Take a ride on a new kind of bike — one that skirts across lakes and waterways – powered by an electric engine and a battery. Michelle Quinn got a ride.Camera: Michelle Quinn
Producer: Rob Raffaele
South Africa is reporting both good and bad news in the battle against the coronavirus, seeing a decline in confirmed cases along with the spread of a new, more infectious strain of the virus. First, the good news from South Africa’s health minister, Dr. Zweli Mkhize. The nation is still experiencing its second wave of the virus, but in the past week, Mkhize said, South Africa saw a 23% decline in confirmed cases. “It has been encouraging to know that, despite the mutations, we are still able to protect ourselves with the armor that we have established,” he said in a statement released Tuesday. “This week has seen some promising signs of decline in transmission – yesterday we noted a 23% decrease in new cases nationally compared to 7 days prior. This could be attributable to many factors, including enhanced physical distancing facilitated by lockdown regulations. We must thank South Africans for adhering to the regulations, difficult and frustrating as it may be.” And now for the more concerning news. The head of the nation’s coronavirus task force, epidemiologist Dr. Salim Abdool Karim, says the recently detected, more infectious variant of the virus, known as 501.V2, is spreading quickly in South Africa.Healthcare workers tend to a patient at a temporary ward set up during the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, at Steve Biko Academic Hospital in Pretoria, South Africa, January 19, 2021.“Its affinity and its ability to bind to the human cell is now stronger,” he said in a briefing late Monday. “And that’s what enables it to become a more efficient virus in the way it transmits …. So this drastic change that we’re seeing is being driven by a virus that certainly, biologically looks like it can attach to human cells more efficiently.” But, he adds, scientists haven’t concluded that this variant is more severe. In fact, he said, current data suggests it is not. And he quickly allayed fears that the 1.5 million vaccine doses expected to land in South Africa by February won’t work on this new strain. “I will not even attempt to speculate on that matter,” he said. “I’ll wait for the data. And certainly, we have no empirical evidence yet on whether vaccines are effective against this variant. Those studies are still under way.” And, in a rare departure from science, Dr. Karim took a moment to talk politics, urging against calling this mutation the “South Africa variant.” When researchers first spotted this new variant, they were careful not to call it that in scientific papers. He explained why this matters. “There are variants across the world,” he said. “And even if they were found in one country, we don’t even know if that’s where they originated from, and they will rapidly spread to many countries. The B.1.1.7 is now in almost 50 countries. The 501.V2 is already available in more than 10 countries. Just like how we objected when the U.S. president called SARS-Cov-2 ‘the China virus,’ we should not call this variant by its country, we should call it by its name.” So what does all this new science mean for the average South African? Not much, doctors said. Their basic guidance remains the same: prevent transmission by staying home if you can, distance from others, wash your hands and always wear a mask in public.
Hundreds of members of Serbia’s military lined up on Tuesday in their camouflage uniforms at an exhibition hall in Belgrade where nurses injected them with a Chinese-made vaccine against COVID-19.
Last week Serbia received one million doses of Chinese Sinopharm’s COVID-19 vaccine, becoming the first European country to start a mass inoculation program with it.
Serbia is vaccinating essential workers such as police officers, teachers and soldiers after last month starting to treat the elderly in care homes and medical workers with its supplies of vaccines developed by Pfizer and BioNTech , and Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine.
Belgrade maintains close ties with Beijing and Chinese companies have invested billions of euros in Serbia, mainly in infrastructure and energy projects.
Defense minister Nebojsa Stefanovic said over 700 members of the military, including himself had been vaccinated with the Chinese vaccine.
“I have been inocculated with the Chinese vaccine which we completely trust … I’ve said I will get the same vaccine as our troops,” Stefanovic told reporters.
More than 20,000 Serbians have been vaccinated so far since the mass inoculation began in late December.
