Month: May 2021

France, England Widen Availability of COVID-19 Vaccines

To fight a rise in cases caused by the coronavirus variants, France and England moved Monday to increase vaccinations.France is now allowing all adults to receive COVID-19 vaccinations. President Emmanuel Macron and his wife, Brigitte, were vaccinated Monday.”Like Brigitte and I, like 25 million French people have already done, let’s get vaccinated! To protect ourselves, to protect our loved ones,” Macron, who contracted the disease caused by the coronavirus in December, tweeted.As of Monday, France had confirmed more than 5.7 million cases of COVID-19 and 109,690 deaths caused by the disease, according to the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center.People paddle board backdropped by Brighton Palace Pier on England’s south coast, May 30, 2021. The bank holiday weekend and relaxation of England’s coronavirus restrictions has enabled many people to visit beaches. In Britain, health officials opened London’s Twickenham rugby station as a mass vaccination site. No appointments were required. The country, which is experiencing a rise in coronavirus cases, is trying to contain a fast-spreading virus variant that was first identified in India and accounts for most of its new cases.The United Kingdom had confirmed 4.5 million COVID-19 cases on Monday, and 128,044 deaths.Beginning June 7, Germany plans to make the coronavirus vaccine available to all people older than 16.As of Monday, Germany had nearly 3.7 million confirmed cases of the coronavirus and 88,469 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center.Variants renamedThe World Health Organization, responding to criticisms that the scientific names of the various coronavirus variants were too complicated or stigmatized certain countries, on Monday assigned the variants letters of the Greek alphabet.The four main variants are generally referred to as the Brazil, India, South Africa and U.K. variants. Critics have told the WHO the scientific names were too complicated. For example, the so-called South African coronavirus variant goes by several names, such as B.1.351, 501Y.V2 and 20H/501Y.V2.The variants’ scientific names will remain the same, the WHO said. The change affects the names given the variants when being discussed with the public. The U.K., South Africa, Brazil and India variants have now been given the letters Alpha, Beta, Gamma, Delta, respectively, according to the order in which they were detected, the WHO said.”No country should be stigmatized for detecting and reporting variants,” WHO COVID-19 technical lead Maria Van Kerkhove tweeted.No country should be stigmatized for detecting and reporting variants.Globally, we need robust surveillance for variants, incl epi, molecular and sequencing to be carried out and shared. We need to continue to do all we can to reduce the spread of SARS-CoV-2 A Bolivian woman walks past a stand that provides information about COVID-19, as authorities have started to vaccinate people who make a living crossing the border between Bolivia and Peru, in Desaguadero, Bolivia, May 21, 2021.Peru toll revisedAlso Monday, Peru Health Minister Oscar Ugarte revised the coronavirus death toll for the country, from 69,342 to 180,764.“What is being said is that a significant number of deaths were not classified as caused by COVID-19,” Ugarte said, adding that the criteria for assigning COVID-19 as the cause of death was changed. Previously, only patients who “had a positive diagnostic test” were considered to have died from the coronavirus, he said.The criteria were broadened beyond people who tested positive for the virus to include probable cases with “an epidemiological link to a confirmed case,” according to a panel composed of experts from public and private health entities in Peru and from the World Health Organization, the Agence France-Presse reported.The country’s death toll had been questioned since early last year, and experts warned the death toll was being undercounted.Vietnam ramps up testingBecause of a recent surge in coronavirus cases, all 9 million residents in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam’s largest city, will be tested for the coronavirus, city officials said.The state newspaper, Vietnam News, said the city has a testing capacity of 100,000 samples a day, according to The Associated Press.The country has been battling a surge in the coronavirus since the end of April, tallying more than 4,000 cases. Since early last year, Vietnam has had only 7,321 confirmed cases of the virus and 47 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins. Bullet trains are seen parked at a station in preparation for the upcoming Lunar New Year travel peak in Nanjing, in eastern China’s Jiangsu province, Jan. 27, 2021.China restricts travelMeanwhile, China reimposed on Monday travel controls on Guangdong province after the region recorded 20 new confirmed COVID-19 cases in the 24-hour period ending at midnight Sunday.Provincial officials said that anyone leaving the province, which has a population of 113.4 million people, must provide the results of a nucleic acid test within the previous 72 hours.As of Monday, China had recorded 102,991 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 4,846 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins. 

Osaka: ‘Best Thing’ for French Open Would Be Her Withdrawal

Naomi Osaka wrote on Twitter on Monday that “the best thing for the tournament” would be if she withdrew from the French Open, a dramatic turn of events for the four-time Grand Slam champion and former No. 1-ranked player.She had declared she would not speak to the media during Roland Garros and was fined $15,000 after she skipped the postmatch news conference following her first-round victory Sunday.”I think now the best thing for the tournament, the other players and my well-being is that I withdraw so that everyone can get back to focusing on the tennis going on in Paris,” Osaka wrote Monday.She also said that she has “suffered long bouts of depression” since the 2018 U.S. Open, which she won by beating Serena Williams in a final filled with controversy.In addition to Sunday’s fine during Day 1 of the French Open, she drew a surprising warning from all four Grand Slam tournaments that she could face stiffer penalties, including disqualification or even suspension, if she continues to avoid the media.Osaka returned to Roland Garros after sitting out the tournament last year and turned in a mistake-filled 6-4, 7-6 (4) victory over 63rd-ranked Patricia Maria Tig at Court Philippe Chatrier on Day 1.She had said last week on social media she would not speak to the media and kept that promise.Hours later, Osaka turned to her preferred method of communication these days, tweeting: “anger is a lack of understanding. change makes people uncomfortable.”Tennis players are required to attend news conferences if requested to do so. The maximum fine, of course, is not a big deal to Osaka, the world’s highest-earning female athlete thanks to endorsement contracts totaling tens of millions of dollars.She framed the matter as a mental health issue, saying that it can create self-doubt to have to answer questions after a loss.Other players, notably 13-time French Open champion Rafael Nadal and No. 1-ranked Ash Barty, have said they respect Osaka’s right to take a stance but explained that they consider speaking to reporters part of the job. 

Brazil to Host Copa America as Pandemic-Hit Argentina Withdraws

Next month’s Copa America soccer tournament will take place in Brazil, the South American Football Confederation (CONMEBOL) said on Monday, as it thanked President Jair Bolsonaro for stepping in after original host Argentina pulled out after a surge of COVID-19 cases.
The surprise decision, which relocates the competition from one South American coronavirus hot spot to another, means the oldest international tournament in the world will kick off as planned on June 13, with the final on July 10.
“The Brazilian government has shown agility and decisive thinking at a crucial moment for South American football,” CONMEBOL president Alejandro Dominguez said in a statement.
“Brazil is in a time of stability, it has proven infrastructure and recent experience in hosting a tournament of this magnitude.”
Brazil hosted the Copa America in 2019 and the World Cup in 2014.
The decision is a boost for Bolsonaro, a far-right former army captain who has railed against lockdowns and urged Brazilians to return to normal life.
In a separate tweet, CONMEBOL thanked Bolsonaro for “opening the country’s doors to what is now the safest sporting event in the world.”
The president’s office directed questions to the sport department at the Ministry of Citizenship, which did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
 460,000 Dead
More than 460,000 people have died from COVID-19 in Brazil, the second highest number in the world after the United States, and the vaccination roll-out has stuttered. But Argentina is struggling with a recent spike. According to a Reuters tally, Brazil has reported 204 infections per 100,000 people in the last seven days, compared to 484 per 100,000 in Argentina.
Large protests took place across Brazil on Saturday against Bolsonaro’s handling of the pandemic.
Huge social demos also shook Brazil during the 2013 Confederations Cup but vice president Hamilton Mourao told reporters in Brasilia he did not expect more demonstrations during the Copa America and said he thought Brazil was a “less risky” choice than Argentina. With no fans expected to attend, the risk was diminished, he said.
But many others in Brazil, where soccer is a national obsession, were outraged by the decision.
“The authorities act as if Brazil had advanced vaccination as in the United States. It will be difficult to cheer for the national team,” prominent journalist Guga Chacra wrote in a tweet.
The CONMEBOL announcement comes less than 24 hours after Argentina said its outbreak meant it could no longer host.
This year’s Copa America was to be the first featuring joint hosts, but Colombia was removed as co-host on May 20 after a wave of protests demanding social and economic change spread across the country.
CONMEBOL hoped Argentina could then host all 28 games or share them with South American neighbors.
Organizers had been reluctant to cancel the lucrative tournament. The last Copa America, held in Brazil in 2019, brought in $118 million in revenue.
Although no decision has yet been made on venues, many of the stadiums Brazil built or reformed for the 2014 World Cup could be candidates to host matches, with the Maracana stadium in Rio de Janeiro or the Mane Garrincha stadium in the capital Brasilia possible locations.
One source told Reuters that venues in Brasilia, Natal, Manaus and Cuiaba will be used. CONMEBOL said it would reveal the host cities “in the coming hours.”
The last-minute decision also throws up some complicated questions for the Brazilian national federation (CBF). The Brazilian league was not due to be halted for the Copa America and at least 70 league games are scheduled to be played during the month-long tournament.
News reports in Brazil said Flamengo will ask the CBF to suspend the league for the duration of the Copa.

