Month: August 2021

Nigeria Fighting Cholera Outbreak; Death Toll Nears 1,800

Nigerian health officials say nearly 1,800 people have died from cholera this year, with cases found in more than 20 states around the country. To combat the bacterial disease that is spread by dirty water, Nigeria’s Federal Ministry of Environment is urging proper hygiene and organizing mass cleanups in affected areas. Timothy Obiezu reports from the capital, Abuja.Camera: Emeka Gibson

Johnson & Johnson’s HIV Vaccine Fails Mid-Stage Africa Study

Johnson & Johnson said on Tuesday its experimental vaccine failed to provide sufficient protection against HIV in sub-Saharan Africa to young women who accounted for a large number of infections last year.The results from the mid-stage study are the latest setback to efforts to develop a vaccine to prevent HIV or human immunodeficiency virus, which causes AIDS that had infected over 37 million people globally as of 2020.”Although this is certainly not the study outcome for which we had hoped, we must apply the knowledge learned from the … trial and continue our efforts to find a vaccine that will be protective against HIV,” said Anthony Fauci, director of the U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID).Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 Vaccine Shown Less Effective Against VariantsPreliminary study at New York University suggests a second shot may help Despite the discovery of effective treatments that can put the virus in remission, experts say an HIV vaccine is critical to eradicating the virus.The mid-stage study testing the J&J vaccine included 2,600 women participants across five Southern African countries, where women and girls accounted for over 60% of all new HIV infections last year.Researchers found that 63 participants who received placebo and 51 who were administered the J&J vaccine got HIV infection, resulting in a vaccine efficacy of 25.2%.The vaccine was found to be safe with no serious side effects reported, but the study will not continue based on the efficacy data, J&J said.The trial of the vaccine was supported by the NIAID and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.J&J said it was studying the safety and efficacy of a different experimental HIV vaccine among men who have sex with men, and transgender persons. The trial, conducted in the Americas and Europe, is expected to be completed in March 2024.

New Variant of COVID-19 Detected in South Africa    

Scientists in South Africa say they have detected a new variant of COVID-19.The country’s National Institute for Communicable Diseases announced Monday in a new study that the variant, which has been designated C.1.2, was first detected in South Africa in May of this year, and has since spread to seven other countries in Africa, Asia, Europe and the southern Pacific region of Oceania.   The scientists say the C.1.2 variant appears to have the same characteristics as that of other mutations that are more transmissible and more able to overtake a person’s immune system.The study has not been published nor has it undergone the normal peer review process. The scientists say they are still monitoring the frequency of the C.1.2 variant, and that it has not evolved as either a “variant of interest” or “variant of concern” under the guidelines established by the World Health Organization. FILE – A general view of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) headquarters in Atlanta, Georgia, Sept. 30, 2014.The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Monday that the three COVID-19 vaccines currently in use in the United States remain highly effective in preventing severe disease. Dr. Sara Oliver, a CDC scientist, told a vaccine advisory panel that the COVID-19 vaccine was 94% effective in preventing hospitalization for adults between the ages of 18 to 74 between April and July, when the delta variant became dominant. The vaccine’s effectiveness against hospitalization dropped among adults 75 and older, but was still above 80%.   Dr. Oliver told the panel the vaccines appear to be less effective in preventing infection or mild illness, which she said was due to the vaccine’s weakening over time and the more contagious delta variant.   A Dallas County Health and Human Services nurse completes paperwork after administering a Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine at a county-run vaccination site in Dallas, Aug. 26, 2021.The advisory committee is considering whether to recommend authorizing booster shots of the Pfizer, Moderna or Johnson & Johnson vaccines amid a surge of new COVID-19 infections across the United States. The Biden administration recently announced it will begin offering a third shot of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine sometime next month. Both the CDC and the Food and Drug Administration have recently recommended a third shot of Pfizer or Moderna for some people with weakened immune systems.  The committee unanimously voted Monday to recommend the Pfizer vaccine for Americans 16 years old and older.  In a separate development Monday, the CDC added seven new destinations to its highest risk level of its COVID-19 travel advisory list. Azerbaijan, Estonia, Guam, North Macedonia, the U.S. territory of Puerto Rico, the Caribbean island nation of Saint Lucia and Switzerland have been designated as Level 4, which signifies a “very high” risk of contracting COVID-19. The CDC says people should avoid travel to these destinations, and advises that anyone who must travel to these spots needs to be fully vaccinated. FILE – People cross nearly empty streets in the central business district of Auckland, New Zealand, Aug. 27, 2021.In New Zealand, health officials Tuesday reported another decline in new COVID-19 cases since Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern placed the country under a strict lockdown earlier this month. The health ministry posted 49 new cases on Tuesday, after reporting 53 cases Monday and 83 new cases Sunday.   Ardern imposed the strict lockdown on August 17 after a 58-year-old man in Auckland became the first person to test positive for COVID-19 since February. About 612 new cases have since been posted, with Auckland posting 597 and 15 detected in the capital, Wellington, according to Reuters.Some information for this report came from Reuters.      

US Climate Envoy in Japan to Push Efforts to Cut Emissions

U.S. climate envoy John Kerry met in Tokyo on Tuesday with Japan’s top diplomat to push efforts to fight climate change ahead of a United Nations conference in November. Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi highlighted what he said was the importance of getting other major carbon emitters, especially China, to cooperate. “China is the world’s biggest carbon emitter and the number two economy as well, and it is extremely important that we encourage China to firmly fulfill its responsibility to match its place,” Motegi told reporters after his meeting with Kerry. Motegi added that he hoped Japan and the United States would lead global decarbonizing efforts at the U.N. conference to be held in Glasgow in late November, known as COP26, and beyond. The United States is the second-largest carbon emitter. Japan is fifth. Kerry was also scheduled to meet with Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, Environment Minister Shinjiro Koizumi, as well as Economy, Trade and Industry Minister Hiroshi Kajiyama. Kerry arrived in Japan on Monday and will fly out on Tuesday evening to China for more climate talks — his second trip to the country during the Biden administration. Kerry has called on global leaders to work together and accelerate actions needed to curb rising temperatures to no more than 1.5 degrees Celsius over pre-industrial levels. He urged China to join the U.S. in urgently cutting carbon emissions. Many countries have pledged to eliminate net carbon emissions by 2050. Japan has promised to strive to reduce its emissions by 46% from 2012 levels, up from an earlier target of 26%, to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050. China has also set a goal to reach carbon neutrality by 2060. Suga has said Japan will try to push the reduction as high as 50% to be in line with the European Union. In order to achieve that target, Japan’s Environment Ministry is seeking a significant budget increase to promote renewable energy and decarbonizing programs. The Trade and Industry Ministry plans to use large subsidies to promote electric vehicles and wind power generation, according to a draft budget proposal for 2022. The Trade and Industry Ministry, in its draft basic energy plan released in July, said the share of renewables should be raised to 36-38% of the power supply in 2030 from the current target of 22-24%. During his Sept. 1-3 China visit, Kerry is expected to meet with his Chinese counterpart, Xie Zhenhua. 

