Space Station Marking 20 Years of People Living in Orbit 

FILE – Russian cosmonauts Sergei Krikalyov (Top), Yuri Gidzenko and U.S. astronaut Bill Shepherd (C) wave hands before the launch at Baikonur.Shepherd, a former Navy SEAL who served as the station commander, likened it to living on a ship at sea. The three spent most of their time coaxing equipment to work; balky systems made the place too warm. Conditions were primitive, compared with now.   Installations and repairs took hours at the new space station, versus minutes on the ground, Krikalev recalled.   “Each day seemed to have its own set of challenges,” Shepherd said during a recent NASA panel discussion with his crewmates.   The space station has since morphed into a complex that’s almost as long as a football field, with eight miles (13 kilometers) of electrical wiring, an acre of solar panels and three high-tech labs.   “It’s 500 tons of stuff zooming around in space, most of which never touched each other until it got up there and bolted up,” Shepherd told The Associated Press. “And it’s all run for 20 years with almost no big problems.”   “It’s a real testament to what can be done in these kinds of programs,” he said.   Shepherd, 71, is long retired from NASA and lives in Virginia Beach, Virginia. Krikalev, 62, and Gidzenko, 58, have risen in the Russian space ranks. Both were involved in the mid-October launch of the 64th crew.   The first thing the three did upon arriving at the darkened space station on Nov. 2, 2000, was turn on the lights, which Krikalev recalled as “very memorable.” Then they heated water for hot drinks and activated the lone toilet.   “Now we can live,” Gidzenko remembers Shepherd saying. “We have lights, we have hot water and we have toilet.”   The crew called their new home Alpha, but the name didn’t stick.   Although pioneering the way, the three had no close calls during their nearly five months up there, Shepherd said, and so far the station has held up relatively well.   NASA’s top concern nowadays is the growing threat from space junk. This year, the orbiting lab has had to dodge debris three times.   As for station amenities, astronauts now have near-continuous communication with flight controllers and even an internet phone for personal use. The first crew had sporadic radio contact with the ground; communication blackouts could last hours.   While the three astronauts got along fine, tension sometimes bubbled up between them and the two Mission Controls, in Houston and outside Moscow. Shepherd got so frustrated with the “conflicting marching orders” that he insisted they come up with a single plan.   “I’ve got to say, that was my happiest day in space,” he said during the panel discussion.   FILE – This image of the International Space Station with the docked Europe’s ATV /Johannes Kepler/ and Space Shuttle /Endeavour/ was taken by Expedition 27 crew member Paolo Nespoli from the Soyuz TMA-20 following its undocking on 24 May 2011.With its first piece launched in 1998, the International Space Station already has logged 22 years in orbit. NASA and its partners contend it easily has several years of usefulness left at 260 miles (400 kilometers) up.   The Mir station — home to Krikalev and Gidzenko in the late 1980s and 1990s — operated for 15 years before being guided to a fiery reentry over the Pacific in 2001. Russia’s earlier stations and America’s 1970s Skylab had much shorter life spans, as did China’s much more recent orbital outposts.   Astronauts spend most of their six-month stints these days keeping the space station running and performing science experiments. A few have even spent close to a year up there on a single flight, serving as medical guinea pigs. Shepherd and his crew, by contrast, barely had time for a handful of experiments.   The first couple weeks were so hectic — “just working and working and working,” according to Gidzenko — that they didn’t shave for days. It took a while just to find the razors.   Even back then, the crew’s favorite pastime was gazing down at Earth. It takes a mere 90 minutes for the station to circle the world, allowing astronauts to soak in a staggering 16 sunrises and 16 sunsets each day.   The current residents — one American and two Russians, just like the original crew — plan to celebrate Monday’s milestone by sharing a special dinner, enjoying the views of Earth and remembering all the crews who came before them, especially the first.   But it won’t be a day off: “Probably we’ll be celebrating this day by hard work,” Sergei Kud-Sverchkov said Friday from orbit.   One of the best outcomes of 20 years of continuous space habitation, according to Shepherd, is astronaut diversity.   In this photo released by NASA on Oct. 17, 2019, U.S. astronauts Jessica Meir, left, and Christina Koch pose for a photo in the International Space Station.While men still lead the pack, more crews include women. Two U.S. women have served as space station skipper. Commanders typically are American or Russian, but have also come from Belgium, Germany, Italy, Canada and Japan. While African-Americans have made short visits to the space station, the first Black resident is due to arrive in mid-November on SpaceX’s second astronaut flight.   Massive undertakings like human Mars trips can benefit from the past two decades of international experience and cooperation, Shepherd said.   “If you look at the space station program today, it’s a blueprint on how to do it. All those questions about how this should be organized and what it’s going to look like, the big questions are already behind us,” he told the AP.   Russia, for instance, kept station crews coming and going after NASA’s Columbia disaster in 2003 and after the shuttles retired in 2011.   When Shepherd and his crewmates returned to Earth aboard shuttle Discovery after nearly five months, his main objective had been accomplished.   “Our crew showed that we can work together,” he said. 