‘Tarzan’ Actor Joe Lara Among 7 Presumed Dead in US Plane Crash

All seven passengers aboard a plane, including “Tarzan” actor Joe Lara and his diet guru wife, are presumed dead after it crashed in a lake near the U.S. city of Nashville, authorities said.
The small business jet crashed at around 11:00 am local time Saturday, shortly after taking off from the Smyrna, Tennessee airport for Palm Beach, Florida, Rutherford County Fire & Rescue (RCFR) said on Facebook.
The plane went down into Percy Priest Lake, about 19 kilometers south of Nashville.
The Federal Aviation Administration confirmed seven people had been aboard the plane, CNN reported.
By Saturday night, operations had switched from search and rescue to recovery efforts, RCFR incident commander Captain Joshua Sanders told a press conference.
“We are no longer in an attempt to (look) for live victims at this point so we’re now recovering as much as we can from the crash site,” he said.
On Sunday afternoon, RCFR said on Facebook that recovery operations had found “several components of the aircraft as well as human remains” in a debris field about half a mile wide.
Operations would continue until dark and resume Monday morning, RCFR wrote.
Lara played Tarzan in the 1989 television movie “Tarzan in Manhattan.” He later starred in the television series “Tarzan: The Epic Adventures,” which ran from 1996-1997.
His wife Gwen Shamblin Lara, whom he married in 2018, was the leader of a Christian weight-loss group called Weigh Down Ministries. She founded the group in 1986, and then in 1999 founded the Remnant Fellowship Church in Brentwood, Tennessee.
She is survived by two children from a previous marriage, according to a statement posted on the church’s website.

Pakistan’s COVID-19 Positivity Rate Dips, But ‘We Aren’t Out of the Woods’, Official Tells VOA

Pakistan reported Monday that the national coronavirus positivity rate had remained well below 5% over the past week, with the country’s top health official attributing the declining trend to “effective” government policies, including restrictions on public movement and effective screening of international travelers.Officials recorded 43 deaths and detected more than 2,100 new cases in the last 24 hours, raising the national tally of deaths to nearly 21,000 and infections to more than 921,000 since the pandemic hit the South Asian nation early last year.The national positivity ratio decreased to just over 4% from more than 11% a couple of weeks ago.Last week, health authorities reported the detection of the first case of a fast-spreading variant of the coronavirus which has caused record infections and deaths in neighboring India, threatening Pakistan’s gains against the disease.But Faisal Sultan, an infectious disease physician who is also special assistant to the prime minister on national health services, told VOA that an “effective” screening system for international travelers and other measures to deal with the health crisis have so far enabled the country to keep the situation under control in a country of about 220 million.“I would say we are not out of the woods yet, but it seems at this point that I don’t foresee an India-like situation,” Sultan, who is directing all health-related interventions and measures against the pandemic, told VOA in a detailed interview at his office in Islamabad.People queue to receive the first shot of the Sinopharm COVID-19 vaccine at a vaccination center in Karachi, Pakistan, May 8, 2021.“We really do think that to reach our targets, we need to go over the 500,000 a day mark, perhaps the 600,000 a day mark. So, I think that we really need to ramp up our vaccinations.”Sultan said government surveys have found that “at least two-thirds” of the Pakistani population is willing to get vaccinated.“So, the vaccine centers will have to go close to their homes. It will have to be easy and accessible. It will have to be so easy that in the United States, even normal retail pharmacies were allowed to do the vaccination,” he said.Sultan said the government really needed “to get at least a quarter of its population” in dense urban areas vaccinated before Pakistan “can even talk about any relaxation” in coronavirus-related restrictions, including asking those inoculated against the disease to remove their masks.Health care systemPrime Minister Imran Khan’s government, which took office in August 2018, has from the outset focused on the country’s underfunded and largely neglected national health care system.The focus, Sultan noted, enabled the government to timely position itself to combat the pandemic, despite critical economic challenges facing Pakistan.“We added over 7,000 oxygenated beds into the health care system across Pakistan. The second expansion that was done is even more important — a 66% increase in the medical oxygen capacity was done. Had we not done that, we would have faced a crisis. We came to about 90% capacity in the ongoing third wave,” Sultan explained.A vendor refills oxygen cylinders which will supply private hospitals for COVID-19 patients, in Karachi, Pakistan, April 26, 2021.Pakistan initially received vaccine donations from close ally China to launch the national vaccination drive in early March before purchasing large quantities of vaccine doses to ensure supplies for the national campaign.“They came out, gifted us the first lot, although we had told them we can pay for it. But they insisted. I think it speaks volumes about the level of trust and cooperation between China and Pakistan,” Sultan said.The Pakistani government is using the Chinese-made Sinovac, Sinopharm and CanSino vaccines. It has also received just over a million doses of AstraZeneca under a United Nations-backed program for poor nations, known as COVAX.Pakistani officials say they are in conversations with several suppliers, and the government will have procured about 20 million additional vaccine doses by end of July.“The only challenge is, in an environment where everybody wants the vaccine, to have a steady supply so that you don’t run out of it. This is a challenge that will stay for the rest of the world,” Sultan said, noting that Pakistan was in talks with several suppliers to secure enough doses to sustain domestic supplies.Beijing has also trained Pakistani staff and established a facility at Islamabad’s National Health Institute, where the one-dose CanSino vaccine is being filled from the concentrate provided by China. Sultan noted that the rare facility has the capacity to roll out about 3 million doses of CanSino a month to help boost the vaccination drive.“It may be a small step for us that we have started filling the vaccine from concentrate. But it is a vital step toward actually manufacturing the vaccine in Pakistan, and I think it may take a few months,” he said. 

