Health Officials Advise Flu Shot to Avoid Dealing With Flu, COVID at the Same Time

Health officials are warning the public to get a flu shot this year to avoid having to deal with COVID-19 and the flu simultaneously.Both are highly contagious and share similar symptoms. The flu, however, is seasonal, while COVID-19 does not appear to have a timeline as it snakes around the world.While there is no COVID vaccine yet, flu shots have been available for decades.The only way to determine if someone has one or both of the illnesses is through laboratory tests.Gary Simon, director of the Division of Infectious Diseases at George Washington University in Washington, told The Washington Post the prospect of beating back both diseases is making 2020 “a very tough year.”Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center reported early Saturday there are 30.5 million COVID-19 cases worldwide with nearly 1 million deaths.The U.S. has more coronavirus infections than any place else with 6.7 million, followed by India with 5.3 million and Brazil with 4.5 million.European countries announced new coronavirus restrictions Friday, one day after the World Health Organization warned infections have started to spread again across the continent at “alarming rates.”In Spain, which has more cases than any other European country with more than 640,000, the regional government of Madrid ordered a lockdown effective Monday in some poorer areas after a spike in infections there. While movement in the area will be restricted, people will still be allowed to go to work.Authorities in Nice, France, have banned gatherings of more than 10 in public spaces and cut bar operating hours, after new restrictions were imposed earlier this week in Bordeaux and Marseilles.Britain said it is considering a new national lockdown after cases nearly doubled to 6,000 a day in the latest reporting week. British Health and Social Care Secretary Matt Hancock said another lockdown should be a last resort but that the government would do whatever is necessary to contain the virus.Israel began a second lockdown Friday because of a sharp jump in the number of coronavirus cases.The three-week-long restrictions come just as the country begins the Jewish holidays.Israelis are allowed to travel no more than 500 meters from their houses, with few exceptions.In Iran, a senior Iranian official said the country should be on “red alert” after it reported 3,049 new cases Friday, the highest daily gain since early June.“The color classification doesn’t make any sense anymore,” Deputy Health Minister Iraj Harirchi said in an interview with Reuters. “We no longer have orange and yellow. The entire country is red.”Canada has decided to extend the closure of its U.S. border to nonessential travel until October 21, after seeing an increase in infections in recent weeks. Canadian Public Safety Minister Bill Blair said Friday such decisions would continue to be based on public health advice to protect Canada’s citizens. The closing was first announced March 18 and has been extended each month since.  In Brief:European countries announce new restrictions after WHO warns of renewed infectionsMadrid regional government orders lockdown effective Monday in some poorer areasFrench authorities in Nice ban gatherings of over 10 in public spaces, cut bar hoursBritain considers new national lockdown after cases nearly double to 6,000 a dayIranian official says Iran should be on “red alert” after 3,049 cases reported FridayCanada will extend closure of its U.S. border to nonessential travel until October 21
 

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Health Officials Advise Flu Shot to Avoid Dealing with Flu, COVID-19 at the Same Time