Officials in Louisiana Assess Trail of Destruction Left by Hurricane Ida

The mayor of New Orleans, Louisiana, is urging residents who evacuated ahead of Sunday’s arrival of now-Tropical Depression Ida not to return as the massive storm has left the city without electricity. Ida hit the Louisiana coastline as a Category 4 hurricane packing winds of 240 kilometers per hour, 16 years to the day after Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans when the flood barriers known as levees failed and left the city underwater, killing 1,800 people and trapping thousands of other residents for days.  Officials said the new $14.5 billion system of levees that were erected around New Orleans after the 2005 disaster withstood the onslaught of Ida and kept the waters of the Mississippi River from flooding the city again. However, more than one million residents in Louisiana, including New Orleans, and the neighboring southern U.S. state of Mississippi are without electricity.  Local utility company Entergy said all eight electric transmission lines that feed the city are out of service, with one tower falling into the Mississippi River. Authorities said it could be days, even weeks, before power is fully restored, raising further concerns over residents falling ill from the area’s searing late-summer heat, which forecasters say could go as high as 32 degrees Celsius later this week.People move in boat on flooded streets in the aftermath of Hurricane Ida, Monday, Aug. 30, 2021, in Lafitte, La.“Now is not the time for re-entry,” New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell said Monday during a post-Ida press conference.  The situation was far worse in several surrounding areas, such as the town of LaPlace, located about 55 kilometers west of New Orleans. The heavy rain Ida dumped on the town left the streets flooded, trapping many residents in their homes Monday. A group of volunteers searched the flooded streets in motorboats in LaPlace and other small towns to rescue the trapped residents.  Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards said at least two people have died as a result of Hurricane Ida, including a man who drowned in New Orleans and a person killed when a tree fell on a house outside of the city of Baton Rouge, the state capital. Governor Edwards said he expects the death toll to rise considerably due to the significant destruction caused by Ida.  U.S. President Joe Biden talked with officials from the hardest-hit regions Monday, voicing his confidence that people in “Louisiana and Mississippi are resilient,” while assuring them that “we can certainly see the power of government respond to the needs of the people.”   “We’re going to stand with you and the people in the Gulf (of Mexico), as long as it takes for you to recover,” Biden said during a virtual videoconference call at the White House. The National Hurricane Center downgraded Ida to a tropical depression late Monday afternoon, with maximum sustained winds of 55 kilometers an hour on a path towards Jackson, Mississippi. Forecasters expect it to veer to the northeast through Tennessee, Kentucky and West Virginia before heading toward the nation’s capital, Washington D.C. by Wednesday.  Emergency management officials in Tennessee warned about the dangers of the storm in areas that are still recovering from flash flooding that killed at least 20 people earlier in August.  Some information for this report came from The Associated Press and Reuters. 

UN Marks ‘Official End’ of Leaded Gasoline

The United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) said Algeria stopped selling leaded gasoline in July, making it the last country to end its sale and marking an “official end” of leaded gasoline use in cars. Wealthy countries began phasing out leaded gasoline in the 1970s and 1980s due to health and environmental concerns, but some countries continued to sell it.  UNEP began a final push to ban leaded gasoline in 2002. “The successful enforcement of the ban on leaded petrol is a huge milestone for global health and our environment,” UNEP Executive Director Inger Andersen said in a statement. Lead was first added to gas nearly 100 years ago, ostensibly to improve engine performance. Leaded gas is still used on some small airplanes, according to The Associated Press. Some information in this report comes from The Associated Press and Agence France-Presse.  

First WHO Health Supplies Land in Taliban-Held Afghanistan 

The World Health Organization says an aircraft provided by Pakistan Monday delivered the first shipment of much-needed medicine and health supplies to Afghanistan since the country came under control of the Taliban. The humanitarian assistance was loaded in Dubai and flown directly to the northern Afghan city of Mazar-e-Sharif, said a WHO statement. The supplies will be immediately delivered to 40 health facilities in 29 provinces across Afghanistan.  The plane carrying Taliban fighters display their flag as they patrol in Kabul, Afghanistan, Aug. 19, 2021. The WHO said Monday that a reliable humanitarian air bridge is urgently required to scale up the collective humanitarian effort.“After days of non-stop work to find a solution, I am very pleased to say that we have now been able to partially replenish stocks of health facilities in Afghanistan and ensure that — for now – WHO-supported health services can continue,” said Dr. Ahmed Al Mandhari, WHO regional director for the eastern Mediterranean.The 12.5 metric ton supplies delivered consist of trauma kits and interagency emergency health kits, and are enough to cover the basic health needs of more than 200,000 people, as well as provide 3,500 surgical procedures and treat 6,500 trauma patients.The WHO noted that Monday’s flight was the first of three planned with Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) to fill urgent shortages in medicine and medical supplies in Afghanistan.  First PIA Cargo flight with WHO medical supplies from Islamabad to Mazar Sharif today. A humanitarian air bridge for essential supplies to Afghanistan in coordination with international agencies. Thanx PIA. FILE – A US military aircraft takes off at Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul, Aug. 28, 2021.The WHO called for the world to remain focused on meeting the needs of the people of Afghanistan at this critical time.“The world’s attention over the past two weeks has been focused on the air evacuation from Kabul airport. But the demanding humanitarian work of meeting the needs of tens of millions of vulnerable Afghans who remain in the country is now beginning,” the world body said.  
 FILE – Internally displaced Afghan families, who fled from the northern province due to battle between Taliban and Afghan security forces, sit in the courtyard of the Wazir Akbar Khan mosque in Kabul, Aug. 13, 2021.On Sunday, UNICEF said in a statement that children were particularly bearing the brunt of the increased conflict and insecurity in the past weeks. The agency noted that children are “at greater risk than ever” in the wake of a security crisis, skyrocketing food prices, a severe drought, the spread of the coronavirus, and upcoming harsh winter conditions.“If the current trend continues, UNICEF predicts that one million children under 5 in Afghanistan will suffer from severe acute malnutrition — a life-threatening disease.”More than 4 million children, including 2.2 million girls, are out of school while around 300,000 children have been forced out of their homes due to the conflict, according to UNICEF. The agency warned partners against cutting aid to Afghanistan. “The needs of the children of Afghanistan have never been greater. We cannot abandon them now.” 

Fauci: ‘Just Get Vaccinated’

The top U.S. infectious disease expert told CNN Sunday there could be up to 100,000 new COVID-19 deaths in the U.S. by the end of the year, but the situation while “entirely predictable” is also “entirely preventable.”   Dr. Anthony Fauci said the U.S. has the “wherewithal” to avoid the fulfillment of the prediction, but the problem is the 80 million people in the country who are not vaccinated. “We could turn this thing around and we can do it efficiently and quickly if we could just get those people vaccinated,” Fauci said. “It’s so important that people in this crisis put aside any ideological and political differences and just get vaccinated.” Meanwhile, last week, the U.S. reached a daily average of 100,000 hospitalizations for COVID-19, according to a New York Times report that said the surge in cases is rivaled only by a surge last winter when vaccines were not available.Memphis overwhelmed by COVID-19 emergency calls, prompting wait times for ambulances, Aug. 13, 2021.“I’ve never seen anything quite like it,” Dr. Shannon Byrd, a pulmonologist in Knoxville, Tennessee told The Times. “It’s bringing whole families down and tearing families apart. They’re dying in droves.”  Residents of Auckland, New Zealand are facing another two weeks of full lockdown, after 53 more cases of the highly contagious delta variant were detected in the region Monday. Eighty-three cases were detected Sunday.  New Zealand’s health ministry announced the country’s first death linked to Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine, a woman who died from myocarditis shortly after she was inoculated. Myocarditis is an inflammation of the heart muscle and has been identified as a side effect of the Pfizer two-dose vaccine.The health ministry said the woman had other medical issues which may have contributed to her death. Israel has opened its COVID vaccine booster program to all citizens 12 years of age and older, as the country is challenged with an increasing number of COVID delta variant cases.The Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center counted more than 216.4 million global infections early Monday and 4.5 million deaths. It cost nearly $15,000 for a U.S. football player to make the decision to get a COVID vaccine.  Isaiah McKenzie, a wide receiver for the Buffalo Bills, was fined $14,650 for not wearing a mask inside a team facility on several occasions, conduct contrary to the National Football League’s protocol for unvaccinated players. After the fine, McKenzie got his first shot. Some information for this report came from Reuters and The Associated Press. 