Fueling Box Office Rebound, ‘Quiet Place’ Opens With $58.5M asso

Moviegoing increasingly looks like it didn’t die during the pandemic. It just went into hibernation.  
John Krasinski’s thriller sequel “A Quiet Place Part II” opened over the Memorial Day weekend to a pandemic-best $48.4 million, according to studio estimates Sunday. Including the Monday holiday, the studio forecasts the film will gross $58.5 million in North America. It added another $22 million in ticket sales overseas.  
The film’s performance cheered a movie industry that has been punished and transformed by the pandemic. Paramount Pictures’ “A Quiet Place Part II,” which was on the cusp of opening in March 2021 before theaters shut, was the first big film this year — and one of the only larger budget COVID-era releases beside Christopher Nolan’s “Tenet” — to open exclusively in theaters.  
Chris Aronson, distribution chief for Paramount, called the opening “an unqualified success.”
“It’s a huge sigh of a relief and a sense of optimism for sure,” Aronson said.
“Movies, moviegoing, movie theaters aren’t dead. Yes, they’ve been threatened but they’re proving once again that they’re resilient and that people do want to have that communal experience.”  
Many studios have trotted out hybrid release plans during the pandemic, debuting films simultaneously in the home. The Walt Disney Co. did that this weekend with its  live-action PG-13 Cruella De Vil prequel, “Cruella,”  making it available to Disney+ subscribers for $30. In theaters, it grossed $21.3 million, Disney said, and an estimated $26.4 million over the four-day weekend. “Cruella” also added $16.1 million in 29 international territories. Disney didn’t say how much the film made on the company’s streaming platform.  
“A Quiet Place II” will also turn to streaming after 45 days in theaters when it becomes available on Paramount+. One clear result of the pandemic is that the theatrical window has shrunk, probably permanently. Three months was once the customary length of a movie’s run in theaters. The year’s previous best debut belonged to Warner Bros.’ “Godzilla vs. Kong,” which opened with $32.2 million, or $48.5 million over its first five days, while simultaneously streaming on HBO Max. 
The contrasting release strategies between “A Quiet Place Part II” and “Cruella” offered a test case for Hollywood. How much does a day-and-date release cost a movie like “Cruella” in ticket sales? Is it worth it? Without knowing how much “Cruella” benefitted Disney+, a true comparison isn’t possible. But the strong returns for the theater-only “A Quiet Place Part II” are telling, says Paul Dergarabedian, senior media analyst for data firm Comscore. He called it a “pivotal weekend” for the movie industry that proved predictions of the movie theater’s demise “flat-out wrong.”  
“That ‘Quiet Place Part II’ did so well makes a strong case that a theatrical-first release for a big movie is the way to go,” Dergarabedian said. “This is the best possible news for an industry that’s been dealing with probably the most profoundly challenging chapter in the history of the movie theater.”  
The debut of “A Quiet Place Part II” was much watched throughout Hollywood as the kickoff to its delayed summer movie season. After largely sitting out the pandemic, or diverting to streaming platforms, a lineup of blockbusters are again queuing up. On tap are Warner Bros.’ “In the Heights,” Universals’ “F9” and Disney’s “Black Widow.”  
Last week, Universal Pictures’ ninth installment in the “Fast & Furious” franchise, “F9,” opened with $162 million in ticket sales in eight international markets, and $135 million in China alone. In its second weekend, “F9,” which opens in North America on June 25, raced toward $230 million worldwide.  Emily Blunt and John Krasinski attend the world premiere of Paramount Pictures’ “A Quiet Place Part II” at Jazz at Lincoln Center’s Frederick P. Rose Hall, March 8, 2020, in New York.”A Quiet Place Part II” had already had its red-carpet premiere in March last year, and spent some of its marketing budget. But it opened remarkably in line with predictions of how many tickets it would sell before the onset of the pandemic.
In the intervening months, Paramount sold off many of its films to streamers — “Coming 2 America,” “The Trial of the Chicago 7” — but Krasinski and the studio felt strongly that the hushed intensity of “A Quiet Place Part II” worked best on the big screen.  
In an interview ahead of the film’s release, Krasinski said a theatrical release was “non-negotiable.” And Krasinski worked hard to stoke excitement, traveling the country in the week leading up to release to surprise moviegoers. Still, given the circumstances, he had little idea whether audiences would come out.  
“As bizarre as the entire year has been is how bizarre whatever opening weekend is,” Krasinski said. “I don’t really know what it is anymore.”  
In the end, “A Quiet Place Part II” performed a lot like how the first one did. That 2018 hit, which ultimately grossed $340 million globally on a $17 million budget, launched with $50.2 million in North American ticket sales. Sequels usually do better than the original but “Part II” had far more challenges due to pandemic.  
Rich Gelfond, chief executive of IMAX, where “A Quiet Place Part II” earned $4.1 million domestically, called the film “the first domestic release this year to cross the threshold from ‘great opening weekend given the pandemic’ to ‘great opening weekend, period.'”
Memorial Day weekend, usually one of the busiest for theaters, still didn’t look like it normally does at the movies. Total box office exceeded $80 million but that’s about a third of the holiday weekend’s normal business. Last Memorial Day, when nearly all operating theaters were drive-ins, ticket sales amounted to $842,000, according to Comscore.  
Many theaters, particularly in New York and Los Angeles, are still operating with social distancing measures. But guidelines are thawing. Last week, the nation’s top theater chains — AMC, Regal, Cinemark — said they would no longer require vaccinated moviegoers to wear face masks. 

UNICEF Says Malnutrition Spikes for Haiti Kids Amid Pandemic

Severe acute childhood malnutrition is expected to more than double this year in Haiti as the country struggles with the coronavirus pandemic, a spike in violence and dwindling resources, a UNICEF report said Monday.
More than 86,000 children under age 5 could be affected, compared with 41,000 reported last year, said Jean Gough, UNICEF’s regional director for Latin America and the Caribbean.
“I was saddened to see so many children suffering from malnutrition,” she said after a weeklong visit to Haiti. “Some will not recover unless they receive treatment on time.”
Severe acute malnutrition is considered a life-threatening condition.  
In a slightly less dangerous category, acute malnutrition in kids younger than 5 in Haiti has risen 61%, with some 217,000 children expected to suffer from it this year, compared with 134,000 last year.  
Overall, UNICEF said, about 4.4 million of Haiti’s more than 11 million inhabitants lack sufficient food, including 1.9 million children.
Gough told The Associated Press during a recent visit to a hospital in the southern city of Les Cayes that UNICEF has only a one-month supply left of a special food paste given to children in need and is seeking $3 million by the end of June.  
Officials said the pandemic also has disrupted health services, with childhood immunization rates dropping from 28% to 44%, depending on the vaccine. The decrease has led to a rise in diphtheria cases as health workers brace for an expected measles outbreak this year.
UNICEF noted that unvaccinated children also are more likely to die from malnutrition.
Lamir Samedi, a nurse who works at a community health center in the southern town of Saint-Jean-du-Sud, said the target was to vaccinate 80% of children in the area, but they had yet to reach 50%.
Among the children hospitalized is 11-month-old Denise Joseph, who lay quietly in a crib in Les Cayes after being diagnosed with tuberculosis two weeks ago.
“She never eats,” said her grandmother, Marie-Rose Emile, who is caring for the infant since her mother also is ill. Emile is struggling to provide for the baby, saying she has barely harvested any beans, corn or potatoes this year.
Gough, the UNICEF official, said she was discouraged by the dismal numbers of malnutrition and drop in childhood immunizations. She said more outreach services are needed because not enough people are visiting community health centers.
Among those visiting a health center for the first time was 27-year-old Franceline Mileon, who brought her young child after hearing a health official with a bullhorn in her neighborhood announcing that a vaccination program had begun. She sat on a bench, coddling her baby, as she waited for a nurse to weigh her.
Overall, UNICEF said it needs nearly $49 million this year to meet humanitarian needs in Haiti, adding that little of that amount has been pledged. The agency $5.2 million of that amount would go toward nutrition and $4.9 million for health, including childhood immunizations.

Smokers at Greater Risk of Dying from COVID-19 

In marking World No-Tobacco Day, the World Health Organization is urging smokers to quit their habit, warning they are at higher risk of dying from COVID-19 than non-smokers.     Head of WHO’s Tobacco Control Program, Vinayak Prasad tells VOA a plethora of scientific studies over the past year confirm smokers face a 50%  higher risk of developing severe disease and death from COVID-19.    “It is logical because smoking does compromise on the lung functions and this virus does attack the lungs. So, that is where we see the rational for taking measures to not use tobacco,” he said.    The World Health Organization is urging smokers to join its year-long quit tobacco campaign, which helps countries scale-up their tobacco-control services. These include running national awareness campaigns, opening new cessation clinics, and offering nicotine replacement therapies.   Prasad says it is of utmost importance to make users aware of the risks they run. He says some eight million people will die prematurely this year from tobacco-related illnesses, such as cancers, heart disease and respiratory illnesses. Most of these deaths will occur in low-income countries.   He notes it usually takes decades for these deadly illnesses to develop. Therefore, preventing young people from taking up this habit is essential as that can lead to a life-long addiction.    FILE – Customers puff on e-cigarettes at the Henley Vaporium in New York City, Dec. 18, 2013.He accuses the tobacco industry of targeting young people to get them hooked on their products by offering freebies, such as tickets to concerts, nicotine pouches and e-cigarettes. This, he says has been met with success in many countries. For example, he notes 38% of Indonesia’s teenage boys smoke. “Likewise, in European settings for example, the girls’, the women’s tobacco use is so high, that the male to female difference is no longer there… The industry is continuing to reap all of these benefits they can getting more and more women, targeting the girl child, adolescents from this divide, and then continuing to push their products in developing countries,”  he said.  WHO reports imposing substantial taxes on tobacco products is one of the most effective ways of getting smokers to quit. Other successful smoke-reduction measures include a ban on advertisements and promotions, health warnings on tobacco products and designating areas as smoke-free zones. 