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How Bats and COVID Canceled Halloween

Bats, a symbol of Halloween, may be responsible for canceling it this year.The coronavirus that has grounded trick-or-treaters likely came from bats.These creatures of the night have evolved a spooky ability to harbor a number of viruses that can kill humans — without getting sick themselves.How they do it may hold the key to immortality — or a longer life, anyway.Guilt by associationThough there is no smoking gun showing that the coronavirus causing the COVID-19 pandemic came from bats, the virus is closely related to several others they harbor.Bats also are known to carry rabies and the Marburg hemorrhagic fever virus, and they are lead suspects as the source of Ebola and the 2003 severe acute respiratory syndrome, or SARS.It sure seems like they carry a lot of nasty viruses.But “maybe we just have a lot of bat viruses because there’s lots of bats,” said University of Glasgow researcher Daniel Streicker.Sorry, but your browser cannot support embedded video of this type, you can
download this video to view it offline.Download File360p | 9 MB480p | 13 MB540p | 16 MB720p | 32 MB1080p | 66 MBOriginal | 82 MB Embed” />Copy Download AudioThere are roughly 1,400 different species around the world, Streicker noted, second only to rodents, which also carry a lot of diseases.”It isn’t the bats. They figured out how to deal with their viruses,” University of Saskatchewan microbiologist Vikram Misra said.Taking offTheir virus-resisting powers may be an unexpected byproduct of evolving to fly.Flying requires a tremendous amount of energy. Generating that energy also produces toxic byproducts that can damage cells.Normally, cell damage would trigger inflammation, the immune system’s first line of defense. The same inflammatory response kicks in whether the damage comes from toxic molecules, injury or infection. As part of the response, the body mobilizes cells to the damaged area that can blast germs or infected cells.Too much inflammation can kill. Overactive inflammatory responses are what lead to lung damage, blood clots and other fatal complications in COVID-19 patients.”Maybe bats had to down-regulate their responses just not to get inflamed every time they had to fly,” said University of Rochester biology professor Vera Gorbunova.But flight “doesn’t explain everything about bats,” she said. Another reason their immune systems are different from most mammals may be because of the way they live.Bats live in colonies that can number in the millions of individuals, roosting shoulder to shoulder. Diseases could spread quickly in those close quarters.”They probably evolved defenses because they’re exposed to a lot of viruses,” Gorbunova said.Delicate balanceFor whatever reason, their adaptations appear to be so important that they evolved independently in different bat species, a new study shows.Turning down a key immune response would seem to leave bats open to infection. But evolution has turned up another line of defense that targets viruses.Bats and viruses may have reached a “wonderfully balanced relationship where viruses don’t cause diseases and bats don’t get rid of the viruses,” Misra said. He and his colleagues at the University of Saskatchewan have found that bat cells can remain infected for months.But stress — from humans encroaching on their habitat or capturing them to sell at live-animal markets — may disrupt that relationship.”If you upset this delicate balance in such a way that the viruses now have an upper hand,” Misra said, “then the viruses start to multiply and the bats now start to shed more of these viruses. We think that that may be one of the reasons why spillovers occur” and the viruses jump into another species.”We can’t say for sure that that’s the case,” he added, but he and his colleagues are testing the idea now.Live long and prosperAside from reaching a detente with viruses, bats may have reaped another unintended reward from learning to fly. They may have discovered the fountain of youth.Bats live disproportionately long and healthy lives for their size. Take North American little brown bats, which are “about the size your thumb,” Misra said.”Normally, you would expect them to live maybe two years, three years, if you compare them to animals that are of comparable size,” he said. “These bats live 30 or 40 years.”The key may be their ability to tamp down inflammation without leaving themselves exposed to viruses.”Inflammation may be the driving force of age-related diseases,” biology professor Gorbunova said. It is a factor in Alzheimer’s disease, some forms of heart disease, diabetes and many others.With more research, she added, perhaps the bats that seem to be responsible for so much suffering can someday help us live longer.

