Month: December 2020

Pandemic-weary World Welcomes 2021 

The world’s 7.8 billion people are bidding a hearty farewell to 2020, but without the usual fanfare and public gatherings because of the novel coronavirus pandemic.In India, celebrations to ring in 2021 were toned down because of curfews, a ban on beach parties and other travel restrictions. In major cities, hotels and bars were shut down at 11 p.m. local time, and The Associated Press reported that drones were monitoring people’s movement in Mumbai, where large gatherings were prohibited.Japan rang in the new year quietly because of rising cases.Tokyo’s governor, Yuriko Koike, had asked people not to attend countdown ceremonies. “The coronavirus knows no year-end or New Year’s holidays,” she said.South Korea, where the government banned gatherings of more than five, saw a different New Year’s Eve as a traditional bell-ringing in Seoul was canceled for the first time since 1953. Beaches where South Koreans flock to watch the sun rise were closed, with some outlets announcing plans to broadcast it instead. Ski resorts and other tourist spots were closed.World Bids Farewell to Year 2020Pandemic restrictions limiting crowds and many people bidding farewell to a year they’d prefer to forget. In Taiwan, officials held a fireworks show near the iconic Taipei 101 tower. A New Year’s morning flag-raising ceremony took place in front of the Presidential Office Building, but it was limited to government officials and invited guests.Taiwan has had seven deaths and fewer than 1,000 infections, according to Johns Hopkins University, which is monitoring the outbreak of the virus that causes COVID-19.Hong Kong canceled public celebrations for the second year in a row. Last year, it was due to public security concerns. Restaurants closed at 6 p.m. local time, and live performances were canceled. Gatherings were limited to two people, but the AP reported crowds were still present in shopping areas.The small central Pacific island nations of Tonga, Samoa and Kiribati were first to welcome 2021 because of their location on the international date line, with the bigger regional powers of New Zealand, Australia, Japan and South Korea following.Auckland eventsNew Zealand’s port city of Auckland rang in the new year with a major laser light show and fireworks display at the iconic Sky Tower, as residents celebrated the island nation’s successful response to the coronavirus outbreak that so far has resulted in just 2,162 coronavirus infections and 25 deaths.Many of the traditional celebrations around the world that mark the beginning of the new year have either been curtailed or called off, as public officials struggle to contain a rising surge in the number of infections.In Australia, the million people who normally gather at the Sydney Harbor to watch the world-famous fireworks display over the city’s renowned Opera House watched the proceedings from home. New South Wales Premier Gladys Berejiklian announced earlier this week that the public would not be allowed at the harbor because of an outbreak at its Northern Beach suburbs.The pandemic forced the cancellation of the midnight fireworks show over Berlin’s Brandenburg Gate, as well as the pyrotechnics over the River Thames in London, which has been under a strict lockdown that curtailed Christmas celebrations and shopping sprees.Across the Atlantic, New York City’s historic Times Square is banning visitors from gathering to witness the traditional “ball drop” that counts down the final minute of the outgoing year. In Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, officials have called off the annual New Year’s Eve beach party, which normally attracts hundreds of thousands of people with live music and a spectacular fireworks display.

SolarWinds Hackers Accessed Microsoft Source Code, Microsoft Says

The hacking group behind the SolarWinds compromise was able to break into Microsoft Corp. and access some of its source code, Microsoft said Thursday. In a blog post, Microsoft said its investigation into the SolarWinds breach had turned up irregularities with a “small number of internal accounts” and that one of the accounts “had been used to view source code in a number of source code repositories.” It added that the account had no ability to modify the code. The disclosure adds to the growing picture of the compromises associated with the SolarWinds hack, which used the Texas-based company’s flagship network monitoring software as a springboard to break into sensitive U.S. government networks and other tech companies. Microsoft had disclosed that, like other firms, it found malicious versions of SolarWinds’ software inside its network, but the source code disclosure is new. FILE – A woman walks in front of the Microsoft stand during the Cybersecurity Conference in Lille, northern France, Jan. 29, 2020.A company’s source code, the underlying set of instructions that run a piece of software or an operating system, is typically among its most closely guarded secrets. It is not clear how many or specifically which source code repositories the hackers were able to access or how long the hackers were lurking in Microsoft’s systems. A Microsoft spokesman declined to elaborate on the blog post. Modifying source code, which Microsoft said the hijacked account could not do, could have potentially disastrous consequences, but experts said that even just being able to review the code could offer hackers insight that might help them subvert Microsoft products or services. “The source code is the architectural blueprint of how the software is built,” said Andrew Fife of Israel-based Cycode, a source code protection company. “If you have the blueprint, it’s far easier to engineer attacks.” Both he and Ronen Slavin, Cycode’s chief technology officer, said a key unanswered question was which source code repositories were accessed. Microsoft has a huge range of products, from its flagship Windows operating system to lesser-known software such as social networking app Yammer and the design app Sway. Slavin said he was also worried by the possibility that the SolarWinds hackers were poring over Microsoft’s source code as prelude for something more ambitious. “To me the biggest question is, ‘Was this recon for the next big operation?’ ” he said. In its blog post, Microsoft said it had found no evidence of access “to production services or customer data.” “The investigation, which is ongoing, has also found no indications that our systems were used to attack others,” it said.  

2020 Finally Ending, but New Year’s Revelries Muted by Virus 

This New Year’s Eve is being celebrated like no other, with pandemic restrictions limiting crowds and many people bidding farewell to a year they’d prefer to forget.  Australia will be among the first nations to ring in 2021 because of its proximity to the International Date Line. In past years 1 million people crowded Sydney’s harbor to watch fireworks that center on the Sydney Harbor Bridge. Authorities this year are advising revelers to watch on television. People are only allowed in downtown Sydney if they have a restaurant reservation or are one of five guests of an inner-city apartment resident. People won’t be allowed in the city center without a permit. Some harborside restaurants are charging up to 1,690 Australian dollars ($1,294) for a seat, Sydney’s The Daily Telegraph newspaper reported Wednesday. A man and woman pose for a photo in front of a 2021 sign as a limited number of people begin celebrating New Year’s Eve at the Sydney Harbour waterfront amidst tightened COVID-19 prevention regulations in Sydney, Australia, Dec. 31, 2020.Sydney is Australia’s most populous city and has its most active community transmission of COVID-19 in recent weeks. Melbourne, Australia’s second-most populous city, has cancelled its fireworks this year.  For the first time in many, many years we made the big decision, difficult decision to cancel the fireworks,'' Melbourne Mayor Sally Capp said. We did that because we know that it attracts up to 450,000 people into the city for one moment at midnight to enjoy a spectacular display and music. We are not doing that this year,” she added. New Zealand, which is two hours ahead of Sydney, and several of its South Pacific island neighbors have no COVID-19, and New Year celebrations there are the same as ever. In Chinese societies, the Lunar New Year celebration that falls in February in 2021 generally takes precedence over solar New Year, on Jan. 1. While celebrations of the Western holiday have been growing more common in recent decades, this year will be more muted.  Beijing will hold a countdown ceremony with just a few invited guests, while other planned events have been cancelled. And nighttime temperatures plunging to -15 Celsius (- 5 Fahrenheit) will likely discourage people from spending the night out with friends.  Taiwan will host its usual New Year’s celebration, a fireworks display by its capital city’s iconic tower, Taipei 101, as well as a flag-raising ceremony in front of the Presidential Office Building the next morning. The island has been a success story in the pandemic, registering only 7 deaths and 700 confirmed cases of COVID-19.  Hong Kong, with its British colonial history and large expatriate population, has usually seen raucous celebrations along the waterfront and in bar districts. For the second year running, however, New Year’s Eve fireworks have been cancelled, this time over coronavirus rather than public security concerns.  Still roiled by its coronavirus outbreak, Hong Kong social distancing regulations restrict gatherings to only two people. Restaurants must close by 6 p.m. Live performances and dancing are not allowed. But crowds still throng shopping centers.  In Japan, some people skipped what’s customarily a chance to return to ancestral homes for the holidays, hoping to lessen health risks for extended families amid the coronavirus pandemic.  Rural restaurants saw business drop, while home deliveries of traditional New Year’s good luck'' food calledosechi” boomed.  Emperor Naruhito is delivering a video message for the new year, instead of waving from a window with the imperial family as cheering crowds throng the palace.  Train services that usually carry people on shrine visits overnight December 31, as well as some countdown ceremonies, have been cancelled.  Meiji Shrine in downtown Tokyo, which attracts millions of people every year during New Year holidays and is usually open all night on New Year’s Eve, will close its doors at 4 p.m. on December 31 this year, the shrine announced on its website.  In South Korea, Seoul’s city government has canceled its annual New Year’s Eve bell-ringing ceremony in the Jongno neighborhood for the first time since it first held the event in 1953, months after the end of the Korean War.  The event, in which citizens ring a large bell at a traditional pavilion when the clock strikes twelve, drew an estimated 100,000 people and was broadcast live.  Authorities in eastern coastal areas say they’ll close beaches and other spots where hundreds of thousands of people typically gather on New Year’s Day to watch the sunrise.  The southeastern city of Pohang says it instead plans to broadcast live the sunrise at several beaches under its jurisdiction on its YouTube channel on January 1.  Earlier this week, South Korea’s central government said it will ban private social gatherings of more than five people and shut down ski resorts and major tourist spots nationwide from Christmas Eve until January 3 as efforts to bring a recent viral resurgence under control.  Associated Press journalists Huizhong Wu in Taipei, Taiwan, Raf Wober in Hong Kong, Mary Yamaguchi and Yuri Kageyama in Tokyo, and Hyung-jin Kim in Seoul, South Korea, contributed to this report.  

