Nigeria Fighting Cholera Outbreak; Death Toll Nears 1,800

Nigerian health officials say nearly 1,800 people have died from cholera this year, with cases found in more than 20 states around the country. To combat the bacterial disease that is spread by dirty water, Nigeria’s Federal Ministry of Environment is urging proper hygiene and organizing mass cleanups in affected areas. Timothy Obiezu reports from the capital, Abuja.Camera: Emeka Gibson

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Johnson & Johnson’s HIV Vaccine Fails Mid-Stage Africa Study

Johnson & Johnson said on Tuesday its experimental vaccine failed to provide sufficient protection against HIV in sub-Saharan Africa to young women who accounted for a large number of infections last year.The results from the mid-stage study are the latest setback to efforts to develop a vaccine to prevent HIV or human immunodeficiency virus, which causes AIDS that had infected over 37 million people globally as of 2020.”Although this is certainly not the study outcome for which we had hoped, we must apply the knowledge learned from the … trial and continue our efforts to find a vaccine that will be protective against HIV,” said Anthony Fauci, director of the U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID).Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 Vaccine Shown Less Effective Against VariantsPreliminary study at New York University suggests a second shot may help Despite the discovery of effective treatments that can put the virus in remission, experts say an HIV vaccine is critical to eradicating the virus.The mid-stage study testing the J&J vaccine included 2,600 women participants across five Southern African countries, where women and girls accounted for over 60% of all new HIV infections last year.Researchers found that 63 participants who received placebo and 51 who were administered the J&J vaccine got HIV infection, resulting in a vaccine efficacy of 25.2%.The vaccine was found to be safe with no serious side effects reported, but the study will not continue based on the efficacy data, J&J said.The trial of the vaccine was supported by the NIAID and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.J&J said it was studying the safety and efficacy of a different experimental HIV vaccine among men who have sex with men, and transgender persons. The trial, conducted in the Americas and Europe, is expected to be completed in March 2024.

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New Variant of COVID-19 Detected in South Africa    

Scientists in South Africa say they have detected a new variant of COVID-19.The country’s National Institute for Communicable Diseases announced Monday in a new study that the variant, which has been designated C.1.2, was first detected in South Africa in May of this year, and has since spread to seven other countries in Africa, Asia, Europe and the southern Pacific region of Oceania.   The scientists say the C.1.2 variant appears to have the same characteristics as that of other mutations that are more transmissible and more able to overtake a person’s immune system.The study has not been published nor has it undergone the normal peer review process. The scientists say they are still monitoring the frequency of the C.1.2 variant, and that it has not evolved as either a “variant of interest” or “variant of concern” under the guidelines established by the World Health Organization. FILE – A general view of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) headquarters in Atlanta, Georgia, Sept. 30, 2014.The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Monday that the three COVID-19 vaccines currently in use in the United States remain highly effective in preventing severe disease. Dr. Sara Oliver, a CDC scientist, told a vaccine advisory panel that the COVID-19 vaccine was 94% effective in preventing hospitalization for adults between the ages of 18 to 74 between April and July, when the delta variant became dominant. The vaccine’s effectiveness against hospitalization dropped among adults 75 and older, but was still above 80%.   Dr. Oliver told the panel the vaccines appear to be less effective in preventing infection or mild illness, which she said was due to the vaccine’s weakening over time and the more contagious delta variant.   A Dallas County Health and Human Services nurse completes paperwork after administering a Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine at a county-run vaccination site in Dallas, Aug. 26, 2021.The advisory committee is considering whether to recommend authorizing booster shots of the Pfizer, Moderna or Johnson & Johnson vaccines amid a surge of new COVID-19 infections across the United States. The Biden administration recently announced it will begin offering a third shot of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine sometime next month. Both the CDC and the Food and Drug Administration have recently recommended a third shot of Pfizer or Moderna for some people with weakened immune systems.  The committee unanimously voted Monday to recommend the Pfizer vaccine for Americans 16 years old and older.  In a separate development Monday, the CDC added seven new destinations to its highest risk level of its COVID-19 travel advisory list. Azerbaijan, Estonia, Guam, North Macedonia, the U.S. territory of Puerto Rico, the Caribbean island nation of Saint Lucia and Switzerland have been designated as Level 4, which signifies a “very high” risk of contracting COVID-19. The CDC says people should avoid travel to these destinations, and advises that anyone who must travel to these spots needs to be fully vaccinated. FILE – People cross nearly empty streets in the central business district of Auckland, New Zealand, Aug. 27, 2021.In New Zealand, health officials Tuesday reported another decline in new COVID-19 cases since Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern placed the country under a strict lockdown earlier this month. The health ministry posted 49 new cases on Tuesday, after reporting 53 cases Monday and 83 new cases Sunday.   Ardern imposed the strict lockdown on August 17 after a 58-year-old man in Auckland became the first person to test positive for COVID-19 since February. About 612 new cases have since been posted, with Auckland posting 597 and 15 detected in the capital, Wellington, according to Reuters.Some information for this report came from Reuters.      

