WHO Raises Alarm Over Virus Spread in Brazil, Mexico

The World Health Organization says it is very worried about the rapidly growing surge of coronavirus cases in in Brazil and Mexico.WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told reporters at his regular briefing in Geneva on Monday, “I think Brazil has to be very, very serious,” in combating the surge there. He echoed the same concern for Mexico, which he said was in “bad shape.””The number of cases doubled, and the number of deaths doubled. … We would like to ask Mexico to be very serious,” he said.Mexico’s cumulative COVID-19 death toll passed 100,000 on November 20, and the country has added more than 5.000 deaths since then.Dressed in protective gear to curb the spread of the new coronavirus, a medical worker attends to a patient at a military hospital set up to take care of COVID-19 patients in Mexico City, November 30, 2020.Brazil has recorded more than 172,000 deaths from COVID-19, second only to the United States, which has reported more than 267,000 deaths.On Monday, Brazil’s most populous state, Sao Paulo, ordered shops, bars and restaurants to limit themselves to 40% capacity to try to control the spread of the pathogen.Meanwhile, drugmaker Moderna said Monday it has requested emergency authorization in the U.S. and Europe to distribute its coronavirus vaccine after tests showed it is 94% effective.The request comes shortly after another drug company, Pfizer-BioNTech, sought the same emergency authorization. If granted, inoculations in the U.S. could begin as soon as mid-December.The Moderna and Pfizer requests for emergency use of their vaccines come as the number of coronavirus cases is surging in the U.S., where tens of thousands of new cases are being recorded daily.FILE – Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, speaks during a Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee hearing in Washington, June 30, 2020.The top U.S. infectious disease expert warned Sunday of a possible further spike of COVID-19.Speaking on the Sunday morning program “This Week,” Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said the infection rate would not “all of a sudden turn around.”He said in the coming weeks following the recent Thanksgiving holiday, “We may see a surge upon a surge.”Croatia’s Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic arrives on the second day of a EU summit, in Brussels, on October 16, 2020.In Europe, Croatia’s Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic tested positive for the coronavirus. A government spokesman said he is feeling fine and will continue to perform his duties from his home.Turkey’s president announced curfews during weeknights and for the entire weekend to limit daily infections that have spiked to around 30,000. Grocery stores and food delivery services will be exempt from most of the lockdown hours, officials said.France recorded 4,005 new COVID-19 infections on Monday, the fewest since August. However, health officials reported that a downward trend in hospitalizations was starting to level off.In Europe, some countries are hoping for a continentwide agreement to shut down ski resorts during the Christmas holidays to help prevent spreading the coronavirus. No unified pact, however, has yet been reached.The WHO urged nations Monday to carefully consider the ski season’s risks. It said while the risk of catching the coronavirus is low on the slopes, crowded airports and restaurants could help spread the virus. The agency urged nations to take a “risk-based approach” on which activities to allow.The global agency also warned Monday that malaria deaths will likely exceed COVID-19 deaths in Africa because of the health care disruptions caused by the pandemic.

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Moderna to Seek Quick Approval of Coronavirus Vaccine in US, Europe

Drugmaker Moderna said Monday it is seeking emergency authorization in the United States and Europe to distribute its coronavirus vaccine after tests showed it is 94% effective.The U.S. biotechnology company’s request could mean that health workers will be able to inoculate patients against the virus as soon as mid-December with either of two coronavirus preventatives — Moderna’s or another equally successful test drug produced by the corporate tandem of Pfizer-BioNTech — if the companies win approval from drug regulators.Moderna said it conducted a 30,000-person clinical trial, and its results were on a par with the best pediatric vaccines.The drugmaker said that of the 196 volunteers who contracted COVID-19, 185 had received a placebo versus 11 who received the vaccine. Moderna reported 30 severe cases — all in the placebo group — including one COVID-19-related death. The Moderna and Pfizer requests for emergency use of their vaccines come as the number of coronavirus cases is surging in the U.S., where tens of thousands of new cases are being recorded daily.Health officials say they are especially worried about an even further spread of the virus because millions of people ignored warnings against traveling for last week’s Thanksgiving holiday and could travel again over the upcoming Christmas and New Year’s holiday weekends.Air travelers line up to go through a security checkpoint at Salt Lake City International Airport in Salt Lake City, Utah, Nov. 25, 2020.The U.S. has 4% of the world’s population but nearly a fifth of its recorded coronavirus deaths — more than 266,000 — the most in any country, according to Johns Hopkins University. Worldwide, the death toll has topped 1.46 million.Top U.S. health experts say 20 million Americans could get vaccine shots in the latter half of December, possibly with front-line health care workers targeted initially, followed by elderly people living in nursing homes. An advisory committee at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is meeting Tuesday to lay out the order in which Americans will be able to get vaccinated.Millions of people will likely be able to get one of the vaccines in the first months of 2021, although polls show that about four in 10 Americans say they will refuse to get a shot, either because they are opposed to vaccinations in general or are particularly wary of coronavirus inoculations.The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is considering the Pfizer vaccine on December 10, with consideration of Moderna’s a week later. In addition to seeking U.S. approval, Moderna said it would apply for conditional approval from the European Medicines Agency. 

