China Launches Lunar Probe  

China successfully launched an unmanned spacecraft to the moon Monday to land, gather soil and rock samples, and return them to Earth.  If successful, it will be the first mission by any nation to retrieve samples from the lunar surface since the 1970s, and the third nation, after the United States and Russia, to retrieve such samples. The Chang’e 5 probe, named after the ancient Chinese goddess of the moon, will seek to collect material that can help scientists understand more about the moon’s origins and formation.  U.S. space agency NASA says the mission’s goal is to land in a previously unvisited area of the moon known as Oceanus Procellarum and operate for one lunar day, which lasts 14 earth days, and return a 2-kilogram sample of lunar soil, possibly from as deep as 2 meters.  Matt Siegler, a research scientist at the Arizona-based Planetary Science Institute who is not part of the Chang’e 5 mission, told Reuters the area where the spacecraft is to land is 1 to 2 billion years old. “That is very young for the moon — most of our samples are 3.5 billion years old or more,” Siegler said in an email. “We want to find out what is special about these regions and why they remained warm longer than the rest of the moon,” Siegler added. The sample will travel to Earth in the return capsule and land in the Siziwang Banner grassland of the autonomous region of Inner Mongolia in China. During a brief government-organized visit to the launch center, reporters were taken to a place where they could see in the distance the Long March 5 rocket that carries the Chang’e 5 probe. The launch took place between 4:30 a.m. Beijing time Tuesday (2030 GMT Monday). The Reuters news service reports that China made its first lunar landing in 2013. In January 2019, the Chang’e 4 probe touched down on the far side of the moon, the first by any space probe. Within the next decade, China plans to establish a robotic base station to conduct unmanned exploration in the south polar region. 

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GM Flips to California’s Side in Pollution Fight With Trump

General Motors says it will no longer support the Trump administration in legal efforts to end California’s right to set its own clean-air standards. CEO Mary Barra said in a letter Monday to environmental groups that GM will pull out of the lawsuit, and it urges other automakers to do so. FILE – GM CEO Mary Barra testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington, July 17, 2014.She said the company agrees with President-elect Joe Biden’s plan to expand electric-vehicle use. Last week, GM said it is testing a new battery chemistry that will bring electric-vehicle costs down to those of gas-powered vehicles within five years. Barra sent the letter after a call with California Governor Gavin Newsom, the company said.  “We believe the ambitious electrification goals of the President-elect, California and General Motors are aligned, to address climate change by drastically reducing automobile emissions,” Barra said in the letter. Mary Nichols, head of California’s Air Resources Board, called GM’s announcement “good news,” saying Barra told her about it in a telephone call Monday morning. The board is the state’s air pollution regulator. FILE – California Air Resources Board chair Mary Nichols, left, speaks as California Governor Gavin Newsom listens at a press conference in Sacramento, September 23, 2020.”I was pleased to be in communication with Mary Barra again,” she said. “It’s been a while since we had talked.” Dan Becker of the Center for Biological Diversity, one of the environmental groups to whom Barra wrote, said GM was wrong in trying to stop California from protecting its people from auto pollution.  “Now, the other automakers must follow GM and withdraw support for (President Donald) Trump’s attack on clean cars,” he said in an email. The White House had no immediate comment Monday. Last year General Motors, Fiat Chrysler, Toyota and 10 smaller automakers sided with the Trump administration in a lawsuit over whether California has the right to set its own standards for greenhouse gas emissions and fuel economy. The companies said they would intervene in a lawsuit filed by the Environmental Defense Fund against the Trump administration, which has rolled back national pollution and gas mileage standards enacted while Barack Obama was president. The group called itself the “Coalition for Sustainable Automotive Regulation” and also included Nissan, Hyundai, Kia, Subaru, Isuzu, Suzuki, Maserati, McLaren, Aston Martin and Ferrari. FILE – Global Automakers CEO John Bozzella attends a hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, June 2, 2015.”With our industry facing the possibility of multiple, overlapping and inconsistent standards that drive up costs and penalize consumers, we had an obligation to intervene,” John Bozzella, CEO of Global Automakers and spokesman for the coalition, said at the time. Toyota, one of the big automakers in the coalition favoring the Trump standards, said Monday it is reconsidering its position.  In a statement, the company said it has supported year-over-year increases in fuel economy standards, and it joined the coalition because most other automakers agreed there should be a single U.S. standard. “Given the changing circumstances, we are assessing the situation, but remain committed to our goal of a consistent, unitary set of fuel economy standards applicable in all 50 states,” Toyota said.  The initial move put the coalition automakers at odds with five other companies — BMW, Ford, Volkswagen, Volvo and Honda — that backed California and endorsed stricter emissions and fuel economy standards than proposed by the Trump administration. But the coalition’s stance was not so straightforward. For instance, although it opposed California, it still wanted Trump and the state to compromise on one national regulation. In September 2019, Trump announced his administration would seek to revoke California’s congressionally granted authority to set standards that are stricter than those issued by federal regulators. The move came after Ford, BMW, Honda and Volkswagen signed a deal with the California Air Resources Board, which had been at odds with the Trump administration for months. Many automakers have said in the past that they support increasing the standards but not as much as those affirmed in the waning days of the Obama administration in 2016. Under the Obama administration requirements, the fleet of new vehicles would have to average 12.7 kpl (30 mpg) in real-world driving by 2021, rising to 15.3 kpl (36 mpg) in 2025. Those increases would be about 5% per year. The Trump administration’s plan increased fuel economy by 1.5% per year, backing off an earlier proposal to freeze the requirements at 2021 levels. Automakers say that because buyers are switching to larger trucks and SUVs, many companies would not be able to meet the stricter standards. 