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Global COVD-19 Cases Top 45 Million

Globally, COVID-19 cases have exceeded 45 million and nearly 1.2 million people have succumbed to the virus, according to the latest data. VOA correspondent Mariama Diallo reports on countries with the highest number of cases, the US, India and Brazil, respectively.

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Rare Meteorite Contains ‘Rich Inventory’ of Organic Compounds

Researchers say a rare type of meteor recovered nearly three years ago from a frozen lake in the U.S. state of Michigan has offered one of the best glimpses yet into the organic compounds such objects carry.A study published in the journal Meteoritics & Planetary Science tells the story of a bright meteor, also known as fireballs for how they light up the night sky, that fell in January 2018.Researchers say the meteors that shine with such brightness are usually larger and have traveled farther into Earth’s atmosphere without breaking up, raising hopes pieces could be recovered. Using weather radar, they were able to track the meteor’s trajectory, discovering large pieces just two days after it hit a frozen lake.University of Chicago researcher Philipp Heck said finding the meteorite (what a meteor is called once it lands on Earth) pieces so quickly and on a frozen lake was significant. He said meteors often fall into dirt or water, and if they are not discovered quickly, they can be contaminated by organic Earth material.The researchers determined they’d found an “H4 chondrite” meteorite. Only 4% of all meteorites falling to Earth are of this type, at least in recent history. Heck said it had “a rich inventory of extraterrestrial organic compounds,” which contain carbon, one of the basic ingredients of life on Earth.The discovery adds evidence to the widely held theory that compounds such as these — the so-called building blocks of life — were delivered to Earth by similar meteors shortly after Earth formed.Heck said the discovery of the Michigan meteor and subsequent analysis also helped scientists develop new analytical techniques to study meteors of its kind and gain knowledge that can be shared with other scientists around the world.

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Rising New Tide of COVID-19 Cases Worldwide Force Leaders to Consider New Lockdowns

A rising tide of new coronavirus cases worldwide is forcing leaders to consider new lockdown measures to contain an increase in infections.
 
British Foreign Minister Dominic Raab said in an interview with BBC television Friday a national lockdown in his country is not inevitable to prevent the further spread of the disease, adding that a localized approach would be efficient if rules for each area were strictly observed.
 
Raab’s statment followed announcements by leaders of France and Germany earlier in the week to impose new lockdowns.
 
French President Emmanuel Macron announced a nationwide monthlong lockdown that will take effect Friday. Macron said restaurants, bars, cafes and other nonessential businesses will be closed, while citizens will only be allowed to leave their homes for work, shopping and doctor appointments.
 German Chancellor Angela Merkel attends a debate about German government’s policies to combat the spread of the coronavirus and COVID-19 disease at the parliament Bundestag, in Berlin, Germany, Thursday, Oct. 29, 2020. (Photo/Markus Schreiber)German Chancellor Angela Merkel announced a set of similar measures in her own month-long lockdown which takes effect Monday. In addition to restaurants and bars, all gyms, theaters and opera houses will be shut down under Merkel’s order, while the majority of businesses, shops and hair salons will be allowed to remain open.  
 
Schools in both nations will remain open during their respective lockdowns.  
The restrictions were announced by Macron and Merkel as both nations struggle with a record number of new COVID-19 cases practically every day.
 