California Reports Coronavirus Variant Case

Health officials in the U.S. state of California said a patient there has been infected with a coronavirus variant first detected in Britain, and that it is likely more cases will be identified in the United States.California is the second state with the COVID-19 variant strain, following a case in Colorado earlier this week.As was true with the Colorado case, the California Department of Public Health said the person infected there also had no known travel history.California Health and Human Services Secretary Mark Ghaly called the development “concerning” and stressed the importance of known methods of preventing coronavirus spread, such as wearing masks, social distancing, staying home and avoiding travel.”It appears that this particular mutation does make the virus better at transmitting from one person to another,” said Dr. Anthony Fauci, the top U.S. infectious disease specialist.During an online discussion Wednesday with California Gov. Gavin Newsom, Fauci said virus mutations are normal, and that he was “not surprised” additional cases of the COVID-19 variant would be found in the country.He also said the variant is not believed to cause more severe illness than earlier forms, and that vaccines already being deployed should be just as effective against it.The United States has begun vaccinations of frontline health care workers and high-risk populations such as those living in nursing homes using two vaccines given emergency use authorization.The vaccines will then be made available to other groups in the coming months.Fauci said if the vaccination program progresses as it should through May, June and July, then by early fall there will be “enough good herd immunity to be able to really get back to some strong semblance of normality – schools, theaters, sports events, restaurants.”The United States has recorded 342,000 COVID-19 deaths, including more than 3,700 on Wednesday, according to the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center.

Alarm in Australia as COVID-19 Infections Grow

Tough New Year’s Eve restrictions are being put in place as Australia’s biggest city struggles to contain growing coronavirus clusters.Sydney’s COVID-19 outbreak has been described by health officials as “a bit of a roller coaster ride.” Australia’s biggest city accounts for most of the estimated 204 active infections across the country.Parts of its northern coastal suburbs, where a cluster of cases emerged about two weeks ago, remain in lockdown. Infections have been detected in other parts of the city.The authorities have banned large gatherings on New Year’s Eve to “avoid super spreading events.” Sydney’s famous fireworks display will go ahead, but crowds won’t be allowed to gather around the harbor to watch.Gatherings have been limited, and visits to nursing homes banned for at least a week to try to curb the spread of the virus.“Please, the last thing we want is to welcome in 2021 with a super-spreading event,” said New South Wales Premier Gladys Berejiklian. “2021, all of us are hoping, will be easier on us than 2020 and let us start the year off on a positive foot by doing the right thing, by respecting the restrictions that are in place, but also demonstrating common sense.”Experts are calling for the state government to impose a citywide lockdown as infections grow.In response, other Australian states and territories are restricting travel for residents from Sydney.In Victoria, six coronavirus cases have been reported in the past two days, which authorities have linked to infections further north in Sydney.Residents in Victoria are being urged not to travel to neighboring New South Wales, and masks will become mandatory indoors. Residents are not required to wear a mask inside their own homes, but they must if they visit friends or go shopping.Victoria’s Health Minister Martin Foley said a swift response to the outbreak is needed.“Now that we have got links to the New South Wales outbreaks here in Victoria, we are having to respond really quickly to get on top of that, and a part of that is to make sure that as the situation seemingly continues to deteriorate in New South Wales that we respond appropriately,” he said.Australia has recorded 28,380 COVID-19 cases since the pandemic began. Its just over 200 active estimated COVID-19 cases is small by many international standards, but in the context of Australia, a country that has taken a very cautious approach to the virus, the number is cause for alarm.With fewer than 1,000 deaths related to COVID-19 since the pandemic, Australia has fared better than many other developed nations.Health officials in Sydney have blamed “an avalanche of complacency” for recent outbreaks.

Scientists Trying to Understand New Virus Variant

Does it spread more easily? Make people sicker? Mean that treatments and vaccines won’t work? Questions are multiplying as fast as new variants of the coronavirus, especially the one moving through England and now popping up in the U.S. and other countries.Scientists say there is reason for concern and more to learn but that the new variants should not cause alarm.Worry has been growing since before Christmas, when Britain’s prime minister said the coronavirus variant seemed to spread more easily than earlier ones and was moving rapidly through England. On Tuesday, Colorado health officials said they had found it there. And on Wednesday, California officials reported a case.Here are some questions and answers on what’s known about the virus so far.Q: Where did this new variant come from?A: New variants have been seen almost since the virus was first detected in China nearly a year ago. Viruses often mutate, or develop small changes, as they reproduce and move through a population.Most changes are trivial. “It’s the change of one or two letters in the genetic alphabet that doesn’t make much difference in the ability to cause disease,” said Dr. Philip Landrigan, a former Centers for Disease Control and Prevention scientist who directs a global health program at Boston College.A more concerning situation is when a virus mutates by changing the proteins on its surface to help it escape from drugs or the immune system, or if it acquires a lot of changes that make it very different from previous versions.Q: How does one variant become dominant?A: That can happen if one variant takes hold and starts spreading in an area, or because “super spreader” events helped it become established.It also can happen if a mutation gives a new variant an advantage, such as helping it spread more easily than other ones that are circulating.Scientists are still working to confirm whether the variant in England spreads more easily, but they are finding some evidence that it does. The variant “out-competes the other strains and moves faster and infects more people, so it wins the race,” Landrigan said.The British variant was first detected in September, WHO officials said. A new South African variant also has emerged.Q: What’s worrisome about the British variant?A: It has many mutations — nearly two dozen — and eight are on the spike protein that the virus uses to attach to and infect cells. The spike is what vaccines and antibody drugs target.Dr. Ravi Gupta, a virus expert at the University of Cambridge in England, said modeling studies suggest it may be up to two times more infectious than the version that’s been most common in England so far. He and other researchers posted a report of it on a website scientists use to quickly share developments, but it has not been formally reviewed or published in a journal.Q: Does it make people sicker or more likely to die?A: “There’s no indication that either of those is true, but clearly those are two issues we’ve got to watch,” Landrigan said. As more patients get infected with the new variant, “they’ll know fairly soon if the new strain makes people sicker.”A WHO outbreak expert, Maria Van Kerkhove, said that “the information that we have so far is that there isn’t a change” in the kind of illness or its severity.Q: What do the mutations mean for treatments?A: A couple of cases in England raise concern that the mutations in some of the emerging new variants could hurt the potency of drugs that supply antibodies to block the virus from infecting cells.Studies on antibody response are under way, Van Kerkhove said.One drugmaker, Eli Lilly, said that tests in its lab suggest that its drug remains fully active.Q: What about vaccines?A: Scientists believe current vaccines will still be effective against the variant, but they are working to confirm that. On Wednesday, British officials reiterated that there is no data suggesting the new variant hurts the effectiveness of the available vaccines.Vaccines induce broad immune system responses besides just prompting the immune system to make antibodies to the virus, so they are expected to still work, several scientists said.Q: What can I do to reduce my risk?A: Follow the advice to wear a mask, wash your hands often, maintain social distance and avoid crowds, public health experts say.”The bottom line is we need to suppress transmission” of the coronavirus, said the WHO’s director-general, Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.”The more we allow it to spread, the more mutations will happen.”  

