Month: April 2020

NASA Awards US Companies Contracts for Human Moon Landing

The U.S. space agency NASA has awarded contracts to three American companies to develop spacecraft to land humans on the moon by 2024. In a remote news conference Thursday, NASA announced it had selected Blue Origin, the space exploration company owned by Jeff Bezos, owner of The Washington Post, and owner and founder of Amazon; Dynetics, a subsidiary of research company Leidos that is based in the city of Huntsville, Alabama; and SpaceX, based in Hawthorne, California, and owned by businessman Elon Musk. NASA says the companies will compete to design and develop systems for the agency’s Artemis program, which has the goal of landing men and women on the surface of the moon for the first time since the 1970s. The project would also develop systems by 2028 that could be used for people to explore the solar system. NASA’s statement says the three commercial partners will refine their moon lander concepts through February 2021. The agency will evaluate which of the contractors will perform initial demonstration missions, and from those missions, NASA will select the final lunar lander. The Washington Post reports both NASA and the White House must still convince Congress to fund the program, which is projected to cost $35 billion through 2024. 

Veteran Bollywood Star Rishi Kapoor Dies at 67

Veteran Bollywood actor Rishi Kapoor died Thursday in Mumbai after battling leukemia for two years.   
The 67-year-old star, who made his debut as a child actor in “Mera Naam Joker,” (My Name is Joker) went on to win the hearts of millions of fans with a teenage love story, “Bobby” in 1973.
The news of his death was a double blow for the Bollywood Hindi movie industry and its tens of millions of fans – Kapoor passed away a day after another acclaimed actor, Irrfan Khan, succumbed to cancer.   
Kapoor had undergone treatment in a New York hospital for almost a year before returning to India last September. He was admitted to a hospital in Mumbai on Wednesday.
“The doctors and medical staff at the hospital said he kept them entertained to the last. He remained jovial and determined to live to the fullest right through two years of treatment across two continents,” Kapoor’s family said in a statement.
Kapoor was a third-generation actor in a famed Bollywood family that has played a dominant role in the industry.   
During a career that spanned nearly five decades, he made a mark as a romantic hero during his earlier films but transitioned to a much-acclaimed character actor in the past decade. He last starred in a film “102 Not Out” released in 2018.
Tributes poured in from veteran actors and his fans on social media. Bollywood’s most iconic star, Amitabh Bachchan tweeted “I am destroyed.”
“Multifaceted, endearing and lively, this was Rishi Kapoor,” Prime Minister Narendra Modi wrote on Twitter.   
“This is a terrible week for Indian cinema, with the passing of another legend, actor Rishi Kapoor,” Congress Party leader Rahul Gandhi tweeted.
With India in a strict lockdown due to COVID-19, Kapoor’s family appealed to the public to follow the rules in force and said “he would like to be remembered with a smile and not with tears.”

Lack of ‘Black Widow,’ ‘F9’ Leaves Summer Movie Season Muted

The six-year fan campaign for a standalone Black Widow movie was paying off: At long last, a film would put Scarlett Johansson’s popular Avenger front and center. And, like many of Marvel’s biggest spectacles, it was set to open the weekend of May 1.  “Black Widow” was to kick off what promised to be a typically lucrative summer moviegoing season, which runs from Memorial Day through Labor Day and generally accounts for $4 billion, nearly 40% of the yearly North American box office. And there was a lot more to look forward to: Tom Cruise’s return to one of his most iconic roles; a “Wonder Woman” sequel; original fare from Christopher Nolan and Wes Anderson, and more. Then the unthinkable happened.Now modern Hollywood is faced with a gutted summer season that at the very earliest will kick off months late — and even that is changing by the minute. On Monday, Judd Apatow’s Pete Davidson movie “The King of Staten Island” switched to a June 12 home video  release, following in the path of Disney’s “Artemis Fowl,” out on Disney Plus June 12, and Warner Bros.’ “Scoob!” available May 15.No blockbusters until JulyA few states are talking about allowing movie theaters to reopen soon — Texas as early as Friday. But no major blockbusters are set to open until mid-July. The first is Christopher Nolan’s thriller “Tenet,” a Warner Bros. film, which has ardently stood its ground on July 17. Shortly afterward, Disney plans to open “Mulan” on July 24, four months after its original date. And then comes “Wonder Woman 1984” on August 14, two months later than planned. It’s something, but it’s still a shell of what summer 2020 at the movies was supposed to be.  “We’re down 50% right now,” said Comscore senior media analyst Paul Dergarabedian. “If theaters open in mid-July it’ll offset some of the really disastrous models. But it would be naive to think that we’re going to make up all that box office.”Studios have depended on massive revenues from the summer months for decades, but in recent years they have discovered that movies can do blockbuster numbers in nearly any month.  That will be tested with Hollywood’s massively revamped schedule. Wes Anderson’s “The French Dispatch” will open on October 16, “Black Widow” will get her day on November 6; and “Top Gun: Maverick” is now set for Christmastime.Some films abandoned 2020 entirely, including the “Fast and Furious” movie “F9”; the Dwayne Johnson-Emily Blunt adventure “Jungle Cruise”; and “Ghostbusters: Afterlife,” which were all pushed to 2021.FILE – A person walks across a street as a marquee displays a message that a movie theater is temporarily closed because of the coronavirus outbreak, March 31, 2020, in downtown St. Louis.It’s not as simple as just allowing venues to reopen. Theaters need new movies to show and the biggest on the horizon, “Tenet,” is still almost three months away.”The movie theater industry is also a national one,” the National Association of Theatre Owners said in a statement. “Until the majority of markets in the U.S. are open, and major markets in particular, new wide-release movies are unlikely to be available.”The nation’s largest movie theater chain, AMC, which operates over 630 theaters in the U.S., said in a statement that in order to reopen it needs “a line of sight into a regular schedule of new theatrical blockbusters that get people truly excited.”AMC said it would open in the weeks ahead of blockbusters like “Tenet” and “Mulan” using “creative programming” of previously released films.Eric Wold, a Wall Street analyst for B. Riley FBR, said there’s simply a lot of uncertainty about when theaters can open, what the guidelines will be and how moviegoers will respond.’There’s no rush'”Do you open now and show ‘Jaws’ and ‘Harry Potter’ and older titles? Or are people going to say, ‘I can watch that at home’?” Wold said. “I think [theaters will] be smart and wait. There’s no rush. You might as well wait until June and see how it goes and slowly open from there.”  Should restrictions stay in place longer, Wold said, the bigger chains have raised enough cash to last to at least until Thanksgiving for AMC, and even into 2021 for Cinemark, with no revenue coming in.  “Black Widow” will still have her day in the sun, even if it is in November, and all of the movies will eventually come out in one form or another. On Tuesday, theater owners and Universal squabbled over “Trolls World Tour’s” straight-to-video-on-demand strategy and what it means for the future of theatrical windows.  But perhaps the turbulence of the lost 2020 summer movie season will result in some strategic rethinking — at least that’s what film critic and “Unspooled” co-host Amy Nicholson hopes.”For decades, the major studios have wandered away from producing mid-budget comedies and adult dramas to gamble their money on gargantuan summer blockbusters,” said Nicholson. “I’d love to see the industry recover by greenlighting an eclectic slate of $5 million-to-$15 million flicks that could make moviegoing fun again. Time to swap out financial risks for creative risks.”

