4-30-21 Covid-19 news: Prior infection boosts response to single Pfizer 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. Single dose of Pfizer vaccine may not generate sufficient immune response against coronavirus variants. Most people in the UK who have received a coronavirus vaccine have so far only gotten a single dose, which may not produce a sufficient immune response against new variants if the person hasn’t already had covid-19. This suggests that people who have had their first dose of vaccine, and haven’t had a prior coronavirus infection, may not be fully protected against these variants, said Altmann at a press briefing on 30 April. “For a country like the UK, which has the majority of its vaccinated people on one dose and also has an eye on the horizon for variants of concern, that’s a potential vulnerability,” said Altmann. He said it will therefore be important to ensure that people in the UK get their second dose of vaccine. The results are published in the scientific journal Science. Coronavirus infections in England have fallen for the third consecutive week, according to the latest results from a random swab testing survey by the Office for National Statistics. An estimated one in 1010 people were infected in England in the week up to 24 April, down from one in 610 the previous week. “This continued decline is good news and should be celebrated,” said Rowland Kao at the University of Edinburgh in a statement. But Kao said it will be important to continue monitoring infections as it may still be too early to see the impact of easing restrictions and of new coronavirus variants on infections. In Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales the estimated incidences of infection during the same period were one in 940, one in 640 and one in 570 respectively. On 29 April, the UK’s medicines regulator released data on the incidence of a rare blood clotting disorder in people who received the Oxford/AstraZeneca covid-19 vaccine across different age groups. As of 21 April, there had been 23 cases among people aged 18 to 29, 27 cases among people aged 30 to 39, 30 among those aged 40 to 49, 59 cases in people aged 50 to 59 and 58 cases among people 60 and older. In total there had been 209 cases, including 41 deaths, among about 22 million people who had received a dose of the vaccine by the same point in time. It emphasised that the benefits of the vaccine continue to outweigh the risks in the majority of people.
4-30-21 Republicans reveal their red line
Biden's plan to tax the rich has the party showing its true colors. Republicans have been trying to claim the mantle of the working class of late. "We are a working class party now," wrote Sen. Josh Hawley last November. "The days of conservatives being taken for granted by the business community are over," wrote Sen. Marco Rubio endorsing an Amazon union drive (to punish the company for being too liberal). Rep. Jim Banks (R-Ind.) recently wrote a memo entitled "Cementing the GOP as the Working-Class Party." There's just one problem. For the last 40 years at least the Republican Party has been the party of business — favoring deregulation, union busting, low wages, welfare cuts, and above all tax cuts for the rich. The only substantive piece of legislation passed during the Trump administration was a huge cut in tax rates that mainly benefited the wealthy and big corporations. This week, President Biden officially proposed modest tax hikes on the rich and corporations, along with boosted IRS tax enforcement on top earners, to pay for infrastructure and welfare programs for the rest of the country. How are Republicans reacting? They're melting down, of course. Biden's tax hikes are "the biggest economic blunder of our lifetime," Rep. Kevin Brady (R-Tex.), ranking member of the House Ways and Means Committee, told The Washington Post. "As you're trying to rebuild the economy from the biggest hit we've had in 90 years, why would you impose a massive tax hike on the very American businesses … you want to rehire workers?" Increasing corporate tax rates is "non-negotiable red line," said Sen. Shelley Capito (R-W.V.) at a news conference that also included Sens. John Cornyn (R-Tex.), John Barrasso (R-Wy.), Roger Wicker (R-Miss.), and Deb Fischer (R-Neb.). Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell also said he would not support Biden's infrastructure plan because of the "massive tax increases on all the productive parts of our economy." Incidentally, the supposed justification for the Trump tax corporate cuts was that they would increase business investment and therefore employment, which is the same reasoning these Republicans are using to predict that hiking corporate taxes will harm the economy. The fact that the Trump tax cuts did no such thing, and the strong argument that a higher corporate tax rate will actually increase employment since it will incentivize businesses to hire so as to cut their tax liability, has had no effect whatsoever on Republican conventional wisdom. The tax increases Biden is proposing are focused entirely on the rich, and especially the ultra-rich. He would nudge the top marginal tax rate from 37 to 39.5 percent, and boost the corporate tax rate from 21 to 28 percent. Stiffer hikes are focused on the top: increasing the rate on capital gains from 20 to 39.6 percent for those making over $1 million, and closing the completely unjustifiable "stepped-up basis" loophole, which allows wealthy people to transfer assets to their heirs without paying capital gains on any increase in value that happened over their lifetime. He also intends to close other loopholes that allow corporations to stash profits overseas, and is currently trying to coordinate a global minimum corporate tax with other countries. By and large, these are modest hikes, and they are aimed mostly at passive asset rents and legal chicanery to avoid taxes, not actual productive business.
4-30-21 Biden rally in Georgia disrupted by protesters
President Joe Biden's speech in Georgia was disrupted by protesters chanting "End detention now" and "Abolish ICE", in reference to the US immigration enforcement agency. "I agree with you!" Mr Biden told the demonstrators at the drive-in rally in Duluth. "I'm working on it, man! Give me another five days!” It is not clear what the Democratic president meant. In January, he signed an executive order instructing the justice department to end federal contracts with private prisons, though the directive did not apply to detention centres for undocumented immigrants.
4-30-21 Why the proposed US ban on menthol cigarettes is controversial
In a major blow to the tobacco industry, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has moved to ban the sale of mint-flavoured cigarettes. Public health and civil rights groups have lobbied vigorously for the ban, citing the disproportionate harms of menthol cigarettes on black Americans. But critics fear prohibition could give rise to clandestine sales, and more confrontations with law enforcement. The proposed ban would affect more than a third of US cigarette purchases. A final decision though will take months - and possibly years - to implement. The FDA's announcement on Thursday marked the agency's deadline to respond to a federal lawsuit from public health groups seeking the ban. Citing several studies on menthol's adverse effects, acting FDA commissioner Janet Woodcock said outlawing the flavour could "help save lives" and "address health disparities experienced by communities of colour, low-income populations, and LGBTQ+ individuals, all of whom are far more likely to use these tobacco products". In its ruling, the federal body also announced it would seek to ban all flavoured cigars. It did not address menthol-flavoured e-cigarettes. Banning menthol cigarettes does not require congressional approval, but it will not happen immediately and could take years. With its ruling, the FDA now enters a lengthy rule-making process that will include a public comment period. Any final regulations will likely face a barrage of legal challenges from tobacco companies. Anti-smoking groups say a ban is long overdue, but the fight against flavoured tobacco products has moved in fits and starts. When it gave the FDA regulatory authority over tobacco products in 2009, Congress banned all cigarette flavours except menthol. The agency presented a report in 2013 to show - for the first time - that menthol-flavoured cigarettes may pose significant public health risks, as they mask the harshness and throat irritation from nicotine.
4-30-21 Covid: Brazil passes 400,000 deaths amid slow vaccination
The number of deaths related to Covid-19 has passed 400,000 in Brazil, the second-highest in the world, as the country continues to struggle with its vaccination programme. There were 3,001 deaths in 24 hours, after a peak of more than 4,000 was reached at the start of April. The 14-day average of deaths and cases remains high but has seen a slight fall. Congress has opened an inquiry into the government's handling of the pandemic. President Jair Bolsonaro, who has frequently spoken out against lockdowns, masks and defended unproved drugs as treatment, is facing widespread criticism and his support has plummeted. The outbreak has been fuelled by more transmissible variants of the virus and a lack of co-ordinated national measures. The situation has improved in many areas, including where the health system was on the brink of collapse, after states and cities imposed restrictions, but they are already being eased. The rate of occupancy of intensive care unit beds remains at or above 90% in more than a third of the states, according to the health institute Fiocruz, which said the scenario remained "critical". "[There's] a tendency of a slight fall but not yet of containment of the epidemic," the institute said in a report (in Portuguese), warning that the daily number of deaths is likely to remain high. Brazil recorded 100,000 deaths in just 37 days, between March and April, which were the worst months in the country. Only the US has a higher death toll. Since the start of the pandemic, Brazil has had more than 14.5 million cases. Meanwhile, some cities have had to temporarily halt their vaccination programmes amid a shortage of doses. About 13% of the population of 212 million has received at least one dose, according to the Our World in Data tracker. It is a horrific toll that Brazil may not have reached if vaccines had been bought more quickly and lockdowns imposed. But President Bolsonaro has been reluctant to act - and Brazil is now mourning more than 400,000 dead.
4-30-21 India Covid: Delhi running out of space for cremations
Officials in Delhi have been urged to find more sites for cremations as the city's morgues and crematoriums are overwhelmed by masses of Covid deaths. A second wave of the virus is ravaging parts of India, with 386,452 new cases reported on Friday - the biggest one-day increase on record for any country. There were another 3,500 deaths nationwide and nearly 400 in Delhi - a record for the capital. The total number of infections in the country has now passed 18 million. The first consignment of emergency medical supplies from the US arrived on Friday, part of what the White House has said will be more than $100m (£72m) worth of support. But oxygen supplies and hospital beds remain in desperately short supply across India, with relatives of Covid patients pleading on social media for help. One senior Delhi police officer said that people were having to cremate family members in crematoriums not designated to take victims of Covid-19. "That's why we suggested more crematoriums should be set up," the officer told the NDTV news channel. India's Health Ministry released detailed guidelines last year for the handling and cremation of people who have died of Covid, with special measures needing to be taken to avoid any potential reinfection. India's central government is facing mounting criticism over its handling of the pandemic and its decision to allow large election rallies and religious festivals to go ahead in recent weeks. On Friday, the country's Supreme Court defended the rights of citizens to express grievances and appeal for help on social media during the current coronavirus crisis, warning actions by the authorities to stop people doing so would be treated as contempt of court. It comes after Twitter was asked to remove a number of posts which were critical of the government earlier this week.
4-29-21 Covid-19 news: Being overweight increases risk of severe covid-19
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. Higher BMI linked to increased risk of severe covid-19, particularly in younger people. An analysis of health records from almost 7 million people in England indicates that increases in body mass index (BMI) are associated with increased risk of severe outcomes with covid-19, including hospitalisation, intensive care unit admission and death. The study, published in The Lancet Diabetes and Endocrinology, found that the association was strongest for younger adults under 40 and stronger among Black people compared to white people. The risk of severe disease increased as BMI went up among those with a BMI of 23 or above. According to the NHS, a BMI of 25 or above is considered overweight and a BMI of 30 or above is in the obese range. Age remains the biggest risk factor for developing severe covid-19 and dying from it. The European Union parliament approved a proposal for a temporary “EU covid-19 certificate” to prove that a person has been vaccinated against covid-19, recovered from the disease or recently tested negative for the coronavirus. It said EU countries “should ensure universal, accessible, timely and free of charge testing” to avoid discrimination against unvaccinated individuals. The UK and other countries are also considering the use of so-called vaccine passports. In February, Israel rolled out a green pass in the form of a QR code that people can present as proof they have been vaccinated, which some businesses and places of worship ask for as a condition of entry. However, concerns remain about how long protection from vaccines will last and whether boosters will be necessary. Pfizer and BioNTech plan to apply for EU approval of their covid-19 vaccine for use in children aged 12 to 15 next week. The vaccine has already been approved for such use in the US. India reported 379,257 new coronavirus cases on 29 April and 3645 new deaths from covid-19, a new record for deaths in a single day. Elections in India are going ahead despite the current crisis. Turkey will enter its first full nationwide lockdown in the evening of 29 April in an effort to combat rising coronavirus cases.
4-29-21 Biden pitches 'once in a generation investment' to Congress
US President Joe Biden has laid out a sweeping investment plan for jobs, education and social care in his first speech to a joint session of Congress. Delivered on the eve of his 100th day in office, the Democrat pitched some $4 trillion (£2.9tn) in spending - the largest overhaul of US benefits since the 1960s, analysts say. He called it a "once in a generation investment in America itself". But the plans face a battle in Congress before they can become law. There has been widespread opposition to the proposals from the Republican Party, which is unlikely to back tax increases and more government spending. And while there is a slim Democratic majority in both houses, there has been division among the party over how far to go with the plans. In a historic moment, US Vice-President Kamala Harris - the first woman to hold that office - and House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi both sat behind Mr Biden during Wednesday night's address. It was the first time two women appeared behind the president during a speech to Congress. After addressing Ms Harris in his opening remarks as Madam Vice-President, Mr Biden added: "No president has ever said those words from this podium. And it's about time." The 78-year-old president, buoyed by solid approval ratings, presented the American Jobs Plan and the American Families Plan. The White House said the proposals would be funded by tax raises on corporations and the wealthiest Americans. "It's time for corporate America and the wealthiest 1%... to pay their fair share," Mr Biden said at an event that was scaled back due to the pandemic. He described the American Jobs Plan as "a blue-collar blueprint to build America" that would boost investment in public transport, high-speed broadband and roads and bridges. He added that the plan would be guided by the fight against climate change. "When I think climate change I think jobs," he said. "There's no reason why American workers can't lead the world in the production of electric vehicles and batteries." It has lifted confidence and helped consumer spending to hit a 14-month high in April. But there are questions over whether more moderate Democrats will continue to support President Biden's ambitious economic agenda. The US has spent about $6 trillion on Covid relief since last May, and Mr Biden pitched some $4tn of new stimulus spending in his first joint speech to Congress on Wednesday.
4-29-21 US economy accelerates as recovery continues
The US economy continued to recover in the first three months of the year as businesses reopened and the government spent heavily on Covid relief for citizens. The economy grew at an annualised rate of 6.4% in the quarter, up from 4.3% in the final three months of 2020. The US economy is rebounding faster than expected after contracting sharply in 2020. But it is several years away from fully recovering from the pandemic recession. Richard Flynn, UK managing director at financial services firm, Charles Schwab, said: "The US economy is accelerating quickly and remains on solid footing as we likely continue to move into a period of exceptional growth. "We have experienced the sharpest economic 'V' in history - a deep recession and rapid recovery within just five quarters." The strong growth was partly down to easing anxiety over the pandemic as vaccines have been rolled out across the US, boosting domestic demand and allowing businesses such as restaurants and bars to reopen. The Biden administration has also ushered through two additional rounds of Covid-19 relief money, the most recent of which saw unemployment subsidies extended and qualified households being sent one-off cheques for $1,400 (£1,003). (Webmaster's comment: What a joke! The Chinese economy grew at 18.3%)
4-29-21 Rudy Giuliani: US investigators raid former Trump lawyer's home
The FBI has carried out searches at the home and office of Rudy Giuliani, who was Donald Trump's personal lawyer. The raid is part of a probe into Mr Giuliani's dealings with Ukraine. His lawyer says he denies breaking the law. Before the 2020 presidential election Mr Giuliani led an effort to find incriminating information about Democratic candidate Joe Biden and his son Hunter in Ukraine. Mr Biden won the election and he and his son have denied any wrongdoing. Mr Trump was impeached in 2019 over allegations he sought help from Ukraine to boost his chances of re-election. Searches took place on Wednesday at the former New York City mayor's Upper East Side apartment, as well as his Park Avenue office. Several electronic devices belonging to the 76-year-old were seized, according to the New York Times. The warrants included an allegation that Giuliani failed to register as a foreign agent. The Foreign Agents Registration Act requires people to notify the State Department if they are acting as a foreign agent on behalf of another nation. Mr Giuliani's lawyer, Robert Costello, called the searches "legal thuggery". "This is totally unnecessary," Mr Costello told Fox News, adding that the search was conducted to "make him look like he's some sort of criminal". He added that the raids stem from an "alleged incident of failure to register as a foreign agent". Mr Giuliani has previously called the investigation "pure political persecution". Mr Giuliani played a central role in the effort to pressure Ukraine to investigate Mr Biden and his son Hunter, who served on the board of a Ukrainian energy firm. He was also instrumental in the ousting of the former US ambassador to Ukraine, witnesses at Mr Trump's impeachment trial testified. Hunter Biden is facing an unrelated criminal tax probe from the US Justice Department. Wednesday's search warrant does not imply criminality on the part of Mr Giuliani, but it signals a ramping up of the case into the former mayor.
4-29-21 Ahmaud Arbery: Suspects face federal hate crime charges over killing
Three men have been indicted by a federal grand jury on charges of hate crimes and attempted kidnap over the fatal shooting of Ahmaud Arbery. Gregory McMichael, his son Travis McMichael and neighbour William Bryan are already awaiting trial in Georgia on state charges, including murder. Ahmaud Arbery, a black man, was jogging in February 2020 when he was confronted by the three white men. His killing and the subsequent police handling of the case sparked protests. In a statement, the US Attorney's office in the Southern District of Georgia said the three men were charged with allegedly interfering with Mr Arbery's right to use a public street because of his race. They are also accused of attempting "to unlawfully seize and confine Arbery by chasing after him in their trucks in an attempt to restrain him". Gregory McMichael, 65, and his son Travis, 35, are each further charged with a count of using, carrying and brandishing a firearm. Travis is also charged with discharging the firearm. The three men have already pleaded not guilty to charges, issued by a grand jury in Georgia last June, of malice murder, felony murder, aggravated assault, false imprisonment, and a criminal attempt to commit a felony. They face trial later in the year. Ahmaud Arbery was out running in the coastal city of Brunswick early in the afternoon of 23 February when he was pursued by the McMichaels. They told police they believed Mr Arbery resembled the suspect in a series of recent local break-ins. Mobile phone video later emerged that appeared to show Mr Arbery trying to jog past a stationary pick-up before struggling with one of the people in the truck. There is muffled shouting and gun shots. It later emerged that the video had been shot by William Bryan, who was accused of following Mr Arbery "in hot pursuit". For more than two months, police did not charge the McMichaels until the shooting gained widespread attention in the national media and provoked outrage. (Webmaster's comment: Once again the police support the killing of a black man!)
4-29-21 Covid: Turkey prepares for its first full lockdown
The streets are crowded, the shopping centres busy and the traffic heavy. Some flock to the main bus terminal to get out of Istanbul, while others are trying to stockpile alcohol amid news of a "booze ban". This is the mood as Turkey prepares later on Thursday to enter its first full lockdown of the pandemic, to curb a surge in infections and deaths. WhatsApp groups are now dominated by messages about how life will be in the coming days. This time last year, Turkey was seen as a success story for its early combative action and was even praised by the WHO. One year on, it is among the countries worst affected by Covid, with the highest infection rate in Europe. Ankara is still proud of its relatively low total number of deaths, at around 39,000, and authorities say the pandemic is still under control, thanks to the country's strong healthcare system. But the spike in the number of cases is worrying. Following a second period of restrictions starting last November, the number of daily cases fell to around 6,000 at one point in mid-February. But as soon as the government started to ease the restrictions in March, a new wave struck Turkey. The government then U-turned to re-impose restrictions at the beginning of April. However, that was not enough to curb the spread of infections. At its height in April, there were more than 60,000 new cases a day and more than 300 deaths. According to critics, the government lifted restrictions too early and the vaccination process has not been fast enough. More than 22 million people have been vaccinated so far in this country of 82 million. Turkey mainly uses the Chinese Sinovac vaccine, as well as lower numbers of Pfizer-Biontech. Health Minister Fahrettin Koca said recently: "We have sped up vaccine diplomacy for the injections including Sinovac, Pfizer-Biontech and (Russia's) Sputnik V".
4-29-21 India Covid crisis: US tells citizens to leave the country
The United States has told its citizens to leave India as soon as possible as the country battles a devastating coronavirus wave. India reported 379,257 new infections on Thursday, the world's highest single-day total. The US embassy warned that "access to all types of medical care is becoming severely limited". The Level 4 "do not travel" advisory is the highest of its kind issued by the Department of State. The overall death toll in India officially surpassed 200,000 on Wednesday, though experts believe the actual number could be much higher. In the advisory, US citizens were told "not to travel to India or to leave as soon as it is safe to do so". "US citizens who wish to depart India should take advantage of available commercial transportation options now," it said. Some US citizens have reported being denied entry to hospitals due to a lack of space, it added. The warning comes as the White House said the US is redirecting its own order of the supplies needed to make the AstraZeneca, allowing India to make more than 20 million doses for its own use. The US is also sending more than $100m (£76m) in supplies to India, including almost one million instant tests on a first flight. The Indian government has welcomed what it called an "outpouring of solidarity" from around the world, with more than 40 countries pledging urgently needed equipment. Hospitals have been overwhelmed, oxygen is in critically low supply and crematoriums are operating non-stop. Thursday was the deadliest day so far, with 3,645 people succumbing to the coronavirus. However, the real death toll is thought to be higher. Despite this, the state of West Bengal has been voting in the final phase of elections. Long queues were seen outside polling booths, raising concerns about further spread of the virus. Experts fear West Bengal could be the next epicentre. Cases rose by 17,000 on Wednesday - a state record.
4-28-21 India's crisis should be a warning against covid-19 complacency
THE covid-19 situation in India is terrible and is likely to get worse. The country has set one new record after another for the most daily coronavirus cases reported in any country. Just as the world was hoping the worst of the pandemic was over, we are seeing its biggest outbreak. Why is this happening now? The short answer, as with so many key questions about the pandemic, is that no one knows for sure. On paper, India’s outbreak isn’t that exceptional. It is reporting around 200 daily cases and two deaths per million people, which is similar to the current situations in the US, Germany and Canada. In January, the UK was reporting nearly 900 cases and 18 deaths per million people. However, while the official figures in every country underestimate the true number of infections, the gap is likely to be greater in India. The number of daily cases could be closer to 10 million than the reported 350,000, while media reports suggest the death toll is at least 10 times higher than the government data. What’s more, India has just two critical care beds per 100,000 people, compared with 34 in the US. Its healthcare system has been overwhelmed. The big mystery is actually why India avoided a second wave for so long. Just two months ago it seemed to have the virus under control. There is no shortage of proposed explanations for the current surge: dangerous new variants; a relaxation of restrictions; people taking less care; mass political rallies and religious festivals; and fading immunity from the first wave. A mismanaged vaccination programme also means that less than 9 per cent of the population has received at least one dose. All these factors may be contributing. Many were avoidable. The alarm should have been sounded when case numbers began climbing in February and March. Instead, just as in the UK, politicians seem to have failed to grasp what happens when exponential growth goes unchecked. As the country looks for help from outside, the crisis should be a stark warning to us all of just how quickly a seemingly good situation can change.
4-28-21 Covid-19 news: India passes grim milestone of 200,000 deaths
The latest coronavirus news updated every day including coronavirus cases, the latest news, features and interviews from New Scientist and essential information about the covid-19 pandemic. Covid-19 deaths in India exceed 200,000. India continues to be engulfed by its second wave of covid-19, with cumulative deaths hitting a sobering milestone of 201,187. The country is fourth only to Mexico, Brazil and the United States for the highest numbers of deaths. India again broke a global record for the highest number of cases in a day, with 360,960 reported in the past 24 hours. The figures are believed to be an underestimate, despite ramped-up testing. Hospitals and crematoriums are still struggling with the surge, with reports of oxygen shortages continuing despite aid by companies and other countries. India’s surge is driving the pandemic’s growth, with the World Health Organization reporting new cases have now increased worldwide for the ninth week in a row. Nearly 5.7 million new cases were reported last week, and more than 87,000 deaths, according to a new WHO report. Vaccination programmes continue to create international tensions. Yesterday Brazil’s health regulator rejected imports of the Russian Sputnik V vaccine, on the grounds there was a lack of data on its safety and efficacy. That sparked an angry response from Russia’s sovereign wealth fund, which markets the vaccine – the Russian Direct Investment Fund called the decision “politically motivated.” The EU had more positive news, with European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen today announcing a new contract with Pfizer/BioNTech would be agreed in the “next few days” to deliver 1.8 billion doses between 2021 and 2023. The UK has also ordered 60 million more doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine in preparation for a booster programme in the autumn. The European Commission took the step this week of starting legal action against AstraZeneca over the rate at which it has supplied vaccines.
4-28-21 Biden to sell historic spending plans in speech to Congress
President Joe Biden is expected to call for the most sweeping revamp of US benefits since the 1960s as he delivers his first address to a joint session of Congress. Speaking on the eve of his 100th day in office, the Democrat will pitch $4 trillion (£2.9tn) of spending on child care, education and family leave. He already passed a $2tn Covid package. History will also be made as two women sit behind the president for the first time during a speech to Congress. US Vice-President Kamala Harris and House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi will both wear masks at the rostrum during Wednesday night's primetime address. The US president's State of the Union-style remarks will be followed by the traditional rebuttal speech from the opposing party - delivered on this occasion by Senator Tim Scott, a South Carolina Republican. Mr Scott, a potential 2024 White House contender who is African American, is a leading voice in his party on race. Mr Biden will speak at 21:00 EDT (02:00 BST on Thursday) from a US Capitol that is still ringed by security fencing and guarded by hundreds of National Guard troops following the storming of the complex on 6 January by pro-Trump protesters. Ahead of his speech, he will meet congressional staff who were trapped in the building during the riot, the White House said. Around 1,600 guests usually attend a president's address to a joint session of Congress. But this time only about 200 people will get invitations because of virus-prevention protocols. Buoyed by solid approval ratings, Mr Biden will look to the tens of millions of Americans that the White House hopes will tune in from home. The president will seek to build public support for two massive packages - the American Jobs Plan and the American Families Plan - which analysts project would entail the most far-reaching reform of the US social safety net since the 1960s. The White House says both proposals if passed by Congress would be "fully paid for" by tax hikes on the richest Americans and corporations.
4-28-21 Biden to sell child care and free university in speech to Congress
US President Joe Biden is expected to call for free pre-school and community college in his first speech to a joint session of Congress. Speaking on the eve of his 100th day in office, the Democrat will call for the most sweeping revamp of US social benefits since the 1960s. His plan includes $4tn (£2.9tn) of spending on education and family leave. History will also be made as two women sit behind the president for the first time during a speech to Congress. US Vice-President Kamala Harris and House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi will both wear masks at the rostrum during Wednesday night's primetime address. The US president's State of the Union-style remarks will be followed by the traditional rebuttal speech from the opposing party - delivered on this occasion by Senator Tim Scott, a South Carolina Republican. Mr Scott, a potential 2024 White House contender who is African American, is a leading voice in his party on race. Mr Biden will speak at 21:00 EDT (02:00 BST on Thursday) from a US Capitol that is still ringed by security fencing and guarded by hundreds of National Guard troops following the storming of the complex on 6 January by pro-Trump protesters. Ahead of his speech, he will meet congressional staff who were trapped in the building during the riot, the White House said. Around 1,600 guests usually attend a president's address to a joint session of Congress. But this time only about 200 people will get invitations because of virus-prevention protocols. Buoyed by solid approval ratings, Mr Biden will look to the tens of millions of Americans that the White House hopes will tune in from home. The president will seek to build public support for two massive packages - the American Jobs Plan and the American Families Plan - which analysts project would entail the most far-reaching reform of the US social safety net since the 1960s. The White House says both proposals if passed by Congress would be "fully paid for" by tax hikes on the richest Americans and corporations.