California Has Nation’s 2nd Confirmed Case of Virus Variant

California on Wednesday announced the nation’s second confirmed case of the new and apparently more contagious variant of the coronavirus, offering a strong indication that the infection is spreading more widely in the United States.Gov. Gavin Newsom announced the infection found in Southern California during an online conversation with Dr. Anthony Fauci, head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.”I don’t think Californians should think that this is odd. It’s to be expected,” Fauci said.Newsom did not provide any details about the person who was infected.The announcement came 24 hours after word of the first reported U.S. variant infection, which emerged in Colorado. That person was identified Wednesday as a Colorado National Guardsman who had been sent to help out at a nursing home struggling with an outbreak. Health officials said a second Guard member may have it, too.The cases triggered a host of questions about how the version circulating in England arrived in the U.S. and whether it is too late to stop it now, with top experts saying it is probably already spreading elsewhere in the United States.”The virus is becoming more fit, and we’re like a deer in the headlights,” warned Dr. Eric Topol, head of Scripps Research Translational Institute. He noted that the U.S. does far less genetic sequencing of virus samples to discover variants than other developed nations, and thus was probably slow to detect this new mutation.The two Guard members had been dispatched Dec. 23 to work at the Good Samaritan Society nursing home in the small town of Simla, in a mostly rural area about 90 miles outside Denver, said Dr. Rachel Herlihy, state epidemiologist. They were among six Guard members sent to the home.Nasal swab samples taken from the two as part of the Guard’s routine coronavirus testing were sent to the state laboratory, which began looking for the variant after its spread was announced in Britain earlier this month, Herlihy said. Samples from staff and residents at the nursing home are also being screened for the variant at the lab, but so far no evidence of it has been found, she said.The Colorado case announced Tuesday involves a man in his 20s who had not traveled recently, officials said. He has mild symptoms and is isolating at his home near Denver, while the person with the suspected case is isolating at a Colorado hotel while further genetic analysis is done on his sample, officials said.The nursing home said it is working closely with the state and is also looking forward to beginning vaccinations next week.Several states, including California, Massachusetts and Delaware, are also analyzing suspicious virus samples for the variant, said Dr. Greg Armstrong, who directs genetic sequencing at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. He said the CDC is working with a national lab that gets samples from around the country to broaden that search, with results expected within days.The discovery in Colorado has added urgency to the nation’s vaccination drive against COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, that has killed more than 340,000 people and sickened nearly 20 million in the U.S., according to Johns Hopkins University.Johns Hopkins said 3,927 people died Wednesday of COVID-19 in the U.S., a new daily record.Britain is seeing infections soar and hospitalizations climb to their highest levels on record. The variant has also been found in several other countries.Scientists have found no evidence that it is more lethal or causes more severe illness, and they believe the vaccines now being dispensed will be effective against it. But a faster-spreading virus could swamp hospitals with seriously ill patients.The discovery overseas led the CDC to issue rules on Christmas Day requiring travelers arriving from Britain to show proof of a negative COVID-19 test. But U.S. health officials said the Colorado patient’s lack of travel history suggests the new variant is already spreading in this country.Topol said it is too late for travel bans.”We’re behind in finding it. Colorado is likely one of many places it’s landed here,” he said. “It’s all over the place. How can you ban travel from everywhere?”Colorado public health officials are conducting contact tracing to determine its spread.Researchers estimate the variant is 50% to 70% more contagious, said Dr. Eric France, Colorado’s chief medical officer.”Instead of only making two or three other people sick, you might actually spread it to four or five people,” France said. “That means we’ll have more cases in our communities. Those number of cases will rise quickly and, of course, with more cases come more hospitalizations.”London and southeast England were placed under strict lockdown measures earlier this month because of the variant, and dozens of countries banned flights from Britain. France also briefly barred trucks from Britain before allowing them back in, provided the drivers got tested for the virus.New versions of the virus have been seen almost since it was first detected in China a year ago. It is common for viruses to undergo minor changes as they reproduce and move through a population. The fear is that mutations at some point will become significant enough to defeat the vaccines.South Africa has also discovered a highly contagious COVID-19 variant that is driving the country’s latest spike of cases, hospitalizations and deaths.  

Deaf Painter Uses Art to Warn Others About COVID

Born deaf into a silent world, Nancy Rourke turned long ago to painting to convey her innermost feelings. So, when the 63-year-old artist contracted COVID-19, she responded with a series of striking images intended to alert others to the dangers of the disease. Rourke tested positive on November 13. Her case was more severe than many others because she also has autoimmune disease. She had fatigue, chills, cough, congestion, sore throat, loss of taste and smell, body aches, severe headaches, dizziness, diarrhea, loss of appetite and shortness of breath. Deaf artist Nancy Rourke contracted COVID-19 in November and is currently on the road to recovery. (Courtesy photo)”Your chest gets so tight, and it hurts, and you’re wondering why is it so hard to breathe,” she said. “It’s so labor-intensive and the coughing — I never stopped coughing every single day. Now, finally I have some relief. But I still cough.”  Rourke, who spoke to VOA by phone through an interpreter using a telecommunications relay service, said she also suffered confusion, nightmares and weight loss.  Anxious to warn others who seemed not to be taking the pandemic seriously, the Colorado-based artist began producing paintings and drawings based on her experience with the disease and sharing them on social media. Nancy Rourke shared a series of drawings she did on social media to raise awareness about the dangers of COVID-19. The drawings depict all the symptoms she had when infected. (Courtesy photo)One of the drawings shows a chopped hand — a scene from a scary nightmare that Rourke had while sick. Another drawing shows a figure with a question mark on the nose or mouth, which represents her loss of taste and smell for two weeks.  Rourke, the only deaf person in her family, said she struggled as a child to explain her feelings even to her closest relatives. It was during her high school years that she found an outlet for her emotions in art. “My identity of being a deaf person — I was frustrated, and I was trying to describe to my parents and to my teacher about my experiences. And they kind of didn’t get it. And so, words weren’t explaining my frustrations well enough, so I just started drawing,” she said.  Deaf artist Nancy Rourke’s painting “Eighteen Signs” hangs on display at the Deaf Action Center in Shreveport, Louisiana. (Courtesy photo)That early beginning led to a 20-year career as a graphic designer for major corporations, including 20th Century Fox (now 20th Century Studios) and Microsoft. But in 2009, she decided to make a shift. After receiving a grant from a Philadelphia-based foundation, Rourke found herself able to focus full time on deaf art, which is based on deaf history, culture and the deaf experience. Even before getting sick, Rourke said, she found the coronavirus pandemic presented challenges for her as a deaf person. For example, some people trying to communicate with her would take off their face masks and expect her to read their lips. When Rourke asked them to keep their masks on and write their messages, they seemed to get irritated. “Expressions are really important, and I can read microexpressions,” she said.  Rourke and many others in the deaf community also found it upsetting that for a long time, the White House did not provide an American Sign Language interpreter for public briefings on COVID-19 — or anything else.  “The White House needs an interpreter,” she said. “There’s no access to communication, and we can’t understand what’s going on, especially when it comes to coronavirus when it was such a big deal.” Nancy Rourke painted a piece to express the frustration of the deaf community at the White House for not having ASL interpreters at COVID-19 briefings in the past. (Courtesy photo)She created an oil painting depicting the frustration felt by the deaf community at the time. The piece shows a group of “screaming hands” in different colors with the White House in the background. The hands symbolize deaf protesters begging for ASL access.  As a result of lobbying efforts from the National Association of the Deaf, a federal judge ruled in September that the White House has to provide interpreters for deaf people during COVID-19 press briefings.  Every year in February, Rourke undertakes a 28-day art challenge, during which she makes art the whole month. This time, she is planning a project with themes related to 2020, including her COVID-19 journey. Deaf artist Nancy Rourke is in the beginning stages of a project, which will debut in February and will include themes of 2020, including her experiences with COVID-19. (Courtesy photo)The centerpiece will be a wooden construction modeled on a 28-day Advent calendar. It will have 28 doors, with each door opening to illustrate an incident from the past year.  Rourke now believes her illness in November was her second infection. She said she suffered a milder form of the common symptoms after returning home from a business trip to New Jersey in March but did not get tested at the time.

