Pakistan to Resume Anti-Polio Drive as COVID-19 Infections Decline  

Pakistan said Tuesday it would relaunch door to door vaccinations of children against polio next week after a four-month suspension due to the coronavirus outbreak.  
 
The announcement comes amid a substantial decline in daily COVID-19 infections across Pakistan, one of the two polio-endemic countries in the world along with its war-torn neighbor Afghanistan.  
 
Pakistani officials have so far recorded 58 new polio cases this year from across the country amid warnings by the World Health Organization that “transmission continues to be widespread.” 
 
The anti-polio drive, starting July 20, initially aims to vaccinate about 800,000 children under the age of five in high-risk Pakistani districts, including Karachi and Quetta, to protect them against the crippling disease.  
 
The special assistant to the prime minister on health, Zafar Mirza, acknowledged the outbreak of coronavirus pandemic and ensuing lockdowns to prevent its spread have had a significant impact on Pakistan’s already under-resourced and deteriorating public health care systems.   
 
“With the disruption of essential immunization services due to the COVID-19 pandemic, children are continuously at a higher risk of contracting polio and other vaccine-preventable diseases,” an official statement quoted Mirza as saying.   FILE – Health workers arrive to collect at a drive-through testing and screening facility for the coronavirus, in Islamabad, Pakistan, June 6, 2020.The coronavirus reached Pakistan in late February, prompting the government to redirect all health program strengths and capacities to support COVID-19 surveillance and response efforts. Mirza announced last week he had tested positive for the virus. 
 
The national tally of coronavirus infections has hit at least 254,000, including more than 5,300 deaths.  Officials reported less than 2,000 new cases on Tuesday, showing a consistent and substantial decrease in daily infections.  
 
“The door to door campaigns will also be utilized to raise awareness on COVID preventive measures and referring mothers and children for other essential vaccinations as well as the antenatal care services,” said Rana Mohammad Safdar, who oversees Pakistan’s polio eradication program. 
 
Pakistan’s efforts to rid the country of polio have lately suffered setbacks due to attacks on vaccinators and police personnel guarding them. The deadly violence is also cited a factor for the upsurge in new cases that had dropped to only 12 cases in 2018. 
 
In traditionally conservative parts of majority-Muslim Pakistan, religious fanatics see the vaccine as a Western-led conspiracy to sterilize children. Militant groups operating in these areas also condemn the drive against polio as an effort to collect intelligence on their activities.  
 FILE – Pakistani police officers attend the funeral for their colleagues in Lower Dir, Dec. 18, 2019. Gunmen shot and killed the two policemen who were part of an anti-polio drive in the volatile northwest.Officials say attacks on polio teams have particularly increased since 2011 when the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency organized a fake vaccination campaign with the help of a local doctor, enabling U.S. forces to locate and kill fugitive al-Qaida chief Osama bin Laden in the Pakistani city of Abbottabad. 

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Global Vaccine Plan May Allow Rich Countries to Buy More

Politicians and public health leaders have publicly committed to equitably sharing any coronavirus vaccine that works, but the top global initiative to make that happen may allow rich countries to reinforce their own stockpiles while making fewer doses available for poor ones.
 
Activists warn that without stronger attempts to hold political, pharmaceutical and health leaders accountable, vaccines will be hoarded by rich countries in an unseemly race to inoculate their populations first. After the recent uproar over the United States purchasing a large amount of a new COVID-19 drug, some predict an even more disturbing scenario if a successful vaccine is developed.
Dozens of vaccines are being researched, and some countries — including Britain, France, Germany and the U.S. — already have ordered hundreds of millions of doses before the vaccines are even proven to work.  
While no country can afford to buy doses of every potential vaccine candidate, many poor ones can’t afford to place such speculative bets at all.
The key initiative to help them is led by Gavi, a public-private partnership started by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation that buys vaccines for about 60% of the world’s children.
In a document sent to potential donors last month, Gavi said those giving money to its new “Covax Facility” would have “the opportunity to benefit from a larger portfolio of COVID-19 vaccines.” Gavi told donor governments that when an effective vaccine is found within its pool of experimental shots, those countries would receive doses for 20% of their population. Those shots could be used as each nation wished.
That means rich countries can sign deals on their own with drugmakers and then also get no-strings-attached allocations from Gavi. The donor countries are “encouraged (but not required) to donate vaccines if they have more than they need,” the document says.  
“By giving rich countries this backup plan, they’re getting their cake and eating it too,” said Anna Marriott of Oxfam International. “They may end up buying up all the supply in advance, which then limits what Gavi can distribute to the rest of the world.”  
Dr. Seth Berkley, Gavi’s CEO, said such criticisms were unhelpful.
Right now there’s no vaccine for anyone, he said, and “we’re trying to solve that problem.”  
Berkley said Gavi needed to make investing in a global vaccine initiative attractive for rich countries. Gavi would try to persuade those countries that if they ordered vaccines already, they should not attempt to obtain more, he said.  
But he acknowledged there was no enforcement mechanism.  
“If, at the end of the day, those legal agreements are broken or countries seize assets or don’t allow the provision of vaccines (to developing countries), that’s a problem,” Berkley said.
Gavi asked countries for an expression of intent from those interested in joining its initiative by last Friday. It had expected about four dozen high and middle income countries to sign up, in addition to nearly 90 developing countries.  
Dr. Richard Hatchett, CEO of the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations, which is working with Gavi and others, said they would be talking in the coming weeks with countries who had signed deals with drug companies to secure their own supplies.  
One possibility: They might ask countries to contribute their private vaccine stockpile to the global pool in exchange for access to whichever experimental candidate proves effective.
“We’ll have to find a solution because some of these arrangements have been made and I think we have to be pragmatic about it,” he said.
After a vaccine meeting last month, the African Union said governments should “remove all obstacles” to equal distribution of any successful vaccine.
Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention chief John Nkengasong said Gavi should be “pushing hard” on convincing companies to suspend their intellectual property rights.  
“We don’t want to find ourselves in the HIV drugs situation,” he said, noting that the life-saving drugs were available in developed countries years before they made it to Africa.
Shabhir Mahdi, principal investigator of the Oxford vaccine trial in South Africa, said it was up to African governments to push for more vaccine-sharing initiatives, rather than depending on pharmaceutical companies to make their products more accessible.
“If you expect it to be the responsibility of industry, you would never get a vaccine onto the African continent,” Mahdi said.  
Last month, Gavi and CEPI signed a $750 million deal with AstraZeneca to give developing countries 300 million doses of a shot being developed by Oxford University. But that deal happened after the drug company had already signed contracts with Britain and the U.S., who are first in line to get vaccine deliveries in the fall.  
“We are working tirelessly to honor our commitment to ensure broad and equitable access to Oxford’s vaccine across the globe and at no profit,” said AstraZeneca CEO Pascal Soriot. He said its contract with Gavi and CEPI marked “an important step in helping us supply hundreds of millions of people around the world, including to those in countries with the lowest means.”
Chinese President Xi Jinping has also vowed to share any COVID-19 vaccine it develops with African countries — but only once immunization has been completed in China.  
The World Health Organization has previously said it hopes to secure 2 billion doses for people in lower-income countries by the end of 2021, including through initiatives like Gavi’s. About 85% of the world’s 7.8 billion people live in developing countries.
Kate Elder, senior vaccines policy adviser at Doctors Without Borders, said Gavi should try to extract more concessions from pharmaceutical companies, including compelling them to suspend patents on the vaccines.  
“Gavi is in a very delicate position because they’re completely reliant on the goodwill” of drug companies, said Elder. She said the system of how vaccines are provided to developing countries needed to be overhauled so that it wasn’t based on charity, but on public health need.
“We’re just having our governments write these blank checks to industry with no conditions attached right now,” she said. “Isn’t now the time to actually hold them to account and demand we as the public, get more for it?”
Yannis Natsis, a policy official at the European Public Health Alliance, said the last thing on the minds of officials in rich countries is sharing with poor ones.  
“Politicians are scared if they don’t throw money at companies, the citizens in the next country over will get the vaccines first and they will look very bad,” Natsis said. 

