Britain Faces Travel Bans Amid Soaring Delta Variant Infections

Several countries have imposed restrictions on travelers from Britain amid rising cases of the delta variant of the coronavirus. Scientists say the delta mutation is more infectious and now makes up around 95 percent of new cases in Britain. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.

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Uganda Approves Herbal Treatment for COVID-19 

The World Health Organization has expressed concern about Uganda’s approval of a locally made herbal treatment for COVID-19 amid a third wave of cases. The WHO has not approved the substance for COVID-19 treatment, but Ugandan pharmacists say they have little choice because drugs authorized for emergency use in developed countries are not available.Uganda’s drug authority said Tuesday that it had approved the herbal medicine, Covidex.Dr. David Nahamya, executive director of Uganda’s drug authority, said the approval followed a two-week scientific evaluation of the medicine’s safety and efficacy.“Covidex has been notified to be sold in licensed drug outlets for supportive treatment in management of viral infections but not as a cure of COVID-19,” Nahamya said.The WHO consulted researchers from nine African countries, including Uganda, in March about the use of traditional medicine to treat COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus.Dr. Solome Okware of the WHO’s Uganda office said Covidex wasn’t among the traditional medicines that were evaluated.“WHO has not received any information about this product,” Okware said.Bases for approvalNahamya reassured Ugandans that the manufacturer, Jena Herbals Uganda, had increased production and that the herb would be available for all who needed it, under medical supervision.FILE – People wait in the stands to receive coronavirus vaccinations at the Kololo airstrip in Kampala, Uganda, May 31, 2021.He added that the approval was based on initial assessments, published literature and safety studies conducted by the innovator.“The product has been formulated from herbal plants that have been traditionally used to alleviate symptoms of several diseases,” Nahamya said. “To further the efficacy of the drug for other uses, NDA [Uganda’s National Drug Authority] has advised the manufacturer to conduct random controlled clinical trials, which are the highest level of evidence to ascertain any claims of treatment.”Okware said that in collaboration with the Africa Centre for Disease Control and Prevention, the WHO developed master and generic protocols to provide guidance to members for developing clinical trials to assess claims of effective treatment for COVID-19.“Many plants and substances are being proposed without the minimum requirements and evidence of quality, safety and efficacy,” Okware said. “The use of products to treat COVID-19 which have not yet been robustly investigated can be harmful if the due process is not followed.”’Local solutions’Dr. Samuel Opio, secretary of the Pharmaceutical Society of Uganda, said that while there were concerns about misuse of Covidex by the public, its approval was a positive step.”Whatever is currently being approved [for] emergency use in the U.S. are not available in Uganda,” Opio said. “So the issue of lack of a treatment, the issue of inaccessibility to even what is approved for emergency use, means that we need to also look for local solutions to the global challenges, and herbal treatment is one area.”Uganda recently received 175,000 doses of AstraZeneca vaccine but is inoculating only frontline workers. With just 856,025 people vaccinated in the country, many members of the public have resorted to using Covidex to treat COVID-19 symptoms.

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Microsoft Exec Says Targeting of Americans’ Records ‘Routine’

Federal law enforcement agencies secretly seek the data of Microsoft customers thousands of times a year, according to congressional testimony Wednesday by a senior executive at the technology company.Tom Burt, Microsoft’s corporate vice president for customer security and trust, told members of the House Judiciary Committee that federal law enforcement in recent years has been presenting the company with between 2,400 to 3,500 secrecy orders a year, or about seven to 10 a day.”Most shocking is just how routine secrecy orders have become when law enforcement targets an American’s email, text messages or other sensitive data stored in the cloud,” said Burt, describing the widespread clandestine surveillance as a major shift from historical norms.The relationship between law enforcement and Big Tech has attracted fresh scrutiny in recent weeks with the revelation that Trump-era Justice Department prosecutors obtained as part of leak investigations phone records belonging not only to journalists but also to members of Congress and their staffers. Microsoft, for instance, was among the companies that turned over records under a court order, and because of a gag order, had to then wait more than two years before disclosing it.Since then, Brad Smith, Microsoft’s president, called for an end to the overuse of secret gag orders, arguing in a Washington Post opinion piece that “prosecutors too often are exploiting technology to abuse our fundamental freedoms.” Attorney General Merrick Garland, meanwhile, has said the Justice Department will abandon its practice of seizing reporter records and will formalize that stance soon.Burt is among the witnesses at a Judiciary Committee hearing about potential legislative solutions to intrusive leak investigations.  House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler said in opening remarks Wednesday that the Justice Department took advantage of outdated policies on digital data searches to target journalists and others in leak investigations. The New York Democrat said that reforms are needed now to guard against future overreach by federal prosecutors — an idea also expressed by Republicans on the committee.”We cannot trust the department to police itself,” Nadler said.Burt said that while the revelation that federal prosecutors had sought data about journalists and political figures was shocking to many Americans, the scope of surveillance is much broader. He criticized prosecutors for reflexively seeking secrecy through boilerplate requests that “enable law enforcement to just simply assert a conclusion that a secrecy order is necessary.”Burt said that while Microsoft Corp. does cooperate with law enforcement on a broad range of criminal and national security investigations, it often challenges surveillance that it sees as unnecessary, resulting at times in advance notice to the account being targeted.Among the organizations weighing in at the hearing was The Associated Press, which called on Congress to act to protect journalists’ ability to promise confidentiality to their sources. Reporters must have prior notice and the ability to challenge a prosecutor’s efforts to seize data, said a statement submitted by Karen Kaiser, AP’s general counsel.”It is essential that reporters be able to credibly promise confidentially to ensure the public has the information needed to hold its government accountable and to help government agencies and officials function more effectively and with integrity,” Kaiser said.  As possible solutions, Burt said, the government should end indefinite secrecy orders and should also be required to notify the target of the data demand once the secrecy order has expired.Just this week, he said, prosecutors sought a blanket gag order affecting the government of a major U.S. city for a Microsoft data request targeting a single employee there.”Without reform, abuses will continue to occur and they will occur in the dark,” Burt said.

