Month: February 2020

New US Guidelines Will Allow Faster Coronavirus Testing

Federal regulators are allowing hospitals and other laboratories to develop their own tests for the coronavirus in an effort to relieve what critics say is a shortage of testing for the virus.  The urgency for testing is growing as health officials report several new coronavirus cases in the United States and the country’s first death — a man in his 50s from Washington state.The new policy unveiled on Saturday by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), follows criticism that a lack of testing has allowed the virus to spread undetected.”It’s going to be really useful for greatly expanding the number of places that can do the tests,” said Jennifer Nuzzo, a senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security.  Hospitals have been sending samples to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in Atlanta for testing. Getting results takes 48 hours.Problems with CDC testThe CDC had produced a test for health departments across the country to use. But many reported problems with the tests giving inconclusive results. The problem was traced to an improperly manufactured ingredient. The CDC said the test could be used with the other components. In addition, it plans to send out new test kits to public health labs.  In the meantime, however, the problems limited the ability of health care workers to test patients for coronavirus.  “If we had the ability to test earlier, I’m sure we would have identified patients earlier,” said Jeff Duchin, an official of Seattle & King County Public Health, during a conference call with reporters.  Washington state identified two new cases on Friday, including one with no known connection to other cases, which raises concerns that the virus is spreading undetected.  The New York State health department, some hospital labs and others had developed their own tests. But since they had not been approved by the FDA, their results were not considered valid.  Hospital labs had criticized the approval process in a letter to Congress Friday, FILE – Personnel at the the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention work at the Emergency Operations Center in response to the 2019 novel coronavirus, Feb. 13, 2020, in Atlanta.New FDA policy
On Saturday, the FDA issued a new policy allowing these labs to develop their own assays, and issued instructions for how to validate the tests.”This approval will expedite wait time and improve New York’s ability to more effectively manage the coronavirus situation as it unfolds,” New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said in a statement.Rather than needing to send tests to Atlanta, or even to a state health lab, tests will be available at local hospitals or commercial labs.”The closer we can put it towards patients, the better it’ll be for clinicians,” Nuzzo, of Johns Hopkins, said.

Ecuador Reports 1st Coronavirus Case; Mexico Reports 2 More

Officials in Ecuador on Saturday confirmed the first case of the new coronavirus in the South American nation, while Mexico reported two more cases and Brazil one more.
Ecuador’s Health Minister Catalina Andramuno Zeballos said a more-than-70-year-old Ecuadoran woman who lives in Spain arrived in the country on Feb. 14 showing no symptoms of illness.
“In the following days she began to feel badly with a fever,” Andramuno said at a news conference, adding that she was taken to a medical center. The National Institute of Public Health and Investigation in Ecuador confirmed the virus.
The deputy minister of health, Julio Lopez said that the patient’s condition was “critical.”
It was the second case in South America, following a Brazilian case reported on Wednesday. The Sao Paulo state health department reported another Brazilian case later on Saturday _ a person who had recently visited Italy.
Ecuadoran President Lenin Moreno sent out a tweet urging people to stay calm, and the Interior Ministry announced it was barring mass gatherings in the cities of Guayaquil – where the infected woman was located – and Babahoyo.People wearing face masks wearing masks wait for the arrival of their relatives at the Mariscal Sucre International Airport, in Quito, Ecuador, Feb. 29, 2020.Mexico’s Health Department said late Friday that a new case had been confirmed in Mexico City, adding to the first two confirmed cases announced earlier that day. One of those was also in the capital, and the other in the northwestern state of Sinaloa.
Miguel Riquelme Solis, the governor of the northern border state of Coahuila, said Saturday that federal health officials had confirmed a fourth case, in the city of Torreon: a 20-year-old woman who traveled to Europe, including Milan, Italy, in January and February and returned to Mexico in recent days.
“Two days later she began to have symptoms,” Riquelme told Milenio television.
State Health Secretary Roberto Bernal said the woman was in good health. She and family members were under a 14-day quarantine, and two other young people who traveled with her had been in contact with authorities.
Mexican health officials said the country is not currently facing a national emergency over the virus.
Assistant Health Secretary Hugo Lopez-Gatell said that as long as the country is seeing only isolated cases there’s no need to take “extreme measures such as canceling mass events.”
Mexico was ground zero for the 2009 outbreak of the H1N1 virus, also called swine flu, and many in the country have vivid memories of that time.
Back then many stayed home as much as possible and avoided gatherings out of fear. Shops, restaurants and other businesses closed. In the capital, streets were eerily quiet compared with the usual chaotic traffic.
So far there has been no repeat of that sort of fear.
There were reports of increased purchases of items like face masks and hand sanitizer, and the National Alliance of Small Businesses said shortages of those items would likely cause prices to rise.
The Roman Catholic Bishops Conference in Mexico said parishioners should avoid physical contact during the ritual exchange of wishes for peace and said communion wafers should be placed in Mass-goers’ hands instead of their mouths.    

