Britain Faces Travel Bans Amid Soaring Delta Variant Infections

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

Zimbabwe Imposes Curfew to Contain Rising COVID-19 Cases

Zimbabwe’s new COVID-19 lockdown includes a curfew, a ban on intercity travel, and a vaccination blitz aimed at border towns and vendors.  But vendors and rights activists say the government should make more vaccine available instead of tightening regulations.President Emmerson Mnangagwa announced the new measures, including a 6:30 p.m.-to-6 a.m. curfew, on national television Tuesday. He said the restrictions were the result of a recent spike in COVID-19 cases.“Commerce and industry are to open from 0800 hours to 1530 hours. Travelers from countries with alpha and delta COVID-19 variants will be quarantined and tested on the 1st, 3rd, 5th and 10th day, at their own expense. Those deported back to Zimbabwe will be subject to self-quarantine or will be quarantined in identified places. Travelers with fake COVID-19 documents will attract custodial sentences,” said the president.The new measures to contain COVID-19 include what the government is calling a “vaccination blitz” targeting borders and vendors.The head of the Zimbabwe Vendors Initiative for Social and Economic Transformation, Samuel Wadzai, has welcomed the new regulations allowing vendors to operate for limited hours.But Wadzai said the vaccination program should be voluntary, not compulsory.“What we can urge the government is for the vaccine to be accessed without queueing for long hours. Let’s decentralize. This is the only way we can do away with these lockdowns. In their nature lockdowns are restrictive and they don’t give us space to operate as informal traders. So, we urge the government to quickly ensure that the vaccines are available,” he said.  About 771,000 Zimbabweans out of a population of 14 million have received their first shots, and 545,000 have received their second inoculations since the program started in February. The country had a monthlong shortage of vaccine until it received 500,000 Sinopharm doses from China on Saturday.People queue for COVID-19 vaccine shots at Zimbabwe’s largest health institution, Parirenyatwa Hospital, in Harare, June 08, 2021. (Columbus Mavhunga/VOA)Zimbabwe has about 48,533 confirmed coronavirus infections and 1,761 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University in the United States, which tracks the global outbreak.Dewa Mavhinga, head of Human Rights Watch in southern Africa, told VOA the infection figures do not justify a dusk-to-dawn curfew.“It seems excessive. The government is focusing more on restrictions than on other efforts that are needed to contain the coronavirus — efforts such as ramping up vaccinations, ensuring that all essential workers are vaccinated and ensuring that the adult population in Zimbabwe is vaccinated. There is no movement in that regard,” said Mavhinga.Zimbabwe’s seven-day average infection rate has increased five times in the last two weeks, according to official figures released this week.The government says it is importing more vaccine in July and in August to achieve herd immunity for about 10 million people by the end of the year.

Bangladesh to Lock Down as COVID-19 Cases Surge

Bangladesh starts its most severe lockdown of the COVID-19 pandemic Thursday with people allowed to leave their homes only in emergencies and soldiers set to patrol the streets to enforce it, as the nation faces a deadly resurgence of COVID-19 infections.The government announced the new measures as the coronavirus surged in recent days, particularly in border areas. Health officials say the national COVID-19 positivity rate is now over 20%. Sunday saw a record number of deaths, with 119, followed by a record number of new cases — 8,364 — set Monday.Along with home confinement, the restrictions include the closure of public transport networks, sending thousands rushing to ferry and bus stations over the last two days to make it home before Thursday.  The Guardian newspaper reports Cabinet secretary Khandker Anwarul Islam told reporters troops would be deployed after the lockdown takes effect. He said, “If anyone ignores their orders, legal action will be [taken against] them.”Bangladesh closed its borders when the pandemic hit last year. But many people travelled to and from India illegally anyway, bringing with them new infections. And while India’s situation has stabilized, in Bangladesh, it has escalated.Health officials are concerned the Eid al-adha Muslim holiday at the end of July will only exacerbate the situation. Bangladesh Institute of Epidemiology, Disease Control and Research official Dr. ASM Alamgir said that if the Delta variant of coronavirus that causes COVID-19 is not already in Bangladesh, it will be by then.  He said that while new infections are currently concentrated around border areas, during Eid millions of people go from the capital, Dhaka, where infections are also on the rise, to village areas.Officials expect Thursday’s lockdown to last at least a week.  Some information in this report is from The Associated Press.