Health officials are warning the public to get a flu shot this year to avoid having to deal with COVID-19 and the flu simultaneously.Both are highly contagious and share similar symptoms. The flu, however, is seasonal, while COVID-19 does not appear to have a timeline as it snakes around the world.While there is no COVID vaccine yet, flu shots have been available for decades.The only way to determine if someone has one or both of the illnesses is through laboratory tests.Gary Simon, director of the Division of Infectious Diseases at George Washington University in Washington, told The Washington Post the prospect of beating back both diseases is making 2020 “a very tough year.”Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center reported early Saturday there are 30.5 million COVID-19 cases worldwide with nearly 1 million deaths.The U.S. has more coronavirus infections than any place else with 6.7 million, followed by India with 5.3 million and Brazil with 4.5 million.European countries announced new coronavirus restrictions Friday, one day after the World Health Organization warned infections have started to spread again across the continent at “alarming rates.”In Spain, which has more cases than any other European country with more than 640,000, the regional government of Madrid ordered a lockdown effective Monday in some poorer areas after a spike in infections there. While movement in the area will be restricted, people will still be allowed to go to work.Authorities in Nice, France, have banned gatherings of more than 10 in public spaces and cut bar operating hours, after new restrictions were imposed earlier this week in Bordeaux and Marseilles.Britain said it is considering a new national lockdown after cases nearly doubled to 6,000 a day in the latest reporting week. British Health and Social Care Secretary Matt Hancock said another lockdown should be a last resort but that the government would do whatever is necessary to contain the virus.Israel began a second lockdown Friday because of a sharp jump in the number of coronavirus cases.The three-week-long restrictions come just as the country begins the Jewish holidays.Israelis are allowed to travel no more than 500 meters from their houses, with few exceptions.In Iran, a senior Iranian official said the country should be on “red alert” after it reported 3,049 new cases Friday, the highest daily gain since early June.“The color classification doesn’t make any sense anymore,” Deputy Health Minister Iraj Harirchi said in an interview with Reuters. “We no longer have orange and yellow. The entire country is red.”Canada has decided to extend the closure of its U.S. border to nonessential travel until October 21, after seeing an increase in infections in recent weeks. Canadian Public Safety Minister Bill Blair said Friday such decisions would continue to be based on public health advice to protect Canada’s citizens. The closing was first announced March 18 and has been extended each month since.  

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Trump Administration Announces Bans of TikTok, WeChat

The Trump administration issued a sweeping ban Friday that will begin barring downloads and use of the Chinese-owned mobile apps WeChat and TikTok from U.S. app stores as of midnight Sunday. The announcement is the latest escalation in America’s tech fight with China.Officials from the U.S. Commerce Department cited national security and data privacy concerns over the move to ban the two popular internet platforms that serve more than 100 million people in the United States.Starting Monday, both apps will be removed from app stores and users will not be able to download the apps to their phones. For users who have the apps already installed, they will not be able to receive updates to the platforms. This restriction will quickly make the app obsolete on smartphones, as the inability to update will make it incompatible with Apple and Google smartphone software, which currently dominate the tech market.The order includes moves to render WeChat useless within the United States by banning American companies from hosting internet traffic or processing transactions from within the app as of midnight Sunday.WeChat serves millions of U.S. users who predominantly rely on the app to stay in touch and conduct business with people and companies in China.Like most social networking sites, both TikTok and WeChat collect user data, including location and messages to track what kind of targeted ad content is most applicable to them.As of now, TikTok will escape the most drastic sanctions until similar restrictions go into effect November 12 unless the company is able to resolve the administration’s national security concerns by the deadline. The order follows weeks of wrangling with the company, which recently struck a deal with U.S.-based software maker Oracle, the details of which have yet to be announced.The app, which has become especially popular among younger users, has proved useful in some political contexts, including for mischief.TikTok users made headlines earlier this year by working to inflate the expected turnout for a rally President Donald Trump held in Tulsa, Oklahoma — and making the actual attendance seem especially low by comparison.The deadline to comply with restrictions falls just after the November 3 presidential election in the United States.Prior to striking the deal, representatives of TikTok, which is owned by China’s ByteDance, were in talks with Microsoft. The partnership between Microsoft and ByteDance fell through earlier this month after reports estimated that the company would shell out up to $30 billion for the acquisition of the app.“We are confident our proposal would have been good for TikTok’s users, while protecting national security interests,” Microsoft said in a blog post Sunday. “We would have made significant changes to ensure the service met the highest standards for security, privacy, online safety and combating disinformation, and we made these principles clear in our August statement.”The move to ban the use of the apps in the United States follows an August 6 executive order by Trump, in which he argued that TikTok and WeChat collect data from American users that could be accessed by the Chinese government. Over the past several weeks, Trump has pressured the app’s owner to sell TikTok’s U.S. operations to a domestic company to satisfy these concerns.TikTok spokesman John Gartner said in a statement that the company is “disappointed” by the move and that it would continue to challenge the “unjust executive order.”The American Civil Liberties Union denounced the move as well, saying that the order is an infringement on Americans’ rights to free expression.While the Trump administration has accused the apps of collecting data used by the Chinese government to surveil Americans, the government has not provided specific evidence to support the allegations.ByteDance has repeatedly denied that it has partnered with the Chinese government to siphon U.S. user information. 