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Organic Farming More Popular in Ghana During Pandemic

In Ghana and West Africa, organic food is growing in popularity as people try to stay healthy during the COVID-19 pandemic. But organic produce is not easily regulated, and some consumers are paying extra for unverified claims. Farmers across the region are creating their own system, with support from international bodies, to certify organic produce. Stacey Knott reports from Accra.Camera: Stacey Knott  Produced by: Stacey Knott 
 

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US Aims for End of Summer Vaccine as Rising COVID Cases Worldwide Prompt New Lockdowns

With the number of confirmed coronavirus infections around the world topping 13 million, including more than 570,000 deaths, the United States says it expects to start producing potential vaccine doses by the end of the summer, even as more and more governments are imposing, or re-imposing, strict quarantine and social distancing guidelines to blunt the spread of the disease.  The U.S.-based cable financial news channel CNBC reported Monday that a senior Trump administration official told reporters the manufacturing process is already underway even though they aren’t sure which vaccine – if any – will work.  The official is quoted as saying they are already buying equipment, securing manufacturing sites, and acquiring raw materials.CNBC says two companies involved in the development of a potential new vaccine, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson, are expected to begin late-stage human trials for potential vaccines by the end of the month.  Social distancing
A set of new social distancing measures that took effect Tuesday in Hong Kong includes mandatory face masks for people using public transportation, with violators subject to fines up to $645 ($5,000 in Hong Kong currency).  Restaurants are banned from offering indoor dining after 6 p.m., and gyms, movie theaters and karaoke bars are once again ordered to shut down, in response to a new order announced by Chief Executive Carrie Lam that limits group gatherings from 50 people to four.The new guidelines have forced the closure of Hong Kong Disneyland, which had just reopened last month.  The Asian financial hub reported 52 new confirmed COVID-19 cases on Monday, including 41 that were locally transmitted, prompting authorities to issue a warning of a potential large-scale outbreak.  The city has reported more than 1,500 total coronavirus cases since the start of the pandemic.Women hold signs outside housing commission apartments under lockdown in Melbourne, Australia, July 6, 2020.New spikes
Over in Australia, the southern state of Victoria recorded 270 new COVID-19 cases Tuesday, including two deaths, pushing the total number of cases nationwide to 10,251 and 110 deaths.  Victoria’s capital city, Melbourne, is in the first week of a six-week lockdown imposed due to an alarming spike of new COVID-19 cases. Residents have been ordered to stay home unless going to work, school, medical appointments or shopping for food. The neighboring state of New South Wales has imposed a strict new set of restrictions on bars in response to a cluster of 21 new COVID-19 cases traced to a popular bar in Sydney. The new restrictions limit group bookings to just 10 people and cap the number of patrons in large venues to 300.  Wearing face masks in supermarkets and stores in Britain will be mandatory starting next week, Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s office announced Monday. Face coverings are already required on buses and subways in London and other English cities. Other European countries, including Germany, Greece, Italy and Spain already require face coverings in stores. Visitors crowd the beach July 12, 2020, in Santa Monica, Calif., amid the coronavirus pandemic.Surge in multiple US states
In the United States, which posted well over 60,000 new infections on Monday, more than three dozen states are seeing a dramatic rise in new coronavirus cases on a daily basis, forcing many of them to reverse plans to reopen their economies after shutting them down during the initial phase of the outbreak. California Governor Gavin Newsom extended Monday the closure of bars, restaurants, gyms, churches, and amusement centers from 19 counties to the entire state. The neighboring northwestern state of Oregon has banned gatherings of more than 10 people and mandated face masks for all Oregonians.  Across the Pacific Ocean, Hawaii Governor David Ige announced Monday the state is postponing plans to relax its quarantine requirements for some tourists from the U.S. mainland. The popular tourist destination has subjected all visitors to a mandatory 14-day quarantine since the start of the outbreak. The government had planned to make an exception for anyone who tested negative for COVID-19 in the 72 hours leading up to their departure, beginning August 1.Gov. Ige delayed the revised rules until September 1 because of the dramatic uptick of new cases in many states, which he said has also caused serious delays in testing.    