‘Trolls’ Went Straight to Homes; Movie Theaters Fuming

The most controversial movie of the year is … “Trolls World Tour”? As innocuous as the rainbow-colored, music-blaring animated movie may seem, the digital release of the “Trolls” sequel has caused a storm to course through the movie industry. Just as the pandemic worsened and movie theaters were shuttering, Universal Pictures shifted the film’s release to video on demand, leading a charge straight through the theatrical window. Universal calls the “Trolls World Tour” digital release a success and suggests it may be the beginning of a sea change in how movies are released. Theater owners strenuously disagree. AMC Theaters, the largest chain in the United States, is signaling an all-out war, saying it will no longer show Universal movies.  While few anticipated a skirmish would come over a glitter explosion like “Trolls World Tour,” it has been long in coming. Netflix, Amazon and other streaming services have in recent years broken the industry’s traditional theatrical window of 72-90 days (and thus had their films excluded from major theater chains), and the major studios have sometimes been tempted to try their own luck and head straight to homes.  FILE – Jeff Shell, NBCUniversalOn Tuesday, NBCUniversal CEO Jeff Shell told The Wall Street Journal  that the digital release for “Trolls World Tour” has gone well enough to demonstrate the viability of direct-to-home releases. He promised that even once theaters reopen, “We expect to release movies on both formats.”  The Journal reported that in three weeks of $20 on-demand rentals, “Trolls World Tour” has grossed about $95 million. The studio, which normally splits sales approximately in half with theaters, pocketed about $75 million of that. A spokesman for Universal did not dispute those figures.  By comparison, 2016’s “Trolls” grossed $116 million in U.S. and Canada and $346.9 million worldwide. The sequel cost a reported $90 million to produce, not including marketing costs that likely exceeded $50 million.Pandemic-era fluke?Whether that performance constitutes a “hit” or merely an intriguing pandemic-era experiment has been the subject of much debate. Under stay-at-home orders, the country’s moviegoers are on lockdown. “Trolls World Tour” benefited by being the first such release during the crisis. And even in those extreme circumstances, it’s made significantly less than the original film did. The rentals may have also eaten into other “downstream” home entertainment revenue sources.  “Universal does not have reason to use unusual circumstances in an unprecedented environment as a springboard to bypass true theatrical releases,” said John Fithian, president and chief executive of the National Association of Theatre Owners. He touted the irreplaceable “beloved immersive, shared experience” of seeing a film in a theater, adding that many families would have flocked to “Trolls” if “the world had not been sequestered at home.” AMC threatAMC Theaters went further. CEO Adam Aron said his company would sever relations with Universal, effective Tuesday. He insisted the policy would continue once theaters reopened, would apply to its venues around the world and “is not some hollow or ill-considered threat.” FILE – Adam Aron, AMC TheatersAron said AMC would do the same to any distributor that “unilaterally abandons current windowing practices absent good faith negotiations between us.”  He declared absent further discussions, “decades of incredibly successful business activity together has sadly come to an end.”Late Tuesday, Universal responded it was disappointed with the AMC and NATO statements.  “We absolutely believe in the theatrical experience and have made no statement to the contrary,” Universal said, adding it would consider video on demand “when that distribution outlet makes sense.” Universal has been bolder than other studios. A day earlier, Universal said it would steer another upcoming release, the Judd Apatow comedy “The King of Staten Island,”  to on-demand. It also quickly brought movies like “The Hunt” and “Emma,” released in theaters just before the shutdown, to on-demand.Embracing streamingBut the studio isn’t the only one experimenting.  Warner Bros. will make the Scooby-Doo film “Scoob!”  available for digital rental next month instead of waiting for theaters to open. The Walt Disney Co. is steering “Artemis Fowl” to its Disney Plus streaming service. Other studios have simply sold movies to streaming services. Netflix acquired the Paramount Pictures comedy “Lovebirds,” once planned for a spring theatrical release.  Even the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has been forced to embrace streaming. On Tuesday, it announced  it will allow films without a theatrical release — long a hot-button issue for the Oscars — to contend at next year’s Academy Awards.  Meanwhile, theater chains are struggling with the losses incurred by an open-ended shutdown. AMC earlier this month issued a $500 million debt offering to keep itself afloat. It has furloughed some 26,000 employees as well as executives, including Aron.  But it remains to be seen if on-demand is a box-office replacement or merely a useful Band-aid in unprecedented times. Would a more expensive movie be able to compensate for $500 million in box office? Or $1 billion? For now, only the likes of “Trolls,” “Scoob!” and “Artemis Fowl” are testing the waters. The largest movies, including the Disney-Marvel release “Black Widow,” the James Bond installment “No Time to Die” and “Wonder Woman 1984,” are waiting it out.  Also on hold: Universal’s “F9,” which moved from this summer to next year. The other nine films in the “Fast & Furious” franchise have collectively grossed nearly $6 billion in worldwide box office.  