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Forecasters Turn to Greek Alphabet After Storm Names Run Out

Weather forecasters have started using the Greek alphabet to designate new storms after running out of conventional names.The U.S. National Weather Service says Tropical Storm Wilfred formed Friday in the eastern Atlantic, followed by Subtropical Storm Alpha off the coast of Portugal a short time later.Meanwhile, forecasters say tropical depression 22 in the Gulf of Mexico is likely to be named Beta later Friday. At last report, the storm was about 400 kilometers southeast of the Texas-Mexico border and could become a hurricane threatening the U.S. Gulf Coast in the next few days.The threat comes days after Hurricane Sally came ashore in the southern U.S. as a Category 2 hurricane, and less than a month after the destructive Hurricane Laura came ashore in Louisiana. Meanwhile, Hurricane Teddy is headed toward Bermuda, which took a direct hit from Paulette earlier this week.The U.S. National Hurricane Center says Wilfred poses no threat to land.Weather officials say Alpha became the first Greek-named storm since 2005. That year the named storms made it all the way to Zeta, the end of the Greek alphabet, the only time on record that has happened.

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Drug Shows Promise in 1st Largely Minority COVID-19 Study

A drug company said Friday that a medicine it sells to tamp down inflammation has helped prevent the need for breathing machines in hospitalized COVID-19 patients in the first large study that primarily enrolled Hispanics and Blacks.Switzerland-based Roche reported the results for tocilizumab, sold now as Actemra and RoActemra for treating rheumatoid arthritis and some other diseases. The company said it would quickly publish the results, which have not yet been reviewed by independent scientists, and would speak with regulators about next steps.The drug, given through an IV, tamps down a protein called interleukin-6 that’s often found in excess in COVID-19 patients. It failed in a previous study that tested it in people more severely ill from the coronavirus. The new study was done in the United States, South Africa, Kenya, Brazil, Mexico and Peru. About 85% of the 389 participants were Hispanic, Black, Native American or other ethnic or racial minorities. These groups have been disproportionately hurt by the pandemic.About 12% given the drug needed a breathing machine or died within 28 days versus about 19% of patients given a placebo.Looked at separately, there were fewer deaths among those on the drug — 8.6% versus 10.4% on placebo — but the difference was too small to say it might not have been due to chance.It’s unclear how the results will be viewed; another drug that works in a similar way failed in an experiment rigorously testing it in COVID-19 patients but some less scientific, observational studies have suggested benefit.This is the third time this week that companies have announced positive results from studies testing COVID treatments via press releases. Companies often are required to disclose results that could affect their financial situation.On Monday, Eli Lilly reported benefits from a study testing its anti-inflammatory drug baricitinib when combined with the antiviral drug remdesivir. On Wednesday, it said interim results from very early testing suggested that its experimental antibody drug showed promise for helping clear the virus and possibly reducing the need for hospitalization in mild to moderately ill patients.