Trump Seeks to Reassure Nation After 1st US Coronavirus Death

U.S. President Donald Trump, flanked by Vice President Mike Pence and members of the administration’s coronavirus task force, on Saturday sought to reassure the country as the first domestic death from the new disease was reported.Trump called for the media and politicians “not do anything to incite a panic because there’s no reason to panic at all.””Whatever the circumstance, we’re prepared,” he said.Trump’s administration is imposing further travel restrictions related to Iran due to a significant coronavirus outbreak there and issuing “do not travel” warnings for the regions of Italy and South Korea that have been hardest hit by COVID-19.Trump has authorized a ban on foreign nationals who have traveled to Iran in the past 14 days, announced by Pence, who added that the State Department is working with the Italian and South Korean governments to enhance screenings in those countries of individuals traveling to the United States.  Additional travel restrictions could be imposed, including along the border with Mexico. “We’re thinking about all borders,” Trump said.The president took to the podium in the Brady Briefing Room in the White House West wing shortly after officials in the state of Washington, in the northwest United States, announced the country’s first COVID-19 death.Trump, at his second news conference in four days about the virus, said, “If you’re healthy, you’ll probably go through a process and you’ll be fine.”Other health officials stressed that they expect most of the of COVID-19 fatalities will be older people with existing serious health problems.Worldwide, 15% to 20% of those who have contracted the virus have needed advanced medical care, Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said.Trump announced he will meet Monday with executives of pharmaceutical companies to discuss the development of a coronavirus vaccine.A large monitor displaying a map of Asia and a tally of total coronavirus cases, deaths, and recovered, is visible as Vice President Mike Pence and Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar tour the Secretary’s Operations CenterAsked by VOA what powers he could invoke to expedite the drug approval process so a coronavirus vaccine could be deployed quicker, Trump said, “Democrat, Republican, liberal, conservative, this process will go very quickly.””The process will go very quickly” to approve a #coronavirus vaccine, says @POTUS in response to my question and he adds that the Monday meeting with pharmaceutical executives was set up before the #coronavirus crisis to discuss drug prices.— Steve Herman (@W7VOA) February 29, 2020The head of the Food and Drug Administration, Stephen Hahn, added: “We’re using our authorities in an expedited fashion to help with the development of therapeutics, particularly around the coronavirus.”Hahn said a policy was issued Saturday morning “that allows us to have a lot of flexibility around the development of diagnostic test” and that is expected to also have a significant impact in expediting approvals of a vaccine.The timing of the unusual Saturday afternoon briefing underscored the seriousness of the crisis for the administration, which has faced criticism for a tardy and disorganized response to the spread of the disease, especially from Democratic Party leaders in Congress.Asked about his remarks the previous evening at a political rally referring to the coronavirus crisis as the latest hoax of the Democrats, Trump said he was not intending to minimize the coronavirus threat.“Again, the hoax was used in respect to Democrats and what they were saying,” Trump said.Democratic and Republican lawmakers also have said his request for an additional $2.5 billion to defend against the virus was not enough. Trump has said he is willing to accept billions more from Congress to fight the disease.Amid the coronavirus fears, U.S. stock indexes suffered their largest drops the past week since the 2008 global financial crisis.“The markets will all come back,” Trump said, again encouraging the Federal Reserve, the country’s central bank, to cut interest rates.“I think the Fed has a very important role, especially psychological,” he said. “If you look at it, the Fed has a massive impact.”

Nigeria Confirms First Coronavirus Case as Africa Braces for Pandemic

Nigerian officials have confirmed a case of coronavirus in the country, the first confirmed case in sub-Saharan Africa. Africa is braced for a potential coronavirus pandemic as experts warn health systems on the continent could be overwhelmed.  However, experts say the apparent delay in the virus reaching Africa has given health officials precious time to prepare, as Henry Ridgwell reports.

Nigeria Health Officials Prepare for Possible Outbreak After 1st Coronavirus Case Confirmed

Nigerian Health authorities  are preparing to handle any possible outbreak and urge citizens to remain calm.
“We have enough reagents to do the checking now, there are four laboratories in Nigeria that can test for this particular virus,” Health Minister Emmanuel Osagie said. “We also have a system for sample transport, so samples can be taken from somewhere and transported to a testing center within a few hours. So that is part of the network that we have prepared.”The effort comes as officials confirmed the country’s  first case of the coronavirus.  Nigerian health authorities say the patient is a man from Italy — a country hit hard by the virus — who works in Nigeria and returned from the Italian city of Milan to Nigeria’s economic hub, Lagos, days ago.This makes Nigeria the first country in sub-Saharan Africa to record a case of the virus, which is blamed for more than 2,800 deaths worldwide.Sorry, but your browser cannot support embedded video of this type, you can
download this video to view it offline. Embed” />CopyHealth minister Osagie says they’re working with airline officials to identify other passengers who may have had contact with the infected patient, in order to prevent further spread.
“We are going to get the manifest and then do a contact tracing and find all the people who were there.” Osagie said.  “Usually we get their numbers and addresses and monitor them. We are not going to assume that all of them are OK or will fall sick, but advise anyone who has any symptoms to report and be monitored.”The coronavirus was first reported in Wuhan, China, in December.A recent assessment by the World Health Organization named Nigeria as one of 12 countries in Africa at high risk of the coronavirus threat, because of the high level of travel and trade between the West African country and China.A man wearing face mask walks at the Yaba Mainland hospital where an Italian citizen who entered Nigeria on Tuesday from Milan on a business trip, the first case of the COVID-19 virus is being treated in Lagos Nigeria, Feb. 28, 2020.At an Abuja public briefing, WHO Health official  Dr. Clement Peter, admitted that the coronavirus issue is serious and challenging to contain.
“Indeed globally, the sounding from WHO is very clear,” he said. “We don’t know how this outbreak is going to go. While things should be stabilizing in China gradually, many countries are getting cases that have no link to China.”
The coronavirus has killed more than 2,800 people, and infected more than 83,000 in over 50 countries.Nigerian health officials are hoping that no other cases turn up in Lagos, one of the largest and most densely populated cities in the world. 