Britain Approves AstraZeneca Vaccine, Offering Hope Amid Surge in COVID-19 Infections 

Britain became the first country to approve the coronavirus vaccine developed jointly by Oxford University and AstraZeneca Wednesday. Scientists say the vaccine could be a game changer in the global fight against the pandemic.   Regulators say the vaccine has shown around 70% effectiveness against COVID-19, a relatively high figure compared to vaccines for many other diseases.   “This vaccine, COVID-19 vaccine AstraZeneca, has been approved for use in people aged 18 years and older, with two standard doses, four to 12 weeks apart,” said Dr. June Raine, CEO of Britain’s Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA).   “As I’ve said before, and I will say again today, the safety of the public always comes first. The MHRA’s approval has been reached following a thorough and scientifically rigorous review of all the evidence of safety, of quality and of effectiveness of the COVID-19 vaccine AstraZeneca,” Raine added, during a press conference Wednesday in London.   Earlier in December, Britain was the first of several Western nations to approve the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, which is around 95% effective. However, it is more expensive at around $20 per dose and must be stored at minus 70 degrees Celsius.   In contrast, the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine costs around $4 per dose and only needs to be stored at refrigerator temperatures.  In an interview with VOA, Dr. Simon Clarke, a microbiologist at the University of Reading in Britain, said those attributes make the drug particularly suitable for less well-funded health systems.  “Developing countries with a less sophisticated cold chain and with smaller budgets will be able to use this vaccine,” Clarke said. Research into the optimum dosing regimen for the AstraZeneca vaccine is ongoing. Britain plans to administer the first dose to as many people as possible, rather than focusing only on elderly and vulnerable groups. A second dose will follow up to 12 weeks later for longer-term protection. Wei Shen Lim, chair of Britain’s Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunization, explained the decision.  “What is impressive about the vaccine studies is that after the first dose, individuals acquire a high level of protection shortly after the dose. Currently in the U.K., we know that COVID infection rates are very, very high. The immediate urgency is for rapid and high levels of vaccine uptake,” he told the press conference Wednesday.   Clarke said questions remain on the British government’s approach. “There is government pressure to increase the coverage of vaccination. And that’s understandable,” he said. “People want it done as quickly as possible. But if you end up putting more people in [the] hospital because they’re vulnerable and they didn’t get the regimen of the vaccine, then that means that our hospitals are still going to be under pressure.”   Matt Hancock, Britain’s health secretary, said the approval was a cause for great optimism.  “I’m confident … that the NHS will be able to deliver these shots into people’s arms at the speed at which it can be manufactured,” he told Sky News. “And I’m also now, with this approval this morning, highly confident that we can get enough vulnerable people vaccinated by the spring, that we can now see our route out of this pandemic.”   The road to recovery will be difficult. Britain is struggling with a surge of infections driven by a new variant of the coronavirus that doctors say is over 50% more infectious. There are record numbers of hospitalizations, with patients being treated in ambulances as hospital beds are running short.   “Control room staff are having to make incredibly difficult decisions to decide who gets an ambulance and in what order, quite often with huge numbers of people waiting for ambulances,” said Will Broughton, a trustee at Britain’s College of Paramedics. “And they have nobody left to send.”   Several cases of the new mutant virus have been found in other countries. Scientists say its spread makes the global rollout of vaccines even more urgent.       

Actor Dawn Wells, Castaway Mary Ann on TV’s ‘Gilligan’s Island,’ Dies From COVID-19

Dawn Wells, who parlayed her girl-next-door charm and wholesome beauty into enduring TV fame as the sweet-natured desert island castaway Mary Ann on the classic 1960s sitcom Gilligan’s Island, died Wednesday at age 82, her publicist said. 
Wells, who won the title of Miss Nevada in 1959 and competed in the Miss America contest, died from complications of COVID-19, publicist Harlan Boll said in a statement. 
Born in the gambling city of Reno, Wells played Kansas farm girl Mary Ann Summers, one of seven castaways stranded after their boat, the S.S. Minnow, became battered in a storm during what was supposed to be a three-hour tour from Hawaii. Wells beat out actors including Raquel Welch for her role. 
 Gilligan’s Island ran for three seasons (1964-1967) with a cast that also included Bob Denver as the zany Gilligan, Alan Hale Jr. as the Skipper, Jim Backus as millionaire Thurston Howell III, Natalie Schafer as his posh wife, Russell Johnson as the Professor and Tina Louise as movie star Ginger.The death of Wells leaves Louise, 86, the sole survivor of these cast members. FILE – In this 1965 file photo, Dawn Wells, center, poses with fellow cast members of “Gilligan’s Island,” Bob Denver and Alan Hale Jr., in Los Angeles.The 98 episodes invariably involved their efforts in vain to get off the island, even as a parade of guest stars dropped in and had no trouble getting out. The show drew the wrath of critics, but its innocent fun caught on with viewers at a time of tumult in America after the assassination of a president and during the rise of the Civil Rights Movement and the escalation of the Vietnam War. Wells, playing a cheerful brunette Midwestern farm girl, appeared in the series wearing short shorts, midriff tops and pigtails. Louise, playing a buxom red-haired sensation akin to Marilyn Monroe, wore slinky, form-fitting dresses. The two inspired what became an enduring pop culture question for men: “Ginger or Mary Ann?” 
Wells said that question was the most common topic mentioned to her by fans. “Mostly they’ll pick a favorite, Ginger or Mary Ann. For some reason, they feel they have to make a choice,” Wells told Forbes magazine in 2016. 
Wells had effusive praise for Denver and her other cast mates but was not especially close to Louise, who distanced herself from the Ginger character and declined to appear in various Gilligan’s Island reboots with her former co-stars. 
“We had nothing against each other,” Wells told the Los Angeles Times in 2014. “We didn’t have much in common.” 
 Gilligan’s Island was canceled by network executives despite respectable ratings, then became ubiquitous in syndicated reruns. 
“A misconception is that we must be wealthy, rolling in the dough, because we got residuals. We didn’t really get a dime,” Wells told Forbes. 
Wells said she was paid $750 a week, adding, “Sherwood Schwartz, our producer, reportedly made $90 million on the reruns alone.” 
Like some of her co-stars, she suffered from typecasting in Hollywood in the years after the series ended, appearing in TV guest spots and stage work before taking roles in B-movies. 
  FILE – This Oct. 2, 1978, photo shows the cast of “Gilligan’s Island,” from left, Russell Johnson, Jim Backus, Natalie Schafer, Alan Hale Jr., Bob Denver, Judith Baldwin replacing original cast member Tina Louise, and Dawn Wells.In light of the show’s steady popularity in the 1970s, three made-for-TV movies were made with progressively far-fetched plots involving Soviet satellites and visiting basketball players: Rescue from Gilligan’s Island (1978), The Castaways on Gilligan’s Island (1979) and The Harlem Globetrotters on Gilligan’s Island (1981). 
Wells also lent her voice to the animated Gilligan’s Planet (1982) in which the castaways become stranded on a faraway planet. 
Wells also capitalized on her fame by writing, Mary Ann’s Gilligan’s Island Cookbook, and later, for the 50th anniversary of the series in 2014, the book, What Would Mary Ann Do? A Guide to Life. 
Wells was born Oct. 18, 1938, in Reno, studied theater at the University of Washington, and headed to Hollywood after her beauty pageant success. 
She embraced her pop culture status but said there was more to her than just being Mary Ann. 
“I’m deeper, smarter, more ambitious, funnier. I think if you meet me for 15 minutes, there is nothing you won’t know: what you see is what you get,” she told Forbes. 