Most Medical Staff Needed for Olympics Secured, Games Official Says

The organizers of the Tokyo Olympics have secured about 80% of the medical staff needed to stage the Games, a top Olympic official told Reuters on Monday, amid worries over infections and the slow rollout of vaccinations in the Japanese capital. Toshiaki Endo, vice president of the Games organizing committee, said some domestic spectators could be allowed into venues for the benefit of athletes, although he personally preferred a total ban on attendance in order to reassure the public amid widespread opposition to the event. The number of medical staff necessary to service the Games, including doctors, nurses and physical therapists, had been lowered by about a third from the original target of 10,000 and 80% of that new number had been secured. “We’ve received double the number of expected applications from sports doctors when we asked for cooperation,” said Endo, one of seven vice presidents on the board of the organizing committee and a former Olympics minister. Organizers were working with 10 hospitals in Tokyo and 20 outside the city to respond to emergencies. Doctors have warned the Olympics would pressure the healthcare system which is already under strain as Japan sees record numbers of COVID-19 patients in critical condition, although the pace of new infections has slowed. Only 2.4% of the public have completed their inoculations, a Reuters tracker shows. FILE – Senior citizens wait to receive a COVID-19 vaccine at a large-scale vaccination center in Osaka, western Japan, May 24, 2021, in this photo distributed by Kyodo.Endo said the organizers were working with the association of nurses to mobilize staff, including people who had the qualifications but did not work as nurses on a regular basis. Polls show most people in Japan are opposed to holding the Games, concerned about tens of thousands of athletes, officials and media descending on the country, where last week a state of emergency in Tokyo and other areas was extended to June 20.   Spectators, mediaEndo said countries with much higher infection rates had successfully hosted sports events without outbreaks and that was why there was “no reason to think about cancellation” in Tokyo. Asked what the organizers would do if there was an explosive spread of infections, Endo was non-committal. “Hypothetically, can we hold the Games if there is a sudden 10- or 100-fold increase? We’ll need to make a decision at the time,” he said. Successful vaccination rollouts across Europe and a growing number of those inoculated in Japan would allow organizers to safely host the global sports showpiece, he said. One of the key decisions still to be decided was whether to allow domestic spectators to attend. “I personally had thought we should quickly decide to hold the Games without spectators to reassure everyone,” Endo said. “But of course, if you think about this from the point of view of the athletes, they want to compete while being cheered on by the spectators. “That’s why, if possible, we’d like to allow the spectators in… but depending on the situation we also need to consider the no-spectators option.” A decision would be reached toward the end of the state of emergency around June 20, he said. FILE – People protest the Tokyo 2020 Olympics amid the coronavirus outbreak, around Olympic Stadium (National Stadium) as an Olympic test event for athletics is held inside the venue in Tokyo, Japan, May 9, 2021, in this photo taken by Kyodo.Out of about 80,000 people who would come to Japan for the Games, Endo said he was most worried about the news media. “Of course, media members will be subjected to thorough movement controls, and we would feel safe if they observed these rules,” he said. “But we won’t be able to follow one person after another so we’ll have to trust them.”  

Climate Talks Resume Online as Pressure to Act Grows

For the first time since 2019 and following a flurry of net-zero pledges from the world’s largest emitters, UN climate negotiations resume Monday in a virtual format just six months before the crunch COP26 summit. The talks, nominally hosted by the United Nations climate change program in the German city of Bonn, will all be informal, meaning that no decisions will be taken during the three-week dialogue. But with increasingly dire warnings from scientists that the pace of global warming is already outstripping humanity’s best plan to cut emissions, the pressure for progress to be made on several thorny issues is high.   In 2018, countries agreed to many elements of the Paris agreement “rulebook”, governing how each nation implements its goals. But several issues remain unresolved, including rules about transparency, carbon markets, and a unified timeframe for all countries to ratchet up their emissions cuts.At the last UN climate summit in December 2019, countries also failed to agree upon a universal system of reporting climate finance. Nathan Cogswell, a research associate at the World Resources Institute, said a deal on greater transparency was “a central component of the effective implementation of the Paris agreement”. “The upcoming session will hopefully help parties get closer to that.”   One of the thorniest debates during recent UN climate talks has been Article 6 of the Paris Agreement, which deals with the trade of emissions cuts.   A major sticking point remains over rules to avoid double counting emissions reductions within both bi-lateral and international carbon markets. Some wealthy nations without the natural resources — forests, for instance — to mitigate their contribution to climate change have spent huge amounts on projects to preserve those habitats in other countries.    Currently both the buying and selling nations may count the project towards their domestic climate action, opening the door for the same cut to be counted twice.   Cogswell said that a failure to agree on a protection against double counting emissions reductions by the end of the COP26 in Glasgow in November would “weaken the ambition of global efforts” to fight climate change.  ‘Not ideal’COVID-19 forced Britain and the UN to shelve talks originally scheduled for last year until the end of 2021. As the pandemic continues to rage, particularly among developing nations most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change, negotiators will need to achieve tangible progress during the three-week Bonn talks. “The absence of a COP left a tremendous amount of work to be done… if we want to deliver at Glasgow,” said Marianne Karlsen, chair of a major technical forum at the UN-led negotiations.   The two-week sessions — expanded this year to three — normally involve thousands of representatives from more than 180 countries, and often rely on behind-closed-doors bargaining between delegates to get deals done.   Karlsen said the virtual configuration of talks was “not ideal at all”.   “We really wanted to be able to have all the interactions of when we meet in person but there was no other option,” she said. Tosi Mpanu Mpanu, chair of the UN’s SBSTA technical working group, said delegates needed to use the virtual negotiations to “prioritize a way to capture progress, so we can capture that progress when we meet in person, and make decisions” in Glasgow. “It’s important that we send a clear message to the world: We are very much engaged in resolving the Paris rulebook and to tackling this climate change conundrum.” 

Brazil’s Castroneves Wins Indianapolis 500 for 4th Time

Helio Castroneves won the Indianapolis 500 on Sunday for a record-equaling fourth time, in front of the largest crowd to attend a sporting event in the United States since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.The 46-year-old Brazilian surged to the front with two laps to go and held off a challenge from hard-charging Spanish young gun Alex Palou to claim victory and join AJ Foyt, Rick Mears and Al Unser as the only four-time winners of the “Greatest Spectacle in Racing.”It was the 21st Indy 500 start for Castroneves but his first with Meyer Shank Racing, his other wins in 2001, 2002 and 2009 all coming with Team Penske.With the race back in its traditional U.S. Memorial Day holiday weekend slot, after last year’s event was moved to August and held at an empty track because of the pandemic, a sold-out crowd of 135,000 excited fans flocked to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.While the crowd was well shy of the nearly 400,000 that the speedway can accommodate, the roars returned to the Brickyard as fans partied in the sunshine.

Studies Reveal China’s Dominant Position in High-Tech Minerals

New clean energy technologies like solar power and electric vehicles are expected to remake the global energy industry. Trillions of dollars used to drill and ship oil and gas will instead be spent finding and processing the specialized minerals used to make high-tech gear including advanced electric generators and powerful, compact batteries.Energy analysts say this will challenge the United States, which will likely need to import vastly more minerals like cobalt, lithium and aluminum, at the same time that China has increased its control over the supply of some key resources.People cool off in the beach near the mining pipeline “Puerto Coloso” of the “Escondida” cooper mine in Antofagasta, Chile, Feb. 16, 2017.A VOA examination of U.S. government data shows how China has become the main supplier for some of the most important raw materials that Western countries import, giving Beijing leverage over the materials that go into everything from advanced fighter jets to solar panels.Not only has Beijing bought up some of the world’s biggest mines for these minerals, the country also has invested heavily in the processing facilities that refine the raw materials into industrially-useful products, strengthening Beijing’s position in global supply chains.Beijing has already given the world reason to worry about its reliability as a global supplier. In 2011, it used its position as the top global supplier of rare earth metals to cut exports, driving up prices. China’s critics say Beijing’s dominant position in so-called “critical minerals” gives them similar leverage.Aerial view of evaporation pools of the new state-owned lithium extraction complex, in the southern zone of the Uyuni Salt Flat, Bolivia, on July 10, 2019.35 critical mineralsThe United States has designated A man watches a conveyor belt loaded with chunks of raw cobalt after a first transformation at a plant in Lubumbashi, Congo, on Feb. 16, 2018, before being exported, mainly to China, to be refined.Chinese dominance in U.S. allies’ supply chainsOther Western countries have different lists of minerals considered critical to their economies. Among the lists of Australia, U.K. and Canada, rare earth minerals account for only one of the 24, 41 and 31 critical minerals, respectively.  The European Union classifies light and heavy rare earths as two separate critical elements on its 30 Critical Raw Materials (CRM) list.A study published last year by the European Commission’s Joint Research Center, a science and technology service agency, found that the production of a Rafale fighter aircraft requires a total of 16 CRMs, of which only three are rare earth elements. Although each country makes up its own list of “critical minerals” based on its strategic needs, China is a dominant supplier in all of the lists.In the EU’s list, China is the largest source of imports for 10 minerals. Among the 24 critical minerals identified by the Australian government in its Critical Minerals Prospectus 2020 report, China is listed as the largest producer of 11 of them.   In the U.K.’s Risk List, China is the leading producer of 23 minerals.Similar findings were reported by Chinese researchers as well.  A study published by China Geological Survey stated that “after combing through the list of Critical Minerals in the United States, the European Union, the United Kingdom and other countries, it can be seen that half or more of the country’s main producing countries and main sources of imports are our country.”The 2019 report said that of the 35 key minerals in the U.S., the largest supplier of 13 CMs is China, and China is also the largest producer of 19 CMs.This story originated in VOA’s Mandarin Service. 