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Seven Sudanese Doctors Die from COVID-19 in 10 Days

Sudanese health authorities said Sunday that seven medical doctors died from COVID-19 in 10 days, a development that reflects Sudan’s sharp rise in cases in recent weeks. Nearly 100 deaths were recorded in the past month.A statement issued by Sudan’s ministry of health said the seven doctors “worked tirelessly” to treat COVID-19 patients, prevent the spread of the ailment, and protect the lives of the Sudanese people. COVID-19 is the illness caused by the coronavirus.The government called their deaths a huge loss for the country as it continues to fight the pandemic and described the doctors as “true heroes,” who died defending their people.According to the ministry:— Dr. Kamil Mohammad Abdullah, a consultant ophthalmologist, died November 11.— Dr. Iman Ahmed Al Bashir, director of Khartoum state’s Department of Mother and Child Health at the Ministry of Health, died November 13.— Dr. Naeem Abdurrahman, an ophthalmologist in Jazeera state, died November 16.— Dr.Izzeddeen Mahmoud Abdo, a consultant in medical laboratories, died November 18.— Professor Al-Tom Surajaddeen, a medical laboratories consultant, died November 18.— Dr. Mohammad Ibrahim Al-Tahir, a radiologist, died November 19.— Professor Ahmed Ahimer, a World Health Organization immunization expert and former director of child immunization in Blue Nile State, died November 19.Late last week, Sudanese education authorities postponed the reopening of schools for two weeks, due to a steep rise in cases.Johns Hopkins University, which is tracking cases globally, says on its coronavirus dashboard that Sudan currently has 16,052 confirmed cases and 1,197 deaths.Acting Health Minister Dr. Osama Ahmed Abdurrahim told reporters in Khartoum Sunday that the coronavirus is still spreading in communities across Sudan. The minister said everyone, including top government officials, should practice social distancing, wear face masks, and adhere to all other preventive measures.“All levels of government in the country, being the Sovereign Council, councils of ministers, corporations or government institutions, they should show a serious commitment towards following the precautionary measures because the government is [taking] the lead in fighting this pandemic,” said Adurrahim.He said his ministry is still weighing whether to call for a national lockdown.Khartoum state Governor Ayman Khaled Nimer directed all public and private institutions in Khartoum state to operate at 50 percent of their normal workforce, except for essential sectors such as medical facilities.The order bans all large public gatherings, including wedding parties, graduations and other social events.

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China Set to Launch Lunar Probe

China is scheduled to launch an unmanned spacecraft to the moon Monday to land, gather soil and rock samples, and return them to Earth.  
 
If successful, it will be the first mission by any nation to retrieve samples from the lunar surface since the 1970s, and the third nation, after the United States and Russia, to retrieve such samples.
 
The Chang’e 5 probe, named after the ancient Chinese goddess of the moon, will seek to collect material that can help scientists understand more about the moon’s origins and formation.  
 
