In the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic, one sign that social distancing measures may be working is that people’s temperatures — a symptom of the virus — are dropping in some cities in the U.S., according to a smart thermometer company. The data could give health officials an early look into how the virus is progressing. Michelle Quinn takes a look.
New analysis of data collected by the U.S. space agency’s Cassini spacecraft may have solved what has been a mystery to scientists for years: What keeps the upper layers of Saturn so warm?The warmth of Saturn and other gas giants in the solar system has puzzled scientists because the planets are too far from the sun for it to be the source of the heat that has been found in their atmospheres.But the authors of a report published this week in the scientific journal Nature Astronomy used NASA’s Cassini probe data to make the most detailed examination yet of Saturn’s temperatures and atmospheric density.They discovered auroras – similar to Earth’s northern lights – active at the planet’s north and south poles. The researchers believe the auroras, electrical currents triggered by interactions between solar winds and charged particles in the atmosphere, are what’s providing the heat.This complete picture of how heat circulates in Saturn’s atmosphere allows scientists to better understand how these auroral electric currents drive winds and distribute energy around the planet, and why the upper atmosphere is twice as hot as temperatures expected from the sun’s heat alone.The Cassini space probe, managed by NASA, was an orbiter that observed Saturn for more than 13 years. In September 2017 it exhausted its fuel supply and was plunged into the planet, in part to protect Saturn’s moon, Enceladus, which Cassini discovered might hold conditions suitable for life.
Habbo Hotel, a hit online networking game more than a decade ago, is drawing back hundreds of thousand of players as locked-down millennials look to rediscover a childhood favorite, its Finnish maker said. “Our traffic has tripled over the past month. The exact user number growth figure is 213% since February 25,” game maker Sulake’s Chief Executive Valtteri Karu told Reuters, adding that this included hundreds of thousands of new and returning users. Launched 20 years ago, Habbo Hotel gained a strong following among children and teenagers before it was eclipsed by social media sites such as Facebook by 2010. With a layout reminiscent of classic video games, Habbo Hotel consists of rooms that players can decorate and where they can meet other players to chat or play games. They can also join virtual parties in search of new acquaintances. One returning user is Pilvi Pitkaranta, a 23-year-old University of Tampere student who was an active player with her classmates about 10 years ago. With all student events canceled because of the coronavirus, Pitkaranta decided to organize a virtual party at Habbo Hotel. About 30 of her fellow students joined the party at the end of March. “I thought it was a fun idea to organize a party there, also out of nostalgia,” Pitkaranta said. “Some people are finding it very distressing that they have to be home alone and are finding it hard to get things done when stuck indoors.” Habbo Hotel has versions in nine languages, attracting most users in the Americas and Europe, Sulake’s Karu said. “As the world has shut down, the more users have come along,” he added. The game’s Finnish maker is jointly owned by private Dutch advertising group Azerion and Finnish telecoms operator Elisa. It remains to be seen if Habbo’s renewed popularity will last only as long as the virus. As welcome a diversion as Habbo may be, Pitkaranta and her fellow students are looking forward to when they can enjoy some real-life partying, she said.
The lockdown that served as a model for countries battling the coronavirus around the world is set to end after 11 weeks: Chinese authorities are moving to allow residents of Wuhan to once again travel in and out of the sprawling city where the pandemic began.
Just after midnight Wednesday, the city’s 11 million residents will be permitted to leave without special authorization as long as a mandatory smartphone application powered by a mix of data-tracking and government surveillance shows they are healthy and have not been in recent contact with anyone confirmed to have the virus.
Restrictions in the city where most of China’s more than 82,000 virus cases and over 3,300 deaths were reported have been gradually relaxed in recent weeks as the number of new cases steadily declined. The latest government figures reported Tuesday listed no new cases.
While there are questions about the veracity of China’s count, the unprecedented lockdown of Wuhan and its surrounding province of Hubei have been successful enough that countries around the world adopted similar measures.
During the 76-day lockdown, Wuhan residents had been allowed out of their homes only to buy food or attend to other tasks deemed absolutely necessary. Some were allowed to leave the city, but only if they had paperwork showing they were not a health risk and a letter attesting to where they were going and why. Even then, authorities could turn them back on a technicality such as missing a stamp, preventing thousands from returning to their jobs outside the city.
Residents of other parts of Hubei were allowed to leave the province starting about three weeks ago, as long as they could provide a clean bill of health.