Over the weekend, President Aleksandar Vucic said Serbia expects to get another 250,000 doses of the Sputnik vaccine and 20,000 doses of Pfizer vaccines in the coming days.
In the Western Balkan region, inoculation has started only in Serbia and Albania, while Bosnia, Kosovo, Montenegro and North Macedonia have not yet received supplies of any vaccine.
China approved the shot developed by Sinopharm’s BIBP in late December, its first COVID-19 vaccine for general public use. No detailed efficacy data has been released, but BIBP has said the vaccine is 79.34% effective based on interim data.
In Serbia, which has a population of about 7 million, 3,771 people have died from COVID-19 and 347,111 fell ill with it.
California has become the first U.S state to post more than 3 million total coronavirus cases. As of Tuesday, the western state, home to 40 million residents, has 3,015,644 confirmed infections, including 33,724 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University Coronavirus Resource Center. According to the Associated Press, it took California 292 days from the first confirmed infection on January 25 to November 11 of last year to reach 1 million infections. The state has since undergone a dramatic surge of new infections that has pushed health care systems to the verge of collapse, recording 2 million cases by Christmas Eve — a space of 44 days — and reaching the 3 million mark in less than 30 days. The grim milestone comes as California’s mass vaccination efforts have hit a major roadblock. A vile of Moderna COVID-19 vaccine is seen at an ambulance company in Santa Fe Springs, Calif., an. 9, 2021.The state’s epidemiologist Sunday recommended that providers stop using a batch of the Moderna vaccine after some recipients had to seek treatment for possible severe allergic reactions. The incoming administration of U.S. President-elect Joe Biden will reverse a decision by President Donald Trump to lift coronavirus-related travel bans on most non-U.S. citizens arriving from much of Europe and Brazil, beginning January 26. “This action is the best way to continue protecting Americans from COVID-19 while enabling travel to resume safely,” Trump said in a statement released by the White House. However, President-elect Joe Biden’s press secretary, Jen Psaki, responded a few minutes later on Twitter, saying: “On the advice of our medical team, the administration does not intend to lift these restrictions on 1/26. In fact, we plan to strengthen public health measures around international travel in order to further mitigate the spread of COVID-19.” On the advice of our medical team, the Administration does not intend to lift these restrictions on 1/26. In fact, we plan to strengthen public health measures around international travel in order to further mitigate the spread of COVID-19.
— Jen Psaki (@jrpsaki) FILE – A worker in a protective suit is seen at the closed seafood market in Wuhan, Hubei province, China, Jan. 10, 2020.Experts in South Africa say a new variant of novel coronavirus first detected in that country late last year is 50% more contagious than the original version. The experts say the new strain, dubbed 501Y.V2, binds stronger and more readily to human cells. The South Africa strain is one of several new strains discovered around the world that has aggravated the spread of the virus, which now stands at just over 95.6 million total infections worldwide, including over 2 million deaths. In Japan, Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga vowed Monday to forge ahead with preparations to hold the Tokyo Olympics this summer, despite a surge in coronavirus infections in the country. “We will press ahead with preparations, with determination of building watertight anti-infection measures and holding an event that can bring hope and courage to the world,” Suga said in a speech to Parliament. A recent surge in cases in Japan has forced the government to close its borders to nonresident foreigners and to declare a state of emergency in the capital, Tokyo. Recent media polls in Japan show about 80% of the Japanese public think the Olympics will not or should not be held this year. The Tokyo Olympics have been postponed once because of the pandemic, having originally been scheduled for summer 2020.