In Thailand, Aerospace Engineers Turn Their Skills to COVID-19

In Thailand, a team of aerospace engineers is using the high-tech skills they honed programming planes and satellites to run a simple but effective mapping website helping everyday volunteers reach those with COVID-19 who are falling through the cracks of a struggling public health care system. Since going live in mid-July, has seen well over 10,000 households sign on, seeking assistance for everything from food to oxygen to an urgent ride to the hospital, most of them in the capital, Bangkok. About the same number of volunteers have signed up to help them. “Jitasa” ties together the Thai words for “mind” and “volunteer.” “In Thai it means … people who want to volunteer to do good deeds,” said Wasanchai Vongsantivanich, one of the lead developers. He was surprised by how quickly the site took off. It got a big boost after someone shared the link with a popular local Facebook influencer who passed it on to his millions of followers. “When it went widespread, people started to make use of this and a lot of volunteers subscribed by themselves [to] help each other, and that was fantastic and a wonderful thing that we see from the platform,” Wasanchai said. The engineers’ efforts are part of an outpouring of help from Thais of all stripes who are volunteering their time and singular skills to take some of the load off the public health care system. The medical services are strained by the worst wave of infections to hit the country since the pandemic began. Every day brings tens of thousands of new cases and hundreds of more deaths. Intensive care units in Bangkok are filling up, forcing some Thais to spend days hunting for a free hospital bed and the worst off to die at home before they find one. ‘People helping people’Volunteers have played a vital role in meeting some of the shortfalls, said Pichit Siriwan, deputy director of relief and community health at the Thai Red Cross Society. “They’re now very important. We need the volunteers’ help fighting against COVID-19 in Bangkok because of the rise in infections. Now the daily infection in the country is almost 20,000 cases … and almost half of them are in Bangkok,” he said, leaving hospitals in and around the city “overwhelmed.” Pichit said the Thai Red Cross Society relies on thousands of volunteers itself, and that some of them have been using to find people with COVID-19 in need. Wasanchai said the idea for site started with a backlog at crematoria burning the bodies of the newly dead, as per Buddhist tradition. A local volunteer group asked him and his colleagues to brainstorm ways to help families find available time slots. By early July, so many people were dying of COVID-19 in the greater Bangkok area that the Buddhist temples with crematoria equipped to handle infected bodies safely were struggling to keep up. A colleague of Wasanchai’s who had just lost his grandmother to the virus had to call 19 temples before finding one that could take her. Once the team came up with the idea of an interactive map of Thailand drawing on crowdsourced data to show people which temples had spare capacity, it was an easily leap to add community isolation centers with free beds, shops ready to fill oxygen tanks and more. Just as helpful is the site’s ability to quickly connect the sick with people who want to help others. Anyone suffering from COVID-19 can sign in with a phone number, pin their location to the map, and post a note explaining their symptoms and what they need. Anyone who wants to help can sign on with their own phone number and contact them directly. Those asking for assistance show up on the map as a bright red circle that grows bigger the longer they’ve been waiting. Their circle turns green when they start getting help, goes to gray once their needs have been met, then vanishes after a few days. “Everyone can see the map, and they see their community and the area around them. Anyone around them who needs help, they just volunteer. If they think they can help [those] people, that household, they just contact and help,” Wasanchai said. “That is the simple idea — people helping people.” Turning red to green Sonskuln Thaomohr, who handles company registration records for the Commerce Ministry by day, has taken to with a passion. Since coming across the site last month, he says he has responded to dozens of posts asking for help — taking blood oxygen level readings, dropping off food bundles to those self-isolating or helping seniors tap into public services by guiding them through online registration forms. Lately he has seen an increase in posts requesting anti-viral medicine. “If I could do something to help the situation, I really want to do it,” said Sonskuln, whose close friend lost his mother to COVID-19 and blamed himself for having accidentally passed the virus on to her. “I’m so sad for him, and that affects me personally because I don’t want any other of my friends or others to tell the sad story and blame themselves like that again,” he said. Sonskuln likes that the site also lets volunteers communicate with one another and coordinate their efforts. But even then, they can sometimes be too late. “We call it super red, which is the triage level,” he said. “That means they are in emergency state [and] need paramedic attention and … transfer to hospital ASAP. Those people are waiting inside their house and, to be honest, they are not in good shape at all. We have seen people dying — me too — laying on the floor.” With other volunteer groups and even some government agencies signing in to to respond to posts for help, Wasanchai said, most of Bangkok’s red circles are turning green. Most of those on the site still waiting for help are now to the south and southeast of the capital. After climbing steadily for more than four months, new daily infection numbers for the country have also started to level off and dip a bit in the past two weeks, convincing the government to start easing lockdown rules that have crippled the economy. But Pichit, at Thai Red Cross Society, warned that the latest trend could be an artifact of less testing and said infection numbers were still rising in some provinces in the south and northeast of Thailand, so that health care professionals and volunteers alike would have to stay vigilant. “The more you test, the more you find, so we still need to be aware that this decrease in number may be due to decreased tests,” he said. “So, we should keep an eye on it.” 