Mexico Confirms First Coronavirus Infections

Mexican health authorities announced Friday they have confirmed the first two cases of coronavirus in Mexico.A man in Mexico City who recently visited Italy tested positive Friday, and another patient is confirmed in the northern state of Sinaloa. Brazil is the only other country that has coronavirus in Latin America.The coronavirus emerged in at least five other countries Friday: Azerbaijan, Belarus, Lithuania, New Zealand and Nigeria.The case in Nigeria, detected in the economic capital Lagos, is the first case in sub-Saharan Africa and the third to be confirmed in Africa. Nigerian officials said the case involved an Italian citizen who entered the country this week.In Azerbaijan, a Russian citizen who had arrived from Iran has been confirmed with the virus, and in Belarus an Iranian student who arrived from Azerbaijan tested positive.Lithuania also announced Friday, a woman who returned this week from a visit to Italy tested positive.New Zealand confirmed its first coronavirus case Friday, saying a recent arrival from Iran had tested positive.People wearing protective masks walk on street in Minsk, Belarus, Feb. 28, 2020. Azerbaijan, Belarus, Lithuania, New Zealand and Nigeria have reported their first cases of coronavirus.In the Netherlands, first case was confirmed late Thursday and another Friday, both had recently traveled in Northern Italy.The number of new coronavirus cases has dropped in the center of the outbreak, China, but has risen in South Korea — the hardest-hit country outside China.China’s National Health Commission reported 327 new cases and 44 deaths early Friday — the lowest number of new cases in more than a month.But the number in South Korea reached 2,337, with 571 new cases and 16 deaths. Most of the cases are in Daegu, the South’s fourth largest city.At least 46 countries are reporting cases, and governments in Asia, Europe, and the Middle East are taking some extraordinary steps to contain the virus.The United States and South Korea called off joint military drills. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has ordered schools to close at least through March.A sign advertising protective face masks is marked “Sold out” inside a store in Berlin, Germany, Feb. 28, 2020.About 1,000 people were in quarantine in Germany’s most populous state, as the number of confirmed cases in Europe’s biggest economy exceeded 50.California health officials said they were monitoring 8,400 people for symptoms after their arrival on domestic flights.Australian doctors warned the public health system could be overwhelmed in the event of a pandemic, a day after the government launched its emergency response program.As of Friday, there were more than 83,670 coronavirus cases worldwide, and more than 2,865 deaths. Most of the cases are in China. 

Switzerland Bans Large Events to Stem Coronavirus

The Swiss government is taking the unprecedented step of banning all public events that have more than 1,000 people in response to a growing number of cases of coronavirus in the country.The latest number of reported cases of coronavirus infections in Switzerland is 19. An estimated 100 people are in quarantine.The ban, expected to extend until at least mid-March, has interrupted a number of events, but Swiss authorities say the government’s top priority is to protect the population.The ban comes in the middle of carnival season, which draws thousands of merrymakers to Swiss towns and villages. One of the biggest casualties is the Geneva International Motor Show, which was scheduled to run March 5 to 15, and attracts about 500,000 visitors every year.Cars and workers are pictured at the Palexpo exhibition center as the 90th edition of the International Motor Show is canceled to curb the spread of the coronavirus, in Geneva, Switzerland, Feb. 28, 2020.The United Nations is unsure how the Swiss Federal Council’s decision will affect large-scale events scheduled to take place on its premises. For now, the Human Rights Council is the only mass gathering at the U.N. in Geneva.  U.N. Spokesman Rolando Gomez says the news is fresh and he does not know how it will play out. The council session, which examines human rights violations around the world, is due to last until March 20.”Obviously, you well know there are well over 1,000 participants at the council,” he said.Switzerland’s first case of COVID-19 was confirmed Tuesday in the Ticino region, which has cross-border traffic with Italy, Europe’s worst-hit country. The World Health Organization says Italy now has 400 cases of coronavirus, and numbers are continuing to rise.  As of Friday morning, the WHO reported more than 83,000 cases of COVID-19 in China, including 2,058 deaths. It reported 4,351 cases in 49 countries outside China, and 67 deaths.  Nigeria, the most populous country in sub-Saharan Africa, just reported its first case of coronavirus, as did Mexico.

Free Menstrual Products a Step Closer in Scotland

In an effort to end “period poverty,” the Scottish Parliament on Tuesday moved Scotland a step closer to becoming the first country in the world to to provide free sanitary pads and tampons in public places.The Period Products (Free Provision) (Scotland) Bill passed 112-0, with one abstention. If the bill moves past the second phase, where legislators propose amendments, free menstrual products will be available in places such as pharmacies, community centers and youth clubs.Menstrual products are currently taxed as luxury items.The cost of the legislation is estimated to be $31 million a year. Scotland has already made strides in ending the 5% “tampon tax.”In 2018, the country created a national policy that ensured free pads and tampons in schools and universities. The European Union plans to remove a sales tax on menstrual products by 2022 and let individual countries decide the prices.“(This) is a milestone moment for normalizing menstruation in Scotland, and sending out that real signal to people in this country about how seriously parliament takes gender equality,” the bill’s sponsor, Monica Lennon, said during Parliament’s debate. “We are changing the culture, and it’s really exciting that other countries right around the world are watching very closely to see what we do.”

Rains Bring Relief as Water Again Flows Through Zimbabwe’s Victoria Falls

After a long and unsettling dry spell, the water at Zimbabwe’s Victoria Falls is flowing again, fed by rains upstream in Angola and Namibia. But as Columbus Mavhunga reports from Victoria Falls, experts and environmentalists say global warming is having a huge impact across Africa, and the continent needs to take immediate action to help reverse the trend.

Over 100 Guests Cleared to Leave Tenerife Hotel on Coronavirus Lockdown

None of the remaining 700-plus guests at a hotel in Spain’s Canary Islands on lockdown
over the coronavirus have shown any symptoms of the virus and 130 of them have been cleared to leave, a spokesman for the regional government said on Thursday.”All these tourists, clients, guests present no symptoms … and a decision has been made that frees the hotel from the presence of 130 people,” he said in televised comments. “At the same time, there is the possibility that the remaining ones … could be leaving the hotel as soon as a similar situation is verified,” he added.The guests and staff in Tenerife’s H10 Costa Adeje Palace Hotel have spent three days in isolation after the coronavirus was detected there in four Italian tourists.Spain’s total number of active coronavirus cases rose to 15 on Thursday from 11, with the bulk of them linked to Italy, hit by the worst outbreak of the disease yet seen in Europe, with 528 cases and 14 deaths. The four infected people in the hotel were all Italians.