Australia has said it could keep its external borders closed for the rest of 2021 because of the coronavirus. 28,721 coronavirus cases have been reported in Australia since the pandemic began. 909 people have died, according to the Health Department.Australia closed its international borders to foreign travelers in March. It’s been a key part of the nation’s COVID-19 strategy, along with mass testing, sophisticated contact tracing and strict lockdowns. FILE – Travelers wait in line at a Virgin Australia Airlines counter at Kingsford Smith International Airport, amid the coronavirus outbreak, in Sydney, Australia, March 18, 2020.The cautious response to the pandemic has been mostly successful. There are estimated to be 203 active coronavirus cases in Australia, and airlines had hoped overseas travel would resume as early as July. But that is unlikely, according to the head of the health department, professor Brendan Murphy. He was asked by the Australian Broadcasting Corp. if the nation’s international border controls would be relaxed this year. “The answer is probably no,” he said. “I think we will go most of this year with still substantial border restrictions even, you know, if we have a lot of the population vaccinated. We do not know whether that will prevent transmission of the virus and it is likely that quarantine will continue for some time. So, I think at the moment we have got this light at the end of the tunnel — the vaccines. So, we are going to go as safely and as fast as we can to get our population vaccinated and then we will look at what happens.” An inoculation campaign is set to begin in Australia next month. Citizens, permanent residents and some foreign nationals with exemptions are allowed to enter Australia if they complete a 14-day hotel quarantine at their own expense. However, there are strict quotas on the number of travelers allowed to return home because of capacity constraints within the hotel system and concerns about the spread of the highly contagious British strain of coronavirus.Tennis player Latisha Chan of Taiwan (C) leaves the hotel for a training session in Melbourne on Jan. 19, 2021, while quarantining for two weeks ahead of the Australian Open tennis tournament.This month, authorities have granted entry to about 1,200 tennis players, staff and officials for the Australian Open. Under biosecurity guidelines, players are allowed to train at dedicated venues for a few hours each day. But several recent arrivals have tested positive to the virus, forcing dozens of players to be confined to their hotel rooms for two weeks. Australia created a so-called travel bubble with neighboring New Zealand late last year, but it only operates one-way with inbound flights to Australia. The border closures have hit the tourism industry hard. In 2019, more than 9 million overseas tourists visited Australia. The education sector, once popular with Chinese and Indian students, has also been badly damaged by Australia’s travel ban on most foreign nationals. Australians wanting to travel overseas must have government permission.
Turkey imposed advertising bans Tuesday on Twitter, Periscope and Pinterest for not complying with a new law requiring social media companies to appoint a local representative to handle content removal orders.
The rules that went into effect in October have drawn criticism from human rights and media freedom groups who argue Turkey’s government is trying to stifle dissent.
The law calls for a local representative to respond to requests to remove content that violates privacy and personal rights within 48 hours.
Facebook said Monday it would appoint such an envoy, while highlighting in a statement the need for users to be able to freely express themselves.
Other companies have complied with the rules, including YouTube, TikTok, Dailymotion and VKontakte.
Any company that does not comply faces the possibility of having its bandwidth reduced, making it difficult for users to access the service.
Mexico expects to receive its last Pfizer–BioNTech vaccines against COVID-19 Tuesday for the next three weeks as it supports a United Nations’ proposal to limit purchases in order to make vaccines available to poor countries. President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador said Mexico will get 200,000 doses of the Pfizer- vaccine on Tuesday before its shipments are temporarily suspended. The Mexican leader says the temporary suspension of Pfizer shipments will not impact his efforts to get vaccines to all citizens. He said the government is already making deals so that the Chinese vaccine CanSino starts arriving, as well as the Sputnik V vaccine from a Russian laboratory and the AstraZeneca vaccine from the University of Oxford. Mexico expects to receive five million doses of the Pfizer vaccine once its shipments resume next month. So far, Mexico has confirmed 1, 649,502 coronavirus cases and 141,248 deaths, according to the Johns Hopkins University Coronavirus Resource Center.
A powerful 6.4 magnitude earthquake hit San Juan Province in Argentina late Monday night, according to early reports from the U.S. Geological Survey. A series of aftershocks, with a lower magnitude than the quake also occurred. The U.S. Tsunami Warning System said the earthquake in west central Argentina did not pose a tsunami threat and no warning was posted. Initial reports indicate the quake, which hit at a shallow depth of 10 kilometers beneath the epicenter near Pocito, Argentina, had the potential to damage buildings and infrastructure, but there were no immediate reports of widespread damage.
