Africa Braces for Second Coronavirus Wave  

As a second wave of coronavirus approaches, Africa has a plan, says the continent’s top health official.     In recent weeks, the continent has started to distribute 2.7 million rapid antigen tests. By mid-2021, health officials hope to vaccinate 60 percent of the continent’s population with one of the several promising new vaccines.     Now, says Dr. John Nkengasong, director of the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, it’s up to the continent’s leaders to try to make that happen.    “That will also require that we mobilize up to about $10 to $12 billion  including the cost of buying the vaccines and the cost of delivering the vaccines,” he told journalists on Thursday by teleconference. “So that is the 60 percent mark that we really want to achieve. And I just really want everyone on this platform and our partners to understand that as a continent that is aspiration and our goal.”    Dr. Nkengasong added that experts are working to bring more clinical trials to the continent. But, he stressed, as COVID-19 numbers rise in some countries — notably, South Africa, Kenya and Algeria — the continent’s health facilities appear to be weathering the onslaught.  FILE – John Nkengasong, Africa’s Director of the Centers for Disease Control, speaks during an interview with Reuters at the African Union Headquarters in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, March 11, 2020.“We are not seeing hospitals being overwhelmed with COVID patients,” he said. “That is clearly what the situation is. We were very encouraged that during the first wave we didn’t see that kind of overwhelming, which we were very worried and concerned with. “That doesn’t tell us that the second wave will not happen. It only tells us that we have to prepare, and prepare using the three T’s — which is the tests, the tracing and the treatment.”     As the continent approaches end-of-year holidays, Nkengasong underscored one piece of advice:    “Do not relent in wearing masks,” he said. “One message that is emerging across the visits we are conducting across the continent is that people are not masking enough. And in some settings, absolutely it seems like they are not masking at all. And that is extremely dangerous. “My worry and fear is that the sacrifices and gains that were made since the beginning of this year … those gains that were made in terms of bringing the pandemic down to where we were in October could be completely wiped out if we relent at this point.”  

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Indian Company Says it Has Made Millions of Doses of AstraZeneca Vaccine Candidate for COVID-19

There is rising optimism in India about getting access to a COVID-19 vaccine after Britain-based pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca announced clinical trials of its vaccine candidate have shown it prevented infections. As Anjana Pasricha reports from New Delhi, an Indian vaccine manufacturing company is already making the vaccine, even though final approvals have still to come. Experts say this could give India a head start in rolling out vaccines.  Producer:  Marcus Harton

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Taiwan Using its Close US Ties to Seek Elusive Economic Deals with a Major Trading Partner