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Recent Climate-related Disasters Highlight Need for New Thinking About Future 

Last week, a 12-story apartment building suddenly collapsed in a Miami, Florida, suburb, killing at least 11 people and leaving some 150 others missing. While the cause of the disaster is unclear, rising sea levels that flood parts of the Miami area with salt water and regularly left standing water in the underground garage of the Champlain Towers suggest that climate change played a role.   Meanwhile, more than 4,000 kilometers away, residents of Seattle, Portland, and the rest of the U.S. Pacific Northwest endured a fourth consecutive day of a record-setting heatwave.While Portland reached a record temperature of over 110 degrees, June 27, 2021 people gathered at Salmon Street Springs water fountain in Portland to cool off. (Mark Graves/The Oregonian via AP)Roadways are buckling as asphalt melts and separates from the ground, making them impassable. Rubberized coatings that protect electrical wiring on mass transit systems are melting, forcing authorities to shut them down until repairs are made.   In the United States, people generally take it for granted that buildings will maintain their structural integrity, roadways don’t turn to molten sludge and mass transit systems keep functioning. For many, recent events may shake those assumptions.   Nobody is ready It is becoming increasingly clear that how Americans expect society to function within different ecosystems is changing — sometimes dramatically. In the Northeastern U.S., what used to be considered “100-yearFILE – Residents of the Crescent at Lakeshore apartment complex are rescued by Homewood Fire and Rescue as severe weather produced torrential rainfall flooding several apartment buildings, May 4, 2021 in Homewood, Ala. (AP Photo/Butch Dill)Is the nation adequately prepared for precipitous and increasingly calamitous change? People who make it their business to peer into the future say, unequivocally, America and humanity more broadly are not.  “Nobody is, probably, least of all the U.S. because of prevalent mindsets,” said Richard Hames, executive director of the Centre for the Future, a global organization that “identifies and redesigns life-critical system that are collapsing under the weight of a population now exceeding seven billion people, that are no longer relevant, or that do not yet exist but will be needed for a future we cannot yet comprehend.”   A dystopian vision? The picture Hames paints of humanity’s near-future is not a pretty one.   “Scientists are now saying that things are beyond the worst-case scenario, we’re heading fast to irreversible tipping points, simply because of everything that’s locked in already,” he told VOA.   FILE – Clouds gather but produce no rain as cracks are seen in the dried up municipal dam in drought-stricken Graaff-Reinet, South Africa, Nov. 14, 2019.In terms of the climate crisis, Hames said, “there is nothing in human experience” on which we can draw. The entire Holocene Period — the age of the earth in which human civilization arose and flourished — has been marked by a climate that existed in a stable state of conditions conducive to human thriving.   “Now we’re in a state of exponential change, which, again, nobody really gets, nobody understands. And know that there’s nothing in human experience to [help us] cope with what we’re in for.”   Is my home safe? If humanity is to cope with exponentially increasing effects of climate change, some experts say the first step will have to be truly internalizing the seriousness of the species’ perilous position. That, for example, tragedies like the South Florida building collapse might accelerate.   Bruce Turkel, an author, speaker, and founder of The Strategic Forum in South Florida, was born and raised in Miami. As someone who makes a living helping businesses look into the future of their brands, he says the Champlain Towers collapse is the sort of event that makes people challenge long-held assumptions.   The eastern part of Miami Beach, he notes, is called the “concrete canyon” by locals for the high-rise apartment buildings that line its roads for kilometers of beachfront property.   FILE – Clouds loom over the Miami skyline May 14, 2020, the early signs of what would become Tropical Storm Arthur.“Imagine how many buildings there are; multiply that by the number of apartments; multiply that by the average occupancy of each apartment,” Turkel said. “How many people now are wondering, ‘Oh, my God, is my building safe?’”   Virtually all of those people knew, on some level, that climate change was a problem, he said. But far fewer of them perceived it as an existential threat on a personal level.   “If, in fact, climate change affected this building’s integrity, we didn’t have any perception or understanding that that was an issue,” he said. “What are the unexpected consequences? And how do we deal with those? That’s the big, social, and also socio-economic and geopolitical issue. As people start to say, ‘Oh, my goodness, I never thought of that. Oh, my goodness, I didn’t know that would happen.’ Where does that lead us?”   Change is coming, but from where? While few experts doubt that widespread change as a result of the climate crisis is coming, how it will be received — with chaotic reaction or concerted activities to mitigate its impact — is currently unknowable.   “If you look at the history of human change, it happens for two reasons,” said Turkel. Change, he added, comes either as a reaction to “a cataclysmic event that causes all of us to move either because of lack of food, lack of water, lack of something” or as a response to leadership that arises, typically, from outside established systems.   The latter is preferable to the former, and Hames of the Centre for the Future agrees that if humanity is to be led out of the current crisis, it won’t be by the planet’s current generation of leaders.   “Incumbent leaders don’t have the courage or the impulse to do what needs to be done,” he said. “Their interest is to go back to what was their ‘normality’ — not realizing that a lot of the problems we’re facing were caused by that so-called normality.”   Cause for hope   Hames said that while many people see his writing and public speaking as a reflection of a dystopian vision of the planet’s future, he’s convinced that people, by taking certain concrete actions, can preserve a future for humanity on this planet. “They can live more simply: we don’t need to buy as much stuff as is produced and then throw it away,” he said. “We can have more plant-based nutritional food, rather than eat so much meat. In terms of farms, we can move away from industrial agriculture to more organic, ecologically sensible agriculture, so that we’re not adding to desertification. The little things that we can do will make an awful lot of difference.”   But, he added, the leadership needed to guide those steps are more likely to come from those with the most at stake in that future — today’s youth.   “I’ve got nine kids and 16 grandchildren,” Hames said. “I’m both optimistic and pessimistic. I’m pessimistic that we’re heading so fast towards stepping over planetary boundaries … we’re like lemmings to the cliff. It’s just extraordinary. … My optimism is in human ingenuity and the resolve of youth in particular, who don’t want to inherit the legacy we’re busy creating for them.”   A change of outlook   Hames said that if and when change comes, it will involve an overhauling of the “occidental” worldview driven by the rationalism of the Enlightenment and the culture of individualism prevalent in the West, in favor of a more collective understanding of the costs and benefits of modern life.   FILE – Protesters demanding action on climate change gather at Te Ngakau Civic Square in Wellington, New Zealand, March 15, 2019.“I believe the brunt of the leadership we need will come from the grassroots, it will come initially from activism and protest, but then it will move to much more positive ways of changing lives locally, and it starts at the local level,” he said.   Again, he added, he expects the prime movers in this struggle to be today’s youth.   “They want to know that they will have a viable life on this planet, not have to leave what is essentially a terrestrial form of life to go off to the moon or Mars or some crazy idea like that,” he said. “They want the quality of life here that, at the moment, is being taken from them.” 