Hurricane Ida Weakens, But Remains a Threat

Hurricane Ida, which made landfall in the U.S. Gulf Coast state of Louisiana as a dangerous Category 4 storm, had weakened to a Category 2 storm by Sunday night.  The storm remains strong, however, and the National Hurricane Center said late Sunday that Ida was responsible for “catastrophic storm surge, extreme winds, and flash flooding…in portions of southeastern Louisiana.”   Ida has knocked out the electrical power in portions of Louisiana and Mississippi, leaving more than a million people in the dark, including the entire city of New Orleans.  The first death from Ida has been reported, the result of a fallen tree. The storm had maximum sustained winds of 165 kph Sunday night.  The NHC said residents should expect heavy rainfall along the southeast Louisiana coast, spreading northeast into the Lower Mississippi Valley Monday. Rainfall totals of 25 to 45 centimeters are possible across southeast Louisiana into far southern Mississippi, with as much as isolated maximum amounts of 61 centimeters possible.   “This is likely to result in life- threatening flash and urban flooding and significant river flooding impacts,” the weather forecasters said. Cars drive through flood waters along route 90 as outer bands of Hurricane Ida arrive on Aug. 29, 2021, in Gulfport, Miss.Hurricane warnings are in effect for Morgan City, Louisiana to the mouth of the Pearl River, Lake Pontchartrain, Lake Maurepas, and metropolitan New Orleans Sixteen years ago, August 29, 2005, Hurricane Katrina came ashore in Louisiana as a Category 3 storm. Katrina was blamed for 1,800 deaths, levee breaches and devastating flooding in New Orleans. The city’s federal levee system has been improved since then, and Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards predicted the levees would hold. “Will it be tested? Yes. But it was built for this moment,” he said.  Before Ida arrived, Edwards declared a state of emergency and said 5,000 National Guard troops were standing by along the coast for search and rescue efforts. In addition, 10,000 linemen were ready to respond to electrical outages once the storm passed.  Alabama Governor Kay Ivey also declared a state of emergency for coastal and western counties in the state. New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell ordered people who live outside the city’s protective levee system to evacuate. And she urged those who remained in the city to hunker down. “As soon the storm passes, we’re going to put the country’s full might behind the rescue and recovery,” President Joe Biden said after a briefing at the headquarters of the Federal Emergency Management Agency in Washington. The president said he had signed emergency declarations for Louisiana and Mississippi and has been in touch with the governors of those two states and Alabama.  The Gulf Coast region’s hospitals now face a natural disaster as they are struggling with a surge in patients with COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, due to the highly contagious delta variant.  “COVID has certainly added a challenge to this storm,” Mike Hulefeld, executive vice president and chief operating officer of Ochsner Health, told the Associated Press. Edwards said about 2,500 people are being treated for COVID-19 in the state’s hospitals as the hurricane passes through.  Since the start of the pandemic, Louisiana has had 679,796 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 12,359 deaths, according to the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center. Its vaccine tracker says just 41% of the state’s nearly 4.7 million population are vaccinated.   “Once again we find ourselves dealing with a natural disaster in the midst of a pandemic,” Jennifer Avegno, the top health official for New Orleans, told the AP.  Some information for this report came from The Associated Press and Reuters. 

Actor Ed Asner, TV’s blustery Lou Grant, dies at 91

Ed Asner, the burly and prolific character actor who became a star in middle age as the gruff but lovable newsman Lou Grant, first in the hit comedy “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” and later in the drama “Lou Grant,” died Sunday. He was 91.  Asner’s representative confirmed the actor’s death in an email to The Associated Press. Asner’s official Twitter account included a note from his children: “We are sorry to say that our beloved patriarch passed away this morning peacefully. Words cannot express the sadness we feel. With a kiss on your head- Goodnight dad. We love you.”Built like the football lineman he once was, the balding Asner was a journeyman actor in films and TV when he was hired in 1970 to play Lou Grant on “The Mary Tyler Moore Show.” For seven seasons he was the rumpled boss to Moore’s ebullient Mary Richards (He called her “Mary,” she called him “Mr. Grant”) at the fictional Minneapolis TV newsroom where both worked. Later, he would play the role for five years on “Lou Grant.”The part brought Asner three best supporting actor Emmys on “Mary Tyler Moore” and two best actor awards on “Lou Grant.” He also won Emmys for his roles in the miniseries “Rich Man, Poor Man” (1975-1976) and “Roots” (1976-1977).He had more than 300 acting credits and remained active throughout his 70s and 80s in a variety of film and TV roles. In 2003, he played Santa Claus in Will Ferrell’s hit film “Elf.” He was John Goodman’s father in the short-lived 2004 CBS comedy “Center of the Universe” and the voice of the elderly hero in the hit 2009 Pixar release, “Up.” More recently, he was in such TV series as “Forgive Me” and “Dead to Me.”Nonetheless, Asner told The Associated Press in 2009 that interesting roles were hard to come by.”I never get enough work,” he said. “It’s the history of my career. There just isn’t anything to turn down, let me put it that way.””I’d say most people are probably in that same boat, old people, and it’s a shame,” he said.As Screen Actors Guild president, the liberal Asner was caught up in a political controversy in 1982 when he spoke out against U.S. involvement with repressive governments in Latin America. “Lou Grant” was canceled during the furor that followed and he did not run for a third SAG term in 1985.Asner discussed his politicization in a 2002 interview, noting he had begun his career during the McCarthy era and for years had been afraid to speak out for fear of being blacklisted.Then he saw a nun’s film depicting the cruelties inflicted by El Salvador’s government on that country’s citizens.”I stepped out to complain about our country’s constant arming and fortifying of the military in El Salvador, who were oppressing their people,” he said.Former SAG President Charlton Heston and others accused him of making un-American statements and of misusing his position as head of their actors union.”We even had bomb threats at the time. I had armed guards,” Asner recalled.The actor blamed the controversy for ending the five-year run of “Lou Grant,” although CBS insisted declining ratings were the reason the show was canceled.Asner’s character had caught on from the first episode of “Mary Tyler Moore,” when he told Mary in their initial meeting, “You’ve got spunk. … I hate spunk!” The inspired cast included Ted Knight as Ted Baxter, the dimwitted news anchor, Gavin MacLeod as Murray Slaughter, the sarcastic news writer, and Betty White as the manipulative, sex-obsessed home show hostess Sue Ann Nivens. Valerie Harper and Cloris Leachman, playing Mary’s neighbors, both saw their characters spun off into their own shows.”Mary Tyler Moore” was still a hit when the star decided to pursue other interests, and so it was brought to an end in the seventh season with a hilarious finale in which all of the principals were fired except for the bumbling Baxter.Asner went immediately into “Lou Grant,” his character moving from Minneapolis to Los Angeles to become city editor of the Tribune, a crusading newspaper under the firm hand of Publisher Margaret Pynchon, memorably played by Nancy Marchand.Although the show had its light moments, its scripts touched on a variety of darker social issues that most series wouldn’t touch at the time, including alcoholism and homelessness. Asner remained politically active for the rest of his life and in 2017 published the book “The Grouchy Historian: An Old-Time Lefty Defends Our Constitution Against Right-Wing Hypocrites and Nutjobs.”Asner, born in Kansas City, Missouri, in 1929, almost became a newsman in real life. He studied journalism at the University of Chicago until a professor told him there was little money to be made in the profession.He quickly switched to drama, debuting as the martyred Thomas Becket in a campus production of T.S. Eliot’s “Murder in the Cathedral.”He eventually dropped out of school, going to work as a taxi driver and other jobs before being drafted in 1951. He served with the Army Signal Corps in France.Returning to Chicago after military service, he appeared at the Playwrights Theatre Club and Second City, the famed satire troupe that launched the careers of dozens of top comedians.Later, in New York, he joined the long-running “The Threepenny Opera” and appeared opposite Jack Lemmon in “Face of a Hero.”Arriving in Hollywood in 1961 for an episode of television’s “Naked City,” Asner decided to stay and appeared in numerous movies and TV shows, including the film “El Dorado,” opposite John Wayne, and the Elvis Presley vehicles “Kid Galahad” and “Change of Habit.” He was a regular in the 1960s political drama series “Slattery’s People.”He was married twice, to Nancy Lou Sykes and Cindy Gilmore, and had four children, Matthew, Liza, Kate and Charles.