France and Germany joined several other European nations that have been forced to impose a new set of restrictions to deal with a second and growing wave of the virus as the cold weather season approaches in the Northern Hemisphere.
 
Ukraine reported Friday a record 8,312 new COVID-19 cases in the previous 24 hours, up from the October 23 high of 7,517, with total infections at 378,729. The deaths also jumped by a record 173, for a toll of 7,041.
 
In Japan, the health ministry said Friday that the coronavirus cases topped 100,000, nine months after the first case was reported in mid-January. Japan has more than 1,700 deaths.
 
As of early Friday, there are more than 45 million total COVID-19 cases worldwide, including over 1.18 million deaths. India has reached the milestone of over 8 million total novel coronavirus cases, second only to the United States, with 8.94 million total confirmed cases.
 
As the effort to develop a safe and effective vaccine continues, U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration said it would ensure that everyone in the United States will be able to be inoculated free of charge. 

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‘Era of Pandemics’ to Intensify Without Transformative Change, Report Says

Ecological destruction and unsustainable consumption have entered humanity into an “era of pandemics,” according to a new report.”Without preventative strategies, pandemics will emerge more often, spread more rapidly, kill more people, and affect the global economy with more devastating impact than ever before,” says the report from the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services, a global expert body advising governments.The authors say roughly $50 billion per year in pandemic prevention would spare the world about $1 trillion per year on average in economic damage, not to mention the toll in human suffering.The report suggests ways to shift the focus to prevention, rather than trying to contain pandemics after they happen.SpilloverAs of July, COVID-19’s economic toll was at least $8 trillion and counting, the authors say.It’s just the latest costly emerging infectious disease, following HIV/AIDS, SARS, Ebola, Zika, H1N1 swine flu and others.All of these deadly diseases originated in animals before “spilling over” into humans. Nearly three-quarters of all emerging diseases have animal origins. And there are hundreds of thousands more possibly infectious viruses that have not been discovered yet, the report notes.But don’t blame the animals. The rate of spillover has increased because of human activities.COVID-19 is a prime example of the problem, the authors say. The coronavirus that causes the disease likely emerged from bats in China, where expanding human populations are increasingly encroaching on wildlife habitat. It probably spread through the wildlife trade, at a market where vendors sell wild animals for food and medicine.Deforestation, agricultural expansion, urbanization and other land-use changes are responsible for about a third of all new diseases to emerge since 1960, the report says. The $100 billion-plus global wildlife trade is also responsible for the spread of new and existing diseases and is a threat to biodiversity.Not too lateHowever, “this is not a doom and gloom report saying the world’s going to end and it’s too late,” said report author Peter Daszak, president of EcoHealth Alliance, a global health, conservation and development organization. “This is an optimistic call for action.”The current strategy to deal with pandemics is to wait for them to emerge and try to identify them before they spread, Daszak said.COVID-19 has demonstrated the flaws in that plan. Chinese authorities tried to contain it after the disease emerged late last year, but it was too late.”And here we are waiting for a vaccine and drugs to work,” Daszak said. “It’s not a good strategy. We need to do more.”The report calls for “transformative change towards preventing pandemics.”Some of that change needs to come from consumers.One change involves eating meat.Demand for meat drives increased pandemic risk in two ways, the report says. Feeding food animals is a major driver of deforestation. Also, intensive animal agriculture, which packs many animals into small spaces, often in close proximity to people, makes it easy for germs to jump species.”We can continue to eat meat,” Daszak said, “but we need to do it in a way that is far more sustainable if we want to get rid of pandemics.”The report suggests taxes on meat or livestock or other ways to incorporate the costs of pandemics into the price of production and consumption.Consumers also can drive change by pressuring companies to reduce deforestation, for example.”Global for-profit companies care about what we, the public, think about them,” Daszak said. “They respond when people call them out.”Government policy should focus on pandemic prevention as well, the authors say.Emerging-disease risk should be factored into any large-scale land use planning. Wildlife trade enforcement should focus on reducing or removing species at high risk of spreading diseases. And increased disease monitoring should focus on the links between human health, animal health and the environment, known as the One Health approach.All these suggestions, he noted, are “easy to say, really difficult to do.”These measures and others would cost about $40 billion to $58 billion per year, the report says.But with the bill for pandemics averaging a trillion dollars per year, Daszak said, “an ounce of prevention is worth a hundred pounds of cure.”