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US Climate Envoy in Japan to Push Efforts to Cut Emissions

U.S. climate envoy John Kerry met in Tokyo on Tuesday with Japan’s top diplomat to push efforts to fight climate change ahead of a United Nations conference in November. Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi highlighted what he said was the importance of getting other major carbon emitters, especially China, to cooperate. “China is the world’s biggest carbon emitter and the number two economy as well, and it is extremely important that we encourage China to firmly fulfill its responsibility to match its place,” Motegi told reporters after his meeting with Kerry. Motegi added that he hoped Japan and the United States would lead global decarbonizing efforts at the U.N. conference to be held in Glasgow in late November, known as COP26, and beyond. The United States is the second-largest carbon emitter. Japan is fifth. Kerry was also scheduled to meet with Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, Environment Minister Shinjiro Koizumi, as well as Economy, Trade and Industry Minister Hiroshi Kajiyama. Kerry arrived in Japan on Monday and will fly out on Tuesday evening to China for more climate talks — his second trip to the country during the Biden administration. Kerry has called on global leaders to work together and accelerate actions needed to curb rising temperatures to no more than 1.5 degrees Celsius over pre-industrial levels. He urged China to join the U.S. in urgently cutting carbon emissions. Many countries have pledged to eliminate net carbon emissions by 2050. Japan has promised to strive to reduce its emissions by 46% from 2012 levels, up from an earlier target of 26%, to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050. China has also set a goal to reach carbon neutrality by 2060. Suga has said Japan will try to push the reduction as high as 50% to be in line with the European Union. In order to achieve that target, Japan’s Environment Ministry is seeking a significant budget increase to promote renewable energy and decarbonizing programs. The Trade and Industry Ministry plans to use large subsidies to promote electric vehicles and wind power generation, according to a draft budget proposal for 2022. The Trade and Industry Ministry, in its draft basic energy plan released in July, said the share of renewables should be raised to 36-38% of the power supply in 2030 from the current target of 22-24%. During his Sept. 1-3 China visit, Kerry is expected to meet with his Chinese counterpart, Xie Zhenhua. 

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UN Marks ‘Official End’ of Leaded Gasoline

The United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) said Algeria stopped selling leaded gasoline in July, making it the last country to end its sale and marking an “official end” of leaded gasoline use in cars. Wealthy countries began phasing out leaded gasoline in the 1970s and 1980s due to health and environmental concerns, but some countries continued to sell it.  UNEP began a final push to ban leaded gasoline in 2002. “The successful enforcement of the ban on leaded petrol is a huge milestone for global health and our environment,” UNEP Executive Director Inger Andersen said in a statement. Lead was first added to gas nearly 100 years ago, ostensibly to improve engine performance. Leaded gas is still used on some small airplanes, according to The Associated Press. Some information in this report comes from The Associated Press and Agence France-Presse.  
 