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Australia Locks Down Fourth City Amid Clash Over COVID Vaccine Eligibility

Another major Australian city is under a coronavirus lockdown as local officials clash with the federal government over which age group should be eligible for a COVID-19 vaccine. The city of Alice Springs entered a three-day lockdown effective Tuesday after an infected gold mine worker spent several hours in the city’s airport before flying from the Northern Territory state to his home in Adelaide, the capital of South Australia state, where he tested positive after his arrival.   A transit worker is seen wearing a face mask inside a mostly empty city center train station during a lockdown in Sydney, Australia, June 29, 2021.Alice Springs joins Sydney, Darwin, Brisbane and Perth on the list of cities who have imposed lockdowns to blunt the spread of the highly infectious delta variant of COVID-19.  The latest outbreak has been traced to a Sydney airport limousine driver who had been transporting international air crews.  Australia has been largely successful in containing the spread of COVID-19 due to aggressive lockdown efforts, posting just 30,602 total confirmed cases and 910 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center.  But it has proved vulnerable to fresh outbreaks due to a slow rollout of its vaccination campaign and confusing requirements involving the two-shot AstraZeneca vaccine, which is the dominant vaccine in its stockpile.  FILE – People wait in line outside a coronavirus disease (COVID-19) vaccination center at Sydney Olympic Park in Sydney, Australia, June 23, 2021.Health officials had limited AstraZeneca to all adults under 60 years old due to concerns of a rare blood clotting condition that has been blamed for the deaths of two people.  But Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced Monday that AstraZeneca will be available for adults under 40 years of age who request it.  Queensland state Chief Health Officer Jeannette Young pushed back against the prime minister’s announcement Tuesday, saying it was not worth the risk for healthy young Australians, even though the chances of developing the blood clotting condition are rare.  “I don’t want an 18-year-old in Queensland dying from a clotting illness who, if they got COVID, probably wouldn’t die,” Young said.Western Australian state Premier Mark McGowan also openly opposed Morrison’s announcement, citing advice from the Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunization, the government’s vaccine advisor, to recommend only the two-shot Pfizer vaccine for adults younger than 60 years old.  Pfizer is in far less supply in Australia than the AstraZeneca shot.  Delta variantThe Indonesian Red Cross is warning the delta variant has caused a surge of new infections that is pushing the nation towards “the edge of a COVID-19 catastrophe.” A health worker gives a jab of the Sinovac COVID-19 vaccine to a woman during a vaccination campaign at the Adam Malik Hospital in Medan, North Sumatra, Indonesia, June 30, 2021.Indonesia has reported more than 20,000 new COVID-19 infections in recent days, including a record 21,342 new cases on Sunday, including more than 400 new deaths. The Red Cross says hospitals in the capital, Jakarta, are more than 90 percent occupied, while less than 5% of its 270 million citizens have been vaccinated.   Russia reported a single-day record 669 COVID-19 deaths on Wednesday, breaking the previous record set just the day before of 643 deaths. The fast-moving spread of the delta variant of COVID-19, which was first detected in India and has now been identified in more than 80 countries, has prompted the World Health Organization to urge people to continue wearing masks and taking other precautions, even if they are fully vaccinated. Officials in Los Angeles County, California said Monday they are strongly recommending residents wear a mask indoors because of the delta variant.  The COVID-19 pandemic has sickened nearly 182 million people around the globe since it was first detected in late 2019 in the central Chinese city of Wuhan, including nearly 4 million deaths.  A report issued Wednesday by the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development and the U.N. World Tourism Organization said the pandemic caused as much as $2.4 trillion in losses to international tourism and other related sectors in 2020, a decline of 73% from pre-pandemic levels the year before.   The report predicts roughly the same amount of losses for 2021, with global tourism to fall anywhere between 63% and 75%, resulting in losses between $1.7-2.4 trillion dollars.     

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Sinovac Vaccine Falls Short of Expectations, But Options Limited

“Better than nothing.” That’s one infectious disease expert’s assessment of Sinovac Biotech’s COVID-19 vaccine, following reports that hundreds of Indonesian health care workers who had received the vaccine caught the disease anyway.  At least 10 doctors have died after getting both doses of Sinovac’s CoronaVac vaccine, according to the Indonesian Medical Association. It’s unclear how widespread these “breakthrough” infections are. It’s also not clear how severe most of the infections are. Little peer-reviewed data on the vaccine are available. What information is available suggests that the vaccine is less potent than others, especially against the highly contagious delta variant that was first detected in India.  However, access to more effective vaccines is limited in much of the world, experts note. Indonesia is one of dozens of countries where the Chinese company’s vaccine makes up a substantial part of the available doses.  While the shortage of published peer-reviewed data makes it hard to evaluate the vaccine, a few available studies provide a glimpse.  The government of Uruguay FILE – Empty vials to be filled with the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine are seen at a production facility in Reinbek, near Hamburg, Germany, April 30, 2021.Pfizer-BioNTech
The Pfizer-BioNTech shot performed better against infections in general in the study, lowering rates by 78%. But hospitalizations and deaths were about the same.  It’s not clear what the dominant variant was during the study, however.  A key measure of vaccine potency is the level of neutralizing antibodies — the proteins the immune system produces that prevent the virus from infecting cells.  The Pfizer and Moderna vaccines produce very high levels of these antibodies, which help maintain protection against variants, said Peter Hotez, dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine and a professor at the Baylor College of Medicine. “Yes, you’re getting some breakthrough infections with the delta variant, but they tend not to be serious infections,” he said. “People aren’t being hospitalized or losing their lives because of COVID-19.” “When you look at some of the data on the Sinovac vaccine,” he added, “the levels of virus-neutralizing antibody, even after two doses, can still be quite low.” The Sinovac vaccine produced lower levels of these antibodies than seven other vaccines, including those from Pfizer, Moderna, University of Oxford-AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson, according to a study in the journal Nature Medicine.The antibody response is even less effective against the delta variant, which has exploded in Indonesia and many parts of the world.  It’s not clear, however, exactly what that decline means for patients. The vaccine still offers protection against the most serious forms of the disease, a Chinese official told state media. Sorry, but your browser cannot support embedded video of this type, you can
download this video to view it offline.Download File360p | 4 MB480p | 5 MB540p | 7 MB720p | 13 MB1080p | 22 MBOriginal | 263 MB Embed” />Copy Download AudioIn China’s first delta outbreak, in Guangdong province earlier this month, “none of those vaccinated infections became severe cases, and none of the severe cases were vaccinated,” said Feng Zijian, former deputy director at the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention.  Meanwhile, supplies of other vaccines are arriving slowly in much of the world.   “Sometimes, that’s all people have access to,” Hotez said. “It’s better than nothing.” 