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Mask Effectiveness Against Coronavirus Varies

Virologists at the University of Tokyo say that while masks can offer protection from airborne COVID-19 particles, their effectiveness varies. VOA Correspondent Mariama Diallo has more on the results of the new research.

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La Nina Seen Continuing Into 2021, Affecting Temperature, Weather Patterns

The World Meteorological Organization predicts La Nina will continue through January and is expected to usher in drier and wetter conditions than normal in different parts of the world.The latest seasonal forecasts indicate the La Nina event will cause drier than normal conditions in much of East Africa and lead to increased rainfall in southern Africa. Central Asia is likely to see below normal rainfall earlier than usual.The WMO reports some of the Pacific islands and the northern region of South America will see some of the most significant precipitation anomalies associated with this year’s La Nina event — a cooling of ocean surface water along the Pacific coast of the South American tropics that occurs on average every two to seven years.Some countries and regions are particularly vulnerable to changes in weather patterns.WMO humanitarian expert Gavin Iley told VOA the Greater Horn of Africa was an area of particular concern.“As we know, it is already being beset by problems, with locust infestation,” Iley said. “And generally, the models are suggesting below normal rainfall for quite a large portion of the Greater Horn of Africa. So, obviously that could have a number of impacts … in areas like Somalia. … So, we always need to keep an eye on the latest outlook.”WMO said governments can use weather forecasts to plan ways to reduce adverse impacts in climate-sensitive sectors like agriculture, health, water resources and disaster management.WMO Deputy Director of Climate Services Maxx Dilley said governments can use La Nina forecasting to adapt their strategies to the changing weather patterns.“You can imagine in the agricultural sector that some crops will do well under wet conditions and others will do better under dry conditions,” Dilley said. “And there are agricultural management practices that can be adjusted to take account of whether it is expected to be wet or dry.”Dilley said WMO increasingly is trying to tailor these forecasts to specific concerns, such as food security or human health. For example, he said, wet conditions alone do not provoke outbreaks of dengue fever or malaria. He said temperature, humidity and vegetation create the conditions for mosquitoes to breed.So, rather than just giving a rainfall forecast, he said, meteorologists will provide a forecast that is correlated with these diseases and can be used for dengue fever or malaria control.

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 White House Task Force Warns of ‘Unrelenting’ Spread of COVID-19

The White House Coronavirus Task Force warned Thursday of an “unrelenting” spread of the virus, particularly across the western half of the country, Reuters reported. Members of the task force are reportedly pushing for aggressive measures to quell the spread of the virus.The United States has confirmed more than 8.9 million cases of COVID-19 and recorded more than 228,000 deaths as of Thursday, according to data from the Johns Hopkins University Coronavirus Resource Center.”We continue to see unrelenting, broad community spread in the Midwest, Upper Midwest and West. This will require aggressive mitigation to control both the silent, asymptomatic spread and symptomatic spread,” said the task force’s report to one state, according to CNN. The task force’s most prominent member, Dr. Anthony Fauci, told CNBC Wednesday that the coronavirus outbreak in the U.S. is “going in the wrong direction.” “If things do not change, if they continue on the course we’re on, there’s going to be a whole lot of pain in this country with regard to additional cases and hospitalizations, and deaths,” Fauci said, noting that case numbers were rising in 47 states.At least seven states reported record one-day case increases Thursday, according to Reuters.