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How US Military Invented America’s Favorite Snacks 

From instant coffee to Cheetos, packaged cookies and energy bars, the U.S. military helped invent many of the snacks Americans love to eat.    The effort accelerated during World War II, when military scientists needed to develop compact yet nutritional ways to feed the troops.   “There was a tremendous need for the military to develop modern rations, and it ended up not only inventing a bunch of new food processing techniques but putting in place a food science research system that exists to this day,” says food writer Anastacia Marx de Salcedo, author of “Combat-Ready Kitchen: How the U.S. Military Shapes the Way You Eat”. “Out of that came a lot of new techniques and food, and after the war, those were incorporated into snack and convenience foods.” Those new techniques include high pressure processing, which makes uncooked food safe to eat. The process is routinely used in packaged foods like guacamole, salsa and hummus. Cheetos, one of America’s favorite cheesy, crunchy snacks, are made possible by the dehydration process the military worked on to remove the water from cheese. That gave cheese both a longer shelf life and made it lighter to transport to troops overseas. Energy bars are a snack food that resulted from a long period of development to produce a small and nutritionally dense emergency ration.Military scientists discovered that pet food companies were working on a way to make the water level low enough to prevent bacteria and fungi from being produced, making the food safe. “Once they figured that out, they were able to keep foods moist and chewy at room temperature and with regular packaging,” Marx de Salcedo says. “And in fact, that tactic is not only used in energy bars, it’s used in the bakery aisle. If you go into a grocery store, and you see moist and chewy cookies, those are all that same technique that comes out of the military research.” The military also adopted a candy-coated chocolate snack found in Europe that service members could carry around in their pockets without the chocolate immediately melting. That’s how M&M candies were born. Today, some of the biggest military contractors continue to search for the perfect meltless chocolate that will be able to withstand extreme temperatures.  The Army hopes vacuum-microwave drying technology will allow them to put fruit and vegetables into rations. The vacuumed microwaved banana is about a third of its original size while still being springy and pliable. (Courtesy: US Army)The next known frontier in military food science has arrived in the form of mini-food that is shrunk to one-third of the normal size, resulting in foods that are small but still dense.  “They use microwave vacuum dehydration to reduce the water content of foods and what essentially that does is it miniaturizes the food so you get these little tiny carrots, but you can have a fresh carrot,” Marx de Salcedo says. “It still has the same amount of calories even though it’s small.” Whether American civilians will one day be packing miniature lunch boxes in order to lighten their load during their daily commute to work remains to be seen. 

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In France, Public Resistance to COVID Vaccine

As French authorities prepare to roll out their COVID immunization strategy this week, they face skepticism in a country where surveys show many people do not trust the vaccine.France was among the nations of Europe taking the heaviest hit from the COVID-19 outbreak as more than 50, 000 people died of the virus.Like the rest of the world, hopes are high that vaccines will defeat the virus and enable people to go back to a normal life. The French immunization campaign is scheduled to start by the end of December with the elderly, people living in nursing homes and medical personnel slated to receive the first doses.In an address to the nation, French President Emmanuel Macron said a scientific committee would supervise the immunization campaign and a citizen group would be created to make sure the population is part of the process. Immunization against COVID-19 must be clear and transparent and information must be shared  on what is known and unknown, insists Macron, who stressed that immunization will not be mandatory in France.The government is worried that millions of French people will refuse coronavirus vaccine shots due as skepticism grows in the country. Fifty-nine percent of French people surveyed say they would not get vaccinated, according to an IFO poll published on Sunday.Prime Minister Jean Castex recently said his fear is that not enough French people will get vaccinated.Jean Paul Stahl, a French doctor of infectious diseases, said the numbers concern him.The professor explains there is a common fear of side effects for these vaccine.He said there is also skepticism as people see this vaccine as a tool used by the government. Stahl said that nowadays in our societies, more and more people do not trust any authority: political, scientific, and others.France has budgeted more than $1.75 billion to buy vaccines next year. 

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Australia Develops ‘Revolutionary’ Electric Air Ambulance

An electric “aero-ambulance” that is estimated to be faster, safer and quieter than a helicopter has been developed by researchers in Australia.  The aero ambulance is called Vertiia. It is an electric, vertical takeoff and landing aircraft designed to get patients to the hospital quicker and more safely.   It is set for commercial release in 2023, and developers say it will be the world’s most efficient aircraft of its type for passenger and “aeromedical transport.”   The transfer of patients in remote parts of Australia can be slow. Often, they must be driven to an airport by ambulance, transferred onto a plane, and then back into another ambulance for delivery to the hospital. Vertiia aims to take them from door to door. It is built to cruise at a speed of 300 kilometers per hour and travel 250 kilometers powered by electric batteries before needing to recharge. It is also designed to travel nonstop for more than 800 kilometers using hydrogen as an alternative fuel. The project is a collaboration between the University of Sydney, the startup company AMSL Aero and the charity CareFlight. Associate Professor Dries Verstraete is an aerospace engineer from the University of Sydney.   His team is working to increase the aircraft’s efficiency through its aerodynamic and structural design and reduce its operating costs.  “Aero ambulances work by taking off vertically and tilting the wing to horizontal, to tilt it back before they land,” he said. “The advantage of this concept is that they are flying efficiently like an aircraft, but they can still take off like a helicopter, and this allows us to reach more people in a shorter time and do that in a way that is safer than helicopters and also significantly quieter.” The project has received federal government funding of U.S. $2.2 million. Michael McCormack, Australia’s deputy prime minister, said it was “a revolution in aeromedical support.” Vertiia is currently flown by pilots, but researchers want to be able to fly it by computer in bad weather and other hazardous conditions.  