UN Urges World Community to Prevent Child Hunger During Coronavirus Pandemic

Two United Nations agencies called on the global community Wednesday to prevent hunger and malnutrition among the 370 million children who are not receiving school meals due to the closure of schools worldwide in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.The U.N. said school meals are particularly vital for girls, especially those in poor countries, whose struggling parents often send them to school to get meals, allowing them to avoid domestic responsibilities or early marriage.”For millions of children around the world, the meal they get at school is the only meal they get in a day,” said David Beasley, executive director of the U.N.’s World Food Program (WFP). “Without it, they go hungry, they risk falling sick, dropping out of school and losing their best chance of escaping poverty. We must act now to prevent the health pandemic from becoming a hunger catastrophe.”The U.N. said children in impoverished countries also are missing out on health and nutrition services at school, such as vitamin supplements and vaccinations.FILE – School canteen workers prepare meals to be distributed to people as part of an emergency plan by the Lisbon city hall to mitigate the social impact of the coronavirus epidemic at the Loios school in Lisbon, April 14, 2020.”School is so much more than a place of learning. For many children it is a lifeline to safety, health services and nutrition,” said United Nations Children’s Fund Executive Director Henrietta Fore. “Unless we act now, by scaling up lifesaving services for the most vulnerable children, the devastating fallout caused by COVID-19 will be felt for decades to come.”The U.N.’s secretary-general recently issued a report indicating hundreds of millions of children are not getting meals at schools due to closures, prompting the WFP and UNICEF to collaborate with national governments to support them during the coronavirus crisis.The WFP and governments are currently providing children in 68 countries with alternatives to school meals, such as cash transfers, take-home rations and vouchers.The WFP and UNICEF said they also will soon begin helping governments in the coming months to resume meal, nutrition and health programs when schools reopen.Additionally, the agencies said they are using internet technology displayed via an online map to track children who are not getting school meals. UNICEF and the WFP said they are asking for $600 million to initially concentrate on 30 “low-income or fragile” countries.The agencies said their work is “closely aligned” with the UNESCO-led Global Education Coalition, a worldwide initiative to help guarantee that children are able to keep learning despite the COVID-19 crisis.

Orphaned, Abused, Exploited — Children Could be Hardest Hit by Pandemic 

Children could be the biggest victims of the COVID-19 pandemic, despite the fact that the disease affects mostly older people, according to human rights groups.  It is estimated that 1.5 billion children worldwide are missing school. The outbreak is having myriad other impacts on young people, with hundreds of thousands orphaned by the disease that the coronavirus causes.  “More and more children are going to be left without parents,” said Jo Becker of Human Rights Watch. “We’ve seen from the Ebola crisis, for example, the HIV epidemic in sub-Saharan Africa, that when children are orphaned, they become much more vulnerable to sex trafficking, to child labor and other forms of exploitation.” A recent report from the International Labor Organization warned that 200 million people could lose their jobs as a result of the pandemic.  “As parents lose their employment, especially in developing countries, we often see more and more children pushed into child labor to try and help families just meet their basic needs,” Becker said. “And correspondingly, there’s also a trend towards early and child marriage, with girls feeling the pressure to marry to get out of the house and relieve the pressure on their parents.”  The most vulnerable are feeling the effects first. Many charities report that children living on the streets are struggling to find food and shelter amid the outbreak.  In rich countries, poorer children are missing out on school lunches, which is often their one big meal of the day. “It’s a bit tough right now, considering we don’t really have work to get food,” said 17-year-old student Raylyn Riviera, who was among dozens of people lining up for free food outside a New York high school this week. “So, we have to make do with what we have.” Elsewhere, with Russia in lockdown, activists there report a big spike in domestic violence. Becker said it is a pattern repeated in many countries. “As parents become anxious about their health, about their finances, about their jobs, and as tensions rise as people are together 24/7, the risk of violence really escalates,” she said. There are also concerns that children are missing out on vital immunization programs as health systems prioritize coronavirus patients. Human Rights Watch is urging governments to put children at the center of their coronavirus response policies, with greater efforts to expand access to education and provide economic assistance to vulnerable families. 

UN: New Polio Outbreak in Niger After Vaccination Suspended

The World Health Organization says Niger has been struck by a new outbreak of polio, following the suspension of immunization activities during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The U.N. health agency reported that two children were infected by the highly infectious, water-borne disease and that one was paralyzed. The outbreak was sparked by a mutated virus that originated in the vaccine and was not connected to a previous polio epidemic Niger stopped last year, WHO said, in a statement last week.  
“The poliovirus will inevitably continue to circulate and may paralyze more children as no high-quality immunization campaigns can be conducted in a timely manner,” said Pascal Mkanda, WHO’s coordinator of polio eradication in Africa.  
In rare cases, the live virus in oral polio vaccine can evolve into a form capable of igniting new outbreaks among non-immunized children; stopping the epidemic requires more targeted vaccination.  
Earlier this month, WHO and partners announced they were forced to halt all polio vaccination activities until at least June 1, acknowledging the decision would inevitably result in more children being paralyzed.  
The Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says there have been 33,500 cases and 1,469 deaths as of Tuesday, but experts suspect the real numbers are far higher due to lack of testing and poor surveillance.
Eradicating polio requires more than 90% of children being immunized, typically in mass campaigns involving millions of health workers that would break social distancing guidelines needed to stop the spread of the new coronavirus.
Across Africa, 14 other countries are struggling to contain their polio epidemics, which have also been caused by a rare mutation of the virus in the oral vaccine. Health officials had initially aimed to wipe out polio by 2000, but that deadline has been pushed back and missed repeatedly.

Police File Reveals Suspicions of Blatter in FIFA TV Deal

Swiss investigators concluded Sepp Blatter knew that a World Cup broadcasting contract was breached illegally and that it would cost FIFA millions of dollars, according to a federal police file obtained by The Associated Press.
Investigation reports sent to prosecutors in December and January showed FIFA wrote off a $3.8 million debt from a Caribbean TV deal signed in 2005 by then-FIFA president Blatter and long-time vice president Jack Warner. The deal was later alleged to have been illegally mismanaged by Blatter.
“Blatter acted … more in the interests of Warner than in the interests of FIFA,” concluded one investigation file seen by the AP.
However, the office of Switzerland’s attorney general decided in March it would drop a criminal proceeding  from 2015 against Blatter for the Caribbean deal. No reason was stated.
Swiss federal police believed Blatter knew in 2007 that Warner had breached — and would personally profit from — a Caribbean rights deal for the 2010 and 2014 World Cups that was sold to a Jamaica-based broadcaster.
Details of the original FIFA contract were revealed by Swiss media in September 2015, showing a $600,000 sale to the Warner-controlled Caribbean Football Union.
At the time, FIFA defended the contract by saying it required soccer’s governing body to get a 50% profit share of any future licensing arrangement. The re-sale was valued at about $15 million.
But FIFA did not try to collect money due in August 2010 within 30 days of the World Cup ending, according to the Swiss police file.
The investigation cited documents and staff emails showing FIFA was due half of any gross revenue from the Caribbean deal, into which Warner had inserted a company he owned.
“FIFA were very reluctant to implement any measures in connection with enforcing their rights against the CFU,” Swiss police said in its 491-page report.
FIFA calculated it was owed almost $3.8 million in 2011 after Warner resigned from soccer. He had been implicated in bribing Caribbean voters to oppose Blatter in that year’s FIFA presidential election.
Only then did FIFA management terminate the Caribbean rights and pursue the debt, though not directly with Warner. Instead, it asked the CFU, which had few assets after Warner left.
FIFA wrote off the debt weeks later, the police file showed. It included $3.625 million of estimated revenue from broadcasting sponsors and advertising, and $155,000 of unpaid rights fee instalments, the investigation file said.
A different police report detailed more than 15 years of FIFA’s working relations with Warner. It suggested FIFA granted favors and gifts in apparent exchange for election support to help Blatter retain the presidency.
Blatter, who is now 84 and banned from soccer until October 2021, did not immediately respond to a request for comment. He has long denied wrongdoing.
Blatter faces a second criminal proceeding over a $2 million payment he authorized in 2011 to former UEFA president Michel Platini. That payment was revealed by Swiss authorities in September 2015 and led to both men being suspended and then banned from soccer.
Swiss investigations of Blatter are handled by a second prosecutor who took over after the federal office’s head of financial crimes had his contract terminated in November 2018.
Attorney general Michael Lauber was recused from FIFA cases last year. He was disciplined in March  after having secret meetings with current FIFA president Gianni Infantino and failing to tell the truth about them.