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Google Plans to Invest $10 Billion in India

Google announced it will invest $10 billion in India in an effort to make the internet more “affordable and useful” to the more than one billion people living there. “This is a reflection of our confidence in the future of India and its digital economy,” CEO Sundar Pichai said in a statement Monday. The money, to be spent through a new Google for India Digitization Fund over the next five to seven years, will invest in India’s technology sector.  FILE – Google CEO Sundar Pichai speaks during a visit to El Centro College in Dallas, Oct. 3, 2019.”We’ll do this through a mix of equity investments, partnerships, and operational, infrastructure and ecosystem investments,” said Pichai. This new investment represents Google’s biggest commitment to India yet. These investments focus on increasing access to the internet throughout India, as well as aiding businesses with the transition to online operations.  Much of this will be accomplished through a focus on using apps and new software platforms. Google aims to use this move to enlarge internet access beyond English and into more local languages throughout India. Google also hopes to use its investments for the public good, working to improve areas as broad as education, agriculture and health. “As we make these investments we look forward to working alongside Prime Minister (Narendra) Modi and the Indian government, as well as Indian businesses of all sizes to realize a shared vision for a Digital India,” Pichai said. “Our goal is to ensure that India not only benefits from the next wave of innovation but leads it.” 
 

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US, China, UAE Sending Spacecraft to Mars This Week

In a fresh attempt to scout out signs of previous life on Mars, the United States, China, and the United Arab Emirates are sending out spacecraft to Mars, starting this week.The unmanned spacecraft are also analyzing the area to prepare for future astronauts.The U.S. is sending a rover named Perseverance to gather rock samples, and it will likely not return for ten years.Each spacecraft must go over 482 million kilometers to reach Mars, after which they must leave Earth’s orbit and enter Mars’. The process of arriving alone takes at least six or seven months.The countries’ goal is to find out if Mars had any signs of previous microscopic life. As has been previously determined, Mars used to have bodies of water, so it’s possible the planet was also host to some type of life.In this illustration on June 16, 2020, NASA’s Perseverance rover uses its Planetary Instrument for X-ray Lithochemistry (PIXL) instrument to analyze a rock on the surface of Mars. (Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech)“Robot missions over the past decade or so have shown that Mars is not a dead, alien place as we had concluded in the late 20th century. In fact it is a world peppered with old lake beds, dried out river channels and organic material,“ said Professor Ray Arvidson, of Washington University, St Louis. All three countries are sending out spacecraft in the same week because there is a period of only one month in every 26 months in which Mars and Earth are on the same side of the sun. When they’re on the same side of the sun, the time for travel can be reduced as much as possible. Only the U.S. has placed a spacecraft on Mars before. 

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Look Out, Mars: Here We Come with a Fleet of Spacecraft