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WHO: Coronavirus Threatens to Reverse Gains Made in Malaria Control

On World Malaria Day, the World Health Organization is calling on countries to step up the fight against malaria, saying the coronavirus pandemic threatens to reverse important gains made in efforts to control this deadly disease. Since 2000, the U.N.’s World Health Organization reports 1.5 billion malaria cases and 7.6 million deaths have been averted globally. Some of the greatest achievements were made in sub-Saharan Africa, which bears the brunt of this deadly disease spread by mosquitos. Additionally, the director of the WHO’s Global Malaria Program, Pedro Alonso, said 21 countries have eliminated malaria over the last two decades. Of these, he says 10 have been officially certified as malaria-free by the WHO. “That means that more than half of all the world’s endemic countries are within reach of elimination,” Alonso said. “In the beginning of the century, three countries had less than 10 cases per year. Now, we have 24 countries, which are literally one step away from elimination.”  Despite remarkable progress, however, the World Health Organization reports global gains have leveled off in recent years. This is because of insufficient funding and a lack of access to proven malaria control tools, such as insecticide-treated mosquito nets and preventive medicines for children. The emergence of the coronavirus pandemic is now posing an additional challenge to the malaria response. WHO’s regional director for Africa, Matshidiso Moeti, said the gains made in Africa over many years against poverty and disease risk being reversed by the virus responsible for the COVID-19 disease. “Already, malaria causes a 1.3 percent loss in Africa’s economic growth every year,” Moeti said. “And we know that the COVID-19 pandemic is projected to push sub-Saharan Africa into recession for the first time in 25 years. This incredibly challenging situation requires renewed commitment to sustained and accelerate the gains that have been made in the fight against malaria.” Moeti noted malaria continues to kill many more people than diseases like COVID-19 and Ebola. In 2019, the WHO reported the global tally of malaria cases was 229 million, including more than 400,000 deaths. It said 90 percent of these cases and deaths were in the African region. Most of the victims were children. The U.N. health agency reports global funding for malaria last year totaled $3 billion. This falls far short of the $5.6 billion needed to roll back malaria. 

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UN Agency: Physical Activity Can Save Up to 5 Million Lives a Year 

The World Health Organization is urging people to get moving and keep moving for better health.  The U.N. health agency says physical activity can avert the deaths of up to 5 million people annually.  WHO statistics show 1 in 4 adults and 80% of adolescents do not do enough physical activity, and women and girls generally do less than men and boys.  This, the agency says, hurts both human health and the health of world economies.     The agency reports physical activity can help prevent heart disease, type-2 diabetes, and cancer; as well reduce cognitive decline, including Alzheimer’s disease.  It says physical inactivity also can put societies into an economic hole.  The global cost of direct health care is estimated at $54 billion, with an additional cost of $14 billion in lost productivity.      WHO Director for Health Promotion Ruediger Krech says it is never too late to begin moving.  He says any type of physical activity, including walking, cycling, dancing, household tasks and gardening can counteract the harm from sitting too long.     “WHO urges everyone to continue to stay active through the COVID-19 pandemic.  If we do not remain active, we run the risk of creating another pandemic of ill health as a result of sedentary behavior,”  he said.New WHO guidelines recommend adults engage in at least 150 to 300 minutes of moderate to vigorous aerobic activity per week, and an average of 60 minutes a day for children and adolescents.   For the first time, WHO’s unit head for physical activity, Fiona Bull, says the guidelines delve into the impact of sedentary behavior on health. “The evidence shows that doing a lot of sedentary behavior, often considered, for example, sitting, is detrimental to your health.  It can increase your risk of noncommunicable disease, like cardiovascular disease … And the evidence shows that if we are more active, we can counteract the detrimental effects of too much sedentary,”  said Bull.  The WHO guidelines also highlight the valuable health benefits of physical activity for those with disabilities.  It advises people over age 65 to engage in muscle-strengthening, balance and coordination activities to help prevent falls and improve health.    

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US Health Experts: Coronavirus Vaccines on the Way, but Precautions Still Paramount   