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First WHO Health Supplies Land in Taliban-Held Afghanistan 

The World Health Organization says an aircraft provided by Pakistan Monday delivered the first shipment of much-needed medicine and health supplies to Afghanistan since the country came under control of the Taliban. The humanitarian assistance was loaded in Dubai and flown directly to the northern Afghan city of Mazar-e-Sharif, said a WHO statement. The supplies will be immediately delivered to 40 health facilities in 29 provinces across Afghanistan.  The plane carrying Taliban fighters display their flag as they patrol in Kabul, Afghanistan, Aug. 19, 2021. The WHO said Monday that a reliable humanitarian air bridge is urgently required to scale up the collective humanitarian effort.“After days of non-stop work to find a solution, I am very pleased to say that we have now been able to partially replenish stocks of health facilities in Afghanistan and ensure that — for now – WHO-supported health services can continue,” said Dr. Ahmed Al Mandhari, WHO regional director for the eastern Mediterranean.The 12.5 metric ton supplies delivered consist of trauma kits and interagency emergency health kits, and are enough to cover the basic health needs of more than 200,000 people, as well as provide 3,500 surgical procedures and treat 6,500 trauma patients.The WHO noted that Monday’s flight was the first of three planned with Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) to fill urgent shortages in medicine and medical supplies in Afghanistan.  First PIA Cargo flight with WHO medical supplies from Islamabad to Mazar Sharif today. A humanitarian air bridge for essential supplies to Afghanistan in coordination with international agencies. Thanx PIA. FILE – A US military aircraft takes off at Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul, Aug. 28, 2021.The WHO called for the world to remain focused on meeting the needs of the people of Afghanistan at this critical time.“The world’s attention over the past two weeks has been focused on the air evacuation from Kabul airport. But the demanding humanitarian work of meeting the needs of tens of millions of vulnerable Afghans who remain in the country is now beginning,” the world body said.  
 FILE – Internally displaced Afghan families, who fled from the northern province due to battle between Taliban and Afghan security forces, sit in the courtyard of the Wazir Akbar Khan mosque in Kabul, Aug. 13, 2021.On Sunday, UNICEF said in a statement that children were particularly bearing the brunt of the increased conflict and insecurity in the past weeks. The agency noted that children are “at greater risk than ever” in the wake of a security crisis, skyrocketing food prices, a severe drought, the spread of the coronavirus, and upcoming harsh winter conditions.“If the current trend continues, UNICEF predicts that one million children under 5 in Afghanistan will suffer from severe acute malnutrition — a life-threatening disease.”More than 4 million children, including 2.2 million girls, are out of school while around 300,000 children have been forced out of their homes due to the conflict, according to UNICEF. The agency warned partners against cutting aid to Afghanistan. “The needs of the children of Afghanistan have never been greater. We cannot abandon them now.” 

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Fauci: ‘Just Get Vaccinated’

The top U.S. infectious disease expert told CNN Sunday there could be up to 100,000 new COVID-19 deaths in the U.S. by the end of the year, but the situation while “entirely predictable” is also “entirely preventable.”   Dr. Anthony Fauci said the U.S. has the “wherewithal” to avoid the fulfillment of the prediction, but the problem is the 80 million people in the country who are not vaccinated. “We could turn this thing around and we can do it efficiently and quickly if we could just get those people vaccinated,” Fauci said. “It’s so important that people in this crisis put aside any ideological and political differences and just get vaccinated.” Meanwhile, last week, the U.S. reached a daily average of 100,000 hospitalizations for COVID-19, according to a New York Times report that said the surge in cases is rivaled only by a surge last winter when vaccines were not available.Memphis overwhelmed by COVID-19 emergency calls, prompting wait times for ambulances, Aug. 13, 2021.“I’ve never seen anything quite like it,” Dr. Shannon Byrd, a pulmonologist in Knoxville, Tennessee told The Times. “It’s bringing whole families down and tearing families apart. They’re dying in droves.”  Residents of Auckland, New Zealand are facing another two weeks of full lockdown, after 53 more cases of the highly contagious delta variant were detected in the region Monday. Eighty-three cases were detected Sunday.  New Zealand’s health ministry announced the country’s first death linked to Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine, a woman who died from myocarditis shortly after she was inoculated. Myocarditis is an inflammation of the heart muscle and has been identified as a side effect of the Pfizer two-dose vaccine.The health ministry said the woman had other medical issues which may have contributed to her death. Israel has opened its COVID vaccine booster program to all citizens 12 years of age and older, as the country is challenged with an increasing number of COVID delta variant cases.The Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center counted more than 216.4 million global infections early Monday and 4.5 million deaths. It cost nearly $15,000 for a U.S. football player to make the decision to get a COVID vaccine.  Isaiah McKenzie, a wide receiver for the Buffalo Bills, was fined $14,650 for not wearing a mask inside a team facility on several occasions, conduct contrary to the National Football League’s protocol for unvaccinated players. After the fine, McKenzie got his first shot. Some information for this report came from Reuters and The Associated Press. 