US Senate Majority Leader McConnell Hopes to See Coronavirus Funding Bill Within 2 Weeks

U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said on Thursday that he expects Senate
appropriators to produce funding legislation within the next two weeks to fight the spread of coronavirus in the United States.
McConnell, speaking on the Senate floor, said he has faith that bipartisan discussions on the Senate Appropriations
Committee would agree on “the right sum … at this time to ensure our nation’s needs are fully funded.”
“I hope they can work expeditiously so the full Senate would be able to take up the legislation within the next two weeks,” the Kentucky Republican said.

Officials: Chinese Industry Recovering from Coronavirus, More Aid Coming

Small, mostly private companies that are the engine of China’s economy are back to operating at one-third of normal levels after anti-virus controls shut factories, shops and restaurants, regulators said Thursday, and they promised more low-cost loans and other aid.
The ruling Communist Party has ordered areas that are at lower disease risk to revive manufacturing and other businesses that have been shut for a month. That comes at a time when outbreaks in South Korea, Italy and Iran are leading to travel bans and other controls abroad.
At a news conference, officials expressed confidence China’s 18 million small and medium-size enterprises are recovering quickly. The category includes most of the privately owned restaurants, factories, stores and other companies that generate its new jobs and wealth.
Activity overall is back to 33% of normal levels, while manufacturing reached 43%, said an official of the Cabinet’s planning agency, Zhang Kejian, at a news conference. He said activity was increasing by about 1% per day.
Beijing imposed the most sweeping anti-disease controls ever attempted after the virus emerged in the central city of Wuhan in December.
Most access to Wuhan was suspended Jan. 23. The Lunar New Year holiday was extended to keep factories and offices closed. Restaurants and cinemas were shuttered and the government told millions of people to stay at home. It is unclear how many might have close for good, unable to pay rent and other expenses without revenue.
“Many companies want to resume work as soon as possible,” said Zhang. “But they also worry about risks due to the spread of the epidemic. There is a dilemma.”
Forecasters say automakers and other manufacturers won’t return to normal production until at least mid-March. Auto and other sales are expected to rebound, but tourism and other service industries might not be able to recover lost sales.
Beijing has promised tax breaks and low-interest loans. Economists caution that aid alone won’t solve all their problems because travel curbs and other controls still in place have disrupted shipments of goods and kept employees from getting back to work.
Global automakers are reopening factories but say the pace will depend on how quickly they can get components.
Other officials earlier gave higher operating levels of up to 70% for steel mills and manufacturing in export-oriented coastal areas. That reflected the gap between more prosperous state industry and coastal provinces and companies in lower-income regions.
Many factories in Hubei, the inland province where Wuhan is located, are still closed. Wuhan, a city of 11 million people, is a center for automakers and suppliers of components for smartphones and other products.
The government said earlier more than 1,000 companies have received low-interest loans from a 300 billion yuan ($42 billion) recovery fund set up by the central bank.
Banks that have lent as much as they are allowed will be helped to replenish their capital to “further promote the development of the real economy,” said a central bank vice president, Liu Guoqiang.

Moscow Ships its Trash to its Neighbors, and They’re Fighting Back

Contemporary Moscow can often seem a glittery city of dreams — the Russian capital arguably more efficient, clean and well-run than many of its Western counterparts.  But behind the glamour lies an uncomfortable truth: Russia’s largest city is choking on garbage.     The city’s 12 million residents produce more than 7 million tons of waste per year — 20% of Russia’s entire output — according to government figures. Industrial waste raises that number even higher, and only a fraction of that amount is currently recycled.   For now, most ends up in places like Alexandrov, a picturesque historic town just a few hours’ drive from the capital that’s home to one of several dozen landfills that surround Moscow.  Sorry, but your browser cannot support embedded video of this type, you can
FILE – In this photo taken April 20, 2018, garbage trucks unload the trash at the Volovichi landfill near Kolomna, Russia.Whichever way the wind blows really mattersA sudden shift in the wind in Alexandrov and suddenly, the acrid odor is inescapable.Residents told VOA that “like radiation,” Alexandrov’s landfill is ultimately something most residents see more than feel. “You can smell the landfill from miles way. You can’t breathe at all, ” said Alexander Kuyum, a father of two young boys who recalls growing up in an area that once looked like a 19th century pastoral painting.“The worst thing is, they’ve shipped all this garbage, and now want to ship even more,” he said.  Growing concerns over the landfill’s risks to public health led to the largest protest in recent memory in Alexandrov last December. About 5,000 people filled the local square and demanded the site be closed.  Similar scenes are playing out in dozens of towns across the country, as Russia confronts a trash crisis that has yet to develop effective garbage and recycling programs.  Yet public ire has focused on Moscow, in particular, for imposing its will — and waste — on poorer communities that are finally saying, enough.“I don’t want to leave,” Julia Gribnova, a young mother, said in an interview with VOA. “I’m not saying Moscow should have to live in squalor. I’m just saying that I don’t want them to ship it here.”Local activists fighting the landfill say they’re pegged as troublemakers, harassed by police and smeared on social media for merely wanting clean air in their own backyard.““I don’t want to run and join some protest movement,” said Vitaly Katasov, a young designer and father who joined in the movement. “But I’m not sure there are other options left. The authorities here don’t listen to us.”The lesson of ShestunOne need only look at FILE – A man throws a garbage bag into a trash box in a courtyard in Russia’s second city of St. Petersburg, Feb. 20, 2013.Reduce, recycle, reform  The Kremlin is under growing pressure over the trash wars.   Putin introduced new waste and recycling reforms this year, acknowledging widespread dissatisfaction with an issue that has been a constant feature of the Kremlin’s often stage-managed interactions with Russian voters.   How serious the reforms, and Putin’s intentions, remain a point of debate.  New government measures call for more incineration rather than recycling — a quick but pollutant-heavy solution criticized by environmentalists.  Moreover, the measures exempt major waste-producing cities like Moscow and St. Petersburg for now.   Trucks bearing urban waste continue to run to neighboring towns and municipalities.   Blue binsYet Moscow is, in its own way, pitching in.  The city recently unveiled new blue recycling bins at standard waste collection points near apartment buildings around the city.   As with much in the new Moscow, locals acknowledge the bins are stylish, but questioned their practicality.“I watch people recycling, but without sorting out anything,” said Natalya, a Moscow resident. “And I am not at all sure that my recyclables will go where they’re supposed to.”“The bins are there, but the labels aren’t exactly informative,” noted Ivan, another resident.  For now, Sobirator, a volunteer recycling center in one of Moscow’s industrial zones, is one of the few places where Muscovites can learn to recycle responsibly.“The problem we face is that there’s no trust from the residents that one can really put the recyclables there, and they’ll go where they’re supposed to,” explained Tatyana Vasilyeva of Sobirator.“The first time I came here, it was such a feeling of relief to know that this garbage won’t occupy someplace, somewhere in the ground, but will be recycled,” added Elena, a local photographer.  Back in Alexandrov, a few rare businesses like Brigantina see commerce in manufacturing products from recycled plastics and bottles.“I could employ 20 times the people if the government gave us support,” said Vladimir Nizamov, the company’s owner.Until then, Moscow’s trash mountains continue to grow, dragging Russians to the frontline of a fight it seems everyone wishes they could wipe away.  