Two top U.S. coronavirus experts assured Americans Sunday that vaccines against the pandemic would soon become available but warned that not taking precautions against the spread of the virus before then could prove disastrous. “We should have enough vaccine by the end of the year to immunize 20 million Americans and we have to immunize for impact,” Admiral Brett Giroir, the White House virus testing chief, told CNN. “But the American people have to do the right things until we get that vaccine widely distributed.” FILE – Adm. Brett Giroir, director of the U.S. coronavirus diagnostic testing, testifies at a Senate committee hearing, on Capitol Hill, in Washington, June 30, 2020.Giroir described two prospective vaccines, which are now under review by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, as “lifesaving,” saying, “This puts an end to the pandemic.” But until then, he said, “The American people have to do the right things until we get that vaccine widely distributed, wear a mask, avoid indoor crowded spaces, all the things you know.”   Giroir said he believes there will be a “smooth, professional transition” in handling the vaccine distribution from the administration of outgoing President Donald Trump to that of President-elect Joe Biden when he is set to be inaugurated on January 20. Dr. Anthony Fauci, the country’s top infectious disease expert, speaking to ABC’s “This Week” show, said, “Help is on the way,” and that the initial supply of vaccines might be available by mid-December. Dr. Anthony Fauci, Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, listens during a Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee Hearing on the federal government response to COVID-19, Capitol Hill, Sept. 23, 2020.Fauci said health experts are “empathetic about the fatigue” of Americans being careful about becoming exposed to the virus. But he said wearing face masks and people physically distancing themselves from others “do make a difference.” Millions of Americans curtailed their traditional family gatherings for last Thursday’s annual Thanksgiving holiday, yet millions of others ignored warnings from health care experts against traveling to visit far-flung relatives for fear of spreading the virus. “I don’t see how we’re not going to have the same thing” happen with people traveling — and potentially spreading the virus — for Christmas visits with their families, Fauci said. He said there is “a considerable risk” for people getting together. FILE – Travelers wait to check in for flights at LaGuardia Airport, Nov. 25, 2020, in Queens, New York.Fauci called on state and municipal officials to “close the bars, keep the schools open,” to keep “the community level of spread low.” “Let’s try to get the kids back, and let’s try to mitigate the things that maintain and just push the kind of community spread that we’re trying to avoid,” Fauci said. “And those are the things that you know well – the bars, the restaurants where you have capacity seating indoors without masks.” “Those are the things that drive the community spread — not the schools,” he said. Teresa Nguyen, a respiratory therapist, treats a patient inside a room for people with COVID-19 at a hospital in Hutchinson, Kan., Nov. 20, 2020.The assessments came as the United States topped 13 million confirmed cases on Friday, just six days after it reached 12 million cases. The highly contagious virus that causes the COVID-19 disease has killed more than 266,000 Americans, more than in any other country, according to the Johns Hopkins University. More than 91,000 infected individuals are currently hospitalized in the U.S., an all-time high, with more than 18,000 in intensive care units.   

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In Santa’s Mailbag, a Peek into Children’s Pandemic Worries

Jim, from Taiwan, slipped a face mask inside the greeting card he sent to Santa and marked “I (heart) u.” Alina, 5, asked in her Santa letter written with an adult’s help that he please use the front door when he drops in, because the back door is reserved for Grandma and Grandpa to minimize their risk of contamination.And spilling out her heavy little heart to “Dear Father Christmas,” 10-year-old Lola wrote that she is wishing “that my aunt never has cancer again and that this virus no longer exists.”“My mother is a care-giver and sometimes I am scared for her,” Lola explained, signing off her handwritten letter with, “Take care of yourself Father Christmas, and of the Elves.”The emotional toll wrought by the pandemic is jumping off pages in the deluge of “Dear Santa” letters now pouring into a post office in southwest France that sorts and responds to his mail from around the world.Postal workers who call themselves ‘Elves’ open envelopes addressed ‘Pere Noel’ — Father Christmas in French – – decorated with love hearts, stickers and glitter, in Libourne, southwest France, Monday, Nov. 23, 2020.Arriving by the tens of thousands, the letters, notes and cards — some mere scribbles, other elaborate labors of love in colored pens — are revealing windows into the tender minds of their young authors, and of adult Santa fans also asking for respite and happiness, at the tail end of a year of sickness and tumult.Like this letter from young Zoe, who limited her requests to a music player and amusement park tickets because “this year has been very different from others because of COVID-19.”“That’s why I am not asking you for many thing(s) to avoid infection,” Zoe wrote, signing off with “Merci!” and a heart.In theory, and often in practice, any letter addressed “Pere Noel” — French for Father Christmas — and slipped into any post box around the world is likely to wend its way to the sorting office in France’s Bordeaux region that has been handling his mail since 1962. Toiling out of sight among vineyards, his secretariat of workers (who call themselves “elves”) spends the months of November and December slicing open envelopes decorated with hearts, stickers and colors, and spreading Santa magic by responding on his behalf.From the first letters opened at the secretariat from Nov. 12, it quickly became apparent how the pandemic is weighing on children, says the chief elf, Jamila Hajji. Along with the usual pleas for toys and gadgets were also requests for vaccines, for visits from grandparents, for life to return to the way it was. One letter in three mentions the pandemic in some way, Hajji says.“The kids have been very affected by COVID, more than we think. They are very worried. And what they want most of all, apart from presents, is really to be able to have a normal life, the end of COVID, a vaccine,” she says.One letter to Santa in three mentions the pandemic in some way, say postal workers in Libourne, southwest France.“The letters to Father Christmas are a sort of release for them. All this year, they have been in lockdowns, they have been deprived of school, deprived of their grandpas and grandmas. Their parents have been occupied by the health crisis and whatnot. So we, of course, can tell that the children are putting into words everything they have felt during this period.”“We are like elf therapists,” she adds.Replying to 12,000 letters per day, the team of 60 elves sets aside some that move them or catch the eye. Lola’s is among those that have stood out so far, with its heartfelt confession to Santa that “this year more than the others, I need magic and to believe in you.” The elves say their sense is that children are confiding worries that they may not have shared with parents.Emma Barron, a psychiatrist specializing in the mental health of children and adolescents at the Robert Debré pediatric hospital in Paris, says landmark dates, including birthdays and holidays like Christmas, provide structure in childhood. Amid the pandemic’s uncertainty, the Dec. 25 anchor of Christmas is particularly important to kids this year.“Children are quite surprising in that they can adapt to many things,” Barron says. “But rhythms, rituals and things like that are an integral part of children’s mental stability.”A postal worker shows an envelope from Jim of Taiwan, who sent a face mask inside the letter he sent and wrote ‘I (heart) U,’ in Libourne, southwest France, Nov. 23, 2020.As the letters flood in, it’s also clear that this goes beyond childhood. Santa is proving a beacon to adults, too, with some writing to him for the first time since they were kids.One asked for “a pandemic of love.” A 77-year-old lamented that “lockdown is no fun! I live alone.” A grandparent asked Santa to “say ‘Hi’ to my two grandkids that I won’t be able to see this year because of the health situation.”“Your mission will be hard this year,” wrote Anne-Marie, another adult suppliant. “You will need to sprinkle stars across the entire world, to calm everyone and revive our childhood souls, so we can dream, at last, and let go.”