Acclaimed Bollywood Actor Irrfan Khan Dies

Veteran Bollywood actor Irrfan Khan, who rose to international acclaim with roles in such films as “Slumdog Millionaire” and “Life of Pi,” has died at the age of 54.A spokesman said Khan died Wednesday in a Mumbai hospital where he had been admitted earlier this week for a colon infection.  Khan sought treatment in Britain after he was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer in 2018.The native of India’s western desert state of Rajasthan broke into the Indian film industry in 1988 in the Academy Award-nominated drama “Salaam Bombay.”  Khan went on to star in a number of notable Bollywood films, including “The Namesake” “The Lunchbox” and “Paan Singh Tomar,” which earned him India’s National Film Award for best actor in 2012.In addition to “Slumdog Millionaire,” which won the 2008 Acadamy Award for Best Picture, Khan appeared in such Hollywood films as “The Amazing Spider Man,”“Jurassic World” and “Inferno.”His most recent role was the Bollywood film “Angraezi Medium,” a sequel to his hit 2017 film “Hindi Medium.” The new movie was released before India was placed under a nationwide lockdown due to the coronavirus pandemic.  

Play by Play: How a Taiwan Sports League Opened its 2020 Season Despite COVID-19

When the coronavirus began raising concerns in China this past January, Taiwan’s professional baseball league set up a task force to help determine whether the outbreak would spread into nearby Taiwan and scuttle a scheduled 2020 season start in March.    After China sealed off its disease outbreak center Wuhan and hundreds of Taiwanese began fleeing back from Lunar New Year holidays in China around the start of February, the Taipei-based Chinese Professional Baseball League brought on a legal expert too. “We figured conditions were extremely serious,” commissioner Wu Chih-yang said in an interview. A veteran sports watcher anywhere in the world would assume at this point that the league delayed play until May, June or whenever. Pro baseball and basketball have put off play in the United States. Baseball has been halted for now in Japan and South Korea. The 2020 Tokyo Olympics will take place in 2021. But the Taiwan baseball league opened play just three weeks late, on April 11. Its five teams intend to finish all 240 normal season games before December even though at the present time the teams are playing the games without their usual crowds of thousands.   Here’s how the league beat the odds. As the disease spread in China in February and March, Taiwan’s league was trying to plan its normal season as well as two other series including one in preparation for the 2020 summer Olympics, which hadn’t yet been postponed. At the same time, the Taiwan government’s Central Epidemic Command Center was laying out ideas on how to manage large events such as ball games, but they were just suggestions, Wu recalled.  In view of the advice, the government’s suggestions and confusion after two brief season delays in March and Taiwan’s light coronavirus caseload, the league decided to start play with empty stadiums but enough atmosphere that viewers at home could imagine the real thing. Taiwan’s outbreak of the coronavirus-caused respiratory disease COVID-19 has reached 429 cases over a total 23 million population, one of the developed world’s lowest infection rates. It’s low enough to protect gatherings of athletes and other personnel, the league found. But crowds of spectators, who had averaged 6,000 per game in previous seasons, could spread the virus, Wu said.This Friday, April 24, 2020, photo, shows Chinatrust Brothers players during a game against Fubon Guardians with no audience at Xinzhuang Baseball Stadium in New Taipei City, Taiwan.Cheerleaders can get into the venues now because they’re known to the teams rather than strangers. They do enough dancing that TV and internet viewers can exercise in sync with their moves while watching from home, Wu said. Cheerleading, rah-rah music tracks blasted through the stadium speakers and empty seats in some stadiums decked with spectator-like mannequins add a sense authenticity despite lack of fans. One team has brought in six robots as drummers. “I think we’d all like more fans to come in and cheer us on, but there’s truly no way for that, due to the outbreak,” said Wang Wei-chen, an infielder with the Chinatrust Brothers team. “We’re lucky we can play games and let people see them.” Online viewing that hit 650,000 people during one game April 15 attracts brands to display ads in stadiums and promotes the sale of team-specific uniforms worn by cheerleaders, the commissioner said. “If they were losing money, no one would do this,” he said of the teams. Wu believes Taiwan’s professional baseball league is the only major one that’s playing in the world now. “We won’t of course call it glory,” Wu said. “We want players all over the world to stay healthy and then get through the disease outbreaks and be able to start their seasons smoothly, because actually to be the only one is quite lonely.” At the request of some teams, the league decided last week to add English-language play-by-play narration and commentary at each stadium, Wu said. That perk allows people in the United States and other countries without baseball to follow Taiwan’s games. “Taiwan baseball has gone down very well in America,” said Sean King, vice president of the Park Strategies political consultancy. “The relatively small number of Taiwanese teams enables viewers to get know the entire league after only a few games. The fact that Taiwan baseball’s even on shows the world what a great job Taiwan’s done against COVID-19.” That Taiwan’s league can play this month isn’t a diplomatic tool for the island that’s always keen to expand international recognition in the face of its more powerful rival China, however. It reflects “our success in public health policy advanced planning and implementation,” foreign ministry spokesperson Joanne Ou said. “It is just sport, never meant to be a tool of diplomacy,” Ou said. “It just happened to be the only one in the world to carry it out.” 

