Heat Wave Causes Massive Melt of Greenland Ice Sheet 

Greenland’s ice sheet has experienced a “massive melting event” during a heat wave that has seen temperatures more than 10 degrees above seasonal norms, according to Danish researchers.Since Wednesday, the ice sheet covering the vast Arctic territory has melted by about 8 billion tons a day, twice its normal average rate during summer, reported the Polar Portal website, which is run by Danish researchers.The Danish Meteorological Institute reported temperatures of more than 20 degrees Celsius (68 Fahrenheit), more than twice the normal average summer temperature, in northern Greenland.And Nerlerit Inaat airport in the northeast of the territory recorded 23.4 degrees C (74.1 F) on Thursday — the highest recorded there since records began.With the heat wave affecting most of Greenland that day, the Polar Portal website reported a “massive melting event” involving enough water “to cover Florida with two inches of water” (five centimeters).The largest melt of the Greenland ice sheet still dates to the summer of 2019.The area where the melting took place this time, though, is larger than two years ago, the website added.The Greenland ice sheet is the second-largest mass of freshwater ice on the planet with nearly 1.8 million square kilometers (695,000 square miles), second only to Antarctica.The melting of the ice sheets started in 1990 and has accelerated since 2000. The mass loss in recent years is approximately four times greater than it was before 2000, according to the researchers at Polar Portal.One European study published in January said ocean levels would rise between 10 and 18 centimeters by 2100 — or 60 percent faster than previously estimated — at the rate at which the Greenland ice sheet was now melting.The Greenland ice sheet, if completely melted, would raise the ocean levels by six to seven meters.But with a relatively cool start to the Greenland summer, with snowfalls and rains, the retreat of the ice sheet so far for 2021 remains within the historical norm, according to Polar Portal. The melting period extends from June to early September.

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Era of VHS Might Be Over, but Many Are Not Ready to Let Go

The last VHS player was produced five years ago by Funai Electric in Japan. But for many, the era of VHS tapes never ended. Karina Bafradzhian and Angelina Bagdasaryan have the story.Camera: David Gogokhia, Vazgen Varzhabitian.

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What Are Deep Fakes and Why Are They Dangerous?

Fake videos generated by artificial intelligence — also known as deep fakes — are becoming more common and harder to detect. But some deep fakes are being used for a good cause. Karina Bafradzhian has the story.

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COVID-19 Spreads in China, Australia as WHO Sounds Alarm on Delta

Mushrooming outbreaks of the highly contagious delta variant prompted China and Australia to impose stricter COVID-19 restrictions on Saturday as the WHO urged the world to quickly contain the mutation before it turns into something deadlier and draws out the pandemic.China’s most serious surge of coronavirus infections in months spread to two more areas Saturday — Fujian province and the sprawling megacity of Chongqing.More than 200 cases have been linked to a delta cluster in Nanjing city where nine cleaners at an international airport tested positive, with the outbreak spanning Beijing, Chongqing and five provinces as of Saturday.The nation where the disease first emerged has rushed to prevent the highly transmissible strain from taking root by putting more than 1 million people under lockdown and reinstituting mass testing campaigns.Worldwide, coronavirus infections are once again on the upswing, with the World Health Organization announcing an 80% average increase over the past four weeks in five of the health agency’s six regions, a jump largely fueled by the delta variant.First detected in India, it has now reached 132 countries and territories.”Delta is a warning: it’s a warning that the virus is evolving but it is also a call to action that we need to move now before more dangerous variants emerge,” the WHO’s emergencies director Michael Ryan told a press conference.He stressed that the “game plan” still works, namely physical distancing, wearing masks, hand hygiene and vaccination.But both high- and low-income countries are struggling to gain the upper hand against delta, with the vastly unequal sprint for shots leaving plenty of room for variants to wreak havoc and further evolve.In Australia, where only about 14% of the population is vaccinated, the third-largest city of Brisbane and other parts of Queensland state were to enter a snap COVID-19 lockdown Saturday as a cluster of the delta variant bubbled into six new cases.”The only way to beat the delta strain is to move quickly, to be fast and to be strong,” Queensland’s Deputy Premier Steven Miles said while informing millions they will be under three days of strict stay-at-home orders.’The war has changed’The race for vaccines to triumph over variants appeared to suffer a blow as the U.S. Centers for Disease Control released an analysis that found fully immunized people with so-called breakthrough infections of the delta variant can spread the disease as easily as unvaccinated people.While the jabs remain effective against severe disease and death, the U.S. government agency said in a leaked internal CDC document “the war has changed” as a result of delta.An analysis of a superspreading event in the northeastern state of Massachusetts found three-quarters of the people sickened were vaccinated, according to a report the CDC published Friday.The outbreak related to July 4 festivities, with the latest number of people infected swelling to 900, according to local reports. The findings were used to justify a return to masks for vaccinated people in high-risk areas.”As a vaccinated person, if you have one of these breakthrough infections, you may have mild symptoms, you may have no symptoms, but based on what we’re seeing here you could be contagious to other people,” Celine Gounder, an infectious diseases physician and professor at New York University, told AFP.According to the leaked CDC document, a review of findings from other countries showed that while the original SARS-CoV-2 was as contagious as the common cold, each person with delta infects on average eight others, making it as transmissible as chickenpox but still less than measles.Reports from Canada, Scotland and Singapore suggest delta infections may also be more severe, resulting in more hospitalizations.Asked if Americans should expect new recommendations from health authorities or new restrictive measures, U.S. President Joe Biden responded, “in all probability,” before leaving the White House by helicopter for the weekend.He did not specify what steps could be taken.