Mars is about to be invaded by planet Earth — big time. Three countries — the United States, China and the United Arab Emirates — are sending unmanned spacecraft to the red planet in quick succession beginning this week, in the most sweeping effort yet to seek signs of ancient microscopic life while scouting out the place for future astronauts.The U.S., for its part, is dispatching a six-wheeled rover the size of a car, named Perseverance, to collect rock samples that will be brought back to Earth for analysis in about a decade. “Right now, more than ever, that name is so important,” NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said as preparations went on amid the coronavirus outbreak, which will keep the launch guest list to a minimum. Each spacecraft will travel more than 300 million miles (483 million kilometers) before reaching Mars next February. It takes six to seven months, at the minimum, for a spacecraft to loop out beyond Earth’s orbit and sync up with Mars’ more distant orbit around the sun. Scientists want to know what Mars was like billions of years ago when it had rivers, lakes and oceans that may have allowed simple, tiny organisms to flourish before the planet morphed into the barren, wintry desert world it is today. “Trying to confirm that life existed on another planet, it’s a tall order. It has a very high burden of proof,” said Perseverance’s project scientist, Ken Farley of Caltech in Pasadena, California.In a clean room at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, engineers observed the first driving test for NASA’s Mars 2020 rover Perseveranceo, Dec. 17, 2019. (Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech)The three nearly simultaneous launches are no coincidence: The timing is dictated by the opening of a one-month window in which Mars and Earth are in ideal alignment on the same side of the sun, which minimizes travel time and fuel use. Such a window opens only once every 26 months. Mars has long exerted a powerful hold on the imagination but has proved to be the graveyard for numerous missions. Spacecraft have blown up, burned up or crash-landed, with the casualty rate over the decades exceeding 50%. China’s last attempt, in collaboration with Russia in 2011, ended in failure. Only the U.S. has successfully put a spacecraft on Mars, doing it eight times, beginning with the twin Vikings in 1976. Two NASA landers are now operating there, InSight and Curiosity. Six other spacecraft are exploring the planet from orbit: three U.S., two European and one from India. The United Arab Emirates and China are looking to join the elite club. The UAE spacecraft, named Amal, which is Arabic for Hope, is an orbiter scheduled to rocket away from Japan on Wednesday, local time, on what will be the Arab world’s first interplanetary mission. The spacecraft, built in partnership with the University of Colorado Boulder, will arrive at Mars in the year the UAE marks the 50th anniversary of its founding. “The UAE wanted to send a very strong message to the Arab youth,” project manager Omran Sharaf said. “The message here is that if the UAE can reach Mars in less than 50 years, then you can do much more. … The nice thing about space, it sets the standards really high.” Controlled from Dubai, the celestial weather station will strive for an exceptionally high Martian orbit of 13,670 miles by 27,340 miles (22,000 kilometers by 44,000 kilometers) to study the upper atmosphere and monitor climate change. China will be up next, with the flight of a rover and an orbiter sometime around July 23; Chinese officials aren’t divulging much. The mission is named Tianwen, or Questions for Heaven. NASA, meanwhile, is shooting for a launch on July 30 from Cape Canaveral.  Perseverance is set to touch down in an ancient river delta and lake known as Jezero Crater, not quite as big as Florida’s Lake Okeechobee. China’s much smaller rover will aim for an easier, flatter target. To reach the surface, both spacecraft will have to plunge through Mars’ hazy red skies in what has been dubbed “seven minutes of terror” — the most difficult and riskiest part of putting spacecraft on the planet. Jezero Crater is full of boulders, cliffs, sand dunes and depressions, any one of which could end Perseverance’s mission. Brand-new guidance and parachute-triggering technology will help steer the craft away from hazards. Ground controllers will be helpless, given the 10 minutes it takes radio transmissions to travel one-way between Earth and Mars. Jezero Crater is worth the risks, according to scientists who chose it over 60 other potential sites.  Where there was water — and Jezero was apparently flush with it 3.5 billion years ago — there may have been life, though it was probably only simple microbial life, existing perhaps in a slimy film at the bottom of the crater. But those microbes may have left telltale marks in the sediment layers. Perseverance will hunt for rocks containing such biological signatures, if they exist.  It will drill into the most promising rocks and store a half-kilogram (about 1 pound) of samples in dozens of titanium tubes that will eventually be fetched by another rover. To prevent Earth microbes from contaminating the samples, the tubes are super-sterilized, guaranteed germ-free by Adam Stelzner, chief engineer for the mission at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena. “Yep, I’m staking my reputation on it,” he said. While prowling the surface, Perseverance as well as China’s rover will peek below, using radar to locate any underground pools of water that might exist. Perseverance will also release a spindly, 4-pound (1.8-kilogram) helicopter that will be the first rotorcraft ever to fly on another planet.  Perseverance’s cameras will shoot color video of the rover’s descent, providing humanity’s first look at a parachute billowing open at Mars, while microphones capture the sounds.  The rover will also attempt to produce oxygen from the carbon dioxide in the thin Martian atmosphere. Extracted oxygen could someday be used by astronauts on Mars for breathing as well as for making rocket propellant. NASA wants to return astronauts to the moon by 2024 and send them from there to Mars in the 2030s. To that end, the space agency is sending samples of spacesuit material with Perseverance to see how they stand up against the harsh Martian environment. The tab for Perseverance’s mission, including the flight and a minimum two years of Mars operations, is close to $3 billion. The UAE’s project costs $200 million, including the launch but not mission operations. China has not disclosed its costs. Europe and Russia dropped plans to send a life-seeking rover to Mars this summer after falling behind in testing and then getting slammed by COVID-19.  Perseverance’s mission is seen by NASA as a comparatively low-risk way of testing out some of the technology that will be needed to send humans to the red planet and bring them home safely. “Sort of crazy for me to call it low risk because there’s a lot of hard work in it and there are billions of dollars in it,” Farley said. “But compared to humans, if something goes wrong, you will be very glad you tested it out on a half-kilogram of rock instead of on the astronauts.”  

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Top White House Adviser Expects Tough Action on TikTok, WeChat

White House trade adviser Peter Navarro said Sunday he expected President Donald Trump to act firmly against the TikTok and WeChat applications, amid rising tensions between Washington and Beijing.Trump last week had said he is considering banning the wildly-popular TikTok app as a way to punish China over the coronavirus pandemic.In an interview with Fox News, Navarro argued that “what the American people have to understand is all of the data that goes into those mobile apps that kids have so much fun with… goes right to servers in China, right to the Chinese military, the Chinese Communist Party.”He said these apps can be used to steal intellectual property. “So expect strong actions on that” by Trump, Navarro warned.Fast-growing video-sharing app TikTok belongs to the Chinese group ByteDance and has nearly one billion users worldwide.TikTok has sought to distance itself from its Chinese owners, pointing out it has an American CEO and consistently denying allegations that it shares data with Beijing.WeChat, owned by Tencent, is the main messaging application in China with more than one billion users.
 Navarro also accused TikTok’s new boss Kevin Mayer, former head of Disney’s streaming platforms, of being an American puppet.On Friday Amazon said it mistakenly sent workers an email telling them to dump the TikTok mobile application from their cell phones because of security concerns.An Amazon spokesperson later told AFP “there is no change to our policies right now with regard to TikTok.”Democratic campaign teams for the U.S. presidential election have been asked to avoid using TikTok on personal devices and, if they do, to keep it on a non-work phone.The research firm eMarketer estimates TikTok has more than 52 million U.S. users, having gained about 12 million since the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic. TikTok is especially popular with young smartphone users. 