Spacex Launches Ants, Avocados, Robot to Space Station

A SpaceX shipment of ants, avocados and a human-sized robotic arm rocketed toward the International Space Station on Sunday.The delivery — due to arrive Monday — is the company’s 23rd for NASA in just under a decade.A recycled Falcon rocket blasted into the predawn sky from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center. After hoisting the Dragon capsule, the first-stage booster landed upright on SpaceX’s newest ocean platform, named A Shortfall of Gravitas.SpaceX founder Elon Musk continued his tradition of naming the booster-recovery vessels in tribute to the late science fiction writer Iain Banks and his Culture series.The Dragon is carrying more than 2,170 kilograms of supplies and experiments, and fresh food, including avocados, lemons and even ice cream for the space station’s seven astronauts.The Girl Scouts are sending up ants, brine shrimp and plants as test subjects, while University of Wisconsin-Madison scientists are flying up seeds from mouse-ear cress, a small flowering weed used in genetic research. Samples of concrete, solar cells and other materials also will be subjected to weightlessness.A Japanese start-up company’s experimental robotic arm, meanwhile, will attempt to screw items together in its orbital debut and perform other mundane chores normally done by astronauts. The first tests will be done inside the space station. Future models of Gitai Inc.’s robot will venture out into the vacuum of space to practice satellite and other repair jobs, said chief technology officer Toyotaka Kozuki.As early as 2025, a squad of these arms could help build lunar bases and mine the moon for precious resources, he added.SpaceX had to leave some experiments behind because of delays resulting from COVID-19.It was the second launch attempt; Saturday’s try was foiled by stormy weather.NASA turned to SpaceX and other U.S. companies to deliver cargo and crews to the space station, once the space shuttle program ended in 2011. 

Arc De Triomphe to be Wrapped for Posthumous Work by Christo

The Arc de Triomphe has seen parades, protests and tourists galore, but never before has the war monument in Paris been wrapped in silver and blue recyclable polypropylene fabric. That’s about to happen next month in a posthumous art installation designed by artists Christo and Jeanne-Claude.”Christo has wrapped museums, parliaments as in Germany, but a monument like this? Not really. This is the first time. This is the first monument of this importance and scale that he has done,” Vladimir Yavachev, the late collaborating couple’s nephew, told The Associated Press.Preparations have already started on the Napoleon-era arch, where workers are covering statues to protect them from the wrapping.The idea for L’Arc de Triomphe, Wrapped was formed in 1961, when Christo and Jeanne-Claude lived in Paris. Jeanne-Claude died in 2009, and in spite of Christo’s death in May 2020, the project carried on.”He wanted to complete this project. He made us promise him that we will do it,” Yavachev told The Associated Press.It was to be realized last fall, but the COVID-19 pandemic delayed the installation.The $16.4 million project is being self-financed through the sale of Christo’s preparatory studies, drawings, scale models and other pieces of work, Yavachev said.Visitors to the foot of the Arc de Triomphe during the installation, scheduled for Sept. 18-Oct. 3, will be able to touch the fabric, and those climbing to the top will step on it when they reach the roof terrace, as intended by the artists.Born in Bulgaria in 1935, Christo Vladimirov Javacheff met Jeanne-Claude Denat de Guillebon, born in Morocco on the exact same day as him, in Paris in 1958.The artists were known for elaborate, temporary creations that involved blanketing familiar public places with fabric, such as Berlin’s Reichstag and Paris’ Pont Neuf bridge, and creating giant site-specific installations, such as a series of 7,503 gates in New York City’s Central Park and the 39-kilometer Running Fence in California.Yavachev plans on completing another one of his uncle and aunt’s unfinished projects: a 150-meter-tall pyramid-like mastaba in Abu Dhabi.”We have the blueprints, we just have to do it,” he said. 

US Teacher Source of COVID-19 Outbreak at School, CDC Says

A U.S. teacher who read aloud to her students while not wearing a mask is serving as a cautionary tale as schools across the country begin to open for the new school year.In May, an unvaccinated teacher in an elementary school in California’s Marin County read aloud to her students after removing her mask, despite a school mandate requiring everyone to wear a mask while indoors.The teacher became symptomatic on May 19, according to a U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report.  She continued to work for two days before taking a COVID-19 test on May 21. The teacher tested positive for the delta variant.On May 23, the school began receiving reports of COVID-19 cases from students, parents, teachers and staff associated with the school. Marin County Public Health conducted contact tracing that included whole genome sequencing.The CDC report says 26 cases were found to be connected with the teacher, including 12 of her students. In her classroom, “the attack rate” in the two rows of students closest to her was 80%, the report said, and 28% in the three back rows.Students in another classroom also tested positive for the coronavirus. All the students in both classes were too young to be eligible for COVID-19 vaccinations.Meanwhile, England’s Office for National Statistics says coronavirus infections in the country are 26 times higher this year than they were last year at this time. Officials are warning that the imminent opening of schools and universities could cause the caseload to grow.On Sunday, India’s health ministry reported 45,083 new COVID-19 cases in the previous 24 hours.India has more than 32 million COVID cases, according to the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center. Only the U.S. has more, with 38.7 million, Johns Hopkins reports, and the U.S. reported 49,712 new cases in the past 24 hours.