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Officials: Trump to Block US Downloads of TikTok, WeChat on Sunday

The U.S. Commerce Department said it will issue an order Friday that will bar people in the United States from downloading Chinese-owned messaging app WeChat and video-sharing app TikTok starting on September 20.Commerce officials said the ban on new U.S. downloads of TikTok could be still rescinded by President Donald Trump before it takes effect late Sunday as TikTok owner ByteDance races to clinch an agreement over the fate of its U.S. operations.ByteDance has been talks with Oracle Corp and others to create a new company, TikTok Global, that aims to address U.S. concerns about the security of its users’ data. ByteDance still needs Trump’s approval to stave off a U.S. ban.Commerce officials said they will not bar additional technical transactions for TikTok until Nov. 12, which gives the company additional time to see if ByteDance can reach a deal for its U.S. operations. “The basic TikTok will stay intact until Nov. 12,” Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross told Fox Business Network.The department said the actions will “protect users in the U.S. by eliminating access to these applications and significantly reducing their functionality.”Oracle shares fell 1.6% after the news in pre-market tradingThe Commerce Department order will “deplatform” the two apps in the United States and bar Apple Inc’s app store, Alphabet Inc’s Google Play and others from offering the apps on any platform “that can be reached from within the United States,” a senior Commerce official told Reuters.The order will not ban U.S. companies from doing businesses on WeChat outside the United States, which will be welcome news to U.S. firms like Walmart and Starbucks that use WeChat’s embedded ‘mini-app’ programs to facilitate transactions and engage consumers in China, officials said.The order will not bar transactions with WeChat-owner Tencent Holdings’ other businesses, including its online gaming operations, and will not prohibit Apple, Google or others from offering TikTok or WeChat apps anywhere outside the United States.The bans are in response to a pair of executive orders issued by Trump on August 6 that gave the Commerce Department 45 days to determine what transactions to block from the apps he deemed pose a national security threat. That deadline expires on Sunday.Commerce Department officials said they were taking the extraordinary step because of the risks the apps’ data collection poses. China and the companies have denied U.S. user data is collected for spying.Ross said in a written statement “we have taken significant action to combat China’s malicious collection of American citizens’ personal data, while promoting our national values, democratic rules-based norms, and aggressive enforcement of U.S. laws and regulations.”The order is set to be published at 8:45 a.m. EDT (1245 GMT) on Friday, Commerce said.Popular appsThe Trump administration has ramped up efforts to purge “untrusted” Chinese apps from U.S. digital networks and has called TikTok and WeChat “significant threats.”TikTok has 100 million users in the United States and is especially popular among younger Americans.WeChat has had an average of 19 million daily active users in the United States, analytics firms Apptopia said in early August. It is popular among Chinese students, ex-pats and some Americans who have personal or business relationships in China.WeChat is an all-in-one mobile app that combines services similar to Facebook, WhatsApp, Instagram and Venmo. The app is an essential part of daily life for many in China and boasts more than 1 billion users.The Commerce Department will not seek to compel people in the United States to remove the apps or stop using them but will not allow updates or new downloads. “We are aiming at a top corporate level. We’re not going to go out after the individual users,” one Commerce official said.Over time, officials said, the lack of updates will degrade the apps usability.”The expectation is that people will find alternative ways to do these actions,” a senior official said. “We expect the market to act and there will be more secure apps that will fill in these gaps that Americans can trust and that the United States government won’t have to take similar actions against.”Commerce is also barring additional technical transactions with WeChat starting Sunday that will significantly reduce the usability and functionality of the app in the United States.The order bars data hosting within the United States for WeChat, content delivery services and networks that can increase functionality and internet transit or peering services.”What immediately is going to happen is users are going to experience a lag or lack of functionality,” a senior Commerce official said of WeChat users. “It may still be usable but it is not going to be as functional as it was.” There may be sporadic outages as well, the official said.Commerce will bar the same set of technical transactions for TikTok, but that will not take effect until Nov. 12 to give the company additional time to see if ByteDance can reach a deal for its U.S. operations. The official said TikTok U.S. users would not see “a major difference” in the app’s performance until Nov. 12.Commerce will not penalize people who use TikTok or WeChat in the United States.The order does not bar data storage within the United States for WeChat or TikTok.Some Americans may find workarounds. There is nothing that would bar an American from traveling to a foreign country and downloading either app, or potentially using a virtual private network and a desktop client, officials conceded.