Britain Drug Regulatory Agency Approves Second COVID-19 Vaccine for Emergency Use

The year 2020 is ending with good news about two more potential vaccines that could slowly bring an end to the global COVID-19 pandemic that has killed nearly 1.8 million people out of a total of nearly 82 million infections.   Britain’s medical regulatory agency announced Wednesday that it has granted emergency authorization of a coronavirus vaccine developed jointly by British-Swedish pharmaceutical giant AstraZeneca and Oxford University. Late-stage clinical trials of the AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine revealed it to be 70% effective against COVID-19. The vaccine had a 62% efficacy rate for participants given a full two doses, but tests of a smaller sub-group revealed it to be 90% effective when given a half-dose followed by a full dose weeks later.   The AstraZeneca/Oxford vaccine is the second to be approved by Britain for its mass inoculation effort, which began earlier this month with the vaccine developed by U.S.-based Pfizer and Germany’s BioNTech.  The new vaccine will be distributed across the country within days, with Britain having already ordered 100 million doses.   Unlike the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, which needs to be stored in super-cold refrigerators at temperatures below 70 degrees Celsius, the newly approved vaccine can be stored at normal temperatures of 2 to 8 degrees Celsius, making it easier to transport and administer to people in poorer and remote nations.   But the AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine has come under intense scrutiny over the number of people who took part in the smaller sub-group, which was just 2,741, and whether it is effective for people over age 55.   In a related development, Chinese state-owned drug maker Sinopharm is seeking regulatory approval for its COVID-19 vaccine after it was found to be 79.3 percent effective against the disease in a final large-scale clinical trial. The vaccine, developed by Sinopharm’s subsidiary Beijing Biological Products Institute, is one of five vaccines developed by Chinese companies that have already been administered to more than one million people in China under its emergency use program while still undergoing Phase 3 clinical trials.   The United Arab Emirates granted emergency use approval for a Sinopharm-developed vaccine earlier this month after it was shown to be 86% effective in preventing moderate and severe cases of the virus in a late-stage clinical trial back in September.   Wednesday’s vaccine news comes just days after several European Union countries began inoculating its citizens after receiving a first shipment of 10,000 doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine.  Vaccinations also began Wednesday in Singapore, with a 46-year-old nurse the first in the city-state to be inoculated with the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine.  The nurse is one of more than 30 staffers at the National Centre for Infectious Diseases to receive the first dose of two-shot vaccine, with the second dose to be delivered sometime in January.  Singapore, which has one of the lowest rates of total infections with just 58,569, including 29 deaths, is the first Asian nation to approve the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine.  It expects to have enough vaccine doses for all its 5.7 million people by the third quarter of 2021. Meanwhile, another potential COVID-19 vaccine developed by U.S.-based drug maker Novavax has begun final-stage testing in the United States. The trials involving 30,000 volunteers will focus on high-risk older adults, as well as people from Black and Hispanic communities who have been disproportionately affected by the virus.    

New US Dietary Guidelines: No Candy, Cake for Kids Under 2

Parents now have an extra reason to say no to candy, cake and ice cream for young children. The first U.S. government dietary guidelines for infants and toddlers, released Tuesday, recommend feeding only breast milk for at least six months and no added sugar for children under age 2. “It’s never too early to start,” said Barbara Schneeman, a nutritionist at University of California, Davis. “You have to make every bite count in those early years.” The guidelines stop short of two key recommendations from scientists advising the government. Those advisers said in July that everyone should limit their added sugar intake to less than 6% of calories and men should limit alcohol to one drink per day. Instead, the guidelines stick with previous advice: Limit added sugar to less than 10% of calories per day after age 2. And men should limit alcohol to no more than two drinks per day, twice as much as advised for women. “I don’t think we’re finished with alcohol,” said Schneeman, who chaired a committee advising the government on the guidelines. “There’s more we need to learn.” The dietary guidelines are issued every five years by the Agriculture Department and the Department of Health and Human Services. The government uses them to set standards for school lunches and other programs. Some highlights: Infants, toddlers and moms Babies should have only breast milk at least until they reach 6 months, the guidelines say. If breast milk isn’t available, they should get iron-fortified infant formula during the first year. Babies should get supplemental vitamin D beginning soon after birth. Babies can start eating other food at about 6 months and should be introduced to potential allergenic foods along with other foods. “Introducing peanut-containing foods in the first year reduces the risk that an infant will develop a food allergy to peanuts,” the guidelines say. There’s more advice than in prior guidelines for pregnant and breastfeeding women. To promote healthy brain development in their babies, these women should eat 8 to 12 ounces of seafood per week. They should be sure to choose fish — such as cod, salmon, sardines and tilapia — with lower levels of mercury, which can harm children’s nervous systems. Pregnant women should not drink alcohol, according to the guidelines, and breastfeeding women should be cautious. Caffeine in modest amounts appears safe, and women can discuss that with their doctors. Alcohol and men In July, the science advisers suggested men who drink alcohol should limit themselves to one serving per day — a 12-ounce can of beer, a 5-ounce glass of wine or a shot of liquor. Tuesday’s official guidelines ignored that, keeping the advice for men at two drinks per day. Dr. Westley Clark of Santa Clara University said that’s appropriate. Heavy drinking and binge drinking are harmful, he said, but the evidence isn’t as clear for moderate drinking.  Lowering the limit for men would likely be socially, religiously or culturally unacceptable to many, Clark said, which could have ripple effects for the rest of the guidelines. “They need to be acceptable to people, otherwise they’ll reject it outright and we’ll be worse off,” he said. “If you lose the public, these guidelines have no merit whatsoever.” More careful scientific research into the long-term effects of low or moderate levels of drinking is needed, he said. What’s on your plate? Most Americans fall short of following the best advice on nutrition, contributing to obesity, heart disease and diabetes. Much of the new advice sounds familiar: Load your plate with fruits and vegetables, and cut back on sweets, saturated fats and sodium.  The guidelines suggest making small changes that add up: Substitute plain shredded wheat for frosted cereal. Choose low-sodium canned black beans. Drink sparkling water instead of soda. “It is really important to make healthier choices, every meal, every day, to develop a pattern of healthy eating,” said Pam Miller of the Agriculture Department’s food and nutrition service. There’s an app to help people follow the guidelines available through the government’s My Plate website. Read labels The biggest sources of added sugars in the typical U.S. diet are soda and other sugar-sweetened beverages, desserts, snacks, candy and sweetened coffee and tea. These foods contribute very little nutrition, so the guidelines advise limits. There’s information on added sugar on the “Nutrition Facts” label on packaged foods. Information on saturated fats and sodium is on the label too. 