Taiwan is taking its strong relations with the United States to a new level by pursuing economic deals that could make the export-reliant but isolated Asian island more competitive in the world.U.S. and Taiwanese officials Friday signed a memorandum of understanding to expand “economic prosperity” through a series of talks, the de facto U.S. embassy in Taipei, the American Institute in Taiwan, said in a statement on its website. Future dialogue will be aimed at creating new types of cooperation, the statement said.The memo signed in Washington raises hopes that Taiwan and the United States can eventually do more together economically, officials in Taipei say.“In the future, cooperation will grow even closer and broader,” Taiwan’s Foreign Affairs Ministry said.Taiwan’s ultimate prize would be a formal free trade agreement, and Taipei has already charmed the United States this year by easing bans on pork and beef imports, despite pushback from domestic pig growers. Without a trade deal, Taiwan must pay standard import tariffs to the massive U.S. market rather than the lower tariffs granted to export competitors, such as South Korea, that have agreements with Washington.“Signing this memorandum means that there’s a chance to move forward,” said Liang Kuo-yuan, president of the Polaris Research Institute research organization in Taipei.“If you can keep it up, then longer term and then if they can sign a deal, for Taiwan of course there’s a very big advantage,” he said.Taiwan, because of a decades-old political dispute with Beijing, struggles to sign deals with China’s 170-plus diplomatic allies including the United States.’A lot of anxiety’China also frowns on Taiwan’s ambitions to join major world trade agreements. This month the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations inked a Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership trade deal with China, among other states.“The regional treaty between China and the ASEAN, that is what has been creating a lot of attention in Taiwan, because of China being part of the ASEAN and Taiwan won’t be able to have that privilege,” said Kent Chong, managing director of professional services firm PwC Legal in Taipei.“That creates a lot of anxiety,” he said.The United States is Taiwan’s second-biggest trade partner, based on $85.5 billion in total imports and exports last year. Technology products and services, including personal computers, make up roughly one-fifth of the Taiwan gross domestic product.In 1994 Taiwan and the United States agreed to talk regularly toward a trade deal, and they had met 10 times as of 2016 but never under U.S. President Donald Trump. Trump, however, has elevated overall U.S.-Taiwan ties by speeding the pace of arms sales, signing pro-Taiwan legislation, and sending senior-level officials to the island.Taiwan fits Trump’s tough China policy, which is marked by disputes over trade, technology sharing and Beijing’s maritime expansion. China calls self-ruled Taiwan its own and resents the United States for helping it politically or militarily.Although the broad strength in Taiwan-U.S. political ties will help with economic deal-making, trade agreements with the United States normally take years as each side frets over protecting segments of its economy. The 2010 U.S.-South Korea free trade agreement took more than four years to work out. Taiwan should make “psychological preparation” for a long process, Liang said.Only after the two sides announce specific industries for discussion would Taiwan’s numerous smaller companies get excited, said Lin Ta-han, CEO of the Founder-Backer, a Taipei company that helps startups raise money.“Unless there’s a chapter that discusses content related to tech development or startup companies, if this [dialogue] just has no specific nature or if there’s no specific deal, then we wouldn’t get see this news as advantageous or disadvantageous,” Lin said.For now, Taiwan and the United States plan to discuss working together on 5G networks, internet security, the safety of investments, “reliable” supply chains and resilience in manufacturing, the AIT statement said. Taiwan expects talks too on cooperation in infrastructure, including renewable energy, the ministry statement said.To smooth the way for any trade talks, Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen said in August that starting next year her government would lift a ban against U.S. pork containing the feed additive ractopamine and ease restrictions on imports of American beef.     

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Pandemic Postpones National Math, Reading Tests Until 2022

National reading and math tests long used to track what U.S. students know in those subjects are being postponed from next year to 2022 over concerns about whether testing would be feasible or produce valid results during the coronavirus pandemic, the National Center for Education Statistics announced Wednesday.The biennial National Assessment of Educational Progress evaluations used for the Nation’s Report Card were slated for early next year for hundreds of thousands of the country’s fourth- and eighth-graders. But widespread remote learning and health protocols would have added big complications and costs because the model uses shared equipment and sends outside proctors to conduct the testing in schools.Pushing ahead with testing in 2021 runs the risk of spending tens of millions of dollars and still not getting the data necessary to produce a reliable, comparable picture of state and national student performance, NCES Commissioner James Woodworth said in a statement. By law, they would have to wait another two years for the next chance at testing.Testing in 2022 instead “would be more likely to provide valuable — and valid — data about student achievement in the wake of COVID-19 to support effective policy, research, and resource allocation,” the leaders of the National Assessment Governing Board said in a separate statement supporting the move.The nonpartisan Council of Chief State School Officers also supported the NAEP postponement.Ohio Department of Education spokesperson Mandy Minick called it “entirely understandable” given the extensive disruptions schools are facing.”I think we’re all on the same page about trying to stress health and safety,” she said.However, the decision also delays data that could help show how the pandemic is impacting learning.Woodworth suggested that results from states’ annual tests — generally conducted using schools’ own equipment and staff, and perhaps therefore more feasible than the national tests — could help bridge the gap and provide a state-level look at the impact. But the NAEP postponement might have ripple effects in the debate about whether those state tests even happen in spring 2021.State tests, which are federally mandated and are used more for accountability purposes, were canceled last spring under federal waivers as the pandemic surged. The current presidential administration had indicated states shouldn’t expect to be granted another round of waivers if they request them, but it’s an issue likely to come up again after President-elect Joe Biden’s administration takes office.”If the national assessment can’t be done in ’21, states are legitimately going to say, ‘Well, why are we expected to test in ’21?'” said Chester Finn, a former chair of the National Assessment Governing Board and president emeritus of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute who advocates results-based accountability.If states get to skip the tests again this spring, that could create a multiyear gap in data that helps inform other decisions and identify concerns, and that’s problematic, Finn said.”If you’re not held accountable for your results, or there’s no way to do it because there’s no information about your results, then all sorts of bad things happen to the education system and to the kids in the education system,” he said. “We sort of go back to the pre-accountability days, when, you know, the only thing you knew about a kid’s learning was the teachers’ grades, and the only thing you knew about a school’s performance was what the principal said it was, and nobody had data on gaps between different groups of kids.”