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WHO Chief: ‘Pandemic Will End When World Chooses’

“The pandemic will end when the world chooses to end it,” World Health Organization Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said Friday in Geneva about the global COVID-19 outbreak that is now being driven by the delta variant of the coronavirus. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says the delta variant is as contagious as chickenpox and that infections in vaccinated people may be as transmissible as those in the unvaccinated.“WHO’s goal remains to support every country to vaccinate at least 10% of its population by the end of September, at least 40% by the end of this year, and 70% by the middle of next year,” the WHO chief said, but added that the realization of the goals is “a long way off.”“So far, just over half of countries have fully vaccinated 10% of their population, less than a quarter of countries have vaccinated 40%, and only three countries have vaccinated 70%,” Tedros said.He recalled that WHO had earlier “warned of the risk that the world’s poor would be trampled in the stampede for vaccines” and that “the world was on the verge of a catastrophic moral failure” because of vaccine inequity.“And yet the global distribution of vaccines remains unjust,” Tedros said. “All regions are at risk, but none more so than Africa.”“Many African countries have prepared well to roll out vaccines, but the vaccines have not arrived,” he said. “Less than 2% of all doses administered globally have been in Africa,” with only 1.5% of the continent’s population fully vaccinated.The WHO chief said his organization was “issuing an urgent call” for $7.7 billion for the launching of the Rapid ACT-Accelerator Delta Response, or RADAR, a response to the delta surge that would provide tests, treatments and vaccines.He also said COVAX; which provides vaccines to lower-income countries, needs additional funding.“The question is not whether the world can afford to make these investments,” Tedros said, “it’s whether it can afford not to.”U.S. President Joe Biden announced Thursday that civilian federal government employees must be vaccinated or submit to regular testing and wear masks.On Friday, a reporter asked Biden as he was leaving the White House whether Americans should expect more guidelines and restrictions related to the coronavirus. “In all probability,” he said.Passengers wearing face masks to help curb the spread of the coronavirus board a westbound bullet train at Tokyo Station in Tokyo, July 31, 2021.Biden also noted that on Thursday almost a million Americans received COVID-19 vaccinations and said, “I am hopeful that people are beginning to realize how essential it is to move” in response to the coronavirus threat.The White House said the average number of people getting their first shot of the coronavirus vaccines this week was up 30% over last week.Also Friday, Walmart joined a growing number of U.S. companies issuing mandates for its workers to be vaccinated, saying the policy would apply to all employees at its headquarters along with managers who travel within the United States.The Broadway League said Friday that audiences will be required to show proof of vaccination to watch Broadway performances and will be required to wear masks.Australia’s third-largest city of Brisbane said it would begin a COVID lockdown on Saturday amid rising case numbers. Neighboring areas will also be subject to the stay-at-home orders.Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said Friday that 80% of adults must be vaccinated before the country will consider reopening its border.In Israel, health officials began administering coronavirus booster shots Friday to people older than 60 who have been fully vaccinated in an effort to stop a recent spike in cases.Italy’s Health Institute announced Friday that the delta variant accounted for almost all new COVID-19 cases in the country at nearly 95% of cases as of July 20.German officials announced Friday that unvaccinated travelers arriving in the country will need to present a negative COVID-19 test result.The Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center on Saturday reported there have been more than 197 million global COVID-19 infections.  