Parler, a social media website and app popular with the American far right, has partially returned online with the help of a Russian-owned technology company.Parler vanished from the internet when dropped by Amazon Inc.’s hosting arm and other partners for poor moderation after its users called for violence and posted videos glorifying the January 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol.On Monday, Parler’s website was reachable again, though only with a message from its chief executive saying he was working to restore functionality.The internet protocol address it used is owned by DDos-Guard, which is controlled by two Russian men and provides services including protection from distributed denial of service attacks, infrastructure expert Ronald Guilmette told Reuters.If the website is fully restored, Parler users would be able to see and post comments. Most users prefer the app, however, which remains banned from the official Apple and Google stores.Parler CEO John Matze and representatives of DDoS-Guard did not reply to requests for comment.Last Wednesday, Matze told Reuters the company was in talks with multiple service providers but declined to elaborate.DDoS-Guard has worked with other racist, rightist and conspiracy sites that have been used by mass murderers to share messages, including 8kun. It has also supported Russian government sites.DDoS-Guard’s website lists an address in Scotland under the company name Cognitive Cloud LP, but that is owned by two men in Rostov-on-Don, Russia, Guilmette said. One of them told the Guardian recently that he was not aware of all of the content the company facilitates.Parler critics said it was a potential security risk for it to depend on a Russian company, as well as an odd choice for a site popular with self-described patriots.Russian propaganda has stoked political divisions in the United States, supporting outgoing U.S. President Donald Trump and amplifying false narratives about election fraud but also protests against police brutality.Parler, which disclosed it has more than 12 million users, sued Amazon last Monday after the ecommerce giant and cloud services provider cut off service, citing poor moderation of calls to violence.
The head of the World Health Organization says the world is “on the brink of a moral catastrophic failure” for its unequal sharing of COVID-19 vaccinations. Addressing a WHO executive board meeting in Geneva on Monday, Executive Director Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said it is “not right that younger, healthier adults in rich countries are vaccinated before health workers and older people in poorer countries.” “More than 39 million doses of vaccine have now been administered in at least 49 higher-income countries. Just 25 doses have been given in one lowest-income country — not 25 million, not 25,000 — just 25,” he said. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director general of the World Health Organization, speaks during the 148th session of the Executive Board on the coronavirus disease outbreak in Geneva, Switzerland, January 18, 2021. (Christopher Black/WHO/Handout)Tedros said if rich countries do not share COVID-19 vaccines with poor countries, “this failure will be paid with lives and livelihoods.” He said that ultimately, a “me-first approach” in distributing vaccines “will only prolong the pandemic.” Later Monday, the White House confirmed that U.S. President Donald Trump had lifted coronavirus-related travel bans on most non-U.S. citizens arriving from much of Europe and Brazil, beginning January 26. “This action is the best way to continue protecting Americans from COVID-19 while enabling travel to resume safely,” Trump said in a statement released by the White House. However, President-elect Joe Biden’s press secretary, Jen Psaki, responded a few minutes later on Twitter, saying: “On the advice of our medical team, the administration does not intend to lift these restrictions on 1/26. In fact, we plan to strengthen public health measures around international travel in order to further mitigate the spread of COVID-19.” New guidelines by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, set to take effect January 26, will require all air passengers entering the U.S. to provide a negative COVID-19 test before boarding their flight. FILE – A batch of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine arrives at Queen Alia International Airport in Amman, Jordan, January 11, 2021.Also Monday, an independent panel reviewing the global handling of the COVID-19 pandemic criticized both the World Health Organization and China for their response to the virus. The panel of experts led by former New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark and former Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf said in an interim report that WHO should have declared an international emergency sooner than it did on January 30. The panel also said China could have applied public health measures more strongly in January. The panel will present its completed report in May. Earlier