 U.S. space agency NASA, says the mission’s goal is to land in a previously unvisited area of the moon known as Oceanus Procellarum and operate for one lunar day, which lasts 14 earth days, and return a 2-kilogram sample of lunar soil, possibly from as deep as 2 meters.  
 
The sample will travel to Earth in the return capsule and land in the Siziwang Banner grassland of the autonomous region of Inner Mongolia in China.
 
During a brief government-organized visit to the launch center, reporters were taken to a place where they could see, in the distance, the Long March 5 rocket that carries the Chang’e 5 probe. The launch is expected to take place between 4 a.m. and 5 a.m. (2000-2100 GMT) on November 24.
 
The Reuters news service reports China made its first lunar landing in 2013. In January 2019, the Chang’e 4 probe touched down on the far side of the moon, the first by any space probe. Within the next decade, China plans to establish a robotic base station to conduct unmanned exploration in the south polar region.
 

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Pandemic Takes Toll on Kenya’s Medical Workers

Healthcare workers treating COVID-19 patients say the work is taking a toll on their mental state, forcing some into depression and therapy.  Mohammed Yusuf reports from Nairobi. Camera: Mohammed Yusuf  
Producer:  Rod James  

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UN Report: Lockdowns Not Abetting Greenhouse Gas Emissions

The World Meteorological Organization reports greenhouse gas emissions in the atmosphere continue to reach record levels despite COVID-19 lockdowns. The WMO has just released its annual Greenhouse Gas Bulletin on atmospheric 
concentrations of carbon dioxide and other major greenhouse gases.COVID-19 lockdown measures have reduced air pollution levels in major cities in India, China and elsewhere. The World Meteorological Organization, however, says the measures have failed to curb the relentless rise in greenhouse gas emissions, trapping heat in the atmosphere and accelerating global warming.Increasing temperatures are causing more extreme weather events, ice melt, sea-level rise and ocean acidification. WMO Secretary-General Petteri Taalas said the COVID-19 pandemic is not a solution for climate change. While carbon dioxide emissions have fallen during lockdown, he told VOA this will have little impact on global warming and climate change.“This year, we have seen drops of emissions by four- to seven percent because of the COVID lockdowns but that is not going to change the big picture because the lifetime of carbon dioxide is so, so long,” he said.Carbon dioxide remains in the atmosphere for centuries and in the ocean even longer. Oksana Tarasova head of the WHO’s Atmospheric and Environment Research Division, said the current rate of greenhouse gas emissions is dramatic.“We have seen such changes, but those changes happened when the whole climate changed from glacial to interglacial and that change happened within 100 to 200 years…We humans did it without anything – just with our emissions. We have done it within four years,” said Tarasova.The 2016 Paris Climate Agreement aims to limit global temperature rise to one-point-five degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels by 2050. Taalas said it is unlikely this goal will be reached by then. But, he said China, the European Union, Japan and South Korea have made commitments to become carbon neutral by 2060.They are responsible for 50 percent of global emissions. U.N. officials say they expect the administration of U.S. President-elect Joe Biden to make similar commitments. 

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AstraZeneca Announces ‘Highly Effective’ COVID-19 Vaccine