Egypt Bets on Ancient Finds to Pull Tourism out of Pandemic 

Workers dig and ferry wheelbarrows laden with sand to open a new shaft at a bustling archaeological site outside of Cairo, while a handful of Egyptian archaeologists supervise from garden chairs. The dig is at the foot of the Step Pyramid of Djoser, arguably the world’s oldest pyramid, and is one of many recent excavations that are yielding troves of ancient artifacts from the country’s largest archaeological site.   As some European countries re-open to international tourists, Egypt has already been trying for months to attract them to its archaeological sites and museums. Officials are betting that the new ancient discoveries will set it apart on the mid- and post-pandemic tourism market. They need visitors to come back in force to inject cash into the tourism industry, a pillar of the economy.   But like countries elsewhere, Egypt continues to battle the coronavirus, and is struggling to get its people vaccinated. The country has, up until now, received only 5 million vaccines for its population of 100 million people, according to its Health Ministry. In early May, the government announced that 1 million people had been vaccinated, though that number is believed to be higher now.   In the meantime, authorities have kept the publicity machine running, focused on the new discoveries.   In November, archaeologists announced the discovery of at least 100 ancient coffins dating back to the Pharaonic Late Period and Greco-Ptolemaic era, along with 40 gilded statues found 2,500 years after they were first buried. That came a month after the discovery of 57 other coffins at the same site, the necropolis of Saqqara that includes the step pyramid.   “Saqqara is a treasure,” said Tourism and Antiquities Minister Khaled el-Anany while announcing the November discovery, estimating that only 1% of what the site contains has been unearthed so far.   “Our problem now is that we don’t know how we can possibly wow the world after this,” he said.   If they don’t, it certainly won’t be for lack of trying.  FILE – Dr. Zahi Hawass, the renowned Egyptian archeologist credited with discovering the site, leads a media tour of the roughly 3,000-year-old “lost golden city” in Luxor, Egypt, Apr. 10, 2021. (Hamada Elrasam/VOA)In April, Zahi Hawass, Egypt’s best-known archaeologist, announced the discovery of a 3,000-year-old lost city in southern Luxor, complete with mud brick houses, artifacts and tools from pharaonic times. It dates to Amenhotep III of the 18th dynasty, whose reign (1390–1353 B.C.) is considered a golden era for ancient Egypt.   That discovery was followed by a made-for-TV parade celebrating the transport of 22 of the country’s prized royal mummies from central Cairo to their new resting place in a massive facility farther south in the capital, the National Museum of Egyptian Civilization.   The Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh is now home to an archaeological museum, as is Cairo’s International Airport, both opened in recent months. And officials have also said they still plan to open the massive new Grand Egyptian Museum next to the Giza Pyramids by January, after years of delays. Entrance fees for archeological sites have been lowered, as has the cost of tourist visas.   The government has for years played up its ancient history as a selling point, as part of a yearslong effort to revive the country’s battered tourism industry. It was badly hit during and after the popular uprising that toppled longtime autocrat Hosni Mubarak and the ensuring unrest. The coronavirus dealt it a similar blow, just as it was getting back on its feet.   In 2019, foreign tourism’s revenue stood at $13 billion. Egypt received some 13.1 million foreign tourists — reaching pre-2011 levels for the first time. But in 2020, it greeted only 3.5 million foreign tourists, according to the minister el-Anany.   At the newly opened National Museum of Egyptian Civilization, Mahmoud el-Rays, a tour guide, was leading a small group of European tourists at the hall housing the royal mummies.   “2019 was a fantastic year,” he said. “But corona reversed everything. It is a massive blow.”   Tourism traffic strengthened in the first months of 2021, el-Anany, the minister, told The Associated Press in a recent interview, though he did not give specific figures. He was optimistic that more would continue to come year-round.   “Egypt is a perfect destination for post-COVID in that our tourism is really an open-air tourism,” he said.   But it remains to be seen if the country truly has the virus under control. It has recorded a total of 14,950 deaths from the virus and is still seeing more than a thousand new cases daily. Like other countries, the real numbers are believed to be much higher. In Egypt, though, authorities have arrested doctors and silenced critics who questioned the government’s response, so there are fears that information on the true cost of the virus may have been suppressed from the beginning.   Egypt also had a trying experience early on in the pandemic, when it saw a coronavirus outbreak on one of its Nile River cruise boats. It first closed its borders completely until the summer of 2020, but later welcomed tourists back, first to Red-Sea resort towns and now to the heart of the country — Cairo and the Nile River Valley that hosts most of its famous archaeological sites. Visitors still require a negative COVID-19 test result to enter the country.   In a further cause for optimism, Russia said in April that it plans to resume direct flights to Egypt’s Red Sea resort towns. Moscow stopped the flights after the local Islamic State affiliate bombed a Russian airliner over the Sinai Peninsula in October 2015, killing all on board.   Amanda, a 36-year-old engineer from Austria, returned to Egypt in May. It was her second visit in four years. She visited the Egyptian Museum, the National Museum of Egyptian Civilization and Islamic Cairo, in the capital’s historic center.   She had planned to come last year, but the pandemic interfered.   “Once they opened, I came,” she said. “It was my dream to see the Pyramids again.”   El-Rays, the tour guide, says that while he’s seeing tourists starting to come in larger numbers, he knows a full recovery will not happen overnight.   “It will take some time to return to before corona,” he said.  

Australians Rush for Vaccines as COVID Lockdown Continues in Victoria

Record numbers of COVID-19 vaccinations have been completed in Australia as a snap seven-day lockdown continues in the nation’s second most-populous state.Seven million people in Victoria are subject to strict stay-at-home orders after a growing cluster of infections was detected in recent days. Australia has managed to mostly contain the coronavirus through lockdowns, the closure of its international borders and strict quarantine measures for returning citizens, but the national vaccination program has been beset by supply issues and hesitancy among many Australians.There are estimated to be 100 active coronavirus cases in Australia, according to the Health Department. About half are in Victoria, which is under a seven-day lockdown. It is the state’s fourth shutdown since the pandemic began.The number of infections in Australia is small compared to other countries, including Japan, Brazil and the United States.However, community transmission of the virus has been rare in recent months and the outbreak in Victoria is significant.There has been complacency in the community and mounting hesitancy about vaccines and possible side effects, which have delayed the national inoculation plan.Health authorities in Victoria, though, have said the lockdown has sent residents flocking to injection centers across the country in record numbers.However, some experts believe that it might be too late to prevent another wave of infections in Australia’s second most populous state.“We have been here before,” said Dr. Michelle Ananda-Rajah, an infectious diseases expert at Melbourne’s Alfred Hospital. “I think, though, that the stakes are higher this time because we have all the factors for what is essentially a perfect storm. We have a largely unvaccinated population; we have winter approaching, and we have an unforgiving variant on the loose at the moment. You know, Victoria is primed at the moment for a third wave, and we need to do everything possible to prevent that from happening.”Melbourne, the Victoria state capital, endured Australia’s longest COVID-19 lockdown last year. Once again, the nation’s second-biggest city finds itself under tight restrictions.Masks are now mandatory. Places of worship and schools are closed. Victorians can only leave home for essential work, shopping, exercise, caregiving or to get a coronavirus vaccine.Businesses are facing heavy losses.A man infected with a highly contagious COVID-19 variant who stayed at a quarantine hotel for returning travelers is thought to be the source of the outbreak.Australia has recorded more than 30,000 coronavirus cases and 910 deaths since the pandemic began, according to government statistics.