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In Thailand, Aerospace Engineers Turn Their Skills to COVID-19

In Thailand, a team of aerospace engineers is using the high-tech skills they honed programming planes and satellites to run a simple but effective mapping website helping everyday volunteers reach those with COVID-19 who are falling through the cracks of a struggling public health care system. Since going live in mid-July, jitasa.care has seen well over 10,000 households sign on, seeking assistance for everything from food to oxygen to an urgent ride to the hospital, most of them in the capital, Bangkok. About the same number of volunteers have signed up to help them. “Jitasa” ties together the Thai words for “mind” and “volunteer.” “In Thai it means … people who want to volunteer to do good deeds,” said Wasanchai Vongsantivanich, one of the lead developers. He was surprised by how quickly the site took off. It got a big boost after someone shared the link with a popular local Facebook influencer who passed it on to his millions of followers. “When it went widespread, people started to make use of this and a lot of volunteers subscribed by themselves [to] help each other, and that was fantastic and a wonderful thing that we see from the platform,” Wasanchai said. The engineers’ efforts are part of an outpouring of help from Thais of all stripes who are volunteering their time and singular skills to take some of the load off the public health care system. The medical services are strained by the worst wave of infections to hit the country since the pandemic began. Every day brings tens of thousands of new cases and hundreds of more deaths. Intensive care units in Bangkok are filling up, forcing some Thais to spend days hunting for a free hospital bed and the worst off to die at home before they find one. ‘People helping people’Volunteers have played a vital role in meeting some of the shortfalls, said Pichit Siriwan, deputy director of relief and community health at the Thai Red Cross Society. “They’re now very important. We need the volunteers’ help fighting against COVID-19 in Bangkok because of the rise in infections. Now the daily infection in the country is almost 20,000 cases … and almost half of them are in Bangkok,” he said, leaving hospitals in and around the city “overwhelmed.” Pichit said the Thai Red Cross Society relies on thousands of volunteers itself, and that some of them have been using jitasa.care to find people with COVID-19 in need. Wasanchai said the idea for site started with a backlog at crematoria burning the bodies of the newly dead, as per Buddhist tradition. A local volunteer group asked him and his colleagues to brainstorm ways to help families find available time slots. By early July, so many people were dying of COVID-19 in the greater Bangkok area that the Buddhist temples with crematoria equipped to handle infected bodies safely were struggling to keep up. A colleague of Wasanchai’s who had just lost his grandmother to the virus had to call 19 temples before finding one that could take her. Once the team came up with the idea of an interactive map of Thailand drawing on crowdsourced data to show people which temples had spare capacity, it was an easily leap to add community isolation centers with free beds, shops ready to fill oxygen tanks and more. Just as helpful is the site’s ability to quickly connect the sick with people who want to help others. Anyone suffering from COVID-19 can sign in with a phone number, pin their location to the map, and post a note explaining their symptoms and what they need. Anyone who wants to help can sign on with their own phone number and contact them directly. Those asking for assistance show up on the map as a bright red circle that grows bigger the longer they’ve been waiting. Their circle turns green when they start getting help, goes to gray once their needs have been met, then vanishes after a few days. “Everyone can see the map, and they see their community and the area around them. Anyone around them who needs help, they just volunteer. If they think they can help [those] people, that household, they just contact and help,” Wasanchai said. “That is the simple idea — people helping people.” Turning red to green Sonskuln Thaomohr, who handles company registration records for the Commerce Ministry by day, has taken to jitasa.care with a passion. Since coming across the site last month, he says he has responded to dozens of posts asking for help — taking blood oxygen level readings, dropping off food bundles to those self-isolating or helping seniors tap into public services by guiding them through online registration forms. Lately he has seen an increase in posts requesting anti-viral medicine. “If I could do something to help the situation, I really want to do it,” said Sonskuln, whose close friend lost his mother to COVID-19 and blamed himself for having accidentally passed the virus on to her. “I’m so sad for him, and that affects me personally because I don’t want any other of my friends or others to tell the sad story and blame themselves like that again,” he said. Sonskuln likes that the site also lets volunteers communicate with one another and coordinate their efforts. But even then, they can sometimes be too late. “We call it super red, which is the triage level,” he said. “That means they are in emergency state [and] need paramedic attention and … transfer to hospital ASAP. Those people are waiting inside their house and, to be honest, they are not in good shape at all. We have seen people dying — me too — laying on the floor.” With other volunteer groups and even some government agencies signing in to jitasa.care to respond to posts for help, Wasanchai said, most of Bangkok’s red circles are turning green. Most of those on the site still waiting for help are now to the south and southeast of the capital. After climbing steadily for more than four months, new daily infection numbers for the country have also started to level off and dip a bit in the past two weeks, convincing the government to start easing lockdown rules that have crippled the economy. But Pichit, at Thai Red Cross Society, warned that the latest trend could be an artifact of less testing and said infection numbers were still rising in some provinces in the south and northeast of Thailand, so that health care professionals and volunteers alike would have to stay vigilant. “The more you test, the more you find, so we still need to be aware that this decrease in number may be due to decreased tests,” he said. “So, we should keep an eye on it.” 