AstraZeneca said early Monday that clinical trials of its COVID-19 vaccine in Britain and Brazil have shown it is “highly effective in preventing COVID-19″ without  “hospitalizations or severe cases of the disease” in any of the trial’s volunteers. The England-based pharmaceutical company tested two dosing regimens.  One regimen had an efficacy rate of 90%.  The second regimen has an average efficacy of 70%.  “More data will continue to accumulate, and additional analysis will be conducted, refining the efficacy reading and establishing the duration of protection,” Astra Zeneca said in a statement Monday.  “These findings show that we have an effective vaccine that will save many lives.” Professor Andrew Pollard, chief investigator of the Oxford Vaccine Trial at Oxford, said in a statement. AstraZeneca said it “will seek an Emergency Use Listing from the World Health Organization for an accelerated pathway to vaccine availability in low-income countries. In parallel, the full analysis of the interim results is being submitted for publication in a peer-reviewed journal.”An AstraZeneca sign is seen at the third China International Import Expo (CIIE) in Shanghai, Nov. 6, 2020.Drugmakers Pfizer and Moderna have also announced initial results from late-stage trials showing their vaccines were nearly 95% effective. On Sunday, countries begin laying out plans to distribute COVID-19 vaccines, with Germany and the United States preparing to vaccinate some populations as early as next month. German Health Minister Jens Spahn told reporters Sunday that there “is reason to be optimistic” that a vaccine would be approved in Europe before the end of the year, and that after approval, vaccinations could begin “right away.” The United States has set preliminary plans to begin vaccinating some groups as early as December 12, two days after the U.S. Food and Drug Administration is scheduled to review the Pfizer vaccine. In the U.S., health care workers, who have been hard-hit by COVID-19, would be among the first to receive a vaccine.  The United States has set preliminary plans to begin vaccinating some groups as early as December 12, two days after the U.S. Food and Drug Administration is scheduled to review the Pfizer vaccine. At the G-20 summit this weekend, 20 of the world’s richest nations’ leaders vowed to work together to ensure that vaccines against COVID-19 will be made available to the most poor and vulnerable populations.FILE – People wait at O’Hare International Airport in Chicago, Nov. 20, 2020.The Associated Press reports that China has imposed new lockdowns on three cities — Shanghai, Tianjin, Manzhouli — where a handful of COVID-19 cases have reemerged.   California Governor Gavin Newsom and his family are in quarantine after three of his children were exposed to a Highway Patrol officer who tested positive for COVID-19. More than 58 million people around the world have been infected with the coronavirus, the Johns Hopkins Resource Center reported early Monday.  FILE – Nurses watch as medical workers try to resuscitate a COVID-19 patient in the emergency room at Providence Holy Cross Medical Center, in the Mission Hills section of Los Angeles, California, Nov. 19, 2020.The U.S. continues to lead the world in infections with more than 12 million cases, followed by India with 9 million infections and Brazil with 6 million. The virus has claimed more than 1.3 million lives.  More than a quarter million of those deaths were in the U.S.   

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Co-Founder of Viral ALS Ice Bucket Challenge Dies at 37

YONKERS, NEW YORK — A co-founder of the social media ALS ice bucket challenge, which has raised more than $200 million worldwide for Lou Gehrig’s disease research, died Sunday at the age of 37, according to the ALS Association.Pat Quinn was diagnosed with Lou Gehrig’s disease, also known as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, in 2013, a month after his 30th birthday, the organization said in a statement announcing his death.  “Pat fought ALS with positivity and bravery and inspired all around him,” the association said. “Those of us who knew him are devastated but grateful for all he did to advance the fight against ALS. … Our thoughts are with the Quinn family and all of his friends and supporters. Pat was loved by many of us within the ALS community and around the world.”In 2014, Quinn saw the ice bucket challenge on the social media feed of professional golfer Chris Kennedy, who first dared his wife’s cousin Jeanette Senerchia to take a bucket of ice water, dump it over her head, post a video on social media and ask others to do the same or to make a donation to charity. Senerchia’s husband had ALS.Quinn and co-founder Pete Frates, along with their teams of supporters, helped popularize the challenge. The ALS Association said Quinn “knew it was the key to raising ALS awareness,” calling it “the greatest social media campaign in history.” Frates, a former Boston College baseball player, died in December 2019 at the age of 34.When the two picked it up, the phenomenon exploded, the organization said. Thousands of people participated in the viral trend, including celebrities, sports stars and politicians — even Donald Trump before his election and cartoon character Homer Simpson. Online videos were viewed millions of times.”It dramatically accelerated the fight against ALS, leading to new research discoveries, expanded care for people living with ALS, and significant investment from the government in ALS research,” the organization’s statement said.Lou Gehrig’s disease, named after the New York Yankees great who suffered from it — is also known as ALS or motor neuron disease. It is a progressive neurodegenerative disease that leads to paralysis due to the death of motor neurons in the spinal cord and brain. There is no known cure.  The organization added that Quinn continued to raise awareness and funds after popularizing the challenge. In 2015, the association honored him, among others, as “ALS Heroes” — an award given to people living with the disease who have had a significant, positive impact on the fight against it. 