Argentina’s Senate Poised to Vote on Legalizing Abortion

Argentina was on the cusp of legalizing abortion Tuesday over the objections of its influential Roman Catholic Church, with the Senate preparing to vote on a measure that has the backing of the ruling party and already has passed in the lower house. 
If passed, the bill would make Argentina the first big country in predominantly Catholic Latin America to allow abortion on demand. The vote is expected to be close after what was expected to be a marathon debate, beginning at 4 p.m. local time (1900 GMT) and likely to stretch into Wednesday morning. 
Demonstrators both for and against the bill came from around the country to stand vigil in front of the Senate building in Buenos Aires. Argentine senators attend a session to debate an abortion bill in Buenos Aires, Argentina, Dec. 29, 2020.”Argentina is a pro-life country,” one woman, who said she was from Cordoba province, told local television as she sat in a folding chair under an umbrella sheltering her from the Southern Hemisphere summer sun. She and others who knelt in prayer nearby said they were against the proposed change in law. 
Maria Angela Guerrero of the Campaign for Legal Abortion activist group, speaking to reporters in front of the Senate, said she was “cautiously optimistic” the bill would pass. 
On the other side of the debate is the Catholic Church, which is calling on senators to reject the proposal to allow women to end pregnancies up to the 14th week. Argentina is the birthplace of Pope Francis. 
Argentine law now allows abortion only when there is a serious risk to the health of the mother or in cases of rape. 
 A woman against an abortion bill prays as Argentina’s Senate prepares to vote on a measure that has the backing of the ruling party and has already passed the lower house, in Buenos Aires, Argentina, Dec. 29, 2020.Legal abortion is extremely rare in Latin America because of the long history of opposition by the Church. Across the region, abortions are available on demand only in Communist Cuba, comparatively tiny Uruguay, and some parts of Mexico. 
The change in law has been rejected by Argentina’s Congress before, but this is the first time such a bill is being presented to lawmakers with support from the ruling government. In 2018, before center-left Peronist Alberto Fernandez was elected president, a similar bill was rejected by a slim margin. 
The measure is accompanied by side legislation aimed at assisting women who want to continue their pregnancies and face severe economic or social difficulties. 

California Expected to Extend Stay-at-Home Orders as Health Care System Overwhelmed

The western U.S. state of California are expected to extend strict stay-at-home orders Tuesday for residents in two major areas of the state as it struggles with increasing numbers of new COVID-19 infections.  Governor Gavin Newsom said Monday it was “self-evident” that the restrictions first imposed three weeks ago for central San Joaquin Valley and Southern California will be extended as intensive care units in hospitals are filled or nearly filled to capacity.  San Joaquin Valley is home to California’s vital agricultural sector, while Southern California includes the major cities of Los Angeles and San Diego. FILE – An ambulance crew waits with a patient outside the Coast Plaza Hospital emergency room during a surge of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) cases in Los Angeles, California, Dec. 26, 2020.The situation has become so dire that hospitals in those regions have been turning away patients seeking emergency care and erecting tents as makeshift treatment rooms to treat the overflow of COVID-19 patients.   California has become the latest epicenter of the coronavirus pandemic in the United States.  According to figures compiled by Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Center, the state has 2,192,694 total confirmed COVID-19 infections, including 24,419 deaths.  Governor Newsom warned Monday that the state was about to undergo a “surge on top of a surge, arguably on top of another surge” as many Californians ignored urgings from health experts not to travel during the Christmas and New Year’s holidays. An airline worker in Christmas themed attire assists travelers at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport in Arlington, Virginia, Dec. 28, 2020.U.S. officials said nearly 1.3 million people went through U.S. airports on Sunday following the Christmas holiday, the highest level of air travel in more than nine months.  India is the latest nation to report discovery of a new variant of the novel coronavirus scientists say is far more contagious than the initial strain.  The Health Ministry says six people who returned to India from Britain in recent weeks have tested positive for the new strain.  The six patients and their close contacts have been placed in isolation, and the ministry says it has tracked down their fellow travelers.  India has suspended all flights from Britain until the end of the month, joining such countries as South Korea, Finland, Japan and Saudi Arabia.   The head of the World Health Organization is calling for an increase in genomic sequencing of the coronavirus after new variants have been detected in Britain and South Africa. FILE – World Health Organization Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus attends a news conference in Geneva.WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said at an online news conference Monday from Geneva that “only if countries are looking and testing effectively, will you be able to pick up variants and adjust strategies to cope.” He said WHO is working closely with scientists worldwide to “better understand any and all changes to the virus” and their impacts, and he called on countries to share any genetic information with WHO and other countries. A person walks past a roadside public health information sign, amidst the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, near Oxford, Britain, Dec. 28, 2020.British authorities are expected to approve the AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine this week.  If approved, AstraZeneca’s vaccine will become the fifth to have been rolled out to fight the virus. Early tests showed that the vaccine was 70% effective for preventing illness, compared to 95% reported by Pfizer and its German partner BioNTech. Russia and China also have their own vaccines. South Korea’s Yonhap news agency is reporting that U.S. pharmaceutical firm Moderna has agreed to supply 20 million doses of its new COVID-19 vaccine to the Asian nation.  Yonhap says the South Korean presidential office confirmed the agreement had been reached after a videoconference Monday between President Moon Jae-in and Moderna CEO Stephane Bancel. The agreement comes as South Korea reported 40 new COVID-19 fatalities, its highest single day figure since the start of the pandemic, raising its total death toll to 859.  Health officials also confirmed 1,046 new coronavirus cases, bringing the total number of confirmed cases to 58,725.   Also Monday, another COVID-19 vaccine candidate is beginning its final-stage testing in the United States. The testing for the vaccine candidate, made by Novavax, will involve 30,000 volunteers to determine whether the vaccine is effective and safe.FILE – A researcher lifts a vial with a potential COVID-19 vaccine at Novavax labs in Gaithersburg, Maryland, March 20, 2020, one of the labs developing a vaccine for the coronavirus.The trials will focus on high-risk older adults, as well as people from Black and Hispanic communities who have been disproportionately affected by the virus. The latest vaccine on the horizon comes as the world reached the grim milestone of 81 million people worldwide infected by the virus with 1.7 million world deaths globally, according to Johns Hopkins University.  The United States leads the world in both the number of total infections with 19.2 million and deaths with over 334,000 people. 