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Evictions Looming in US as Congress Fails to Extend Ban

A nationwide eviction moratorium is set to expire Saturday after President Joe Biden and Democrats in Congress worked furiously but ultimately failed to align on a long-shot strategy to prevent millions of Americans from being forced from their homes during a COVID-19 surge.More than 3.6 million Americans are at risk of eviction, some in a matter of days, as nearly $47 billion in federal housing aid to the states during the pandemic has been slow to make it into the hands of renters and landlords owed payments.Tensions mounted late Friday as it became clear there would be no resolution in sight. Hours before the ban was set to expire, Biden called on local governments to “take all possible steps” to immediately disburse the funds. Evictions could begin as soon as Monday.”There can be no excuse for any state or locality not accelerating funds to landlords and tenants that have been hurt during this pandemic,” Biden said in a statement.”Every state and local government must get these funds out to ensure we prevent every eviction we can,” he said.The stunning outcome, as the White House and Congress each expected the other to act, exposed a rare divide between the president and his allies on Capitol Hill, and one that could have lasting impact as the nation’s renters face widespread evictions.Biden set off the scramble by announcing he would allow the eviction ban to expire, rather than challenge a recent Supreme Court ruling signaling this would be the last deadline. He called on Congress on Thursday to swiftly pass legislation to extend the date.Racing to respond, Democrats strained to rally the votes early Friday. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi implored colleagues to pass legislation extending the deadline, calling it a “moral imperative,” to protect renters and also the landlords who are owed compensation.But after hours of behind-the-scenes wrangling throughout the day, Democratic lawmakers had questions and could not muster support to extend the ban even a few months. An attempt to simply approve an extension by consent, without a formal vote, was objected to by House Republicans. The Senate may try again Saturday.Lawmakers were livid at prospect of evictions in the middle of a surging pandemic.Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Calif., the Financial Services Committee chair who wrote the emergency bill, said House leaders should have held the vote, even if it failed, to show Americans they were trying to solve the problem.”Is it emergency enough that you’re going to stop families from being put on the street?” Waters testified at a hastily called hearing early Friday morning urging her colleagues to act.But Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers of Washington, the top Republican on another panel handling the issue, said the Democrats’ bill was rushed.”This is not the way to legislate,” she said.The ban was initially put in place to prevent further spread of COVID-19 by people put out on the streets and into shelters.Congress pushed nearly $47 billion to the states earlier in the COVID-19 crisis to shore up landlords and renters as workplaces shut down and many people were suddenly out of work.But lawmakers said state governments have been slow to distribute the money. On Friday, they said only about $3 billion has been spent.By the end of March, 6.4 million American households were behind on their rent, according to the Department of Housing and Urban Development. As of July 5, roughly 3.6 million people in the U.S. said they faced eviction in the next two months, according to the U.S. Census Bureau’s Household Pulse Survey.Some places are likely to see spikes in evictions starting Monday, while other jurisdictions will see an increase in court filings that will lead to evictions over several months.Biden said Thursday that the administration’s hands are tied after the Supreme Court signaled the moratorium would only be extended until the end of the month. 