Dangerously Trending: Driverless Tesla Videos on Social Media

It was a boozy joyride captured for TikTok with a soundtrack provided by Justin Bieber and with a Tesla serving as the “Designated Driver” for the night.In the short video, three young men are shown dancing in their seats, beers nearby, as the vehicle moves down the highway near other cars at 105 kph, as shown on the speedometer.Nobody is behind the steering wheel.The video clip, which has been “liked” by nearly 2 million people and shared 105,000 times, is just one of many similar ones on social media reviewed by AFP.Such behavior is illegal and flouts the instructions of the automaker, which says on its website that Tesla’s driver-assistance system is “intended for use with a fully attentive driver, who has their hands on the wheel and is prepared to take over at any moment.”Besides Tesla’s “Autopilot” system, which matches a vehicle’s speed to that of surrounding traffic and assists in steering within a clearly marked lane, Tesla offers what it calls “full self-driving capability.”That program’s capabilities include helping park a car, maneuver a vehicle in and out of a tight parking space and guide a car from a highway on-ramp to an off-ramp.Tesla will alert the driver and ultimately disengage the self-driving system if the driver’s seatbelt is not buckled, or if the hands of the driver are not detected on the steering wheel.Fooling the systemHowever, these protections have proved little match for Tesla motorists determined to misuse their vehicles. The magazine Consumer Reports released a video in which an incredulous tester easily duped a Tesla into driving with no one at the wheel.”Idiots will be idiots, they will find a way to trick the system and that’s not Tesla’s fault, they can put a bunch of other things here people will just defeat it,” a poster calling himself “Dirty Tesla” said in a video on his YouTube page, which has 55,000 subscribers.(“Dirty Tesla” has described himself as the president of a Tesla owner’s club in Michigan but declined to give his name.)But Tesla itself has been less than clear, directing users to follow the rules even as it employs confusing terminology for its driver-assistance programs, and as its leader, Elon Musk, makes sweeping statements about the technology.Musk early this year predicted the company’s vehicles would achieve Level 5 autonomy, or full self-driving, in 2021. Yet in 2015, the billionaire had said that goal would be reached within two years.”Some companies are more careful than others in how they advertise,” said Andrew Kun, an expert in human-computer interactions at the University of New Hampshire.”The problem is overtrust, thinking that the system can do more than it is really able to do,” Kun said. “Of course, that’s the issue with calling it ‘Autopilot’ when it really isn’t.”Deadly accidentsAdding gravity to the matter, a series of fatal crashes have raised suspicions that Tesla’s technology may have been misused.On April 17, two people were killed near Houston after a Tesla smashed into a tree.A preliminary report from the National Transportation Safety Board did not weigh in on whether anyone was behind the wheel. Local police had said nobody was in the driver’s seat.In a fatal crash in May near Los Angeles also under investigation, the driver had posted images on social media of himself driving his Tesla without his hands on the wheel.Despite billions of dollars spent thus far, automakers have yet to produce a vehicle with full autonomy.Tesla’s system has reached Level 2 autonomy under the scale of the Society of Automotive Engineers, still a ways from full autonomy and requiring a person in the driver’s seat who can take control if necessary.California regulators have said they are reviewing whether Tesla’s marketing misleads consumers — specifically, whether it has violated a regulation that “prohibits a company from advertising vehicles for sale or lease as autonomous unless the vehicle meets the statutory and regulatory definition of an autonomous vehicle,” the Department of Motor Vehicles told AFP. 

Myanmar COVID-19 Outbreak Hits Health System Shattered After Coup

Breathless, fevered and without the extra oxygen that could help keep them alive, the new coronavirus patients at a hospital near Myanmar’s border with India highlight the threat to a health system near collapse since February’s coup.To help her tend the seven COVID-19 patients at Cikha hospital, day and night, chief nurse Lun Za En has a lab technician and a pharmacist’s assistant.Mostly, they offer kind words and acetaminophen.”We don’t have enough oxygen, enough medical equipment, enough electricity, enough doctors or enough ambulances,” Lun Za En, 45, told Reuters from the town of just more than 10,000. “We are operating with three staff instead of 11.”Myanmar’s anti-COVID campaign foundered along with the rest of the health system after the military seized power on Feb. 1 and overthrew elected leader Aung San Suu Kyi, whose government had stepped up testing, quarantine and treatment.Services at public hospitals collapsed after many doctors and nurses joined strikes in a Civil Disobedience Movement at the forefront of the opposition to military rule — and sometimes on the front line of the protests that have been bloodily suppressed.Thirteen medics have been killed, according to World Health Organization data that shows 179 attacks on health workers, facilities and transportation, nearly half of all such attacks recorded worldwide this year, said WHO Myanmar representative Stephan Paul Jost.About 150 health workers have been arrested. Hundreds more doctors and nurses are wanted on incitement charges.Neither a junta spokesman nor the health ministry responded to requests for comment. The junta, which initially made fighting the pandemic one of its priorities, has repeatedly urged medics to return to work. Few have responded.Testing collapsedA worker at one COVID-19 quarantine center in Myanmar’s commercial capital, Yangon, said all the specialist health workers there had joined the Civil Disobedience Movement.”Then again, we don’t receive new patients any more as COVID test centers don’t have staff to test,” said the worker, who declined to give his name for fear of retribution.In the week before the coup, COVID-19 tests nationally averaged more than 17,000 a day. That had fallen below 1,200 a day in the seven days through Wednesday.Myanmar has reported more than 3,200 COVID-19 deaths from more than 140,000 cases, although the slump in testing has raised doubts over data that shows new cases and deaths have largely plateaued since the coup.Now, a health system in crisis is raising concerns about the likely impact of the variants that are sweeping through India, Thailand and other neighbors.Patients with COVID-19 symptoms started showing up at Cikha hospital in mid-May. It is only 6 kilometers from India, and health workers fear the illness could be the highly infectious B.1.617.2 strain, though they lack the means to test for it.”It’s very concerning that COVID-19 testing, treatment and vaccinations are extremely limited in Myanmar as more lives are at risk with new, more dangerous variants spreading,” said Luis Sfeir-Younis, Myanmar COVID-19 operations manager for the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies.Surge of casesTwenty-four cases have been identified in Cikha, said Za En, the nurse. Seven were so serious they needed hospitalization.Stay-at-home orders have now been declared in parts of Chin state, where Cikha is located, and neighboring Sagaing region.The WHO said it was trying to reach authorities and other groups in the area who could provide help, while recognizing the difficulties in a health system that was precipitously reversing years of impressive gains.”It is not clear how this will be resolved, unless there is a resolution at the political level addressing the political conflict,” Jost said.Za En said her hospital was doing the best it could with nebulizers — machines that turn liquid to mist — to relieve breathlessness. Some patients have oxygen concentrators, but they only work for the two hours a day that the town gets electricity.Refusing to abandon the sick, Za En said she decided not to join the strikes.”The junta will not take care of our patients,” she said.Across Myanmar, some striking doctors have set up underground clinics to help patients. When Myanmar Red Cross volunteers established three clinics in Yangon neighborhoods, they quickly had dozens of patients.At best, such options can provide basic care.”Eighty percent of the hospitals are public health hospitals,” said Marjan Besuijen, head of mission for the Medicins Sans Frontieres (MSF) aid group. “As MSF or others we can’t step in, it’s too big.”Although military hospitals have been opened to the public, many people fear them or refuse to go on principle, including for coronavirus vaccinations in a campaign the ousted government had launched days before the coup.”I am very worried that these new infections will spread all over the country,” Za En said. “If the infection spreads to the crowded cities, it could be uncontrollable.”