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Ignoring COVID Warnings, Millions Travel for Thanksgiving Holiday

Millions of Americans have resumed traveling this year to spend the Thanksgiving holiday with family and friends -this despite a warning from the Centers for Disease Control to stay home. VOA’s Carol Pearson has the latest. 

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China Stepping Up Virus Testing on Imported Food Packaging

China is stepping up virus inspections on imported food packaging as cooler weather brings new waves of coronavirus infections in several overseas countries, Chinese officials said Wednesday.
Packaging is “not exempt” from carrying the virus, deputy director of the National Food Safety Risk Assessment Center Li Ning told reporters.
While the coronavirus positivity rate for tests on packages was just 0.48 per 10,000, that proportion is increasing along with the number of tests being conducted, Li said.
She said the virus could “to some extent” be passed to humans from packaging, although neither Li or any other official at Wednesday’s news conference mentioned any such confirmed cases.
Chinese testing of packaging has stirred some controversy, with exporters of frozen food items questioning the science behind it and whether it amounts to an unfair trade barrier. China has defended the practice as an additional measure to prevent the virus’s spread.
Through mask mandates, mass testing, lockdowns and case tracing, China has largely eliminated cases of local transmission, causing it to place extra attention on infection threats from outside the country. China’s National Health Administration on Wednesday reported five new cases, all imported, bringing China’s total to 86,469, including 4,634 deaths.
Stopping the virus’s spread is “like fighting a war,” demanding fast, decisive action, CDC Chief Epidemiologist Wu Zunyou said.
“Victory only comes after the entire country is united in its efforts. On this front, technical strategy, strong leadership and coordinated action all play important roles,” Wu said.
The coronavirus is known to be more stable in colder, dryer conditions, and disinfecting packaging at freezing temperatures creates “special challenges,” said Zhang Liubo, chief disinfection officer for the Center for Disease Control.
Even when disinfection works and the virus is no longer infectious, remnants can remain on the packaging, leading to a positive test, Zhang said.
However, “as of present, we have yet to discover any infection caused by direct consumption of products from this cold chain,” Zhang said.

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Millions of Americans Travel for Thanksgiving Holiday Despite COVID Warnings

Millions of Americans have resumed traveling this year to spend the Thanksgiving holiday with family and friends -this despite a warning from the Centers for Disease Control to stay home. VOA’s Carol Pearson has the latest. 

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US Considers Shortening COVID-19 Isolation After Potential Exposure

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is considering reducing the recommended self-quarantine period for people who may have been exposed to someone with COVID-19. Current guidelines recommend people isolate for 14 days in that situation, but an official said Tuesday the period could be shortened an unspecified amount if a person tests negative during the isolation period. The U.S. government is also working on its plan to quickly distribute the first round of coronavirus vaccines, should they receive regulatory approval. General Gustave Perna, chief operations officer for the government’s Operation Warp Speed, told reporters Tuesday that 40 million doses of vaccine made by two manufacturers would be available by the end of December.   The Food and Drug Administration is due to decide December 10 whether to give emergency approval to Pfizer’s vaccine, while Moderna is expected to apply for approval soon.  Both companies have released preliminary results from trials showing their vaccines appear to be effective. The government told states and territories last week how many doses of vaccine they will be allocated in the initial rounds, and it plans to issue further recommendations as to who should be prioritized for receiving the vaccine first.  Health care workers are expected to be a focus of the first round of vaccines, and officials have said it could be April by the time a vaccine is available to everyone in the United States.University of Miami Miller School of Medicine lab tech Sendy Puerto processes blood samples from study participants in the specimen processing lab, Sept. 2, 2020 in Miami.The country is the world leader in total confirmed cases and has seen a spike in infections during the past month.  An average of more than 170,000 new infections have been reported each day during the past week, along with 1,500 daily deaths.  A record number of people are currently hospitalized for COVID-19 treatment. The CDC and officials in many states have urged people not to travel for Thursday’s Thanksgiving holiday or hold large gatherings with family due to fears of making the surge in infections even worse. Neighboring Canada celebrated its Thanksgiving holiday in early October and since then has seen its number of daily infections double. Canada’s Alberta province announced Tuesday a ban on social gatherings, a cap on how many people can be inside retail stores and halted classes for some students. “These measures are tough but necessary,” Premier Jason Kenney said, adding that social gatherings have been the biggest spreaders of the virus. “They are needed to keep our health care system from being overwhelmed.” In Japan, the government scaled back a campaign meant to boost tourism after a spike in cases that began there this month.  Economy Minister Yasutoshi Nishimura said the trips destined for the cities of Sapporo and Osaka would be temporarily excluded. “Although we have tried to balance both economic revitalization as well as virus containment, we have made this decision at the local governors’ request,” Nishimura told reporters. Some European nations are planning to ease restrictions ahead of next month’s Christmas holiday.  French President Emmanuel Macron announced Tuesday that starting Sunday, some shops can reopen and the nationwide stay-at-home orders put in place to hold down another wave in infections would be lifted on December 15. “We will be able to travel without authorization, including between regions, and spend Christmas with our families,” Macron said. 