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Argentina Lakes Turn Pink, but Outlook Not Rosy, Environmentalists Say

Two lakes in a far-flung coastal region of Patagonia, in Argentina, have turned fluorescent pink, an as-of-yet unexplained phenomena that local environmentalists fear could be harmful and caused by industrial contamination.The lakes, located near an industrial park on the outskirts of the Argentine city of Trelew, sprawl across a dusty, desertlike plain and are largely undeveloped. Officials with the municipality of Trelew recently discovered a truck dumping waste in the watershed, according to posts made by the city on social media.Authorities gave conflicting views to local media, however, on whether the sudden change in color of the lakes was harmful. Environmentalists were more concerned.Local activist Pablo Lada, a member of Argentina’s National Ecological Network (RENACE), told Reuters in an interview that the pink color could potentially be the result of a dye typically used to give prawns raised nearby their typically rose-colored hue.”I think that the pink lagoon uncovered a … lack of treatment of this waste that has become a big problem,” Lada said.Local and regional environmental officials are investigating the cause and potential damage to the lakes but have yet to arrive at any conclusions. 

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Russia Blames Its Software for Repositioning Space Station

Russian space officials said Friday that a software malfunction had caused the unexpected firing of thrusters on a newly arrived module, moving the International Space Station out of its intended attitude.The incident occurred Thursday, hours after the long-delayed Russian laboratory module, known as Nauka, docked with the ISS.  It took mission controllers nearly an hour to reposition the ISS, which had been bumped 45 degrees out of alignment.  Ground controllers fired Russian thrusters on other Russian elements at the station to fix the positioning.In a statement Friday, ISS Russian segment flight director Vladimir Solovyov said the software failure had prompted a direct command to turn on the module’s engines.Communications between the ground and the crew went out twice for several minutes, but in a statement, the U.S. space agency NASA said the ISS crew was never in danger.On Twitter Friday, Russian cosmonaut Oleg Novitsky said not to worry and the work to integrate the new module into the ISS was continuing as scheduled.The Russian unmanned, 20-ton, nearly 13-meter-long Nauka module — also known as the Multipurpose Laboratory Module — docked with the ISS following a long and, at times, uncertain journey.Nauka is now the first new module in the Russian segment of the station since 2010.The troubled trip to the orbiting space station followed years of problems getting the module off the ground. Nauka — designed to provide more room for scientific experiments and space for the crew — was initially scheduled to launch in 2007 but was repeatedly delayed because of technical problems.

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WHO: Japan Doing its Best to Control COVID During Games

The WHO said Friday that Japan was doing its best to minimize the risk of Covid-19 spreading during the Tokyo Olympics but stressed there was no such thing as zero risk.The World Health Organization’s warning came as Japan extended a virus state of emergency in Tokyo and expanded the measure to four more regions as it battles a record surge in infections a week into the pandemic-postponed Games.”There is no zero risk. There could be less or more risk. And then, for things to happen with low risk, you try your best,” WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told a virtual press conference from the UN health agency’s Geneva headquarters.Japan and the International Olympic Committee (IOC) “did their best to minimise risk, because nobody should expect zero risk”, he said.World Health Organization Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, center, arrives for the opening ceremony of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games, at the Olympic Stadium in Tokyo, on July 23, 2021.”I know that they have done their best, and we have supported them all along.”Across Japan, new virus cases topped 10,000 for the first time on Thursday, and a string of government officials and health experts have warned that the more contagious Delta variant is fuelling a dangerous surge.Tedros went to the Olympics opening ceremony and also addressed the IOC in Tokyo.On Friday he called on the world to draw on the Olympic spirit of unity to bring the pandemic to an end, and said his IOC speech was aimed at using the Games as the biggest platform to spread the message.Morally ‘wrong path'”Do you really accept 1.5% vaccination in Africa while in some countries it’s already 70%?” he said.”Don’t we need a platform like the Olympics to go and tell the truth that the world is actually morally, epidemiologically and economically doing the wrong things?”We are taking the wrong path and we need to use the spirit of the Olympics to correct it.”He said the image of an Olympic torchbearer wearing a mask would remind the world of the pandemic for generations to come.”It shows that we are doing this in very difficult conditions when we are taken hostage by a dangerous virus. But at the same time, it shows me the determination to fight back.”WHO emergencies director Michael Ryan said the Games organisers and the IOC had comprehensive risk management measures in place, with strong surveillance, regular testing of athletes and delegates, and the use of quarantine and isolation.”The true drivers of this pandemic are not within the Olympic Games; they’re really related to the deep inequities we have in the distribution and availability of vaccines,” Ryan said.He said the Olympics were founded on fair play and Tedros’s trip to Tokyo was to urge the world to do likewise with regard to the distribution of vaccines to combat Covid-19, which is hitting some countries “very unjustly and very unfairly”.