Prevention measures such as wearing masks, temperature checks and limiting access to residential communities will remain in place in Wuhan, which is the capital of Hubei.
In an editorial, the ruling Communist Party’s flagship People’s Daily warned against celebrating too soon.
“This day that people have long been looking forward to and it is right to be excited. However, this day does not mark the final victory,” the paper said. “At this moment, we still need to remind ourselves that as Wuhan is unblocked, we can be pleased, but we must not relax.”
In anticipation of the lockdown’s lifting, SWAT teams and staff in white hazmat suits patrolled outside the city’s Hankou railway station, while guards attended a security briefing under the marble arches of its entrance.
Tickets for trains out of Wuhan to cities across China already were advertised on electronic billboards, with the first train leaving for Beijing at 6:25 a.m. A line designated for passengers headed to the capital already was roped off, while loudspeakers blared announcements about pandemic control measures, such as keeping safe distances and wearing masks.
Wuhan is a major center for heavy industry, particularly autos, and while many major plants have restarted production, the small and medium-sized businesses that provide the most employment are still hurting from both a lack of workers and demand. Measures are being instituted to get them back on their feet, including 20 billion yuan ($2.8 billion) in preferential loans, according to the city government.
China blocked people from leaving or entering Wuhan starting Jan. 23 in a surprise middle-of-the-night announcement and expanded the lockdown to most of the province in succeeding days. Train service and flights were canceled and checkpoints were set up on roads into the central province.
The drastic steps came as the coronavirus began spreading to the rest of China and overseas during the Lunar New Year holiday in late January, when many Chinese travel.
The exact source of the virus remains under investigation, though it is thought to be linked to an outdoor food market in the city.
In preparation for the end of the lockdown, Party Secretary Wang Zhonglin, the city’s highest-ranking official, inspected the city’s airport and train stations Monday to ensure they were ready. The city must “enforce prevention while opening up, maintain safety and orderliness and the assurance of stability,” Wang said.
Mission one: to make sure the epidemic doesn’t resurge, he said.
Pakistan’s military promised Tuesday that dozens of doctors who were briefly jailed for protesting a lack of protective equipment needed to treat the growing number of coronavirus cases will get the equipment they need.
The 47 doctors protested in Quetta, the capital of southwestern Baluchistan province, on Monday, when they were detained. They were released later the same day, according to provincial spokesman Liaquat Shahwani.
An army statement on Tuesday said the “emergency supplies of medical equipment, including PPE (Personal Protective Equipment) are being dispatched to Quetta.”
However, some of the doctors said they were mistreated by police and that some of their colleagues were beaten. The physicians declined to give their names, fearing reprisals.
Two doctors have died after contracting the new virus in Pakistan, which has recorded 4,004 cases and 54 deaths. Many of the cases have been traced to pilgrims returning from neighboring Iran. Pakistani authorities have imposed a countrywide lockdown until April 14.
In Iran, authorities struggling to battle the virus announced Tuesday they would expand testing to asymptomatic people, but didn’t say how many test kits they have available or provide other details.
Iran’s Health Minister Saeed Namaki said that with active screening of such cases, there are expectations the virus and COVID-19, the illness it causes, can be brought under control by mid-May.
“With this step, we will go after people without symptoms,” said Namaki, adding this would require a large number of tests. He didn’t elaborate. The health ministry said searching for asymptomatic cases would be combined with restrictions on both city and intercity travel and quarantine.
Iran is facing the worst outbreak in the region. Iran’s state TV said Tuesday the new coronavirus has killed another 133 people, pushing the country’s death toll to 3,872 amid 62,589 confirmed cases.
The health ministry’s spokesman, Kianoush Jahanpour, said 27,039 people have recovered so far while 3,987 remain in critical condition.
There are nearly 109,000 confirmed cases across the Middle East, with more than 4,600 fatalities.
President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi on Tuesday sought to reassure Egyptians a day after officials reported 149 new cases, the country’s highest one-day tally since the pandemic began.
El-Sissi’s government has imposed a night-time curfew, suspended international air travel and closed schools and universities to curb the virus’ spread. Egypt has more than 1,320 confirmed cases and 85 deaths.
“So far, the situation is under control,” he said in televised comments. “The goal is to minimize the damage caused by the pandemic.” El-Sissi said he’s opposed to a complete lockdown.
El-Sissi said the military has set up four field hospitals in different parts of the country with more than 500 beds to help treat virus patients.