Monday, Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga vowed to forge ahead with preparations to hold the Tokyo Olympics this summer, despite a surge in coronavirus infections in the country. “We will press ahead with preparations, with determination of building watertight anti-infection measures and holding an event that can bring hope and courage to the world,” Suga said in a speech to Parliament. FILE – A banner for the Tokyo 2020 Olympics is seen behind a traffic sign, following an outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Tokyo, Japan, March 23, 2020.A recent surge in cases in Japan has forced the government to close its borders to nonresident foreigners and to declare a state of emergency in the capital, Tokyo. Recent media polls in Japan show about 80% of the Japanese public think the Olympics will not or should not be held this year. The Tokyo Olympics have been postponed once because of the pandemic, having originally been scheduled for summer 2020. In the Czech Republic, health officials say the fast-spreading coronavirus variant first identified in Britain has been detected in the country. Health Minister Jan Blatny said the variant accounts for about 10% of the samples tested. He did not say how many samples were genetically sequenced. Several variants of the coronavirus have been detected around the world, including ones first identified in Britain, South Africa and Brazil. Health officials in Brussels say the variant first detected in Britain has begun spreading in Belgium following more cases reported there. “The variant has settled into our country,” virologist Marc Van Ranst told HLN network. “Like in other nations, it is getting traction,” he added. FILE – Vaccines are stored in a freezer following the delivery of the first part of the Moderna vaccine to be administered against the novel coronavirus, Covid-19, are emptied at the ZNA Middelheim hospital in Antwerp, Belgium, January 15, 2021.In Switzerland, authorities have placed two hotels in the skiing resort town of St. Moritz under quarantine and ordered all guests to be tested for the coronavirus after a person tested positive for the coronavirus variant first identified in South Africa. In Italy, officials reported that the country’s daily caseload of coronavirus infections dropped below 10,000 on Monday. Officials confirmed 8,825 new cases. French health officials began a campaign Monday to vaccinate people older than age 75. They say more than half a million people have registered to get the first of two vaccine shots by mid-February. Chinese officials Monday recorded more than 100 new cases for the sixth consecutive day. Reuters news agency reported more than 29 million Chinese are now under strict lockdown to control the spread of the virus. In the United States, the death toll from COVID-19 surpassed 398,000, according to data collected by Johns Hopkins University, the highest toll in the world. Brazil and India follow the United States in COVID-19 deaths with more than 209,000 and 152,000, respectively. Brazil approved two vaccines for emergency use against the coronavirus Sunday as some of its hospitals grappled with an oxygen shortage.
Oil and gas companies are not doing enough to decrease the release of methane gases, a main source of planet-heating emissions, the International Energy Agency (IEA) said in a new report released Monday. In 2020, the fuel industries emitted about 5% of all global energy-related greenhouse gas emissions, the IEA report said. The energy sector is the second-largest emitter of methane worldwide, following agriculture, according to the IEA’s Methane Tracker. The agency noted that methane emissions have decreased by 10% in the past year, but added it is mostly because of a decrease in economic activity during the COVID-19 pandemic. The IEA estimated that between 2020 and 2030, emissions will need to decrease by more than 70%, reaching levels of around 20 metric tons per year. Driving down methane emissions would be among some of the most “cost-effective and impactful actions” governments can take to fight climate change, the Paris-based agency said. “The immediate task now for the oil and gas industry is to make sure that there is no resurgence in methane emissions, even as the world economy recovers, and that 2019 becomes their historical peak,” IEA Executive Director Fatih Birol said. The report listed the lack of information around methane as one of the reasons governments have failed to address emissions. Despite having a much shorter atmospheric lifetime than carbon dioxide, methane absorbs much more energy throughout the 12 years it stays in the atmosphere, the report stated. “Alongside ambitious efforts to decarbonize our economies, early action on methane emissions will be critical for avoiding the worst effects of climate change,” Birol said. “There has never been a greater sense of urgency about this issue than there is today.” The Russian and American oil and gas industries were by far the largest emitters of methane in 2020, followed by those of Iran, Turkmenistan and Iraq, according to the IEA.