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Britain’s Johnson Asks Lawmakers to Back a Tougher Lockdown

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson is asking lawmakers to support new, tiered restrictions to keep the nation’s hospitals from becoming overwhelmed before a vaccine for the coronavirus can be approved and distributed.The new measures would put 99% of the country under the two highest restriction levels when the current rules end Tuesday. The new restrictions would last about a month.An increasing number of members of Johnson’s own Conservative Party are opposed. And on Saturday, London police broke up anti-lockdown, anti-vaccine protests, arresting more than 150 people in the process.The government hopes that a vaccine, the first doses of which could be in British hospitals by December 7, and mass testing could end the need for restrictions. Britain has suffered the worst COVID-19 outbreak in Europe, with more than 57,000 virus-related deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University. COVID-19 is the disease caused by the coronavirus.Parliament is to vote on Johnson’s new restrictions Tuesday.FILE – President-elect Joe Biden walks from his motorcade to speak to reporters in Wilmington, Del., Nov. 23, 2020.In the U.S., President-elect Joe Biden added three members to his COVID-19 advisory board.QualificationsBiden added Jane Hopkins, Jill Jim and David Michaels to “strengthen the board’s work and help ensure that our COVID-19 planning will address inequities in health outcomes and the workforce,” he said.Hopkins is a registered nurse specializing in mental health and also serves on Washington state’s COVID-19 task force.Jim is a member of the Navajo Nation and the executive director of its Department of Health. She has focused on preventing chronic diseases and addressing health care and health disparities among American Indians/Alaska Natives.Michaels is an epidemiologist and professor of environmental and occupational health at the Milken Institute School of Public Health, George Washington University.Beginning Monday, California’s Los Angeles County, the nation’s most populous, will be under a three-week, stay-at-home order.The county had said previously that it would issue the restrictive order when new COVID-19 cases reached an average of 4,500 per day over a five-day period.On Friday, the five-day average was 4,751.The order prohibits gatherings, public or private, of people who do not live in the same household.Stores deemed essential will be allowed to remain open, operating at 50% capacity.  Other retail stores will remain open but will be able to operate at just 20% capacity during the holiday shopping season.Erratic resultsU.S. health officials say the numbers of new COVID-19 cases may appear erratic in the coming days, a result of fewer tests being administered during the Thanksgiving holiday and the reduced schedules of tests sites.FILE – A medical worker hands a self-administered coronavirus test to a patient at a drive-through testing site in a parking lot in the Woodland Hills section of Los Angeles, May 6, 2020.Los Angeles County Department of Public Health officials reported 3,143 new cases Saturday — down because of limited testing Thursday and Friday.Although reports of new cases may seem lower than usual because of the holiday, the numbers, experts say, would not give an accurate account of where the U.S. is in fighting the virus. On Friday, the U.S. surpassed the 13 million mark in number of coronavirus cases, more than anyplace else in the world, according to Johns Hopkins.Dr. Leana Wen, an emergency physician and a George Washington University professor, told The Associated Press, “I just hope that people don’t misinterpret the numbers and think that there wasn’t a major surge as a result of Thanksgiving, and then end up making Christmas and Hanukkah and other travel plans.”Teresa Nguyen, a respiratory therapist, treats a patient inside a room for people with COVID-19 at a hospital in Hutchinson, Kan., Nov. 20, 2020.The number of COVID-19 patients being treated in hospitals across the United States reached 90,000 Friday after nearly doubling in the last month, according to the Reuters news agency. The hospitalizations followed weeks of rising infection rates in the United States and have increased worries that recent Thanksgiving gatherings would lead to even more infections and hospitalizations.Health care workers’ deathsThe British newspaper The Guardian said its partner, Kaiser Health News, had conducted a review of hundreds of U.S. health care workers’ deaths that went unreported to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), even though reports of such deaths are required. The deaths that could have been workplace COVID-related were not reported to authorities in the early days of the pandemic, the report said.“Work-safety advocates say OSHA investigations into staff deaths can help officials pinpoint problems before they endanger other employees as well as patients or residents,” the newspaper said.WHO also announced that it was sending a team of 10 scientists to Wuhan, China, to investigate how COVID-19 jumped from animals to humans.“We need to start where we found the first cases — and that is in Wuhan, in China — and then we need to follow the evidence after that wherever that leads,” said Dr. Mike Ryan, head of the WHO emergencies program.The team includes renowned virus hunters, public health specialists and experts in animal health from Britain, the United States, Australia, Denmark, the Netherlands, Japan, Qatar, Germany, Vietnam and Russia.