Large Asteroid to Fly by Earth Wednesday

An asteroid just over two kilometers wide will pass close to earth Wednesday. But scientists with the U.S. space agency, NASA, say the object poses no threat to the planet.The asteroid is known as 1998 OR2, named for the year it was first discovered. It will safely pass at a distance of 6.3 million kilometers from Earth — about 16 times the distance between the Earth and the moon.NASA scientists say by astronomical standards, that distance still classifies the asteroid as a “near-earth” object and worth watching. The space agency considers objects that pass within 48 million kilometers of our planet a “near-earth” object. NASA maintains a planetary defense coordination office that keeps track of such objects and plots their courses through space. In an interview posted on the space agency’s website, NASA’s Center for Near-Earth Object Studies manager Paul Chodas say they believe they have found and tracked about 90% of the near-earth objects that are at least a kilometer wide and could pose a threat to earth.Chodas says none they have found pose a significant threat to earth. But NASA’s Planetary Defense officer, Lindley Johnson, says any object impacting Earth large enough to do significant damage is extremely rare — but inevitable.Should such an object be identified, the scientists say there are a variety of plans to protect early, depending on the lead time.Those plans range from sending a spacecraft to nudge the object onto a course safely away from Earth, or, if there was much less time, using nuclear weapons to break up or destroy the object.

VIRUS DIARY: Planting an Apple Seed, Dreaming of Tomorrow

He winds up and throws the apple core, aiming for the woods where he hopes a tree will grow. He overshoots his mark. It bounces across the hill of the next-door neighbors’ yard. “I’ll get it,” he says. But in these days of isolation and distance, that is a dicey proposition.Almost furtively, he scurries across the property line. He does not find it. I tell him that he must email the neighbors.For his email, he chooses the subject “Apple Issue.” He writes: “In this time of crisis, it is understandable that you wouldn’t want to touch a saliva-covered fruit. Therefore, if/when you find the apple core, if you would let me know, I would take it back.”He is 13. His name is Wyatt. He is my younger son. Other than his immediate family, he has not come within 20 yards of anyone he knows for nearly two months.My father was a naturalist. Much more, sadly, than I’ve ever been. He planted on our family property well into his mid-80s, when his knees could no longer take it.When I was little, he took me around the land that my wife and I now own, pointing out trees and identifying them as we walked through the backyard woods down to the rushing creek and back.He’d hand me sassafras leaves to chew and show me wild blackberry bushes to pick from. Today, on the property I inherited from my parents, a ginkgo tree — his favorite — looms over the front walk.After he died, I opened one of his reference books, “The Book of Trees.” Tucked carefully into the appropriate pages were dried leaves from his woods excursions.On his side, we come from a long line of cultivators — Ohio farmers, New York farmers, yankee farmers. My sister followed in their footsteps, to a fashion, becoming a molecular biologist after a thesis entitled “Dwarf Plants Produced from Treated Seeds.”Not me. I’m not a lawn-and-garden guy. The closest I’ve ever come to planting something was when I buried a crock of kimchi in the back yard in 1981, hoping it would ferment. That was the last we saw of it.An apple core-related email arrives from next door.”I suspect the deer will find and eat it before I find it. If I do come across it, I will let you know.”And: “If you want an apple tree to grow, I would suggest digging a small hole (2” deep) for each core and covering it with dirt. This is a good time of year to plant.”My son promptly eats another apple. Then he requests a shovel. He darts outside, ponders, picks a spot. He digs a tiny hole. He comes back in. Part of him seems 70. Part of him seems 7. “Dad, want to see me drop the apple core into the hole?”We trudge across the soaked lawn. Silently, I chastise myself for not being better at this stuff. I look over my shoulder at the south side of the house, at the narrow strip where my father grew peas in the 1980s and lost his wedding ring while attempting to cultivate cilantro in the 1990s. His green plastic wheelbarrow is still there. I’ve never moved it.The sassafras tree died during Reagan’s first term. The blackberry bushes disappeared while I was in college. The creek is still there, now usually dry.But now we have an apple core in the ground. Now we wait. Now, in this season of stagnation, there is growth to contemplate.I see myself coming back decades from now. Walking slowly across a better-kept lawn. Reaching up. Picking an apple. Taking a bite. Saying to a man now taller than me: “Hey, Wyatt. Remember the virus?”

YouTube Expands Fact-Check Feature to US Video Searches During COVID-19 Pandemic

YouTube, the video service of Alphabet Inc’s Google, said on Tuesday it would start showing text and links from third-party fact checkers to U.S. viewers, part of efforts to curb misinformation on the site during the COVID-19 pandemic. The information panels, launched in Brazil and India last year, will highlight third-party, fact-checked articles above search results for specific topics such as “covid and ibuprofen.” Social media sites including Facebook are under pressure to combat misinformation relating to the pandemic caused by the new coronavirus, from false cures to conspiracy theories. YouTube said in a blog post that more than a dozen U.S. publishers are participating in its fact-checking network.

Smartphone App Warns If You’ve Been Exposed to Coronavirus

The smartphone in your pocket may soon let you know if you’ve been exposed to COVID-19.As communities around the world consider the first steps toward reopening, there is fear that once people begin moving, the virus will spread. But COVID-19 presents unique challenges to stop its spread. Some who are infected never had symptoms; those who do fall ill can spread the disease for a day or two before experiencing a cough or body chills, some of the common COVID-19 symptoms.Apple, Google and others are working on a plan to use smartphones to inform those who have crossed paths with an infected person. They call it “exposure notification.” A digital tool for health authoritiesNext month, Apple, the maker of the iPhone, and Google, whose Android operating system powers the majority of smartphones in the world, will release software tools that will allow devices to exchange information via Bluetooth. Public health authorities and their partners will build apps that they will use to notify people if they’ve been exposed to someone who has tested positive for the virus.But will it work? There are many hurdles ahead. Many people will need to download the app for it to work properly, and many may want to be reassured that their privacy won’t be compromised, their data won’t be hacked. And there are many technical challenges. For example, if the app reduces the phone’s ability to function.“This is complicated because it’s untested speculative technology,” said Harper Reed, an entrepreneur and former chief technology officer for the Obama campaign. “If it doesn’t work, we can put people in danger. But if it does work, early notification of exposure can dramatically help our communities limit and survive COVID-19.”WATCH: Here’s how contact tracing works Sorry, but your browser cannot support embedded video of this type, you can
download this video to view it offline. Embed” />CopyWhere does the data live?Around the world, there’s a debate about technology and policy. Should government health authorities collect data or should the data live on smartphones? Apple, Google and some groups in the U.S. insist the data should live on phones — to protect people’s privacy but also to make the data less of a target for hackers.Some governments are working on apps that use global positioning system (GPS) data. The Apple and Google technology does not. If the app is private and secure, people are more likely to use it, said Henry de Valence with the TCN Coalition, a coalition of app developers and others working on the technology and policies underlying exposure notification.“People want to be able to help out and contain the spread of disease,” he said. “And so if you give them an option that poses no risk to them, but allows them to help themselves and others, people are just going to opt into that without having to be required to.”There are many unknowns still about how an exposure notification app will work and whether it will see widespread adoption. But there’s hope that technology may play a role in slowing down the virus’s spread.