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Ancient Madrid Market Reopens Amid Debate Over Virus Rules 

Madrid’s ancient and emblematic Rastro flea market reopened Sunday after a contentious eight-month closure because of the COVID-19 pandemic that has walloped the Spanish capital. With many major European flea markets still shut down, the Rastro’s return seems to be another example of Madrid’s bid to show that heavy coronavirus restrictions may not be necessary even among the latest surge of the virus and some sort of normality can resume with precautions.  That stance has been both criticized and lauded. After lengthy negotiations, city authorities agreed the Rastro could open at 50% capacity, with half its 1,000 stalls alternating each Sunday for a maximum crowd of 2,700 people.  Police with backup drones will monitor the market to avoid overcrowding. Dating back to the 1700s, the Rastro sells the usual flea market mix of antiques, clothes, furniture, bric-a-brac and curios in stalls that snake down through a warren-like district next to Madrid’s majestic Plaza Mayor square.  Long a traditional meeting and drinking place, the bustling Sunday morning market used to attract thousands of tourists and locals alike. If you arrived after 11 a.m., it was almost impossible to move. Spain has been one of Europe’s hardest-hit countries in the pandemic, recording more than 1.5 million coronavirus cases and over 42,500 deaths. 

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COVID Nurse: ‘Many of us Have PTSD’ 

Almost 1,400 frontline healthcare workers in the U.S. have apparently died of COVID-19, according to a joint investigation by British newspaper, The Guardian, and Kaiser Health News.  One-third of the dead health care workers were nurses, the study said.Many of the health care workers, the report said, “are struggling with illness, trauma and exhaustion.” FILE – An NHS worker is pictured outside the Aintree University Hospital before the Clap for our Carers campaign in support of the NHS, as the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) continues, in Liverpool, Britain, April 23, 2020.A surgical nurse told The Guardian that in the first two months of the coronavirus pandemic, he wrapped more people in body bags than he had in the previous 25 years of his career. Jim Gentile said, “Many of us have PTSD.” More than 58 million people around the world have been infected with the coronavirus, the Johns Hopkins Resource Center reported early Sunday.  The U.S. continues to lead the world in infections with more than 12 million cases, followed by India with 9 million infections and Brazil with 6 million. FILE – Ventilator tubes are attached to a COVID-19 patient at Providence Holy Cross Medical Center in the Mission Hills section of Los Angeles, Nov. 19, 2020.The virus has claimed more than 1.3 million lives.  More than a quarter million of those deaths were in the U.S.  Even though the coronavirus disease is surging, not everyone is eager to be vaccinated against it, according to a recent Ipsos poll. While 73% of those polled worldwide said they would be vaccinated, that number was four points higher this summer.   The study found that “vaccination intent” declined in 10 of the 15 countries included in the poll. Intent went down the most in China, Australia, Spain and Brazil.  FILE – Trial kits for Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccination study are seen at the Research Centers of America, in Hollywood, Florida, Sept. 24, 2020.The U.S. Food and Drug Administration Saturday authorized the emergency use of a COVID-19 antibody therapy that President Donald Trump said helped cure him of the disease caused by the coronavirus. The Regeneron Pharmaceuticals Inc. therapy approved by the FDA is made up of the monoclonal antibodies, casirivimab and imdevimab. They are to be administered together to treat mild to moderate COVID-19 in adults, including those 65 and older with some chronic medical conditions, and children who are at high risk of a more severe case.  The company expects to have enough of the treatment ready for about 200,000 patients by the first week of January. Friday, U.S. pharmaceutical company Pfizer and its German partner, BioNTech, said they have filed for emergency authorization from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to use their COVID-19 vaccine, saying they are poised to begin distribution within hours of receiving approval.  The application comes after the companies said testing shows the vaccine has an effectiveness rate of 95%, with no serious safety concerns observed to date.  U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said Friday that the FDA could decide about emergency use for the vaccine candidate within weeks.    

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FDA Approves Antibody Therapy as US Passes 12 Million Cases