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Los Angeles Issues Stay-at-Home Order to Curb COVID

A surge in new coronavirus cases has led California’s Los Angeles County to issue a new three-week, stay-at-home order which will go into effect Monday.The county had said previously that it would issue the restrictive order when new COVID-19 cases reached an average of 4,500 per day over a five-day period.On Friday, the five-day average was 4,751.The order prohibits gatherings, publicly or privately, of people who do not live in the same household.Stores deemed essential will be allowed to remain open, operating at 50% capacity. Other retail stores will remain open but will only be able to operate at 20% capacity during the holiday shopping season.U.S. health officials say the numbers of new COVID-19 cases may appear erratic in the coming days, a result of fewer tests being administered during the Thanksgiving holiday and the reduced schedules of tests sites.Reports of new cases may seem lower than usual because of the holiday, but the numbers, experts say, would not give an accurate account of where the U.S. is in fighting the virus. On Friday, the U.S. surpassed the 13 million mark in number of coronavirus cases, more than anyplace else in the world, according to Johns Hopkins University.Dr. Leana Wen, an emergency physician and a George Washington University professor, told the Associated Press, “I just hope that people don’t misinterpret the numbers and think that there wasn’t a major surge as a result of Thanksgiving, and then end up making Christmas and Hanukkah and other travel plans.”The number of COVID-19 patients being treated in hospitals across the United States reached 90,000 Friday after nearly doubling in the last month, according to the Reuters news agency. The hospitalizations follow weeks of rising infection rates in the United States and have increased worries that the recent Thanksgiving gatherings would lead to even more infections and hospitalizations.A couple wearing face masks as a precaution against the coronavirus passes by a statue with a face mask at a shopping street in Goyang, South Korea, Nov. 28, 2020.The British newspaper The Guardian said its partner, Kaiser Health News, has conducted a review of hundreds of U.S. health care workers’ deaths that went unreported to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, even though reports of such deaths are required. The deaths that could have been workplace COVID-related were not reported to authorities in the early days of the pandemic, the report said.“Work-safety advocates say OSHA investigations into staff deaths can help officials pinpoint problems before they endanger other employees as well as patients or residents,” the newspaper said.The World Health Organization’s top vaccine expert said the agency needs to evaluate coronavirus vaccines and their immune responses based on more than just a press release.Kate O’Brien, WHO’s director of immunization, vaccines and biologicals said at a press briefing in Geneva on Friday that it is still not clear if vaccines against COVID-19 are able to reduce people’s ability to spread the virus.”It’s really important that we actually start to get more information about what the vaccines do, not just for preventing disease, but for actually preventing the acquisition of the virus,” O’Brien said.British drugmaker AstraZeneca said Thursday it is cooperating with government regulators in investigating a manufacturing error of an experimental COVID-19 vaccine.The pharmaceutical company and Oxford University have admitted that a lower dosage of the vaccine performed better than a full dosage, according to a spokesman who spoke after AstraZeneca’s CEO said a further global trial was likely.The statement comes as the company prepared to provide a temporary supply of the drug ahead of its plans to distribute 4 million doses of the vaccine by the year’s end.The England-based pharmaceutical company said earlier this week its vaccine was 70% effective overall, but there were differences between two dosing regimens. One was 90% effective. The other was 62%.Drugmakers Pfizer and Moderna have also announced initial results from late-stage trials showing their vaccines were nearly 95% effective.WHO has also announced that it is sending a team of 10 scientists to Wuhan, China, to investigate how COVID-19 jumped from animals to humans.Dancers wearing face shields to prevent the spread of the coronavirus perform in Tangerang, Indonesia, Nov. 28, 2020,“We need to start where we found the first cases — and that is in Wuhan in China — and then we need to follow the evidence after that wherever that leads,” said Dr. Mike Ryan, head of the WHO emergencies program.The team includes renowned virus hunters, public health specialists and experts in animal health from Britain, the United States, Australia, Denmark, the Netherlands, Japan, Qatar, Germany, Vietnam and Russia.Denmark said Friday that hundreds of dead mink are reemerging from the trenches where millions of the animals were buried after being culled to stop the spread of a mutated form of the coronavirus that passed from humans to the animals and back to humans.The order to cull the 17 million mink was determined to be illegal and resulted in the resignation last week of Food and Agriculture Minister Morgens Jensen.“Zombie mink” is what the Danish media have dubbed the animals coming out of the trenches at a military area in western Denmark.Reuters reports that the animals are being “pushed out of the ground by what authorities say is gas from their decomposition.”In Ireland, the government said it would allow shops, restaurants and gyms to reopen next week after the latest round of shutdowns. Prime Minister Micheal Martin said travel would be permitted between counties in the week preceding Christmas.”We now have the opportunity to enjoy a different, but special Christmas,” he said in a televised address.Officials in France said the rate of new coronavirus infections slowed again Friday, as the country prepares to allow for the reopening Saturday of stores selling nonessential goods.Italy is also seeing a gradual decline in hospitalizations from coronavirus, leading the government to announce that it would ease restrictions in five regions from Sunday, including the populous Lombardy region.The number of coronavirus infections in Germany topped 1 million on Friday. The country’s disease control center, the Robert Koch Institute, reported 22,806 cases overnight, bringing the country’s total since the start of the outbreak to more than 1 million.Iran on Friday announced that its government offices would operate only with essential staff because of a surge in coronavirus cases. Officials reported a record number of new cases on Friday — 14,051 — bringing the country’s total to more than 922,000.In other developments, Australia’s second-largest state, Victoria, has recorded no new coronavirus infections or deaths in the past 28 days, health officials said Friday. The state did not have any active cases after the last COVID-19 patient was discharged from the hospital Monday.While Victoria has achieved the 28-day benchmark, widely accepted by health experts as eliminating the virus from the community, cases of the coronavirus infections have been detected in other parts of the country. 