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Scotland First in the World to Make Sanitary Products Free

Scotland on Tuesday made sanitary products free to all women, becoming the first nation in the world to take such a step against “period poverty.”   The measure makes tampons and sanitary pads available at designated public places such as community centers, youth clubs and pharmacies, at an estimated annual cost to taxpayers of $32 million U.S. The Period Products (Free Provision) Scotland Bill passed unanimously, and First Minister of Scotland Nicola Sturgeon called it “an important policy for women and girls.”   “Proud to vote for this groundbreaking legislation, making Scotland the first country in the world to provide free period products for all who need them,” Sturgeon posted on Twitter. During the debate, the bill’s proposer, Scottish Labour MP Monica Lennon, said: “No one should have to worry about where their next tampon, pad or reusable is coming from.   “Scotland will not be the last country to consign period poverty to history, but we have the chance to be the first,” she said.   In 2018, Scotland became the first country to provide free sanitary products in schools, colleges and universities. Some 10% of girls in Britain have been unable to afford sanitary products, according to a survey by the children’s charity Plan International in 2017, with campaigners warning many skip classes as a consequence.   Sanitary products in the United Kingdom are taxed at 5%, a levy that officials have blamed on European Union (EU) rules that set tax rates on certain products.   Now that Britain has left the EU, British Finance Minister Rishi Sunak has said he would abolish the “tampon tax” in January 2021. 

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NASA Apollo Program Helped Boost US Food Safety

Americans are less likely to get food poisoning this Thanksgiving thanks to NASA. Yes, NASA. The space agency’s Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point (HACCP) system created decades ago for the lunar landing initiative is credited to this day with reducing foodborne illnesses.Originally developed for astronaut food in the early days of the Apollo program, the HACCP system has been adopted by major players in the food industry.Sixty years ago, at what is now Johnson Space Center in Houston, a nutritionist and a Pillsbury microbiologist partnered with NASA to provide uncontaminated food for the astronauts on the Gemini and Apollo missions.Instead of testing end products, Paul Lachance and Howard Bauman came up with a method that identified and controlled potential points of failure in the food production process.To make astronaut food safe, the duo introduced hazards in the production line, observed the hazard and determined how it could be prevented.In 1971, the deaths of two people from botulism, a severe foodborne illness caused by bacteria, prompted the National Canners Association to adopt stricter standards. The Food and Drug Administration and the canners association implemented the HACCP regulations for low-acid canned food.In 1993, an outbreak of food poisoning at a fast-food chain prompted meat and poultry manufacturers to adopt to the HACCP regulations as part of an effort to restore public confidence in the industry. A decade after that, the FDA and the Department of Agriculture made HACCP regulations universal for meat, poultry, seafood and juice producers.Standardization was further strengthened in 2011 when the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act came into existence. While HACCP applies to all U.S. food producers, all applications are unique to particular foodstuffs.Take a look at the typical American Thanksgiving meal now.First, all the foods on the Thanksgiving table have been subjected to HACCP regulations. Cranberry sauce, for instance. The critical control points for cranberry sauce include the washing area where berries are first received, filtration and metal detection points where any foreign materials are removed, a heat treatment pasteurization area, and acidity checks, among others, according to Katy Latimer, vice president of research and development for Ocean Spray, known for its cranberry products.Rigorous controls also exist for turkey production at Butterball Turkey LLC, which says the regulations are “ingrained” in how they produce food.While giving thanks for a nourishing Thanksgiving meal, Americans might spare a few words for NASA’s pioneering program that has prevented stomach aches, and much worse, for decades.