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Hackers Could Unleash Ransomware Attacks on US Health System, US Officials Warn

Cyber criminals could soon unleash a wave of ransomware attacks targeting U.S. hospitals and health care providers, according to a statement released by three federal agencies, including the FBI.In the statement, the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA), the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), and the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) warned they had “credible information of an increased and imminent cybercrime threat to U.S. hospitals and healthcare providers” with the goal of “data theft, and disruption of healthcare services.”Ransomware scrambles data, and it can only be unscrambled if the target pays the attacker a sum of money.Alex Holden, CEO of Hold Security, told the AP he warned federal authorities about the impending attacks Friday after seeing “infection attempts at a number of hospitals.”He added that the hackers were demanding ransoms of over $10 million per target and that he had seen attackers discuss plans to infect “more than 400 hospitals, clinics and other medical facilities.”“One of the comments from the bad guys is that they are expecting to cause panic and, no, they are not hitting election systems,” Holden told AP. “They are hitting where it hurts even more, and they know it.”In a statement reported by AP, Charles Carmakal, chief technical officer of the cybersecurity firm Mandiant, said the U.S. is “experiencing the most significant cyber security threat we’ve ever seen.”He pointed the finger at a criminal gang called UNC1878, adding it was deliberately targeting and disrupting U.S. hospitals, forcing them to divert patients to other healthcare providers.”  He said the eastern European group is “one of most brazen, heartless, and disruptive threat actors I’ve observed over my career.”Ransomware attacks have risen 40% this year with a particular spike in September, technology website CNET reported, citing data from cybersecurity firm SonicWall.  Last month, a chain of U.S. hospitals run by Universal Health Services was attacked, resulting in doctors and nurses resorting to pencil and paper at 250 facilities, AP reported. Employees said the attacks resulted in emergency room delays and problems with wireless vital signs monitoring equipment.Brett Callow, an analyst with the cybersecurity firm Emsisoft, told the AP that “a total of 59 U.S. healthcare providers/systems have been impacted by ransomware in 2020, disrupting patient care at up to 510 facilities.” 
 

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Merkel Defends German Coronavirus Restrictions

German Chancellor Angela Merkel Thursday defended new coronavirus restrictions to lawmakers and lashed out at those who tried to dismiss the infection as harmless as the number of cases hit a new high.
In a speech before the Bundestag – the German parliament – that was interrupted by heckling from right-wing politicians, Merkel said the new measures “are appropriate, necessary and proportionate.” She said, “There is no other milder approach than reducing personal contacts to try and stop the infections chain and to change the course of the infections back to a level where we can handle it.”  
Merkel spoke a day after she and the governors of Germany’s 16 states agreed on far-reaching restrictions to curb the spread of the virus, including the closure of bars and restaurants, limits on social contacts and bans on concerts and other public events.
But, as in most countries around the world, there has been pushback against such restrictions. There have been protests and reports of violence in some areas by those claiming the dangers of the virus have been overstated and restrictions are nothing more than a power grab.
When heckling broke out from populist politicians during Merkel’s speech, Bundestag President Wolfgang Schauble warned there would be consequences for their actions if they did not let the chancellor continue.
Merkel responded by lashing out at those who claim the virus is harmless, saying, “Lies and disinformation, conspiracy theories and hate, damage not only democratic debate but also the fight against the virus.”
She said, “When science has proven something is false then it must be clearly stated. Because our relation to facts and information not only affects democratic debate but human lives.”
Merkel told lawmakers that Germany is in a “dramatic situation” as it goes into winter, which she said would be “four long, difficult months. But it will end.”
Germany’s disease control center said local health authorities reported 16,774 new positive tests in the past day, pushing the country’s total since the start of the outbreak close to half-a-million.
The Robert Koch Institute recorded 89 additional deaths, taking Germany’s toll to 10,272.

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Yemen’s Collapsing Health System Unable to Cope with Disease Upsurge