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Hurricane Ida Weakens, But Remains a Threat

Hurricane Ida, which made landfall in the U.S. Gulf Coast state of Louisiana as a dangerous Category 4 storm, had weakened to a Category 2 storm by Sunday night.  The storm remains strong, however, and the National Hurricane Center said late Sunday that Ida was responsible for “catastrophic storm surge, extreme winds, and flash flooding…in portions of southeastern Louisiana.”   Ida has knocked out the electrical power in portions of Louisiana and Mississippi, leaving more than a million people in the dark, including the entire city of New Orleans.  The first death from Ida has been reported, the result of a fallen tree. The storm had maximum sustained winds of 165 kph Sunday night.  The NHC said residents should expect heavy rainfall along the southeast Louisiana coast, spreading northeast into the Lower Mississippi Valley Monday. Rainfall totals of 25 to 45 centimeters are possible across southeast Louisiana into far southern Mississippi, with as much as isolated maximum amounts of 61 centimeters possible.   “This is likely to result in life- threatening flash and urban flooding and significant river flooding impacts,” the weather forecasters said. Cars drive through flood waters along route 90 as outer bands of Hurricane Ida arrive on Aug. 29, 2021, in Gulfport, Miss.Hurricane warnings are in effect for Morgan City, Louisiana to the mouth of the Pearl River, Lake Pontchartrain, Lake Maurepas, and metropolitan New Orleans Sixteen years ago, August 29, 2005, Hurricane Katrina came ashore in Louisiana as a Category 3 storm. Katrina was blamed for 1,800 deaths, levee breaches and devastating flooding in New Orleans. The city’s federal levee system has been improved since then, and Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards predicted the levees would hold. “Will it be tested? Yes. But it was built for this moment,” he said.  Before Ida arrived, Edwards declared a state of emergency and said 5,000 National Guard troops were standing by along the coast for search and rescue efforts. In addition, 10,000 linemen were ready to respond to electrical outages once the storm passed.  Alabama Governor Kay Ivey also declared a state of emergency for coastal and western counties in the state. New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell ordered people who live outside the city’s protective levee system to evacuate. And she urged those who remained in the city to hunker down. “As soon the storm passes, we’re going to put the country’s full might behind the rescue and recovery,” President Joe Biden said after a briefing at the headquarters of the Federal Emergency Management Agency in Washington. The president said he had signed emergency declarations for Louisiana and Mississippi and has been in touch with the governors of those two states and Alabama.  The Gulf Coast region’s hospitals now face a natural disaster as they are struggling with a surge in patients with COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, due to the highly contagious delta variant.  “COVID has certainly added a challenge to this storm,” Mike Hulefeld, executive vice president and chief operating officer of Ochsner Health, told the Associated Press. Edwards said about 2,500 people are being treated for COVID-19 in the state’s hospitals as the hurricane passes through.  Since the start of the pandemic, Louisiana has had 679,796 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 12,359 deaths, according to the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center. Its vaccine tracker says just 41% of the state’s nearly 4.7 million population are vaccinated.   “Once again we find ourselves dealing with a natural disaster in the midst of a pandemic,” Jennifer Avegno, the top health official for New Orleans, told the AP.  Some information for this report came from The Associated Press and Reuters. 