Microsoft Exec Says Targeting of Americans’ Records ‘Routine’

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

Europe, US Warn About Disinformation Campaign Around Russia’s Sputnik V Vaccine 

Efforts are taking place around the world to vaccinate as many people as possible to protect against COVID-19.  Officials are tracking the safety and effectiveness of those efforts, but some medical experts say they aren’t getting the information they need on Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine. Anush Avetisyan has the story.Camera: David Gogokhia      
Produced by:  Henry Hernandez  

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

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

Sinovac Vaccine Falls Short of Expectations, But Options Limited

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

Biden, Western Governors to Discuss Wildfire Response

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

Rolling Blackouts, Multiple Deaths in Pacific Northwest Heat Wave

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

Florida Governor Announces Start of Python Challenge

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

 NASA Katherine Johnson Supply Ship Departs ISS

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

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

The U.N. World Meteorological Organization (WMO) Tuesday called the heatwave hitting the Pacific Northwest corner of the United States “exceptional and dangerous,” and says it could last at least another five days. Speaking to reporters from Geneva, a WMO spokeswoman said while records have fallen in the U.S. states of Oregon and Washington, western Canada has seen extreme heat as well. Extreme #heat hits Northwest USA and Western Canada, which saw new record temperature of 47.9°C
Many parts of northern hemisphere have seen exceptionally high temperatures#Climatechange ➡️more frequent and intense heatwaves
Roundup is here
— World Meteorological Organization (@WMO) People look for ways to cool off at Willow’s Beach during the ‘heat dome,’ currently hovering over British Columbia and Alberta as record-setting breaking temperatures scorch the province and in Victoria, British Columbia, Canada, June 28, 2021.The WMO said the extreme heat is caused by “an atmospheric blocking pattern,” which has led to a “heat dome” — a large area of high pressure — trapped by low pressure on either side. The organization said the temperatures would likely peak early this week on the coast and by the middle of the week in the interior of British Columbia; afterward, the baking heat is expected to move east toward Alberta. The U.S. National Weather Service in Portland, Oregon, on its Twitter account late Monday, reported cooler air was already in the region along the coastline. In a tweet Sunday, the Oregon Climate Service said the climate system is no longer in a balanced state, and such heat events “are becoming more frequent and intense, a trend projected to continue.”

Start-Up Creates Robot to Help Kids Relax at Doctor’s Office

A robot called Robin is helping to ease kids’ anxiety in doctors’ offices and dental chairs. Deana Mitchell reports.

4 Major Australian Cities Under New Lockdown 

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

Australian Investors Demand Corporate Climate Change Transparency

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

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

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

Record-breaking Heat Wave Continues to Batter Pacific Northwest

The U.S. Pacific Northwest baked under record-breaking temperatures again Monday as the region endures a dangerous heat wave that has placed at least portions of six states under excessive heat warnings from the National Weather Service.Portland, Oregon, hit 46 Celsius (115 Fahrenheit), an all-time high, by late afternoon. Seattle, Washington, a city known for its normally cool and rainy climate, also broke records: 41.6 C (107 F) at the National Weather Service Seattle station and 41 C (106 F) at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport.Temperatures are expected to fall starting Tuesday with highs in the low 90s.The two cities broke all-time heat records over the weekend, as Portland reached 44 C (111 F) on Sunday, setting a new record from the day before when the mercury climbed to 42 C (108 F).Seattle’s temperature rose to a record of 40 C (104 F) on Sunday.Portland and Seattle rank among the three least air-conditioned cities in the nation, according to a study by The Seattle Times, compounding the impacts of the heat wave for residents.Numerous other records broke on Sunday in Washington, Oregon and California, including the record for the highest temperature ever recorded during the month of June in Washington state.According to heat alerts published by the National Weather Service, the extreme temperatures “significantly increase the potential for heat-related illnesses,” such as heat stroke and in some cases, death.A man visiting California died last week after spending an hour in the sun, during which he reached an internal body temperature of nearly 41 C (105.8).Heat kills more Americans in an average year than any other weather event, though it rarely receives the same amount of attention as more visibly destructive natural disasters such as hurricanes or tornadoes.Though heat-related deaths are rare, the soaring temperatures pose health risks, prompting cities like Portland and Seattle to open public cooling centers, where they offer food, water and air conditioning.Officials even delayed the Olympic trials in Eugene, Oregon, for several hours Sunday, citing health concerns for the athletes and spectators.The excessive heat levels are a result of a “heat dome,” which happens when high atmospheric pressures interact with cold winds coming from the Pacific Ocean and create a “dome,” which traps heat under it.According to The Washington Post, this specific heat dome is so strong that it statistically occurs only once every several thousand years.