For most people, the new coronavirus causes mild to moderate symptoms such as fever and cough. But for some, especially older adults and the infirm, it can cause pneumonia and lead to death.
At a retirement home ravaged by the coronavirus in the southern Israeli city of Beersheba, another resident died, the eighth so far there. Dozens of the home’s resident’s have been infected and relatives have been staging angry protests outside the premises in recent days.
Overall, more than 9,000 have been infected in Israel and 60 have died, the vast majority elderly and many in assisted living facilities.
When Philippine health workers end their daily hospital shifts, they trade the risks of COVID-19 for the risks that they could have bleach thrown in their faces or be chased from public areas. Many workers report they are being evicted from homes, refused rides on buses, and kicked out of restaurants as their fellow citizens worry about coming into contact with them and contracting the ailment caused by the coronavirus.Critics say the disregard goes all the way to the top, with President Rodrigo Duterte saying these health professionals are “lucky” to die for the nation, even as he condemns the discrimination.The Department of Health has said it would investigate the treatment of health workers. And the capital city of Manila has approved an ordinance outlawing discrimination against workers and COVID-19 patients. The recently approved ordinance calls for a fine of nearly $100 and six months in prison.“We are receiving reports of our health care workers around the country being attacked physically, including being thrown bleach and splashed with chlorine,” the department said in a statement. “Additionally, there are reports of health care workers being refused access to basic services such as public transport and laundry, blocked and fined at checkpoints and evicted from their homes.”In February, the Philippines became the first nation to report a death from COVID-19 outside of China, where it first emerged. Since then, the virus has spread to infect 3,764 people in the Southeast Asian nation, leading to nearly 180 deaths at last report and threatening to overwhelm the health care system.FILE – Hospital workers wearing protective masks prepare to sleep on pews at a funeral chapel that serves as a temporarily shelter for them amid the coronavirus spread, in Makati City, Metro Manila, Philippines, April 1, 2020.As in the Philippines, health workers have been infected or killed while fighting the virus in nations from France to Vietnam to Pakistan. In the United States, they complain of being dismissed for protesting their hospitals’ hygiene policies; in China, one of the earlier deaths was of a doctor who tried to warn of the coming emergency.The Philippines faces a lack of gloves, surgical masks and coveralls which the government is moving to source now for workers. Local health care workers have tried to improvise, such as by making facial coverings for themselves.“Nothing will happen for us if we always wait for supplies or donations from abroad,” Senator Imee Marcos said.Marcos called on the Department of Health, along with the Department of Trade and Industry, to expedite the approval process for businesses that have made proposals to supply personal protective equipment, or PPE.On Monday, Duterte approved an order that gives health workers an extra 25% in pay, including for part-time and casually employed workers.He also warned citizens last week not to harass health care workers and said police would intervene if they witnessed such discrimination. “These acts cannot be tolerated,” the Department of Health said. It also sought to assure the public that it should not worry about becoming infected from workers, saying, “As medical professionals, our health care workers are taking extra precautions to ensure infection prevention and control.”
Taiwan’s cabinet has told government agencies to stop using Zoom Video Communications Inc’s conferencing app, the latest blow to the company as it battles criticism of its booming platform over privacy and security.Zoom’s daily users ballooned to more than 200 million in March, as coronavirus-induced shutdowns forced employees to work from home and schools switched to the company’s free app for conducting and coordinating online classes.However, the company is facing a backlash from users worried about the lack of end-to-end encryption of meeting sessions and “zoombombing,” where uninvited guests crash into meetings.If government agencies must hold video conferencing, they “should not use products with security concerns, like Zoom,” Taiwan’s cabinet said in a statement on Tuesday. It did not elaborate on what the security concerns were.The island’s education ministry later said it was banning the use of Zoom in schools.Zoom did not immediately respond to requests for comment.Taiwan would be the first government formally advising against use of Zoom, although some U.S. schools districts are looking at putting limits on its use after an FBI warning last month.Zoom Chief Executive Officer Eric Yuan last week apologized a-message-to-our-users to users, saying the company had fallen short of the community’s privacy and security expectations, and was taking steps to fix the issues.Zoom competes with Microsoft’s Teams, Cisco’s Webex and Google’s Hangouts.Taiwan’s cabinet said domestically-made conferencing apps were preferred, but if needed products from Google and Microsoft could also be considered.Zoom’s shares dipped 1% in premarket trading on the Nasdaq. They have lost nearly a third of their market value since touching record highs late March.