Coronavirus deaths are rising in nearly two-thirds of American states as a winter surge pushes the overall toll toward 400,000 amid warnings that a new, highly contagious variant is taking hold. As Americans observed a national holiday Monday, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo pleaded with federal authorities to curtail travel from countries where new variants are spreading. Referring to new versions detected in Britain, South Africa and Brazil, Cuomo said: “Stop those people from coming here. … Why are you allowing people to fly into this country and then it’s too late?” The U.S. government has curbed travel from some of the places where the new variants are spreading — such as Britain and Brazil — and recently it announced that it would require proof of a negative COVID-19 test for anyone flying into the country. But the new variant seen in Britain is already spreading in the U.S., and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has warned that it will probably become the dominant version in the country by March. The CDC said the variant is about 50% more contagious than the virus that is causing the bulk of cases in the U.S. FILE – A health care worker tends to a COVID-19 patient in the intensive care unit at Santa Clara Valley Medical Center during the coronavirus pandemic in San Jose, California, January 13, 2021.While the variant does not cause more severe illness, it can cause more hospitalizations and deaths simply because it spreads more easily. In Britain, it has aggravated a severe outbreak that has swamped hospitals, and it has been blamed for sharp leaps in cases in some other European countries. Many U.S. states are already under tremendous strain. The seven-day rolling average of daily deaths is rising in 30 states and the District of Columbia, and on Monday the U.S. death toll surpassed 398,000, according to data collected by Johns Hopkins University — by far the highest recorded death toll of any country in the world. One of the states hardest hit during the recent surge is Arizona, where the rolling average has increased over the past two weeks from about 90 deaths per day to about 160 per day on January 17.Rural Yuma County — known as the winter lettuce capital of the U.S. — is now one of the state’s hot spots. Exhausted nurses there are now regularly sending COVID-19 patients on a long helicopter ride to hospitals in Phoenix when they don’t have enough staff. The county has lagged on coronavirus testing in heavily Hispanic neighborhoods and just ran out of vaccines. But some support is coming from military nurses and a new wave of free tests for farmworkers and the elderly in Yuma County. FILE – Tents are set up so people who have registered can get their COVID-19 vaccinations as they drive through the parking lot of the State Farm Stadium in Glendale, Arizona, January 12, 2021.Amid the surge, a vast effort is under way to get Americans vaccinated, but the campaign is off to an uneven start. According to the latest federal data, about 31.2 million doses of vaccine have been distributed, but only about 10.6 million people have received at least one dose. In California, the most populous state, counties are pleading for more vaccine as the state tries to reduce a high rate of infection that has led to record numbers of hospitalizations and deaths. Although the state last week said anyone age 65 and older can start receiving the vaccine, Los Angeles County and some others have said they don’t have enough to inoculate so many people. They are concentrating on protecting health care workers and the most vulnerable elderly in care homes first. On Monday, the superintendent of the Los Angeles Unified School District sent a letter asking for state and county authorization to provide vaccinations at schools for staff, local community members — and for students once a vaccine for children has been approved. The death rate from COVID-19 in Los Angeles County — an epicenter of the U.S. pandemic — works out to about one person every six minutes. On Sunday, the South Coast Air Quality Management District suspended some pollution-control limits on the number of cremations for at least 10 days in order to deal with a backlog of bodies at hospitals and funeral homes. In other areas of the country, officials are working to ensure that people take the vaccine once they’re offered it amid concerns that many people are hesitant to take it. Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, in a livestreamed event on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, received a shot, and urged other Marylanders to do likewise. “We’re all looking forward to the day we can take off and throw away our masks … when we can go out for a big celebration at our favorite crowded restaurant or bar with all our family and friends,” Hogan said. “The only way we are going to return to a sense of normalcy is by these COVID-19 vaccines.” In New York, Cuomo said the state, which has recorded more than 41,000 deaths, is “in a footrace” between the vaccination rate and the infection rate. He said federal authorities needed to improve their efforts to get vaccine doses distributed swiftly.