Judge Dismisses Government Antitrust Lawsuits Against Facebook

A federal judge on Monday dismissed antitrust lawsuits brought against Facebook by the Federal Trade Commission and a coalition of state attorneys general, dealing a significant blow to attempts by regulators to rein in tech giants. U.S. District Judge James Boasberg ruled Monday that the lawsuits were “legally insufficient” and didn’t provide enough evidence to prove that Facebook was a monopoly. The ruling dismisses the complaint but not the case, meaning the FTC could refile another complaint. “These allegations — which do not even provide an estimated actual figure or range for Facebook’s market share at any point over the past 10 years — ultimately fall short of plausibly establishing that Facebook holds market power,” he said. The U.S. government and 48 states and districts sued Facebook in December 2020, accusing the tech giant of abusing its market power in social networking to crush smaller competitors and seeking remedies that could include a forced spinoff of the social network’s Instagram and WhatsApp messaging services. The FTC had alleged Facebook engaged in a “a systematic strategy” to eliminate its competition, including by purchasing smaller up-and-coming rivals like Instagram in 2012 and WhatsApp in 2014. New York Attorney General Letitia James said when filing the suit that Facebook “used its monopoly power to crush smaller rivals and snuff out competition, all at the expense of everyday users.” Boasberg dismissed the separate complaint made by the state attorneys general, as well. 