4-28-21 Miami school bars vaccinated teachers from seeing students
A Miami school has discouraged teachers from getting the Covid vaccine, saying any vaccinated employees will be barred from interacting with students. Centner Academy leadership cited debunked claims of non-vaccinated people being "negatively impacted" by contact with vaccinated people. Experts say there is no evidence for such theories. US health officials have said the jabs are safe and effective. Some 141 million Americans have received the Covid-19 vaccine to date. The Centner Academy, a fee-paying school, is located in Miami's Design District. Annual tuition begins at $15,160 (£10,898) for pre-school students and goes up to nearly $30,000 for middle school students, who are around 13-15 years old. Co-founder Leila Centner informed parents on Monday that, when possible, the academy's policy is to not employ anyone who has received a Covid-19 vaccine at this time, CBS Miami reported. In a letter last week to staff, first reported by the New York Times, Mrs Centner said teachers must notify the school if they had already received the jab. "We cannot allow recently vaccinated people to be near our students until more information is known," Mrs Centner wrote. Teachers who wait to get vaccinated after the school year ends will be allowed to return only when clinical trials on the vaccine are completed, assuming a position at the school is still available. Mrs Centner also repeated a false claim of vaccinated individuals affecting unvaccinated people, saying three women in the school's community had their menstrual cycles "impacted after having spent time with a vaccinated person". There is no scientific evidence for these claims. None of the coronavirus vaccines approved for emergency in the US have been linked to infertility, miscarriages or any other negative changes to women's reproductive health. Mrs Centner and her husband David Centner have described themselves as "health freedom advocates", providing guidance for parents at the Centner Academy to file for exemptions from vaccine requirements in the past. Mrs Centner has frequently shared anti-vaccine content on Facebook, according to the Times.
4-28-21 US Covid-19 guidance: Fully vaccinated people do not need masks outside
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has announced that fully vaccinated Americans do not need to wear a mask when they are outdoors. Those who have received all required jabs can ditch their face coverings if alone or in small groups of vaccinated people, the new guidelines say. But the CDC left in place its guidance to don a mask indoors and in crowded settings or venues. Over 95 million Americans have been fully vaccinated thus far. Following the CDC announcement on Tuesday, President Joe Biden celebrated the new guidance as "extraordinary progress". "Our scientists are convinced by the data that the odds of getting or giving the virus to others is very, very low," Mr Biden said. "The bottom line is clear: if you're vaccinated you can do more." The president also urged Americans who have not yet received their shot to do so, calling it a "patriotic" act. "Vaccines are about saving your life but also the lives of the people around you - but they're also about helping us get back closer to more normal living." Health officials presented the new safety guidelines at Tuesday's White House coronavirus task force briefing. "Small- and medium-sized gatherings for people who are outside and vaccinated can safely be done without a mask," said CDC director Dr Rochelle Walensky. This includes exercising or dining outdoors. She said that determining whether to wear a mask in larger outdoor gatherings would depend on other concerns like how well-ventilated a venue is and how much space is left between people. The guidelines are for the fully vaccinated - which means two weeks after a person's final vaccine jab. Evidence suggests that, although Covid-19 infections can happen outdoors, the risks of transmission are very low. Early studies also indicate that fully vaccinated people are much less likely to spread the virus.Dr Walensky said mask guidance for the fully vaccinated was intended largely "to protect the unvaccinated".
4-28-21 Covid: Spain hopes for tourists as EU votes on digital passports
Spain has said it hopes to open up to overseas travellers from June, as plans for an EU-wide digital certificate go before the European Parliament. Tourism minister Fernando Valdés said a pilot test would take place in May so that Spain would be ready to receive travellers the following month. The EU has been working on a digital pass in time for the summer holidays. It would cover anyone who is either vaccinated against Covid-19, has a negative test or recently recovered. Several countries have already begun using digital or paper passes to help ease local lockdowns. Mr Valdés told a travel conference in Mexico his country would be "ready in June to tell all travellers worldwide that you can visit us". However, any scheme to open up to non-European tourism would be dependent on the EU's digital green certificate and Mr Valdés said it was not a magic wand. Spain has long been a favourite destination for British holidaymakers but they will have to wait several more weeks to find out if they can start booking. From 17 May, overseas leisure travel could resume for people in England under Prime Minister Boris Johnson's roadmap for easing restrictions. The UK government is also expected to set out which countries fall into the "green", "amber" and "red" categories under a new risk-based traffic light system. These will determine testing and quarantine requirements for travellers when they return from various countries. In a debate ahead of Wednesday's EU Parliament vote on the new scheme, EU Justice Commissioner Didier Reynders warned of the possibility of "fragmentation across Europe" if an agreement could not be reached. "We would risk having a variety of documents that cannot be read and verified in other member states. And we risk the spread of forged documents, and with it, the spread of both the virus and the mistrust of citizens," he said.
4-28-21 Andrew Brown: Family of black man shot by US police demand more footage
Police in the US state of North Carolina are facing growing calls to release footage of an incident that led to the fatal shooting of a black man. Andrew Brown, 42, was shot and killed last week during an attempted arrest. His family, who have only been shown 20 seconds of bodycam footage, have described his death as an "execution". The exact circumstances of Mr Brown's death remain unclear. Seven officers were placed on administrative leave following the shooting. And on Tuesday, the FBI said it had opened a civil rights investigation into the incident to "determine whether federal laws were violated". Mr Brown's death comes at a time of heightened scrutiny over the use of lethal police force on African-Americans. He was killed just a day after a white officer in Minneapolis was convicted of murdering George Floyd in an incident that triggered national outrage and global anti-racism protests. Mr Brown was shot by police in Elizabeth City, North Carolina on 21 April. Much of what happened, however, is still unclear. Pasquotank County Sheriff Tommy Wooten and Chief Deputy Daniel Fogg said officers were trying to serve warrants to Mr Brown relating to a drugs charge. On Tuesday, Mr Brown's family said he was shot five times including in the back of the head as he tried to drive away from the officers. They said an independent, private, autopsy showed he was shot multiple times in the arm but died after being struck in the head. "It was a kill shot to the back of the head," Ben Crump, one of the lawyers representing the family, told a news conference. Mr Crump has represented other families in high-profile police shootings of African-Americans, including the relatives of George Floyd. An official autopsy is yet to be released, but Mr Brown's death certificate indicates that he died from a gunshot wound to the head.
4-28-21 The policification of everything
America has an over-policing problem. Tucker Carlson wants us to take it to an absurd new level. This past Sunday, my family met up with friends so the parents could talk and the kids could play. All the adults are at least halfway vaccinated, but we hung out in the backyard as a pandemic precaution and for swing set access. Because we were outside, no one was wearing masks — except two kids. Their parents didn't tell them to, but it was cold, and I'm guessing they think masks can be fun. Good for pretending, for feeling sneaky and mischievous. They stayed masked until the sun (and some graham crackers) came out. Tucker Carlson says I should've called the cops. With a chyron declaring "masks are a sign of obedience," Carlson railed against outdoor mask use on his Fox News show Monday night. If you see an adult in a mask outside, he said, tell them to take it off. If you see a kid, however, your response "should be no different from your response to seeing someone beat a kid in Walmart," Carlson argued: "Call the police immediately. Contact Child Protective Services. Keep calling until someone arrives. What you're looking at is abuse. It's child abuse, and you are morally obligated to attempt to prevent it." It's not, and you're not, certainly not by involving the cops. Carlson is right about outdoor masks being unnecessary, especially for vaccinated people (many public health experts and the CDC now agree, with strong scientific basis for their thinking here). Yet in his advice to call the police and CPS on kids in masks, Carlson is wrong, and dangerously so. This isn't a matter for police — nor are many matters in which officers of the state are now routinely involved. We are multiplying opportunities for law enforcement intervention in the average person's life. This policification of America is a mistake. Carlson's recommendation highlights one half of this phenomenon. We might call it the popular half: our cultural tendency to see calling the cops as an acceptable solution to interpersonal problems in which no one is at risk of criminal violence. Most 911 calls "are unrelated to crimes in progress," reports the Vera Institute, a think tank focused on the justice system. "Many are for quality-of-life issues like noise, blocked driveways, or public intoxication. Others are for problems like drug abuse, homelessness, or mental health crises that would be better resolved with community-based treatment or other resources — not a criminal justice response." Police themselves tend to dislike these calls, especially the quality-of-life ones. As an officer named Dan Pasquale put it in an article for PoliceMag.com, "you are being thrust into the middle of a situation that took years to deteriorate [and] are expected to solve it in five minutes or less because you are, in fact, the police department." Some cops call these "garbage" calls, a 1976 Police Foundation report on the subject observes, because they "receive low departmental priority, training for them is minimal, and the goal of officers on the scene is to leave as soon as possible." Solving a neighborhood argument about a fence or making kids turn down their music isn't considered "real" policing, nor should it be. The trouble is police officers' disinterest here doesn't allow them to ignore the summons, and they may have no way of knowing whether they'll face a petty, interpersonal grievance or a mental health crisis or an actual crime. That uncertainty makes this sort of 911 call not only needless but dangerous. It invites the government — and the force it wields — into private lives. That's inherently risky. Sometimes it gets innocent people killed. But even if such invitations never went awry and police always comported themselves perfectly, these calls would still be unjustified. This popular part of policification is a bad cultural tic, a ludicrous concession of basic adult responsibility to the state.
4-27-21 Covid-19 news: Medical supply donations begin to arrive in India
The latest coronavirus news updated every day including coronavirus cases, the latest news, features and interviews from New Scientist and essential information about the covid-19 pandemic. Ventilators and oxygen concentrators arrive in India from the UK. International aid has started arriving in India, including a flight from the UK carrying vital medical supplies. Ventilators and oxygen concentrators from the UK landed in Delhi on 27 April but India is still in need of far more supplies, with many hospitals overwhelmed with covid-19 patients amid a devastating second wave. Six oxygen containers will be flown to India from Dubai on 27 April, and the US and European Commission have both said they would send oxygen and medicine. Zarir Udwadia, a health adviser to the government in India, told the BBC’s Today programme he is currently seeing “ward after ward full of patients struggling to breathe”. Udwadia said that during the crisis demand for covid-19 vaccines in India has risen, with long lines of people outside medical centres trying to get shots. On 26 April, the Biden administration said that the US will share up to 60 million doses from its Oxford/AstraZeneca covid-19 vaccine supply globally as they become available. India expects to secure the majority of the doses, two Indian government sources told Reuters. Weekly deaths from covid-19 across England and Wales have fallen to their lowest level since October, according to the latest figures from the Office for National Statistics. There were 362 deaths mentioning covid-19 on the death certificate in the week up to 16 April, a decrease from 345 the previous week. It is the lowest number of weekly covid-19 deaths recorded in England and Wales since the week ending 2 October, when 321 deaths were recorded. “This emphasises the impact of vaccines on covid-19 deaths,” said Kevin McConway at the Open University in the UK in a statement. More than 33.7 million people across the UK had received a first dose of a covid-19 vaccine as of 26 April and more than 12.8 million people had received two doses of vaccine. The B.1.617 coronavirus variant first identified in India has been detected in Fiji. The country has managed to avoid significant community transmission of the coronavirus so far, recording a total of 109 cases and two deaths among its population of about 930,000 people. But James Fong, Fiji’s health secretary, warned that the presence of the new variant could result in a “tsunami” of cases. Fiji, the Philippines and Australia are among the latest countries to announce restrictions on travel from India.
4-27-21 Colorado arrest: Woman with dementia mocked by US police
US police officers are seen mocking a 73-year-old woman with dementia as they watch video of her shoulder going "pop" during her forcible arrest, according to footage released by her lawyer. Karen Garner was detained on 26 June last year after she walked out of a Walmart store in the state of Colorado without paying for $13 (£9) of items. Her elbow was fractured and shoulder dislocated, says her lawyer. An investigation has been launched into the Loveland Police Department arrest. In the footage released on Monday from the booking area of the police station on the day of the arrest, officers are seen fist-bumping one another as they review body camera video of the incident. Video from inside Ms Garner's nearby holding cell shows the frail-looking grandmother slumped handcuffed to a bench while the officers joke about the incident, says her lawyer. "Ready for the pop? Hear the pop?" one of the officers says at one point, referring to Ms Garner's shoulder. As they continue to watch the footage, the same officer says: "I love it." The Garner family hired a sound engineer to enhance audio of the officers' remarks. Their lawyer has filed a federal lawsuit against the department, alleging the officers violated the Americans with Disabilities Act and "violently assaulted" Ms Garner. Attorney Sarah Schielke says her client went six hours without medical help while confused and crying in pain after an arrest that amounted to "torture". "They failed Karen Garner," Ms Schielke said in a press release. "They failed the community. And they did it all on camera." Loveland police said in a statement on Monday they would not be making any comments pending the results of a "criminal investigation" launched last week. The Larimer County district attorney is looking into the department's use of force during Ms Garner's arrest. Loveland police chief Robert Ticer has pledged full transparency with the inquiry, which will be led by Fort Collins Police. (Webmaster's comment: The police investigating the police. What a joke!)
4-27-21 US Census: Five key takeaways on population trends
US Census officials have completed their once-a-decade count of the American population, showing the second slowest growth in recorded history. Texas and Florida, two Republican titans of the Sunbelt, will gain congressional seats, while two Democratic giants, California and New York, are losing political influence. The census shows the US population currently stands at 331,449,281 - an increase of 7.4% over 2010's count. The number is the slowest since the 1930s during the Great Depression. But some regions are booming: the South grew fastest at 10.2%, the West was second fastest at 9.2%, followed by the north-east at 4.1%. The fastest growing state was Utah, which grew at a rate of 18.4% over the past decade. West Virginia was the fastest shrinking state with a rate of -3.2%. The census figures are used to determine how to apportion the 435 seats in the House of Representatives, which affects the votes in the Electoral College that picks the US president every four year, and to determine how to allocate federal funding. For the first time in US history, California will lose one of its 53 seats in the House after its population grew at a slower rate compared to other states. Since joining the United States in 1850 amid a gold rush, the Golden State has become the most populous in the country with over 39.5m residents today. Wyoming remains the least populous state with just 576,000 residents. Experts say the reason for the decline in population growth is due to several trends, including falls in birth rates and immigration, as well as Californians leaving the state as fewer arrivals replace them. Officials from the US Census Bureau say the state experienced net negative growth, meaning more people left the state than moved there in the past 10 years. However, over 2.2 million people were added in the past decade.
4-27-21 Gavin Newsom: California's governor faces recall election
Opponents of California's governor have enough valid signatures to trigger a state-wide vote on his leadership. Gavin Newsom, a first-term Democrat, was up for re-election in 2022, but the recall means he will now probably face a vote this autumn. A campaign for a recall vote by a conservative group grew popular amid criticism of Mr Newsom's handling of the pandemic. Among the opponents he may face is reality TV star Caitlyn Jenner. California's secretary of state said that 1.6 million valid signatures had been verified, some 100,000 more than were needed. Should the recall election go ahead, it would only be the second such vote in California, and the fourth nationwide, in US history. Voters would be asked if they want Mr Newsom to stay, yes or no, and given a list of other candidates to choose from. In a tweet, Mr Newsom said the recall "threatens our values and seeks to undo the important progress we've made". Ousting Mr Newsom may prove an uphill battle in the heavily Democratic state, where he was elected in 2018 with support from more than 60% of voters. The last Republican governor of the state was actor Arnold Schwarzenegger, who was elected in 2003 following a celebrity-studded recall vote. Ms Jenner, a former Olympic athlete and a transgender celebrity, will be hoping for a similar result if she contests the recall election as a Republican in the state. A campaign to recall Mr Newsom was launched by a conservative political group called the California Patriot Coalition in February 2020. Opposed to Mr Newsom's policies, the group started collecting signatures for a recall vote in June 2020. The recall campaign gathered pace over Mr Newsom's handling of the coronavirus pandemic in the state. As infections started to fall, he came under criticism from business owners for still enforcing restrictions. That criticism intensified in November 2020, when Mr Newsom was caught dining at a fancy restaurant for his political advisor's birthday, despite urging residents to stay at home. He apologised for failing to "preach and practise" Covid-19 rules he imposed.
4-27-21 Israel committing crimes of apartheid and persecution - HRW
Israel is committing the crimes of apartheid and persecution against Arabs in the occupied territories and Israel itself, Human Rights Watch says. In a new report, it says Israel has a policy "to maintain the domination by Jewish Israelis over Palestinians", including those who are its citizens. Apartheid amounts to state-sanctioned racial discrimination and is considered a crime against humanity. Israel's foreign ministry has rejected the report as "preposterous and false". It accused the international campaign group of having a "long-standing anti-Israeli agenda" and carrying out an ongoing campaign "with no connection to facts or reality on the ground". Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas welcomed the report. "It is urgent for the international community to intervene, including by making sure that their states, organisations, and companies are not contributing in any way to the execution of war crimes and crimes against humanity," he said. Israel's Arab minority comprises just over 20% of its population of 9.3 million, while at least 2.5 million Palestinians live in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, and 350,000 in Israeli-occupied East Jerusalem. About 1.9 million Palestinians live in the Gaza Strip, which the UN considers to also be occupied by Israel. Israel occupied the territories in the 1967 Middle East war. It pulled out of Gaza in 2005, but still controls most of its borders, as well as its airspace and waters off its coast. More than 600,000 Jews live in about 140 settlements built in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. Most of the international community considers the settlements illegal under international law, though Israel disputes this. Human Rights Watch's 213-page report, entitled A Threshold Crossed, states that the present-day reality is that Israel is the sole governing power throughout most of those areas and that in the remainder it exercises primary authority alongside limited Palestinian self-rule.
4-27-21 West Virginia to give young people $100 bond to get vaccine
A US state says it will offer young people a $100 (£72) savings bond if they receive a Covid-19 vaccine. West Virginia says it hopes the payment for those aged 16 to 35 will "motivate" them to get the jab. "Our kids today probably don't really realise just how important they are in shutting this thing down," State Governor Jim Justice said on Monday. West Virginia had been among the top US states for vaccination rates, but progress has slowed in recent weeks. There are particular concerns that younger people may be more hesitant about receiving a jab. The incentive means those who are vaccinated within the age group can retrieve the $100, plus interest, at a later date. It will also be offered to anyone aged 16 to 35 who has already been vaccinated. West Virginia has the 16th highest rate of new coronavirus cases per person among US states, according to the New York Times. About 52% of its 1.5 million eligible residents have received at least one dose, Governor Justice said, but he added some 40% of the population might be hesitant about getting the jab. "I'm trying to come up with a way that's truly going to motivate them, and us, to get over the hump," he added. The payments will be funded by a $1.9tn (£1.4tn) coronavirus relief package, known as CARES, that came into law in the US last month. The Governor said the state had "vetted this in every way" to ensure the funds can legitimately be used for the savings bonds. Studies have shown young adults are more likely to be hesitant about getting a Covid-19 vaccine than their elders. Some 25% of US adults aged 18 to 29 say they want to "wait and see" before getting a jab, compared to just 7% of those aged over 65, according to a survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation conducted last month. Everyone in the US over 16 is now eligible to be vaccinated. Just over half of all US adults have now received at least one dose, reports the Centre for Disease Control.
4-27-21 AstraZeneca: US to share up to 60m vaccine doses
The US will share up to 60 million doses of its AstraZeneca vaccine with other countries as they become available, the White House has said. The doses will be able to be exported in the coming months after a federal safety review. The US has a stockpile of the vaccine even though its regulators have not yet authorised it for public use. Critics have accused the government of hoarding the vaccine, while other countries are in desperate need. Last month President Joe Biden pledged to share about four million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine with Mexico and Canada - both of which have approved the jab. The crisis in India has also piled pressure on the Biden administration to share US health resources. On Monday, the White House said it expected that about 10 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine could be released when the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) finishes its review in the coming weeks. It said that another 50 million doses were in various stages of production. At a news briefing, White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki said FDA officials would carry out quality checks on doses before they were exported. "Our team will share more details about our planning and who will be receiving offers from here, but we're in the planning process at this point in time," she added. The US has already announced that it will provide raw materials for Indian vaccine manufacturers as the country battles a devastating surge in cases. In a "warm and positive" phone call with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Monday, President Biden promised more emergency assistance "including oxygen-related supplies, vaccine materials and therapeutics", a White House statement said. Washington is also looking at supplying oxygen, Covid tests, personal protective equipment (PPE) and the antiviral drug remdesivir to India's health service.
4-27-21 India Covid-19: Delhi adds makeshift crematoriums as deaths climb
Makeshift pyres are being built in crematoriums in India's capital Delhi as the city runs out of space to cremate its dead. Deaths have been steadily rising in India as a deadly second wave of Covid infections devastates the country, with 380 recorded in Delhi alone on Monday. Medical oxygen, intensive care unit (ICU) beds and life-saving medicines are in short supply. India has recorded more than a million Covid-19 cases in just a few days. The number of reported cases declined slightly on Tuesday, to 323,144 from the peak of 352,991 the day before, bringing the total number of Indian cases so far to nearly 17 million with 192,000 deaths. However, it is thought the true figures are far higher - both for deaths and cases. An investigation by television station NDTV found at least 1,150 extra deaths which were not included in Delhi's official Covid count over the last week. Other investigations have found similar examples of undercounting replicated across the country. Crematorium staff are working throughout the night, with relatives of the dead reportedly having to help with the cremations, piling wood and assisting in other rituals. In Delhi, parking lots, parks or empty ground are now being sought for the increasing need for cremations. Families often have to wait for hours before they are allowed to cremate their dead. At the capital city's Sarai Kale Khan crematorium, at least 27 new platforms have been built, with 80 more being added in the park around the existing structure. Municipal authorities are also looking for additional spots near the city's Yamuna river bed. A worker at the crematorium, which originally had capacity for only 22, told The Hindu newspaper that they are operating from early morning to midnight. The Ghazipur crematorium in East Delhi added 20 more pyres in a parking lot. An official told the Indian Express newspaper that there are so many bodies that more pyres had to be built, and there is a waiting time of three to four hours, with each body taking up to six hours to burn.
4-26-21 Oxygen Express trains deliver supplies as India hit by covid-19 surge
“Oxygen Express” trains are re-routing supplies across India to meet a severe shortage of medical-grade oxygen, as the country’s new coronavirus cases hit a record peak for the fifth day in a row. At Dr Zakir Hussain Hospital in Maharashtra, 24 people with covid-19 died due to disruptions in oxygen supply on 21 April. Many such deaths continue to be reported across the country. “So many people, including my grandmother, died before my eyes,” says Vicky Jadhav, whose grandmother was at the hospital in Maharashtra. “I tried to revive her after borrowing an oxygen cylinder from a dead patient. But she did not live. I tried to do that for other patients too, but none of them survived. Many of those dead were young.” India reported 352,991 new coronavirus cases and 2812 deaths on 25 April. As a result of the surge in cases, the demand for medical-grade oxygen to support people in intensive care has jumped by 600 per cent in recent days. Many hospitals are overwhelmed and have had to turn patients away. Family members of those who are ill have taken to social media with pleas for help, and there have been several reports of “looting” of oxygen cylinders as they enter hospital grounds. “Beg, borrow or steal. It is a national emergency,” justices from the High Court of Delhi told government officials at a court hearing on 21 April. The Supreme Court of India has also demanded a national plan to improve oxygen supplies and to deal with other pandemic-related issues. India has failed to learn lessons from its first wave of the pandemic, when shortages of various essentials were reported, says Anant Bhan, a global health, policy and bioethics researcher at Kasturba Medical College in Karnataka, India. In August 2020, the World Health Organization created a forecasting tool to help countries predict their needs for essential supplies during the pandemic. “Our under-preparation has been exposed,” says Bhan.
4-26-21 Covid-19 vaccine side-effects: Here’s everything you need to know
. As growing numbers of younger adults get vaccinated against covid-19, social media is awash with conversation about side effects, which appear to be more common in young people. What kind of side effects can people expect, how can they be distinguished from signs of the rare blood clot syndrome linked to some vaccines, and what do they mean for people’s immunity? What side effects may people experience after a covid-19 vaccine? All vaccines can cause pain and swelling at the injection site, as well as more widespread, or “systemic”, effects. According to the National Health Service in the UK, these can include fever, fatigue, headache, muscle and joint pains, nausea and chills – when people feel cold without apparent cause – and tend to happen in the first day or two after the jab. They shouldn’t last longer than a week. The impression of covid-19 vaccinators is that between a third and a half of people experience these systemic effects in some form, but most will be mild, says Paul Morgan at Cardiff University in the UK, who is a member of the British Society for Immunology’s covid-19 taskforce. Why do side effects occur?Most coronavirus vaccines work by forcing the body to make the coronavirus spike protein, which is the part of the virus that allows it to bind to and invade cells. This then triggers an immune response. However, it takes a few days for the body to start producing the spike protein. This means that any immediate side effects you experience are probably a response to other vaccine components, such as the liposome shell used to deliver the spike protein mRNA in the Pfizer/BioNTech jab or the adenovirus that contains spike protein DNA in the Oxford/AstraZeneca one. Immune cells respond to these unfamiliar substances in the arm muscle by releasing signalling chemicals called cytokines to activate other parts of the immune system. The result is systemic inflammation, leading to aching, tiredness and in some cases a fever. “It’s a danger signal,” says Morgan. “The body needs to be alerted that something’s going on and primed to respond. It brings in the right sorts of cells to clear the damage or pathogen.”
4-26-21 Covid-19 news: Countries send supplies to India as crisis deepens
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. Countries deploy medical supplies to India amid critical oxygen shortages. Foreign governments are deploying resources to India in an effort to help the country cope with oxygen shortages amid surging coronavirus infections, hospitalisations and deaths. India reported a record increase in daily new coronavirus cases for the fifth consecutive day on 26 April, with a rise of 352,991 cases. The UK has begun sending ventilators and oxygen concentrator devices to India, and the US and European Commission both said they planned to send oxygen and medicine. European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen said the commission was “pooling resources to respond rapidly to India’s request for assistance”. Neighbouring Pakistan is also sharing medical equipment and supplies. The European Union has launched legal action against AstraZeneca, which it alleges breached a contract concerning its supply of covid-19 vaccines to the bloc. “The European Commission has started last Friday legal action against the company AstraZeneca on the basis of breach of the advanced purchase agreement,” said a spokesperson from the European Commission on 26 April. In response, AstraZeneca said it “has fully complied with the advance purchase agreement with the European Commission and will strongly defend itself in court”. All people aged between 35 and 39 are now eligible for covid-19 vaccination in Northern Ireland. In England, the covid-19 vaccine rollout has been extended to all 44-year-olds. Across the UK, more than 33.6 million people had received a first dose of covid-19 vaccine as of 25 April and more than 12.5 million people had received two doses of vaccine. The gap in covid-19 vaccine uptake between white people and people from ethnic minority groups in England remains but has fallen slightly in recent months, the Financial Times reported. On 23 April, France became the first country to donate covid-19 vaccine doses from its domestic supply to the World Health Organization-led COVAX platform, a global platform for sharing vaccines equitably.
