nasdaq is about 5% below its peak in February. President Biden's mega rebuilding package - which follows the passage of a $1.9tn stimulus - has stirred more enthusiasm among investors. "Investors greeted optimistically President Biden's infrastructure plan," brokerage TD Securities wrote in a note to clients. A key measure of US manufacturing activity also soared to its highest level in more than 37 years in March, a strong sign that a rebound is underway. The Institute for Supply Management (ISM) said its index of national factory activity jumped to a reading of 64.7 last month from 60.8 in February. A reading above 50 indicates expansion in manufacturing, which accounts for 12% of the US economy.
4-2-21 US jobs creation surges in March as recovery gains steam
The US economy saw a surge in hiring in March as vaccination increased, officials eased restrictions and people pushed to return to their pre-pandemic activities. Employers added more than 900,000 jobs driven by re-openings at restaurants, bars, construction sites and schools. The gains were the biggest since August and helped lower the unemployment rate to 6% from 6.2% in February. However, overall employment remains far lower than before the pandemic. The US lost more than 20 million jobs last spring as the virus led to widespread lockdowns. It has regained more than half, but the number of jobs is still more than 8 million down from February 2020, the US Labor Department said. Washington has approved trillions of dollars in recovery aid, including a $1.9tn (£1.4tn) package last month, to shield households and businesses from the disruption. Analysts are expecting a strong rebound later this year, as families emerge from lockdowns with pent-up demand and, in many cases, savings put away during the pandemic. Estimates suggest the growth rate in 2021 could hit 6% or higher. US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen has said she is hopeful that near full employment could return next year. "The better than expected 916,000 rebound in non-farm payrolls in March still leaves employment 8.4 million below its pre-pandemic peak from just over a year ago, but with the vaccination program likely to reach critical mass within the next couple of months and the next round of fiscal stimulus providing a big boost, there is finally real light at the end of the tunnel," said Paul Ashworth, chief US economist at Capital Economics. The jobs report showed nearly every sector in the economy adding positions in March. More people entered the labour force, encouraged by the signs of rebound, and jobless rates fell for most groups. Officials also said employers added 156,000 more jobs in January and February than previous estimated.
4-2-21 Derek Chauvin trial: Paramedics say Floyd had no pulse when they arrived
Two paramedics have told a Minneapolis court that George Floyd had no pulse and did not appear to be breathing when they arrived at the scene. Former police officer Derek Chauvin is accused of killing Mr Floyd by kneeling on his neck for more than nine minutes during an arrest in May 2020. Paramedic Seth Bravindar said he had to ask Mr Chauvin to get off Mr Floyd so that they could access the patient. Earlier, the court heard emotional testimony from Mr Floyd's girlfriend. Courteney Ross described their first kiss, and their struggle with opioid addiction on the fourth day of Mr Chauvin's trial. Mr Chauvin, 45, who was fired from the Minneapolis police force, denies charges of murder and manslaughter. Mr Bravinder said the initial call-out was deemed non-life threatening although that soon changed. He told the court he initially thought that a struggle was taking place when he and his partner arrived on the scene, but quickly realised that Mr Floyd, 46, was limp. Asked about video footage showing him gesturing to Mr Chauvin, Mr Bravinder said he wanted to "have him move" and this was "so we could move the patient". His partner Derek Smith checked Mr Floyd's neck for a pulse but could not find one. "In lay terms, I thought he was dead," Mr Smith said. "When I arrived on scene there was no medical services being provided to the patient," he added. Mr Bravinder cradled Mr Floyd's head to prevent it from hitting the road as they transferred him to a stretcher. They put him in an ambulance and started chest compressions. At one point Mr Smith thought he saw electrical activity from Mr Floyd's heart and delivered an electrical shock to try to restart it. "He was a human being and I was trying to give him a second chance at life," he said. Mr Bravinder said he had to stop the ambulance en route to the hospital to help his colleague after the heart monitor showed Mr Floyd had flatlined - his heart had stopped. All further efforts to resuscitate Mr Floyd failed. (Webmaster's comment: He was a big black man so the PIGS murdered him fully expecting to get away with it!)