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Hundreds of ‘Zombie Mink’ Resurfacing from Mass Graves

Denmark’s government said on Friday it wants to dig up mink that were culled to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, after hundreds resurfaced from mass graves.Denmark ordered all farmed mink to be culled early this month after finding that 12 people had been infected by a mutated strain of the virus that causes COVID-19, which passed from humans to mink and back to humans.The decision led to 17 million animals being destroyed and to the resignation last week of Food and Agriculture Minister Morgens Jensen, after it was determined that the order was illegal.Dead mink were tipped into trenches at a military area in western Denmark and covered with 2 meters of soil. But hundreds have begun resurfacing, pushed out of the ground by what authorities say is gas from their decomposition. Newspapers have referred to them as the “zombie mink.”Jensen’s replacement, Rasmus Prehn, said on Friday he supported the idea of digging up the animals and incinerating them. He said he had asked the environmental protection agency to investigate whether it could be done, and parliament would be briefed on the issue on Monday.The macabre burial sites, guarded 24 hours a day to keep people and animals away, have drawn complaints from area residents about possible health risks.Authorities say there is no risk of the graves spreading the coronavirus, but locals worry about the risk of contaminating drinking water and a bathing lake less than 200 meters away.

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WHO Scientist Calls for More Vaccine Data

The World Health Organization’s top vaccine expert says the agency needs to evaluate coronavirus vaccines and their immune responses based on more than just a press release.Kate O’Brien, WHO’s director of immunization, vaccines and biologicals, said at a press briefing in Geneva on Friday that it was still not clear if vaccines against COVID-19 were able to reduce people’s ability to spread the virus.”It’s really important that we actually start to get more information about what the vaccines do, not just for preventing disease, but for actually preventing the acquisition of the virus,” O’Brien said.British drugmaker AstraZeneca said Thursday that it was cooperating with government regulators in investigating a manufacturing error in an experimental COVID-19 vaccine.A test tube labeled with the vaccine is seen in front of AstraZeneca logo in this illustration taken, Sept. 9, 2020.The pharmaceutical company and Oxford University have admitted that a lower dose of the vaccine performed better than a full dose, according to a spokesman who spoke after AstraZeneca’s CEO said a further global trial was likely.The statement came as the company prepared to provide a temporary supply of the drug ahead of its plans to distribute 4 million doses of the vaccine by the year’s end.The England-based pharmaceutical company said earlier this week that its vaccine was 70% effective overall, but there were differences between two dosing regimens. One was 90% effective. The other was 62%.Vials with a sticker reading, “COVID-19 / Coronavirus vaccine / Injection only” and a medical syringe are seen in front of a displayed Pfizer logo, Oct. 31, 2020.Drugmakers Pfizer and Moderna have also announced initial results from late-stage trials showing their vaccines were nearly 95% effective.Meanwhile, in the United States, where the number of coronavirus cases neared 13 million, according to the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center, the pandemic kept crowds small at stores across the country on Black Friday. Many stores were relying on online shopping and curbside pickup options for sales.The number of COVID-19 patients being treated in hospitals across the United States reached 90,000 on Friday after nearly doubling in the last month, according to the Reuters news agency. The hospitalizations came after weeks of rising infection rates in the United States and have increased worries that Thanksgiving gatherings this week with family and friends would lead to even more infections and hospitalizations.  Ireland’s Prime Minister Micheal Martin speaks with the media as he arrives for an EU summit in Brussels, Oct. 16, 2020.In Ireland, the government said it would allow shops, restaurants and gyms to reopen next week after the latest round of shutdowns. Prime Minister Micheal Martin said travel would be permitted between counties in the week preceding Christmas.”We now have the opportunity to enjoy a different but special Christmas,” he said in a televised address.Officials in France said the rate of new coronavirus infections slowed again Friday, as the country prepared to allow for the reopening Saturday of stores selling nonessential goods.Italy is also seeing a gradual decline in hospitalizations from the coronavirus, leading the government to announce that it would ease restrictions in five regions from Sunday, including the populous Lombardy region.The number of coronavirus infections in Germany topped 1 million on Friday. The country’s disease control center, the Robert Koch Institute, reported 22,806 cases overnight, bringing the country’s total since the start of the outbreak to more than 1 million.Iran on Friday announced that its government offices would operate only with essential staff because of a surge in coronavirus cases. Officials reported a record number of new cases on Friday — 14,051 — bringing the country’s total to more than 922,000.People queue at a supermarket after the South Australian state government announced a six-day lockdown because of a Covid-19 coronavirus outbreak in Adelaide on Nov. 18, 2020.In other developments, Australia’s second-largest state, Victoria, has recorded no new coronavirus infections or deaths in the past 28 days, health officials said Friday.The state did not have any active cases after the last COVID-19 patient was discharged from the hospital Monday. While Victoria has achieved the 28-day benchmark, widely accepted by health experts as eliminating the virus from the community, cases of coronavirus infections have been detected in other parts of the country.In Latin America, Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro said Thursday that he would refuse a coronavirus vaccine, the most recent of his vaccine-skeptic statements.    ”I’m telling you, I’m not going to take it. It’s my right,” he said in remarks aired over several social media platforms.Brazil, with more than 6.2 million cases of COVID-19, is behind only the United States and India, and at more than 171,000 deaths, it is behind only the United States, according to Johns Hopkins.