4-26-21 America's police no longer get the benefit of the doubt
What the tragic Ma'Khia Bryant case says about America's declining trust in law enforcement. n the same day last week that former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin was convicted of killing George Floyd, 16-year-old Ma'Khia Bryant — a Black girl — was shot and killed by a police officer in Columbus, Ohio. The next day, the city's interim police chief released bodycam footage of the incident, showing that the officer shot four times as Bryant appeared to lunge with a knife toward another young Black woman at the scene. In the not-so-distant past, there would be little public controversy over whether this shooting was justified. The police would probably say Bryant was threatening another person's life, and therefore lethal force was necessary. The public would defer to the police report and, with sad resignation, move on. Not so in this case. Instead, the video has raised a host of new, very reasonable questions — about whether police officers need to be better trained in non-lethal techniques to defuse dangerous situations, about how society perceives and treats Black girls, and even whether Bryant was failed by Ohio's social services system. (She was in foster care at the time of her death.) "Ma'Khia was a good student, a good person, and did not deserve what happened to her," her family said in a statement. "We are deeply disturbed by the disproportionate and unjustified use of force in this situation." A year after Floyd died under Chauvin's knee, and nearly a decade after Trayvon Martin's death in Florida helped ignite the Black Lives Matter movement, the response to Ma'Khia Bryant's death demonstrates that something important has happened. The police in America haven't been defunded. To a significant degree, however, they have been de-trusted — stripped of the presumption that the "official" version of deadly events is true, and no longer given automatic deference when Black men and women die or allege brutality at their hands. Instead, when their encounters with the public go bad, officers and the departments they represent are increasingly scrutinized by the public and media for missteps, malice, and racism. In just the last few weeks, The New York Times, The Washington Post, CNN, and other national news organizations have prominently featured stories of violent police encounters: a Black woman pulled out of a car by her dreadlocks in North Carolina; a Black Army officer pepper-sprayed in Virginia; the deadly police shootings of Adam Toledo in Chicago, Daunte Wright in Minnesota, and Andrew Brown Jr. in (again) North Carolina. Black Americans have long known about the danger that looms over their every interaction with law enforcement. Finally, this is getting the attention it deserves, and media coverage has accordingly grown both in volume and skepticism of the authorities. This is a good development. Those who possess great power should be accountable for it, and there may be no greater power in society than to take a life with the backing of state authority. Even if deference were somehow appropriate in such circumstances, American police have forfeited it by too often taking liberties with truth, resisting disclosure, and evading consequences for their actions. In Minnesota, Floyd's death was initially reported by the Minneapolis Police in misleadingly anodyne terms; it took the emergence of Darnella Frazier's cell phone video for the truth to emerge. Even now, Chauvin remains the first and only white officer in the state to be convicted for killing a Black man. It is clear that much more reform is needed. (Webmaster's comment: Police are trained to shoot to kill, especially black men and black boys! Empty hands don't matter, shoot!)
4-26-21 Covid-19: EU hints at summer return for US travellers
Americans may be able to travel to the EU this summer - if they are fully vaccinated against Covid-19. European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen told the New York Times this should be possible as both sides have approved the same jabs. However, she gave no exact timetable and said it would depend on the "epidemiological situation". European nations have restricted non-essential travel from the US for more than a year. The EU toughened its recommendations on foreign visitors in January - but each member state must put the measures in place. Greece, for example, has already said Americans with proof of negative tests can enter. The UK, which is now outside of the EU, is introducing a traffic light system on 17 May that will set out its travel restrictions on countries around the world. Which countries get which traffic light is yet to be finalised. The US still bans leisure travel from the EU and UK. There have been some suggestions it could reciprocate in lifting restrictions, but nothing has been announced. Its current advice to Americans is to avoid 80% of countries worldwide because of the coronavirus pandemic. Vaccination programmes are proceeding swiftly in the US and UK, and the EU's target for the summer remains "a minimum of 70% of the entire adult population" receiving at least one dose. The US is on target for 70% of adults by the middle of June. The UK total is already at 65% for at least one dose. Ms von der Leyen told the New York Times: "The Americans, as far as I can see, use European Medicines Agency-approved vaccines. "This will enable free movement and the travel to the European Union." Moderna, Pfizer-BioNTech and Johnson & Johnson doses have all been approved in the US and EU. Ms von der Leyen said any easing of rules would depend "on the epidemiological situation, but the situation is improving in the United States, as it is, hopefully, also improving in the European Union".
4-26-21 Pubs reopen in Scotland and Wales as lockdown eases
Shops, gyms, swimming pools, pubs and restaurants in Scotland are reopening after a four month-long lockdown. Pubs and restaurants in Wales are also reopening to customers outdoors. The UK's most senior civil servant, Cabinet Secretary Simon Case, is facing MPs. He's being asked about leaks from No 10 and how the government handled the pandemic. He says its probable an inquiry will not successfully identify the source or sources of a leak about lockdown talks, given the time that has passed. Boris Johnson denies he said he would rather see bodies pile up than go into a third lockdown, but sources tell the BBC that he did. The vaccine rollout in England is opening up to 44-year-olds. International efforts are under way to help India amid a devastating surge in cases. A Covid-safe pared-down version of the Oscars in Los Angeles, leaving TV critics underwhelmed. The easing of restrictions in Wales from today means Alan Thompson, 74, will be able to step back on the bowling green for the first time in over three years after recovering from a stroke. While playing was banned, Alan, from Llantrisant, had been taking part in virtual games hosted by Sport Wales. "I honestly didn't think I'd ever be able to play bowls again, but playing virtual bowls helped me ease back into it and I've found my confidence again," he says. "I've done the rehearsal and now it's time for the real performance out on the green." Meanwhile, in county Conwy, Nick Jackson's zoo is preparing to open its doors again to visitors. He said he was "over the moon" to reopen and staff had been working "frantically". He says: "We're so pleased to be opening and getting income back, but it still hangs over our heads the worry as to what the future holds." However, he thinks many of the zoo's animals - including primates and monkeys - will "enjoy the company of the visitors coming in" because they find them entertaining and amusing, he says.
4-26-21 US teen's Snapchat rant reaches Supreme Court in free speech case
A teenager's rant that led to her getting kicked off her cheerleading team has reached the US Supreme Court. Brandi Levy sent a profanity-laden post to her friends on Snapchat in 2017, venting her frustrations with cheerleading and her school. But when coaches at the Pennsylvania school discovered the post, she was barred from the squad for a year. The case will determine whether schools have the right to punish pupils for what they say off-campus. It is being viewed as a major test of the US Constitution's First Amendment, which protects free speech rights. Arguments in the case will begin on Wednesday. Ms Levy, then 14, posted the snap - a combination of photo and text that disappears after 24 hours - when she was upset about not being chosen for the varsity cheerleading team. She posted it on a Saturday while at the Cocoa Hut, a 24-hour convenience store in Mahanoy City. The shop is not part of the school. It showed her with her middle finger raised, and her caption contained a four-letter swear word directed at cheerleading, softball, school, and "everything" generally. The post was screenshotted by a friend and shown to another pupil, who was the daughter of one of the cheerleading coaches at Mahanoy Area High School. The coaches then suspended Ms Levy from the team for a year. She then sued the Mahanoy Area School District, arguing that the decision breached her First Amendment right to free speech. Ms Levy, now 18, says the photo was posted from an off-campus location on a non-school day - meaning the school did not have the authority to discipline her for it. Pupils' speech is protected by a landmark Supreme Court case from 1969, Tinker vs Des Moines Independent Community School District, when pupils wore black armbands to protest against the Vietnam War. The court in that case ruled that pupils' speech was protected as long as it didn't cause "material and substantial" disruption to the school.
4-25-21 India Covid: Patients dying without oxygen amid Delhi surge
For the fourth day in a row, India has set an unwelcome world record for new coronavirus infections, with 349,691 more cases in the 24 hours to Sunday morning, and another 2,767 lives lost. The BBC's Vikas Pandey reports from the capital Delhi, where hospitals are overwhelmed and people are desperate. When Ashwin Mittal's grandmother's oxygen saturation level dropped a week ago, he started frantically looking for a hospital bed in Delhi. He called everybody he could, but every hospital refused. Her condition deteriorated further on Thursday and he took her to the emergency rooms of several hospitals, but every place was full. They accepted the fate that she was going to die without getting any treatment. But she was gasping for every breath and Ashwin just couldn't bear it after a while. He took her in his car and went from one hospital to another for several hours until one in north Delhi agreed to take her in the emergency ward for "a few hours". He was to continue looking for a bed. Ashwin, who has also tested positive for coronavirus, continued his search while battling a high fever and severe body aches. But he couldn't find a bed, and the hospital continued to keep his grandmother in the emergency ward on compassionate grounds. Doctors there said she needed an ICU and had a good chance of survival. A family friend told me that the hospital was planning to discharge her on Sunday as it was running out of oxygen. "The family is back to where they started and has accepted the fate. They know that if she survives, it will be because of a miracle, not because of any treatment," the friend said. Miracles are what many families in Delhi are left to rely on. Most hospitals are full and many of them are refusing new admissions owing to the uncertainty over oxygen supply. Oxygen-equipped ambulances are in short supply and it's becoming difficult for families to transport patients to hospitals even if they find a bed.
4-25-21 India's devastating new COVID wave
Coronavirus is spreading rapidly in India, with new cases smashing records and overwhelming hospitals. Coronavirus is spreading rapidly in India, with new cases smashing records daily and overwhelming hospitals. What's fueling the surge, and should the rest of the world be worried?
- How bad is India's new crisis? India on April 23 reported more than 332,000 infections over the previous 24 hours, the most ever confirmed by any country in one day. The day before, the country confirmed more than 310,000 new cases, breaking the previous single-day high of 300,669 set in the United States on Jan. 8, at the peak of America's deadly winter surge.
- How is the health-care system holding up? The surge is putting a massive burden on the country's hospitals, which are overwhelmed with patients suffering shortness of breath. Hospitals are running dangerously low on beds and supplemental oxygen many patients with severe COVID-19 need.
- How did this wave get so out of control? India's first wave of infections, which peaked in mid-September of last year, should have served as a practice run "to be prepared for the second wave" that was likely to come, said public health expert Anant Bhan. But critics say the country's leaders let their guard down.
- What is India's government doing to address the crisis? To confront the potentially deadly oxygen shortage, Modi's government has started an "oxygen express" train, sending tankers filled with liquid oxygen to places with urgent demand. The Indian Air Force is airlifting more from military bases.
- Can India get help from abroad? It is pleading for it. Due to recent U.S. and European limits on crucial COVID-19 vaccine production materials, India's biotech firms can't produce enough vaccine to meet international orders or India's own needs: So far, only about 130 million vaccine doses have been administered in India, a country with a population of nearly 1.4 billion.
- Should other countries be alarmed? They already are. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga canceled trips to India, and the U.K. put India on its travel-ban list.
4-25-21 Covid: Man arrested after infecting 22 people in Majorca
A man has been arrested in Spain on suspicion of assault after allegedly infecting 22 people with Covid. The 40-year-old is alleged to have continued to go to work and the gym despite having a cough and a temperature of more than 40C (104F). He is said to have walked around his place of work in Majorca, pulling his mask down, coughing and telling colleagues he was going to infect them. Five colleagues and three fellow gym goers later tested positive. Another 14 people - family members of the infected - also came down with Covid, including three one-year-olds. In a statement released on Saturday, Spanish police said the man had been exhibiting symptoms for a number of days, but refused to go home from work in the town of Manacor. He took a PCR test one evening, but then went to work and the gym the next day while awaiting the results. His colleagues told him to go home, but he refused, police said. He would then pull down his mask, cough and say: "I'm going to infect you all with coronavirus." When his test came back positive, colleagues were "alarmed", according to police, who have been investigating the allegations since late January. (Webmaster's comment: All those who refuse to wear a mask, socially distance and get vaccinated should arrested, fined and imprisoned!)
4-25-21 Biden says Armenian mass killing was genocide
Joe Biden has become the first US president to issue a statement formally describing the 1915 massacre of Armenians as a genocide. The killings took place in the waning days of the Ottoman Empire, the forerunner of modern-day Turkey. But the issue is highly sensitive, with Turkey acknowledging atrocities but rejecting the term "genocide". Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said on Saturday that Turkey "entirely rejects" the US decision. "We will not take lessons from anyone on our history," he tweeted. Later the Turkish foreign ministry said it had summoned the US ambassador to convey Ankara's "strong reaction". Previous US administrations have not used the term genocide in formal statements amid concerns over damaging relations with Turkey, a Nato ally. Ottoman Turks had accused Christian Armenians of treachery after suffering a heavy defeat at the hands of Russian forces and began deporting them en masse to the Syrian desert and elsewhere. Hundreds of thousands of Armenians were massacred or died from starvation or disease. Atrocities were widely recorded at the time by witnesses including journalists, missionaries and diplomats. The number of Armenian dead has always been disputed. Armenians say about 1.5 million people died. Turkey estimates the total to be closer to 300,000. According to the International Association of Genocide Scholars (IAGS), the death toll was "more than a million". Although Turkish officials have accepted that atrocities took place, they argue that there was no systematic attempt to destroy the Christian Armenian people. Turkey says many Muslim Turks also died in the turmoil of World War One. Mr Biden's statement, released as Armenia commemorates the start of the mass killings, said: "We remember the lives of all those who died in the Ottoman-era Armenian genocide and recommit ourselves to preventing such an atrocity from ever again occurring. (Webmaster's comment: It took the United States 105 years to call a genocide a genocide. How long will it take us to call black children and adults killed by police murder!)
4-25-21 China's designs on Taiwan
Recent belligerent actions raise fears that China may try to seize Taiwan by force. What would happen? Here's everything you need to know:
- What has China been doing? The Chinese military routinely rehearses an invasion of Taiwan, and has even created a life-size mockup of the presidential building for its bombers to practice targeting. Chinese warplanes intrude into Taiwan's airspace so frequently that Taipei, with its much smaller military, cannot afford to scramble its jets in response every time.
- Why does China want Taiwan? Lying just 80 miles from the Chinese mainland, Taiwan was part of China for centuries. It was then occupied by Japan from 1895 until the end of World War II. After Mao Zedong and the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) won China's civil war in 1949, U.S. ally Chiang Kai-shek fled to the island and set up a rival Republic of China, but Beijing has always considered it a renegade province. (Webmaster's comment: Chiang Kai-shek was an absolute dictator! There was no democracy for the peole of Taiwan!)
- Why would the U.S. intervene? For one thing, Taiwan is the world's top maker of advanced semiconductors, and Washington does not want to see Beijing seize control of that critical technology. Then, too, Taiwan is a vibrant democracy in a region that has few.
- Why is China acting now? China fears that the goal of reunification may be getting further away. While Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen has not explicitly called for formal independence — something just 32 percent of Taiwanese would support — she has begun trying to lessen her country's dependence on mainland trade.
- How would an invasion occur? Beijing could blockade Taiwan, depriving it of oil, gas, and food until it surrenders. Or it could launch a massive surprise attack, overwhelming the island before the U.S. could send help.
- What are the U.S. options? Richard Haass, president of the Council on Foreign Relations, recommends that the U.S. give an explicit commitment to defend Taiwan militarily in order to deter a Chinese attack. "A failed bid to 'reunify' Taiwan with China" would severely wound the Communist Party's hold on its people, he said, "and that is a risk Xi is unlikely to take.
- China's other territorial ambitions: Since Xi Jinping became president in 2013, China has been exerting its internationally contested claim to fisheries and mineral resources in nearly the entire South China Sea by building artificial islands and stationing military equipment on them. Neither the Obama nor the Trump administration punished China for that in any meaningful way, and Beijing is now loudly insisting on its sovereignty over islands long claimed by the Philippines, Vietnam, Japan, and others.
4-24-21 The toxic culture of American police
When officers are trained to be at war with the citizenry, collateral damage is the inevitable result. A viral video recently recirculated showing how a Maryland police officer dealt with a groundhog that was blocking traffic back in 2018. After seemingly trying to shoo it across the road, the officer suddenly pulled out his gun and shot the animal dead. Bystanders, expecting some kind of cute interaction they might post on The Dodo, were horrified. In the annals of American police brutality, shooting an inconvenient groundhog is barely noteworthy. But it is an example of the culture problem in American police departments. Cops are trained to be in a constant state of fear, to view all interactions as fraught with extreme danger, and to always be ready to use violence as a first resort. It all starts with training. As Isaac Scher writes at Insider, American police training is notoriously lax, has no standardization across the country, and often relies on garbage science. The vast majority of time is spent on weapons training and defensive tactics, with little instruction in de-escalation or diplomacy. There is little screening for racist attitudes or extremist affiliations; instead departments rely on implicit bias trainings that are proved not to work. For example, departments across the country have hired Dave Grossman, an ex-military motivational speaker who has invented a crackpot doctrine he calls "killology," to train their officers, and he conducts private trainings the public can attend as well. As shown in the documentary Do Not Resist, his seminars instruct attendees that they are "at war" (citing false statistics that America is crawling with terrorists and violent maniacs), that they should be in constant terror for their lives, that officers should feel no remorse for killing someone, and that if you are not ready to kill on a moment's notice, "you should not be carrying a gun." He exhibits a morbid fascination with killing that borders on fetishistic — in one seminar, he said that after killing someone you will have the best sex of your life. It should come as no surprise that many American cops have a hostile occupying army's view towards the citizenry — like the Ohio cop who shouted "blue lives matter" at bystanders who had just witnessed the police killing of Ma'khia Bryant this week. The warped American police mindset comes out even more clearly in a 2014 episode of the documentary series The Norden. The filmmakers take LAPD police captain Peter Whittingham on a tour of the Nordic countries to see what he thinks of those countries' police departments. Whittingham is a Black immigrant from Jamaica, which provides at least some control on racism as a factor, and he gives every impression of being a decent person who honestly believes in the importance of good policing. But Whittingham is constantly shocked and disturbed by what he sees as the softness of Nordic policing culture. In Finland, he laughs when he learns that arrested persons are called "customers." "We call them suspects," he says. In Sweden, he is disturbed that police trainees are allowed to attend class in normal clothes, but also surprised at how long their training is. "Two years! And I thought six months was a long time," he says. In Norway, he is horrified to learn that police are unarmed normally, and have to get special permission to use a firearm. "I don't understand the rationale for any police department that tells me that I am to be deployed in the field, not knowing what to expect, and I have to keep my gun locked up in the car." (The rationale is: Norwegian police killed just four people between 2002 and 2016.)
4-24-21 FDA and CDC OK resuming J&J COVID-19 shots paused over rare clot concerns
Experts debated a warning for women under 50, but decided to reinstate the vaccine without one. After reviewing safety data on rare blood clots linked to the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine, federal regulators said vaccinations can resume immediately in people 18 and older. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention made the ruling April 23 following a meeting of CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices about the vaccine, made by Janssen, J&J’s vaccine division. The single-dose vaccine was given emergency use authorization February 27 by the FDA (SN: 2/27/21). Federal health officials paused immunizations with the vaccine April 13 while they investigated the rare blood clots. “The American public should feel reassured about the safety systems and protocols we have in place around the COVID-19 vaccines,” CDC director Rochelle Walensky said during a news briefing April 23. The system to detect safety concerns identified a small number of cases of rare blood clots accompanied by low platelet counts. The pause gave regulators time to spread the word to doctors and the public about the risk, she said. Some members of the CDC advisory committee said that they were concerned that the decision doesn’t adequately warn women of an increased risk of rare blood clots. J&J and the FDA have added information to fact sheets about the vaccine that warns of the rare side effect and provides treatment recommendations. Health officials examined data collected in the vaccine safety reporting system known as VAERS, where anyone can report side effects from vaccines. They found 15 cases of blood clots, all in women, among 7.95 million J&J doses administered. Three women died.
4-24-21 US lifts pause on Johnson & Johnson vaccine
US health regulators have lifted an 11-day pause on the Johnson & Johnson (J&J) Covid-19 jab, but will add a warning label about the potential for extremely rare blood clots. A Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) panel earlier approved restarting US rollout of the shot. Fifteen vaccine recipients suffered from a dangerous blood clot out of nearly eight million given the jab. This week, Europe's drug regulator also ended restrictions on the J&J vaccine. European regulators this month also linked similar, highly unusual blood clots to the AstraZeneca Covid-19 shot, but found the benefits of the drug outweighed any risks. On Friday afternoon, the CDC and Food and Drug Administration swiftly followed the recommendation of the CDC advisory panel after it voted 10-4 to continue rolling out the vaccine for people 18 years of age and older in line with its original authorisation. The decision means at least 10 million doses of the J&J vaccine, shipped from the company's factory in the Netherlands, can be deployed across the US immediately. The health officials on Friday identified nine more cases of the blood clots, adding to six cases already identified since regulators first approved the jab as safe and effective in February. All were women, most under the age of 50. Three died and seven remain in hospital. About a dozen of the cases affected women aged 30-39. Seven of the women were obese, two had high blood pressure, and two were using oral contraceptives, according to health officials. CDC officials who presented the data on Friday said a few cases of blood clots in men were being reviewed, too. The officials also said it was important for women be told about the potential risks of the vaccine so they could decide whether to seek alternatives. Dr Sarah Long, of Drexel University College of Medicine, was among the panel members who voted against the proposal because she thought it did not go far enough in warning women.
4-24-21 Experts predict U.S. COVID-19 cases will dip in summer but surge in winter
Masks and vaccines could make a big difference in stopping a winter surge. The coming months of the COVID-19 pandemic in the United States may feel a bit like a roller-coaster ride. The current surge in the number of cases will dip over the summer, then rise again in the winter, a health expert predicted April 22 during a news briefing sponsored by the Infectious Diseases Society of America. Meanwhile, cases are expected to continue to rise globally, largely fueled by cases in South Asia, particularly India, said Ali Mokdad, a public health researcher at the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation in Seattle. As more Americans get vaccinated, daily deaths are predicted to decline, Mokdad said, from about 700 deaths per day as of April 21 to about 200 deaths per day by August 1. By then, the U.S. cumulative death toll from COVID-19 is expected to reach 618,000, up from about 570,000 currently. As with other respiratory viruses, when cold weather drives more people back inside, cases and deaths could surge again, Mokdad said. How bad it gets depends on whether people wear masks (SN: 2/12/21). “Come winter… we expect a rise in cases and we’ll be swimming upstream,” he said. “We have a problem coming. Please, wear your mask.” If 95 percent of people wear masks, the rise in cases and deaths could be mild, he said. Vaccines, coronavirus variants, the number of people who have already had COVID-19 and how much people interact with others could change the equation as well. Looking longer-term, the coronavirus is here to stay, Amesh Adalja, an infectious diseases doctor at Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security said in the briefing. “It’s a mistake to think that we’re going to get to COVID-zero. This is not an eradicable disease,” he said.
4-24-21 India Covid surge: Hospitals send SOS as record deaths registered
Indian hospitals say their patients are dying because of a shortage of oxygen as Covid case numbers and deaths set new records for a third day running. India has recorded nearly a million infections in three days, with 346,786 new cases overnight into Saturday. At the Jaipur Golden Hospital in Delhi, 20 people died overnight because of a lack of oxygen, an official said. The government says it is deploying trains and the air force to transport supplies to hard-hit areas. The number of deaths across India rose by 2,624 in the 24 hours to Saturday, up from 2,263 on Friday. The World Health Organization (WHO) said the situation in India was a "devastating reminder" of what the coronavirus could do. Earlier this year, the Indian government believed it had beaten the virus. New cases fell to 11,000 by mid-February, vaccines were being exported, and in March the health minister said India was "in the endgame" of the pandemic. However, since then, a new surge has erupted, driven by the emergence of new variants, as well as mass gatherings, such as the Kumbh Mela festival, where millions of pilgrims gathered earlier this month. Hospitals in Delhi have warned they are at breaking point. At the Holy Family Hospital, intensive care units are full and there is no room for any more beds. "Almost every hospital is on the edge. If oxygen runs out, there is no leeway for many patients," Dr Sumit Ray told the BBC. "Within minutes, they will die. You can see these patients: they're on ventilators, they require high-flow oxygen. If the oxygen stops, most of them will die." At the Jaipur Golden Hospital, a doctor told the BBC the government had allocated 3.6 tonnes of oxygen, to be delivered by 17:00 on Friday. However, the supply - a fraction of what was promised - only arrived at midnight, he told the BBC.
4-24-21 Covid-19: Israel records no daily deaths for the first time in 10 months
Israel has recorded no new daily Covid-19 deaths for the first time in 10 months, as the country pushes ahead with its speedy vaccination drive. The country's coronavirus death toll remained unchanged at 6,346 on Thursday, health ministry data showed. The last time Israel reported zero Covid-19 deaths was at the end of June last year, after lockdown measures curbed a first wave of infections. Israel's outbreak has eased after hitting its peak in January this year. The Israeli government started to relax lockdown restrictions a month later as vaccinations against Covid-19 were rolled out more widely. Israel has the highest vaccination rate in the world. On Thursday, the country reached the milestone of five million Covid-19 vaccinations. The health ministry said more than 53% of the country's population of about nine million people had received two doses of vaccine. "This is a tremendous achievement for the health system and Israeli citizens. Together we are eradicating the coronavirus," Health Minister Yuli Edelstein tweeted on Friday. Last week Eyal Leshem, a director at Israel's largest hospital, the Sheba Medical Center, said the country may be close to reaching "herd immunity". Herd immunity happens when enough of a population has protection against an infection, thus stopping it from spreading. World Health Organization (WHO) experts have estimated that at least 65%-70% of a population need vaccination coverage before herd immunity is reached. Mr Leshem said herd immunity was the "only explanation" for Israel's continued fall in cases as more restrictions were lifted. "There is a continuous decline despite returning to near normalcy," he said. "This tells us that even if a person is infected, most people they meet walking around won't be infected by them."
4-23-21 Covid-19 news: Japan to declare state of emergency ahead of Olympics
The latest coronavirus news updated every day including coronavirus cases, the latest news, features and interviews from New Scientist and essential information about the covid-19 pandemic. Japan to declare a state of emergency in big cities to try to halt a rise in cases ahead of the Olympics. With coronavirus case numbers rising three months before the Olympics are due to begin, Japan will declare a state of emergency in big cities including Tokyo, Osaka and Kyoto between 25 April and 11 May. This will allow the government to impose restrictions such as a ban on the sale of alcohol at all venues and the closure of many entertainment venues such as cinemas. People will be asked to work from home but schools will remain open. The restrictions cover the Golden Week holiday period when many people usually travel. Australia is imposing a three-day lockdown in Perth and the adjoining Peel region after a person who tested positive for covid-19 visited various sites in the region. The individual had been in hotel quarantine and tested negative at the end of it. But another test done five days later was positive. A single dose of either the Oxford/AstraZeneca or Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine reduces the risk of infection by two-thirds, according to an analysis of the test results of 350,000 people in the UK in the past few months. From 21 days after the dose, people were 57 per cent less likely to get asymptomatic infections and 72 per cent less likely to get symptomatic infections compared with those who had not been vaccinated. India has reported 332,730 new daily coronavirus cases, setting a new global record for a second successive day. Hospitals in New Delhi are pleading with the government for more oxygen supplies and saying they may not be able to admit new patients. Some mass vaccination sites in the US are being closed down as demand falls, according to The New York Times. More than half of adults in the US have now had at least one vaccine dose. “We got about 50 per cent of our people vaccinated,” the chief public health officer in Galveston County, Texas, told the paper. “We recognise that next 25 per cent is going to be a lot harder than the first.”