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Australia Warns Pregnant Women of Bushfire Smoke

Pregnant women living in bushfire-prone areas in Australia are being urged to protect themselves and their unborn babies from smoke as the fire season returns. Doctors in the worst-affected regions say they are horrified by the effects of the smoke from last summer’s catastrophic conditions.Doctors have said particles from bushfire smoke in Australia have left placentas that nourish an unborn child resembling those in women who are heavy smokers. Instead of being a healthy shade of pink, distressed organs are left grey and grainy.The result can be premature and underweight babies. One specialist said some were “unexpectedly and unpredictably small.”There’s a warning that newborns could suffer the consequences throughout their entire lives.General practitioner Rebecca McGowan said she believes global warming is exacerbating Australia’s bushfire danger and that babies are at risk of harm.“This is the canary in the coal mine,” she said. “We are starting to see literally the effects. It is not a sci-fi movie. This is happening in real life. We are starting to see the effects on the unborn, and we are starting to see these babies born now with major effects of climate change and we cannot deny it anymore. It is happening in front of us.”There is not a large amount of scientific knowledge on the long-term effects of bushfire smoke on pregnant women. Some experts have suggested that stress could also lead to premature births and smaller newborns. Australian health authorities have said there was no data or evidence to gauge the risk to babies in the womb. They do acknowledge, however, that smoke can aggravate existing lung and heart conditions in adults.A government inquiry into the Black Summer fires was told that the smoke they generated has been linked to the deaths of more than 445 people. It was estimated that 4,000 people were admitted to the hospital due to the smoke.Air quality in Sydney, Australia’s largest city, exceeded “hazardous” levels on several occasions. Other major cities, including the capital, Canberra, and Adelaide, were also shrouded in a toxic haze.Bushfire smoke is made up of very small particles and gases. Environmental groups have said it also contains cancer-causing substances, including formaldehyde and benzene. 

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Survey: Almost Half of Americans Say ‘No’ To COVID Vaccine If Available Today

Nearly half of Americans, or 49%, said they definitely or probably would not get an inoculation if a coronavirus were available today, while 51% said they would, according to a Pew Research Center poll conducted earlier this month.The 49% who lean toward rejecting the inoculation cited concerns about side effects from the vaccine.The public’s trust in a safe COVID-19 vaccine coming to market has taken a tumble. In May, a Pew survey revealed 72% of Americans said they would be inoculated if the vaccine were available.Only 21% in this month’s poll said they would definitely get the vaccine.The recent Pew survey found that 77% of Americans believe the vaccines in development in the United States would likely be approved before their safety and effectiveness are completely understood.Sorry, but your browser cannot support embedded video of this type, you can
A young woman wearing a face mask walks across the medieval Charles Bridge in Prague, Czech Republic, Sept. 18, 2020.A further breakdown of the numbers shows that Hispanic children made up 44% of the fatalities, and Black children made up 29%, compared with 14% for white children. American Indian and Alaska Natives accounted for 4% of COVID-19 deaths, with Asian and Pacific Islanders making up the same amount.The CDC report also found that 75% of those who died had at least one underlying health condition such as asthma, obesity, neurologic and developmental conditions or cardiovascular conditions. Researchers pointed out that certain social conditions, including crowded living environments, food and housing insecurity, and wealth and education gaps, could be contributing factors in the high fatality rates among minority children.The CDC on Wednesday outlined details of a plan to begin distributing a vaccine within 24 hours of official approval. Under the plan, the drug would be distributed once the Food and Drug Administration authorizes either an emergency use order or full formal approval, and would likely be administered first to essential personnel such as health care workers.The agency said the vaccine would be administered free of charge to all Americans once it becomes widely available.The announcement of the plan came on the same day President Donald Trump contradicted CDC Director Robert Redfield on when Americans would get a reliable COVID-19 vaccine.Redfield told a Senate committee that a vaccine could be generally available to the American public in the second or third quarter of next year, with those most at risk such as the elderly and those with preexisting health conditions to be prioritized for vaccination.In a news conference hours later, Trump made clear he did not like Redfield expressing a more cautious timeline.“I think he made a mistake when he said that. That’s just incorrect information,” Trump told reporters. “Under no circumstance will it be as late as the doctor said.”  