Health Officials Urge Governments to Ready Coronavirus Response

As China reported a continued slowdown in new coronavirus cases, world health officials praised the country’s response while alerting other governments to be ready to aggressively react when cases appear within their borders.Chinese health officials said Wednesday there were 406 new cases, almost all of them in Hubei province which has been the center of the outbreak. Of the 52 new deaths, all were in Hubei, an area that has been on lockdown for weeks to prevent the virus from spreading to other areas.Bruce Aylward, who led a joint World Health Organization-China mission on the virus, said at a news conference that his team concluded China’s response “changed the course of this outbreak” and may have prevented hundreds of thousands of people in the country from becoming infected.”What was a rapidly escalating outbreak has plateaued and then come down faster than one would have expected if we had looked at the natural dynamics of an outbreak like this,” Aylward said.A man looks out of a window at the H10 Costa Adeje Palace hotel in La Caleta, in the Canary island of Tenerife, Spain, Feb. 26, 2020. Spanish officials say a tourist hotel in Tenerife has been placed in quarantine.With cases in more than 30 countries, including new ones in Europe and the Middle East this week, Aylward said governments must be thinking about rapidly identifying cases that emerge, searching out people who have been in contact with those patients, and using isolation to prevent virus spread.The message he wants governments to send to citizens: “They should be washing their hands now.”The WHO has several other recommendations for people to stay healthy, including maintaining a distance of at least one meter from anyone who is coughing or sneezing and avoiding touching eyes, nose or mouth. For those who are coughing or sneezing, the WHO says they should cover their mouth with a bent elbow instead of their hands, and those who experience a fever, cough and difficulty breathing should seek medical care.Other countriesWhile China has been hit hardest by far, there have been some 2,700 cases in other countries with more than 40 deaths.South Korea reported its number of cases rose to 1,261 Wednesday with 11 deaths.  The U.S. military said Wednesday one of its soldiers stationed in South Korea tested positive for the virus and was in quarantine.Most of South Korea’s cases have been isolated to the Daegu area, and officials are moving ahead with efforts to test more members of a church whose members make up a large portion of those cases.Elsewhere there is concern about Italy and Iran, from which cases in recent days have been traced to new infections in parts of Europe and the Middle East.Italy has more than 300 cases and 10 deaths. Algeria’s health ministry said Tuesday that an adult Italian had tested positive after arriving in the country last week. That is the African continent’s second case following one in Egypt earlier this month.Brazil’s health ministry announced Wednesday the first case of the coronavirus in Latin America. Health Minister Luiz Henrique Mandetta said a 61-year-old man who returned on February 21 from the Lombardy region of Italy had been diagnosed after conducting secondary testing.Iran has reported 19 deaths among 139 cases. Among those in the region that have tied smaller outbreaks to people who traveled from Iran are Kuwait, which reported Wednesday a rise in cases to 25, and Bahrain, where the state news agency reported 26 cases.The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Tuesday there were 57 cases of the coronavirus in the U.S., an increase from 53 the day before. All of the new cases involve passengers who were evacuated from the Diamond Princess cruise ship in Japan. The CDC said the previously diagnosed cases in the U.S. involve only people who contracted the virus abroad, or who have close contact with someone who visited Hubei, China.Containment plans The officials said that while there is no so-called community spread in the U.S., or instances of people being infected without knowing how or where, now is the time for communities, businesses and hospitals to figure out how to stop the virus from spreading.”It’s not so much a question of if this will happen anymore, but rather more of a question of exactly when this will happen and how many people in this country will become infected and how many of those will develop severe or more complicated disease,” said CDC Principal Deputy Director Anne Schuchat.U.S. President Donald Trump said he would meet Wednesday with CDC and other U.S. health officials about the coronavirus and hold a news conference later in the day.Trump criticized the media Wednesday on Twitter for its coverage of the virus while saying the “CDC and my Administration are doing a GREAT job of handling Caronavirus, including the very early closing of our borders to certain areas of the world.”Global marketsWorries about the economic effects of the virus have rattled global stock markets this week.Global markets generally rebounded Wednesday after markets in Asia closed down about 1%, while British, French and German indexes traded lower.  Health officials say the coronavirus is highly infectious and kills about 2% of its victims, compared with the ordinary flu, which has a 0.1% mortality rate.