The decision by social media giants to police more content, along with banning U.S. President Donald Trump and some of his supporters from posting, is intensifying a debate in Europe over how to regulate platforms such as Facebook and Twitter.The hotly contested debate has mostly focused on whether governments should intervene to censor and curtail freedom of speech, or whether they should protect opinion from being blocked or scrubbed by the social media giants, however offensive the views. But a growing number of European leaders sees a third way to reduce fake news, hate speech, disinformation and poisonous personal attacks — by treating social media providers not as owners of neutral platforms connecting consumers with digital content creators but as publishers in their own right. This would help sidestep fears over state censorship of speech, they say.Amending laws to make them legally responsible, just as traditional newspapers and broadcasters are for the content they carry, would render the social media companies liable for defamation and slander lawsuits. By blocking content and banning some users, social media companies have unwittingly boosted the argument that they are content providers, as they are now in practice taking on a greater role as editors of opinion.British Prime Minister Boris Johnson holds a news conference in Downing Street on the outcome of the Brexit negotiations, in London, Dec. 24, 2020.“I do think there’s a real debate now to be had about the status of the big internet companies and whether they should be identified as mere platforms or as publishers, because when you start editorializing, then you’re in a different world,” British Prime Minister Boris Johnson told a parliamentary committee last week. Many European Union leaders have criticized social media companies for banishing Trump and his supporters from their platforms. Facebook has blocked or deleted content that uses the phrase, “Stop the Steal,” which refers to false claims of election fraud. Twitter says it has suspended more than 70,000 accounts of QAnon conspiracy theorists who believe Trump is waging a secret war against elite Satan-worshipping pedophiles in government, business and the media.German Chancellor Angela Merkel addresses the media during a statement at the chancellery in Berlin, Germany, Nov. 9, 2020 on the results of the US elections.German Chancellor Angela Merkel expressed her concerns about the blocking and deleting, calling it a step too far.“The right to freedom of opinion is of fundamental importance,” her spokesperson, Steffen Seibert, told reporters.Some countries led by populist governments, such as Poland, are considering drafting legislation that would prohibit Facebook, Twitter and other social media companies from censoring opinions, fearing the social media giants will censor them.But political pressure is also mounting in other countries for the state to regulate speech and to police social media platforms.The idea that social media companies should be subject to similar regulation as newspapers and television and radio broadcasters is not new. Newspaper owners have long bristled at the social media platforms being treated differently under the law from traditional media. They have complained that Facebook and others are piggy backing off the content they produce, while reaping massive profits selling ads.FILE – The Facebook application is displayed on a mobile phone at a store in Chicago, July 30, 2019.Last year, Facebook pushed back on the idea of social media platforms being treated like traditional media, arguing in a report that they should be placed in a separate category halfway between newspapers and the telecommunications industry. The company agreed that new regulatory rules are needed but argued they should focus on the monitoring and removal of mechanisms that firms might put in place to block “harmful” posts, rather than restrictions on companies carrying specific types of speech or being liable for content. Johnson’s advocacy of treating social media giants like traditional media is being echoed in the United States, where Congress passed the Communications Decency Act in 1996. The measure largely allowed the companies to regulate themselves and shielded them from liability for much of the content posted on their platforms.Section 230 of the legislation stated: “No provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by another information content provider.” Ironically, Section 230 has drawn the disapproval of both Trump and President-elect Joe Biden. Both have called for the section’s repeal, which would make social media legally responsible for what people post, rendering them vulnerable to lawsuits for defamation and slander. Last week, Biden told The New York Times he favored the internet’s biggest liability shield being “revoked, immediately.”