Large Asteroid to Flyby Earth Wednesday

An asteroid just over two kilometers wide will pass close to earth Wednesday. But scientists with the U.S. space agency, NASA, say the object poses no threat to the planet.The asteroid is known as 1998 OR2, named for the year it was first discovered. It will safely pass at a distance of 6.3 million kilometers from Earth — about 16 times the distance between the Earth and the moon.NASA scientists say by astronomical standards, that distance still classifies the asteroid as a “near-earth” object and worth watching. The space agency considers objects that pass within 48 million kilometers of our planet a “near-earth” object. NASA maintains a planetary defense coordination office that keeps track of such objects and plots their courses through space. In an interview posted on the space agency’s website, NASA’s Center for Near-Earth Object Studies manager Paul Chodas say they believe they have found and tracked about 90% of the near-earth objects that are at least a kilometer wide and could pose a threat to earth.Chodas says none they have found pose a significant threat to earth. But NASA’s Planetary Defense officer, Lindley Johnson, says any object impacting Earth large enough to do significant damage is extremely rare — but inevitable.Should such an object be identified, the scientists say there are a variety of plans to protect early, depending on the lead time.Those plans range from sending a spacecraft to nudge the object onto a course safely away from Earth, or, if there was much less time, using nuclear weapons to break up or destroy the object.

China Slams India’s Decision to Stop Using ‘Faulty’ Chinese Rapid Test Kits

A decision by India to suspend the use of Chinese rapid testing kits for COVID-19 on the grounds that they are faulty has been slammed by the Chinese embassy in New Delhi as “unfair and irresponsible.”    The Indian government medical research agency that is dealing with the coronavirus outbreak has said it planned to return the test kits to the two Chinese firms from where they were procured and asked health authorities across the country to stop using them due to “wide variations” in their performance.    India had procured half a million antibody test kits earlier this month in a bid to ramp up testing amid concerns that its fight to slow the pandemic is being hampered by extremely low levels of testing. They are meant to detect antibodies in people who may have had the infection and were to serve as surveillance tools in hotspots.     The kits, which deliver a result in about 30 minutes, were tested by the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) after health authorities in some states complained that they had an extremely low accuracy rate. They said the kits had been used on patients whom they already knew were positive for COVID-19, but the tests had shown a “negative” result for antibodies. COVID-19 is the disease caused by the coronavirus.   “The results have shown wide variation in their sensitivity,” the ICMR said on Monday.    In a statement, Chinese Embassy spokesperson Ji Rong, speaking in New Delhi, said, “It is unfair and irresponsible for certain individuals to label Chinese products as ‘faulty’ and look at issues with pre-emptive prejudice.”    China was trying to help India fight the coronavirus with concrete action and it made sure the quality of its medical exports was a priority with manufacturers, according to the statement.     China said the test kits were qualified medical products which had strict requirements for their use, storage and transportation. “Any operation which is not carried out by professionals in accordance with the product specifications will lead to the testing accuracy variations,” according to Ji.    She said Beijing will continue to support India’s fight against the coronavirus pandemic.     China has become the largest manufacturer and exporter of medical equipment and protective gear as the pandemic wreaks havoc across the world. China has also faced a slew of complaints from several countries about faulty face masks and protective gear sold by its companies.    The number of confirmed coronavirus cases in India currently stands at 29,451 and 939 people have died, according to the Johns Hopkins University, which is tracking cases worldwide. 

Top Japanese Doctor Says Olympics ‘Difficult’ Without Vaccine

The head of the Japan Medical Association said Tuesday it will be difficult for the country to host the rescheduled Olympics next year without a coronavirus vaccine available. “I am not saying that Japan should or shouldn’t host the Olympics, but that it would be difficult to do so,” said Yoshitake Yokokura. “Unless an effective vaccine is developed, I expect hosting the Olympics will be difficult.” The pandemic forced organizers to abandon plans to hold the games this July, opting instead to postpone the event that draws thousands of athletes from all over the world. Multiple countries are currently working on developing vaccines, but experts have cautioned the process to test both the safety and effectiveness of vaccine candidates, plus manufacturing doses, could take 12 to 18 months. The coronavirus outbreak has prompted officials to put billions of people under various stay-at-home orders and tell non-essential businesses to close their doors. The result has been increases in unemployment, massive revenue cuts and governments balancing the need to stop the spread of the virus with economic concerns.  Some have enacted financial rescue packages to help put money in people’s pockets and keep businesses afloat. U.N. humanitarian chief Mark Lowcock suggested a $90 billion effort to help provide income, food and health aid for the world’s most vulnerable people at a time when experts say the pandemic has not yet reached the poorest parts of the planet. Mark Lowcock, the U.N. Humanitarian Affairs Emergency and Relief Coordinator, address United Nations Security Council with a report on Yemen, Tuesday Oct. 23, 2018 at U.N. headquarters.He said there are 700 million people in 30 to 40 countries that had been receiving some level of humanitarian assistance and will see incomes drop as increased infections force lockdown measures. “What I am suggesting is a lot of the suffering and loss of life can be contained within sums of money which are imaginable,” he said. Lowcock said funding could come from a combination of international institutions, such as the World Bank and International Monetary Fund, as well as one-time boosts in contributions from governments. World Health Organization Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus urged European countries that are easing their lockdowns because of declining numbers of new cases to “find, isolate, test and treat all cases of COVID-19 and trace every contact, to ensure these declining trends continue.”      He told a media briefing in Geneva on Monday that “the pandemic is far from over.” He added that the “WHO continues to be concerned about the increasing trends in Africa, Eastern Europe, Latin America and some Asian countries.”   His comments followed easing of restrictions in Italy, Spain, Germany and elsewhere. France, one of the hardest-hit nations with more than 23,000 COVID-19 deaths, is due to announce its plans to begin easing restrictions on Tuesday.    Health officials in the Chinese city of Wuhan, where the virus originated, said Tuesday there were no new cases and that there were no remaining coronavirus patients in its hospitals for a second consecutive day.   Confirmed cases of coronavirus worldwide have surpassed 3 million, and fatalities have exceeded 211,000, according to Johns Hopkins University statistics.

Smartphone App Sends Alert If You’ve Been Exposed to COVID-19

Communities in the United States and around the world are talking about when and how to ease lockdown measures as they grapple with the COVID-19 pandemic. This disease and how it spreads presents some unique challenges. People without symptoms can infect others, and for some, it can be deadly. What if a smartphone app could let you know if you have been exposed? Michelle Quinn reports.