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Touchless: How the World’s Busiest Airport Envisions Post-COVID Travel 

With COVID-19 ravaging the aviation industry, airlines and airports worldwide are reining in costs and halting new spending, except in one area: reassuring pandemic-wary passengers about travel.”Whatever the new normal (…) it’s going to be more and more around self-service,” Sean Donohue, chief executive of Dallas-Forth Worth International Airport (DFW), told Reuters in an interview.The airport is working with American Airlines – whose home base is DFW – to roll out a self-check-in for luggage, and all of its restrooms will be entirely touchless by the end of July with technology developed by Infax Inc. They will have hands-free sinks, soap, flushing toilets, and paper towel dispensers, which will be equipped with sensors to alert workers when supplies are low.”One of the biggest complaints airports receive are restrooms,” Donohue said.Dallas is piloting three technology options for luggage check-ins: Amadeus’s ICM, SITA, and Materna IPS.DFW has become the world’s busiest airport, according to figures from travel analytics firm Cirium, thanks in part to a strategy by large global carrier American to concentrate much of its pandemic flying through its Texas hub.Last year DFW rolled out biometric boarding — where your face is your boarding pass — for international flights and is taking advantage of the lull in international traffic to work with U.S. Customs and Border Protection to use the VeriScan technology for arriving passengers too, he said.Delta Air Lines opened the first U.S. biometric terminal in Atlanta in 2018, and some airports in Europe and Asia also use facial recognition technology. It has spurred some concerns, however, with a U.S. government study finding racial bias in the technology and the European Union earlier this year considered banning it in public places over privacy concerns.The Dallas airport is also testing new technology around better sanitization, beginning with ultraviolet technology that can kill germs before they circulate into the HVAC system.But it has also deployed electrostatic foggers and hired a “hit team” of 150 people who are going through the terminals physically sanitizing high-touch areas.”Technology is critical because it can be very efficient,” Donohue said, but customers “being able to visualize what’s happening is reassuring as well.” DFW has invested millions of dollars above its cleaning and sanitation budget since the pandemic broke out, while suspending about $100 million of capital programs and reducing its second-half operating costs by about 20% as it addresses COVID-19’s steep hit to the industry, which only months ago was preparing for growth.Nearly 114,000 customers went through DFW on July 11, an improvement from a 10,000 per day trough in April, but still just about half of last year’s volumes.The airport has also been testing touchless technology for employee temperature checks, but is not currently planning hotly-debated checks for passengers, barring a federal mandate for which there has yet to be any inclination by the U.S. government.Michael Davies, who runs the New Technology Ventures program at London Business School, said technology will be one of many changes to the airport experience going forward, with fewer overall travelers who will be seeking more space and spending less time dining and shopping.”You put these things together and this feels in some interesting ways very much like back to the golden age of air travel,” said Davies. 

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Coronavirus Pandemic Stifles Dengue Prevention Efforts

To slow the spread of the coronavirus, governments issued lockdowns to keep people at home. They curtailed activities that affected services like trash collection. They tried to shield hospitals from a surge of patients.But the cascading effects of these restrictions also are hampering efforts to cope with seasonal outbreaks of dengue, an incurable, mosquito-borne disease that is also known as “breakbone fever” for its severely painful symptoms.Southeast Asian countries like Singapore and Indonesia have dealt with concurrent outbreaks of dengue and coronavirus this year. In Brazil, where there are more than 1.8 million COVID-19 infections, at least 1.1 million cases of dengue have been reported, with nearly 400 deaths, according to the Pan American Health Organization.Dengue cases are likely to rise soon with the start of seasonal rains in Latin American countries like Cuba, Chile and Costa Rica, as well as the South Asian countries of India and Pakistan.Dengue typically isn’t fatal, but severe cases may require hospitalization. Prevention efforts targeted at destroying mosquito-breeding sites, like removing trash or old tires and other objects containing standing water, are still the best ways to curb the spread of the disease. But coronavirus-era lockdowns and other restrictions have meant that these efforts have been reduced or stopped altogether in many countries.In northwestern Pakistan, plans to disinfect tire shops and markets that had dengue outbreaks in 2019 were shelved due to funds being used for the coronavirus, said Dr. Rizwan Kundi, head of the Young Doctor’s Association.FILE – A laborer cleans a manhole on a sidewalk in Mumbai, India, June 10, 2020.Health workers who would destroy mosquito-breeding sites in India’s capital of New Delhi are also screening people for the virus.Having to identify thousands of virus cases has meant that dengue surveillance has suffered in many Latin American countries, added Dr. Maria Franca Tallarico, the head of health for the Americas regional office of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies.Experts say that disrupting such prevention efforts is ominous for the global battle against dengue.The World Health Organization says 2019 was the worst year on record for dengue cases, with every region affected, and some countries were hit for the first time.Aedes aegypti, the mosquito that spreads dengue, is most prevalent in cities, and experts warn that increased urbanization and warming temperatures due to climate change means that its range will keep increasing.Experts say that while reduced travel means fewer opportunities for mosquitoes to bite people with dengue to become carriers themselves, the coronavirus pandemic has introduced other variables.Staying home — one way to slow outbreaks of COVID-19, especially in cities — poses greater risks for spreading dengue, said Singapore’s National Environment Agency (NEA). That’s because the Aedes mosquito bites during the day, and with more people staying home, where mosquito populations are high, the more likely they are to be bitten.The impact is already visible. Singapore recorded a five-fold increase in the mosquito larvae detected in homes and common corridors of residential areas during the two-month coronavirus lockdown period, compared with the previous two months. By July 6, the total of dengue cases in Singapore was more than 15,500. The NEA says the number of cases this year is expected to exceed the 22,170 cases reported in 2013, which at the time was the largest dengue outbreak in Singapore’s history.FILE – A worker fumigates a neighborhood in an effort to control the spread of dengue fever, amid the new coronavirus outbreak in Jakarta, Indonesia, May 17, 2020.Oliver Brady, an associate professor at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, said Central America and the Caribbean were at higher risk due to overlapping outbreaks.Working with communities in Latin America to stop mosquitoes from breeding had been the most successful anti-dengue strategy in recent years, Tallarico said. But with strict limitations on movement, she said they didn’t know whether these measures were still happening, and “this is the big concern for us.”A shortage of protective equipment also means limiting the number of first responders who can check on people with fever or cough, she said.“My concern is that you have (many) more cases of dengue … but the capacity of the system to notify (and) test is limited,” she said.Dengue patients need acute care, and this could lead to a “double whammy” that overwhelms health care systems, said Scott O’Neill, founder and director of the World Mosquito Program.“The health care system is already crumbling. … I am not sure how (India’s) existing health care system will be able to handle this load,” said Dr. S.P Kalantri, a public health specialist.Global research into dengue also will be affected by the coronavirus pandemic, Brady said.At the WMP Tahija Foundation Research Laboratory in Yogyakarta, Indonesia, which has been studying dengue for years, “it became too difficult to enroll patients with the social-distancing measures,” O’Neill said. The facility is now being used as a COVID-19 testing site.Similarly, the National Institute of Malaria Research in New Delhi has stopped all field work after it was converted into a center for validating COVID-19 testing kits, said Dr. R.C Dhiman, who studies mosquitoes and climate change.In Bangladesh, where dengue season is just starting, the launch of a mobile app to help people report their cases was delayed by the pandemic, said Afsana Alamgir Khan, who oversees the country’s dengue program.Experts say such disruptions by the coronavirus will only increase the risks of dengue infections. 