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WHO Certifies China Malaria-Free

The World Health Organization has certified China, the most populous country in the world, as malaria-free. It has taken China seven decades to reach this milestone. The country has gone from 30 million cases of malaria in the 1940s to zero cases today. Director of the World Health Organization’s Global Malaria Program Pedro Alonso tells VOA the achievement should act as an inspiration to other malaria endemic countries around the world. “China, that at one point had 30 million cases of malaria every year and I would place that country among the top two burdened countries in the world can actually drive down malaria and get rid of this scourge of mankind,” Alonso said.China is the first country in the WHO Western Pacific Region to be awarded a malaria-free certification in more than three decades. Other countries in the region that have achieved that status include Australia, Singapore, and Brunei. Globally, 40 countries and territories have been declared malaria-free. The most recent include El Salvador, Algeria, Argentina, Paraguay, and Uzbekistan. Eliminating malaria is a long, complex process involving many factors. Alonso says economic development, improvement in peoples’ living conditions and the implementation of measures aimed at preventing, controlling, and treating malaria are critical for success. “Vector control mostly through insecticide-treated bed nets will for the years to come remain the backbone of our prevention efforts. Artemisinin combination therapies will remain the backbone of our treatment efforts,” Alonso said.The WHO estimates there are still 229 million new cases of malaria annually, leading to more than 400,000 deaths. Africa is home to 94 percent of those cases and deaths. Alonso says the mosquito in Africa is very effective in the transmission of malaria. This he says is one of the many reasons why it is particularly challenging to rid the continent of the disease. “And of course, all of this is compounded by lack of economic and social development, difficulties in communication, poverty, housing, lack of electricity. So, it is a compounded effect. It is where China was 60 years ago…and, we are having a lot of difficulty, even to maintain the gains achieved over the last 20 years,” Alonso said.While substantial progress in the prevention and control of malaria is possible with today’s available tools, Alonso says only a highly effective vaccine can eradicate the disease. The WHO malaria chief says he is cautiously optimistic that such a vaccine is on the horizon. He notes a pilot project to develop the world’s first malaria vaccine, RTS,S, in three countries in sub-Saharan Africa, has been shown to provide partial protection against malaria in young children. He says the vaccine, which was introduced in 2019, is likely not to be the hoped-for game changer everyone seeks. But he adds it is a very good start.

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Biden, Western Governors to Discuss Wildfire Response

U.S. President Joe Biden is holding talks Wednesday with a group of governors from eight Western states about wildfire preparedness as much of the region deals with drought. Biden and other administration officials will be speaking from the White House with the governors joining by video. White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters last week the meeting will “focus on how the federal government can improve wildfire preparedness and response efforts, protect public safety, and deliver assistance to our people in times of urgent need.” Those attending include Democratic governors Gavin Newsom of California, Jared Polis of Colorado, Michelle Lujan Grisham of New Mexico, Steve Sisolak of Nevada, Kate Brown of Oregon and Jay Inslee of Washington, along with Republican governors Spencer Cox of Utah and Mark Gordon of Wyoming. Not among the group are three other Republican governors from the region: Doug Ducey of Arizona, Brad Little of Idaho and Greg Gianforte of Montana. Gianforte tweeted Friday that he was “disappointed to learn in news stories” that the president “didn’t offer a seat at the table to Montana and other states facing a severe wildfire season.” The National Interagency Fire Center, which coordinates the mobilization of resources to battle wildfires in the United States, has warned that many Western states are facing a greater than usual likelihood that significant wildfires will occur in the next few months. The U.S. Drought Monitor reports wide areas of Arizona, California, New Mexico, Nevada and Utah are experiencing extreme or exceptional drought. 

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Rolling Blackouts, Multiple Deaths in Pacific Northwest Heat Wave