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration on Saturday authorized the emergency use of a COVID-19 antibody therapy that President Donald Trump said helped cure him of the disease caused by the coronavirus.On the same day, the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center reported that the U.S. had passed 12 million COVID-19 cases.“It’s really a moment that we want to call on every American to increase their vigilance,” Dr. Deborah Birx, the White House coronavirus response coordinator, said this week.The Regeneron Pharmaceuticals Inc. therapy approved by the FDA is made up of the monoclonal antibodies, casirivimab and imdevimab. They are to be administered together to treat mild to moderate COVID-19 in adults, including those 65 and older with some chronic medical conditions, and children who are at high risk of a more severe case.The company expects to have enough of the treatment ready for about 200,000 patients by the first week of January.Canada’s chief public health officer, Dr. Theresa Tam, said Friday she expects the number of new daily cases to reach 20,000 per day, up from just under 5,000 per day currently, if Canadians maintain their current number of personal contacts.However, she warned that number could spike to 60,000 a day by the end of December if Canadians increase their level of contact with other people, a possible scenario with the Christmas holiday season looming.Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has called on Canadians to stay home and follow public health rules to help slow the spread of COVID-19.Friday, U.S. pharmaceutical company Pfizer and its German partner, BioNTech, said they have filed for emergency authorization from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to use their COVID-19 vaccine, saying they are poised to begin distribution within hours of receiving approval.The application comes after the companies said testing shows the vaccine has an effectiveness rate of 95%, with no serious safety concerns observed to date.U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said Friday that the FDA could decide about emergency use for the vaccine candidate within weeks.

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COVID-19 Deaths of Serbian Clerics Highlight Virus Worries

As coronavirus cases surge globally, the COVID-19 deaths of two senior Serbian Orthodox Church clerics — one who died weeks after presiding over the funeral of the other — are raising questions about whether some religious institutions are doing enough to slow the spread of the virus.More reports are emerging about people who attended religious services and contract the virus — some after parishioners seemed to ignore the pleas of church and health officials to wear masks, practice social distancing and other steps to combat the virus that’s killed nearly 1.4 million people worldwide.In Belgrade, many mourners paying their respects Saturday to Serbian Orthodox Church Patriarch Irinej ignored precautions, and some kissed the glass shield covering the patriarch’s body, despite warnings not to do so from Serbia’s epidemiologists.That scene unfolded three weeks after the 90-year-old Irinej led prayers at the funeral of Bishop Amfilohije in nearby Montenegro, an event attended by thousands, where many kissed the bishop’s remains in an open casket.The highly publicized episodes happened as Serbia reported thousands of newly confirmed infections daily in the country of 7 million and as the government in recent days has tightened measures to hold off the virus. As the country’s health system strains to treat more and more people for the virus, some patients in Belgrade hospitals with less serious conditions are being transferred to hospitals elsewhere.Those same kinds of tough decisions and terrible predicaments are playing out across the United States.California enacts a nighttime curfew starting Saturday night to try to keep people away from parties, social mixing and drinking — the kinds of activities blamed for causing infections to soar. The state’s curfew will run from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. for most of the state’s residents and last through at least Dec. 21.”Large numbers of people getting together oblivious of controls — no masks, no social distancing, often indoors — a lot of those things are in fact occurring at night,” said Dr. Mark Cullen, an infectious disease expert who recently retired from Stanford University.Overflowing morguesPresident Donald Trump tweeted on Saturday that his eldest son, Donald Trump Jr., is doing “very well” in quarantine after being infected with the virus. Trump Jr. is among more than 12 million Americans who have been infected — and that total also includes the president himself, his wife and his youngest son.In Texas, overflowing morgues prompted the state’s National Guard to send a 36-member team to El Paso to help morgue workers handle the increasing number of COVID-19 deaths.”The Texas military will provide us with the critical personnel to carry out our fatality management plan and we are very grateful to them for their ongoing support,” El Paso Mayor Dee Margo said late Friday.In North Carolina, The Charlotte Observer reported that three more people who attended large events at the United House of Prayer for All People in Charlotte last month died — bringing the total deaths linked to the church’s events to 12.Public health contact tracers and other officials have connected more than 200 COVID-19 cases to the church’s events, including people who attended the events and those who came in contact with them, the newspaper reported.And in Michigan, 61 pastors at Grand Rapids-area churches decided to stop holding in-person worship services, weddings and other big gatherings, largely in response to the pleas of the state’s health care workers, who have been overwhelmed by the surge in new cases.In Illinois, as the state tightened restrictions to combat an alarming surge in cases, the Archdiocese of Chicago announced that clergy and bereavement ministers won’t be required to attend graveside services if they are worried that more than 10 people could show up.The troubling developments linked to church gatherings came as officials across the U.S. in cities and towns brace for an event synonymous with large gatherings: Thanksgiving Day.Health officials are begging people not to travel for Thanksgiving and asking families to resist inviting anyone over to the house who does not already live there.”Don’t let down your guard, even around close friends and relatives who aren’t members of your household,” Arizona’s health department said on Twitter.