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Amazon Hit With Record EU Data Privacy Fine

Amazon.com Inc has been hit with a record $886.6 million (746 million euros) European Union fine for processing personal data in violation of the bloc’s GDPR rules, as privacy regulators take a more aggressive position on enforcement.The Luxembourg National Commission for Data Protection (CNPD) imposed the fine on Amazon in a July 16 decision, the company disclosed in a regulatory filing on Friday.Amazon will appeal the fine, according to a company spokesperson. The e-commerce giant said in the filing it believed CNPD’s decision was without merit.CNPD did not immediately respond to a request for comment.EU’s General Data Protection Regulation, or GDPR, requires companies to seek people’s consent before using their personal data or face steep fines.Globally, regulatory scrutiny of tech giants has been increasing following a string of scandals over privacy and misinformation, as well as complaints from some businesses that they abuse their market power.Alphabet’s Google, Facebook Inc, Apple Inc and Microsoft Corp have drawn heightened scrutiny in Europe.In December, France’s data privacy watchdog handed out its biggest ever fine of 100 million euros ($118.82 million) to Google for breaching the nation’s rules on online advertising trackers.

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Lebanon’s Health Crisis Worsens

Lebanon is running desperately short of life-saving medicines to treat cancer, heart ailments, or even of basic vitamins needed by expectant mothers. It is all a direct result of Lebanon’s deepening political and economic crisis which has led to severe shortages hard currency and fuel. Anchal Vohra has this report for VOA from northern Lebanon.Videographer and producer: Tilo Gummel

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CDC Report: COVID Delta Variant Can Spread ‘As Easily As Chickenpox’ 