4-2-21 What you should know before planning a post-vaccine gathering
After getting the COVID-19 vaccine, there are still safety guidelines to consider. We'll break it down. The CDC continues to emphasize the importance of the preventative measures we've all been taking for the past year against COVID-19. You know them well: Wear a mask, wash your hands frequently, stay at least 6 feet away from those outside your household, and avoid crowds and poorly ventilated spaces. Every day, more Americans receive their first or second vaccine, and according to the Associated Press, the U.S. is currently far ahead of its goal of 100 million doses within the first 100 days of President Biden's administration. In fact, with 2.5 million administered per day on average, the president has already bumped that goal up to 150 million, which may even end up being 200 million. While that's good news overall, it doesn't address the questions of whether and how vaccinated adults can socialize with one another. According to the CDC, if you're fully vaccinated, meaning you received a one-dose vaccine or your second shot at least two weeks ago, you "may be able to start doing some things that you had stopped doing because of the pandemic." Vaccinated individuals are protected from severe illness and death related to COVID-19, and can now resume the following activities if they choose: Gathering indoors: Being indoors together without wearing masks is now considered safe. You can socialize, eat, drink, and yes, even hug mask-free indoors with members of one other household at a time, provided nobody in question is at high risk for severe illness from COVID-19. The maximum number of people allowed differs from state to state (you can see a full list here), but the CDC continues to recommend against "medium to large-sized gatherings," particularly in situations where social distancing is not possible. Those exposed to someone who tested positive in the past 14 days do not need to be tested or refrain from socializing. This excludes individuals who work in a group home setting or live with someone at high risk for severe illness. It's still strongly recommended that fully vaccinated individuals continue to practice preventative measures in public, including wearing a mask, washing hands, social distancing, and avoiding being in enclosed spaces with others. What we don't know: While these guidelines are informed by data sets from around the country, gray areas remain when it comes to social gatherings with other vaccinated people. It's not yet known, for instance, how effective the current available vaccines are against identified COVID-19 variants of concern (like the U.K., Brazilian, and South African strains). We also don't know how long vaccines provide protection, as we head into the spring and summer holidays when people tend to gather. What about travel? It's recommended that vaccinated people continue to delay their travel plans indefinitely. Those who must travel by bus, train, or air should take steps to protect others, such as getting tested, participating in state-run contact tracing programs, maintaining 6 feet of space between themselves and anyone they're not traveling with, and quarantining for a week at each destination (10 days if forgoing testing). Travelers are also urged to consider the behavior of those they'll encounter at their destination. According to the CDC, "...singing, shouting, not maintaining physical distancing, and not wearing masks consistently and correctly," can all increase the risk of infection. Make a plan in case someone in your traveling party becomes infected, including assessing the capacity of hospitals at your destination. Though the United States risk assessment level remains at "very high," hospitalizations are on a downward trend. Bear in mind that vaccination is just one step (though a highly effective one) toward reducing the spread of disease and keeping your friends, family, and neighbors safe and healthy.
4-1-21 Covid-19 news: There may be a million people with long covid in UK
The latest coronavirus news updated every day including coronavirus cases, the latest news, features and interviews from New Scientist and essential information about the covid-19 pandemic. Long-lasting symptoms after covid-19 reported by 13.7 per cent of people in UK study. An estimated 1.1 million people in the UK experienced long covid symptoms in the four weeks up to 6 March, according to a survey by the Office for National Statistics (ONS). Of people with self-reported long covid, the ONS estimates that about 697,000 first had covid-19 at least 12 weeks earlier and approximately 70,000 first had the disease at least one year earlier. The survey found rates were highest among health and social care workers at 3.6 per cent and 3.1 per cent respectively, followed by people aged 35 to 49 or 50 to 69 and people with a pre-existing, activity-limiting health condition . It also found that prevalence was slightly higher among females compared to males. The World Health Organization has described Europe’s vaccination campaign as “unacceptably slow”. During a press briefing on 1 April, WHO Europe director Hans Kluge warned that Europe’s coronavirus situation is “more worrying than we have seen in several months” with cases surging in many countries. “[Vaccines] present our best way out of this pandemic,” he said. “Not only do they work, they are highly effective in preventing infection.” According to Our World In Data, just 11.4 per cent of people in the European Union had received at least one dose of a covid-19 vaccine as of 30 March, compared to 28.7 per cent in the US, 45.5 per cent in the UK and 60.5 per cent in Israel. French president Emmanuel Macron announced new restrictions aimed at combating a third wave of coronavirus infections in the country. During a televised address on 31 March, Macron said schools would move to remote learning from next week and that lockdown measures, introduced in some parts of France earlier in March, would be extended to other districts. “Everywhere this virus is spreading faster and faster, and we see patients coming into hospital,” he said, appealing to people to “limit their contacts with other people”.
4-1-21 Biden unveils 'once in a generation' spending plan
US President Joe Biden has called for trillions in spending aimed at re-igniting America's economic growth by upgrading its crumbling infrastructure and tackling climate change. The $2.3tn (£1.7tn) proposal would direct billions to initiatives such as charging stations for electric vehicles and eliminating lead water pipes. The spending would be partially offset by raising taxes on businesses. Those plans have already roused fierce opposition. Republicans have called the rises "a recipe for stagnation and decline", while powerful business lobby groups including the Business Roundtable and Chamber of Commerce said they supported investments but would oppose tax increases. The pushback is a sign of the tough fight ahead for the plan, which needs approval from Congress. The White House has promoted its proposal as the most ambitious public spending in decades, saying the investments are necessary to keep the US economy growing and competitive with other countries, especially China. "This is not a plan that tinkers around the edges," Mr Biden said in a speech in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania on Wednesday. "It's a once in a generation investment in America." It calls for investing more than $600bn in infrastructure, including modernising roads, replacing rail cars and buses and repairing crumbling bridges. Billions more would be devoted to initiatives like improving veterans hospitals, upgrading affordable housing, expanding high-speed broadband, and providing incentives for manufacturing and technology research. It calls for money to be directed to rural communities and communities of colour, including establishing a national climate-focused laboratory affiliated with an historically black university. The spending, which would have to be approved by Congress, would roll out over eight years. The White House said tax increases would offset the cost over 15 years.