Uprooted Again: Venezuela Migrants Cross US Border in Droves

Marianela Rojas huddles in prayer with her fellow migrants, a tearful respite after trudging across a slow-flowing stretch of the Rio Grande and nearly collapsing onto someone’s backyard lawn, where, seconds before, she stepped on American soil for the first time.
“I won’t say it again,” interrupts a U.S. Border Patrol agent, giving orders in Spanish for Rojas and a dozen others to get into an idling detention van. “Only passports and money in your hands. Everything else — earrings, chains, rings, watches — in your backpacks. Hats and shoelaces too.”
It’s a frequent scene across the U.S.-Mexico border at a time of swelling migration. But these aren’t farmers and low-wage workers from Mexico or Central America, who make up the bulk of those crossing. They’re bankers, doctors and engineers from Venezuela, and they’re arriving in record numbers as they flee turmoil in the country with the world’s largest oil reserves and pandemic-induced pain across South America.
Two days after Rojas crossed, she left detention and rushed to catch a bus out of the Texas town of Del Rio. Between phone calls to loved ones who didn’t know where she was, the 54-year-old recounted fleeing hardship in Venezuela a few years ago, leaving a paid-off home and once-solid career as an elementary school teacher for a fresh start in Ecuador.
But when the little work she found cleaning houses dried up, she decided to uproot again — this time without her children.
“It’s over, it’s all over,” she said into the phone recently, crying as her toddler grandson appeared shirtless on screen. “Everything was perfect. I didn’t stop moving for one second.”
Last month, 7,484 Venezuelans were encountered  by Border Patrol agents along the U.S.-Mexico border — more than all 14 years for which records exist.
The surprise increase has drawn comparisons to the midcentury influx of Cubans fleeing Fidel Castro’s communist rule. It’s also a harbinger of a new type of migration that has caught the Biden administration off guard: pandemic refugees.
Many of the nearly 17,306 Venezuelans who have crossed the southern border illegally since January had been living for years in other South American countries, part of an exodus of nearly 6 million Venezuelans since President Nicolás Maduro took power in 2013.
While some are government opponents fearing harassment and jailing, the vast majority are escaping long-running economic devastation marked by blackouts and shortages of food and medicine.
With the pandemic still raging in many parts of South America, they have had to relocate again. Increasingly, they’re being joined at the U.S. border by people from the countries they initially fled to — even larger numbers of Ecuadorians and Brazilians have arrived this year — as well as far-flung nations hit hard by the virus, like India and Uzbekistan.
U.S. government data shows that 42% of all families encountered along the border in May hailed from places other than Mexico, El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras — the traditional drivers of migratory trends. That compares with just 8% during the last sharp increase in migration in 2019. The Border Patrol recorded more than 180,000 encounters in May, a two-decade high that includes migrants’ repeated attempts to cross.
Compared with other migrants, Venezuelans garner certain privileges — a reflection of their firmer financial standing, higher education levels and U.S. policies that have failed to remove Maduro but nonetheless made deportation all but impossible.
The vast majority enter the U.S. near Del Rio, a town of 35,000 people, and they don’t try to evade detention but rather turn themselves in to Border Patrol agents to seek asylum.
Like many of the dozens of Venezuelans The Associated Press spoke to this month in Del Rio, 27-year-old Lis Briceno had already migrated once before. After graduating with a degree in petroleum engineering, she couldn’t get hired in the oil fields near her hometown of Maracaibo without declaring her loyalty to Venezuela’s socialist leadership. So she moved to Chile a few years ago, finding work with a technology company.
But as anti-government unrest and the pandemic tanked Chile’s economy, sales plunged and her company shuttered.
Briceno sold what she could — a refrigerator, a telephone, her bed — to raise the $4,000 needed for her journey to the U.S. She filled a backpack and set out with a heart lock amulet she got from a friend to ward off evil spirits.
“I always thought I’d come here on vacation, to visit the places you see in the movies,” Briceno said. “But doing this? Never.”
While Central Americans and others can spend months trekking through the jungle, stowing away on freight trains and sleeping in makeshift camps run by cartels on their way north, most Venezuelans reach the U.S. in as little as four days.
“This is a journey they’re definitely prepared for from a financial standpoint,” said Tiffany Burrow, who runs the Val Verde Border Humanitarian Coalition’s shelter in Del Rio, where migrants can eat, clean up and buy bus tickets to Miami, Houston and other cities with large Venezuelan communities.
They first fly to Mexico City or Cancun, where foreign visitors are down sharply but nearly 45,000 Venezuelans arrived in the first four months of 2021. Smugglers promoting themselves as “travel agencies” have cropped up on Facebook, claiming to offer hassle-free transport to the U.S. in exchange for about $3,000.
“We’re doing things the way they do things here — under the table,” a smuggler said in a voice message a migrant shared with the AP. “You’ll never be alone. Someone will always be with you.”
The steep price includes a guided sendoff from Ciudad Acuna, where the bulk of Venezuelans cross the Rio Grande. The hardscrabble town a few hundred wet steps from Del Rio is attractive to both smugglers and migrants with deeper pockets because it had been largely spared the violence seen elsewhere on the border.
“If you’re a smuggler in the business of moving a commodity — because that’s how they view money, guns, people, drugs and everything they move, as a product — then you want to move it through the safest area possible charging the highest price,” said Austin L. Skero II, chief of the U.S. Border Patrol’s Del Rio sector.
But the number of smugglers caught with weapons has recently increased in the area, and agents who normally hunt down criminals are tied up processing migrants.
The uptick in migrants crossing is “purely a diversion tactic used by the cartels” to carry out crime, Skero said as a group of Haitians carrying young children emerged from a thicket of tall carrizo cane on the riverbank.
Once in the U.S., Venezuelans tend to fare better than other groups. In March, Biden granted Temporary Protected Status to an estimated 320,000 Venezuelans. The designation allows people coming from countries ravaged by war or disaster to work legally in the U.S. and gives protection from deportation.
While new arrivals don’t qualify, Venezuelans requesting asylum — as almost all do — tend to succeed, partly because the U.S. government corroborates reports of political repression. Only 26% of asylum requests from Venezuelans have been denied this year, compared with an 80% rejection rate for asylum-seekers from poorer, violence-plagued countries in Central America, according to Syracuse University’s Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse.
“I can write their asylum requests almost by heart,” said Jodi Goodwin, an immigration attorney in Harlingen, Texas, who has represented over 100 Venezuelans. “These are higher-educated people who can advocate for themselves and tell their story in a chronological, clean way that judges are accustomed to thinking.”
Even Venezuelans facing deportation have hope. The Trump administration broke diplomatic relations with Maduro when it recognized Juan Guaidó as Venezuela’s rightful leader in 2019. Air travel is suspended, even charter flights, making removal next to impossible.
Meanwhile, as the migrants leave Del Rio to reconnect with loved ones in the U.S., they are confident that with sacrifice and hard work, they’ll get an opportunity denied them back home.
Briceno said that if she had stayed in Venezuela, she would earn the equivalent of $50 a month — barely enough to scrape by.
“The truth is,” says Briceno, hustling to catch a bus to Houston where her boyfriend landed a well-paying oil industry job, “it’s better to wash toilets here than being an engineer over there.”