Cities in the Pacific Northwest of North America reported power outages Tuesday, both from failures of utility companies and rolling blackouts due to heavy power demand. Seattle and Portland temperatures were expected to fall Tuesday, below Monday’s record highs, but inland, the city of Spokane, Washington, continued to record high temperatures and experience rolling blackouts in the city. Lytton, British Columbia, set Canada’s all-time high temperature Sunday with 46.6 degrees Celsius, only to see it broken less than 24 hours later, hitting 47.9 C Monday. Officials said Tuesday that several deaths in Portland and Seattle were tied to the extreme heat. In Vancouver, British Columbia, first responders have said that as many as two dozen deaths may be attributed to the high temperatures. On Tuesday, the U.N. World Meteorological Organization called the heat wave hitting the Pacific Northwest corner of the United States “exceptional and dangerous” and says it could last at least another five days.Guests at Sunriver resort near Bend, Oregon line up to get into the pool on June 29, 2021 as temperatures were predicted to hit 106 degrees Fahrenheit.Speaking to reporters from Geneva, a WMO spokeswoman said while records have fallen in the U.S. states of Oregon and Washington, western Canada has seen extreme heat as well. The official said the temperatures for this time of year and location are shocking. “It’s in the province of British Columbia, it’s to the Rocky Mountains, the Glacier National Park, and yet we’re seeing temperatures which are more typical of the Middle East or North Africa.” In an area used to temperatures 20 to 30 degrees cooler, the WMO said, the extreme heat poses major health threats to residents as well as agriculture and the environment. The WMO said the extreme heat is caused by “an atmospheric blocking pattern,” which has led to a “heat dome” — a large area of high pressure trapped by low pressure on either side. The organization said the temperatures would likely peak early this week on the coast and by the middle of the week in the interior of British Columbia. Afterward, the baking heat is expected to move east toward Alberta. On its Twitter account late Monday, the U.S. National Weather Service in Portland, Oregon, reported cooler air was already in the region along the coastline. In a tweet Sunday, the Oregon Climate Service said that the climate system is no longer in a balanced state, and that such heat events “are becoming more frequent and intense, a trend projected to continue.” This report includes information from The Associated Press.

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Florida Governor Announces Start of Python Challenge

Florida’s governor has announced the start of Python Challenge in Everglades National Park. The python removal will start July 9 and last for 10 days. The Everglades ecosystem suffers from the overpopulation of Burmese pythons — a nonnative species for South Florida that kill native wildlife. The challenge is meant to protect the native wildlife and bring the local community together. Liliya Anisimova has the story, narrated by Anna Rice.Camera: Liliya Anisimova  Produced by: Anna Rice, Rob Raffaele 
 

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 NASA Katherine Johnson Supply Ship Departs ISS

A unmanned NASA resupply ship, docked at the International Space Station (ISS) since February, departed Tuesday on one last mission to deploy satellites before burning up in the Earth’s atmosphere.The Cygnus supply ship, built by the Northrop Grumman aerospace company, is named the S.S. Katherine Johnson, after the African American NASA mathematician whose work was made famous in the movie Hidden Figures. Her calculations contributed to the February 20, 1962 mission in which John Glenn became the first American to orbit Earth.After departure from the space station, the Katherine Johnson was to remain in Earth orbit to deploy five cube satellites, including one designed to study the Earth’s ionosphere, a layer of electrons in its upper atmosphere, along with an educational satellite from Khalifa University in Abu Dhabi.Thursday evening, the supply ship fires its engines one last time and re-enters the Earth’s atmosphere where it will burn up. The ship is filled with several tons of waste from the orbiting outpost.Another supply ship bound for the ISS is scheduled to be launched later Tuesday from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.   

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4 Major Australian Cities Under New Lockdown 