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Americans Wait in Line for Hours for COVID-19 Tests as Holidays Approach

With coronavirus cases surging across the U.S., more people who want to travel to be with family for the Thanksgiving holiday are getting tested for the virus.  Lines are so long now that people wait for hours to be swabbed, as Mariama Diallo reports.

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Retailers Already Fear US Holiday ‘Shipageddon’; Now Here Come Vaccines

Deliveries of holiday gifts purchased online at major retailers could get delayed by something far more critical — COVID-19 vaccines.Pharmaceutical companies, including Pfizer and Moderna, as early as mid-December could begin sending inoculations to U.S. health care workers and nursing home residents.FedEx and United Parcel Service could make space for those shipments on cargo planes by bumping off packages from Amazon.com, Walmart, Target and other retailers.”FedEx is prioritizing vaccines,” company spokeswoman Bonny Harrison told Reuters.While vaccines could displace some FedEx Express air shipments, they will not affect the separate FedEx Ground network that depends on trucks and delivers the majority of the company’s holiday volume, Harrison said.FILE – An Amazon Prime logo appears on the side of a delivery van as it departs an Amazon Warehouse location, Oct. 1, 2020, in Dedham, Mass.UPS, without elaborating, said it is prepared for holiday and vaccine shipments. UPS and FedEx are transportation providers to the federal government’s Operation Warp Speed vaccine project.The additional cargo could cause problems for retailers who were already worried about a year-end “shipageddon” in the United States, where peak holiday demand and a pandemic-fueled surge in online orders of everything from food to furniture risk overwhelming delivery networks.During the peak holiday season, many more products use air versus ground transportation, said Alan Amling, distinguished fellow at the University of Tennessee’s Global Supply Chain Institute.The vaccine is “going to strain the industry, but when it comes to the trade-offs, I’ll take the vaccine,” said Amling, a former UPS executive.”It could not start at any worse time,” said Satish Jindel, president of ShipMatrix, a delivery tracking and management firm. He does not expect impatient shoppers to give the carriers a blanket pass for putting the nation’s health before their last-minute holiday gifts.”Seeing how American consumers are handling the recommendations for safety during the pandemic, they will be more upset about their Christmas online orders being delayed,” Jindel said.Retailers like Target and Best Buy launched Christmas promotions before Halloween, the earliest ever, to spread deliveries of online orders across a longer time frame.Those and other projects are designed to prevent networks from buckling when demand spikes.”This would include vaccines that may be approved for distribution during the holiday peak season,” said Mike Parra, chief executive for DHL Express Americas, a UPS and FedEx rival.Melissa Dorko, 41, and her husband are ordering holiday gifts weeks earlier than usual this year.”We are never this buttoned up,” said Dorko, a mother of three who used to be a last-minute Christmas shopper on Amazon.

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OxyContin Maker Purdue Pharma Pleads Guilty in Criminal Case 