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Spacex Launches Ants, Avocados, Robot to Space Station

A SpaceX shipment of ants, avocados and a human-sized robotic arm rocketed toward the International Space Station on Sunday.The delivery — due to arrive Monday — is the company’s 23rd for NASA in just under a decade.A recycled Falcon rocket blasted into the predawn sky from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center. After hoisting the Dragon capsule, the first-stage booster landed upright on SpaceX’s newest ocean platform, named A Shortfall of Gravitas.SpaceX founder Elon Musk continued his tradition of naming the booster-recovery vessels in tribute to the late science fiction writer Iain Banks and his Culture series.The Dragon is carrying more than 2,170 kilograms of supplies and experiments, and fresh food, including avocados, lemons and even ice cream for the space station’s seven astronauts.The Girl Scouts are sending up ants, brine shrimp and plants as test subjects, while University of Wisconsin-Madison scientists are flying up seeds from mouse-ear cress, a small flowering weed used in genetic research. Samples of concrete, solar cells and other materials also will be subjected to weightlessness.A Japanese start-up company’s experimental robotic arm, meanwhile, will attempt to screw items together in its orbital debut and perform other mundane chores normally done by astronauts. The first tests will be done inside the space station. Future models of Gitai Inc.’s robot will venture out into the vacuum of space to practice satellite and other repair jobs, said chief technology officer Toyotaka Kozuki.As early as 2025, a squad of these arms could help build lunar bases and mine the moon for precious resources, he added.SpaceX had to leave some experiments behind because of delays resulting from COVID-19.It was the second launch attempt; Saturday’s try was foiled by stormy weather.NASA turned to SpaceX and other U.S. companies to deliver cargo and crews to the space station, once the space shuttle program ended in 2011. 

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US Teacher Source of COVID-19 Outbreak at School, CDC Says

A U.S. teacher who read aloud to her students while not wearing a mask is serving as a cautionary tale as schools across the country begin to open for the new school year.In May, an unvaccinated teacher in an elementary school in California’s Marin County read aloud to her students after removing her mask, despite a school mandate requiring everyone to wear a mask while indoors.The teacher became symptomatic on May 19, according to a U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report.  She continued to work for two days before taking a COVID-19 test on May 21. The teacher tested positive for the delta variant.On May 23, the school began receiving reports of COVID-19 cases from students, parents, teachers and staff associated with the school. Marin County Public Health conducted contact tracing that included whole genome sequencing.The CDC report says 26 cases were found to be connected with the teacher, including 12 of her students. In her classroom, “the attack rate” in the two rows of students closest to her was 80%, the report said, and 28% in the three back rows.Students in another classroom also tested positive for the coronavirus. All the students in both classes were too young to be eligible for COVID-19 vaccinations.Meanwhile, England’s Office for National Statistics says coronavirus infections in the country are 26 times higher this year than they were last year at this time. Officials are warning that the imminent opening of schools and universities could cause the caseload to grow.On Sunday, India’s health ministry reported 45,083 new COVID-19 cases in the previous 24 hours.India has more than 32 million COVID cases, according to the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center. Only the U.S. has more, with 38.7 million, Johns Hopkins reports, and the U.S. reported 49,712 new cases in the past 24 hours.

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WHO: Afghanistan Running Out of Medical Supplies to Treat Sick, Wounded