The number of major Australian cities heading into lockdown due to the growing presence of the highly infectious delta variant of COVID-19 has risen to four. Authorities in the eastern state of Queensland imposed a three-day lockdown for the capital, Brisbane, and other neighboring regions that took effect Tuesday evening, while in Western Australian state, the capital Perth entered a four-day lockdown. The cities of Darwin, the capital of Northern Territory state, and Sydney in New South Wales state are already under lengthy lockdowns.   At least 150 newly confirmed coronavirus cases across Australia have been traced to a Sydney airport limousine driver who had been transporting international air crews. A transit worker is seen wearing a face mask inside a mostly empty city center train station during a lockdown in Sydney, Australia, June 29, 2021.Australia has been largely successful in containing the spread of COVID-19 due to aggressive lockdown efforts, posting just 30,560 total confirmed cases and 910 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center.  But it has proved vulnerable to fresh outbreaks due to a slow rollout of its vaccination campaign and confusing requirements involving the two-shot AstraZeneca vaccine, which is the dominant vaccine in its stockpile. Health officials are now offering the AstraZeneca vaccine to all adults under 60 years of age, lifting a restriction imposed due to concerns of a rare blood clotting condition that has been blamed for at least one death.  Adults under the age of 60 had only been able to receive the two-shot Pfizer vaccine, which is in far less supply than the AstraZeneca shot. Delta variant gains ground The delta variant of COVID-19, which was first detected in India, has now been identified in more than 80 countries and continues to spread rapidly across the globe.  FILE – Pedestrians walk past a sign warning members of the public about a “Coronavirus variant of concern,” in Hounslow, west London, Britain, June 1, 2021.Portugal, Spain and Hong Kong have announced new restrictions on travelers from Britain, where nearly 95% of its COVID-19 cases are of the delta variant.  The United States on Monday raised its travel advisories to Liberia, Uganda, Mozambique and Zambia and United Arab Emirates to Level 4 — “Do not travel” — due to their increasing rates of COVID-19 infections. Bangladesh is preparing to impose a strict one-week lockdown due to a wave of new COVID-19 infections.  The government announced Monday that soldiers, police and border guards will be deployed to enforce the lockdown, which takes effect Thursday and mandates that most of its 168 million residents remain indoors, except for those who work in Bangladesh’s critical garment industry or other essential services. Tens of thousands of migrant workers are scrambling to evacuate the capital, Dhaka, before the lockdown goes into effect.   The country reported a record-high 119 coronavirus related deaths on Monday.   COVID-19 vaccine updates A handful of new studies is providing welcome news in the fight against COVID-19. A new study conducted by scientists at Oxford University suggests that mixing the Pfizer and AstraZeneca vaccines in a two-shot regimen will provide a higher level of immunity against the disease than both doses of AstraZeneca, regardless of the order they were given.   FILE – A nurse fills a syringe with the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine at a health care center in Seoul, Feb. 26, 2021.A separate Oxford study shows a third dose of the AstraZeneca vaccine produced a strong immune response.  The vaccine, which was developed jointly by AstraZeneca and Oxford, is given as two doses between four and 12 weeks apart. The study involved 90 volunteers in Britain who received a third dose of AstraZeneca after participating in the initial clinical trial last year.  Meanwhile, researchers at the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis said Monday in a study published in the journal Nature that the COVID-19 vaccines developed by Pfizer and Moderna may protect a person against the disease for years. The study suggests that people who received either of the vaccines, which were developed through the messenger RNA technology, may not have to receive a booster shot.   Dr. Ali Ellebedy, the study’s lead researcher, said a person’s immunity is still highly active even 15 weeks after receiving the first dose of either the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine.  He said a person’s immunity typically declines after one or two weeks after vaccination.  Dr. Ellebedy said the study did not consider the one-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine, but he said he expected the immune response from that vaccine to be less durable than those produced by the mRNA vaccines.  As of early Tuesday, there are 181.3 million confirmed COVID-19 infections around the world, including 3.9 million deaths, according to Johns Hopkins.  The United States leads both categories with 33.6 million confirmed cases and 604,114 deaths. India is second in the number of total infections with 30.3 million, followed by Brazil with 18.4 million.  The positions are reversed in the number of fatalities, with Brazil in second place with 514,092 and India in third with 397,637.  