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Europe Coronavirus Cases Exceed 15 Million

More than 15 million people in Europe have been infected with coronavirus, making it the worst-hit region in the world.  Authorities hope new lockdowns will get the situation under control.  More with VOA Correspondent Mariama Diallo.

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Trump Makes Late-term Bid to Lower Prescription Drug Costs

Trying to close out major unfinished business, the Trump administration issued regulations Friday that could lower the prices Americans pay for many prescription drugs.But in a time of political uncertainty, it’s hard to say whether the rules will withstand expected legal challenges from the pharmaceutical industry or whether President-elect Joe Biden’s administration will accept, amend or try to roll them back entirely.”The drug companies don’t like me too much. But we had to do it,” President Donald Trump said in announcing the new policy at the White House. “I just hope they keep it. I hope they have the courage to keep it,” he added, in an apparent reference to the incoming Biden administration, while noting the opposition from drug company lobbyists.The two finalized rules, long in the making, would:— Tie what Medicare pays for medications administered in a doctor’s office to the lowest price paid among a group of other economically advanced countries. That’s called the “most favored nation” approach. It is adamantly opposed by critics aligned with the pharmaceutical industry, who liken it to socialism. The administration estimates it could save $28 billion over seven years for Medicare recipients through lower copays. It would take effect January 1. — Require drugmakers, for brand-name pharmacy medications, to give Medicare enrollees rebates that now go to insurers and middlemen called pharmacy benefit managers. Insurers that deliver Medicare’s Part D prescription benefit say that would raise premiums. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office estimates it would increase taxpayer costs by $177 billion over 10 years. The Trump administration disputes that and says its rule could potentially result in 30% savings for patients. It would take effect January 1, 2022.FILE – A research scientist works in a laboratory at Vertex Pharmaceuticals Inc. in San Diego, March 4, 2015.’Reckless attack’The pharmaceutical industry said Trump’s approach would give foreign governments the “upper hand” in deciding the value of medicines in the U.S. and vowed to fight it.”The administration is willing to upend the entire system with a reckless attack on the companies working around the clock to end this pandemic,” the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America said in a statement, adding that it is “considering all options to stop this unlawful onslaught on medical progress and maintain our fight against COVID-19.”The U.S. Chamber of Commerce said the “most favored nation” rule would lead to harmful price controls that could jeopardize access to new, lifesaving medicines at a critical time.Trump also announced he was ending a Food and Drug Administration program designed to end the sale of many old, and potentially dangerous, unapproved drugs that had been on the market for decades.Sales of hundreds of these drugs, including some known to be harmful, have been discontinued under the program. But an unintended consequence has been sharply higher prices for consumers for these previously inexpensive medicines after they were approved by the FDA.President Donald Trump listens as the administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, Seema Verma, speaks during a news conference at the White House in Washington, Nov. 20, 2020.Different Medicare pathTrump came into office accusing pharmaceutical companies of “getting away with murder” and complaining that other countries whose governments set drug prices were taking advantage of Americans.As a candidate in 2016, Trump advocated for Medicare to negotiate prices. As president, he dropped that idea, objected to by most Republicans. Instead, Trump began pursuing changes through regulations.He also backed a bipartisan Senate bill that would have capped what Medicare recipients with high bills pay for medications while generally limiting price increases. Ambitious in scope, the legislation from Senators Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, and Ron Wyden, D-Ore., did not get a full Senate vote.Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar, a former drug company executive, said the rules would “break this model where patients suffer, where prices increase every year,” while corporate insiders enrich themselves.Addressing the prospect of legal battles, Azar said, “We feel that both regulations are extremely strong, and any industry challenging them is declaring themselves at odds with American patients and President Trump’s commitment to lowering out-of-pocket costs.”The international pricing rule would cover many cancer drugs and other medications delivered by infusion or injection in a doctor’s office.It would apply to 50 medications that account for the highest spending under Medicare’s Part B benefit for outpatient care. Ironically, the legal authority for Trump’s action comes from the Affordable Care Act, the Obama-era health care overhaul he’s still trying to repeal.The rule also changes how hospitals and doctors are paid for administering the drugs, to try to remove incentives for using higher-cost medications.FILE – Ann Lovell holds her prescriptions at her home in South Jordan, Utah, following her visit to Tijuana, Mexico, Jan. 31, 2020. She travels every few months to Tijuana to buy medication for rheumatoid arthritis at a steep discount.Democrats’ preferenceRelying on international prices to lower U.S. costs is an approach also favored by Democrats, including Biden. But Democrats would go much further, authorizing Medicare to use lower prices from overseas to wrest industry concessions for all expensive medications, not just those administered in clinical settings.Embodied in a House-passed bill from Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., this strategy would achieve much larger savings, allowing Medicare to pay for new benefits such as vision and dental coverage. It also would allow private insurance plans for workers and their families to get Medicare’s lower prices.Trump has taken other action to lower prescription drug costs by opening a legal path for importing medicines from abroad. Also, Medicare drug plans that cap insulin costs at $35 a month are available during open enrollment, currently under way.Prices for brand-name drugs have continued to rise during Trump’s tenure, but at a slower rate. The FDA has put a priority on approving generics, which cost less.