Purdue Pharma pleaded guilty Tuesday to three criminal charges, formally taking responsibility for its part in an opioid epidemic that has contributed to hundreds of thousands of deaths but also angering critics who want to see individuals held accountable, in addition to the company.In a virtual hearing with a federal judge in Newark, New Jersey, the OxyContin maker admitted impeding the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration’s efforts to combat the addiction crisis.Purdue acknowledged that it had not maintained an effective program to prevent prescription drugs from being diverted to the black market, even though it had told the DEA it did have such a program, and that it provided misleading information to the agency as a way to boost company manufacturing quotas.Purdue Pharma headquarters stands in Stamford, Connecticut, Oct. 21, 2020. Purdue Pharma pleaded guilty on Nov. 24 to three criminal charges, formally admitting its role in an opioid epidemic.It also admitted paying doctors through a speakers program to induce them to write more prescriptions for its painkillers.And it admitted paying an electronic medical records company to send doctors information on patients that encouraged them to prescribe opioids.The guilty pleas were entered by Purdue board chairperson Steve Miller on behalf of the company. They were part of a criminal and civil settlement announced last month between the Stamford, Connecticut-based company and the Justice Department.The deal includes $8.3 billion in penalties and forfeitures, but the company is on the hook for a direct payment to the federal government of only a fraction of that, $225 million. It would pay the smaller amount as long as it executes a settlement moving through federal bankruptcy court with state and local governments and other entities suing it over the toll of the opioid epidemic. Members of the wealthy Sackler family who own the company have also agreed to pay $225 million to the federal government to settle civil claims. No criminal charges have been filed against family members, although their deal leaves open the possibility of that in the future.”Having our plea accepted in federal court, and taking responsibility for past misconduct, is an essential step to preserve billions of dollars of value” for the settlement it is pursuing through bankruptcy court, the company said in a statement.”We continue to work tirelessly to build additional support for a proposed bankruptcy settlement, which would direct the overwhelming majority of the settlement funds to state, local and tribal governments for the purpose of abating the opioid crisis,” the statement read.Purdue’s plea to federal crimes provides only minor comfort for advocates who want to see harsher penalties for the OxyContin maker and its owners.The ongoing drug overdose crisis, which appears to be worsening during the coronavirus pandemic, has contributed to the deaths of more than 470,000 Americans over the past two decades, most of those from opioids both legal and illicit.Cynthia Munger, whose son is in recovery from opioid addiction after being prescribed OxyContin more than a decade ago as a high school baseball player with a shoulder injury, is among the activists pushing for Purdue owners and company officials to be charged with crimes.”Until we do that and we stop accusing brick and mortar and not individuals, nothing will change,” said Munger, who lives in Wayne, Pennsylvania.The attorneys general for about half the states opposed the federal settlement, as well as the company’s proposed settlement in bankruptcy court. In the bankruptcy case, Purdue has proposed transforming into a public benefit corporation with its proceeds going to help address the opioid crisis.The attorneys general and some activists are upset that despite the Sacklers giving up control of the company, the family remains wealthy and its members will not face prison or other individual penalties.The activists say there’s no difference between the actions of the company and its owners, who also controlled Purdue’s board until the past few years.Last week, as part of a motion to get access to more family documents, the attorneys general who oppose the deals filed documents that put members of the Sackler family at the center of Purdue’s continued push for OxyContin sales even as opioid-related deaths rose.The newly public documents include emails among consultants from McKinsey & Corp. hired by the company to help boost the business. One from 2008, a year after the company first pleaded guilty to opioid-related crimes, says board members, including a Sackler family member, “‘blessed’ him to do whatever he thinks is necessary to ‘save the business.'”Another McKinsey internal email details how a midlevel Purdue employee felt about the company. It offers more evidence of the Sacklers being hands-on, saying, “The brothers who started the company viewed all employees like the guys who ‘trim the hedges’ — employees should do exactly what’s asked of them and not say too much.”The documents also describe the company trying to “supercharge” opioid sales in 2013, as reaction to the overdose crisis was taking a toll on prescribing. 

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Scotland’s COVID-19 Infections Stabilize, Hospitalizations Fall

Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon told Parliament Tuesday that the number of new COVID-19 cases has stabilized and hospitalizations are down, but the COVID-19 alert levels in the country will remain as they are.”We now have grounds for cautious optimism,” Sturgeon told lawmakers.  She said current restrictions would remain in place and unchanged until December 11.Scotland has a five-tiered alert system, with Level 0 being nearly normal and the most restrictions at Level 4. The government reviews the alerts every Tuesday.  Sturgeon said except for East Lothian, which moved from Level 3 to Level 2, the government was not proposing any changes to restrictions that currently apply to each local authority. She said recent developments in vaccines meant there was “light at the end of the tunnel,” but she stressed the importance of continuing to observe restrictions during what was likely to be a “difficult winter ahead.” The first minister said there were plans to extend asymptomatic testing, adding that the government was working with regional authorities to develop and deliver targeted geographical testing to communities in alert Level 4. Meanwhile, Sturgeon announced on Tuesday that Scotland was joining the rest of Britain in allowing a relaxation of some COVID-19 restrictions over the Christmas holiday. From December 23 to December 27, three households will be allowed to gather inside a private home, a place of worship or outdoors to observe the holiday. The first minister was quick to point out that the virus does not take time off and urged people to be cautious. 