Head of Japan’s Medical Association Issues New Concern About Postponed Tokyo Olympics 

The head of Japan’s medical association says it will be difficult for Tokyo to restage the Summer Olympics next year without an effective vaccine against the novel coronavirus. Yohsitake Yokokura offered his opinion Tuesday during a videoconference with journalists  in Tokyo.  Japan and the International Olympic Committee agreed back in March to postpone the 2020 Tokyo Games, which were scheduled to start on July 24, for a year due to the coronavirus pandemic.   Laboratories around the world are working on vaccines to guard against COVID-19, but experts say it could take months or even years to determine if any vaccine is safe and effective before they can be used. Yokokura did not say whether the Tokyo Olympic Games should be cancelled if a vaccine is not developed. A Japanese infectious disease expert said last week he does not think it is likely the Tokyo Olympic games will be held next year because of what he foresees as the lingering threat of the coronavirus. In a teleconference interview at the Foreign Correspondents Club of Japan, Kobe University Infectious Diseases Professor Kentaro Iwata said because the Olympics involve bringing in athletes and spectators from all over the world, the risk would be high that the COVID-19 outbreak could restart. 

COVID Link Suspected in Children’s Inflammatory Disease

Doctors in Britain, Italy, Portugal and Spain are exploring a possible link between a severe inflammatory disease in children and the coronavirus. A growing number of children of various ages in several European countries have been admitted to hospitals with high fever and heart issues. Some also have suffered from gastrointestinal problems, such as vomiting and diarrhea. The children appear to be suffering from Kawasaki disease, which is more common in parts of Asia where it afflicts children younger than 5. Symptoms include skin rashes, gland swelling and in severe cases inflammation of the heart and blood vessels. The cause of the illness is not clear. COVID-19, a disease caused by a new strain of coronavirus, is rare in children. But an unusual spike in the number of children suffering from Kawasaki-type symptoms at the time of the coronavirus pandemic has put health authorities in Europe on alert. After hearing from pediatricians, British National Health System issued a warning saying: “Over the last three weeks there has been an apparent rise in the number of children of all ages presenting with a multisystem inflammatory state requiring intensive care across London and also in other regions of the U.K.” Some of the children have tested positive for coronavirus, but not all, suggesting that another pathogen could be responsible. Their blood tests revealed severe inflammation, similar to the blood tests in adults with severe COVID-19 infections.   Britain’s national medical director for England, Stephen Powis, said it was “too early to say” whether the Kawasaki-like disease and coronavirus could be linked. But at a briefing Monday he said, “I’ve asked the national clinical director for children and young people to look into this as a matter of urgency.” A press coronavirus briefing at Downing Street with Business Secretary Alok Sharma, right, and Medical Director Professor Stephen Powis, during a Digital Press Conference in London, Saturday March 28, 2020.British Health Secretary Matt Hancock said he was “very worried” by the reports. Doctors treating the sick children say the symptoms indicate that their bodies could be suffering from some form of a toxic shock. Many had to be treated in intensive care. British health authorities emphasized that children are unlikely to become seriously ill with COVID-19, but parents should seek help from a health professional if their child gets seriously ill. They also asked physicians examining children with fever and abdominal pain to include blood tests for any signs of inflammatory issues. Italian heart specialist Matteo Ciuffreda told Reuters that doctors in the northern city of Bergamo have seen at least 20 children younger than 9 with severe vascular inflammation since the end of March, six times more than they would expect to see in a year. He said children’s cardiologists in Madrid and Lisbon had told him they had seen similar cases. But he said only a few of the children tested positive for coronavirus. Ciuffreda said more study is needed to determine what causes the spike in Kawasaki-like symptoms in children in Europe.   American pediatricians have not reported similar cases in the United States. 

Asian Celebs Work to Combat Racist Attacks Amid Pandemic 

Actress Olivia Cheng was recently volunteering in Vancouver when she says she witnessed a man drive up to an elderly Chinese woman, roll down his window and yell, “This is your fault!” before throwing trash at her.The incident enraged Cheng, and also served as another reason why she feels it’s so important for celebrities of Asian descent to use their voices and speak up against anti-Asian attacks, which authorities say are increasing during the coronavirus pandemic.”I don’t think we can pretend that this isn’t happening,” Cheng, who stars in “The Stand” on CBS All Access, said in a recent interview with The Associated Press. “For now, it would not be unwise to be a little more careful, to maybe have buddy systems when possible to go get your groceries if you’re not feeling safe.” The FBI reports there has been an uptick in hate crimes and harassment against Asian Americans since the outbreak of COVID-19, which first appeared in Wuhan, China, late last year.Some people have blamed China and Asians in general for the spread of coronavirus; President Donald Trump at times has called it the “Chinese virus.”In New York, state Attorney General Letitia James has set up a hotline to report harassment or other targeted crime. Some of those incidents have been filmed and posted online.Tzi Ma arrives at the Los Angeles premiere of “Mulan” at the Dolby Theatre on Mar. 09, 2020.”Tigertail” star Tzi Ma says he’s been a victim of such harassment. He was entering a grocery store in Pasadena, California, recently when he was confronted by a man in a car.”He looked at me straight in the eye and said, ‘You should be quarantined’ and took off,” said the veteran actor, who was born in Hong Kong but moved to the United States as a child. “I got very angry obviously, flush with this kind of cold in your body. And I started screaming at him, but he was way too far away for him to hear me.” Actor Alain Uy, a star of the upcoming Hulu series “Marvel’s Helstrom,” worried early on that such incidents would occur after the virus’ spread. “Once this outbreak happened in Wuhan, we all kind of went, ‘OK, we know what this is gonna mean,'” said the actor, who was born in the Philippines.”Crazy Rich Asians” director Jon M. Chu said he’s been feeling more cautious than usual.”It’s very sad when I feel a little bit weird when I’m going to go for a walk around the block,” he said. Jeannie Mai arrives at the 77th annual Golden Globe Awards at the Beverly Hilton Hotel on Jan. 5, 2020, in Beverly Hills, Calif.”The Real” co-host, Jeannie Mai, who is half-Vietnamese and half-Chinese, revealed recently that for the first time, she needed someone to monitor her social media posts to delete racist comments.”The Good Doctor” actor Will Yun Lee is even nervous about taking his baby son to the grocery store: “My wife is Caucasian, but my son is half Korean and half white. But he looks very Asian.”But Ma and other stars are speaking up and working to combat the ignorance and harassment. Ma joined actress Celia Au and other celebrities and influencers in the recent campaign called ” Wash the Hate, ” created by IW Group, an Asian American-focused marketing agency. The PSA features Ma, Au and others washing their hands and reminding people that hygiene, not xenophobia, is the way to help combat the virus. “If I can start the conversation, why not?’ said Au, who was also born in Hong Kong. “If we don’t talk about it, then it’s not going to be talked about at all.”For Cheng, the recent wave of anti-Asian sentiment brought back painful memories of her childhood growing up in Edmonton, Canada, where she was the victim of a bias attack as a teen.She went down an internet rabbit hole of attacks posted online. “I had to stop watching,” she said. “It brought up all those feelings again from being a kid and not being able to do anything.”Mai says that it’s not only important for Asian stars to speak out against these attacks, but people of other races as well. “These are the conversations you need to be having with your kids in your house. You need to, even if you’re not Chinese. You should be explaining that this is terrible, that racism is coming out of this pandemic,” she said. “So, have that talk with your kid. Have that talk with your friends. If one of your friends says, ‘Yo, this ‘Chinese Virus’ is crazy.’ Say, ‘No. Actually, man it’s called COVID-19. It’s not the ‘Chinese Virus.” Just check them.”Earlier this month, Bill Maher, host of HBO’s “Real Time with Bill Maher,” defended calling coronavirus the “Chinese Virus,” comparing it to the Spanish flu. “While people say it’s innocuous and that it came from China, it’s the undertones,” Lee said. “Certain people will grab those undertones and attach to it.” There’s also a worry that anti-Asian American sentiment could translate to a regression in Hollywood after recent success of telling Asian stories. Bong Joon Ho and the cast of “Parasite” pose at the 92nd Academy Awards in Hollywood, Los Angeles, California, Feb. 9, 2020.This year, the South Korean film “Parasite” won the best picture Oscar, and Chinese-American director Lulu Wang took home the Independent Spirit Award for her film, “The Farewell.” “Crazy Rich Asians” was a hit at the box office in 2018 and last year, Sandra Oh became the first Asian woman in 39 years to win the best leading TV actress Golden Globe for “Killing Eve.” “I worry, is this going to impact our chances so soon after it feels like we finally made inroads?” Cheng said. “Is this going to regress us and put us however many steps back?” Ma says the only way to proceed is to keep putting out diverse stories.”There’s no relenting. We’ll keep moving forward. And hopefully one day, people are going to say, ‘You know what? I not only accept the differences, but I also accept the fact that we’re very much alike.'” 