The World Health Organization says only a few days of medical supplies are left in Afghanistan to treat the health needs of millions of people in the fractured country.Trauma kits are especially in demand following Thursday’s suicide bombing by Islamic State militants at Kabul airport, killing more than 100 people and injuring scores of others.The WHO says emergency health kits containing essential supplies and medicine for hospitals and clinics, nutritional food for acutely malnourished children and items for controlling the COVID-19 pandemic also are in short supply.The WHO’s emergency director for the Eastern Mediterranean region, Rick Brennan, says commercial aircraft are blocked from flying into Kabul airport because of security concerns. Therefore, he says, the WHO is exploring other ways of bringing medicine into the country.“There are multiple security and logistics constraints to doing so but we hope and expect that we will be able to bring in more supplies in the coming days, with the support of the Pakistan government. Kabul airport is not an option for bringing in supplies at this stage and so we are likely to use Mazar-i-Sharif airport, with our first flight hopefully going in the next few days,” Brennan said.The situation in Afghanistan is volatile and fluid. Humanitarian needs across the country are enormous and growing. The United Nations says some 18 million people require international support. They include an estimated 3.5 million internally displaced people, among them more than half-a-million newly displaced this year.Brennan says the WHO is committed to staying in Afghanistan and meeting the needs of the displaced and other vulnerable people. He says the welfare of women and children are of particular concern.“Already we are hearing that some female health workers are not attending work and that there has been a decline in the attendance of women and children at some facilities. This again highlights the need to ensure the availability of medical supplies, to support female health workers in their work, and to encourage families to bring their mothers…and children to seek health care when they need it,” he said.Brennan says the WHO has staff in all 34 provinces across the country monitoring the health situation. He says that fortunately, most of the 2,200 health facilities the WHO are monitoring remain open and functioning.However, he warns an increasing number of people will get sick and die unless the medical supplies that are rapidly running out can be replenished in a timely manner.

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Apple CEO Brings Home $750 Million Bonus

It pays to be the leader of Apple.The company’s CEO, Tim Cook, was recently given a bonus of $750 million worth of Apple stock, marking his 10th anniversary as CEO.The bonus was revealed Thursday in a regulatory filing.He promptly cashed out the 5 million shares, which were given based on both performance and time with the company.The bonus plan was put in place after Cook had become CEO in 2011, shortly before the death of company co-founder Steve Jobs.Since Cook took over the company, Apple’s value has reached an estimated $2.4 trillion, and its share price has risen 1,200%, according to BBC.Cook, who is estimated to be worth $1.4 billion, still owns 3.2 million shares of the company.The regulatory findings also show Cook donated 70,000 shares, worth $10 million, to charity.Before joining Apple in 1998, he worked for IBM and Compaq.

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Airport Security Goes High-tech as US Nears 20 Years Since 9/11

As the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks approaches, VOA’s Julie Taboh looks at some of the technology that works to keep U.S. airports and air travel safe. 
Lesia Bakalets contributed to this story.

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Medical Journal: Long COVID Is ‘Modern Medical Challenge of the First Order’

According to a new report published in a leading medical journal, the symptoms that linger after a person has survived the novel coronavirus are little understood by the medical community.The medical journal The Lancet says the syndrome must be studied and understood by the medical community in order to launch an appropriate response for what the journal calls “a modern medical challenge of the first order.”The syndrome has become known as “long COVID,” and The Lancet said recovery can take more than a year.The lingering symptoms include “persistent fatigue, breathlessness, brain fog, and depression.”Finding answers to the mystery of long COVID “while providing compassionate and multidisciplinary care,” The Lancet said, “will require the full breadth of scientific and medical ingenuity.”Meanwhile, hundreds of thousands of people in the United States who have not been able to pay their rent during the pandemic are facing evictions after the Supreme Court decided not the extend the nationwide ban on evictions that had been imposed during the pandemic.Three of the justices dissented.Jen Psaki, U.S. President Joe Biden’s press secretary, said in a statement, “As a result of this ruling, families will face the painful impact of evictions, and communities across the country will face greater risk of exposure to COVID-19.”Earlier this week World Health Organization Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, continued to warn about the consequences of inequitable vaccination.Some regions and countries continue to see steep increases in cases and deaths, while others are declining,” the WHO chief said.  “As long as this virus is circulating anywhere, it’s a threat everywhere.”On Friday, India’s health ministry reported 44,658 new COVID cases in the previous 24-hour period.New Zealand is extending its national lockdown until Tuesday midnight after 70 new COVID cases were discovered.Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center reported more than 214 million global COVID cases and 4.5 million deaths. The center said more than 5 billion vaccines have been administered.