4-23-21 US President Joe Biden to 'propose hiking tax on rich'
US President Joe Biden is reportedly set to propose a tax hike on the wealthiest Americans. The proposal would raise the top marginal rate and increase taxes on investment gains for the rich. The tax rise would help pay for childcare and education, but would not be used for healthcare, according to reports. The news triggered a selloff on Wall Street, with major indexes slipping during Thursday's trading session. The White House said the American Family Plan, which Mr Biden is expected to lay out in full next week, will not affect any family earning less than $400,000 a year. "His view is that that should be on the backs... of the wealthiest Americans who can afford it and corporations and businesses who can afford it," said White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki. The proposal would increase the top marginal income tax rate to 39.6% from 37%, according to the New York Times and Bloomberg. The move would effectively reverse Donald Trump’s 2017 income tax cut for highest income earners. The plan would also nearly double taxes on capital gains to 39.6% for people earning more than $1m. It’s a dramatic increase from the current rate of 20%. In some states which impose their own capital gains tax, the total bill some investors could face might exceed 50%. The plan is widely expected to encounter resistance from Republicans in Congress. Although the Democrats hold a slim majority, they may not support the plan unanimously. Nevertheless, the news was enough to cause a few jitters on Wall Street. The Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 420 points before reigning in its losses slightly. "If it had a chance of passing, we'd be down 2,000 points," Thomas Hayes, from Great Hill Capital told Reuters. The tech-heavy Nasdaq index also slipped 0.9%.
4-23-21 Daunte Wright funeral: As Minneapolis mourns, what next for police reform?
Warning: This video contains scenes from a public viewing of Daunte Wright's open casket the day before his funeral. Soon after a historic guilty verdict in the George Floyd murder trial, Minneapolis mourned the loss of another black man killed by police. Daunte Wright was shot dead by police during a traffic stop. The officer, who reportedly thought she was firing her Taser not her gun, has been charged with second-degree manslaughter. Hundreds turned out for his funeral on Thursday. So what comes next for the city, the push for police reform and America’s reckoning on race?
4-23-21 Capitol riot: Man accused after Bumble dating app boast
A man has been accused of taking part in the US Capitol riots after allegedly boasting about it on a dating app. Robert Chapman, from New York, told a user he matched with on the dating app Bumble "I did storm the Capitol", FBI court filings say. They replied "we are not a match", and shared a screenshot of the exchange with authorities. Mr Chapman was arrested and charged in New York on Thursday, media reports say. According to the court filings, Mr Chapman, from the town of Carmel in New York State, told his Bumble match: "I did storm the Capitol... I made it all the way into Statuary Hall!" The FBI says police body-camera footage captures Mr Chapman in the Statuary Hall during the 6 January riots at the Capitol building in Washington DC. A post on Mr Chapman's public Facebook account, using the alias "Robert Erick", said he was leaving New York City the day before the riot, the FBI said. The next day, the account posted a photo showing him posing within the Capitol, captioned "INSIDE THE CRAPITOL!!!". Mr Chapman was arrested and charged with trespassing and disorderly conduct on restricted government property, according to NBC New York. He had previously been arrested in New York in 2017, according to New York State Police. The US justice department has charged more than 400 people with participation in the 6 January attack. Federal prosecutors expect to charge at least 100 more people for taking part in the riots.
4-23-21 India Covid crisis: Hospitals buckle under record surge
India's healthcare system is buckling as a record surge in Covid-19 cases puts pressure on hospital beds and drains oxygen supplies. Families are left pleading for their relatives who are desperately ill, with some patients left untreated for hours. Crematoriums are organising mass funeral pyres. On Friday India reported 332,730 new cases of coronavirus, setting a world record for a second day running. Deaths were numbered at 2,263 in 24 hours. Dr Atul Gogia, a consultant at the Sir Ganga Ram hospital in Delhi, told the BBC there had been a "huge surge" in patients, leaving no space in the emergency room. "We do not have that many oxygen points. Whatever oxygen points are there, they're full. Patients are coming in with their own oxygen cylinders or without oxygen. We want to help them but there are not enough beds and not enough oxygen points even to supply them oxygen if it is there," he said. "All our telephone lines are jammed. People are continuously calling the helpline. There is a big rush outside the hospital: there are ambulances parked, patients wanting to get deboarded, but the problem is, there is no space. "We try to mobilise, we try to discharge patients who become stable as early as possible so that we can increase the turnaround, but things are difficult right now." Every morning, for the past few days, I have been waking up to my phone buzzing with desperate messages for help. People are seeking hospital beds, life-saving drugs, oxygen and plasma for their infected and sick friends and relatives. Often, after a period of silence, the same people announce the deaths of their "patients". My Twitter timeline is India's Covid-19 war-room, as the state appears to have largely withered away. Every essential to save a life is in short supply or available on the black market. Then there's the fear of the virus literally "at your door". Over the past week, three buildings in the gated complex where I live have become "containment zones", with entire skyscrapers sealed because of too many infections. The days and nights are filled with helplessness, anxiety and fear. The bad news is unrelenting. The Supreme Court of India has called this a "national emergency". This is beyond an emergency. It is a "complete collapse of the goddamn system", as one of India's leading virologists says. In hotspots like Delhi and Mumbai, life, itself, is now a privilege.
4-23-21 Coronavirus: Japan declares virus emergency in Tokyo as Olympics near
Japan has announced emergency Covid measures in Tokyo and three other areas in a bid to curb rising infections, just three months before the country is set to host the Olympics. The government said the state of emergency - set to last for about two weeks - would be "short and powerful". Under the measures, bars will be required to close and big sporting events will be held without spectators. The government has insisted that the Olympics will go ahead in July. Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga announced the measures on Friday, saying they would begin on Sunday and remain in place until 11 May. In addition to Tokyo, the prefectures of Osaka, Kyoto and Hyogo will be affected. It marks the third state of emergency in Japan since the pandemic began. "I sincerely apologise for causing trouble for many people again," he said. "It is feared that contagion in major cities will spread across the whole country if we take no measures." Under the rules, major commercial facilities like department stores will close, as well as restaurants, bars, and karaoke parlours serving alcohol. Restaurants that do not serve alcohol are being told to close early, and companies are being asked to make arrangements for people to work remotely. Schools will remain open. The emergency measures coincide with the country's "Golden Week" holiday, which runs from late April to the first week of May and is the busiest travel period of the year. Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike urged residents to start taking precautions immediately. In an effort to discourage people from going out at night, she said illuminations and neon signs would be turned off. The coronavirus toll in Japan has been much lower than in many other countries, with about 558,000 cases and fewer than 10,000 deaths, according to figures collated by Johns Hopkins University.
4-22-21 Covid-19 news: India reports a record number of new cases
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 314,835 new cases reported by India on Thursday is the highest daily rate ever in any country. India reported 314,835 new coronavirus cases on Thursday, the highest daily number reported by any country since the pandemic began. According to the New York Times, the previous record was 300,669, reported by the US on 8 January. The true number of cases could be 20 to 30 times higher than the reported figures, meaning up to 9 million people are being infected in India every day. Last week, Gautam Menon at Ashoka University in India told New Scientist that he expected case numbers to keep increasing for another two or three weeks at least. The global scheme for sharing vaccines equitably, Covax, has so far delivered only a fifth of the doses of the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine it estimated countries would have by May, according to an analysis by the Guardian newspaper. Some countries, such as Bangladesh and Pakistan, have not received any doses via Covax so far. The problem is that the Serum Institute of India has produced fewer vaccine doses than it projected, which it blames on US export bans on key ingredients. India has also restricted vaccine exports as case numbers surge. Covid-19 is no longer the leading cause of death in England and Wales, according to the UK’s Office of National Statistics. In England, 10 per cent of deaths in March were due to dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. In Wales, 12 per cent of deaths were due to heart diseases. Covid-19 caused only 9 per cent of deaths in both nations. Case numbers continue to fall in England, according to Public Health England. A study claiming that smokers are 23 per cent less likely to get covid-19 than non-smokers has been retracted by the European Respiratory Journal after it emerged that two of the authors had undeclared links with the tobacco industry. “It was brought to the editors’ attention that two of the authors had failed to disclose potential conflicts of interest,” the journal states.
4-22-21 The conservative assault on civil liberties
American conservatives have been having a shrieking panic attack over free speech for the last several months. When Donald Trump was banned from Twitter for trying to overthrow the government, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) wrote it was a "PURGE" and suggested "a handful of Silicon Valley billionaires have a monopoly on political speech," while Donald Trump, Jr. wrote "Free speech is dead and controlled by leftist overlords." When the estate of Dr. Seuss pulled a handful of books with racist imagery from publication, Glenn Beck yelled "This is fascism!" When Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) temporarily lost a book contract for voting to overturn the 2020 election, he said he had been victimized by the "woke mob" and that the decision was "a direct assault on the First Amendment." And for years now, every time there is a protest against some racist speaker on a college campus, conservatives throw a wobbler about supposed censorship. These complaints were always palpably ridiculous. But now we see conservatives' true colors on civil liberties. Private companies have criticized Republican efforts to set up one-party rule, while individuals have protested police brutality en masse. In response, conservatives are rushing to use state power to suppress their opponents' constitutional rights. One target has been the corporations and corporate executives who have issued statements condemning the new Republican vote suppression law in Georgia. Sens. Cruz, Hawley, Marco Rubio (R-Fl.), Marsh Blackburn (R-Tenn.) and Mike Lee (R-Utah) introduced a bill to revoke Major League Baseball's antitrust exemption as an explicit punishment for moving its All-Star game from Georgia to Colorado over the Georgia law. Georgia Republicans attempted to repeal a fuel tax break for Delta for the same reason. In a recent Fox News op-ed, Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fl.) darkly threatened MLB and Delta that they would pay after the upcoming midterms. "There is a massive backlash coming. You will rue the day when it hits you. That day is November 8, 2022," he wrote. Now, the idea of a corporation having the same constitutional rights as a real person is rather bizarre. But that is how conservatives on the Supreme Court have interpreted the Constitution, because they perceived a partisan advantage in allowing corporations to meddle in politics — in particular, they rightly assumed the bulk of corporate donations would flow to to Republicans. Now that a few corporations are (largely ineffectually) interfering with conservatives' schemes to overturn democracy, Republicans did an instant about-face on corporate power — not trying to genuinely reduce that power by raising the corporate tax rate, but by trying to bully big business back into the GOP corner. Even if Republicans did suddenly agree that corporations should not have unlimited "free speech" rights to spend money in politics, companies certainly still have the right under the First Amendment to issue press releases on political issues, or to move business activities on political grounds. Attacking MLB with the explicit justification of punishing it over a political disagreement is a flagrant violation of First Amendment jurisprudence. Much more troubling is the recent slew of anti-protest laws at the state level. The New York Times reports: "Republicans responded to a summer of protests by proposing a raft of punitive new measures governing the right to lawfully assemble. G.O.P. lawmakers in 34 states have introduced 81 anti-protest bills during the 2021 legislative session." This includes several laws limiting legal liability for people who run over protesters with their car, as well as stiff penalties for protesters who violate these laws, which have absurdly narrow qualifications. In Florida, a "riot" is now when just three or more people "commit a breach of the peace," and people can face a third-degree felony, five years in prison, and permanent disenfranchisement for merely being present at a protest if someone else commits violence there.
4-22-21 Coronavirus: Pfizer confirms fake versions of vaccine in Poland and Mexico
US pharmaceutical company Pfizer says it has identified counterfeit versions of its coronavirus vaccine in Mexico and Poland. The doses were seized by authorities in the two countries and confirmed by tests to be fake. In Mexico, they had false labels, while the substance in Poland was believed to be anti-wrinkle treatment, Pfizer said. The World Health Organization (WHO) has warned that fake vaccines "pose a serious risk to global public health". It has called for them to be identified and removed from circulation. Poland's health minister on Wednesday stressed that the risk of counterfeit doses appearing in official circulation was "practically non-existent". The counterfeit doses were seized by authorities in separate investigations in the two countries. About 80 people at a clinic in Mexico received a fake version of the drug, which appeared to have been physically harmless but offered no protection against coronavirus, according to the Wall Street Journal (WSJ). Mexico's government spokesman on Covid-19, Hugo Lopez-Gatell, said the fake vaccines had been detected by cyber police after being offered on social networks for up to $2,500 (£1,800) a shot. Several people have been arrested. Polish authorities said no one had received counterfeit doses seized at a man's apartment. Lev Kubiak, Pfizer's head of global security, said the global demand for the vaccine and shortfall in supply had led to the scam. "We have a very limited supply, a supply that will increase as we ramp up and other companies enter the vaccine space. In the interim, there is a perfect opportunity for criminals," he told the WSJ. The US Department of Justice told ABC News it was aware of the counterfeit vaccines identified in Mexico and Poland, and would support local authorities and Pfizer "as needed". Researchers told the BBC in March that they had seen a "sharp increase" in vaccine-related darknet adverts, with Covid-19 vaccines, vaccine passports and faked negative test papers being sold.
4-22-21 Covid: India sees world's highest daily cases amid oxygen shortage
India has recorded the highest one-day tally of new Covid-19 cases anywhere in the world - and the country's highest number of deaths over 24 hours. It has close to 16 million confirmed cases, second only to the US. The country is in the grip of a second wave, raising more fears about its overwhelmed health care system. Crowds have formed outside hospitals in major cities which are filled to capacity. A number of people have died while waiting for oxygen. Families are waiting hours to perform funeral rites, Reuters news agency reports, with at least one Delhi crematorium resorting to building pyres in its car park in order to cope with the numbers arriving. Meanwhile, some countries are bringing in stricter rules affecting travel to and from India amid fears over the rising cases. Australia's Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the number of flights between the two countries would be cut, while the UK has added India to a red list, restricting travel and bringing in hotel quarantine for all arrivals from India from Friday morning. India is struggling to cope with the soaring numbers - it recorded some 314,835 new coronavirus cases in the last 24 hours, while deaths rose by 2,104. Oxygen supply has been a particular problem, with a number of hospitals in the capital Delhi running out entirely on Thursday, according to the city's Deputy Chief Minister, Manish Sisodia. There are reports other hospitals are running dangerously low on supplies. The crisis worked its way to Delhi's highest court on Wednesday, where judges publicly criticised the central government for its handling of the oxygen crisis in the city. "This is ridiculous. We want to know what the centre is doing with regard to oxygen supply across India," the judges said while reading out the verdict in a petition by the owner of six private hospitals. On Thursday, as hospitals warned stocks were rapidly diminishing, Prime Minister Narendra Modi held a meeting to attempt to end the crisis. He asked officials to find ways to produce more oxygen, while telling states to come down "heavily" on anyone hoarding supplies.
4-22-21 AI unlocks ancient Dead Sea Scrolls mystery
Researchers say Artificial Intelligence (AI) has for the first time shown that two scribes wrote part of the mysterious ancient Dead Sea Scrolls. Tests were carried out on the longest text, known as the Great Isaiah Scroll. It was found that probably two unknown individuals had copied down the words using near-identical handwriting. The scrolls, which include the oldest known version of the Bible, have been a source of fascination since their discovery some 70 years ago. The first sets were found by a Bedouin in a cave at Qumran near the Dead Sea in what is now the Israeli-occupied West Bank. They contain manuscripts, mostly written in Hebrew as well as Aramaic and Greek, and are believed to date from about the Third Century BC. The Isaiah Scroll is one of some 950 different texts discovered in the 1940s and 50s. It is unique among the scrolls in that its 54 columns are divided into halves, written in an almost uniform style. Researchers at the University of Groningen in the Netherlands examined the Isaiah scroll using "cutting edge" pattern recognition and AI. They analysed a single Hebrew letter, aleph, which appears more than 5,000 times in the scroll. In a paper published by scholars Mladen Popovic, Maruf Dhali and Lambert Schomaker, they said they had "succeeded at extracting the ancient ink traces as they appear on digital images". "The ancient ink traces relate directly to a person's muscle movement and are person specific," they said, using a technique which helped produce evidence that more than one scribe was involved. "[The] likely scenario is [one of] two different scribes working closely together and trying to keep the same style of writing yet revealing themselves, their individuality. The researchers said the similarity in handwriting suggested the scribes could have undergone the same training in a school or family, such as "a father having taught a son to write". They said the scribes' ability to "mimic" the other was so good that until now modern scholars had not been able to distinguish between them.
4-21-21 Covid-19 news: Vaccine likely to have slashed UK hospitalisations
The latest coronavirus news updated every day including coronavirus cases, the latest news, features and interviews from New Scientist and essential information about the covid-19 pandemic. Research shows vaccines are working well at preventing hospital admissions in UK. Further encouraging results have emerged on the effectiveness of the coronavirus vaccines used in the UK. Only 32 people have been admitted to hospital with covid-19 more than three weeks after receiving at least one dose of either the Pfizer/BioNTech or Oxford/AstraZeneca jabs, a study has found. The research, which looked at more than 74,000 hospital admissions between September and early March, found that nearly 2000 of these people had received a covid-19 vaccine. But for the vast majority of these, the vaccine would not have had time to kick in, as the three weeks thought necessary for maximum immunity to develop had not elapsed. India is experiencing oxygen shortages at hospitals as covid-19 cases continue to surge. At least 22 patients died when their oxygen supply was interrupted as a result of a leak from an oxygen tanker at Zakir Hussain Hospital in Nashik, a city in the western state of Maharashtra. There has also been looting of oxygen at a hospital in Madhya Pradesh, and in the state of Haryana, oxygen tankers are being given police protection. Vaccine hesitancy in the UK in people in their thirties has only risen slightly since authorities said the Oxford/AstraZeneca jab is linked to a rare blood clotting syndrome. A survey by the University of Stirling found 85 per cent of 30-to-40-year-olds were planning to get the vaccine, compared with 87 per cent in a previous poll. Counterfeit Pfizer/BioNtech covid-19 vaccines have been found in Mexico and Poland, says manufacturer Pfizer. The substance in vials seized in Poland contained an anti-wrinkle treatment. Transmission of the coronavirus has taken place within a quarantine hotel in Perth. Two guests staying in rooms opposite each other tested positive for the virus. Initially they were thought to have caught the virus abroad, but genetic testing showed they caught it at the hotel.
4-21-21 AI analysis shows two scribes wrote one of the Dead Sea Scrolls
Artificial intelligence has helped to solve a long-standing mystery concerning the Dead Sea Scrolls. The technology confirms that one of the ancient manuscripts – the Great Isaiah Scroll – was penned by two scribes who wrote with very similar handwriting, rather than being the result of a single person’s work. The Dead Sea Scrolls are a set of ancient Hebrew manuscripts comprising Biblical and Jewish texts, found in caves near the Dead Sea in the mid-20th century. The Great Isaiah scroll is a copy of the Book of Isaiah that is found in both the Hebrew Bible and the Old Testament. The copy was completed around the 2nd century BC, and is written using the Hebrew alphabet. “Before the discovery of the scrolls, we practically only had medieval manuscripts from the year 1000 [for studying the early history of this text]. These Dead Sea Scrolls are like a time machine,” says Mladen Popovic at the University of Groningen in the Netherlands. “They allow us to travel way back in time, even to the time that the Hebrew Bible was still being written. So, the scrolls provide us with a unique vantage point to study the culture behind what became the Bible.” Scholars weren’t previously able to determine whether the Great Isaiah Scroll was the work of just one or several scribes because the handwriting was very similar throughout the more than 7-metre-long parchment scroll. Popovic and his colleagues utilised artificial intelligence to analyse digital images of the manuscript to determine whether one person wrote the scroll or if multiple people with similar handwriting worked on it together, looking closely at variation in the shape and style of the letters that cannot be spotted easily by the human eye. They found that the scroll was separated into two halves, each written by a different scribe.
4-21-21 George Floyd: Jury finds Derek Chauvin guilty of murder
A US jury has found a former police officer guilty of murder over the death of African-American George Floyd on a Minneapolis street last year. Derek Chauvin, 45, was filmed kneeling on Mr Floyd's neck for more than nine minutes during his arrest last May. The widely watched footage sparked worldwide protests against racism and excessive use of force by police. Chauvin was found guilty on three charges: second-degree murder, third-degree murder and manslaughter. His bail was immediately revoked and he was placed in custody. Sentencing is likely to happen in two months, and Chauvin could spend decades in jail. In Minnesota, second-degree murder carries a maximum sentence of 40 years in prison. Third-degree murder is punishable by up to 25 years in prison. Second-degree manslaughter is punishable by up to 10 years in prison. Chauvin is expected to appeal against the verdict. Police officers have rarely been convicted - if they are charged at all - for deaths that occur in custody, and the verdict in this trial has been widely seen as an indication of how the US legal system will treat such cases in future. Three other officers are due to face trial later this year on aiding-and-abetting charges. The 12-member jury took less than a day to reach their verdict, which followed a highly-charged, three-week trial that left Minneapolis on edge. Several hundred people cheered outside the court as the verdict was announced. The Floyd family's lawyer, Ben Crump, said it marked a "turning point in history" for the US. "Painfully earned justice has finally arrived," he tweeted. "[It] sends a clear message on the need for accountability of law enforcement." President Joe Biden and Vice-President Kamala Harris called the Floyd family after the verdict. Mr Biden was heard saying that "at least now there is some justice". (Webmaster's comment: 1 down, 50,000 to go! We must purge our police departments of all the white supremacists, klan, neo-nazis, and other white extremists! They joined the police so they could kill blacks. We need to get rid of them!)
4-21-21 George Floyd: The murder that drove America to the brink
People here waited anxiously for weeks and months, first, as the trial unfolded, and then during the final, nerve-wracking hours, while the jury deliberated. The stakes of the trial were extraordinarily high, and people are relieved, and also trying to process the tumultuous events. It is a landmark case for police violence against black people, and the verdict marks a significant victory for the activists who have pushed for policing reform: Derek Chauvin was convicted of second-degree murder, third-degree murder and manslaughter in the death of George Floyd. The jury's decision means police will now be under increased scrutiny, say legal experts, and are more likely to be prosecuted, and convicted, for wrongdoing. The verdict could usher in a kind of policing, say analysts, with more accountability for officers, as well as new policies for the use of force. And for many, the trial was a sign that the system works. "It shows that police officers are not above the law," says Jack Rice, a lawyer in the twin cities, Minneapolis and St Paul. "It will impact future cases that come before the court. What is even more important, however, is that it will impact the behaviour of officers when they are performing on the street. It's beyond the criminal case - it's about what the officers do on a daily basis." News of the monumental verdict travelled fast. Activist Rosa Gomez, 19, was in her college dorm, and Erika Atson, 20, also an activist, was at home, when it was announced. Says Atson: "I'm happy. Just super happy." Gomez agrees: "A huge relief." The reaction of Rich Stanek, a former sheriff of Hennepin County, the place where the trial was convened, and his colleagues was different. He was at a conference of law enforcement officials in Idaho, and was not surprised by the verdict. Among he and his friends, though, there was no celebrating: "People were sombre."
4-21-21 The incomplete justice of the Chauvin verdict
One case won't end police brutality and misconduct. In a span of two minutes, the judge read and verified the verdicts: Guilty on all counts. Sentencing may not come for a while yet, but former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin has been convicted of second-degree murder, third-degree murder, and second-degree manslaughter for his actions in the death of George Floyd last spring. This is good news, and it stands in such sharp contrast to the conclusion of similar cases over the past decade. Eric Garner was killed by police in New York City in 2014, crying that he could not breathe, recorded on soon-to-be-viral video, and his death never saw real justice. Floyd's death was an ugly echo of Garner's six years later, but his killer — his murderer, we may now legally say — has been duly convicted in a court of law. The decision won't restore Floyd to his family, but it is a closer approximation of justice than families like Garner's ever received. That contrast is instructive. On the side of hope, there is the sheer fact of the verdict. It says police officers are not above the law, that kneeling on a distraught, unarmed man's back until he is dead is felony assault even when the perpetrator is a cop, that the uniform does not magically exempt police from the moral and legal standards of the communities they patrol. It was facilitated by a county attorney's office willing to aggressively prosecute a cop and by a police chief who testified against his own former officer, breaking the "blue wall of silence." But the echo still pealed, and the verdict wasn't certain. For all the marches and petitions and legislation, those six years didn't bring enough change to forestall Floyd's murder, and Chauvin's conviction was far from guaranteed. I didn't expect it myself (not for second-degree murder, anyway) because the restraint Chauvin used was explicitly permitted by the Minneapolis Police Department at the time. In fact, I still wonder if there's a chance Chauvin could escape some or all of these convictions on appeal. (The judge in the case does too.) So what happens now? Here in the Twin Cities, maybe we can finally untense our shoulders. There has been a sense of battening down the hatches in recent weeks. The closest police station to my house is ringed with barricades and razor wire. Many small businesses on our main commercial strip have again boarded up their windows — if indeed they ever took the plywood down. Friends have been talking about stocking up on groceries to avoid going out if there were an acquittal. The immediate response locally, in my observation, is a deep feeling of relief. The weather is warming. The pandemic is waning. The verdict is in. The lakes are lovely. Can we finally take a breath? That contrast is instructive. On the side of hope, there is the sheer fact of the verdict. It says police officers are not above the law, that kneeling on a distraught, unarmed man's back until he is dead is felony assault even when the perpetrator is a cop, that the uniform does not magically exempt police from the moral and legal standards of the communities they patrol. It was facilitated by a county attorney's office willing to aggressively prosecute a cop and by a police chief who testified against his own former officer, breaking the "blue wall of silence." But the echo still pealed, and the verdict wasn't certain. For all the marches and petitions and legislation, those six years didn't bring enough change to forestall Floyd's murder, and Chauvin's conviction was far from guaranteed. I didn't expect it myself (not for second-degree murder, anyway) because the restraint Chauvin used was explicitly permitted by the Minneapolis Police Department at the time. In fact, I still wonder if there's a chance Chauvin could escape some or all of these convictions on appeal. (The judge in the case does too.) So what happens now? Here in the Twin Cities, maybe we can finally untense our shoulders. There has been a sense of battening down the hatches in recent weeks. The closest police station to my house is ringed with barricades and razor wire. Many small businesses on our main commercial strip have again boarded up their windows — if indeed they ever took the plywood down. Friends have been talking about stocking up on groceries to avoid going out if there were an acquittal. The immediate response locally, in my observation, is a deep feeling of relief. The weather is warming. The pandemic is waning. The verdict is in. The lakes are lovely. Can we finally take a breath?
4-21-21 US launches federal probe into Minneapolis police
A federal investigation has been launched into policing practices in the city of Minneapolis, a day after one of its former officers was convicted of the murder of George Floyd. US Attorney General Merrick Garland said the probe would look whether the police department engages in a pattern of excessive force, among other issues. It follows national outrage over the killing of Mr Floyd by Derek Chauvin. The former officer was convicted of all charges on Tuesday. Chauvin was filmed kneeling on Mr Floyd's neck for more than nine minutes during an arrest in May 2020. Mr Floyd, an unarmed African American, was pronounced dead an hour later. The footage sparked protests across the country, and calls for police reformation.