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Pacific Northwest Heatwave ‘Exceptional and Dangerous’, World Meteorological Organization Says

The U.N. World Meteorological Organization (WMO) Tuesday called the heatwave hitting the Pacific Northwest corner of the United States “exceptional and dangerous,” and says it could last at least another five days. Speaking to reporters from Geneva, a WMO spokeswoman said while records have fallen in the U.S. states of Oregon and Washington, western Canada has seen extreme heat as well. Extreme #heat hits Northwest USA and Western Canada, which saw new record temperature of 47.9°C
Many parts of northern hemisphere have seen exceptionally high temperatures#Climatechange ➡️more frequent and intense heatwaves
Roundup is here https://t.co/qI0ncloKpd
Graphic @ecmwfpic.twitter.com/fposUALIMU
— World Meteorological Organization (@WMO) People look for ways to cool off at Willow’s Beach during the ‘heat dome,’ currently hovering over British Columbia and Alberta as record-setting breaking temperatures scorch the province and in Victoria, British Columbia, Canada, June 28, 2021.The WMO said the extreme heat is caused by “an atmospheric blocking pattern,” which has led to a “heat dome” — a large area of high pressure — trapped by low pressure on either side. The organization said the temperatures would likely peak early this week on the coast and by the middle of the week in the interior of British Columbia; afterward, the baking heat is expected to move east toward Alberta. The U.S. National Weather Service in Portland, Oregon, on its Twitter account late Monday, reported cooler air was already in the region along the coastline. In a tweet Sunday, the Oregon Climate Service said the climate system is no longer in a balanced state, and such heat events “are becoming more frequent and intense, a trend projected to continue.”

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Australian Investors Demand Corporate Climate Change Transparency

Three major investor groups representing some of Australia’s biggest finance firms are calling for government regulators to force big companies to disclose how they plan to address financial risks from climate change. The coalition of investors is warning climate change is becoming a major threat to the global economy.   In a new report, the group of major investors from Australia and New Zealand is demanding regulators set new standards for companies reporting on how climate change and global warming affect their business and change the value of investments. The authors believe the current voluntary disclosure of climate-related risks is failing to provide investors with confidence.  Erwin Jackson is the director of policy at the Investor Group on Climate Change, which contributed to the report. “Essentially what investors are asking companies are they ready for the impacts of climate change, are they ready for the transition to net zero emissions? But unfortunately, at the moment the information that investors are getting from companies is really inadequate and it is not really allowing investors to ‘kick the tires’ of many companies to see if they are adequate investments in the face of climate risk,” Jackson said.Australia has suffered devastating bushfires in recent years.  The 2019-20 bushfire season burned more than 18 million hectares of land and cost more than $6 billion dollars. The investor group says it is concerned about the long-term impact of bushfires and droughts in Australia.  The majority of Australian company chief executives now consider global warming to be a hazard to economic growth.   All Australian states and territories have a set a target of net-zero emissions, but the federal government has yet to commit to such an ambition. Prime Minister Scott Morrison has insisted his environmental policies are responsible and will not damage the economy. Coal still generates most of Australia’s electricity, but major retailers, including supermarket giant Woolworths and Telstra, a dominant telecommunications company, have all set ambitious renewable energy targets. Analysts have said that going green was popular with customers and investors, was good for a company’s public image and also made sound financial sense. 