Acclaim for ‘Afterparties’ Illuminates Cambodian American Experience

The late Cambodian American writer Anthony Veasna So once reportedly described his work as “post-khmer genocide queer stoner fiction,” a narrowly defined niche blown wide open by widespread critical acclaim for his collection of short stories, Afterparties.So’s book is hailed as an exciting and highly original work that captures what it is like to grow up in contemporary American society as a child of Cambodian refugees. Enthusiasm for So’s work bridges seemingly dissimilar universes – literary critics who see its universal appeal and the Cambodian American community that sees family.Uniting the two are So’s vivid descriptions – full of humor and compassion – of families grappling with the traumas of surviving the murderous Khmer Rouge while navigating the cultural dislocation and socio-economic challenges of refugee resettlement.Until now, most depictions of Cambodians in English-language writing and film have been memoirs, nonfiction books and a few well-known movies that focus on an older generation’s stories of surviving the Khmer Rouge killing fields — the “purification” of Cambodia that resulted in the deaths of at least 1.7 million people in a quest by Pol Pot to create an agrarian Marxist utopia in the 1970s.As The New Yorker magazine observed, “Classics of immigrant storytelling can feel sparse and solemn. The stories in So’s Afterparties fill the silence, spilling over with transgressive humor and exuberant language.”The Man Behind Cambodia’s Khmer Rouge ‘Died Easier Than the People He Killed’Cambodians found little comfort in the death of Nuon Chea, believed to be the mastermind behind the Khmer Rouge regime that killed 1.7 million of its countrymen between 1975-1979 “He writes the voices of our Cambodian elders in a way that just feels so accurate,” Monica Sok, a poet who was a friend of So’s, told a recent panel discussion at Book Passage, a Bay Area bookstore. Sok said that as she read So’s work, “I was always thinking like: ‘Yeah, I do know an auntie like that, I know an auntie who thinks she knows how I should live my life.”‘Immense promise’The well-known American literary house Ecco launched Afterparties in early August, printing 100,000 copies after it reportedly signed a $300,000 deal for two books with So, who died in December 2020 of an accidental drug overdose at his home in San Francisco. Another book based on segments from an unfinished novel is expected in 2023.The New Yorker, which first published some of his early stories, described So’s death at 28 as “cutting short a literary career of extraordinary achievement and immense promise.”The headline of a glowing Washington Post review called Afterparties “a bittersweet testament to the late author’s talents.”Alexander Torres, the writer who was So’s partner for seven years, told VOA Khmer “the humor, the lightheartedness, the jokes, but also the really beautiful descriptions” are what made So’s writing unique with a style that “combines humor with high art and with low art.”Younger perspectiveSo’s writing captures the second generation’s perspective on the effects of lingering trauma and other issues at the heart of the Cambodian American community, while touching on more universal contemporary themes such as the complexities of race, youth and sexuality.As any Cambodian born to Khmer Rouge survivors can attest, the horror stories and traumas inflicted by the murderous 1970s regime are part of growing up.So’s sharp observations about his parents’ coping mechanisms and the effects of their traumas on their children offer an unflinching look at the multigenerational impact of war and violence. Yet, he never overlooks the humor and absurdity this can create for an Americanized second generation. In one incident he describes a father shouting at a teen drinking iced water: “There were no ice cubes in the genocide!”Afterparties contains nine short stories, including Somaly Serey, Serey Somaly, about the Buddhist belief in reincarnation set in an Alzheimer’s and dementia unit. Generational Differences is about a 1989 shooting at Cleveland Elementary School in Stockton, a small California city that is home to one of the largest Cambodian communities in the U.S. Most of the victims were children of Southeast Asian descent. Five died. So’s mother, who worked at the school, witnessed the violence.Cambodian Refugees ‘Accomplished So Much’New photography book bears witness to resilience of Cambodians who created a close-knit community in a poor Chicago neighborhood after fleeing war, genocide So’s book built on a reputation from work published in various outlets, including a 2018 story in n+1 magazine called Superking Son Scores Again, about a legendary badminton player turned grocery store owner who tries to relive his glory days.Mark Krotov, the magazine’s co-editor and publisher, told VOA Khmer that So’s work would likely affect many young writers. “There is so much wisdom in it, there is so much adventure … so much risk-taking, so much beauty, so much intelligence, so much provocation. And all those things in combination suggest to me that this is the book that’s going to be remembered,” Krotov said in a recent phone interview.N+1 magazine recently established an award called “Anthony Veasna So’s Fiction Prize” in his honor. The first recipient is Trevor Shikaze, a writer for n+1 from Canada.‘Centering’ Cambodian AmericansSo’s parents fled northwestern Cambodia’s Battambang province and settled as refugees in Stockton, a river city in California’s Central Valley. His father ran an auto repair shop and his mother worked as a civil servant. So was born in Stockton in 1992.Cambodian American intellectuals said So’s fiction masterfully conveyed their experiences, family life and sense of community.“Reading through Afterparties, it was so resonant, it was so refreshing, to see the Cambodian diaspora, which is not represented in literature – apart from the survival literature,” said So’s friend Sok.“Anthony is really centering Cambodian people in America and the second generation as well, those who are born in this country and inheriting their parents’ traumas, but also trying to find their own way in life,” she added.Sokunthary Svay, a Cambodian American writer and librettist from New York City, told VOA Khmer, “I think what makes his writing particularly important for our diaspora is that he would speak about experiences that a lot of us knew growing up here in the States.”So was from a large family, and all the children were high-achieving students. He graduated from Stanford University, where he enrolled for computer science and graduated with a degree in English, a switch that initially dismayed his family. He earned his MFA in fiction at Syracuse University.’Cambodian Space Project’ Brings Psychedelic Rock Back to US

        The Cambodian Space Project, long on the forefront of a local rock'n'roll revival, is a band making good with their pre-Khmer Rouge Cambodia sound.The Cambodian-Australian group, kicked off a mini-U.S. tour on Tuesday with a performance at the Kennedy Center's Millennium Stage. Channthy Kak, 38, also known as Srey Thy, said she was honored to have been invited to perform at the Washington venue, where the band played their original brand of psychedelic rock, before heading to New York City and…

According to his sister, Samantha Lamb, So loved television shows and movies and he discovered his talent while trying to write a script for a television show about a Cambodian American family based on his own life.Lamb reacted to So’s stories with recognition. “OK yes, yes, that is the story about my grandma’s sister, that’s the story about my aunt,” Lamb told VOA Khmer. “This person represents this person in my family.”Processing genocideLamb said Khmer Rouge-era experiences are a recurrent theme in So’s work, as “it is a big part of who we are and growing up my parents talked about it all the time.”In Duplex, a story published in The New Yorker, So wrote, “I had grown up hearing the stories of the genocide, worked to help build our new American identities, and mourned, alongside everyone else in my family, the gaps in our history that could never be recovered.”Lamb said her brother found a way to process this family history and turn it into a new, contemporary experience.His work “tells the stories of the Cambodian genocide, but from a young person’s perspective,” Lamb said. “There hasn’t really been any book or movie or TV show about Cambodians in the Western eyes, you know in the American eyes, that has been about just like who we are as Cambodian Americans now. So, I think that’s what makes it more relatable to people.”According to Lamb, the family continues to struggle with So’s death, although they are immensely proud to see his writing being so well received. His father sleeps in So’s bed to console himself, while his mother is going to a therapist and their grandmother is claiming So may soon be reincarnated.“I am pregnant right now,’’ Lamb said, ‘’and it is a boy. … And especially my grandma has been like ‘Oh! Anthony is coming back. He is being reincarnated.’”  

Ida Becomes Hurricane, Makes Landfall in Cuba

Hurricane Ida roared into Cuba Friday and could hit the southern U.S. state of Louisiana as a Category 3 storm Sunday, according to the National Hurricane Center.
“The forecast track has it headed straight toward New Orleans. Not good,” said Jim Kossin, a senior scientist with The Climate Service.
Evacuations have been ordered in the city for those who live outside the city’s protective levee system.
Ida became a hurricane Friday with maximum winds of 120 kph just before coming ashore in Cuba.
Forecasters fear the storm could quickly intensify when it enters the Gulf of Mexico. They say it could pack winds of 193 kph when it makes landfall over Louisiana late Sunday.
From southeast Louisiana to coastal Mississippi and Alabama, total rainfall could be 8 to 16 inches, with up to 20 inches in some areas. Heavy rain and storm surge could cause widespread flooding in the area.
Should Ida make landfall around New Orleans on Sunday, it would be on the 16th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina – a Category 3 storm that caused widespread damage and flooding in addition to about 1,800 deaths.
“Ida certainly has the potential to be very bad,” said Brian McNoldy, a hurricane researcher at the University of Miami. “It will be moving quickly, so the trek across the Gulf from Cuba to Louisiana will only take 1.5 days.”
Hurricane watches have been issued for New Orleans and the entire Louisiana coastline. The governor has declared a state of emergency.
”Unfortunately, all of Louisiana’s coastline is currently in the forecast cone” for the storm, said Governor John Bel Edwards.
“By Saturday evening, everyone should be in the location where they intend to ride out the storm,” the governor added.
Some information for this report came from The Associated Press.