Life-Saving Organs Could Be 3D Printed to Order

Imagine how life would change for so many people who need a replacement organ if scientists could just print a new one that works. That’s exactly one of the projects scientists at Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine are working on – 3D bio printed human organs. They’re also working to develop artificial blood vessels and miniature models of a human body using 3d bio printing.  Lesia Bakalets has the story from Winston-Salem, North Carolina in this report narrated by Anna Rice.

Catching Plastic: Fishermen on Frontline of Ocean Clean-up

A group of Spanish fishermen will receive financial support to catch plastic as well as fish, in an innovative new project aimed at tackling the huge amount of garbage dumped in the world’s oceans.Around 12 million tons of plastic waste are dumped into the oceans every year, polluting the water, killing wildlife, and creating microplastics that enter the food chain.Among those taking part in the scheme is Carlos Martin, who skippers the ‘Bonamar 2’ from its home port in Barcelona. VOA joined Martin and his crew at five o’clock on a cold February morning on the dockside, as they began the first task of the day: removing countless strands of cellulose-type plastic from the nets.Some 800 shopping bags made of plastic sewed together in the shape of a fish are laid out by environmental activist group Greenpeace, in a protest against the pollution of oceans by plastic, in a street in Vienna.As he steered the trawler into the dark waters of the Mediterranean, Martin described how the problem has got worse in the last three years. “I put it down to the rivers that carry a lot of garbage,” he says. “More plastic accumulates near the mouths of the rivers.”Martin sails further from the shore to avoid the waste – further adding to his costs. “We separate the solid plastic and we bring it back to land, but the cellulose plastic gets hooked onto the knots of the nets,” he explains. “So, when it’s wet and caked with mud, this adds an extra weight to the fishing nets. The net does not function properly in relation to its height in the water, and it takes on mud, causing the net to break because it weighs so much.”The local government has come up with a novel solution: the fishermen will become the frontline in the battle against ocean plastics.Initially, 1 million euros of taxpayers’ money from the European Union and the Catalan government will support dozens of fishermen like Martin. They won’t receive any money directly, explains Sergi Tudela, the General Director of Catalonia Fisheries who is overseeing the project.“With these funds, they can improve what they need to carry on board – the boxes, all the facilities they need – in order to cope with the problem. And then, of course at the same time, to carry out studies to characterize the origin, the specificities of this marine litter. We are hopeful that if we are successful in this project, this project could be replicated in other areas in the Mediterranean,” Tudela told VOA.FILE – A volunteer shows plastics retrieved from the ocean, after a garbage collection, ahead of World Environment Day, on La Costilla Beach, on the coast of the Atlantic Ocean in Rota, Spain, June 2, 2018.The amount of plastic waste on Spanish beaches has grown by 65% in just six years, according to government figures. Martin says the fishing community now understands the scale of the problem. “Before we didn’t see it that way, we took it and threw it back into the water, we had no conscience. I think that a few years here we have become very aware, nothing is thrown into the water, we collect everything and bring it to shore.”Abandoned fishing gear makes up a big proportion of the estimated 8 to 12 million tonnes of plastic that are dumped into the world’s oceans every year. Martin and his fishing community are determined to change the industry’s image and be part of the global effort to clean up our oceans.

Trump Says Coronavirus ‘Very Well Under Control’ in US

President Donald Trump sought Tuesday to minimize fears about coronavirus spreading rampantly throughout the U.S., saying the situation is “very well under control in our country.”
At the same time, the Trump administration on Monday asked Congress for an additional $2.5 billion to prepare in case of a widespread outbreak and to assist other nations.
“We have very few people with it,” the president said at a news conference in India near the close of a two-day visit.
Trump referenced a group of 14 Americans who tested positive for coronavirus and were among hundreds of U.S. citizens recently evacuated from a cruise ship off the Japanese coast and brought to U.S. facilities.
Trump said those individuals were placed into quarantine and “we think they’ll be in very good shape very, very soon.”
In earlier remarks Tuesday, Trump said he wants the additional $2.5 billion to shore up defenses “in case something should happen” and to help other countries.
The White House budget office said the funding would be used for vaccine development, treatment and protective equipment, but Democrats immediately slammed the request as insufficient.
The budget request came as coronavirus fears were credited with Monday’s 1,000-plus-point drop in the Dow Jones Industrial Average.
The rapid spread of the virus around the world and its threat to the global economy has rocked financial markets, but Trump said China is getting the epidemic under control.
 “They’ve had a rough patch and … it looks like they’re getting it under control more and more,” Trump said. “They’re getting it more and more under control so I think that’s a problem that’s going to go away, but we lost almost 1,000 points yesterday on the (stock) market.”
The funding request released Monday evening came as key government accounts were running low. The Department of Health and Human Services had already tapped into an emergency infectious disease rapid response fund and was seeking to transfer more than $130 million from other HHS accounts to combat the virus but is pressing for more.
The Trump administration is requesting $1.25 billion in new funding and wants to transfer $535 million more from an Ebola preparedness account that’s been a top priority of Democrats. It anticipates shifting money from other HHS accounts and other agencies to complete the $2.5 billion response plan.
Democrats said Trump’s attempt to tap existing Ebola prevention funding was dead on arrival.
“All of the warning lights are flashing bright red. We are staring down a potential pandemic, and the administration has no plan,” said Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., who blasted a shortage of kits to test for the virus and Trump’s proposed budget cuts to health agencies including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “We have a crisis of coronavirus, and President Trump has no plan, no urgency, no understanding of the facts or how to coordinate a response.”
Trump said a “lot of talent” and a “lot of brainpower” was being tapped for the coronavirus response. He criticized Schumer for panning the budget request.
“These characters,”Trump said of Democrats. “They’re just not good for our country.’”   
Democrats in control the House wrote HHS Secretary Alex Azar earlier this month to request funds to help speed development of a coronavirus vaccine, expand laboratory capacity and beef up screening efforts at U.S. entry points. Azar was slated to testify before the Senate Appropriations Committee on Tuesday, and the U.S. response to the outbreak is sure to be a major topic.
The quickly spreading virus has slammed the economy of China, where the virus originated, and caseloads are rapidly increasing in countries such as South Korea, Iran and Italy. More than 80,000 people around the world have been infected with coronavirus, with more than 2,500 deaths, mostly in China.
As of Tuesday, the United States had 35 of the more than 80,000 known cases. Separately, one U.S. citizen died in China.