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Kenya Doctors Threaten to Strike Over Lack of COVID Protections

Kenyan doctors are threatening to go on strike next month unless the government addresses their concerns about safety, health insurance, and staffing needs to fight COVID-19.  The threat comes after at least 10 doctors died from the virus this month.Speaking to reporters in Nairobi Tuesday, the secretary-general of the Kenya Medical Practitioners and Dentists Union, Chibanzi Mwachonda, said his members plan to go on strike because the government is not giving them medical insurance.  
 
“If these doctors are not covered, then this strike will kick off until the time that they will be covered,” Mwachonda said.
 
Kenya has lost 32 medical workers to COVID-19, at least 10 of them in the last two weeks. The deaths have angered medical workers.
 
Watende Andrew lost his younger brother to the disease. His late brother, a doctor, worked at the University of Nairobi. After seven days in the hospital, he died.
 
“I think because of other comorbidities he was in the category of severe disease, he got the best attention he could but I think still because of comorbidities he developed hypoxia with saturation which were low. Then when they were trying to intubate he passed on,” Andrew said.
 
Doctors also complain about not receiving adequate personal protective gear. The union says all their requests are met with silence.
 
Recently, President Uhuru Kenyatta opened a new health facility with 100 beds for United Nations staffers and the diplomatic community.
 
Meanwhile, some Kenyans say they were turned away at health facilities and advised to take care of themselves at home.
 
Mwachonda is calling on the government to employ at least 2,350 doctors and medical workers to attend to the sick in various hospitals across the country.
 
“There is an acute shortage of doctors in this country in each and every county and our demand that each county must employ at least 50 doctors to cover for COVID and for the other services. If this is not addressed equally, we shall be on strike come on the 6th of December,” Mwachonda said.
 
The Kenya Nurses Union has also issued a 14-day strike notice. The union is demanding compensation for the families of 18 nurses who died from COVID-19 and salaries for some nurses, who have not been paid for months.
 
The head of the National Assembly Health Committee, Sabina Chege, said Kenya cannot afford to see doctors not working during this challenging period.
 
“It’s not a unique situation where doctors are feeling that they are not taken care of by the government. At what point do you say it’s optimal or enough? It can never be enough but people can try, and we can’t manage everything. Let’s look at what is the priority, what can we be able to do for now, what can wait for a month or two then we can have an agreement.  I don’t think the strike will solve anything. We’ll lose more life and nobody is safe,” Chege said.
 
Kenya has recorded 77,800 coronavirus cases and 1,400 deaths since March.
 
A parliamentary committee will meet Wednesday with county governors and other officials to discuss ways to avert the strike.
 

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EU Near Deal with Moderna on Coronavirus Vaccine

European Commission President Ursula Von der Leyen announced Tuesday the European Union has reached a deal with U.S. biotech company Moderna for 160 million doses of its coronavirus vaccine candidate.Last week, Moderna said interim data from late-stage clinical trials of its experimental vaccine showed it to be 94.5 percent effective in preventing COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus.    EU Signs Deal for 405 Million Doses of Potential German COVID Vaccine European Commission President says they hope to finalize deal with US company Moderna soon Von der Leyen, speaking to reporters in Brussels, said a deal is expected to be signed Wednesday, the sixth such agreement the EU’s executive commission has reached with makers of potential vaccines, giving the EU a potential stock of nearly 2 billion shots.The EU has previously made deals for potential vaccines being developed by AstraZeneca, Pfizer-BioNTech, Sanofi-GSK, Johnson & Johnson and CureVac. The regional alliance reports it is also in talks with U.S. firm Novavax for a possible additional deal.Moderna Announces  Second COVID Vaccine More Than 90% Effective Vaccine may be more accessible in rural areas and developing countries than Pfizer’sVon der Leyen has said that the region’s medical regulatory body, the European Medicines Agency (EMA) may give approval next month for the most promising vaccines from companies that have already submitted data from clinical trials.U.S. pharmaceutical company Pfizer and Germany’s BioNTech have already been working with the EMA regarding their vaccine candidate. Pfizer and BioNtech also applied last week with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for emergency authorization.   They say they could begin distribution of their vaccine “within hours” of approval.

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