Malawian President Lazarus Chakwera has introduced new lockdown measures to contain a jump in confirmed cases and deaths from COVID-19. The restrictions include school closures, a night-time curfew, and no gatherings over 50 people.
The measure comes five days after Chakwera declared a state of national disaster in response to the recent spike in COVID-19 cases.
The new measures, he said, are being enacted because the situation is getting worse in the second wave of the pandemic.
“This year alone, a total of 5,091 people have tested positive for Covid-19 across the country. This means that of all the people confirmed to have contracted the virus since April last year, 43% have been found with the virus this year alone, showing a sharp rise in infections and a lapse in prevention,” he said.
Chakwera said that so far this year, 111 Malawians have died from COVID-19, an average of seven people per day.
“This means that of all the deaths from COVID-19 in the past nine months, over a third have happened in the past 16 days, showing a sharp rise in fatalities,” he said.
To reverse this, Chakwera ordered that all schools to be closed for three weeks, except for students currently doing Certificate of Education examinations.
Chakwera also said all students in boarding schools must be screened for COVID-19 before they go home.
The Ministry of Education disclosed Monday that out of 605 students at one girls’ secondary school in Lilongwe, 311, or just over half, have tested positive for coronavirus.
As for the lockdown measures, the president ordered markets to be closed at 5 p.m. and drinking establishments to close by 8 p.m. He said no one should be on the streets between 9 p.m. and 5 a.m., and banned gatherings of over 50 people.
Benedicto Kondowe, executive director for the Civil Society Education Coalition, argues that closing schools should be the last option.
“Schools were closed for not less than seven months in the first wave of COVID, and registered unprecedented number of teenage pregnancies in excess of 40,000. And that’s why we are saying ‘Could there be a mechanism of mitigating and containing the virus while the schools are still in sessions?” he asked.
Kondowe says the government should devise a plan that allows some students to continue with their education.
“We do not know for how long COVID will remain with us. If COVID takes three years, five years and you are seriously saying that ‘education should be suspended.’ What future will he have created for generations to come?” he asked.
However, George Jobe, executive director for Malawi Health Equity Network, commends the new measures.
He advises Malawians to strictly observe all restrictions for the sake of their own health, and not wait for police to enforce them.
The director general of the World Health Organization, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, warns the inequitable distribution of COVID-19 vaccines between rich and poor countries will prolong the global pandemic. Tedros delivered this stark warning Monday at the opening of a week-long meeting of the WHO Executive Board. WHO chief Tedros called the development and approval of safe, effective vaccines less than a year after the coronavirus emerged a stunning scientific achievement.However, he warned that hopes of quickly ending the pandemic are in danger. This, because the richer countries are buying up and hoarding all the available vaccines, leaving none for the poorer countries.“More than 39 million doses of vaccine have now been administered in at least 49 higher-income countries. Just 25 doses have been given in one lowest-income country. Not 25 million; not 25,000; just 25,” he said.A global initiative, COVAX, was formed nine months ago to ensure fair and equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines for every country. The organization has managed to secure two billion doses from five producers, with options to receive more than a billion more doses.But Tedros said plans to start vaccine deliveries in February to many of the world’s poorer countries is now at risk. He said he fears a number of high-income countries may backtrack on their promises of equitable distribution.“I need to be blunt: the world is on the brink of a catastrophic moral failure—and the price of this failure will be paid with lives and livelihoods in the world’s poorest countries,” he said.Tedros said he considers this me-first approach self-defeating. He warned rich countries will pay a heavy price in ignoring the needs of the world’s poorest and most vulnerable people.These actions, he said, will prolong the pandemic, and added that the restrictions needed to contain the virus will increase human and economic suffering.