South Sudan Concert Draws Tens of Thousands in Defiance of COVID-19 Protocols

Health experts in South Sudan are criticizing organizers of a weekend concert in Juba where tens of thousands of people gathered in clear violation of the health ministry’s COVID-19 protocols.Tanzanian music star Diamond Platnumz attracted all kinds of fans to the outdoor event at the Doctor John Garang Mausoleum, including President Salva Kiir.The vast majority of concert goers ignored health ministry and World Health Organization directives to social distance or wear masks, although President Kiir wore a face covering.Dr. Angelo Guop Kouch, director of South Sudan’s Public Health Emergency Operation Center, which manages COVID-19 cases in the country, said the gathering was not advisable, saying “health authorities should be involved when there are such activities in the country because of the crowd.”A World Health Organization epidemiologist in South Sudan, Dr. Joseph Wamala, said new strains of COVID-19 have emerged that can spread more easily in South Sudan.“The identification of this new strain is really a reason for countries to reinforce measures to limit spread through the recommended measures; using the mask, observing respiratory etiquette,” Dr. Wamala told VOA’s South Sudan in Focus.To date, COVID-19 has had a relatively light impact on South Sudan, with just 3,511 confirmed cases and only 63 deaths.But that situation could quickly change, says Health Ministry spokesman Dr. Thuou Loi Cingoth. “People are dying of COVID-19 and right now we have people who are in critical condition in our facility affected by COVID-19. Now, whether we are going to go to the stage of asking the law enforcement agencies to ensure that measures against COVID-19 are adhered to by the public, I still don’t know. But it is our appeal that the public listen,” Dr. Loi told South Sudan in Focus.Saturday’s concert was an “absolute violation of our declared and official position as the Ministry of health,” Dr. Loi added.One of the concert organizers, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the concert was organized by the K2 company belonging to the brother of South Sudanese businesswoman Achai Wiir, and that it was difficult to maintain protective measures because turnout was far more than organizers had anticipated.

French Fashion Designer Pierre Cardin Dies at 98 

French couturier Pierre Cardin, who made his name by selling designer clothes to the masses, and his fortune by being the first to exploit that name as a brand for selling everything from cars to perfume, died on Tuesday aged 98. In a career spanning more than 60 years, Cardin drew scorn and admiration from fellow fashion designers for his brash business sense, and influenced catwalks with his space-age, futuristic bubble dresses and geometrical cuts and patterns. Cardin, who was a mentor to designers such as Jean Paul Gaultier, was active in fashion circles until the last, still taking young designers under his wing, attending parties and events and regularly visiting his Paris office by Jaguar. FILE – French fashion designer Pierre Cardin poses in front of his 1954-1956-1957 fashion creations in his museum called “Past-Present-Future” in Paris, Nov. 12, 2014.Cardin was the first designer to sell clothes collections in department stores in the late 1950s, and the first to enter the licensing business for perfumes, accessories and even food – which later drove profits for many other fashion houses. “It’s all the same to me whether I am doing sleeves for dresses or table legs,” a telling quote on his website once read. Hard as it may be to imagine decades later, Armani chocolates, Bulgari hotels and Gucci sunglasses are all based on Cardin’s realization that a fashion brand’s glamour had endless merchandising potential. Over the years his name has been stamped on razor blades, household goods, and tacky accessories – even cheap boxer shorts. He once said it would not bother him to have his initials, PC, etched into rolls of toilet paper, and he was also the inspiration for a phallus-like perfume flask. His detractors accused him of destroying the value of his brand and the notion of luxury in general. But he seemed largely unaffected by criticism. “I had a sense for marketing my name,” Cardin told Germany’s Sueddeutsche Zeitung newspaper in 2007. “Does money spoil one’s ideas? I don’t dream of money after all, but while I’m dreaming, I’m making money. It’s never been about the money.” He maintained that he built his business empire without ever asking a bank for a loan. Born near Venice on July 2, 1922, to French parents of Italian descent, Cardin was educated in the not-so-glamorous French city of Saint Etienne. He went to work for a tailor in nearby Vichy at age 17 and dreamt for a time of becoming an actor, doing some work on the stage as well as modeling and dancing professionally. ‘Beauty and the beast’ When he came to Paris in 1945, he made theatrical masks and costumes for Jean Cocteau’s film, “Beauty and the Beast,” and a year later joined the then-unknown Christian Dior. His first big commercial venture, when he teamed up with the Printemps department store in the late 1950s, led to him being briefly expelled from the rarified guild of French fashion designers, the Chambre Syndicale de la Couture. Couturiers in that club were forbidden at that time to show outside their Paris salons, let alone in department stores. He also blazed a trail outside France long before other fashion multinationals in search of new markets. He presented a collection in Communist China in 1979 when it was still largely closed to the outside world. And just two years after the Berlin Wall came down, in 1991, a Cardin fashion show on Moscow’s Red Square attracted a crowd of 200,000. Cardin also expanded into new businesses, buying fabled Paris restaurant Maxim’s in the 1980s and opening replica outlets around the world. He leveraged the investment further by launching Minim’s, a chain of fancy fast-food joints that reproduced the Belle Epoque decor of the original exclusive Paris eatery. His empire embraces perfumes, foods, industrial design, real estate, entertainment and even fresh flowers. True to his taste for futuristic designs, Cardin also owns the Palais des Bulles, or Bubble Palace, a residence-cum-events-venue woven into the cliffs on one of the most exclusive strips of the French riviera. Not too far away, there is also a chateau in the village of Lacoste that once belonged to the Marquis de Sade. In February this year he teamed up with a designer seven decades his junior. Pierre Courtial, 27, unveiled a collection at Cardin’s studio on Paris’s chic Rue Saint-Honore, with pieces that echoed some of the veteran designer’s geometrical esthetics. Cardin said he still rated originality above anything else. “I’ve always tried to be different, to be myself,” he told Reuters. “Whether people like it or not, that’s not what matters.” 

Study: Britain Must Vaccinate 2 Million a Week to Prevent Third COVID-19 Wave

Britain must vaccinate 2 million people a week to avoid a third wave of the coronavirus outbreak, a study by the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (LSHTM) has concluded. Britain has had more than 71,000 deaths from the coronavirus and has recorded more than 2.3 million cases of COVID-19 infections as of late Monday, according to Johns Hopkins University data. “The most stringent intervention scenario, with tier 4 [restrictions] England-wide and schools closed during January and 2 million individuals vaccinated per week, is the only scenario we considered which reduces peak ICU burden below the levels seen during the first wave,” the study said. “In the absence of substantial vaccine roll-out, cases, hospitalizations, ICU admissions and deaths in 2021 may exceed those in 2020,” it said. FILE – Staff members deliver injections of the first dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine to patients in their cars at a drive-in vaccination center in Hyde, Greater Manchester, northwest England, Dec. 17, 2020.An accelerated uptake of 2 million vaccinated per week “is predicted to have a much more substantial impact,” it added. The study has yet to be peer-reviewed. Prime Minister Boris Johnson and his scientific advisers have said a variant of the coronavirus, which could be up to 70% more transmissible, was spreading rapidly in Britain, although it is not thought to be more deadly or to cause more serious illness. That prompted tight social mixing restriction measures for London and southeast England, while plans to ease curbs over Christmas across the nation were dramatically scaled back or scrapped altogether. Media reports over the weekend said that the United Kingdom will roll out the Oxford-AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine starting January 4, with its approval by the country’s medical regulator expected within days. Earlier this month, the United Kingdom became the first country in the world to roll out the vaccine made by Pfizer and BioNTech. The British government said Thursday that 600,000 people in the United Kingdom have received the first dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine since inoculations began. 

UN Chief Issues Message of Hope, Healing for New Year

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has issued a message of hope and healing for the new year to the hundreds of millions of people worldwide whose lives have been shattered by the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020. Guterres does not hide his sorrow at the difficulties engendered by this once-in-a-century pandemic. COVID-19, he says, has upended the lives of millions, plunging the world into suffering and grief. FILE – U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres speaks during a news conference at U.N. headquarters in New York, Nov. 20, 2020.He describes 2020 as a year of trials, tragedies and tears, a year that continues to create havoc and claim new victims as COVID-19 rages on. The pandemic, he says, has increased poverty, inequality and hunger to new heights.  
“But the new year lies ahead,” he says. “With it, we see rays of hope: People extending a helping hand to neighbors and strangers. Front-line workers giving their all. Scientists developing vaccines in record time. Countries making new commitments to prevent climate catastrophe.”   
Guterres says climate change and the pandemic are crises not easily overcome. He says it will take enormous work, commitment and above all a willingness of all people to work together for the same goal. 
“If we work together in unity and solidarity, these rays of hope can reach around the world. That is the lesson of this most difficult year. … Together, let us make peace among ourselves and with nature, tackle the climate crisis, stop the spread of COVID-19 and make 2021 a year of healing.”   
Guterres says 2021 can be a year of healing divisions that were made worse from the deadly infection and broken economies if people work together. He says the best New Year’s resolution for 2021 is to heal the planet. 