Soccer Legend Cristiano Ronaldo to Return to Manchester United

Soccer superstar Cristiano Ronaldo is heading back to England to play for the team where he became a legend.Manchester United said Friday that it had reached an agreement to bring the 36-year-old Portuguese forward back to Old Trafford, where the storied club plays.”Manchester United is delighted to confirm that the club has reached agreement with Juventus for the transfer of Cristiano Ronaldo, subject to agreement of personal terms, visa and medical,” a statement from the team read.”Cristiano, a five-time Ballon d’Or winner, has so far won over 30 major trophies during his career, including five Champions League titles, four FIFA Club World Cups, seven league titles in England, Spain and Italy, and the European Championship for his native Portugal.”In his first spell for Manchester United, he scored 118 goals in 292 games. Everyone at the club looks forward to welcoming Cristiano back to Manchester,” the statement concluded.Ronaldo said on Thursday that he no longer wanted to play for Juventus of the Italian league.While details of the move were not officially made public, The Associated Press said the transfer fee would be $29.5 million. Ronaldo had a year left on his contract with Juventus. His contract with United is for two years.Ronaldo played previously for Manchester United from 2003 to 2009 when he left to play for Spanish team Real Madrid before moving on to Juventus.Manchester United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, who played alongside Ronaldo at the club, said, “He is the greatest player of all time, if you ask me.”“Such a tremendous human being as well. … Everyone who’s played with him, I think, has a soft spot for him,” Solskjaer said.United no doubt hopes Ronaldo can help the team win the Premier League championship, something it hasn’t done since 2013.Some information for this report came from The Associated Press.

WHO: Afghanistan Running Out of Medical Supplies to Treat Sick, Wounded

The World Health Organization says only a few days of medical supplies are left in Afghanistan to treat the health needs of millions of people in the fractured country.Trauma kits are especially in demand following Thursday’s suicide bombing by Islamic State militants at Kabul airport, killing more than 100 people and injuring scores of others.The WHO says emergency health kits containing essential supplies and medicine for hospitals and clinics, nutritional food for acutely malnourished children and items for controlling the COVID-19 pandemic also are in short supply.The WHO’s emergency director for the Eastern Mediterranean region, Rick Brennan, says commercial aircraft are blocked from flying into Kabul airport because of security concerns. Therefore, he says, the WHO is exploring other ways of bringing medicine into the country.“There are multiple security and logistics constraints to doing so but we hope and expect that we will be able to bring in more supplies in the coming days, with the support of the Pakistan government. Kabul airport is not an option for bringing in supplies at this stage and so we are likely to use Mazar-i-Sharif airport, with our first flight hopefully going in the next few days,” Brennan said.The situation in Afghanistan is volatile and fluid. Humanitarian needs across the country are enormous and growing. The United Nations says some 18 million people require international support. They include an estimated 3.5 million internally displaced people, among them more than half-a-million newly displaced this year.Brennan says the WHO is committed to staying in Afghanistan and meeting the needs of the displaced and other vulnerable people. He says the welfare of women and children are of particular concern.“Already we are hearing that some female health workers are not attending work and that there has been a decline in the attendance of women and children at some facilities. This again highlights the need to ensure the availability of medical supplies, to support female health workers in their work, and to encourage families to bring their mothers…and children to seek health care when they need it,” he said.Brennan says the WHO has staff in all 34 provinces across the country monitoring the health situation. He says that fortunately, most of the 2,200 health facilities the WHO are monitoring remain open and functioning.However, he warns an increasing number of people will get sick and die unless the medical supplies that are rapidly running out can be replenished in a timely manner.

Apple CEO Brings Home $750 Million Bonus

It pays to be the leader of Apple.The company’s CEO, Tim Cook, was recently given a bonus of $750 million worth of Apple stock, marking his 10th anniversary as CEO.The bonus was revealed Thursday in a regulatory filing.He promptly cashed out the 5 million shares, which were given based on both performance and time with the company.The bonus plan was put in place after Cook had become CEO in 2011, shortly before the death of company co-founder Steve Jobs.Since Cook took over the company, Apple’s value has reached an estimated $2.4 trillion, and its share price has risen 1,200%, according to BBC.Cook, who is estimated to be worth $1.4 billion, still owns 3.2 million shares of the company.The regulatory findings also show Cook donated 70,000 shares, worth $10 million, to charity.Before joining Apple in 1998, he worked for IBM and Compaq.

For North Korean Defectors, Pandemic Severs Few Remaining Links to Home

When Hong Gang-chul, a North Korean border guard, decided to escape his homeland in 2013, he knew his relationship with his family would never be the same.Hong, who had helped other North Koreans escape, left the country in a hurry, believing he was wanted by North Korean authorities.In doing so, he left two young daughters with their mother in North Korea. When he later began to arrange for them to defect, they refused.A stocky, soft-spoken 48-year-old, Hong now lives in a simple apartment on the outskirts of Seoul, where he looks after his elderly mother, who also fled the North.Like many defectors, Hong at times struggles to adjust to his new life in South Korea.In North Korea, he manned a guard post along the demilitarized zone; now, he hosts a YouTube channel and works as a writer and commentator on North Korea issues.When punditry doesn’t provide enough income, he takes work as a low-skilled laborer at construction sites — anything to scrape together enough to send his daughters money at least once a year.“It’s impossible now for me to do the things a typical father would do for his children,” he told VOA in a matter-of-fact tone that only partly hides his distress. “The only thing I can do to look after them at this point is to send money.”North Korean escapees have long sent funds to relatives back home using a network of brokers who smuggle cash and goods across what used to be a relatively porous border with China. The remittances can be a major source of income in North Korea, where the economy is tightly regulated.Such money transfers have become trickier and much more expensive during the coronavirus pandemic. Many North Korean officials who used to look the other way, or who even accepted bribes to assist with smuggling, now report brokers to authorities, amid a wider crackdown on cross-border activity.The increased risk has driven prices way up. Before the pandemic, remittance brokers would typically charge a commission of around 30%, but that figure is now closer to 50%, according to several Seoul-based defectors and activists.“The money I send to North Korea has basically been cut in half,” said Hong, who also cited unstable foreign currency exchange rates in the North.Some brokers charge as much as 70% commission, he added.Links severedThe remittance crackdown is one of many ways the coronavirus pandemic is severing the already fragile links between North Korean defectors and their families back home.Since the pandemic began, North Korea has imposed one of the world’s toughest lockdowns, not only sealing its external borders but also expanding domestic travel restrictions.As a result, many defectors, including Hong, haven’t heard from their families in months.That is partly because brokers often help pass messages between separated family members, according to Sokeel Park of Liberty in North Korea, a group that helps North Korean defectors settle in the South.Even for North Koreans who talk with the outside world via smuggled Chinese cellphones, communication has become much harder.“Most of the time people are not making calls from inside their house. They are moving around to other places close to the border,” either to get a better signal or avoid state surveillance, Park said.However, any movement is now difficult, especially near the border, he added.‘Worse than ever’The crackdown on money brokers seems to have become especially intense in the last several months.The Daily NK, a Seoul-based website that relies on a network of anonymous sources inside North Korea, reported a “massive campaign” of broker arrests beginning in May.Whereas brokers who were caught used to receive three to five years of reeducation as punishment, North Korean authorities have now tripled those sentences to 10 to 15 years, the Daily NK reported.“The punishment is worse than ever,” said Ju Chan-yang, another Seoul-based defector, who told VOA she has stopped trying to send money to North Korea altogether.Even when offered a 70% commission, a broker refused to send money from one of her friends to a family member in Pyongyang who has cancer and needed money for treatment, Ju said.No escapeNorth Korea’s lockdown is also preventing defections, which have plummeted to historic lows.In 2019, 1,047 defectors arrived in South Korea, according to data from Seoul’s Unification Ministry. In 2020, only 229 defectors arrived in South Korea.During the second quarter of 2021, only two North Koreans reached the South. That is the smallest quarterly figure since Seoul began counting in 2003.Lee Se-jun, a South Korea-based defection broker, told VOA he has not helped facilitate an escape from North Korea in over a year, due to the intense security buildup on the North Korean side of the border.Another factor is the skyrocketing cost of defections.Hong, the former North Korean border guard, said it now costs up to $21,000 for North Koreans to defect, compared to a previous rate of about $13,000.No end in sightThe North Korean pandemic restrictions may not be relaxed anytime soon.North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has repeatedly warned of “prolonged” anti-epidemic measures, even as his government continues to insist it has detected no coronavirus cases.Many of those who have escaped North Korea now acknowledge it may be a long time before they will hear from family.“It’s a real double whammy,” said Park. “Along with everything else, so much of the contact is being shut off at the time when North Korean people face their biggest challenges in 20 years.”