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8 Dead After Cyclone Hits Somalia’s Puntland; Spread of Locusts Feared

A cyclone that hit parts of Somalia this week killed eight people and displaced thousands, flooded farmlands and could worsen a locust plague, an official and U.N. agencies said.The U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA) said Thursday that Tropical Cyclone Gati made landfall in the semiautonomous Puntland region Sunday and subsided Tuesday, but moderate and light rain continued to fall.The cyclone killed eight Yemeni fishermen, Mohamed Yusuf Boli, commissioner for the coastal district of Hafun, told Reuters.”It also destroyed many boats and houses. The town is in water and in bad situation,” Boli added.In addition to the deaths, UNOCHA said the cyclone had displaced 42,000 people from their homes.”The cyclone has disrupted livelihoods by destroying fishing gear, killing livestock, and flooding agricultural land and crops,” the agency said in a report.The U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) said earlier this week that the cyclone could also allow immature desert locust swarms in Hargeisa and Jigjiga in Ethiopia to mature faster and lay eggs.The effect of the cyclone could also allow the swarms to move southeast to Ogaden region and lay eggs there, too, the FAO said.The insect plague hitting Somalia is part of a once-in-a-generation succession of swarms that have swept across East Africa and the Red Sea region since late 2019, driven by unusual weather patterns.

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Trump Administration Moves Ahead on Removing Bird Protections

The Trump administration moved forward Friday on removing long-standing federal protection for the nation’s birds, over objections from former federal officials and many scientists that billions more birds will likely perish as a result.The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service published its take on the proposed rollback in the Federal Register. It’s a final step that means the change — greatly limiting federal authority to prosecute industries for practices that kill migratory birds — could be made official within 30 days.The wildlife service acknowledged in its findings that the rollback would have a negative effect on the many bird species covered by the 1918 Migratory Bird Treaty Act, which range from hawks and eagles to seabirds, storks, songbirds and sparrows.The move scales back federal prosecution authority for the deadly threats migratory birds face from industry — from electrocution on power lines, to wind turbines that knock them from the air, to oil field waste pits where landing birds perish in toxic water.Industry operations kill an estimated 450 million to 1.1 billion birds annually, out of roughly 7 billion birds in North America, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and recent studies.The Trump administration maintains that the act should apply only to birds killed or harmed intentionally and is putting that change into regulation. The change would “improve consistency and efficiency in enforcement,” the Fish and Wildlife Service said.Judge’s rejectionThe administration has continued to push the migratory bird regulation even after a federal judge in New York in August rejected the administration’s legal rationale.Two days after news organizations announced President Donald Trump’s defeat by Democrat Joe Biden, federal officials advanced the bird treaty changes to the White House, one of the final steps before adoption.Trump was “in a frenzy to finalize his bird-killer policy,” David Yarnold, president of the National Audubon Society, said in a statement Friday. “Reinstating this 100-year-old bedrock law must be a top conservation priority for the Biden-Harris administration” and Congress.Steve Holmer with the American Bird Conservancy said the change would accelerate bird population declines that have swept North America since the 1970s.How the 1918 treaty gets enforced has sweeping ramifications for the construction of commercial buildings, electric transmission systems and other infrastructure, said Rachel Jones, vice president of the National Association of Manufacturers.Jones said the changes under Trump would be needed to make sure the bird law wasn’t used in an “abusive way.” That’s a long-standing complaint from industry lawyers despite federal officials’ contention that they bring criminal charges only rarely.It’s part of a flurry of last-minute changes under the outgoing administration benefiting industry. Others would expand Arctic drilling, favor development over habitat protections for imperiled species and potentially hamstring future regulation of environmental and public health threats, among other rollbacks.

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Lasting Coronavirus Effects Include Fatigue, Muscle Pain, Poor Balance

Being intubated and lying in bed for weeks without moving, eating or speaking has left many scarred. Here’s more from VOA’s Mariama Diallo on some lasting effects of the coronavirus, including fatigue, shortness of breath and muscle pain.

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