4-21-21 America's incredibly successful pilot of universal health care
Last weekend, I finally got my first coronavirus vaccine shot (the Pfizer/BioNTech version), at one of the FEMA sites here in Philly. It was without question the best experience I have ever had with American medicine. The National Guard troops and volunteers had the process down to a science — along with hundreds of others, I just answered a few quick questions, sat down, got my shot, and then scheduled my second appointment while waiting to make sure I had no allergic reaction. The whole thing took about 20 minutes from start to finish. I didn't have to get out my insurance card, or fork over any co-pays or co-insurance, or fill out a stack of paperwork, or sit in a waiting room for hours. I didn't get a bill at a 10,000 percent markup, or have to argue with my insurance company about whether FEMA is in-network, or spend weeks fighting some enormous surprise bill afterwards. I just got the care I needed and went on my way. It's not a coincidence that this is very similar to how Medicare-for-all would work: treatment that is free at the point of service, funded by the government. When we have a truly dire need for medical care, the status quo health care system is simply too complicated and broken to get the job done. Early last year, I argued that America's dysfunctional nightmare of a health care system was a big reason the U.S. had so much trouble fighting the pandemic. Tens of millions of Americans are uninsured or underinsured, which meant that they feared going to get tested or going to the doctor if they got sick. (Sure enough, many got gigantic bills from coronavirus tests.) That was obviously true at the time — other countries like Taiwan that were far more successful at containing the virus relied heavily on their national health care systems to coordinate and fund testing, contact tracing, and hospital care. But the vaccine rollout is a further tacit admission that Medicare-for-all simply works better. Rather than trying to interface with the Kafkaesque health care bureaucracy, the government basically did an end run around the entire thing. The vaccines are provided free of charge, and the government has stipulated that even private providers who do vaccinations are not allowed to charge individuals for it (though some providers have characteristically broken the law trying to steal money anyway). Indeed, in some ways the vaccine rollout has gone beyond Medicare-for-all toward Britain's National Health Service, where the providers are also owned by the government. The FEMA sites across the country are run directly by the government, and as noted above, the quality of care is top-notch. I see no reason why the mass vaccine clinics should not be transitioned into permanent facilities, perhaps doing regular immunization drives or basic urgent care. No doubt many would argue that an emergency vaccination campaign is not a fair argument for Medicare-for-all. It's a once-in-a-century pandemic, and desperate times call for desperate measures. But while the whole country has a dire need for care today, millions of Americans have a similarly dire need for care all the time that simply goes unmet. For instance, a recent study found that cancer diagnoses spike dramatically at age 65 when people qualify for Medicare — obviously, people are putting off needed checkups and such for fear of being bankrupted by our semi-private system. What's more, the study also found that cancer survival rates increase after 65, no doubt because the cancer has less chance to fester. Another study estimated that lack of insurance causes about 30,400 excess deaths every year. Similarly, a 2019 Gallup poll found that a third of Americans have put off a treatment for any condition (up from 19 percent in 2001), and a quarter put off treatment for a serious condition (up from 12 percent in 2001). A Kaiser Family Foundation study the same year found half of American adults reported themselves or a family member putting off medical or dental care over cost worries, and of those about one in eight said that delay worsened the condition. Twenty-nine percent of adults reported not taking prescribed medication due to cost.
4-21-21 3 million deaths: Despite new covid-19 milestone, there is hope ahead
As the world passes 3 million deaths from covid-19, New Scientist explores the pandemic's trajectory and discovers many reasons for hope that the worst will soon be over. COVID-19 has now claimed the lives of a reported 3 million people around the world and the true figure is probably far higher. Globally, the number of new cases per week has nearly doubled over the past two months, as new variants cause a surge in cases in many countries. But as we mark this sobering milestone and explore the shape of things to come, there is much reason for hope, too. Last week, the world produced its one-billionth dose of covid-19 vaccine, and the few countries that have already managed to vaccinate a large proportion of their population are seeing the benefits. No one can say for sure what will happen next, but the hope is that the worst will soon be over. “It’s in our hands,” says Andrew Noymer at the University of California, Irvine. “It depends on vaccination. And variant roulette.” Many countries may not be able to get hold of enough vaccines to inoculate most of their population this year, though. “The rich countries have been very clear that they will continue to ensure their needs are met first,” says Andrea Taylor at Duke University in North Carolina. “There are distinct haves and have-nots.” The beacon of hope for the world is Israel, which was the first to vaccinate the majority of its population and where case numbers are falling sharply. “In Israel, vaccination seems to have worked a treat,” says Noymer. “They are leading the way.” However, with lockdown measures still to be completely eased there, it isn’t clear if the country has managed to pass the herd immunity threshold beyond which the virus can’t cause major outbreaks.
4-20-21 Sputnik V: Russia's vaccine is going global – how well does it work?
It styles itself as “a vaccine for all mankind”, and with some justification. Last week, the Sputnik V covid-19 vaccine, developed by the Gamaleya National Center of Epidemiology and Microbiology in Russia, was approved in India, a country of around 1.4 billion people. India is the 60th nation to approve the vaccine, meaning it is now available to a combined population of 3 billion, or 40 per cent of everyone on the planet. Add in the vaccines made by Chinese pharmaceutical companies Sinopharm and Sinovac, which between them have been approved in 64 nations including China itself (another 1.4 billion people), and it is clear that non-Western vaccines account for a significant and growing share of the global vaccination drive. If, as the World Health Organization has repeatedly stressed, nobody is safe until everyone is vaccinated, then the world is now banking to no small extent on these three vaccines. So what do we know about them? Unfortunately, getting comprehensive information is difficult. Based on what has been released so far, all three are safe and effective. But there are still many unknowns. Sputnik V got off to a controversial start when Russia announced in August 2020 that it had approved the vaccine before gathering detailed clinical data. In November, Gamaleya invited more scepticism when it released preliminary results claiming 92 per cent effectiveness based on very low numbers. But in February it redeemed itself with a peer-reviewed paper in The Lancet reporting data from an ongoing phase III clinical trial in Russia. The headline figure from this large-scale human trial declared the vaccine to be 91.6 per cent effective at preventing symptomatic covid-19 in adults. Many sceptics were won over. “The development of the Sputnik V vaccine has been criticised for unseemly haste, corner cutting, and an absence of transparency,” wrote Ian Jones at the University of Reading and Polly Roy at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, both in the UK, in an accompanying commentary. “But the outcome reported here is clear.”
4-20-21 Covid-19 news: Further restrictions on AstraZeneca jab in Sweden
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. Sweden adds another layer of restrictions to the AstraZeneca jab in younger people. Sweden has said people under 65 who have had an initial dose of the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine should get a different jab for their second dose, due to the small chance of blood clots. France also has this rule, although there the upper age limit is 55. The UK is to set up a taskforce to develop antiviral drugs against the coronavirus that could be taken at home by people who test positive for covid-19, Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced today. Such medicines could also be taken by people who live with someone who has tested positive to prevent them catching the virus. “There might be a tablet you can take at home that will stop the virus in its tracks and reduce the likelihood of severe disease,” said Johnson. An inhaled asthma medicine called budesonide has already been found to shorten duration of illness with covid-19 if taken by people at higher risk due to age or health conditions. Cleaning surfaces to try to reduce coronavirus transmission is often a waste of time and may even be harmful, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). That’s because the virus is spread most often through tiny droplets in the air, rather than by people touching contaminated surfaces. The CDC’s Vincent Hill said in a briefing on Monday that frequent cleaning and disinfecting surfaces is merely “hygiene theatre” and could give people a false sense of security. There has been a long-running debate over the relative importance of airborne and surface transmission of the virus. UK officials are visiting Israel to study the country’s covid-19 vaccine passport scheme, which is used to determine entry to venues such as gyms, restaurants and theatres. Cabinet office minister Michael Gove and England’s deputy chief medical officer Jonathan Van-Tam are investigating how coronavirus certification could work in the UK. Israel’s “green pass” scheme allows entry to people who have been vaccinated, have recently been infected with covid-19 or who have had a recent negative test. UK trials of vaccine passports are due to start next month at specific events, including the FA cup final.
4-20-21 America's vaccine glut is here. Time to share.
The U.S. has more than enough doses. But we are increasingly standing in the way of the rest of the world getting theirs. As of Monday, every person 16 or older in the United States is officially eligible for a coronavirus vaccine shot. Daily doses administered have crept up past 3 million, and in most parts of the country appointments are easily available. Half of all adults have gotten at least one shot, and about a third are fully vaccinated. But some parts of the country are already struggling to use up their available shots, a problem that is only going to get worse. Meanwhile, much of the rest of the world has barely started on its vaccine rollout, and numerous poorer countries have not administered a single dose. The pandemic is still raging out of control — last week saw the highest number of global infections ever. What's more, American regulations are potentially starting to get in the way of the rest of the world producing their own vaccine supply. It's long since time President Biden started sharing America's surplus vaccine and also took steps to make it easier for the rest of the world to crank up production. What's happening in the American vaccine rollout is easy to understand: steadily-increasing supply is catching up with demand or outstripping it in some states, and so doses are starting to pile up fast. The problem is worst in conservative regions, because Republicans are disproportionately resistant to the vaccine — Arkansas, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, Tennessee, and Wyoming have used less than 70 percent of their allotment (and that figure is falling), and the Biden administration is considering altering deliveries to get shots to where demand is higher. Other states are still managing to get their supply into arms, but within weeks they will no doubt run into the same problem. Already many places are adding community vaccination clinics in addition to large, central facilities to make it as easy as possible for busy or distracted people to get their shot. But this will probably not take up the ever-growing supply, and in any case America has already ordered enough doses to vaccinate our entire population more than three times. Very soon we will be swimming in surplus. That is not remotely the case outside the U.S. Big chunks of sub-Saharan Africa have not gotten any, and most of the rest of the continent is at less than 1 percent vaccination. The situation is similar in much of Central and Southeast Asia. Europe is doing somewhat better, but that continent is still far behind the U.S., and Belarus and Ukraine are also barely started. The world very badly needs those surplus vaccines, and America should start sharing. As I have previously argued, we should just give them away for free — it would be both a diplomatic coup and a way to ensure that payment worries don't foul up vaccination campaigns in the poorest countries. But not only that — the Biden administration must act to protect and expand the global vaccine supply chain. Biden has invoked the Defense Production Act to accelerate domestic vaccine production, but this comes with rules against exporting related products, which will soon screw up international production. The point of the DPA is to allow the government to control domestic production and raw materials in times of emergency or war, and using it made sense earlier in the pandemic so that we could make sure U.S. factories are going at top speed. But now that the kinks have mostly been ironed out, it makes sense to allow exports to maximize global capacity. For instance, India has the largest vaccine factory in the world, and The Economist reports: "Production lines in India, making at least 160 million doses of COVID-19 vaccine a month, will come to a halt in the coming weeks unless America supplies 37 critical items." (These include things like plastic tubing, special bags, chemical reagents, and so on.) It would be stark madness to let those factories fall idle; Biden must either issue export clearances or retract his invocation of the DPA.
4-20-21 Covid-19: US to advise against travel to 80% of countries
The US state department is to advise Americans to avoid 80% of countries worldwide because of the coronavirus pandemic. In a note to the media about its updated travel guidance, it said the pandemic continued to "pose unprecedented risks to travellers". The current US "Do Not Travel" advisory covers 34 out of 200 countries. Covid-19 has now claimed more than three million lives worldwide - more than half a million of them in the US. The World Health Organization (WHO) warned the world was "approaching the highest rate of infection" so far, despite the global rollout of vaccination programmes. India - currently in the grip of a second wave - is to begin offering vaccinations to all adults over 18 in a bid to control the surge in infections. The US state department said its decision to update its travel advisories was to bring it more in line with those from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and "does not imply a reassessment of the current health situation in a given country". However, it said the move would "result in a significant increase in the number of countries at Level 4: Do Not Travel, to approximately 80% of countries worldwide". Only three places at the world are assessed at the lowest of the state department's four risk levels - "Exercise normal precautions". They are Macau, Taiwan and New Zealand. Even Antarctica is at level two - "Exercise increased caution" - while the UK is at level three - "Reconsider travel" - with an extra warning to exercise caution because of the risk of terrorism. The CDC currently recommends all Americans refrain from travelling domestically until they have been fully vaccinated and warns that international travel "poses additional risks" even for those vaccinated. While more than 860 million doses of coronavirus vaccines have been administered in 165 countries worldwide, many countries are still struggling to contain the virus.
4-20-21 All the times the US spent big on infrastructure
The US federal government played a key role in developing infrastructure over the course of the 20th Century, from the public works project of the 1930s to the building of the highways in the 1950s. Now, Joe Biden hopes to build on that legacy with a $2tn (£1.4tn) plan that would mark the largest federal investment in infrastructure "in a generation". Where does it rank among the largest projects in American history? The president's plan has received criticism from Republicans for defining infrastructure too widely. Only about 6% of the spending would go directly towards roads and bridges. The bill makes significant investments in home-care services, job-training, expansion of broadband access, electric vehicle incentives and R&D.
4-20-21 George Floyd: US city on edge as jury deliberates Chauvin verdict
The jury in the trial of Derek Chauvin, the ex-Minneapolis policeman accused of killing George Floyd last year, has retired to consider its verdict. The prosecution told jurors that Mr Chauvin had murdered Mr Floyd, but the defence said their client had correctly followed police training. The court is being protected by barbed wire, high barriers and armed soldiers from the National Guard. Cities across the country are bracing for protests regardless of the verdict. On Monday, the prosecution and defence made their closing statements in a trial that lasted three weeks. The prosecution then had another opportunity to rebut defence arguments before the jury was sent to deliberate. Mr Chauvin's lawyer Eric Nelson argued that his client did what any "reasonable police officer" would have done after finding himself in a "dynamic" and "fluid" situation involving a large man scuffling with three officers. He said Mr Chauvin's body camera and badge were knocked off his chest owing to "the intensity of the struggle". Mr Nelson also argued that Mr Floyd's drug use was "significant" because the body reacts to opioid use, specifically in the case of someone who had been diagnosed with hypertension and high blood pressure. The lawyer also argued that his client was unlikely to have intentionally violated use-of-force rules as he would have been aware that the whole interaction was being recorded. "Officers know that they are being videotaped," added Mr Nelson. Prosecutor Steve Schleicher urged jurors to "use your common sense. Believe your eyes. What you saw, you saw," referring to the video showing Mr Chauvin kneeling on Mr Floyd for more than nine minutes last 25 May. "This wasn't policing; this was murder," he added. Prosecutor Jerry Blackwell had the final word on Monday. He said the matter was "so simple that a child can understand it". "In fact, a child did understand it, when the nine-year-old girl said, 'Get off of him,'" Mr Blackwell said, referring to a young onlooker who objected. "That's how simple it was. 'Get off of him.' Common sense."
4-20-21 George Floyd death: Congresswoman denies inciting violence
A US congresswoman is under fire after urging demonstrators to "get more confrontational" if a not-guilty verdict comes in the George Floyd case. At a protest in Minneapolis, Minnesota, Maxine Waters told protesters to "stay on the streets" if ex-officer Derek Chauvin is acquitted in the case. The trial judge said the Democrat's comments were "abhorrent". Republicans called for a congressional censure of Ms Waters, but Democrats said she had no reason to apologise. Ms Waters spoke on Saturday in a Minneapolis suburb not far from where Mr Chauvin, who is white, is on trial accused of the murder and manslaughter of Mr Floyd, a black man, in the city on 25 May last year. If there is a not-guilty verdict in Mr Chauvin's trial, Ms Waters said, "then we know that we got to not only stay in the street, but we have got to fight for justice". She also said: "We've got to get more confrontational. We've got to make sure that they know that we mean business." Of the curfew, Ms Waters said: "I don't think anything about curfew. Curfew means I want you all to stop talking. I want you to stop meeting. I want you to stop gathering. I don't agree with that." On Monday, she rejected the furore, insisting she was "non-violent" and arguing Republicans were merely seizing on her remarks to "send a message to all of the white supremacists, the KKK". After the jury was sent out on Monday, Judge Peter Cahill rejected an argument from Mr Chauvin's defence lawyer that Ms Waters' comments may have influenced the jury. Judge Cahill said: "I give you that congresswoman Waters may have given you something on appeal that may result in this trial being overturned." The judge said he wished "elected officials would stop talking about this case, especially in a manner that is disrespectful to the rule of law". "Their failure to do so is abhorrent," he added. However, Judge Cahill dismissed Mr Nelson's motion for a mistrial, saying Ms Waters' "opinion really doesn't matter a whole lot". (Webmaster's comment: If the law does not protect us from police murdering us then what should we do?)
4-20-21 The Ugandan mum who was once ashamed of her gay son
When Rita heard rumours that her son was gay she refused to believe it. At the time, she thought that homosexuality was an abomination - a "problem" that happened elsewhere, not in Uganda. When she finally realised the truth, she felt that something bad had invaded her own home. "When I confirmed it, I wept. I wept because I could not believe it… I locked myself in and wept," she told The Comb, a BBC podcast. Uganda's hostility towards homosexuality is well known. Gay sex is punishable by life imprisonment, and LGBTI people often face discrimination, threats and harassment. But the battle over gay rights is often thought of as a situation with two clear sides - LGBTI individuals on one hand, and homophobic communities on the other. The reality is a lot more messy, with parents like Rita caught in the middle - between the strongly held beliefs they have grown up with and the plight of their loved ones. A group in Uganda is trying to help parents like Rita understand and accept their children, and deal with the challenges and trauma of living with homophobia. Rita found out about the rumours surrounding her son from a friend, who had heard people saying that he was homosexual. She was in turmoil and started to think about whether there had been signs that she had missed. Eventually, her son confirmed it was true that he was gay. With friends and neighbours talking about the family, Rita locked herself in the house to escape the gossip andpublic shame, while her son's father blamed her, saying she had failed as a mother. Eventually, she says she "soothed herself", realising that no-one else would look out for her son, and she tried to find a way to deal with the situation. Rita found herself totally alone at a time when she needed advice and support. A huge turning-point for her came when her son heard about the new support group, and encouraged her to attend.
4-19-21 Covid-19 news: Immunity trial will deliberately expose people to virus
The latest coronavirus news updated every day including coronavirus cases, the latest news, features and interviews from New Scientist and essential information about the covid-19 pandemic. Volunteers will be exposed to the coronavirus to learn which immune components confer protection. Young adults who have recovered from covid-19 will have live coronavirus sprayed into their noses to see whether they can be reinfected as part of a new trial. The study, which is being run by the University of Oxford, is one of two “challenge” trials in the UK. It is designed to reveal, among other things, the elusive “correlates of protection” against SARS-CoV-2– which means the levels of antibodies, T-cells and other immune system components that are required to protect people against infection. This is currently a significant gap in our understanding of the virus, and knowing the correlates of protection could lead to even more rapid vaccine development. That’s because some vaccines are approved based on whether they elicit these measures of protection, bypassing lengthy clinical trials. The other study, using volunteers who have not had covid-19, is already under way at Imperial College London. More people were diagnosed with covid-19 during the past seven days than any other week since the start of the pandemic, totalling more than 5.2 million globally for the week. The infection count was 12 per cent higher than the previous week. The Russian-made Sputnik V vaccine has shown efficacy of 97.6 per cent in real-world data from 3.8 million people who have received two doses, according to the Gamaleya National Center of Epidemiology and Microbiology in Moscow. The results have not yet been published in a peer-reviewed medical journal. A week-long lockdown has been imposed in Delhi, India. Chief minister Arvind Kejriwal said the measures were necessary to “prevent a collapse of the health system”. India’s rate of new infections is continuing to climb, with over 270,000 cases and 1619 deaths reported today. The UK will add India to the “red list” for travel from Friday, and prime minister Boris Johnson has cancelled a planned trip to India next week because of the country’s coronavirus situation. Health officials in the UK are investigating whether a covid-19 variant first found in India spreads more easily and evades vaccines, after more than 70 cases were identified in England and Scotland. The World Health Organization’s Emergency Committee has recommended that proof of vaccination should not be required as a condition of international travel. The panel cited limited evidence on whether vaccination against covid-19 reduces people’s ability to transmit the virus and “the persistent inequity in global vaccine distribution”.
4-19-21 Closing arguments in Floyd officer murder trial
Closing arguments will begin today in the trial of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin. After both sides present their final remarks, the jury will be isolated as they discuss a verdict. Chauvin stands accused of second-degree and third-degree murder and manslaughter over the death of George Floyd. Chauvin was filmed kneeling on Floyd for over nine minutes during his arrest last May. Chauvin's defence has argued that drugs and poor health caused Floyd's death. The verdict in this case is being seen as a key moment in US race relations and policing. The city of Minneapolis is on edge as the trial nears its end and a nearby suburb grapples with the fall-out of another police killing. The men and women seated in the jury box hold the outcome of this trial in their hands. The closing arguments we're hearing now are meant for them - a last chance for both sides to sway the jurors before they begin their isolated discussions. Selecting jurors in an emotionally charged case over a black man's death in police custody was no easy feat. It was made even more complicated in the George Floyd case because of how well known his death was. After 11 days worth of jury summons last month, the two opposing legal teams settled on 15 Minnesota residents out of a jury pool of over 130 people. Among that group, 14 people - including two alternates - were sworn in for the trial. The jury panel skews younger, more white and more female. This is the last chance for the prosecution to try and convince the jury Chauvin is guilty. Prosecutor Steve Schleicher is speaking slowly, using repetitive language to drill home his points. "What the defendant did to George Floyd killed him," says Schleicher in his closing argument. The state prosecutor insists Derek Chauvin ignored Floyd's pleas repeatedly. "When he was unable to speak, the defendant continued," he says. "When he was unable to breathe, the defendant continued." "Beyond the point where he had a pulse, the defendant continued."
4-19-21 Namibian court denies entry to gay couple's surrogate daughters
A Namibian court has refused to issue a gay man emergency travel documents so that he can bring home his twin daughters from South Africa where they were born by surrogate. The authorities say Phillip Lühl must show genetic proof that he is their father before they can travel. Mr Lühl, 38, and his Mexican husband Guillermo Delgado say this is discriminatory. Both fathers' names are on the babies' birth certificates. Mr Lühl, a university lecturer and Namibian citizen, has argued that the paternity test being demanded of him would not be required from a single mother or heterosexual couple. He told the BBC his daughters were currently "stateless", and previously told AFP that Namibia's refusal amounted to "state-sanctioned homophobia". Sexual contact between males is forbidden in Namibia but the law is rarely enforced. Neighbouring South Africa meanwhile - where the couple got married - was the first country in the world to use its constitution to outlaw discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation back in 1996. Mr Delgado is in Namibia with the couple's two-year-old son, while Mr Lühl is stuck in Johannesburg with the girls who are five weeks old. The BBC's Nomsa Maseko in Johannesburg says more details of the Namibian judge's ruling are to be made public later on Monday. Namibia's government said in March that the home affairs minister "did not agree to a request to issue the twins Namibian travel documents, because their entitlement to Namibian citizenship by descent had not been determined". Before Windhoek High Court's ruling on Monday, LGBTQ activists had decried the government's stance and a number of Mr Lühl's supporters took part in street protests a month ago. He spoke of his frustration at the time from South Africa. The couple have another ongoing case in Namibia, where they are seeking citizenship for their two-year-old son, born to the same surrogate in South Africa. They say there is a possibility they will appeal against the judgement once it has been reviewed by their lawyers.
4-19-21 India coronavirus: Delhi announces lockdown as Covid cases surge
India's capital Delhi has announced a week-long lockdown after a record spike in cases overwhelmed the city's healthcare system. Government offices and essential services, such as hospitals, pharmacies and grocers, will be open during the lockdown which starts on Monday. The city had imposed a weekend curfew, but reported its highest single-day spike so far on Sunday - 24, 462 cases. India has been reeling from a deadly second wave since the start of April. "I have always been against lockdowns, but this one will help us amplify the number of hospital beds in Delhi," Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal said in a press conference on Monday. He also appealed to the city's migrant workers not to leave - last year's national lockdown saw millions of them heading back to their villages after they found themselves unemployed and running out of money. "This was a difficult decision to take but we had no other option left," Mr Kejriwal said. "I know when lockdowns are announced, daily-wage workers suffer and lose their jobs. But I appeal to them to not leave Delhi, it's a short lockdown and we will take care of you." India has been reporting more than 200,000 cases daily since 15 April - this is well past its peak last year, when it was averaging around 93,000 cases a day. Deaths too have been rising. India confirmed 1,620 deaths from the virus on Sunday. On Monday UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson cancelled a planned trip to India in view of the situation. Mr Johnson and India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi will speak later this month to "launch ambitious plans for the future partnership", a statement said. Maharashtra, which has India's financial hub Mumbai as its capital, remains the worst-hit state, accounting for a nearly a third of India's more than 1.9 million active cases. But Delhi is the worst-hit city, confirming more cases daily than Mumbai in recent days.
4-17-21 Adam Toledo: Chicago police release video of officer shooting boy
Chicago police have released graphic footage of an officer shooting dead a 13-year-old boy in a dark alley. Bodycam video shows the policeman shouting "drop it" before shooting Adam Toledo once in the chest on 29 March. The boy does not appear to be holding a weapon in the split second he is shot, but police video shows a handgun near the spot where he falls. Small protests were held on Thursday evening around Chicago, hours after the city's mayor appealed for calm. The video's release follows the fatal police shooting on 11 April of Daunte Wright by an officer in a Minneapolis suburb. That shooting has sparked violent protests as the city awaits the outcome of the trial of Derek Chauvin, the officer accused in the death of George Floyd. The clip shows the officer jumping out of his squad car and chasing the Latino boy on foot down a dark alley as another suspect disappears from view. The policeman shouts: "Police! Stop! Stop right [expletive] now! Hands! Hands! Show me your [expletive] hands!" The boy turns and raises his hands. The officer shouts "Drop it" and fires his weapon - 19 seconds after exiting his squad car. Separate CCTV footage appears to show the teenager throwing something through a gap in the fence as the officer runs up to him. Bodycam video shows officers shining a light on a handgun behind the wooden fence after the shooting. The policeman calls for an ambulance while urging the fallen boy to "stay awake". Other officers arrive at the scene in the Little Village neighbourhood on the city's west side and CPR is performed. According to prosecutors, the teenager was with a 21-year-old man, Ruben Roman, who had just fired a gun at a passing car. The gunfire drew police to the area, resulting in the deadly confrontation. Mr Roman appeared in court on Saturday charged with aggravated unlawful use of a weapon, reckless discharge of a firearm and child endangerment, according to local media reports. The Civilian Office of Police Accountability released the bodycam footage on Thursday along with CCTV video, arrest reports and audio recordings of the shots fired in the area that alerted police. (Webmaster's comment: Another black boy murdered by police. The bodycam shows him with his hands up and empty.)
4-17-21 Capitol riot: Prosecutors get first guilty plea 100 days after attack
Exactly 100 days since the 6 January riot that saw a pro-Trump mob storm the US Capitol, prosecutors have their first guilty plea. Jon Schaffer, 53, a member of the Oath Keepers militia group, pleaded guilty to two charges - obstruction of an official proceeding and entering a restricted building with a dangerous weapon. Schaffer, who is also a heavy metal guitarist in the band Iced Earth, had originally faced six charges including using a chemical irritant designed for grizzly bears on police officers during clashes. He turned himself to FBI agents in Indiana two weeks after his arrest, and after a photo of him inside the Capitol wearing a hat reading "Oath Keepers Lifetime Member" appeared on the front pages of US newspapers. He is facing 30 years in prison and is expected to co-operate with investigators. The suspects in the Capitol riot are a varied group: they include an ousted West Virginia lawmaker, several police officers and a left-wing activist from Utah. Most of the rioters were allowed to leave the crime scene, forcing investigators to conduct a national manhunt for the pro-Trump crowd that stormed the halls of Congress. Investigators for the District of Columbia says they have identified over 540 suspects and charged some 400 people in connection with the Capitol siege. Just weeks after the rampage in January, FBI officials said they had already been inundated with 140,000 videos and photos from members of the public. Officials say they are considering filing serious charges of seditious activity against some individuals who were involved in the siege on the Capitol. According to federal criminal code, seditious conspiracy means an effort to conspire to overthrow the US government. The punishment is severe: up to 20 years in prison. The rioters facing federal charges hail from 42 out of the 50 US states and the District of Columbia, according to the George Washington University extremism tracker.