Actor MacLeod, ‘Love Boat’ Captain, Dies at 90 

Gavin MacLeod, the veteran supporting actor who achieved stardom as Murray Slaughter, the sardonic TV news writer on “The Mary Tyler Moore Show,” before going on to even bigger fame as the cheerful Captain Stubing on “The Love Boat,” has died. He was 90. MacLeod died early Saturday, his nephew, Mark See, told Variety. MacLeod’s health had been poor recently, but no cause of death was given, the trade publication reported. Known to sitcom fans for his bald head and wide smile, MacLeod toiled in near anonymity for more than a decade, appearing on dozens of TV shows and in several movies before landing his “Mary Tyler Moore” role in 1970. He had originally tested for Moore’s TV boss, Lou Grant, a part that went to Ed Asner. Realizing he wasn’t right for playing the blustery, short-tempered TV newsroom leader, MacLeod asked if he could try instead for the wisecracking TV news writer, whose jokes were often made at the expense of dimwitted anchorman Ted Baxter. “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” was a smash from the start and remains a classic of situation comedies. It produced two spinoffs, “Rhoda” and “Phyllis,” starring Valerie Harper and Cloris Leachman, who had portrayed Mary’s neighbors. It was still top-rated when Moore, who played news producer Mary Richards, decided to end it after seven seasons. MacLeod moved on to “The Love Boat,” a romantic comedy in which guest stars, from Gene Kelly to Janet Jackson, would come aboard for a cruise and fall in love with one another. Although scorned by critics, the series proved immensely popular, lasting 11 seasons and spinning off several TV movies, including two in which MacLeod remained at the cruise ship’s helm. It also resulted in his being hired as a TV pitchman for Princess Cruise Lines. “The critics hated it. They called it mindless TV, but we became goodwill ambassadors,” he told the Los Angeles Times in 2013. Private strugglesMacLeod’s lighthearted screen persona was in contrast to his private life. In his 2013 memoir, This Is Your Captain Speaking, MacLeod acknowledged that he had struggled with alcoholism in the 1960s and ’70s. He also wrote that losing his hair at an early age made it hard for him to find work as an actor. “I went all over town looking for an agent, but no one was interested in representing a young man with a bald head,” he wrote. “I knew what I needed to do. I needed to buy myself a hairpiece.” A toupee changed his luck “pretty quickly.” By middle age, he didn’t need the toupee.MacLeod, whose given name was Allan See, took his first name from a French movie and his last from a drama teacher at New York’s Ithaca College who had encouraged him to pursue an acting career. After college, the Mount Kisco, New York-native became a supporting player in “A Hatful of Rain” and other Broadway plays, and in such films as “I Want to Live!” and “Operation Petticoat.” He made guest appearances on TV shows throughout the 1960s, including “Hogan’s Heroes,” “Hawaii Five-O” and “The Dick Van Dyke Show.” He also appeared on “McHale’s Navy” from 1962 to 1964 as seaman Joseph “Happy” Haines.He auditioned for the role of Archie Bunker in “All in the Family.” But he quickly realized that the character, immortalized by Carroll O’Connor, was wrong for him. “Immediately I thought, ‘This is not the script for me. The character is too much of a bigot.’ I can’t say these things,” MacLeod wrote in his memoir. Other movie credits included “Kelly’s Heroes,” “The Sand Pebbles” and “The Sword of Ali Baba.” MacLeod had four children with his first wife, Joan Rootvik, whom he divorced in 1972. He was the son of an alcoholic and his drinking problems helped lead to a second divorce, from Patti Steele. But after MacLeod quit drinking, he and Steele remarried in 1985. The couple later hosted a Christian radio show called “Back on Course: A Ministry for Marriages.” 

Vietnam Finds New Virus Variant

Vietnam has discovered a new coronavirus variant that’s a hybrid of strains first found in India and the U.K., the Vietnamese health minister said Saturday.Nguyen Thanh Long said scientists examined the genetic makeup of the virus that had infected some recent patients and found the new version of the virus. He said lab tests suggested it might spread more easily than other versions of the virus.Viruses often develop small genetic changes as they reproduce, and new variants of the coronavirus have been seen almost since it was first detected in China in late 2019. The World Health Organization has listed four global “variants of concern” – the two first found in the U.K. and India, plus ones identified in South Africa and Brazil.Long said the new variant could be responsible for a recent surge in Vietnam. Infection has spread to 30 of the country’s 63 municipalities and provinces.Vietnam was initially a standout success in battling the virus. In early May, it had recorded just more than 3,100 confirmed cases and 35 deaths since the start of the pandemic.FILE – A health worker injects a doctor with a dose of AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine at Hospital for Tropical Diseases in Hanoi, Vietnam, March 8, 2021.But in the last few weeks, Vietnam has confirmed more than 3,500 new cases and 12 deaths, increasing the country’s total death toll to 47.Most of the new transmissions were found in Bac Ninh and Bac Giang, two provinces dense with industrial zones where hundreds of thousands of people work for major companies, including Samsung, Canon and Luxshare, a partner in assembling Apple products. Despite strict health regulations, a company in Bac Giang discovered that one-fifth of its 4,800 workers had tested positive for the virus.In Ho Chi Minh City, the country’s largest metropolis and home to 9 million, at least 85 people have tested positive as part of a cluster at a Protestant church, the Health Ministry said. Worshippers sang and chanted while sitting close together without wearing proper masks or taking other precautions.Vietnam has since ordered a nationwide ban on all religious events. In major cities, authorities have banned large gatherings and have closed public parks and nonessential businesses, including in-person restaurants, bars, clubs and spas.Vietnam so far has vaccinated 1 million people with AstraZeneca shots. Last week, it sealed a deal with Pfizer for 30 million doses, which are scheduled to be delivered in the third and fourth quarters of this year. It is also in talks with Moderna that would give it enough shots to fully vaccinate 80% of its 96 million people.

Medics March to WHO Headquarters in Climate Campaign

Medics concerned about the effects on public health of environmental degradation marched Saturday on the World Health Organization (WHO) in Geneva, demanding health authorities make climate change and biodiversity loss their top priorities.White-clad activists from the group Doctors for Extinction Rebellion marched from Geneva’s Place des Nations to WHO headquarters where they were met by Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreysus, and Maria Neira, director of environment, climate change and health.”The pandemic will end, but there is no vaccine for climate change,” Tedros said as he welcomed the activists outside the building. “We have to act now, in solidarity, to prevent and prepare before it is too late.”
Professor Valerie D’Acremont, an infectious disease specialist and co-founder of Doctors For Extinction Rebellion, called on the WHO “to be the driving force and guarantor of public policies that respect the health of all and preserve life.”
The activists handed Tedros a letter and a large hourglass, the symbol of Extinction Rebellion which wants to prompt a wider revolt to avert the worst scenarios of devastation outlined by scientists studying climate change.
Tedros later retweeted a message from the WHO stating both bodies were “standing in solidarity & urging global action” to end the climate crisis and protect health everywhere. “These are inextricably intertwined.”

New Paris Museum Offers Dazzling Display of Contemporary Art

As French cultural institutions reopen after months of coronavirus restrictions, a spectacular new museum has made its debut in Paris, housing the contemporary art collection of French billionaire Francois Pinault, including a number of prominent Black artists.A wax replica of The Rape of the Sabine Women by 16th century artist Giambologna at the Pinault Collection. (L. Bryant/VOA)A chandelier shaped like a basketball net, by American artist David Hammons, a slow-burning wax replica of a 16th century sculpture aimed to melt completely in six months, the works of Chinese-born painter Xinyi Cheng and British artist Lynette Yiadom-Boakye — the Pinault Collection is an eclectic mix of contemporary art.A crystal chandelier shaped as a basketball net by Black American artist David Hammons. (L. Bryant/VOA)”It’s giving different kind of offers to a general public in Paris, but being more of today, so to speak,” said Curator Caroline Bourgeois. “We are focused on today’s question. Even David Hammons is 70s years old, but he speaks a lot of today.”Bourgeois says the private Pinault Collection complements the raft of other Paris museums, offering completely contemporary works focusing on young artists. This opening exhibit is just a taste of the 10,000 artworks 84-year-old Francois Pinault has collected over the years.A wax replica of The Rape of the Sabine Women by 16th century artist Giambologna at the Pinault Collection. (L. Bryant/VOA)A number of them include a number Black artists like Hammons — a friend of Pinault’s, with this show including about 30 of his works. But Bougeois says showcasing race or gender is not the point. “We don’t want to put them ghettos, to show them just as women artists. This is unfair,” Bourgeois said. “Or to show the Black artists as Black artists only. This is also unfair. For us, it’s important that they can dialogue — the dialogues between the generations, the origin…”The Pinault Collection includes works by a number of prominent Black artists, including British painter Lynette Yiadom-Boakye. (L. Bryant/VOA)This Pars museum embodies a years-long goal by Pinault, a self-made billionaire from humble origins in Brittany. As other European museums struggle to stay afloat after months of coronavirus closures, this one sank nearly $200 million into redeveloping a former Paris grain exchange to house it.It’s an amazing space — rented for 50 years from the city of Paris. The building’s circular shape is inspired by Roman monuments. The top offers views of Paris—including the Pompidou Center, which also offers contemporary as well as earlier, modern art.A view of Paris from the Pinault museum, including the Pompidou center, which also exhibits contemporary but also modern art. (L. Bryant/VOA)Restored 19th-century frescoes flank the ceiling, depicting colonial-era trade. It’s a sharp and studied contrast with this collection. Frescoes on the ceiling of Bourse de Commerce, housing the Pinault Collection, depict colonial-era trade. (L. Bryant/VOA)Outside, there’s a long line to get in, even on a weekday afternoon. For those lucky enough to get tickets these first days, it’s a discovery.Francoise, who didn’t want to give her last name, says she knows some of Pinault’s collection from his museums in Venice. This one is luminous, she says, and beautiful.It’s like reliving after months of lockdown, her friend Jocelyne adds. You can’t imagine what it’s like to see art everywhere.Curator Bourgeois says she’s been moved by the many visitors who thank her.Crowds pack the Pinault Collection days after its opening. (L. Bryant/VOA).”The most beautiful compliment I had about this first show is that it’s made for everyone. And I had that a few times,” said Bourgeois. “That everyone can recognize themselves.”She won’t say when or what the next exhibit will be. This one is called “Ouvert” or “open” — a word that suggests many things.   