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WHO: More COVID Cases in Past Month Than in First 6 Months of Pandemic

The World Health Organization (WHO) Friday said more COVID-19 cases have been reported worldwide in the last four weeks than in the first six months of the pandemic. In his regular news briefing from WHO headquarters in Geneva, Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said hospitals and intensive care units are filling up or full across Europe and the United States. Tedros said it was good news this week that at least two vaccine candidates have shown to be effective in tests and one is near emergency approval and provides hope. But he stressed that people must continue to use the tools currently available to interrupt the chains of transmission and save lives. Medical staff members wait for citizens to be tested for coronavirus at a school gym that was set up as a testing facility in Bolzano, northern Italy, Nov. 20, 2020.The WHO director-general also introduced a new report published by the U.N. agency on antimicrobial resistance (AMR) in the world and ways to better control it. Antimicrobials include antibiotics and antivirals used in humans and animals, and pesticides used in agriculture. The WHO said their misuse or overuse can lead to bacteria, viruses, fungi and parasites developing a resistance to them over time, making medicines ineffective and infections harder to treat, and increasing the risk of disease spread, severe illness and death. Microorganisms that develop AMR are sometimes referred to as “superbugs.” Tedros said the COVID-19 pandemic is a stark reminder of the intimate relationship between humans, animals and the environment.He said AMR may not seem as urgent as a pandemic, but it is just as dangerous, and threatens to unwind a century of medical progress, leaving people defenseless against infections that can be treated easily.  
 

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WHO Advises Against Use of Remdesivir on COVID Patients

The World Health Organization says the antiviral drug remdesivir is not beneficial and should not be used in treating patients hospitalized with COVID-19.
 
A WHO panel of international experts who reviewed the results of clinical trials have concluded there currently is no evidence that remdesivir improves survival of COVID-19 patients, no matter how severely ill they are.   
 
Janet Diaz, head of Clinical Care at the World Health Organization,  says the panel conditionally recommends against the use of remdesivir in hospitalized COVID-19 patients regardless of the severity of their illness. The panel says the evidence shows the drug has possibly no effect on mortality.
 
“Now, this does not prove that remdesivir does not have a benefit at all. That is why it is a conditional recommendation. There can still be potential small benefit maybe in a health sub-group, which is why the panel also recommended continued trials, continued enrollment into clinical trials,” Diaz said.
 
She suggested it might perhaps be better to focus on sub-groups, such as severe patients versus critical patients in future clinical trials.   
 
The WHO panel’s recommendation is based on new evidence, which compared the effects of several drug treatments for COVID-19.  It includes data from four international randomized trials involving more than 7,000 patients hospitalized for COVID-19.
 
Bram Rochwerg, a practicing ICU doctor in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada, and co-chair of the WHO panel, told VOA there is still ongoing uncertainty about the impact of remdesivir on survivability and mortality.
 
“We are not saying that there is evidence that remdesivir does not work but there is not good evidence that it does work. And there is not good evidence that harm is off the table. And so, it was these considerations that the panel looked at and they felt that the majority of people would not ascribe to a new therapy when the benefit was not there and that there was still a potential for worsening outcome and … leading to increasing death,” said Rockwerg.   
 
At the same time, the WHO panel noted alternative treatments exist that are cheap and widely available, such as corticosteroid dexamethasone, which have been shown to reduce death among severely ill COVID-19 patients.
 

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