4-17-21 Biden set to further regulate 'ghost guns'
Gun policy is a very politicized issue in the U.S. that impacts people across borders. President Joe Biden announced this week his desire to further regulate "ghost guns," which are homemade firearms made from parts bought online that don't have traceable serial numbers. Biden would like to see the individual kits and parts treated as weapons with serial numbers and require background checks. It's the first major gun control legislation in two decades that Democrats in Congress are trying to pass under the new administration. Biden says it is "long past time" to do so. A bipartisan Senate compromise that was narrowly defeated eight years ago was focused on expanding checks to sales at gun shows and on the internet. But Republicans say extending the requirements would trample Second Amendment rights. And the National Rifle Association (NRA), while weakened by some infighting and financial disputes, is still a powerful force in GOP campaigns. Around the world, these weapons often make their way into the hands of organized crime groups, creating dangerous living conditions for ordinary people. Ioan Grillo is an author and journalist based in Mexico City who has reported on ghost guns. He's published a new book called Blood Gun Money: How America Arms Gangs and Cartels. Grillo spoke to The World's host Marco Werman about the situation with ghost guns in the U.S. Ioan, what can you tell us about the proliferation of ghost guns in Latin America? Well, it's an increasingly serious issue. So, I can think of a couple of cases of various serious organized crime groups taking advantage of the huge market in gun parts in the United States. One is the Jalisco cartel. There was one raid back in 2014 of workshops of the Jalisco cartel where they found them assembling AR-15s; they had assembled 100 already with some machinery and parts almost certainly bought in the United States in 2019 in Florida. Customs inspectors found 100 receivers, which are one of the main parts for AR-15s. This led them to trace them down, going to Argentina, something called Operation Patagonia. And they found a group there called the PCC, which was assembling these rifles in workshops, and they found 2,500 guns. So, this is a serious pipeline of weaponry. Is there a clear sense of who is behind the creation and distribution of these types of weapons in Latin America? And are the creators traveling to the U.S. to collect them and sell them back in Jalisco, for example? People buy in the United States, online. You can order these kits, take them over the border quite easily. I had one interview with somebody who was also running gun parts over the border close to Ciudad Juárez. He was an American who actually had, was laying cable on both sides of the border and had a government permit and was taking advantage of that to traffic firearms. So, it's one way people could bring them easily and in bulk to Mexico. And also, the advantage of having no serial numbers. Then, when these are used in crimes, you can't trace them. And Latin American governments, have they had ghost guns on their radars? Are they generally aware that this has been going on — cross-border trafficking ghost gun parts? There is now, in the Mexican government, a move to take this issue seriously. This issue was kind of off the agenda for about a decade, but now we are seeing Latin American governments take this seriously. I was also in Los Angeles. I mean, right now the sheer numbers of ghost guns are not that high in a percentage. But I think one other reason that the need to act against ghost guns, as well as other firearms trafficking, is if you stop other firearms trafficking, they'll just switch to ghost guns.
4-17-21 Biden backtracks on keeping Trump cap on refugees
President Joe Biden has reversed course hours after signing an order to keep the number of refugees admitted annually to the US at Trump-era levels. Mr Biden drew ire on Friday as he held the cap at the historically low figure of 15,000, two months after he pledged to increase it to 65,500. The White House later said Mr Biden would raise the refugee cap next month. Reports say Mr Biden is concerned about letting in more people amid a record influx at the US-Mexico border. UN figures indicate there are more than 80 million refugees worldwide, with 85% of them hosted by developing countries. The White House said Friday's order would speed up refugee admissions to the US - since October around 2,000 people have been admitted under the programme. The order also changes the allocation of who is allowed in, with more slots being provided to arrivals from Africa, the Middle East and Central America, and an end to restrictions on resettlements from Somalia, Syria and Yemen. But Mr Biden - who vowed to raise the cap on refugees during his campaign - kept the maximum number allowed in annually at 15,000, a ceiling set by his predecessor as president, Donald Trump. Mr Biden stated the Trump-era cap "remains justified by humanitarian concerns and is otherwise in the national interest". White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki said the Democratic president's directive had been the "subject of some confusion" after the news sparked outrage among aid groups, as well as from within Mr Biden's own party. Senate Foreign Relations Chair Bob Menendez described the figure as "appallingly low". Ms Psaki blamed Mr Biden's failure to deliver on the 62,500 figure that he announced to Congress two months ago on "the decimated refugee admissions programme we inherited". Ms Psaki said Mr Biden's order on Friday was meant to allow refugee flights to the US to begin within days.
4-17-21 Raúl Castro steps down as Cuban Communist Party leader
Raúl Castro says he is resigning as Cuban Communist Party leader, ending his family's six decades in power. Mr Castro, 89, told a party congress that he is handing over the leadership to a younger generation "full of passion and anti-imperialist spirit". His successor will be voted in at the end of the four-day congress. The move, which was expected, ends the era of formal leadership by him and his brother Fidel Castro, which began with the 1959 revolution. "I believe fervently in the strength and exemplary nature and comprehension of my compatriots," he told party delegates in Havana on Friday. Although Mr Castro has not endorsed a successor, it is widely believed the party leadership will pass to Miguel Díaz-Canel, who took over as the island's president in 2018. While the entire island knew this moment was coming, it was no less historic or symbolic when it arrived: Cuba will be officially governed by someone other than a Castro for the first time since 1959. The reality is that, at least in the short term, little will change. The man who took over from Raúl Castro as president, Miguel Díaz-Canel, may well succeed him now as the party's first secretary too. It seems likely he will be forced to take further steps to liberalise Cuba's centrally controlled economy. The island is currently in the grip of its worst economic crisis since the period immediately following the end of the Cold War. As a result, private farmers were recently permitted to sell beef and dairy products - goods previously under the sole control of the state. Any hope of improving ties with the US however may have to wait as the Biden administration has shown little inclination to unpick the Trump administration's harsher sanctions on Cuba at this stage. One thing is for sure, Raúl Castro's words of keeping "one foot in the stirrup" means he will remain a powerbroker behind the scenes. And by reiterating the island's eternal commitment to socialism it means that political change remains as unlikely under his successor as it was under his late brother, Fidel.
4-17-21 Covid-19 deaths pass three million worldwide
The number of people who have died worldwide in the Covid-19 pandemic has surpassed three million, according to Johns Hopkins University. The milestone comes the day after the head of the World Health Organization (WHO) warned the world was "approaching the highest rate of infection" so far. India - experiencing a second wave - recorded more than 230,000 new cases on Saturday alone. Almost 140 million cases have been recorded since the pandemic began. WHO chief Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus warned on Friday that "cases and deaths are continuing to increase at worrying rates". He added that "globally, the number of new cases per week has nearly doubled over the past two months". The US, India and Brazil - the countries with the most recorded infections - have accounted for more than a million deaths between them, according to Johns Hopkins University. Last week saw an average of 12,000 deaths a day reported around the world, according to news agency AFP. However, official figures worldwide may not fully reflect the true number in many countries. Up until a few weeks ago, India appeared to have the pandemic relatively under control. Cases had been below 20,000 a day for much of January and February - a low figure in a country of more than a 1.3 billion people. But then infections began to rise rapidly: Saturday saw a record set for the third day in a row, with more than 234,000 cases reported. Hospitals are running low on beds and oxygen. Sick people are being turned away, and some families are turning to the black market to get the drugs they need. A BBC investigation found medication being offered at five times the official price. The capital Delhi has gone into lockdown over the weekend, with restrictions put in place in several other states, as officials try to stem the tide. All eyes are now on the Kumbh Mela festival, which has continued despite fears the millions of Hindu devotees who attend each year could bring the virus home with them. Some 1,600 people tested positive this week at the gathering in the northern state of Uttrakhand, with pictures showing thousands gathered closely together along the banks of the Ganges river. It has led Prime Minister Narendra Modi to plead with people to refrain from gathering.
4-17-21 Covid: Canada sounds the alarm as cases overtake US
The rate of coronavirus infections in Canada's biggest province has reached an all-time high as hospitals warn they are close to being overwhelmed. A panel of experts say infections in Ontario could increase by 600% by June if public health measures are weak and vaccination rates do not pick up. Last week, for the first time since the pandemic began, Canada registered more cases per million than the US. About 22% of Canadians have now received a first vaccine dose. That compares to 37% in the US. Ontario is now introducing strict new public measures, including: 1. a six-week stay-at-home order, 2. restrictions on non-essential travel, including checkpoints at the borders with the neighbouring provinces of Quebec and Manitoba, 3. new powers for police to stop and question people who leave home, 4. a halt to non-essential construction. Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said the federal government would help Toronto, the largest city in the country, which has been hard-hit by the latest surge. "We're going to do whatever it takes to help. Discussions are ongoing about extra healthcare providers, and we are ready to step up," he said on Friday. New variants - especially the UK variant, B1.1.7 - account for more than two-thirds of infections in Ontario. Even with vaccinations progressing, the expert panel warned that the number of new cases in Ontario could go as high as 30,000 a day - in a province with 14 million people, 38% of the total population of Canada. On Friday, Ontario reported 4,812 new cases, its third straight day of setting new records since the pandemic began. Hospital admissions and the number of patients in intensive care also set records for Ontario: 1,955 and 701, respectively. The expert panel said the best-case scenario would bring new cases down to about 5,000 a day, but only with considerably more stringent public health measures than the ones now in place. It would also require a vaccination rate of 300,000 a day - three times the current pace.
4-17-21 India's Kumbh festival attracts big crowds amid devastating second Covid wave
This past week, as India grapples with a devastating second wave of the coronavirus, millions of devotees have descended on the banks of the Ganges river in the northern city of Haridwar to take a dip in the water. Hindus believe the river is holy and taking a dip in it will cleanse them of their sins and bring salvation. But the government of Uttarakhand state, where Haridwar is located, is facing heavy criticism for allowing the Kumbh Mela festival to go ahead amid a sharply worsening Covid picture. On Thursday, India reported more than 200,000 Covid cases for the first time since the pandemic began. One influential Hindu congregation decided to opt out of the massive festival. "The Kumbh Mela is over for us," Ravindra Puri, secretary of the Niranjani Akhada or congregation was quoted as saying in local media. The decision came a day after Swami Kapil Dev, the head of another prominent congregation, died after being diagnosed with Covid-19. It's unclear how many devotees at the Kumbh Mela have tested positive since the first day of bathing on 11 March. But Haridwar's chief medical officer, Dr SK Jha, said more than 1,600 cases had been confirmed among devotees between 10 and 14 April. But there are fears that the numbers could be even higher, and that many of those who have returned home could have taken the disease with them across the country. India has confirmed more than 14 million cases and 174,000 deaths from the virus so far. There had been a sharp drop in case numbers in January and February, but with cases and deaths now rising again, hospitals across the country are reporting a shortage of beds, oxygen cylinders and drugs. The uptick in cases did not discourage people from attending the Kumbh Mela. Ujwal Puri, a 34-year-old businessman, arrived in Haridwar on March 9 armed with bottles of sanitiser, masks and vitamin pills. Mr Puri expected stringent Covid security checks. But he told the BBC he faced no checks at the airport or in Haridwar. One of his photographs from the festival shows crowds at the banks, waiting to take a dip on one of the nights. Many people can be seen not wearing a mask or pulling it down to their chin. (Webmaster's comment: The Ganges is a giant sewer! Animals and humans bathe in it, shit in it, and then drink it!)
4-16-21 Covid-19 news: Infections in England at lowest level in 7 months
The latest coronavirus news updated every day including coronavirus cases, the latest news, features and interviews from New Scientist and essential information about the covid-19 pandemic. An estimated one in 480 people in England had covid-19 in the week up to 10 April. Coronavirus infections in England have fallen to their lowest level since September, according to the latest results of a random swab testing survey by the Office for National Statistics. An estimated one in 480 people in communities in England had covid-19 in the week up to 10 April, down from about one in 340 the previous week. It is the lowest prevalence rate recorded since the week up to 24 September, during which an estimated one in 500 people had covid-19. Equivalent prevalence estimates for Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales were one in 500, one in 710 and one in 920 people, respectively, during the week up to 10 April. The world is seeing a “worrying” rise in coronavirus infections, World Health Organization director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said on 16 April. “Globally, the number of new cases per week has nearly doubled over the past two months. This is approaching the highest rate of infection that we have seen so far during the pandemic,” he said at a briefing. More than 139.2 million coronavirus cases have been confirmed worldwide since the start of the pandemic, with the global covid-19 death toll approaching 3 million, according to Johns Hopkins University. Pfizer’s CEO, Albert Bourla, has said it is likely that people will need a third covid-19 vaccine dose within six to 12 months after they are first vaccinated, with a requirement for annual jabs also a possibility. “Variants will play a key role,” he said. Germany’s chancellor Angela Merkel urged lawmakers on 16 April to approve new powers that would enable her to impose coronavirus lockdowns and curfews on areas with high infection rates. Daily new case numbers in Germany are rapidly approaching those seen during the peak of its second wave in January.
4-16-21 Indianapolis mass shooting: Eight dead at FedEx facility
Eight people have been killed and seven injured in a shooting in the US city of Indianapolis, police say. Witnesses heard several gunshots at a FedEx facility and one said he had seen a man firing an automatic weapon. The gunman, thought to have been acting alone, is believed to have killed himself, police say, adding that there is no ongoing threat to the public. Police say several of the injured are in hospital. Flights from the nearby airport are not affected. "As officers arrived, they came into contact with an active shooting incident," city police spokeswoman Genae Cook said, adding that it had taken place at around 23:00 local time (03:00 GMT). "After a preliminary search of the grounds, inside and out, we have located eight people at the scene with injuries consistent to gunshot wounds. Those eight were pronounced deceased here at the scene. Ms Cook said four of the injured had been transported to hospital, one in a critical condition. Many others were treated at the scene or themselves sought treatment in hospital. She said the motive for the killing was unclear. Ms Cook paid tribute to the officers involved. "It is very heart-breaking and, you know, in the Indianapolis Metro Police Department, the officers responded,... they went in and they did their job," she said. "And a lot of them are trying to face this because this is a sight that no-one should ever have to see." A FedEx statement said the company was aware of the shooting and co-operating with the authorities. "Safety is our top priority, and our thoughts are with all those who are affected," it said. Local media quoted FedEx worker Jeremiah Miller as saying he had seen the gunman firing. "I saw a man with a sub-machine gun of some sort, an automatic rifle, and he was firing in the open. I immediately ducked down and got scared," he said. The Gun Violence Archive puts the number of gun violence deaths from all causes at 12,395 so far this year in the US, of which 147 were in mass shootings. Last year saw a total of 43.549 deaths, and 610 in mass shootings.
4-16-21 Adam Toledo: Chicago police release video of officer shooting boy
Chicago police have released graphic footage of an officer shooting dead a 13-year-old boy in a dark alley. Bodycam video shows the policeman shouting "drop it" before shooting Adam Toledo once in the chest on 29 March. The boy does not appear to be holding a weapon in the split second he is shot, but police video shows a handgun near the spot where he falls. Small protests were held on Thursday evening around Chicago, hours after the city's mayor appealed for calm. The video's release follows the fatal police shooting on 11 April of Daunte Wright by an officer in a Minneapolis suburb. That shooting has sparked violent protests as the city awaits the outcome of the trial of Derek Chauvin, the officer accused in the death of George Floyd. The clip shows the officer jumping out of his squad car and chasing the Latino boy on foot down a dark alley as another suspect disappears from view. The policeman shouts: "Police! Stop! Stop right [expletive] now! Hands! Hands! Show me your [expletive] hands!" The boy turns and raises his hands. The officer shouts "Drop it" and fires his weapon - 19 seconds after exiting his squad car. Separate CCTV footage appears to show the teenager throwing something through a gap in the fence as the officer runs up to him. Bodycam video shows officers shining a light on a handgun behind the wooden fence after the shooting. The policeman calls for an ambulance while urging the fallen boy to "stay awake". Other officers arrive at the scene in the Little Village neighbourhood on the city's west side and CPR is performed. According to prosecutors, the teenager was with a 21-year-old man, Ruben Roman, who had just fired a gun at a passing car. The gunfire drew police to the area, resulting in the deadly confrontation. Mr Roman appeared in court on Saturday charged with aggravated unlawful use of a weapon, reckless discharge of a firearm and child endangerment, according to local media reports. The Civilian Office of Police Accountability released the bodycam footage on Thursday along with CCTV video, arrest reports and audio recordings of the shots fired in the area that alerted police.
4-16-21 How George Floyd's death changed a small Iowa town
George Floyd's death, and the trial of Derek Chauvin, has shone a light on racial issues in small towns. Yet coming to terms with racism is tough, even for the well-meaning. Guy Nave, an academic with a Yale PhD, moved to Decorah nearly two decades ago. The Iowa town seemed idyllic. It had stone buildings, a train depot and Victorian homes that looked like gingerbread houses. Then, shortly after starting his job at a local college, he locked himself out of his house. He was rattling a patio door when police showed up. The officer had gotten a call, and was told "someone who didn't look like they belonged in the neighbourhood was walking around the house", Nave recalls. That person was a black man - that person was Nave. There were other incidents. He was pulled over a dozen times for minor violations during his first year living in the town. He focused on work and tried to ignore those incidents. Then, in May 2020, George Floyd died while in police custody and townspeople organised a Black Lives Matter march, the first of its kind. The town was waking up. Small towns are slow to change. A point of pride here is that glaciers missed Decorah, located in north-eastern Iowa, some 12,000 years ago, leaving it with rolling hills - a topography that dates back eons. It had been stuck in time culturally, too. Until recently, racism was rarely discussed. Floyd's death affected people here deeply, however, and sparked a movement. "It changed Decorah, in a way where they cannot close off from what is happening all around," says Maria Leitz, an educator. But not everyone reacted in the same way. "People were really sad about it," says Leitz. "But I was really mad about it." As the trial of Derek Chauvin - the former police officer accused in Floyd's death - unfolds, she pays attention, and watches some of the testimony. "I do hear snippets," she says. But she has tried to limit how much she sees: "It's just so emotional." With the trial underway, and as more protests take place in Minneapolis, people here are fighting racism with new energy.
4-16-21 China's economy grows 18.3% in post-Covid comeback
China's economy grew a record 18.3% in the first quarter of 2021 compared to the same quarter last year. It's the biggest jump in gross domestic product (GDP) since China started keeping quarterly records in 1992. However, Friday's figures are below expectations, with a Reuters poll of economists predicting 19% growth. They are also heavily skewed, and less indicative of strong growth, as they are compared to last year's huge economic contraction. In the first quarter of 2020, China's economy shrank 6.8% due to nationwide lockdowns at the peak of its Covid-19 outbreak. "The national economy made a good start," said China's National Bureau of Statistics, which released the first quarter data. But it added: "We must be aware that the Covid-19 epidemic is still spreading globally and the international landscape is complicated with high uncertainties and instabilities." Other key figures released by China's statistics department also point to a continuing rebound, but are also unusually strong because they are compared against extremely weak numbers from last year. Industrial output for March rose 14.1% over a year ago, while retail sales grew 34.2%. "Promisingly, the monthly indicators suggest that industrial production, consumption and investment all gained pace in March on a sequential basis, following the weakness in the first two months," said Louis Kuijs, head of Asia economics at research and consultancy firm Oxford Economics. However, some analysts predicted a number of sectors will slow as government fiscal and monetary support is reduced. Yue Su, the Economist Intelligence Unit's principal economist for China, while the latest figures show that the country's economic recovery is broad-based, some production and export activity could have been "front-loaded" into the first quarter, suggesting slower growth ahead. "Trade performance and domestic industrial activities for the rest of year might not be able to maintain such strong momentum, due to lack of measures to stimulate domestic economy," she said.
4-16-21 US imposes sanctions on Russia over cyber-attacks
The US has announced sanctions against Russia in response to what it says are cyber-attacks and other hostile acts. The measures, which target dozens of Russian entities and officials, aim to deter "Russia's harmful foreign activities", the White House said. The statement says Russian intelligence was behind last year's massive "SolarWinds" hack, and accuses Moscow of interference in the 2020 election. Russia denies all the allegations and says it will respond in kind. The sanctions announced on Thursday are detailed in an executive order signed by President Joe Biden. They come at a tense time for relations between the two countries. Last month the US targeted seven Russian officials and more than a dozen government entities over the poisoning of Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny. Russia says it was not involved. In a call with Russian President Vladimir Putin on Tuesday, Mr Biden vowed to defend US national interests "firmly", while proposing a meeting with Mr Putin to find areas where the two countries could work together. On Thursday, Mr Biden described his decision to impose sanctions on Russia as "proportionate". "I was clear with President Putin that we could have gone further, but I chose not to do so," Mr Biden told reporters. "The United States is not looking to kick off a cycle of escalation and conflict with Russia." He added that the way forwards is through "thoughtful dialogue and diplomatic process". A statement from the White House said the new sanctions show the US "will impose costs in a strategic and economically impactful manner on Russia" if it continues its "destabilising international action". It reaffirms the administration's view that the Russian government is behind cyber-attacks and has been trying to "undermine the conduct of free and fair democratic elections" in the US and allied nations.
4-16-21 TB Joshua: YouTube blocks Nigerian preacher over gay cure claim
YouTube has suspended the account of influential Nigerian TV evangelist TB Joshua over allegations of hate speech. A rights body filed a complaint after reviewing at least seven videos showing the preacher conducting prayers to "cure" gay people. Facebook has also removed at least one of the offending posts showing a woman being slapped while TB Joshua says he is casting out a "demonic spirit". The preacher said he was appealing against YouTube's decision. His YouTube account had 1.8 million subscribers. TB Joshua is one of Africa's most influential evangelists, with top politicians from across the continent among his followers. UK-based openDemocracy filed a complaint after reviewing seven videos posted on TB Joshua Ministries' YouTube channel between 2016 and 2020, which show the preacher conducting prayers to "cure" gay people. A YouTube spokesperson told openDemocracy that the channel had been closed because its policy "prohibits content which alleges that someone is mentally ill, diseased, or inferior because of their membership in a protected group including sexual orientation". A post on TB Joshua Ministries Facebook account said: "We have had a long and fruitful relationship with YouTube and believe this decision was made in haste." The video is an update of a prayer session of a woman called Okoye, first broadcast in 2018. In it TB Joshua slaps and pushes Okoye and an unnamed woman at least 16 times and tells Okoye: "There is a spirit disturbing you. She has transplanted herself into you. It is the spirit of woman," openDemocracy reports. The video which was viewed more than 1.5 million before the YouTube channel was taken down, later shows her testifying before the congregation that "the spirit of woman" had been destroying her life but she had been healed after the preacher's prayers. She declares that she had stopped having "affection" to women and "now I have affections for men".
4-16-21 Vaccines and risk
The human brain tends to make us fear the wrong threats. The human brain has two systems for assessing risk, and one isn't very reliable. The neocortex, which developed relatively late in human evolution, can make rational, risk-reward assessments based on evidence, data, and logic. The amygdala, a more primitive region we share with other mammals, reacts instantly to perceived threats with fear, anxiety, and the fight-or-flight response. Strong emotions often overrule logic, so our brains are biased to overreact to exotic risks like terrorism, plane crashes, and tarantulas, while downplaying the much greater likelihood we'll die of the flu, a car crash, heart disease — or COVID. For the past year, the pandemic has made us all subjects in a massive experiment on human risk assessment. We haven't done very well. Too many Americans decided that going about their usual activities without a mask or social distancing didn't feel as risky as the experts were saying ... and as a result, they caught and spread an invisible contagion. More than 560,000 have died. Now our brains are assessing the risk of getting vaccinated vs. going unprotected against COVID. That task was complicated this week with the discovery that six women out of the 7 million people who received the Johnson & Johnson vaccine developed blood clots — a rate of 0.00008 percent. By way of perspective, an unvaccinated American's risk of dying of COVID is 1 in 1,666, and the risk COVID will cause severe illness and lasting, "long haul" symptoms is far greater. But the "pause" in J&J vaccinations, while ethical and responsible, will undoubtedly harden the resistance of the 30 percent who say they will not take any vaccine. That would be a terrible outcome — for them and for the rest of us. The pandemic won't truly subside until vaccinations give the coronavirus vanishingly few new people to infect. Those whose amygdalae are wrongly telling them vaccines are riskier than COVID may well determine when, and if, life returns to normal.
4-16-21 Chile sees Covid surge despite vaccination success
Chile's Health Minister Enrique Paris has been striking a gloomy note at his daily Covid news conferences in recent days. The number of daily cases reached a new record high on 9 April, going over 9,000 for the first time since the pandemic began and considerably higher than the previous peak of just under 7,000 cases in mid-June. "It's worrying," he said last Friday. "We're going through a critical moment of the pandemic… I urge you to take care of yourselves, of your loved ones, of your families." Intensive care units are again overwhelmed, the country has for a second time closed its borders to everyone who is not a resident and most of its 18 million inhabitants are back in lockdown. "It feels like we're going backwards," says Santiago resident Sofía Pinto. "We need to download special permits online to be allowed out just twice a week for essential things like food shopping or doctor's visits." The frustration and confusion many Chileans are feeling over the renewed lockdown is due partly to the fact that just two months ago, President Sebastián Piñera was boasting about Chile having one of the fastest vaccination rollouts in the world. Critics have accused the Piñera government of getting caught up in triumphalism over the vaccine rollout and of having loosened coronavirus restrictions too fast. Like governments across the world, ministers here faced difficult choices. Chile's borders had been closed - bar for a few exceptions - from March to November 2020. But after a strict lockdown had driven the rolling seven-day average down to 1,300 cases in November, the decision was taken to reopen them, including to international tourists. Chileans were also given special holiday permits to travel more freely around the country during the southern hemisphere summer holidays after some experts argued it was important for people's mental health. Restaurants, shops, and holiday resorts were opened up to kickstart the faltering economy.
4-15-21 Covid-19 news: Doubts about Olympics as cases surge in Japan
The latest coronavirus news updated every day including coronavirus cases, the latest news, features and interviews from New Scientist and essential information about the covid-19 pandemic. As Japan battles fourth wave of infections, official says cancelling the Olympics is still an option. An official from Japan’s ruling party has said that cancelling the Olympics, scheduled to take place in Tokyo at the end of July, remains an option and will depend on the coronavirus situation. “If it seems impossible [to host the Olympics] anymore, then we have to stop it, decisively,” Toshihiro Nikai, a member of Japan’s Liberal Democratic Party, told broadcaster TBS. He added: “If the Olympics were to spread infection, then what are the Olympics for?” Government and organising officials have previously said the postponed event would go ahead, but without international spectators. The number of positive coronavirus tests in England fell by 34 per cent in the week up to 7 April, according to the latest figures from NHS Test and Trace. 19,196 people tested positive for the virus, continuing a downward trend in positive tests observed since the week up to 6 January, NHS Test and Trace said in its report. Mass testing for the B.1.351 coronavirus variant, first identified in South Africa, is being carried out in six London boroughs as well as in parts of Smethwick in the West Midlands in England, after a new case was detected there. More than 200,000 new coronavirus cases were reported in India on 15 April, the highest daily case rate in the country since the pandemic began. Some hospitals, including those in the state of Maharashtra, have reported shortages of beds and oxygen supplies. India’s second wave of infections appears to be driven mainly by the more transmissible B.1.1.7 coronavirus variant.