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US Convicts Russian Hacker in 2012 Data Breach

A jury in San Francisco convicted Russian citizen Yevgeny Nikulin after a series of hacks and cyberthefts eight years ago that targeted major U.S. social-media companies such as LinkedIn and Dropbox.The District Court for the Northern District of California on Friday said Nikulin would be sentenced September 29.Nikulin, 32, faces up to 10 years in prison for each count of selling stolen usernames and passwords, installing malware on protected computers, as well as up to five years for each count of conspiracy and computer hacking.According to U.S. prosecutors, Nikulin in 2012 stole the usernames and passwords of tens of millions of social media users to access their accounts. Some of that data was put up for sale on a Russian hacker forum.Nikulin, who last year was examined by court-ordered psychologists amid concerns about his mental health, had pleaded not guilty to the charges.His lawyer, Arkady Bukh, vowed to appeal the verdict, which he called a “huge injustice.”    Nikulin was detained in the Czech Republic in October 2016 and extradited to the U.S. 17 months later.The move angered Moscow, which had asked Czech authorities to extradite Nikulin to his home country, citing him as a suspect in a $2,000 online theft in 2009.Nikulin’s trial started in California in early March but was interrupted by the coronavirus pandemic a week later, when nearly all in-person court hearings were postponed across the United States.

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Amazon Says Email to Employees Banning TikTok Was a Mistake 

Roughly five hours after an internal email went out to employees telling them to delete the popular video app TikTok from their phones, Amazon appeared to backtrack, calling the ban a mistake. “This morning’s email to some of our employees was sent in error. There is no change to our policies right now with regard to TikTok,” Amazon emailed reporters just before 5 p.m. Eastern time. Spokeswoman Jaci Anderson declined to answer questions about what happened. The initial internal email, which was disseminated widely online, told employees to delete TikTok, a video app increasingly popular with young people but also the focus of intensifying national-security and geopolitical concerns because of its Chinese ownership. The email cited “security risks” of the app.  An Amazon employee who confirmed receipt of the initial email but was not authorized to speak publicly had not seen a retraction at the time of Amazon’s backtrack.  Amazon is the second-largest U.S. private employer after Walmart, with more than 840,000 employees worldwide, and moving against TikTok would have escalated pressure on the app. It is banned on employee phones by the U.S. military and the company is subject to a national-security review of its merger history. U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said this week that the government was “certainly looking” at banning the app.  FILE – This Feb. 25, 2020, file photo, shows the icon for TikTok in New York.Chinese internet giant ByteDance owns TikTok, which is designed for users outside of China; it also makes a Chinese version called Douyin. Like YouTube, TikTok relies on its users for the videos that populate its app. It has a reputation for fun, goofy videos and is popular with young people, including millions of American users. But it has racked up concerns such as censorship of videos, including those critical of the Chinese government; the threat of sharing user data with Chinese officials; and violating kids’ privacy. TikTok said earlier in the day that Amazon did not notify it before sending the initial email around midday Eastern. That email read, “The TikTok app is no longer permitted on mobile devices that access Amazon email.” To retain mobile access to company email, employees had to delete the TikTok app by the end of the day. “We still do not understand their concerns,” TikTok said at the time, adding that the company would welcome a dialogue to address Amazon’s issues. A spokeswoman did not immediately reply to a request for comment Friday evening. TikTok has been trying to appease critics in the U.S. and distance itself from its Chinese roots, but finds itself caught in an increasingly sticky geopolitical web. It recently named a new CEO, former Disney executive Kevin Mayer, which experts said could help it navigate U.S. regulators. And it is stopping operations in Hong Kong because of a new Chinese national security law that led Facebook, Google and Twitter to also stop providing user data to Hong Kong authorities.  Pompeo said the government remained concerned about TikTok and referred to the administration’s crackdown on Chinese telecom firms Huawei and ZTE. The government has tried to convince allies to root Huawei out of telecom networks, saying the company is a national-security threat, with mixed success; Trump has also said he was willing to use Huawei as a bargaining chip in trade talks. Huawei has denied that it enables spying for the Chinese government. “With respect to Chinese apps on people’s cell phones, I can assure you the United States will get this one right too,” Pompeo said, and added that if users downloaded the app their private information would be “in the hands of the Chinese Communist Party.” A U.S. national-security agency has been reviewing ByteDance’s purchase of TikTok’s precursor, Musical.ly. Meanwhile, privacy groups say TikTok has been violating children’s privacy, even after the Federal Trade Commission fined the company in 2019 for collecting personal information from children without their parents’ consent. Amazon may have been concerned about a Chinese-owned app’s access to employee data, said Susan Ariel Aaronson, a professor at George Washington University and a data governance and national-security expert. China, according to the U.S. government, regularly steals U.S. intellectual property. Part of Amazon’s motivation with the ban, now apparently reversed, may also have been political, Aaronson said, since Amazon “doesn’t want to alienate the Trump administration.” Amazon and its founder, Jeff Bezos, are frequent targets of President Donald Trump. Bezos personally owns The Washington Post, which Trump has referred to as “fake news” whenever it publishes unfavorable stories about him. Last year, Amazon sued the U.S. government, saying that Trump’s “personal vendetta” against Amazon, Bezos and the Post, led it to lose a $10 billion cloud computing contract with the Pentagon to rival Microsoft. Meanwhile, federal regulators as well as Congress are pursuing antitrust investigations at Amazon as well as other tech giants. TikTok has content-moderation policies, like any social network, but says its moderation team for the U.S. is led out of California and it doesn’t censor videos based on topics sensitive to China and would not, even if the Chinese government asked it to. As for sharing U.S. user data with the Chinese government, the company says it stores U.S. user data in the U.S. and Singapore, not China; that its data centers are outside of China; and it would not give the government access to U.S. user data even if asked. Concerns about China are not limited to the U.S. India this month banned dozens of Chinese apps, including TikTok, because of tensions between the countries. India cited privacy concerns that threatened India’s sovereignty and security for the ban. India is one of TikTok’s largest markets and had previously briefly banned the app in 2019 because of worries about children and sexual content.   