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For North Korean Defectors, Pandemic Severs Few Remaining Links to Home

When Hong Gang-chul, a North Korean border guard, decided to escape his homeland in 2013, he knew his relationship with his family would never be the same.Hong, who had helped other North Koreans escape, left the country in a hurry, believing he was wanted by North Korean authorities.In doing so, he left two young daughters with their mother in North Korea. When he later began to arrange for them to defect, they refused.A stocky, soft-spoken 48-year-old, Hong now lives in a simple apartment on the outskirts of Seoul, where he looks after his elderly mother, who also fled the North.Like many defectors, Hong at times struggles to adjust to his new life in South Korea.In North Korea, he manned a guard post along the demilitarized zone; now, he hosts a YouTube channel and works as a writer and commentator on North Korea issues.When punditry doesn’t provide enough income, he takes work as a low-skilled laborer at construction sites — anything to scrape together enough to send his daughters money at least once a year.“It’s impossible now for me to do the things a typical father would do for his children,” he told VOA in a matter-of-fact tone that only partly hides his distress. “The only thing I can do to look after them at this point is to send money.”North Korean escapees have long sent funds to relatives back home using a network of brokers who smuggle cash and goods across what used to be a relatively porous border with China. The remittances can be a major source of income in North Korea, where the economy is tightly regulated.Such money transfers have become trickier and much more expensive during the coronavirus pandemic. Many North Korean officials who used to look the other way, or who even accepted bribes to assist with smuggling, now report brokers to authorities, amid a wider crackdown on cross-border activity.The increased risk has driven prices way up. Before the pandemic, remittance brokers would typically charge a commission of around 30%, but that figure is now closer to 50%, according to several Seoul-based defectors and activists.“The money I send to North Korea has basically been cut in half,” said Hong, who also cited unstable foreign currency exchange rates in the North.Some brokers charge as much as 70% commission, he added.Links severedThe remittance crackdown is one of many ways the coronavirus pandemic is severing the already fragile links between North Korean defectors and their families back home.Since the pandemic began, North Korea has imposed one of the world’s toughest lockdowns, not only sealing its external borders but also expanding domestic travel restrictions.As a result, many defectors, including Hong, haven’t heard from their families in months.That is partly because brokers often help pass messages between separated family members, according to Sokeel Park of Liberty in North Korea, a group that helps North Korean defectors settle in the South.Even for North Koreans who talk with the outside world via smuggled Chinese cellphones, communication has become much harder.“Most of the time people are not making calls from inside their house. They are moving around to other places close to the border,” either to get a better signal or avoid state surveillance, Park said.However, any movement is now difficult, especially near the border, he added.‘Worse than ever’The crackdown on money brokers seems to have become especially intense in the last several months.The Daily NK, a Seoul-based website that relies on a network of anonymous sources inside North Korea, reported a “massive campaign” of broker arrests beginning in May.Whereas brokers who were caught used to receive three to five years of reeducation as punishment, North Korean authorities have now tripled those sentences to 10 to 15 years, the Daily NK reported.“The punishment is worse than ever,” said Ju Chan-yang, another Seoul-based defector, who told VOA she has stopped trying to send money to North Korea altogether.Even when offered a 70% commission, a broker refused to send money from one of her friends to a family member in Pyongyang who has cancer and needed money for treatment, Ju said.No escapeNorth Korea’s lockdown is also preventing defections, which have plummeted to historic lows.In 2019, 1,047 defectors arrived in South Korea, according to data from Seoul’s Unification Ministry. In 2020, only 229 defectors arrived in South Korea.During the second quarter of 2021, only two North Koreans reached the South. That is the smallest quarterly figure since Seoul began counting in 2003.Lee Se-jun, a South Korea-based defection broker, told VOA he has not helped facilitate an escape from North Korea in over a year, due to the intense security buildup on the North Korean side of the border.Another factor is the skyrocketing cost of defections.Hong, the former North Korean border guard, said it now costs up to $21,000 for North Koreans to defect, compared to a previous rate of about $13,000.No end in sightThe North Korean pandemic restrictions may not be relaxed anytime soon.North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has repeatedly warned of “prolonged” anti-epidemic measures, even as his government continues to insist it has detected no coronavirus cases.Many of those who have escaped North Korea now acknowledge it may be a long time before they will hear from family.“It’s a real double whammy,” said Park. “Along with everything else, so much of the contact is being shut off at the time when North Korean people face their biggest challenges in 20 years.”

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