The World Health Organization warns nearly 18 million people in Yemen are unable to get treatment for deadly diseases because years of war, economic distress and a chronic shortage of money have led to a collapse of the country’s healthcare system. More than five years of escalating conflict have devastated Yemen’s economy and ability to provide enough food and medical care to keep its population healthy.  World Health Organization officials report only half of the country’s health facilities are fully functioning.  And those that remain open suffer from severe shortages of qualified staff, essential medicines and supplies.WHO spokesman Tarik Jasarevic says that for three years, appalling socio-economic conditions in Yemen have caused a spiraling of deadly diseases including the worst cholera outbreak in modern times, as well as epidemics of diphtheria, dengue, measles and malaria.FILE – Mourners lower the body of a man, suspected to have died from the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Taiz, Yemen, June 25, 2020.“Now we have also COVID-19 and, unfortunately, we have cases of polio coming back to Yemen after it has been declared as a polio-free country,” Jasarevic said. “And, for people who have chronic diseases, such as cancer, diabetes, or others, the treatment is limited.”   WHO reports 2,065 confirmed cases of COVID-19, including more than 600 deaths.    It notes two new cases of vaccine derived cases of polio have been confirmed.  The outbreak of this extremely contagious disease has paralyzed 17 children.  Jasarevic says armed conflict and political instability have disrupted the delivery of essential healthcare supplies.  He tells VOA the Sanaa International Airport has not been in operation since September 9th and this is a major obstruction in efforts to respond to COVID-19 and other diseases.“According to our office there, this has delayed arrival of COVID-19 experts, the arrival of critical medical but also other humanitarian supplies that include 207 tons of COVID-19 response equipment,” Jasarevic said.UN: Child Malnutrition Soars in War-torn Yemen20% of children are malnourished and need urgent treatmentJasarevic says WHO is critically short of money to fund its humanitarian operation.  He says the agency has received less than half of the $164.5 million it needs.  Unless money is urgently received, he warns nine million people will lose access to basic health care services by the end of the year.In addition, he says as many as 18 million people, including six million children will be deprived of the life-saving vaccines to immunize them against deadly diseases such as measles and polio.

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US Lawmakers Attack Social Media CEOs for Taking Down and Labeling Some Speech

The CEOs of Facebook, Google and Twitter testified before a Senate committee hearing Wednesday, just days before the U.S. election. Tina Trinh reports.
Producer: Matt Dibble

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Spain, Again a COVID-19 Hotspot, Under a State of Emergency  

Europe is once again an epicenter of the COVID-19 pandemic and Spain – under a state of emergency – has gone into another lockdown as protests continue.  Alfonso Beato has more from Barcelona in this report narrated by Roderick James.Camera: Alfonso Beato   Producer: Roderick James

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2020 Election Puts Focus on Twitter, Facebook Content Moderation