According to reports in The Washington Post and The New York Times, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is expected to make public Friday an internal federal health document about the delta variant of the coronavirus that can be spread “as easily as chickenpox” by vaccinated and unvaccinated people.The newspapers reported the document is a slide presentation distributed to CDC officials. The presentation details the difficulties the agency has experienced in convincing some populations to get vaccinated and wear masks.The presentation urges CDC officials to develop public service messages that “emphasize vaccination as the best defense against a variant so contagious that it acts almost like a different novel virus, leaping from target to target more swiftly than Ebola or the common cold.”With the delta variant of the virus that causes COVID-19 rapidly spreading across the country, U.S. President Joe Biden has announced civilian federal government employees must be vaccinated or submit to regular testing and wear masks.“Every federal government employee will be asked to attest to their vaccination status,” Biden said Thursday in a speech from the White House East Room. “Anyone who does not attest or is not vaccinated will be required to mask, no matter where they work, test one or two times a week to see if they’ve acquired COVID, socially distance, and generally will not be allowed to travel for work.”Nurse Darryl Hana prepares a dose of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine at a three-day vaccination clinic at Providence Wilmington Wellness and Activity Center on July 29, 2021, in Wilmington, California.The federal government employs more than 4 million Americans, including over 2 million in the federal civilian workforce, a White House statement said.The same standards will apply to federal contractors, Biden added.Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte announced lockdown measures Friday for the Manila capital region, home to 13 million people. The move is designed to curb the spread of the delta variant of the coronavirus.  The lockdown will go into effect beginning Aug. 6 and lasting until Aug. 20.Tokyo’s neighbors are being placed under a state of emergency from Aug. 2-31, according to the Japanese daily Asahi Shimbun.  Tokyo, where the Olympic Games are currently being held, and Okinawa have already been placed under a state of emergency due to the spread of the coronavirus.Saitama, Chiba, Kanagawa and Osaka are the new prefectures to have the emergency state imposed on them.Hokkaido, Ishikawa, Kyoto, Hyogo and Fukuoka prefectures, also neighboring Tokyo, will be placed under pre-emergency measures.Under a state of emergency, business is suspended in locations that serve alcohol or have karaoke.Business are asked not to serve alcohol under pre-emergency measures.Japan has reported a record number of daily COVID cases as the country hosts the Olympics Games in Tokyo.Sorry, but your browser cannot support embedded video of this type, you can
download this video to view it offline.Download File360p | 14 MB480p | 20 MB540p | 27 MB720p | 55 MB1080p | 108 MBOriginal | 124 MB Embed” />Copy Download AudioAsahi Shimbun reported late Thursday that Japan had more than 10,000 daily coronavirus cases, the first time the country’s daily count has exceeded 10,000. Tokyo had 3,865 infections, eclipsing the previous day’s total of 3,177, according to the publication. The newspaper also reported that 24 people associated with the Olympic Games tested positive for COVID-19, including three athletes, bringing the total to 193 for people connected with the Games who have tested positive for COVID-19.WHO officials fear that 47 of Africa’s 54 countries will miss a September target of vaccinating 10% of their populations, a goal set earlier this year by the World Health Assembly, the world’s highest health policy-setting body. Africa accounts for less than 1% of the more than 4 billion vaccine doses administered globally.Many Latin American countries also are lagging. The region, along with the Caribbean, has suffered 1.25 million COVID-19-related deaths and is struggling to secure the vaccines needed by those countries. While Argentina, Brazil and Uruguay have inoculated about 50% of their populations, most of the others have managed to vaccinate only about 30% — with Honduras, Guatemala and Venezuela trailing at under 10%.The U.S. sent millions of doses of vaccine to Latin America earlier this month as part of Biden’s commitment to end the pandemic across the globe. One million doses of Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine were shipped to Bolivia, a million doses of Pfizer to Paraguay on Friday, and 1.5 million doses of Moderna to Guatemala, according to the White House.Overall, across the globe, just 1.1% of people in low-income countries have received at least one vaccine dose.The Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center reported 196,634,210 global COVID infections early Friday.

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Countries Receive First Batch of Shared US COVID-19 Vaccines

Once seen as a vaccine hoarder, the U.S. is now sharing its COVID-19 doses, acting on the Biden administration’s pledge to deliver a half-billion doses around the world over the next year. VOA correspondent Mariama Diallo reports on some of the countries that have received their first batches.
Producer: Bakhtiyar Zamanov

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New Russian Module Knocks Space Station Out of Position

A long-delayed Russian laboratory module docked with the International Space Station on Thursday, but hours later the Russian lab knocked the orbiting station out of position when the lab’s thrusters accidentally fired.It took mission controllers nearly an hour to reposition the ISS, which had been bumped 45 degrees out of alignment.  Ground controllers fired Russian thrusters on other Russian elements at the station to fix the positioning.During the repositioning, communications between the ground and the crew went out twice for several minutes.It was “a pretty exciting hour,” according to Kathy Lueders, NASA’s human spaceflight chief.“We haven’t noticed any damage,” space station program manager Joel Montalbano said. “There was no immediate danger at any time to the crew.”The complication forced NASA to delay a Boeing test flight to the ISS that had been scheduled to take off from Florida Friday.The Russian unmanned, 20-ton, nearly 13-meter-long Nauka module — also known as the Multipurpose Laboratory Module — docked with the ISS following a long and, at times, uncertain journey.The European Space Agency says shortly after its July 21 launch from Russia’s Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, the module deployed its solar panels and antennas as scheduled. But soon after, Russia’s mission control center in Moscow said the craft did not receive proper automated data commands and failed to complete an initial burn to raise its orbit.The ESA says flight engineers spent the week running critical propulsion tests and carrying out orbital corrections on the module, which is designed to rendezvous and dock automatically with the ISS using its own engines.The ESA monitored the module launch as it carried with it a robotic arm developed by the agency.The troubled trip to the orbiting space station follows years of problems getting the module off the ground at all. The Nauka — designed to provide more room for scientific experiments and space for the crew — was initially scheduled to go up in 2007 but was repeatedly delayed because of technical problems. Contamination had been found in its fuel system, resulting in a long and costly replacement, and other systems underwent modernization or repairs.The Nauka is now the first new module in the Russian segment of the station since 2010. Russian crewmembers on the station had done two spacewalks to connect cables in preparation for the new arrival. On Monday, one of the older Russian modules, the Pirs spacewalking compartment, undocked from the space station to free up room for the new module.The new module will require many operations, including up to 11 spacewalks beginning in September, to prepare it for operation.Some information for this report was provided by the Associated Press and Reuters news agencies. 