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China Data Leak Points to Massive Global Collection Effort

A Chinese firm with suspected ties to the Chinese government has been amassing a database of detailed personal information on 2.4 million people, including more than 50,000 Americans, according to findings by an independent researcher and an Australia-based cybersecurity firm.       Christopher Balding, an American professor who taught at Peking University’s HSBC School of Business in Shenzhen for nine years, analyzed the data with Internet 2.0, a cybersecurity firm based in Canberra. They published their findings this week.      Balding said the database was leaked to him in 2019.   The cache, called the Overseas Key Information Database (OKIDB), contains the personal information of roughly 2.4 million people. Many of them are influential policymakers who can exert influence in their fields of specialty.   According to their report, the database was compiled by China’s Zhenhua Data Information Technology Co. The company was founded in 2017 and had offices in Shenzhen and Beijing. Its mission, according to a screen shot of their website, which was deleted not long ago, is to “aggregate global data and help the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation.”  Zhenhua Data’s marketing and recruiting documents characterize the company as a patriotic firm, with the military as its primary target customer.  Cybersecurity firm Internet 2.0 was able to recover the records of about 250,000 people from the leaked data, including 52,000 Americans, 35,000 Australians and nearly 10,000 British citizens. These include politicians and businessmen, scientists, tech experts, academics, bankers, journalists and lawyers. Information about family members, such as the 11-year-old daughter of Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, was also recovered. FILE – An iPhone with Twitter, Facebook and other apps, May 21, 2013.Analysts say the data was extracted from social media platforms such as Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn, as well as news reports and criminal records.  Balding told VOA that apart from open source, there was also data extracted from illegal sources.  “We estimate about 80 percent of the data is what we call open source. There’s also data that appears to be hacked or stolen data that comes from other sources, nonpublic sources,” Balding said.  In a FILE – The logo for LinkedIn Corporation, a social networking networking website for people in professional occupations, is shown in Mountain View, California, Feb. 6, 2013.”It allows China to know which institutions or individuals they should be targeting. This is why, for instance, intelligence agencies in multiple countries have warned about Chinese recruitment through platforms such as LinkedIn,” Balding told VOA.  He added that the database also appears to be targeting policymakers, including influential figures in think tanks and relatives of key politicians. By doing this, China hopes to exert influence on these individuals and possibly shift policies to its liking, Balding said.  According to The Washington Post, which obtained part of OKIDB, the database also targets military officials.   For example, there is detailed information on former Chief of Naval Operations John Richardson; his service history and complete training were highlighted in Chinese.   Former U.S. Acting Secretary of the Navy Thomas Modly is also in the database, along with the names of his wife and four children, his educational background and his work history in the private sector.  A representative from Zhenhua Data told The Guardian that “the report is seriously untrue,” adding “there is no database of 2 million people,” while denying any links to the Chinese government or military.   Analysts say it is not surprising that a consultancy would collect detailed data on prominent figures in different sectors. What matters is how the data is used.  Arun Vishwanath, chief technology officer at Avant Research Group, a cybersecurity research firm, told VOA there are two concerns with a data operation of such scale and scope.  “One is propaganda, information and disinformation, and the other is being used for targeted attacks, which could have all manner of consequences,” Vishwanath said.  “We all need to have better cyber hygiene. We all need to be safer with how we share information online to store information about ourselves online. So this is a responsibility that each of us as individuals share,” he said. 

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