Dozens of HIV-Positive S. African Women Forcibly Sterilized

A scathing new report reveals that dozens of HIV-positive women were forced or coerced into sterilization after giving birth at public hospitals in South Africa.The Commission for Gender Equality’s report this week says it investigated complaints by at least 48 women of “cruel, torturous or inhumane and degrading treatment” at the hospitals. At times it occurred when women were in labor.
In many cases, “the hospitals’ staff had threatened not to assist them in giving birth” if they didn’t sign the consent forms for sterilization, the report says. The commission is a statutory body that operates as an independent watchdog.
The forced sterilizations at 15 public hospitals in South Africa between 2002 and 2005 have sparked public outrage. Some of the hospitals are in some of the country’s largest cities such as Johannesburg and Durban.
“When I asked the nurse what the forms were for, the nurse responded by saying: ‘You HIV people don’t ask questions when you make babies. Why are you asking questions now? You must be closed up because you HIV people like making babies and it just annoys us,'” the report quotes one complainant as saying.
The commission said its investigation took time because of challenges including some hospital staffers who tried to hide documents or refused to cooperate.
It will refer its report to the Health Professions Council of South Africa, which has a mandate to act against health care practitioners.
The World Health Organization says South Africa has the largest HIV epidemic in the world with more than 7 million people living with the illness. Some 19% of the people around the world with HIV live in the country, which also has 15% of new infections.
The commission has recommended that further research be done into how widespread the practice of forced sterilization of women living with HIV might be in South Africa.

Hand-Washing Critical To Containing Viruses, MIT Study Shows

The coronavirus outbreak has upended air travel and caused people to question the safety of cruises. Travelers have canceled trips to Asia and gone so far as to refrain from eating Chinese food prepared in countries that don’t have any widespread outbreak of the virus called COVID-19.Doctors have warned that an infectious disease anywhere is hours away from being everywhere.Case in point: SARS, severe acute respiratory syndrome. It was first discovered in China in February 2003. It lasted only about six months, but before it was finished, it had spread to more than two dozen countries, mostly through air travel.Christos Nicolaides is a physicist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology who sets up computational models to look at the spread of disease. He spoke to VOA by Skype.”The air transportation network is the main pathway for a global disease spread,” Nicolaides said.Think of all the things you and others touch at an airport. The check-in kiosk, handrails, seats, the buttons on water fountains, table tops. In an airplane, you touch the seat, food trays, arm rests and the door knob to the toilet.When people cough or sneeze droplets of mucus spew through the air and land on surfaces that other people touch.Nicolaides led a study that concludes that if you want “to slow an epidemic, focus on hand-washing.””First of all, we tried to calculate the rate of hand-washing around the world,” Nicolaides said. Previous studies show that 70% of people wash their hands after using a toilet. And out of that number only 6% or 7% do it correctly.”So correctly I mean, they wash their hands with soap and water for at least 15 seconds,” Nicolaides explained. “We did some back of the envelope calculations and we found out that if you visit an airport any time in the world, you will realize that only one of five people have clean hands.”Nicolaides then looked at what he calls super-spreader airports.”A super-spreader airport is an airport that combines two characteristics. The first one is that it has a lot of traffic. A lot of people. And the other characteristic is that it’s connected with many other airports with many other international flights,” Nicolaides said.These airports are basically the ten largest in the world which include the John F. Kennedy in New York, Los Angeles International, London Heathrow, Hong Kong International, Beijing Capital among them.Nicolaides calculated that if 60% of travelers had clean hands, the potential to slow a global disease rose to 69%. But even if just 30% of travelers had clean hands, the spread of disease could drop by 24%.  Nicolaides says educating the public is the key.

Climate Change Could Pose ‘Catastrophic’ Security Threat, Experts Warn

Climate change could become a “catastrophic” threat to global security, as people lose their livelihoods, fall ill and battle over scarce water and food, a host of U.S. security, military and intelligence experts warned on Monday.Pressures from global warming could intensify political tensions, unrest and conflict, fuel violent extremism and break down government security systems, the experts said in a report by the Center of Climate and Security, a nonpartisan policy institute.War-torn countries in Africa and the Middle East were cited as most at risk, but industrialized regions are vulnerable, it said.”Even at scenarios of low warming, each region of the world will face severe risks to national and global security in the next three decades,” the report said.”Higher levels of warming will pose catastrophic, and likely irreversible, global security risks over the course of the 21st century.”Concerns over the impact of climate change have led to calls to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and slow the pace of global warming amid instances of climate-related extreme weather such as wildfires and floods.A United Nations report last year warned of dire consequences as well.The research released on Monday warned of displaced populations driven from their homes by rising heat, drought and dwindling water and food supplies.Disease would spread, and border security and infrastructure would break down as resources grow more scarce, fueling extremism, crime and human trafficking, it said.”We’re really looking at a bleak future if we see more and more countries become fragile,” said Rod Schoonover, a former intelligence analyst and co-author of the report, who spoke at a briefing about the report.Panel members included former U.S. government security officials and climate security experts.The experts assessed threats under two scenarios — if the planet warmed by 1 to 2 degrees Celsius or by 2 to 4 degrees Celsius — by the end of the century.The U.N. has warned that if emissions are not drastically lowered, the average global temperature will increase by 4 degrees Celsius by then.A global pact to fight climate change was agreed upon in Paris in 2015 that aimed to keep the earth’s temperature rise well below 2 degrees Celsius.The administration of President Donald Trump has initiated efforts to pull the United States out of the Paris pact. “I don’t mean to be a doomsayer, but this is bad stuff,” said retired Gen. Gordon Sullivan, a former U.S. Army chief of staff, who spoke at the briefing but was not directly involved in the report.”My question is, ‘Is the U.S. going to lead or are we going to stand around and watch?'” he said. “We need someone to step up and say ‘I’ll do it. Send me.'”