US Approves Delivery Drones Over Populated Areas

In the not-so-distant future, America’s evening skies could be filled with the buzzing sounds of delivery drones.On Monday, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) approved the use of delivery drones over populated areas at night. Many see the move as the next step to widespread adoption of drone deliveries.“The new rules make way for the further integration of drones into our airspace by addressing safety and security concerns,” FAA Administrator Steve Dickson said in a statement. “They get us closer to the day when we will more routinely see drone operations such as the delivery of packages.”Delivery companies like UPS and Amazon have been investing in the technology for years. Both companies have seen surging profits during the coronavirus pandemic as more Americans turn to home delivery for many items, including groceries.Alphabet’s Wing is also investing in drone technology.The FAA said the new regulations provide “an essential building block toward safely allowing more complex” drone operations. According to the new FAA rules, drones of more than a certain weight must have remote identification capabilities and be equipped with anti-collision lights. The FAA also said the drones cannot have any exposed rotating parts that could potentially injure a person.In some cases, the drones can be operated above moving vehicles “depending on the level of risk.” The new rules will become effective 60 days after they are published in the Federal Register next month.Despite the new regulations, Bloomberg reports it will still be years before delivery drones are widely used. 

TSA: Nearly 1.3 Million Travel by Air Over Christmas, Pandemic Record

Amid the coronavirus pandemic, Americans increasingly seem to be tuning out warnings against travel during what is traditionally one of the busiest periods of the year.On Sunday, the Transportation Security Administration said it screened close to 1.3 million air travelers at U.S. airports Sunday. It was the highest number in more than nine months. The TSA also reported that more than 10 million people have flown since December 18.The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warned Americans against travel during the holiday season, fearing that to do so would help spread the coronavirus.”The best thing for Americans to do in the upcoming holiday season is to stay at home and not travel,” Dr. Henry Walke, the CDC’s COVID-19 incident manager, said in a news briefing in early December. “Cases are rising. Hospitalizations are increasing, Deaths are increasing. We need to try to bend the curve, stop this exponential increase.”According to National Public Radio, it was unclear if a travel surge over Thanksgiving caused a spike in cases. It reported that in some areas, there appeared to be a surge, while in others, there wasn’t.The American Automobile Association, known as AAA, predicted that an estimated 85 million Americans would travel over the Christmas season, most of them by car, but according to the Associated Press, actual numbers were not yet available.As of Monday, the United States had more than 19 million coronavirus cases and 333,326 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University data.

Native American Tribes Try to Protect Elders, Their Knowledge from Loss to Coronavirus

As Monica Harvey watched, crowds flocked to a Sam’s Club in northern Arizona where she works, picking shelves clean of toilet paper and canned goods. Native American seniors couldn’t move fast enough, and Harvey saw their faces fall when they reached empty shelves.The Navajo woman wanted to help tribal elders get household staples without leaving their homes and risking exposure to COVID-19, so she started Defend Our Community, a group that delivers supplies.Tribes across the nation are working to protect elder members who serve as honored links to customs passed from one generation to the next. The efforts to deliver protective gear, meals and vaccines are about more than saving lives. Tribal elders often possess unique knowledge of language and history that is all the more valuable because tribes commonly pass down their traditions orally. That means losing elders to the coronavirus could wipe out irreplaceable pieces of culture.”When you lose an elder, you lose a part of yourself,” said Harvey, who lives in Leupp, Arizona, east of Flagstaff. “You lose a connection to history, our stories, our culture, our traditions.”Harvey remembers her own grandfather explaining the stories behind Navajo songs and teaching her Navajo words from the songs. She often listened to her grandparents speaking Navajo while she practiced the words under her breath.In Oklahoma, the Cherokee Nation has increased food distributions to elders and offered financial aid to those who were struggling to pay rent or utilities. Concern for elders is also apparent in the tribe’s COVID-19 vaccine distribution plans. Participants and workers in the tribe’s elder program are first in line for the shots, along with hospital workers and first responders. Next are those whose first language is Cherokee and others considered “tribal treasures,” an honor given to members who keep Cherokee art, language and other culture alive through their work.An effort among the Blackfeet in Montana is helping the tribe’s 600-plus members connect with elders who need support. Connecticut’s Mashantucket Pequot Nation is providing its citizens with masks and telemedicine, delivering meals to their doors and organizing home visits to give flu vaccines.”Elders are like libraries. Losing one is like a library burning down,” said Loren Racine, creator of a Facebook page offering help in the Blackfeet community.FILE – A sign on a door warns people to wear face coverings, at the Kayenta Health Center on the Navajo reservation in Kayenta, Arizona, April 18, 2020.Roy Boney, Jr., who manages a Cherokee language program, said the majority of Cherokee speakers are elders. They make up a small pool of people the program relies on to teach the language he calls the “beating heart” of Cherokee identity.”For decades our language has been taken from us through forced assimilation,” Boney said. “Elders hold our history and culture but also our language…Our elders are precious.”Almost half of the Cherokee who received care from the tribe’s health services but died from the coronavirus were fluent Cherokee speakers. Losing even a handful of speakers can be devastating for language preservation and other cultural practices, Boney said.”With them goes so much information in terms of language knowledge, dialect, specialized knowledge of medicine and traditional practices,” he said. “All these things we’re trying to revitalize and save, they’re the heart of all of it.”Mashantucket Pequot elders shifted to a virtual format for the intergenerational gatherings where they tell traditional stories. An elders council also helps to organize Pequot language bingo nights and Schemitzun, the annual Festival of the Green Corn.”When we heard how COVID-19 was spreading, we were immediately concerned for our elders and how losing them would affect the tribe, so we immediately started working to protect them,” said the tribe’s chief medical officer, Setu Vora.The tribe has no known COVID-19 deaths.Pequot elders play an important role in the effort to revive the tribe’s language, which is no longer widely spoken. Elders still remember relatives who spoke the language and can verify the definitions and context of certain words. A handful of the tribe’s 2,000 members are becoming somewhat proficient in Pequot as they research and reclaim new words, Vora said.Karen Ketcher was among 28 Cherokee Nation elders who have died from the coronavirus. She was weeks shy of her 71st birthday and had decades of experience working for the tribe and the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs. Her knowledge was unmatched and invaluable, said her granddaughter, Taryn King.”There’s so much at stake when this virus hits our communities,” said King, 31, of Stilwell, Oklahoma. She described elders as “the glue that holds our communities together.”At work, Ketcher was affectionately called “Granny.” She was the go-to person for questions about Cherokee policies, tribal governance and how to apply for grants. She also was the first stop for snacks, help mending holes in sweaters or questions about community relations.One co-worker, Kamisha Hair, went into Ketcher’s office shortly before the tribe temporarily closed it in March because of the pandemic. She assured Ketcher things would be OK and implored her to pray.The two hugged and said they loved each other. Ketcher died in April.Relatives held a small outdoor service for her. When they returned to town, other Cherokees had lined the streets to pay their respects.”Losing an elder like Granny is like losing a piece of your identity,” Hair said. “It dies with them, and you can never get it back.”