Coffee with Clinton and Singing with Sting Part of Charity Auction

Bidders this week will get the chance to drink coffee with Hillary Clinton, sing with Sting, or perform Shakespeare with Patrick Stewart — virtually. These and other prizes will be offered in an online auction to support the International Rescue Committee and its efforts to help refugees and others battle the coronavirus pandemic. Sotheby’s auction house and Google are sponsoring the auction to raise funds for the nongovernmental organization run by former British Foreign Secretary David Miliband. “As a global community, we are only as strong as the weakest link in the chain, and millions of refugees and displaced people are now facing a double emergency with the virus reaching their communities,” Miliband said.  Participants can also bid on a tea with former U.S. Secretary of State Madeline Albright, a conversation with comic actor Sasha Baron Cohen and a virtual tour of Highclere Castle, where the “Downtown Abbey” television series was filmed. Stars Hugh Bonneville and Elizabeth McGovern will be the personal tour guides.  The online auction runs May 1 through May 8.  

Ugandan HIV-Positive Volunteer Goes Distance to Deliver ARVs

Amid a three-week suspension of public and private transport in Uganda due to the coronavirus, some HIV-positive Ugandans have struggled to get hold of needed antiretroviral medications. Noticing a higher risk for HIV patients with compromised immune systems, health worker Simon Bukenya jumped on his bicycle and began making home deliveries, even going long distances to do it.Simon Peter Bukenya has been living with HIV for 30 years and understands the importance of taking antiretroviral drugs. A lockdown due to the coronavirus has stranded Ugandans in need of medical attention, including people who are HIV-positive. Bukenya says on a daily basis, he bicycles more than 80 kilometers to deliver medications to those who need them. He says he started with three patients, and word of his services spread after he posted a notice on Facebook.“There’s even a client that called me and sent me a WhatsApp, when she had gotten herpes zoster, and she’s home,” said Bukenya. “She’s breastfeeding, she has a two-months-old baby and she’s going through a lot. So, that’s what really motivated me; that’s how I started.”Bukenya says so far, he has reached 200 patients.  He says he doesn’t get paid for his services; he simply wanted to fill a gap for HIV patients in need.His service is independent of one run by Uganda’s Ministry of Health which recently set up a program to allow community health workers to collect HIV pills for patients. Dr. Kaggwa Mugaga, the head of HIV for WHO in Uganda, admits the ministry’s service has limits, especially when it comes to supplies of key medicines. “We have people who volunteer to pick up drugs on behalf of others in the same community where they have openly shared their status,” said Mugaga. “This has closed the gap of people missing pills. NMS (National Medical Stores) has been able to deliver what it has, but there are medicines which were at low stock levels, Lopinavir, Ritonavir, for the children.”The pharmaceutical division revealed that the order for pediatric antiretrovirals is expected to arrive in May.UNAIDS says about 6 percent of Ugandans are HIV-positive, one of the highest rates in East Africa.Among these is William Matovu, who was born with HIV and will be 26 in July. He previously did not make his status publicly known, fearing discrimination and the stigma associated with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. For him, Bukenya comes in handy. “I was running out of my medication. I had to call him and he assists me. Due to the ban of public transport in this COVID-19 era, I could not move to my facility,” said Matovu. “It’s like 15 kilometers away from my home. When I contacted him, he asked me my details, So, when I gave him my details, he went to my facility and picked up the medication for me and brought it to my doorstep.”Uganda has so far recorded 74 COVID-19 cases, but no deaths.The government’s travel restrictions are currently due to expire on May 3.

‘The Rise of Skywalker’ to hit Disney Plus on May 4

“Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker” will begin streaming on Disney Plus on May 4, about two months earlier than scheduled.  The Walt Disney Co. said Monday that “The Rise of Skywalker” will land on the streaming service timed to what’s referred to as “Star Wars Day” after the slogan of “May the Fourth be with you.” The release will give fans the option of streaming the full nine-part saga on the annual “Star Wars” holiday.  “The Rise of Skywalker” was released for digital rental and video-on-demand in March, so the timing of its streaming arrival isn’t unusual. The film, directed by J.J. Abrams, was the worst reviewed of the nine “Star Wars” installments, with a 52% fresh score on Rotten Tomatoes. It grossed more than $1 billion in its theatrical run begun on Dec. 20.During the pandemic, Disney has diverted several of its titles to its streaming service early for housebound viewers. It also sent “Frozen 2” and “Onward” to Disney Plus early, and plans to premiere “Artemis Fowl” on the streaming platform in May in place of a theatrical release. Disney Plus has accrued about 50 million subscribers since launching late last year.