Modi: ‘Threat of COVID-19 Remains’

“The threat of COVID-19 remains,” Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi said in his monthly broadcast Sunday, “and we have to focus on vaccination, as well as follow COVID-19 protocols.”Modi encouraged Indians to get vaccinated and give up any vaccine hesitancy. He urged them to trust science and scientists in the battle against the coronavirus that has overwhelmed India.On Sunday, India’s health ministry reported more than 50,000 new COVID-19 cases and more than 1,200 deaths.According to the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center, India is second only to the U.S. in the number of coronavirus cases, but health officials have warned that India’s case numbers are likely significantly undercounted.Johns Hopkins said Sunday that the U.S. has 33.6 million infections, while India has 30.2 million. Brazil follows with 18.3 million cases. The global count for cases is 180.8 million.The delta variant of the coronavirus is sending Australia, New Zealand and Bangladesh into some form of lockdown, along with parts of Portugal. Even Israel, where more than half of the population is vaccinated, is reimposing a mask mandate in enclosed public places.The variant, which was first discovered in India, has been identified in at least 85 countries and “is the most transmissible of the variants identified so far … and is spreading rapidly among unvaccinated populations,” World Health Organization Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said Friday.Sydney, Australia’s biggest city, on Saturday began a two-week lockdown because of the growing number of cases of COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus.The delta variant is to blame for the first lockdown in Sydney since December. Stay-at-home orders will also apply to other areas in New South Wales, Australia’s most populous state.New Zealand, because of the Australian outbreaks, is suspending quarantine-free travel between the two neighbors for three days. On Monday, Bangladesh will enter a national lockdown for a week, with people allowed to leave their homes only for medical reasons.The delta variant is also behind a surge in cases in Russia. On Saturday, St. Petersburg, which will host the quarter-final of the Euro 2020 matches Friday, announced 107 COVID-19 deaths, a daily record for the city since the pandemic began.The variant is also prompting alarm across Africa, where cases rose 25% in a week.”We are in the exponential phase of the pandemic with the numbers just growing very, very, extremely fast,” virologist Tulio de Oliveira said, according to Reuters.Meanwhile, health officials say the delta variant of the coronavirus has its own variant, called delta plus. It has emerged in almost a dozen countries, including India, the United States, and the U.K. Authorities fear delta plus may be more contagious than the delta variant. Scientists are just beginning to study the new strain.Reuters and Agence France-Presse contributed to this report.