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G-20 Ministers to Discuss Coronavirus, Climate Change, Development in Africa

The coronavirus, climate change and food security are on the agenda Tuesday as foreign ministers from the G-20 group of nations meet in Italy. The talks in the city of Matera represent the first time the ministers are gathering in person since 2019. U.S. State Department officials said Secretary of State Antony Blinken would stress the importance of working together to address such global challenges, a common theme in recent months as he and President Joe Biden set a foreign policy path heavily focused on boosting ties with allies. “To address the climate crisis, Secretary Blinken will encourage G-20 members to work together toward ambitious outcomes, including a recognition of the need to keep a 1.5 degree Celsius of warming threshold within reach, the importance of actions this decade that are aligned with that goal, and taking other steps like committing to end public finance for overseas unabated coal,” Susannah Cooper, director of the Office of Monetary Affairs in the Bureau of Economic and Business Affairs, told reporters ahead of the meetings. Cooper said Blinken would advocate for “building a sustainable and inclusive economic recovery,” including an equitable global tax system with a minimum corporate tax rate. Finance ministers from G-7 nations, all of which are part of the G-20, agreed in principle in early June to the creation of a global minimum tax on corporations that would force companies that shift profits to subsidiaries in low- or no-tax jurisdictions to pay as much as 15% in taxes on that income to the country where they are headquartered. Protestors wearing giant heads portraying G7 leaders pose after a demonstration on a beach outside the G7 meeting in St. Ives, Cornwall, England, June 13, 2021.Tuesday’s meetings are also set to consider economic development issues in Africa, including gender equity and opportunities for young people, as well as humanitarian efforts and human rights. Italy is the last stop on a European trip for Blinken that included a conference on Libya in Germany, meeting with French President Emmanuel Macron in Paris and an audience with Pope Francis at the Vatican. On Monday he was in Rome, where ministers from a global coalition to fight Islamic State terrorists said 8 million people have been freed from the militants’ control in Iraq and Syria, but that the threat from Islamic State fighters remains there and in Africa. The ministers met face-to-face for the first time in two years, pledging to maintain watch against a resurgence of the insurgents.  The resumption in ISIS “activities and its ability to rebuild its networks and capabilities to target security forces and civilians in areas in Iraq and Syria where the coalition is not active, requires strong vigilance and coordinated action,” the diplomats said in a concluding communique.  The coalition said it needed “both to address the drivers that make communities vulnerable to recruitment by Daesh/ISIS and related violent ideological groups, as well as to provide support to liberated areas to safeguard our collective security interests.”  The group “noted with grave concern that Daesh/ISIS affiliates and networks in sub-Saharan Africa threaten security and stability, namely in the Sahel Region and in East Africa/Mozambique.” The coalition said it would work with any country that requested help in fighting ISIS.  Daesh is the Arabic acronym for Islamic State.  “We’ve made great progress because we’ve been working together, so we hope you’ll keep an eye on the fight, keep up the fight against this terrorist organization until it is decisively defeated,” Blinken said at the start of the meeting. Blinken noted that 10,000 Islamic State militants are being detained by Syrian Democratic Forces, calling the situation “simply untenable” and calling on governments to repatriate their citizens for rehabilitation or prosecution.  The top U.S. diplomat announced $436 million in additional humanitarian aid for Syrians and communities in surrounding countries that have been hosting Syrian refugees. He said the money would go toward providing food, water, shelter, health care, education and protection.  The United States launched a coalition effort, now involving 83 members, aimed at defeating the Islamic State group in 2014 after the militants seized control of a large area across northern Syria and Iraq, and in 2019 declared the militants had been ousted from their last remaining territory.    Another meeting Monday in Italy focused specifically on Syria, where in addition to issues related to the Islamic State group, Blinken, Italian Foreign Minister Luigi De Maio and other ministers called for renewed efforts to bring an end to the decade-long conflict that began in 2011.    Humanitarian access, in particular the ability for the United Nations to deliver cross-border aid, were among the issues that Blinken highlighted, the State Department said.    He also expressed U.S. support for an immediate cease-fire in Syria. 

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