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NASA Begins Summer Road Trip

NASA embarks on an epic summer road trip tens of millions of miles away. An astronaut who both walked on the moon and reached the deepest point on Earth shares her journey. And a “natural firework” of a comet streaks the French skies. VOA’s Arash Arabasadi brings us The Week in Space.

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Study Finds Rats, Like Humans, Less Likely to Offer Help When in a Group

A new study using rats suggests that how a person decides whether to step in and help another person who is in distress may be more a factor of biology than psychology and may show why some people show empathy and others do not.A long-held social-psychological concept holds that people in a group are less likely to help someone in need than if those individuals were alone. The idea, known as “the bystander effect,” is often explained by suggesting a larger group “diffuses responsibility.” In other words, an individual might feel less personally responsible for helping.But the study, conducted at the University of Chicago and published Wednesday in the Journal of Science Advances, shows rats, making decisions based purely on biological instincts and not any concept of right or wrong, reacted in a similar way while part of a group.Led by neurobiologist Peggy Mason, the researchers used a small device to restrain a single rat. They then created a group of rats categorized as “bystanders,” giving them an anti-anxiety drug, similar to Valium, to ensure that these rats would not help the one in distress. The goal was to see if a nondrugged rat would still jump in and help the rat in distress, despite guaranteed inactive bystanders.The experiment revealed that when “bystanders” were unhelpful, the nondrugged rats were less likely to help the restrained rat.Mason maintained this showed that the tendency is not a human cultural phenomenon. “This is part of our mammalian inheritance,” she said.   Mason noted that when the “bystander” rats were tested alone and without drugs, they offered aid. “It’s the indifference of these other rats that changes the experience for them,” she added.

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Researchers Say Climate Change Causing Arctic Spider Population Boom

A new study suggests earlier Arctic springs driven by climate change are providing wolf spiders in the region the opportunity to have more babies. The study, published in the June 24 edition of the biological sciences journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B, found that Arctic wolf spiders are taking advantage of the early spring season by producing more batches of offspring — called clutches — because warmer temperatures extend the season when the spiders are active. Authors of the study, from the Arctic Research Center at Denmark’s Aarhus University, dissected individual egg sacs from the spiders and counted the number of eggs and partially developed juvenile spiders. They compared those egg contents with the size of the mothers and determined that the spiders were producing two separate clutches, something previously only observed in spiders living in lower latitudes. The spiders hatched during the second clutch appeared significantly later in the season. In years when the snowmelt happened earlier, the first clutches occurred earlier, and the second clutches were larger, the study shows. The study provides the first evidence of invertebrates in the Arctic producing additional clutches as a result of global warming. The researchers say this could be a “common but overlooked phenomenon due to the challenges associated with long-term collection of life-history data in the Arctic.”  Researchers say that this effect could also have implications for Arctic ecosystems as a whole because wolf spiders are widely distributed. 
 