4-15-21 Afghanistan: Biden calls for end to 'America's longest war'
The US will continue to support Afghanistan after withdrawing all US troops, but not "militarily," President Joe Biden has pledged. "It is time to end America's longest war," he said in a speech from the White House room where US airstrikes there were first declared in 2001. The pull-out is to coincide with the 20th anniversary of the 11 September 2001 terror attacks, officials say. At least 2,500 US troops are part of the 9,600-strong Nato Afghan mission. The number of US troops on the ground in Afghanistan fluctuates, and US media report the current total is closer to 3,500. US and Nato officials have said the Taliban, a hardline Islamist movement, have so far failed to live up to commitments to reduce violence in Afghanistan. In Kabul, Afghan officials say they will continue peace talks in preparation for the withdrawal. Afghan President Ashraf Ghani tweeted that he had spoken on the phone with Mr Biden on Wednesday, and that the country "respects the US decision and we will work with our US partners to ensure a smooth transition". He added that Afghanistan's defence forces "are fully capable of defending its people and country". "We cannot continue the cycle of extending or expanding our military presence in Afghanistan hoping to create the ideal conditions for our withdrawal, expecting a different result," said Mr Biden, the fourth president to oversee the war. "While we will not stay involved in Afghanistan militarily, our diplomatic and humanitarian work will continue," he continued, adding: "We will continue to support the government of Afghanistan." Mr Biden also pledged to continue providing assistance to Afghan defence and security forces - including 300,000 personnel, who he says "continue to fight valiantly on behalf of their country and defend the Afghan people, at great cost". He also paid his respects to the victims of the 11 September 2001 attack which triggered the US invasion of Afghanistan. "We went to Afghanistan because of a horrific attack that happened 20 years ago," he said. "That cannot explain why we should remain there in 2021." (Webmaster's comment: Just like in Vietnam we cannot win if the people don't want us!)
4-15-21 Afghanistan: 'We have won the war, America has lost', say Taliban
Driving to Taliban-controlled territory doesn't take long. Around 30 minutes from the northern city of Mazar-e-Sharif, passing large craters left by roadside bombs, we meet our host: Haji Hekmat, the Taliban's shadow mayor in Balkh district. Perfumed and in a black turban, he's a veteran member of the group, having first joined the militants in the 1990s when they ruled over the majority of the country. The Taliban have arranged a display of force for us. Lined up on either side of the street are heavily armed men, one carrying a rocket propelled grenade launcher, another an M4 assault rifle captured from US forces. Balkh was once one of the more stable parts of the country; now it's become one of the most violent. Baryalai, a local military commander with a ferocious reputation, points down the road, "the government forces are just there by the main market, but they can't leave their bases. This territory belongs to the mujahideen". It's a similar picture across much of Afghanistan: the government controls the cities and bigger towns, but the Taliban are encircling them, with a presence in large parts of the countryside. The militants assert their authority through sporadic checkpoints along key roads. As Taliban members stop and question passing cars, Aamir Sahib Ajmal, the local head of the Taliban's intelligence service, tells us they're searching for people linked to the government. "We will arrest them, and take them prisoner," he says. "Then we hand them over to our courts and they decide what will happen next." The Taliban believe victory is theirs. Sitting over a cup of green tea, Haji Hekmat proclaims, "we have won the war and America has lost". The decision by US President Joe Biden to delay the withdrawal of remaining US forces to September, meaning they will remain in the country past the 1 May deadline agreed last year, has sparked a sharp reaction from the Taliban's political leadership. Nonetheless, momentum seems to be with the militants. "We are ready for anything," says Haji Hekmat. "We are totally prepared for peace, and we are fully prepared for jihad." Sitting next to him, a military commander adds: "Jihad is an act of worship. Worship is something that, however much of it you do, you don't get tired."
4-15-21 US imposes sanctions on Russia over cyber-attacks
The US has announced sanctions against Russia in response to what it says are cyber-attacks and other hostile acts. The measures are aimed at deterring "Russia's harmful foreign activities", the White House said on Thursday. The sanctions, detailed in an executive order signed by President Joe Biden, target dozens of Russian entities, officials and diplomats. The US accuses Russia of malicious cyber-activity and interference in presidential elections. The Russian government has denied the allegations and called any new sanctions "illegal". The measures come at a tense time for relations between the two countries. Last month the US targeted seven Russian officials and more than a dozen government entities over the poisoning of Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny. Russia says it had no part in the poisoning. In a call with Russian President Vladimir Putin on Tuesday, Mr Biden vowed to defend US national interests "firmly", while proposing a meeting with Mr Putin to find areas where the two countries could work together. According to Thursday's White House statement, the new sanctions show the US "will impose costs in a strategic and economically impactful manner on Russia" if it continues its "destabilizing international action". It reaffirms the administration's view that the Russian government is behind the cyber-attacks and has been trying to "undermine the conduct of free and fair democratic elections" in the US and its allies. The sanctions target 32 entities and officials accused of trying to influence the 2020 US presidential election "and other acts of disinformation". Ten diplomats, including alleged spies, are being expelled from the US. The executive order also bars US financial institutions from purchasing rouble-denominated bonds from June. Last year, cyber-security researchers identified a hack in a piece of software called SolarWinds - which gave cyber-criminals access to 18,000 government and private computer networks.
4-15-21 Daunte Wright shooting: US ex-officer Kim Potter charged over killing
A US former police officer who shot dead a black motorist in Minnesota has been charged with second-degree manslaughter, prosecutors say. Kim Potter was arrested and later released on $100,000 (£72,000) bail. Police say Mrs Potter shot Daunte Wright accidentally, having mistakenly drawn her gun instead of her Taser. Responding to the charges, the Wright family's lawyer Ben Crump said the killing was an "intentional, deliberate, and unlawful use of force". Both Mrs Potter and local police chief Tim Gannon have resigned. The killing has sparked clashes between police and protesters in Brooklyn Center - a suburb of Minneapolis - and late on Wednesday, several hundred demonstrators again defied a curfew to gather outside police headquarters. As on previous nights, protesters threw bottles and other projectiles at police who responded with stun grenades and pepper spray. Minneapolis is already on edge amid the trial of a white ex-police officer accused of murdering African-American George Floyd. Minnesota's Bureau of Criminal Apprehension (BCA) said Mrs Potter was taken into custody on Wednesday morning. She was booked into Hennepin County Jail on probable cause second-degree manslaughter before bail was posted. In Minnesota state law, a person can be found guilty of second-degree manslaughter if they can be proven to have shown culpable negligence whereby they create an unreasonable risk and "consciously take chances of causing death or great bodily harm" to someone else. Mrs Potter is due to make her first court appearance on Thursday. The charge carries a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison and a $20,000 (£14,500) fine. Prosecutors must show that Mrs Potter was "culpably negligent" and took an "unreasonable risk" in her actions, Reuters reported. At a news conference, Brooklyn Center Mayor Mike Elliott called for people to protest peacefully. "With the news of the decision to charge the former Brooklyn Center police officer with manslaughter comes a prolonged period of continued grieving, hurt and understandable anger," he said.
4-15-21 Texas students disciplined over 'slave trade game'
A group of school students in Texas have been disciplined for setting up a "Slave Trade" messaging group that assigned prices to their black peers. Messages shared on the Snapchat app at a school in Aledo said one student was worth a dollar and another "100 bucks", the New York Times reported. The school district conducted an inquiry and found "racial harassment and cyber bullying" had occurred. But some parents accused authorities of failing to respond appropriately. School students at the Daniel Ninth Grade Campus in Aledo had posted messages on a group Snapchat that was reportedly labelled with terms such as "farm" and "auction". Ninth graders are typically 14 or 15. One message said the price set for one student "would be better if his hair wasn't so bad", according to the New York Times, which said it had seen screenshots of exchanges. The Aledo independent school district, situated about 32km (20 miles) west of Fort Worth, condemned the students' behaviour in a statement on Monday, saying that its investigation had been conducted in co-operation with the police. "We made a formal determination that racial harassment and cyber bullying had occurred and assigned disciplinary consequences," the statement said, without providing details about the number of students involved or the action taken. "This incident has caused tremendous pain for the victims, their families, and other students of colour and their families, and for that we are deeply saddened," it added. The principal of the Daniel Ninth Grade Campus of the Aledo Independent School District, Carolyn Ansley, said the investigation had found that "racially charged language" had been used in violation of the district's code of conduct. However, some parents have since criticised the district's response. "Calling it cyber bullying rather than calling it racism... that is the piece that really gets under my skin," parent Mark Grubbs said, NBC News in Dallas reports. "It makes me sick from the standpoint - 'Who do they think they are? What gives them the right to think they can do that to someone else?'" Mr Grubbs added.
4-13-21 Covid-19 news: One vaccine dose produces strong response in over-80s
The latest coronavirus news updated every day including coronavirus cases, the latest news, features and interviews from New Scientist and essential information about the covid-19 pandemic. A single dose of Pfizer or AstraZeneca covid-19 vaccine produced strong immune responses among over-80s in a preliminary study. Both the Pfizer/BioNTech and Oxford/AstraZeneca covid-19 vaccines produced a strong immune response after a single dose in people aged over 80 in a preliminary study. It showed that 93 per cent of people had produced coronavirus-specific antibodies after receiving the Pfizer vaccine and 87 per cent of people after receiving the AstraZeneca jab. This was the first study to compare the performance of the two vaccines. Those who received the AstraZeneca vaccine showed a greater T-cell response, which forms another important arm of the body’s immune response to viruses. Just 12 per cent of people who had the Pfizer vaccine developed T-cells against the coronavirus spike protein compared with 31 per cent of those who had received the AstraZeneca jab. Overall immune responses were much higher in people who had previously had covid-19, compared with those who hadn’t. The study was carried out by Helen Parry at the University of Birmingham, UK, and her colleagues who analysed immune responses in a group of 165 volunteers aged 80 and over, each of whom had received a single dose of either the Pfizer or AstraZeneca vaccine five to six weeks earlier. The US, the European Union and South Africa are pausing rollouts of the Johnson & Johnson covid-19 vaccine, following a small number of reports of rare blood clots in people who had received it. In the US, six cases of rare blood clots had been reported among 6.8 million people who had received the vaccine as of 13 April. The European Medicines Agency (EMA) said it is working closely with the US Food and Drug Administration and other international regulators to investigate all the cases reported and it expects to issue a recommendation next week. “While its review is ongoing, EMA remains of the view that the benefits of the vaccine in preventing COVID-19 outweigh the risks of side effects,” it said in a statement on 14 April. Denmark has become the first country to completely stop using the AstraZeneca vaccine, after the EMA concluded on 7 April that unusual blood clotting events should be listed as very rare side effects of the vaccine. However, the country’s health agency has not ruled out the possibility of resuming use of the vaccine in future if another wave of infections hits. Several European countries suspended use of the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine in March over blood clot concerns, but many have since resumed use of the vaccine for certain age groups.
4-14-21 Derek Chauvin trial: Use of force 'justified' says defence expert
A police officer was "justified" in pinning George Floyd to the ground before his death, says a use-of-force expert called by the defence team. Barry Brodd told the trial in Minnesota that Derek Chauvin - who denies murder - acted with "objective reasonableness" during the arrest last May. Video of Mr Chauvin kneeling on the neck of Mr Floyd led to worldwide protests against racism and policing. Tensions are running high over a recent police shooting of a black man. That happened on Sunday in a Minnesota suburb only 10 miles (16 km) away from the court where Mr Chauvin's trial is taking place. On Tuesday, the court heard testimony from witnesses called by Mr Chauvin's defence team. Former police officer Mr Brodd told the court that "the imminent threat" posed by Floyd was a major factor in his detention. "I felt that Derek Chauvin was justified and acting with objective reasonableness following Minneapolis police department policy and current standards of law enforcement in his interaction with George Floyd," he said. "From a police officer's standpoint, you don't have to wait for it to happen. You just have to have a reasonable fear that somebody is going to strike you, stab you, shoot you." Mr Brodd added: "It's easy to sit in an office and judge an officer's conduct. It's more of a challenge to put yourself in the officer's shoes, to try to make an evaluation through what they are feeling, what they're sensing, the fear they have, and then make a determination." Defence lawyer Eric Nelson asked Mr Brodd: "Was this a deadly use of force?" "No, it was not," Mr Brodd replied. He said that the crowd surrounding George Floyd during his arrest "posed an unknown threat" and drew Mr Chauvin's attention away from Floyd. Cross-examining Mr Brodd, the prosecution maintained that the dangers of positional asphyxia - not being able to breathe in a certain position - were well known. (Webmaster's comment: The police want the right to kill blacks for any reason! This killing would never have happened if the victim had been white man!)
4-14-21 Daunte Wright shooting: Police resignations fail to ease unrest over death
The resignations of a police chief and of an officer who shot dead a black motorist in Minnesota have failed to end unrest over Sunday's killing. Chief Tim Gannon and Officer Kim Potter have quit the Brooklyn Center force. Mrs Potter said she shot Daunte Wright accidentally, having mistakenly drawn her gun instead of her Taser, a stance backed by Mr Gannon. Despite the resignations fresh clashes between police and protesters erupted for a third night. Mr Wright's mother has been speaking about her last phone call to her son. In tears, she told reporters she could never have imagined he would be killed. The death happened in a suburb of Minneapolis, a city already on edge amid the trial of a white ex-police officer accused of murdering African American George Floyd. On Tuesday night bottles and other projectiles were thrown at the Brooklyn Center police headquarters and officers responded by firing tear gas, stun grenades and rubber bullets. More than 60 people were arrested, Minnesota State Patrol Colonel Matt Langer told reporters. Another demonstration broke out in Portland, Oregon, on Tuesday night, with about 100 protesters marching on the Portland Police Association Building. Flames were seen coming out of the side of the police building about an hour later. The Portland Police Bureau declared the gathering a riot. Portland was the centre of mass demonstrations last year, in the wake of the killing of George Floyd. Speaking to reporters earlier, Brooklyn Center Mayor Mike Elliott said he had appointed 19-year veteran Tony Gruenig to take over for Tim Gannon. On Monday, Mr Gannon had said the shooting of Mr Wright appeared to be an "accidental discharge" after Mrs Potter mistook her service pistol for a stun gun. "I appreciate the officer stepping down," the mayor said, adding that he hoped her leaving would "bring some calm to the community".
4-14-21 Daunte Wright shooting: How can you mistake a gun for a Taser?
The killing of Daunte Wright, a young black man, in a suburb of Minneapolis in the US, was because an officer mistook her gun for a Taser, according to police. So how is it possible to mix up the two weapons? asers fire small dart-like electrodes that can deliver a high-voltage shock to disable temporarily a suspect and allow officers to deal with violent, or potentially violent, people at a distance. They are used by police forces around the world. Almost all American police departments now issue their officers with Tasers, according to one assessment. The US-based Axon company, which developed the Taser used by the Brooklyn Center police department involved in this incident, was quoted as saying their weapons were designed to be distinguishable from handguns. It had "implemented numerous features and training recommendations to reduce the possibility of these incidents occurring" - including making them look and feel different from a firearm. Distinctive Taser features include that they: are often produced in bright colours, weigh significantly less than police guns, typically have different grips, have no trigger safety mechanism, as most guns do. Police officers are typically trained to keep guns in a holster on their dominant side to avoid confusing it with their Taser, which is kept on the belt on the other side of the body. The Brooklyn Center police manual says that officers must position Tasers "in a reaction-side holster on the side opposite the duty weapon". "So if you're right-handed you carry your firearm on your right side and [you] carry your Taser on your left," Brooklyn Center Police Chief Tim Gannon told reporters after the shooting of Mr Wright. He added: "This appears to me... that this was an accidental discharge that resulted in the tragic death of Mr Wright." The video of the incident that was circulated by police shows the officer shouting out "Taser, Taser, Taser" before shooting, and then appearing to realise she had used a handgun instead. The officer has been named as Kim Potter, who had worked for Brooklyn Center Police for 26 years. She has now resigned. (Webmaster's comment: No person could exer mistake the two weapons. She wanted to kill him!)
4-14-21 Haridwar: Hundreds test positive for Covid at Kumbh Mela
Hundreds of devotees, including nine top saints, have tested positive for Covid-19 in India's Haridwar city where huge crowds have gathered to participate in the Kumbh Mela festival. More than three million Hindu devotees bathed in the Ganges river on Tuesday to mark one of the most auspicious days of the two-month-long festival. Millions are expected to repeat the ritual on Wednesday. India reported 184,372 new cases on Tuesday - its highest-daily spike yet. Many have criticised the government for allowing the festival to go ahead amid a raging pandemic. Officials said that nearly 900,000 people had taken a dip in the holy river by afternoon on Wednesday, which is considered to be the most auspicious day of the entire festival. Hindus believe that the Ganges river is holy, and taking a dip in the water will cleanse them of their sins and bring salvation. Police officials say they are struggling to impose safety norms due to huge crowds on the banks of the river in the Himalayan state of Uttarakhand. Officials leading the festival's Covid-19 testing cell told the BBC that out of more than 20,000 samples collected in the area on Tuesday, 110 returned positive results. On Monday, 184 devotees had tested positive. They have been isolated while others have been moved to hospitals in Haridwar city. Dr Arjun Sengar, the health officer at the Kumbh Mela, said nine top religious leaders had also tested positive. Narendra Giri, the president of a consortium of 14 Hindu groups, also tested positive. He has been admitted to the All India Institute of Medical Sciences, which is a leading public hospital, in Haridwar. Akhilesh Yadav, former chief minister of neighbouring Uttar Pradesh state, has also tested positive. He visited Haridwar on Sunday and met some top saints, including Mr Giri. Yogi Adityanath, the current chief minister of Uttar Pradesh, has also tested positive although he did not visit the festival.
4-14-21 Johnson & Johnson vaccine paused over rare blood clots
The US, South Africa and European Union will temporarily stop the rollout of the Johnson & Johnson (J&J) Covid jab, after reports of rare blood clotting. Six cases were detected in more than 6.8 million doses of the vaccine, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) said. Johnson & Johnson has paused its EU rollout, which started this week. It follows similar cases after doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine, which prompted curbs to its use. The FDA said it was recommending the temporary pause "out of an abundance of caution". It confirmed that one patient died from blood clotting complications, and another is in a critical condition. All six cases were in women aged between 18 and 48, with symptoms appearing six to 13 days after vaccination. Following the advice, all federal sites in the US have stopped using the vaccine until further investigations into its safety are completed. State and private contractors are expected to follow suit. The US has by far the most confirmed cases of Covid-19 - more than 31 million - with more than 562,000 deaths, another world high. Johnson & Johnson is a US health care company, but the vaccine was developed mainly by a pharmaceutical branch in Belgium with laboratories in the Netherlands, and is also known as Janssen. Unlike some of the other jabs, it is given as a single shot and can be stored at normal refrigerator temperatures, making it easier to distribute in hotter climates or more remote areas. While many countries have pre-ordered millions of doses, it has only been approved in a few nations. It was cleared for use in the US on 27 February, but the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines have been used more widely. The J&J vaccine has been administered to nearly seven million people in the US, which is around 3% of the total immunisations given so far. Dr Anthony Fauci, the country's top Covid adviser, said it was too early to comment on whether it could have its authorisation revoked.
4-14-21 AstraZeneca vaccine: Denmark ceases rollout completely
Denmark has ceased giving the Oxford-AstraZeneca Covid vaccine amid concerns about rare cases of blood clots, the first European country to do so fully. The move is expected to delay the country's vaccination programme by several weeks. Drug watchdog the European Medicines Agency last week announced a possible link with clots but said the risk of dying of Covid-19 was much greater. Several European countries had previously briefly suspended the jab. Most have now resumed vaccinations with AstraZeneca, but often with limits to older age groups. On Tuesday, the US, Canada and the European Union paused the Johnson & Johnson vaccine for similar reasons over clotting. South Africa has also paused its use, despite the Johnson & Johnson being its preferred vaccine because of its effectiveness against the South African variant. For both AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson, the blood clot side effects are extremely rare. The EU's vaccine roll-out has been criticised by the World Health Organization (WHO) for being too slow, and there are concerns this latest delay could throw it into further turmoil. Both vaccines work by a similar method, known as adenoviral vectors. Danish officials said that all 2.4 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine would be withdrawn until further notice. In a statement, the Danish Health Authority said studies had shown a higher than expected frequency of blood clots following doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine. Director General Soren Brostrom said it had been a "difficult decision" but Denmark had other vaccines available and the epidemic there was currently under control. "The upcoming target groups for vaccination are less likely to become severely ill from Covid-19," he said. "We must weigh this against the fact that we now have a known risk of severe adverse effects from vaccination with AstraZeneca, even if the risk in absolute terms is slight." However, the authority said it could not rule out using it again at another time.
4-14-21 U.S. pauses J&J vaccine rollout after 6 people of 6.8 million get rare blood clots
AstraZeneca's vaccine has also been linked to the rare clots in Europe and the U.K. Federal health officials in the United States are pressing pause on administering Johnson & Johnson’s COVID-19 vaccine following rare reports of blood clots in people who received the shot. U.S. officials are recommending that, for now, states halt the shots, too. Out of more than 6.8 million people vaccinated with Johnson & Johnson’s jab in the United States, six developed severe blood clots in the sinuses that drain blood from the brain, officials with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said April 13 in a news release. That condition, called cerebral venous sinus thrombosis or CVST, is coupled with low levels of platelets in the blood after vaccination. How long the pause will last largely depends on the outcome of an expert review of the cases, but could be a matter of days, Janet Woodcock, the FDA’s acting commissioner, said in an April 13 call with news reporters. The CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices will meet April 14 to discuss the cases and potentially update its recommendations for use. The U.S. action comes less than a week after the European Medicines Agency announced that its experts had found a link between a COVID-19 vaccine developed by AstraZeneca and the University of Oxford and conditions like CVST (SN:4/7/21). In the European Union and the United Kingdom, most of the rare blood clots have occurred in vaccinated women younger than 60 years old. But the risk factors remain unclear, according to the EMA. Health officials there have recommended that CVST and other unusual clots be listed as a rare side effect of AstraZeneca’s vaccine. In the United States, all six CVST cases were in women younger than 50 and appeared six to 13 days after vaccination. One person died and another is in critical condition. “These events appear to be extremely rare,” Woodcock said. She noted that like with AstraZeneca’s shot, there are too few cases with Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine to come to any conclusions about who is at highest risk of developing the clots. Johnson & Johnson has delayed the rollout of its vaccine in Europe, the pharmaceutical company said April 13 in a news release.
4-13-21 Covid-19 news: US authorities call for Johnson & Johnson vaccine pause
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. There have been six reports of rare blood clots among more than 6.8 million people in the US who received the Johnson & Johnson vaccine US health authorities, including the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), recommended a pause in the use of the Johnson & Johnson covid-19 vaccine on 13 April as a precautionary measure, following reports of rare blood clots in six people who had received the vaccine. More than 6.8 million doses of the single-shot vaccine had been administered across the US as of 13 April. Among these, there were six reports of a rare blood clotting condition called cerebral venous sinus thrombosis (CVST), which affects blood vessels in the brain, all of which were among women aged 18 to 48. A special meeting of the CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices will review the reports on 14 April, the FDA and CDC said in a joint statement. “Until that process is complete, we are recommending a pause in the use of this vaccine out of an abundance of caution,” the statement said. In a statement on 13 April, Johnson & Johnson said that it has decided to “proactively delay the rollout” of its vaccine in Europe. On 9 April, the European Union’s medicines regulator announced it was reviewing four reported cases of rare blood clots in people who had received the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, but said it was not yet clear whether there was a causal association between the vaccine and the condition. An earlier review by the European Medicines Agency concluded on 7 April that unusual blood clotting events should be listed as very rare side effects of the Oxford/AstraZeneca covid-19 vaccine. Several countries, including the UK, have limited use of the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine among younger age groups. Mass coronavirus testing has been deployed in parts of south London, predominantly in the boroughs of Wandsworth and Lambeth, where 44 confirmed cases and 30 probable cases of the B.1.351 coronavirus variant first identified in South Africa have been detected. On 12 April, the UK’s Department of Health and Social Care said all identified cases are self-isolating or have completed their isolation, and their contacts have been traced and asked to self-isolate. People aged 11 and over who live, work or travel through the affected areas are being urged to get tested. In the UK, all adults over the age of 50, clinically vulnerable adults and health and social care workers have now been offered a first dose of a covid-19 vaccine, ahead of the government’s target of offering a dose to everyone in its top nine priority groups for vaccination by 15 April. People over the age of 45 in England are now being invited to book vaccine appointments, although the NHS booking website initially crashed moments after it was opened. UK vaccines minister Nadhim Zahawi tweeted shortly afterwards that the problem had been fixed.
4-13-21 How good are the coronavirus vaccines at blocking transmission?
To halt covid-19 in its tracks, we need vaccines that stop the virus spreading as well as preventing people becoming seriously ill. Until now it was unclear how effective the vaccines are at doing this, but with vaccine roll-outs well under way, we are starting to get some answers. The good news is that mRNA vaccines like Pfizer/BioNTech appear to be around 90 per cent effective at blocking transmission. The bad news is that as there are no plans to vaccinate children under 16 anytime soon, and a relatively high proportion of adults globally who say they will refuse vaccination, this might not be enough to raise herd immunity above the threshold needed to halt transmission. Vaccines can block transmission either by preventing people becoming infected or by stopping them passing the virus on even if they are infected. To grasp why blocking transmission is so important, imagine a vaccine that stops disease but not transmission. In that case, the virus would just keep spreading and reach people who haven’t been vaccinated, or for whom the vaccine hasn’t been effective, leading to many more deaths. Vaccinating care home workers wouldn’t stop them infecting care home residents, for instance. And initiatives like vaccine passports wouldn’t stop people from picking up the virus overseas and bringing it home – including new variants. “Transmission blocking matters enormously,” says Marm Kilpatrick at the University of California, Santa Cruz. It is very hard to measure transmission blocking directly. According to a 29 March report from the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC), the closest we have got to doing this was a study in Scotland looking at infections in household members of 150,000 healthcare workers. This study found that household members were 30 per cent less likely to become infected when the healthcare worker had received a single dose of either the Pfizer/BioNTech or Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccines. However, because household members may have been infected by people other than the healthcare worker, and the people in the study hadn’t received their second dose, this study probably significantly underestimates transmission blocking.