The nation’s top technology leaders urged U.S. lawmakers Wednesday to keep content moderation protections in place, despite growing calls from Republicans to address perceived bias in the way social media companies handle free speech online.  Online companies are shielded from liability for content on their sites under Section 230 of the 1996 Communications Decency Act.  Those protections apply to companies of all sizes operating online that use third-party content. But some Republicans contend Section 230 is a “carve-out” for larger companies such as Facebook and Twitter, allowing them to censor content based on political viewpoints and use their considerable reach to influence public discourse.  U.S. President Donald Trump called for an end to Section 230 in a Tweet Wednesday, saying “The USA doesn’t have Freedom of the Press, we have Suppression of the Story, or just plain Fake News. So much has been learned in the last two weeks about how corrupt our Media is, and now Big Tech, maybe even worse. Repeal Section 230!”  President Donald Trump speaks during a campaign rally at MotorSports Management Company, in West Salem, Wis., Oct. 27, 2020.At issue is whether or not a company that moderates content is a publisher instead of a platform and if the reach of companies such Facebook, Google and Twitter constitutes a monopoly.  “Companies are actively blocking and throttling the distribution of content on their own platforms and are using protections under Section 230 to do it. Is it any surprise that voices on the right are complaining about hypocrisy, or even worse?” Senate Commerce Chairman Roger Wicker said Wednesday.  Section 230 has received renewed attention during the 2020 presidential election cycle due to online companies’ new approaches to content moderation in response to foreign interference on online platforms during the 2016 elections cycle.  Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey pushed back against that in prepared testimony Wednesday, saying, “We should remember that Section 230 has enabled new companies—small ones seeded with an idea—to build and compete with established companies globally. Eroding the foundation of Section 230 could collapse how we communicate on the Internet, leaving only a small number of giant and well-funded technology companies.”  Dorsey told lawmakers one possible approach that is “within reach” would allow users to choose between Twitter’s own algorithm that determines what content is viewable, and algorithms developed by third parties.Wicker said his staff had collected “dozens and dozens” of examples of conservative content that he says has been censored and suppressed over the past four years by Twitter. He alleged the social media company had allowed Chinese Communist propaganda about COVID-19 to remain up for two months while President Donald Trump’s claims about mail-in ballots were immediately taken down.  Earlier this month, Twitter blocked users from sharing a link to a news story on Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden’s son, Hunter. Twitter also locked the accounts of President Trump and White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany for sharing the story, citing its policies for how hacked materials are shared on its website. Based on these actions, Republican Senator Ted Cruz accused Twitter of attempting to influence U.S. elections.  “Your position is that that you can sit in Silicon Valley and demand of the media that you can tell them what stories they can publish; you can tell the American people what reporting they can hear,” Cruz said to Dorsey Wednesday.  The Twitter CEO has apologized for the decision, tweeting, “Straight blocking of URLs was wrong, and we updated our policy and enforcement to fix. Our goal is to attempt to add context, and now we have capabilities to do that.”  Facebook also restricted sharing of the Hunter Biden story, saying it would first need a third-party fact check.  The social media company had allowed Russian disinformation to flood the site during the 2016 election, but Facebook instituted new policies this election cycle. According to its website, Facebook’s response includes the removal of 6.5 billion fake accounts in 2019, adding third-party factcheckers to go over content posted on the site as well as removing 30 networks engaged in coordinated, inauthentic behavior.  “Without Section 230, platforms could potentially be held liable for everything people say. Platforms would likely censor more content to avoid legal risk and would be less likely to invest in technologies that enable people to express themselves in new ways,” Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg told lawmakers Wednesday.  Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg appears on a screen as he speaks remotely during a hearing before the Senate Commerce Committee on Capitol Hill, Oct. 28, 2020, in Washington.Congressional Democrats expressed concern about the growth of extremist groups online as well as continuing attempts at foreign election interference on social media platforms, questioning the timing of the hearing.“I am appalled that my Republican colleagues are holding this hearing literally days before an election, when they seem to want to bully and browbeat the platforms here to try to tilt toward President Trump’s favor. The timing seems inexplicable except to game the referee,” said Democratic Senator Richard Blumenthal. “President Trump has broken all the norms. And he has put on your platforms, potentially dangerous and lethal misinformation and disinformation.”  In an earlier line of questioning, Dorsey told lawmakers Twitter does not maintain lists of accounts to watch, but bases content moderation based on algorithms and service user requests.   Sundar Pichai, chief executive officer at Google, also stated the company’s commitment toward independence, telling lawmakers, “We approach our work without political bias, full stop. To do otherwise would be contrary to both our business interests and our mission, which compels us to make information accessible to every type of person, no matter where they live or what they believe.” 

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EU Commission to Buy Rapid COVID-19 Tests as Virus Surges in Europe

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said Wednesday the EU’s administrative arm will spend $117 million on rapid COVID-19 tests as the virus surges across Europe.
 
Speaking to reporters in Brussels, Von der Leyen said unlike last spring, when the pandemic first began, every European country is feeling the effects of a second wave of the virus. The European Center for Disease Prevention and Control says the virus continues to spread throughout the continent.
 
The agency reports almost 6.5 million people have contracted the virus in the EU member countries, plus Britain, Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland.
 
Von der Leyen says they are purchasing rapid antigen tests as another tool to help bring COVID-19 under control. The finger-prick antigen tests are not considered to be as reliable as the standard nasal-swab “PCR test,” but they work much more quickly, with results available at the testing point within 15 minutes.  
 
European health experts say the virus is now moving too quickly to rely on tests that can take days.
 
Von der Leyen also urged member state leaders to improve information-sharing about the virus, saying that will help identify where extra intensive care unit capacity might be found and better organize cross-border patient care.
 
Von der Leyen also called on member states to begin preparing national vaccination plans, and to review them now at the EU level. She said they all need to be prepared for the arrival of the first vaccine, which in the best-case scenarios could begin arriving sometime in April in monthly 20 million to 50 million dose deliveries. 

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