4-1-21 US border crisis: A look inside a US child migrant facility
More than 3,400 unaccompanied children are being kept in the Texas processing centre. The Biden administration has allowed reporters to tour the facility following demands for greater access as the migrant crisis at the US-Mexico border continues to escalate.
4-1-21 Children dropped over US border wall
US authorities have released a video showing two children being dropped over a 14ft (4.2 m) wall by alleged smugglers at the US-Mexico border in New Mexico. The children, siblings from Ecuador, were taken to hospital by border patrol agents and are now in the care of the US authorities. El Paso Sector Chief Patrol Agent Gloria I. Chavez said she was “appalled by the way these smugglers viciously dropped innocent children from a 14-foot border barrier last night.” US authorities are now working with law enforcement in Mexico to identify the people seen dropping the children.
4-1-21 Is Canada turning the corner with Covid?
Canada has secured the largest vaccine portfolio in the world but has so far failed to get its inoculation programme off the ground, even as it faces the pandemic's third wave. In December, Canada's Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland announced a C$1bn (£580m) investment in vaccine agreements. Ottawa had secured seven separate vaccine purchase contracts, she said, enough for each Canadian to receive 10 doses, free of charge. Four months later, Canada is still lagging behind most Western nations in vaccinations. It is currently ranked 44 in global rankings of vaccinations per capita, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. This week, the country welcomed an announcement from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau that Pzifer-BioNTech had agreed to accelerate delivery of five million vaccine doses, bringing them forward from late summer up to June. But the country is now waging war with a surge of new Covid-19 variants which threaten to overwhelm an already strained hospital system. The country has recorded more than 980,080 infections and almost 23,000 deaths. Canada was criticised at the end of last year for buying up multiple times the supply it needs to cover its population. It had signed deals with seven vaccine suppliers - including Moderna, Pfizer, AstraZeneca and Johnson&Johnson - for a total of over 400 million doses. But without the capacity to produce the vaccines domestically, Canada has been forced to rely on outside manufacturers, mainly in the EU and the US, where vaccine exports have been tied up with delays or cancelled altogether. Just over 12 out of every 100 Canadians have received at least one dose of vaccine, compared to about 30 in the US and 46 in the UK. Immunisation has been further frustrated by shifting guidance on the AstraZeneca vaccine. In late February, Health Canada authorised its use for all Canadians 18 and older. But this week, the government said that the vaccine should not be used in adults under age 55, citing questions over blood clots.
4-1-21 Covid: Europe's vaccine rollout 'unacceptably slow' - WHO
The World Health Organization (WHO) has criticised the rollout of coronavirus vaccines in Europe as being "unacceptably slow". It also says the situation in the region is more worrying than it has been for several months. Vaccination campaigns in much of Europe have been hit by delays and the number of infections is rising. France is the latest country to announce new lockdown measures, lasting four weeks. "Vaccines present our best way out of this pandemic... However, the rollout of these vaccines is unacceptably slow" and is prolonging the pandemic in the wider Europe region, WHO director for Europe Hans Kluge said in a statement. "We must speed up the process by ramping up manufacturing, reducing barriers to administering vaccines, and using every single vial we have in stock, now," he added. In the meantime, as long as vaccine coverage remained low, he said EU countries would have to impose lockdowns and other measures to compensate for the delays. Mr Kluge also warned that the vaccine rollout, despite its slow speed, risked "providing a false sense of security to authorities and the public alike". Last week saw increasing transmission of Covid-19 in the majority of countries in the WHO European region - which includes more than 50 countries and extends from Greenland to the far east of Russia. There were 1.6 million new cases and close to 24,000 deaths, the WHO said. Cases were rising in all but one age group, the organisation said. Only 10% of the nearly 900 million people in the region have had a single dose of coronavirus vaccine. It remains the second most affected by the virus of all the world's regions, with the total number of deaths fast approaching one million and the total number of cases about to surpass 45 million, it added. The WHO also warned of the risks of greater spread associated with increased mobility and number of gatherings over the forthcoming religious holidays of Passover, Easter and Ramadan. Some 27 countries of the more than 50 included in the WHO Europe region have implemented partial or full coronavirus lockdowns.