4-13-21 India sees record surges in cases due to coronavirus variants
Coronavirus cases are surging in many countries, with the highest number of new cases now being reported in Asia. India alone reported 161,736 new cases on 12 April. In the Indian city of Surat, parts of gas furnaces used for cremations melted after being used non-stop. Meanwhile, millions have been gathering for festivals across the country. The surge appears to be driven mainly by the more transmissible B.1.1.7 variant from the UK, which is causing around 40 per cent of cases in Asia, according to pathogen-tracking project Nextstrain. Another 16 per cent of cases are due to the B.1.351 variant that evolved in South Africa. India’s daily case numbers are currently the highest in the world. Only the US has ever reported more daily cases, peaking at around 250,000 in January. However, India has a larger population. It is reporting around 100 cases per million people per day, which is lower than the rate declared by many other countries, including the US, Germany and Canada. Then again, India may be detecting a much lower proportion of cases than Western countries. It has reported around 13 million cases in total, but antibody surveys and modelling suggest the actual figure could be more than 450 million, says Gautam Menon at Ashoka University in Sonepat. Experts had been puzzled by India’s lack of a second wave. The reason why it is happening now isn’t entirely clear. Many first-wave restrictions have been relaxed and people may not be adhering as closely to those that remain. However, Menon says his models suggest this alone can’t explain the rapid rise in cases. He thinks new, more transmissible variants are mainly to blame. Another idea is that immunity acquired during the first wave is waning. All three factors could be involved. “I don’t think cases will peak for at least another two or three weeks,” says Menon. He is also worried that numbers are rising across the entire country at once. “This may reflect the importance of reinfections,” he says. “Should that be the case, we may be in for an extended period in which cases will rise or stay at the same level.”
4-13-21 Daunte Wright shooting: Dozens arrested in fresh unrest in Minnesota
About 40 people were arrested just north of Minneapolis in a second night of unrest over the police shooting of a black man. Protesters in the city of Brooklyn Center defied a curfew and threw objects at police, who responded with flash grenades and tear gas. Police said Daunte Wright, 20, was shot and died after an officer mistook her gun for a Taser during a traffic stop. The shooting came as the high-profile George Floyd murder trial continues. In a courtroom just a few miles away, ex-police officer Derek Chauvin is charged with murdering the African American man in May last year. Derek Chauvin's defence team on Monday asked for jury members to be sequestered - separated from other people - as they might be swayed by the latest events. The judge denied the request. The officer who shot Mr Wright was named on Monday as Kim Potter, 48, who has worked for Brooklyn Center Police for 26 years. Mr Wright was pulled over on Sunday for a traffic violation, but there was a struggle when he tried to get back into his car. After drawing her gun, apparently by mistake, the officer said: "Holy shit, I just shot him." The curfew went into force at 19:00 (midnight GMT) across four counties with a huge law enforcement deployment. In a press briefing after midnight local time, Minnesota State Patrol colonel Matt Langer said officers had reached out to organisers to try to keep protests peaceful but "unfortunately... the organisers weren't able to influence the desires of the crowd". Col Langer said officers had been "shelled pretty significantly with objects" including fireworks. He said protesters had pushed against the fence of the Brooklyn Center police headquarters and a decision had been made to push back the crowd. There were "sporadic" incidents of looting in the area and in other parts of Minneapolis and neighbouring St Paul. In response to the unrest, US President Joe Biden said peaceful protest was "understandable" but added: "I want to make it clear again: there is absolutely no justification, none, for looting." Shortly before midnight, Brooklyn Center Mayor Mike Elliot said he had spoken to Daunte Wright's father and would "do everything to ensure justice is served". (Webmaster's comment: If you are a black man and the police stop you you could end up dead for no resaon!)
4-13-21 Covid-19: US agencies call for pause in Johnson & Johnson vaccine
US health authorities are calling for a pause in the use of the Johnson & Johnson Covid-19 vaccine, after reports of extremely rare blood clotting cases. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) said six cases in 6.8 million doses had been reported and it was acting "out of an abundance of caution". Johnson & Johnson said it was also delaying vaccine rollout in Europe. The US move follows similar rare cases in the AstraZeneca vaccine, which has prompted some curbs in its use. The US has by far the most confirmed cases of Covid-19 - more than 31 million - with more than 562,000 deaths, another world high. The picture for the virus in the US is complicated, though, with some areas in the north seeing surges in infections, the south less, and with the figures not always reflecting inoculation numbers. The Johnson & Johnson jab was approved in the US on 27 February and its use has been more limited so far than that of the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna doses. Nevertheless, the government had hoped for hundreds of thousands of vaccinations of the jab every week as it is single-shot and its storage at common refrigerator temperatures makes it easier to distribute. In a joint statement, the FDA and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said they were "reviewing data involving six reported US cases of a rare and severe type of blood clot in individuals after receiving the J&J vaccine". It said the clotting was called cerebral venous sinus thrombosis (CVST). The statement said that this type of blood clot needed a different treatment than usual. The common treatment - an anticoagulant drug called heparin - "may be dangerous", it said. Pending a further review, the FDA and CDC recommended "a pause in the use of this vaccine out of an abundance of caution". This was to "ensure that the health care provider community is aware of the potential for these adverse events".
4-13-21 Covid: Younger Brazilians fall ill as cases explode
Concern is growing in Brazil about the rising number of young people who are critically ill in hospital with Covid-19. Research suggests more than half of patients being treated in intensive care last month were under 40. The BBC's Mark Lowen visited Latin America's largest cemetery, a makeshift hospital and a vaccine hub to find out why the handling of the pandemic in Brazil has become a public health disaster.
4-12-21 Covid-19 news: Cases in India hit record high as Kumbh Mela begins
The latest coronavirus news updated every day including coronavirus cases, the latest news, features and interviews from New Scientist and essential information about the covid-19 pandemic. As millions gather to celebrate Kumbh Mela, India’s coronavirus cases surge, overtaking Brazil in total number of infections. India reported a record increase of 168,912 new coronavirus cases on 12 April, bringing the country’s total number of cases since the start of the pandemic to about 13.53 million. India’s tally is now the second-highest in the world, narrowly overtaking Brazil, but remaining below the 31.2 million cases reported so far in the US. A preliminary study in Israel has suggested that the B.1.351 coronavirus variant first identified in South Africa may be able to evade protection provided by the Pfizer/BioNTech covid-19 vaccine to some extent. It found a disproportionately higher rate of the variant among a small number of people who developed covid-19 after being fully vaccinated compared with a group of unvaccinated people who developed the disease. However, the study only included a small number of people infected with the variant due to its low prevalence in Israel. The study, released online as a preprint, didn’t measure overall vaccine effectiveness as only people who had already tested positive for covid-19 were included. Covid-19 vaccines are to be rolled out to people over the age of 40 in England this week, Chris Hopson, the chief executive of NHS Providers, announced. More than 32.1 million people across the UK have received a first dose of a covid-19 vaccine so far, and more than 7.4 million have received two doses. The UK’s Department of Health and Social Care said the government is on course to meet its target of offering a jab to people over the age of 50 by 15 April and to all adults by the end of July. An update to the NHS Covid-19 app, England and Wales’ contact tracing app, has been blocked for breaking the terms of an agreement made with Apple and Google regarding the collection of user’s location data.
4-12-21 Minneapolis: Daunte Wright killing by police near city sparks unrest
Tear gas has been fired and a curfew imposed amid angry protests after police fatally shot a black man in a traffic stop in the US city of Brooklyn Center, just north of Minneapolis. The man has been identified by relatives as 20-year-old Daunte Wright. Brooklyn Center's mayor issued a curfew that lasted until 06:00 (11:00 GMT), telling people to "be safe, go home". Tensions in Minneapolis are high as the trial of a former officer accused of killing George Floyd takes place. A courtroom just 10 miles (16km) from the latest unrest will resume proceedings on Monday with the prosecution expected to begin wrapping up its case. Minnesota Governor Tim Walz said he was "closely monitoring the situation" and praying for Mr Wright's family. Hundreds of protesters chanting Daunte Wright's name gathered late on Sunday outside the police headquarters in Brooklyn Center. Tensions rose as police donned riot gear, and two police vehicles were pelted with stones and jumped on, Reuters news agency reported. Protesters wrote with chalk on pavements and lit candles, but police later ordered the protesters to disperse, with footage showing tear gas and stun grenades being fired by officers. Local media reported some looting taking place in a number of areas and Brooklyn Center Mayor Mike Elliott announced on Twitter he was issuing a curfew until 06:00. In an early-morning video post on the death of Daunte Wright, Mayor Elliott said "our hearts are with his family" and pledged "we are going to make sure that everything is done in our power to ensure justice". Members of the Minnesota National Guard, already deployed for the murder trial of Derek Chauvin over the death of George Floyd, were sent to Brooklyn Center. Some remained on the streets after the curfew ended. Brooklyn Center has closed all school buildings, programmes and activities for Monday, local media report. The mayor has scheduled a press briefing for 11:00 (16:00 GMT). (Webmaster's comment: The police murder of blacks continues in Minneapolis!)
4-12-21 Police officer who pepper-sprayed US Army soldier fired
A police officer in Virginia has been fired after pointing a gun at, and pepper spraying, a black US army lieutenant during a traffic stop. Army Second Lieutenant Caron Nazario is wearing his uniform in bodycam footage of the incident, filmed in December. "I'm honestly afraid to get out," he tells two police officers. "Yeah, you should be," an officer says. Police said he was stopped for failing to display number plates but temporary plates are visible in the video. Lt Nazario filed a lawsuit against the two officers, Joe Gutierrez and Daniel Crocker, this week. In a statement, officials in the town of Windsor in Virginia said the incident had resulted in "disciplinary action, and department-wide requirements for additional training were implemented beginning in January and continue up to the present". "Since that time, Officer Gutierrez was also terminated from his employment," it added. "The Town has also requested an investigation of this event by the Virginia State Police, and joins with elected officials who have called for a full and complete review of the actions of these officers." On Sunday, Virginia Governor Ralph Northam said the incident was "disturbing" and had "angered" him. During the incident the soldier, who was handcuffed while his car was searched, asked why force was being used against him. He was told by a police officer: "Because you're not co-operating." He was later released without charge. Earlier this week Lt Nazario filed a lawsuit at the US District Court of Norfolk, Virginia, against the two Windsor Police Department officers. According to the lawsuit, Lt Nazario was pepper sprayed and knocked to the ground by the officers. Bodycam footage shows the officers pointing their guns at the lieutenant. The suit alleges violations to his constitutional rights, and includes assault, illegal search and illegal detention.
4-12-21 More transgender people are hiding their identity at work in the U.K. Why?
A recent survey by a U.K. recruitment company indicates that over two-thirds of transgender people nationwide continue to conceal their identity at work, and the numbers are increasing. Ashleigh Talbot, a transgender woman, used to hide her identity when she worked at a customer support center in Manchester, England. Almost 80 percent of her colleagues were male, and the culture was very "laddish," she said. "All of the work parties were just, 'Let's go and get smashed on Stella [beer],' kind of thing," she said. "And I witnessed lots of homophobia toward another one of my colleagues. Talbot says she sensed that if she came out as a transgender woman in that environment, it wouldn't go down well. Instead, she handed in her notice and left the company. That was in 2012. Talbot, who now works as a transgender activist, says that wasn't the last time she felt discriminated against at work because of her gender identity. And, she's not alone. A recent survey by U.K. recruitment company Totaljobs indicates that over two-thirds of transgender people nationwide continue to conceal their identity at work — and the numbers are increasing. By contrast, five years ago, the figure was 50 percent. Some draw a connection to a larger political debate. The rights of the transgender community have been a regular topic in British media in the last few years after the government announced a planned review of the Gender Recognition Act in 2018. The law governs how transgender people can have their gender identity legally recognized. The transgender community argued that the current law is demeaning and invasive. But much of the debate around the bill descended into a row about the rights of transgender women to access women-only spaces. The issue is hardly exclusive to Britain but the groups advocating most vocally in favor of women-only spaces that exclude transgender women are different from those who do so in the U.S. for example, Talbot says. "It's exactly the same rhetoric. You know, 'Trans people are a threat, a danger to kids, etc.' But on one side of the Atlantic, you've got hardcore, evangelical Republican Christians saying exactly the same thing as the people on the other side of the pond who are calling themselves 'progressive feminists.'" Many of those progressive feminists hold influential positions in respected British newspapers, Talbot says. The Guardian newspaper, a center-left broadsheet, found itself embroiled in the issue after one of its columnists, Suzanne Moore, wrote an opinion piece advocating for single-sex spaces. Over the following days, 338 members of The Guardian's staff wrote a letter to the paper's editor about the newspaper's "pattern of publishing transphobic content," which they said cemented its "reputation as a publication hostile to trans rights and trans employees." Moore has since left the publication. Talbot says the frequency with which British newspapers have published articles about transgender rights is unsettling — and adds that the majority of opinion pieces are hostile to the community. "For a period, every single Sunday, there was something in one of the big newspapers that was just overtly transphobic or misleading. It's astonishingly often, given that the trans community is such a small percentage of the population." Reform of the Gender Recognition Act was eventually shelved by the British government last year but debates about women-only spaces have continued. Dr. Sophie Lewis, visiting scholar at the Alice Paul Center for Research on Gender, Sexuality and Women at the University of Pennsylvania, says the political climate of the last four years with Brexit in Britain and former President Donald Trump in the U.S. has made things even more challenging for transgender people. (Webmaster's comment: ALL HOMOPHOBES ARE SICK!)
4-12-21 Yuri Gagarin: Sixty years since the first man went into space
Sixty years ago, a man went into space for the very first time. For the USSR, Yuri Gagarin’s single orbit of the Earth was a huge achievement and propaganda coup. There will be celebrations across Russia to mark the anniversary. Our Moscow correspondent Steve Rosenberg reports on the day a new Russian hero was born, and meets the little girl who witnessed it. (Webmaster's comment: The USSR built the first space station, first space walks, first woman in space. So much for the great America!)
4-11-21 How health insurance is faring under COVID
Millions of Americans lost employer-sponsored coverage when COVID-19 disrupted their jobs. Can America come up with a better system? About 158 million Americans, including workers and their dependents, obtained health insurance through an employer in 2019. Then came the COVID-19 pandemic, sending the nation's unemployment rate to a historic high of 14.8 percent in April 2020. The rate remains elevated — 6.0 percent as of March — compared with pre-pandemic levels. So what happened to health coverage for all these people? Millions lost their insurance when jobs went away, but exactly how many is still far from clear, with estimates ranging from a low of 3.1 million Americans losing employer-sponsored insurance during 2020, to as many of 27 million. This would be in addition to the more than 35 million people who had no insurance at all in late 2019. COVID-19's true effects on America's uninsured rate will not be known until the government's official insurance survey is completed later this year. There are reasons for the lack of clarity. Some who lost jobs early in the pandemic have returned to work, and some may have enrolled in Medicaid or purchased insurance through the health-care marketplaces. Other people lost jobs and job-related insurance benefits later on during the pandemic. And though coverage may be available for many, "they have to go out and find it when a lot of other things in their lives are pretty complicated," says economist Sherry Glied, dean of New York University's Robert F. Wagner Graduate School of Public Service. "This has been one of those moments that has exposed the complexity of our health insurance system and the demands we put on people to manage that." Glied, who examined how the Affordable Care Act increased disease screenings and other aspects of preventive care in a 2018 article she coauthored in the Annual Review of Public Health, spoke with Knowable Magazine about whether America's health insurance system is serving the country well during the pandemic. The health insurance system in the United States is very complicated, but the easiest part of it is that people 65 and over all get their health insurance through Medicare. Most people under 65 get insurance through employers, either through their own job or the job of a family member, because spouses and kids can be covered under an employed person's job. Another chunk of people who are low-income get health insurance through the Medicaid program, which is paid for in part by the federal government and in part by the states. Then there's a small group of people who buy insurance on their own as individuals. Today, most of them are getting their coverage through the Obamacare marketplaces that were set up through the Affordable Care Act. Then there is still a group of people who are uninsured. In 2019, about 10 percent were uninsured, according to the main survey from which we learn about health insurance. We won't know how that changed in 2020 until those survey results are published later this year. You can see from my description of the whole system that there is a lot of potential for people to fall between the cracks, and COVID has increased the number of people who are in those spaces. One reason that we have seen disproportionate COVID morbidity and mortality among low-income people is because of the high level of preexisting conditions — diabetes, high blood pressure, asthma, and so forth — among that population. And that is partly because of a long history of people not having continuous health insurance and not having access to appropriate care. We have always known that, of course. And COVID didn't cause those preexisting conditions. But COVID has really brought to light the high level of those conditions that already existed.
4-11-21 Italian American groups fight to keep Columbus Day in Philadelphia
Italian American groups have filed a lawsuit in Philadelphia after the city's mayor replaced the Columbus Day holiday with Indigenous People's Day. Officially observed since 1937, it commemorates Christopher Columbus landing in the Americas in 1492. The federal suit alleges the switch is among several "continued, unrelenting, and intentionally discriminatory acts" against those of Italian descent. The city's mayor has dismissed the suit as a "political ploy". Columbus' complicated legacy has led to calls to cancel the holiday. On the 500th anniversary of Columbus' voyage, in 1992, the city of Berkeley, California declared the day an "Indigenous People's Day", to mark the European colonisation of North America and its impact on Native American people and their cultures. Fourteen US states and the District of Columbia, as well as over 130 cities, have since followed suit and now celebrate 12 October as a day to honour Native American heritage. The 36-page lawsuit filed on Tuesday in the US District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania accuses Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney of acting "unilaterally" when he chose to rename the holiday this January. A lawyer for the plaintiffs told CBS News Philadelphia it was meant to be "a power check" on the mayor's office. In their complaint, the Conference of Presidents of Major Italian American Organisations, the 1492 Society, and an Italian American member of the Philadelphia City Council state: "While both groups' ethnicity deserves recognition, Mayor Kenney may not take action that discriminates against Italian Americans to exalt another ethnic group in its place." The suit calls for voiding the name change, but it also makes several unexpected claims. One assertion, made without evidence, states there is rising persecution of Italian Americans "at levels not seen since the 1920s", a time when the US set quotas on the inflow of Italian immigrants. (Webmaster's comment: Columbus was a monster! He would crucify indians 13 at a time for not giving him enough gold! Visit http://www.siouxfallsfreethinkers.com/the-truth-about-columbus.html)
4-11-21 US army officer sues police over violent traffic stop
A black US army lieutenant has filed a lawsuit against two policemen who pointed their guns and pepper-sprayed him during a traffic stop. Army Second Lieutenant Caron Nazario is still in his uniform during the bodycam footage, taken in December in Virginia. "I'm honestly afraid to get out," he tells the two police officers. "Yeah you should be," an officer says. A police report says his car was stopped for failing to display tags but a temporary dealer plate is visible. During the incident, the soldier, who was handcuffed while his car was searched, asked why force was being used against him and was told by a police officer: "Because you're not co-operating." He was later released without charge. The suit, filed at the US District Court of Norfolk, Virginia, against the two Windsor Police Department officers, Joe Gutierrez and Daniel Crocker, alleges violations to his constitutional rights, and includes assault, illegal search and illegal detention. There was no immediate response from the Windsor Police Department when approached by US broadcaster CBS. The lawsuit comes at a time of increased scrutiny over alleged police brutality towards minorities and racial justice. Ex-police officer Derek Chauvin is currently on trial for the murder of George Floyd. The footage of Mr Chauvin, who is white, with his knee on African-American Mr Floyd's neck during an arrest sparked global protests against racism. Lt Nazario, who is Black and Latino, was in uniform and driving with a temporary paper licence plate on his back window on 5 December, when he was told to pull over in the town of Windsor. He then stopped at a petrol station and kept his hands outside the window, while asking the policemen why he was being stopped. Attorney Jonathan Arthur, who is representing Lt Nazario in the lawsuit, said that the army officer knew it was vital he kept his hands on show. "To unbuckle his seatbelt, to do anything, any misstep - he was afraid that they were going to kill him," Mr Arthur told CBS.
4-11-21 US soldier faces guns and pepper spray in traffic stop
A black US army lieutenant has filed a lawsuit against two police officers who pointed their guns at him and pepper-sprayed his face during a traffic stop. Lt Caron Nazario was pulled over while wearing his uniform in December in Windsor, Virginia. A police report says his car was stopped for not displaying a licence plate, but a temporary one is visible.
4-11-21 Covid-19: India vaccination crosses 100 million doses
India says it has become the "fastest country in the world" to administer more than 100 million doses of coronavirus vaccines, amid a deadly second wave of infections. It achieved the feat in 85 days, whereas the US took 89 days and China 102 days, the health ministry said. But the country reported a record daily increase of over 150,000 cases - and more than 800 new deaths - on Sunday. And there are reports the vast vaccination drive itself is struggling. This week, half a dozen states reported a shortage of doses even as the federal government insisted that it had 40 million doses in stock and that the "allegations" of vaccine scarcity were "utterly baseless". The inoculation drive aims to cover 250 million people by July, but experts say the pace needs to pick up further to meet the target. Everyone aged over 45 is now eligible for jabs at vaccination centres and hospitals. Most doses have so far been given to frontline workers and the over-60s. Since the pandemic began, India has confirmed more than 12 million cases and over 167,000 deaths. It has the third-highest number of Covid-19 infections in the world after the United States and Brazil. The country's drugs regulator has given the green light to two vaccines - one developed by AstraZeneca with Oxford University (Covishield) and one by Indian firm Bharat Biotech (Covaxin). Several other candidates are at different stages of trials. India launched its vaccination drive on 16 January, but it was limited to healthcare workers and frontline staff - a sanitation worker became the first Indian to receive the vaccine. From 1 March, the eligibility criteria was expanded to include people over 60 and those aged between 45 and 59 with other illnesses. The third phase, which began on 1 April, includes everyone above the age of 45.
4-10-21 Derek Chauvin trial: Police restraint killed George Floyd, expert says
George Floyd died because of how police restrained him, a medical expert at the trial of ex-police officer Derek Chauvin in Minneapolis has said. Forensic pathologist Dr Lindsey Thomas said "the activities of the law enforcement officers resulted in Mr Floyd's death" from lack of oxygen. Mr Chauvin, 45, was filmed kneeling on Mr Floyd's neck for more than nine minutes during his arrest last May. The ex-officer 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. Prosecutors are trying to prove Mr Chauvin's use of force resulted in Mr Floyd's death, while Mr Chauvin's defence are seeking to show he was following his training and that drugs and heart disease may have caused Mr Floyd's death. On Friday, the prosecution also called medical examiner Dr Andrew Michael Baker, who performed the post-mortem examination of Mr Floyd. He said Mr Floyd's death was due to his interaction with law enforcement, but said his drug use and underlying heart disease also played a role. The official autopsy of George Floyd makes no mention of asphyxia, but Dr Thomas - a veteran forensic pathologist who has performed well over 5,000 autopsies in multiple US states - said she believed it was the primary manner by which he died. Dr Thomas reviewed Mr Floyd's autopsy, medical reports and other materials on behalf of the prosecution. She also trained Dr Andrew Baker, the chief medical examiner who issued Mr Floyd's official death certificate. "This is not a sudden cardiac death," she said. "It's a death where both the heart and lungs stopped working." She said Mr Floyd was unable to get oxygen into his lungs with three police officers on top of him because he was handcuffed, in a prone position and had a knee on his neck. "What that means is the activities of the law enforcement officers resulted in Mr Floyd's death." She said she could confidently rule out other possible causes of death, including a drug overdose, a fatal heart attack and lung disease.
4-9-21 How red states silence urban voters
It's not just vote suppression. Just as one of the major storylines of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 was President Donald Trump facing off against Democratic governors like Andrew Cuomo and Gavin Newson, much of the current political wrangling over COVID is being framed as President Biden urging caution versus GOP governors, like Florida's Ron DeSantis and Texas's Greg Abbott, throwing their states open without masks. But below the surface, there's been a possibly more consequential fight over COVID that has not received nearly as much attention. It's not between the president and the states, but between red state governors and their blue cities, which almost universally promoted mask mandates and other mitigation measures — and by all evidence were the key element staunching the spread of the virus in those states. That red state-blue city conflict on COVID also reflects a more far-ranging battle, itself part of the ideological right turn in the Republican Party over the last decade, in which Republican-dominated states have attacked local government power, as cities even in red states become more liberal and non-white. The recent Georgia legislation giving the state the power to override local election boards is of a piece with wave after wave of state legislation that has preempted local minimum wage laws, overturned local gay rights bills, and nullified local paid sick days bills. What is most dangerous about recent governors' actions on COVID-19 is less the elimination of statewide mask mandates and more that governors like Arizona's Doug Ducey, who never implemented a state rule, shut down local mandates in March. "The horrible surge last June was only curbed by masking — when the governor finally allowed cities to do it," Phoenix Mayor Kate Gallego tweeted in response. City leaders in Dallas, Houston, and Austin condemned the similar decision by Texas Governor Greg Abbott to overturn local mask mandates, with even fellow Republican Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Rice saying his action was "premature." But until last month, almost every major city and dense county in the nation had mask mandates in place, one reason comparing "red state" and "blue state" responses to the pandemic made little sense. In fact, Miami-Dade had perhaps the most aggressive mask enforcement in the nation, citing hundreds of businesses and individuals for non-compliance and collecting nearly $300,000 in fines — at least until Florida Gov. DeSantis ended local government's ability to collect fines in September 2020. It's reasonable to see these aggressive local actions as a key reason 80 to 90 percent of Americans were reporting wearing masks by fall 2020, even in red states, and that the spread of the virus was reduced. One Kansas study found that spread of the virus decreased in its counties with mask mandates, while increased significantly in those without one, while a study in Oklahoma showed similar differences in spread of the disease in cities with and without local mandates. In Oklahoma, where almost every major city had mask mandates, two-thirds of COVID-19 hospitalizations came from nonmasking jurisdictions. If this success on masking shows the importance of local government action, the shutdown of that local flexibility by red state governors last month reflects the broader trend of expanding state preemption of local power in large swathes of public policy.
4-9-21 Covid-19 news: EU drugs regulator reviewing Johnson & Johnson 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. The EU’s medicines regulator is reviewing a small number of reports of rare blood clots in people who received the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. The European Union’s medicines regulator is reviewing four reported cases of rare blood clots associated with low levels of platelets – small particles in the blood that normally help in clotting – including one case which was fatal, in people who received the Johnson & Johnson covid-19 vaccine. The European Medicines Agency (EMA) is also reviewing five reported cases of a bleeding condition, called capillary leak syndrome, in people who received the Oxford/AstraZeneca covid-19 vaccine. “At this stage, it is not yet clear whether there is a causal association” between the vaccines and the reported conditions, the EMA said. Both the Oxford/AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson vaccines are based on viral vector technologies, which use inactivated cold viruses to deliver genes encoding the coronavirus spike protein into the body to stimulate an immune response. World Health Organization director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus has said there is a “shocking imbalance” in the distribution of covid-19 vaccines worldwide. During a briefing on 9 April, he said most countries don’t have anywhere near enough vaccine doses to cover the most at-risk groups. “On average in high-income countries, almost one in four people has received a covid-19 vaccine. In low-income countries, it’s one in more than 500,” he said. An estimated one in 340 people in England had covid-19 in the week up to 3 April, up slightly from one in 370 the previous week, according to the latest results of a random swab testing survey by the Office for National Statistics. An error in vaccine production is expected to result in an 85 per cent reduction in deliveries of Johnson & Johnson vaccine doses to US states in the week beginning 12 April, compared to the previous week.
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.