NASA Says Pioneering Black Mathematician Katherine Johnson Has Died

NASA says Katherine Johnson, a mathematician who worked on NASA’s early space missions and was portrayed in the film “Hidden Figures,” about pioneering black female aerospace workers, has died.
In a Monday morning tweet, the space agency said it celebrates her 101 years of life and her legacy of excellence and breaking down racial and social barriers.
Johnson was one of the so-called “computers” who calculated rocket trajectories and earth orbits by hand during NASA’s early years.
Until 1958, Johnson and other black women worked in a racially segregated computing unit at what is now called Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia. Their work was the focus of the Oscar-nominated 2016 film.
In 1961, Johnson worked on the first mission to carry an American into space. In 1962, she verified computer calculations that plotted John Glenn’s earth orbits.
At age 97, Johnson received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor.
Johnson focused on airplanes and other research at first. But her work at NASA’s Langley Research Center eventually shifted to Project Mercury, the nation’s first human space program.
“Our office computed all the [rocket] trajectories,” Johnson told The Virginian-Pilot newspaper in 2012. “You tell me when and where you want it to come down, and I will tell you where and when and how to launch it.”
In 1961, Johnson did trajectory analysis for Alan Shepard’s Freedom 7 Mission, the first to carry an American into space. The next year, she manually verified the calculations of a nascent NASA computer, an IBM 7090, which plotted John Glenn’s orbits around the planet.

WHO Warns It is Running Out of Money to Tackle Ebola Epidemic in DRC

The World Health Organization is urgently appealing for $40 million to salvage its operation to bring the Ebola epidemic to an end in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo. The Ebola operation in eastern DR Congo’s conflict-ridden North Kivu and Ituri provinces is on financial life-support.  The World Health Organization reports its coffers will be empty at the end of this month.  It is urging donors to step up immediately and contribute the money needed to tackle this virulent disease.  WHO spokesman Tarik Jasarevic says failure to support this operation would be tragic as good progress is being made in containing the Ebola virus.  Over the past two months, he says between three and 15 cases of Ebola have been reported each week.   This is compared to 120 reported cases of Ebola in April 2019.“Last week there was only one case reported and we are down to only two health zones in eastern DRC where we have Ebola cases.  But again, if we do not receive this funding, we risk obviously to have more spread of the virus.  So, therefore, there is this appeal to get more funding,” he said. WHO reports 3433 cases of Ebola, including 2253 deaths, for an overall case fatality rate of 66 percent.  Jasarevic says money from the $40 million appeal also will be used for preparedness activities in neighboring countries.  FILE – A person dressed in Ebola protective apparel is seen inside an Ebola care facility at the Bwera general hospital near the border with the Democratic Republic of Congo in Bwera, Uganda, June 14, 2019.He notes a modest WHO investment of $18 million in helping Uganda set up screening, monitoring and other systems succeeded in stopping Ebola from taking root in that country last year.He tells VOA it is crucial that the Ebola operation not be interrupted because as long as there is one case of the disease, there will be a risk of further spread.“So, we have to really get down to zero.  We are making progress, but again, whether you have one case, or you have more cases, the activities that you have to put in place are the same.  So, we need to make sure that activities are funded,” said Jasarevic. There have been eight confirmed cases of Ebola reported from Beni and Mabalako in North Kivu Province in the past 21 days.  But WHO reports there have been no new cases reported for more than 42 days from Butembo and Mambasa Health Zones.  WHO calls the reduction of geographic spread of the Ebola virus and the declining number of cases encouraging.   

Warns It is Running Out of Money to Tackle Ebola Epidemic in DRC

The World Health Organization is urgently appealing for $40 million to salvage its operation to bring the Ebola epidemic to an end in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo. The Ebola operation in eastern DR Congo’s conflict-ridden North Kivu and Ituri provinces is on financial life-support.  The World Health Organization reports its coffers will be empty at the end of this month.  It is urging donors to step up immediately and contribute the money needed to tackle this virulent disease.  WHO spokesman Tarik Jasarevic says failure to support this operation would be tragic as good progress is being made in containing the Ebola virus.  Over the past two months, he says between three and 15 cases of Ebola have been reported each week.   This is compared to 120 reported cases of Ebola in April 2019.“Last week there was only one case reported and we are down to only two health zones in eastern DRC where we have Ebola cases.  But again, if we do not receive this funding, we risk obviously to have more spread of the virus.  So, therefore, there is this appeal to get more funding,” he said. WHO reports 3433 cases of Ebola, including 2253 deaths, for an overall case fatality rate of 66 percent.  Jasarevic says money from the $40 million appeal also will be used for preparedness activities in neighboring countries.  FILE – A person dressed in Ebola protective apparel is seen inside an Ebola care facility at the Bwera general hospital near the border with the Democratic Republic of Congo in Bwera, Uganda, June 14, 2019.He notes a modest WHO investment of $18 million in helping Uganda set up screening, monitoring and other systems succeeded in stopping Ebola from taking root in that country last year.He tells VOA it is crucial that the Ebola operation not be interrupted because as long as there is one case of the disease, there will be a risk of further spread.“So, we have to really get down to zero.  We are making progress, but again, whether you have one case, or you have more cases, the activities that you have to put in place are the same.  So, we need to make sure that activities are funded,” said Jasarevic. There have been eight confirmed cases of Ebola reported from Beni and Mabalako in North Kivu Province in the past 21 days.  But WHO reports there have been no new cases reported for more than 42 days from Butembo and Mambasa Health Zones.  WHO calls the reduction of geographic spread of the Ebola virus and the declining number of cases encouraging.