Medical Journal: Long COVID Is ‘Modern Medical Challenge of the First Order’

According to a new report published in a leading medical journal, the symptoms that linger after a person has survived the novel coronavirus are little understood by the medical community.The medical journal The Lancet says the syndrome must be studied and understood by the medical community in order to launch an appropriate response for what the journal calls “a modern medical challenge of the first order.”The syndrome has become known as “long COVID,” and The Lancet said recovery can take more than a year.The lingering symptoms include “persistent fatigue, breathlessness, brain fog, and depression.”Finding answers to the mystery of long COVID “while providing compassionate and multidisciplinary care,” The Lancet said, “will require the full breadth of scientific and medical ingenuity.”Meanwhile, hundreds of thousands of people in the United States who have not been able to pay their rent during the pandemic are facing evictions after the Supreme Court decided not the extend the nationwide ban on evictions that had been imposed during the pandemic.Three of the justices dissented.Jen Psaki, U.S. President Joe Biden’s press secretary, said in a statement, “As a result of this ruling, families will face the painful impact of evictions, and communities across the country will face greater risk of exposure to COVID-19.”Earlier this week World Health Organization Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, continued to warn about the consequences of inequitable vaccination.Some regions and countries continue to see steep increases in cases and deaths, while others are declining,” the WHO chief said.  “As long as this virus is circulating anywhere, it’s a threat everywhere.”On Friday, India’s health ministry reported 44,658 new COVID cases in the previous 24-hour period.New Zealand is extending its national lockdown until Tuesday midnight after 70 new COVID cases were discovered.Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center reported more than 214 million global COVID cases and 4.5 million deaths. The center said more than 5 billion vaccines have been administered.

100,000 More COVID Deaths Forecast Unless US Alters Behavior

The U.S. is projected to see nearly 100,000 more COVID-19 deaths between now and Dec. 1, according to the nation’s most closely watched forecasting model. But health experts say that toll could be cut in half if nearly everyone wore a mask in public spaces.In other words, what the coronavirus has in store this fall depends on human behavior.”Behavior is really going to determine if, when and how sustainably the current wave subsides,” said Lauren Ancel Meyers, director of the University of Texas COVID-19 Modeling Consortium. “We cannot stop delta in its tracks, but we can change our behavior overnight.”That means doubling down again on masks, limiting social gatherings, staying home when sick and getting vaccinated.”Those things are within our control,” Meyers said.The U.S. is in the grip of a fourth wave of infection this summer, powered by the highly contagious delta variant, which has sent cases, hospitalizations and deaths soaring again, swamped medical centers, burned out nurses and erased months of progress against the virus.Deaths are running at more than 1,100 a day on average, turning the clock back to mid-March. One influential model, from the University of Washington, projects an additional 98,000 Americans will die by the start of December, for an overall death toll of nearly 730,000.The projection says deaths will rise to nearly 1,400 a day by mid-September, then decline slowly.But the model also says many of those deaths can be averted if Americans change their ways.”We can save 50,000 lives simply by wearing masks. That’s how important behaviors are,” said Ali Mokdad, a professor of health metrics sciences at the University of Washington in Seattle who is involved in the making of the projections.Already there are signs that Americans are taking the threat more seriously.Amid the alarm over the delta variant in the past several weeks, the slump in demand for COVID-19 shots reversed course. The number of vaccinations dispensed per day has climbed around 80% over the past month to an average of about 900,000.White House COVID-19 coordinator Jeff Zients said Tuesday that in Alabama, Arkansas, Louisiana and Mississippi, “more people got their first shots in the past month than in the prior two months combined.”Shahir Sanchez, 5, grimaces as Dr. Neal Schwartz collects a nasal swab sample for COVID-19 testing at Families Together of Orange County Aug. 26, 2021, in Tustin, Calif.Also, millions of students are required to wear masks. A growing number of employers are demanding their workers get the vaccine after the federal government gave Pfizer’s shot full approval earlier this week. And cities like New York and New Orleans are insisting people get vaccinated if they want to eat at a restaurant.Half of American workers are in favor of vaccine requirements at their workplaces, according to a new poll from The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research.Early signs suggest behavior changes may be flattening the curve in a few places where the virus raged this summer.An Associated Press analysis shows the rate of new cases is slowing in Mississippi, Florida, Louisiana and Arkansas, some of the same states where first shots are on the rise. In Florida, pleas from hospitals and a furor over masks in schools may have nudged some to take more precautions.However, the troubling trends persist in Georgia, Kentucky, South Carolina, Tennessee, West Virginia and Wyoming, where new infections continue to rise steadily.Mokdad said he is frustrated that Americans “aren’t doing what it takes to control this virus.””I don’t get it,” he said. “We have a fire, and nobody wants to deploy a firetruck.”A woman is injected with her second dose of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine at a Dallas County Health and Human Services vaccination site in Dallas, Aug. 26, 2021.One explanation: The good news in the spring — vaccinations rising, cases declining — gave people a glimpse of the way things used to be, said Elizabeth Stuart of Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, and that made it tough for them to resume the precautions they thought they left behind.”We don’t need to fully hunker down,” she said, “but we can make some choices that reduce risk.”Even vaccinated people should stay vigilant, said Dr. Gaby Sauza, 30, of Seattle, who was inoculated over the winter but tested positive for COVID-19 along with other guests days after an Aug. 14 Vermont wedding, even though the festivities were mostly outdoors and those attending had to submit photos of their vaccination cards.”In retrospect, absolutely, I do wish I had worn a mask,” she said.Sauza credits the vaccine with keeping her infection manageable, though she suffered several days of body aches, fevers, night sweats, fatigue, coughing and chest pain.”If we behave, we can contain this virus. If we don’t behave, this virus is waiting for us,” Mokdad said. “It’s going to find the weak among us.”

 Poverty and Distrust Are Behind Vaccination Lag Among Arabs in Israel

As Israel expands its third COVID booster shot campaign, analysts are pointing to wide disparities between Jews and Arabs when it comes to getting vaccinations. While 80% of eligible Jewish Israelis have been vaccinated, about one-third of Arab citizens of Israel have yet to get their shots. As Linda Gradstein reports from Jerusalem, some root causes are poverty and distrust.Camera:  Ricki Rosen