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China’s Rival to GPS Navigation Carries Big Risks

After more than 20 years of effort, China completed its satellite navigation system last Tuesday when the last of BeiDou’s 35 satellites reached geostationary orbit.China’s domestically developed BeiDou Navigation Satellite System, designed to rival the U.S.-owned Global Positioning System (GPS), is now offering worldwide coverage, allowing global users to access its high-accuracy positioning, navigation and timing services, which are vital to the modern economy.China’s state media claims the system, formally initiated in 1994, is now being used by more than half of the world’s countries, and that its navigation products have been exported to more than 120 countries.FILE – A GPS station is seen in the Inyo Mountains of California. (Shawn Lawrence/UNAVCO)Like GPS, the services are offered free of charge using public protocols. But technical experts say the differences between the two systems have profound security implications.Security risksAll other global navigation satellite systems — GPS, GLONASS (Russia) and Galileo (EU) — mainly act as beacons, beaming out signals picked up by billions of devices using them to determine their precise position on Earth.BeiDou is a two-way communication system, allowing it to identify the locations of receivers. BeiDou-compatible devices can transmit data back to the satellites, even in text messages of up to 1,200 Chinese characters.”In layman’s terms, you can not only know where you are through BeiDou but also tell others where you are through the system,” China’s state broadcaster CCTV said last month.Such a capability has raised serious security concerns. “All cellular devices, as I understand their function, can be tracked because they continually communicate with towers or satellites,” Dr. Larry Wortzel, a commissioner of the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission (USCC), told VOA.”So just as here in the U.S., there are concerns that police or federal agencies can track people by their cellphones. That can happen. The same is true of a cellphone relying on BeiDou, Glonass and Galileo. The question is: Who are you concerned about being tracked by?”FILE – A Long March-3B rocket carrying the Beidou-3 satellite, the last satellite of China’s Beidou Navigation Satellite System, takes off from Xichang Satellite Launch Center in Sichuan province, China, June 23, 2020.Legislation passed in Taiwan in 2016 also noted that two-way communication capabilities could be used in cyberattacks. It recommended that government employees should avoid using smartphones that rely on BeiDou for their phone navigation system.In a public report, Taiwan’s Ministry of Science and Technology said that Taiwanese using mobile phones made in the mainland might be providing Beijing with information via embedded malware. “Because the Chinese BeiDou satellite positioning system has two-way information sending and receiving function and malicious programs could be hidden in the navigation chip of the mobile phone, operating system or apps, the use of BeiDou-enabled smartphones could face security risks,” the report stated.The ministry recommended that national defense agencies monitor signals transmitted by BeiDou and warn of any anomalies as soon as possible.A Staff members walk at Xichang Satellite Launch Center, the day before the Beidou-3 satellite, the last satellite of China’s Beidou Navigation Satellite System, was set to launch, in Sichuan province, China, June 15, 2020.Almost 25 years later, BeiDou is now trying to rival GPS’s dominant positions. It has overtaken its U.S. rival in size. At the end of June, there were 35 BeiDou satellites in operation, compared with 31 for GPS.”It brings full autonomy to China in matters of position and navigation services for ground, sea and air transportation means on a global scale,” said Dr. Emmanuel Meneut in a recent report published by a French think tank, the Institute of International Relations.According to a report released last month by a Chinese research firm Qianxun SI, BeiDou’s satellites were observed more frequently than GPS satellites in most parts of the world. The state media Xinhua reported last Friday that BeiDou now has 500 million subscribers for its high-precision positioning services.As an integral part of everyday life, GPS is nearly ubiquitous in the modern economy. The system is also an indispensable asset to U.S. forces at home and deployed around the globe. It provides a substantial military advantage and has been integrated into virtually every facet of military operations. Being overtaken by BeiDou could have potentially enormous implications for both high-tech industry and national security.To promote greater use of the technology, China has sought to incentivize other countries with loans and free services. Beijing signed a roughly 2 billion yuan ($297 million) agreement with Thailand in 2013, making the country the first overseas client of BeiDou. According to a report released last month by a Shanghai-based market research firm, SWS Research, by the end of 2020, at least 1,000 base stations will be built in the 10 ASEAN countries.”Widespread integration of BeiDou across the Belt and Road [a global development strategy adopted by the Chinese government in 2013] will ostensibly end a member nation’s reliance on the American military-run GPS network,” Heath Sloane, a scholar at the Yenching Academy of Peking University, wrote in The Diplomat in April. “Torn between rival networks, the world may soon be bifurcated into GPS or BeiDou camps.”FILE – A GPS navigation device is held by a U.S. soldier in Kuwait, in this image taken from video.Ironically, the American military says it sometimes uses BeiDou as a backup to GPS.According to General James Holmes, the head of the U.S. Air Force Air Combat Command, pilots of the elite U-2 spy plane wear watches that receive satellite navigation coordinates from BeiDou when GPS is jammed. “My U-2 guys fly with a watch now that ties into GPS, but also BeiDou and the Russian [GLONASS] system and the European [Galileo] system so that if somebody jams GPS, they still get the others,” Holmes said March 4 at the McAleese Defense Programs Conference in Washington.While China’s 5G networking technology has long been considered a security threat, BeiDou receives little criticism from the U.S. Moreover, the system received much-needed help from Washington in 2017.  As Beijing was rapidly developing the system, it faced a problem that only the U.S. could solve: No frequency bands were available.Under the “first come, first served” principle, GPS had occupied most of the spectrum that a global positioning system needs, since the U.S. was the first nation to start broadcasting in those frequencies.China had to obtain permission from Washington before using this limited resource. After three years of negotiations, the two countries agreed in December 2017 to allow BeiDou’s civil signals to be interoperable with GPS. As a result, the three frequency bands that BeiDou satellites use to transmit navigation signals are located adjacent to or even inside GPS frequency bands.’Biggest’ aerospace projectOfficially started in 1994, BeiDou is consistently referenced as “the biggest” aerospace program that China ever undertaken. For the past 2½ years alone, there have been more than 300,000 scientists and engineers from more than 400 research institutions and corporations involved in the program. Along with 5G, BeiDou is called by Beijing “The Two Pillars of a Great Power.”Yang Changfeng, a chief designer of BeiDou, told China’s state broadcaster CCTV last month that China was now “moving from being a major nation in space to becoming a true space power.””The rise of the Chinese GPS BeiDou system is not simply one more positioning service in competition with the U.S. One is a strategic challenge,” Meneut said.

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