EU Authorizes Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 Vaccine for Young Adolescents

The European Commission has authorized the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine for use in children as young as 12, widening the pool of those eligible to be inoculated, following similar approvals in the United States and Canada.The commission made the announcement Friday after the European Union’s medical regulator, the European Medicines Agency, recommended Friday the use of the vaccine in children ages 12-15, saying that data show it is safe and effective.”Extending the protection of a safe and effective vaccine in this younger population is an important step forward in the fight against this pandemic,” said Marco Cavaleri, the EMA’s head of health threats and vaccines strategy.It is now up to individual EU states to decide whether and when to offer the vaccine to young adolescents.Germany and Italy have already said they are preparing to extend their vaccination campaign to youths ages 12-15.Also Friday, Britain approved the COVID-19 vaccine developed by Johnson & Johnson. It is the fourth COVID-19 vaccine approved in the country, after inoculations made by Pfizer and BioNTech, AstraZeneca, and Moderna.French President Emmanuel Macron pledged Friday to help provide South Africa and other African countries with vaccine doses. During a visit to Pretoria, Macron said France would donate more than 30 million doses this year to the U.N.-backed COVAX global vaccine initiative.According to Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center, South Africa has so far vaccinated roughly 700,000 people out of its population of 40 million.In Australia, Melbourne went back under lockdown on Friday, as health authorities said a cluster of confirmed positive COVID-19 cases had increased to 39.Health officials have ordered residents to stay home for seven days to prevent the infection from spreading and allow time to investigate how the virus was transmitted from a man being quarantined at a hotel.The outbreak has been traced to an overseas traveler who was found to be infected with an Indian variant of the coronavirus.The acting premier of Australia’s southern state of Victoria, James Merlino, told reporters in Melbourne that the new outbreak is the result of “a highly infectious strain of the virus, a variant of concern, which is running faster than we have ever recorded.”Stores are closed during a lockdown to stop the spread of the new coronavirus in downtown Ribeirao Preto, Sao Paulo state, Brazil, May 28, 2021.During the lockdown, residents will be allowed to leave their homes only for essential work, school, shopping, caregiving, exercise and medical reasons, including receiving their scheduled coronavirus vaccinations.The new lockdown is the fourth one imposed on Victoria state since the start of the pandemic. The most severe period occurred in mid-2020 and lasted more than three months as Victoria was in the grip of a wave of COVID-19 infections that killed more than 800 people.Merlino had already imposed a new set of restrictions for Australia’s second most populous state, including limiting the size of public gatherings and making mask wearing mandatory in restaurants, hotels and other indoor venues until June 4.In other developments Friday, India reported 186,364 new coronavirus infections during the previous 24 hours, its lowest daily rise since April 14. Deaths rose from the previous day to 3,660.In the United States, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said children at summer camp who are not vaccinated do not have to wear masks outside unless they are in crowds or in sustained close contact with others. The new guidance comes as millions of children are set to resume summer camp this summer after the closure of many camps last year due to the virus.Americans are celebrating the start of the Memorial Day weekend by hitting the roads and skies as they seek to cast off more than a year of pandemic restrictions and try to resume a sense of normalcy.U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas urged Americans to be patient this weekend at busy airports.”People will see lines because there’s going to be a tremendous amount of people traveling this weekend,” he told ABC’s Good Morning America on Friday.More than 1.8 million people went through U.S. airports on Thursday, and that number is expected to rise over the weekend.Also in the United States, Facebook said it will no longer remove statements that COVID-19 was created by humans or manufactured “in light of ongoing investigations into the origin of COVID-19 and in consultation with public health experts.”A man in a protective suit stands next to the burning pyre of a person who died of COVID-19, at a crematorium in Srinagar, Indian-controlled Kashmir, May 28, 2021.Since the beginning of the pandemic outbreak, Facebook has changed its policy several times on what is and is not allowed on the topic. Another claim banned from discussion on the platform is the notion that vaccines are toxic or not effective.The American Civil Liberties Union requested Thursday that the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement “provide immediate vaccine access to the more than 22,100 people in ICE custody.””Over the course of the pandemic, ICE detention facilities have been some of the worst hotspots for the spread of COVID-19, with positivity rates five times greater than prisons and 20 times greater than the general U.S. population,” said the ACLU’s Eunice Cho.

Virus Fails to Deter Hundreds of Climbers on Mount Everest

A year after Mount Everest was closed to climbers as the pandemic swept across the globe, hundreds are making the final push to the summit with only a few more days left in the season, saying they are undeterred by a coronavirus outbreak in base camp.Three expedition teams to Everest canceled their climb this month following reports of people getting sick. But the remaining 41 teams decided to continue with hundreds of climbers and their guides scaling the 8,849-meter top in the season that ends in May, before bad weather sets in.”Even though the coronavirus has reached the Everest base camp, it has not made any huge effect like what is being believed outside of the mountain,” said Mingma Sherpa of Seven Summit Treks, the biggest expedition operator on Everest. “No one has really fallen seriously sick because of COVID or died like the rumors that have been spreading.”With 122 clients from 10 teams on Everest, the company led the biggest group but there were no serious illnesses among them, he said.Nepalese officials have downplayed reports of coronavirus cases on Mount Everest, apparently out of concern of creating chaos and confusion in the base camp. After a gap year of no income from climbers, Nepal has been eager to cash in on this year’s season.”Many people made it to the base camp, and it is possible that the people who went there from here could have been infected,” Prime Minister Khadga Prasad Oli said. “But that does not mean that it (coronavirus) has reached the entire mountain, maybe a part of the base camp or the area below that.”In April, a Norwegian climber became the first to test positive at the Everest base camp. He was flown by helicopter to Kathmandu, where he was treated and later returned home.FILE – In this Nov. 12, 2015, file photo, Mount Everest is seen from the way to Kalapatthar in Nepal.Prominent guide Lukas Furtenbach of Austria decided to halt his expedition this month and pull out his clients because of an outbreak among team members.After returning from the mountain, Furtenbach estimated more than 100 climbers and support staff have been infected. He said in an interview last week that it was obvious there were many cases at the base camp because he could see people were sick and could hear them coughing in their tents.”I think with all the confirmed cases we know now — confirmed from (rescue) pilots, from insurance, from doctors, from expedition leaders — I have the positive tests so we can prove this,” Furtenbach told The Associated Press.China last week canceled climbing from its side of Everest due to fears the virus could spread from Nepal.The climbing season was accompanied by a devastating surge in coronavirus cases in Nepal, with record numbers of daily infections and deaths. On Friday, Nepal reported 6,951 new confirmed cases and 96 deaths, bringing the nation’s totals since the pandemic began to more than 549,111 infections and 7,047 deaths.Another expedition, by the Telluride, Colorado-based company Mountain Trip, also announced it was pulling out of Everest.”While it’s a difficult decision to make when considering all of the work, years of preparation, sacrifice and resources that have went into the expedition, it’s the only sensible outcome from a risk management standpoint,” a statement by the company said.Six Sherpa guides working for the company have been evacuated to Kathmandu with COVID-19 symptoms, it said.A total of 408 foreign climbers were issued permits to climb Everest this season, aided by several hundred Sherpas and support staff who have been stationed at base camp since April.Since Everest was first conquered on May 29, 1953, thousands of people have scaled the peak and many Nepalese Sherpas have done it multiple times. Veteran Sherpa guide Kami Rita scaled the summit a record 25th time this month. 

‘In the Heights’ Celebrates Diversity in America

In the Heights, a film about the dreams and struggles of the Latino community in a New York neighborhood, is Lin Manuel Miranda’s love letter to the place where he grew up. It also represents Miranda’s high-stakes bet that people will flock to the theater after months of COVID restrictions. VOA’s Penelope Poulou has more from the cast and the filmmaker.  
Camera: Penelope Poulou      Producer: Penelope Poulou