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Stressed by COVID-19, Zimbabweans Turn to Friendship Bench for Solace

The impact of the coronavirus pandemic has stretched people’s mental health around the globe, and Zimbabwe is no exception. But some Zimbabweans hit hard by the stress have found unique support at the Friendship Bench, one of the country’s biggest counseling services.The Friendship Bench was created in 2006 to provide counseling to those stressed out or depressed by the political and economic situation in Zimbabwe. The organization now has branches at most clinics and hospitals in Harare, and it is the only large mental health therapy service operating in the country.The service is run by volunteers who say they do not want to see Zimbabwean people experience severe anxiety.Chengetayi Nyamukapa, country coordinator for Friendship Bench, says due to COVID-19, the organization is now mainly doing online counseling. (Columbus Mavhunga/VOA)According to Chengetayi Nyamukapa, country coordinator for Friendship Bench, many people have stopped meeting others in person due to COVID-19.”As Friendship Bench, are saying we are there, we continue to provide counseling to people who are infected, affected by COVID-19 pandemic,” Nyamukapa said. “Again, we are saying that we are unable to do that using our conventional face to face, but what we have done as an organization is to migrate to an online platform. We are accessible via WhatsApp, be it in audio, video call, being it texting and even a general call.”But some, such as Elizabeth Chibeka, still come to their offices. The 49-year-old said her father is battling COVID-19.“I have nothing to pay for his medical bills,” she said. “I am unemployed, I have no means to raise funds even for his food. Those are some of the things stressing me, hence I came here to talk to these people. COVID-19 is there and it’s real, especially where we stay. We are failing to attend funerals because of COVID-19.”Forget Gutuza, 53, one of the counselors at the Friendship Bench, says COVID-19 is dominating her counseling lately. (Columbus Mavhunga/VOA)Fifty-three-year-old Forget Gutuza, one of the counselors at the Friendship Bench, said COVID-19 is dominating her counseling lately.”COVID-19 has really spread its wings,” she said. “It’s all over. But people are not masking up. I do not know how awareness programs can be done. I wonder why people do not understand the situation we are in.”Dr. Debra Machando, chief of mental health for the World Health Organization’s office in Zimbabwe, said COVID-19 has caused a lot of stress.“Lately we have been seeing a number of psychological disorders, including panic attacks, insomnia, depression, and also a surge in terms of family conflict and violence,” she said. “So, there are a number of things that people can do to mitigate loss of income, to mitigate the stress. The first thing is to understand, to appreciate that we are living in strange times, and things are difficult. When people understand, it also means that they are going to put their expectations into perspective.”This realization might help people to cope as the number of cases of COVID-19 continue to spike in Zimbabwe with the delta variant on the rise.  

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Israel’s NSO Under Fire for Spyware Targeting Journalists, Dissidents

There is growing international criticism of Israel following allegations that software from the private security company NSO was used to spy on journalists, dissidents, and even political leaders around the world. A group of American lawmakers is urging the U.S. government to take punitive action against the company, which denies any wrongdoing. In Israel, some experts are calling for better regulation of cyber exports. Linda Gradstein reports for VOA from Jerusalem.

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