Palestine President, Biden Speak After Israeli Air Strike On Gaza Building
[Ramallah, Palestinian Territories] --- President Mahmud Abbas spoke Saturday with Joe Biden for the first time since the US president took office, the Ramallah presidency said, as violence between Israel and the Palestinians flared.
Abbas's spokesman Nabil Abu Rudeina told AFP the conversation was "important", without elaborating on the details of the exchange.
Israel PM, Biden Speak After Attack On Gaza Building With International Media Offices
[Jerusalem] --- Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told US President Joe Biden that Israel did its utmost to safeguard civilians in its Gaza bombing campaign, after an air strike demolished a tower hosting the Associated Press news agency.
"Netanyahu stressed that Israel is doing everything to avoid harming those uninvolved," a readout from the Israeli premier's office said.
"The proof is that towers containing terror sites are cleared of uninvolved people prior to being attacked."
Maldives: Temporary suspension for tourists originating from South Asian countries
Hundreds come forward with stories of sexual harassment in schools: 'SaveTheSchoolsMY' creator
In a bid to make Malaysian schools safer for students, a media executive decided to create an online space for students to come forward with stories of sexual harassment. In just two weeks, the @Savetheschoolsmy Instagram page received hundreds of submissions.
“My ustaz (religious teacher) used to make rape and sexual jokes during my class,” one of them read, while another said, “Back then when I was in primary school, boys my age will make sexual sounds as jokes and they’ll [laugh] it off.”
Page creator Puteri Nuraaina Balqis, 26, decided to create the account on April 27 amid controversies concerning alleged menstruation spot checks in schools and teachers telling rape jokes – both spawning the #MakeSchoolASaferPlace online movement. To date, Puteri, who is from Taiping, Perak, has posted 200 horror stories she said came from former and current students all over the country, recounting incidents of sexual abuse and harassment. Over 2,000 people are following the account.
“Within 24 hours of creating the page, I received 50 submissions,” she said. Seven new submissions were added to her collection of nearly 500 stories this morning.
“I’m glad that people are willing and unafraid to share their experiences, but it’s way more than I expected,” she said.
The idea for the Instagram page came about when she became “pissed off” by the numerous attempts made by people online to invalidate famed student activist Ain Husniza, 17, after the SMK Puncak Alam student spoke out against her teacher for telling a rape joke in class.
“Ain shared that a group of teachers had started a rumor saying she’s autistic, so people shouldn’t take her seriously,” Puteri said. “That to me is super messed up because so what if she is [autistic], that doesn’t mean the rape joke didn’t happen.”
“People need to know that this is definitely an issue. Just because it didn’t happen to you, doesn’t mean it’s not happening to other people,” Puteri added.
Ain has filed a police report over her teacher as well as against the rape threat she received in response to her TikTok video. Her school has also threatened to expel her for being absent from school. Her father told Coconuts that his daughter did not feel safe about returning to school.
Puteri collects the anonymous submissions via a Google form. Other than stories of harassment, some also talked about being groomed. The various issues affected both genders, Puteri said.
“The numbers are smaller, but more male victims are speaking up about their experiences,” she said. An example would be a student who was blamed for being “too soft” when he complained to a school counselor about being touched inappropriately by his fellow male classmates.
Another submission was about a female student who was sexually groomed by an ustazah (female religious teacher).
“She gave me flying kisses and called us lovers,” the anonymous poster said. “She called me sexy after a peck on the cheek… I used to feel glad when she called me baby.”
A few of these confessions have named their respective schools and perpetrators, according to Puteri. Lawyers have also reached out offering legal help.
“Pro-bono lawyers have reached out to me with offers for legal aid just in case the page gets sued for defamation, or if people attempt to hunt down the victims,” Puteri said.
She has not received feedback from the Ministry of Education regarding the page. Senior Education Minister Radzi Jidin previously denied there were period spot checks, stories of which surfaced last month, were happening in schools.
“The authorities are good at what they do – doing nothing,” Puteri later remarked.
(This article, Hundreds come forward with stories of sexual harassment in schools: ‘SaveTheSchoolsMY’ creator, originally appeared on Coconuts, Asia's leading alternative media company.)
INDIA: Police Suspends SHO for Kicking Vegetable Vendor's Cart
With the current surge in the number of coronavirus cases, many parts of the country have gone into full or partial lockdown. There is a restriction on movements and the authorities are trying their best to implement these restrictions. However, a recent viral video of a Station House Officer from Punjab has raised eyebrows on the internet.
In the video, SHO Phagwara, Navdeep Singh was seen kicking a street vendor’s vegetable basket in the name of implementing the lockdown. The video of the incident got viral on the internet with people reacting strongly against the behavior of the officer in question. Punjab Police authorities too took cognizance of the video and acted against the officer in question. In a tweet, Punjab Police Director General, Dinkar Gupta informed that the officer has been suspended. The Punjab Police has also imitated a departmental inquiry against Navdeep Singh.
Ireland added five countries to mandatory quarantine list starting from May 4
[Dublin] --- Five countries including India have been added to Ireland's mandatory quarantine list, according to a statement released by the Irish government.
Visitors arrive at Dublin Zoo which reopened to the public as Ireland took a new step to relax its Covid lockdown, in Dublin, Ireland.
The five countries are India, Iran, Mongolia, Georgia, and Costa Rica. India's federal health ministry said on Friday morning that 386,452 new cases and 3,498 related deaths were registered in the past 24 hours across the country, the Xinhua news agency reported.
Starting from 4 a.m. on May 4, people traveling from or transiting through these five countries will have to complete a 14-day mandatory quarantine at a government-designated hotel after they arrive in Ireland, the statement said on Friday.
All the costs during the mandatory quarantine period will be borne by travelers themselves, according to relevant regulations previously announced by the Irish government.
Those who test negative on the tenth day of their arrival at a designated hotel can leave. Those who leave the designated hotel earlier than they should face a fine of up to 2,000 euros (about $2,400) or a half-year jail term or both.
COVID: Israel bans travel to India, six other countries
[Jerusalem] --- Israel barred its citizens from traveling to India and six other countries, citing high COVID infection rates there. In a joint press release issued by the Israel Prime Minister’s Office and the Health Ministry on Friday, it was said that Israelis will not be allowed to travel to Ukraine, Brazil, Ethiopia, South Africa, India, Mexico, and Turkey.
Israel barred its citizens from traveling to India and six other countries, citing high COVID infection rates there.
This regulation will come into force on May 3 and will remain in place until May 16. Non-Israelis, however, will be able to travel to these countries, provided they plan to reside there permanently, the press release said.
The regulation will not be applicable to those who stay at airports in transit in one of these countries for a time period of up to 12 hours while waiting for a connecting flight.
China launches main part of its 1st permanent space station
[BEIJING] --- China on Thursday launched the main module of its first permanent space station that will host astronauts long term, the latest success for a program that has realized a number of its growing ambitions in recent years.
In this image taken from video footage run by China's CCTV via AP Video, a Long March 5B rocket carrying a module for a Chinese space station lifts off from the Wenchang Spacecraft Launch Site in Wenchang in southern China's Hainan Province, Thursday, April 29, 2021.
The Tianhe, or “Heavenly Harmony,” module blasted into space atop a Long March 5B rocket from the Wenchang Launch Center on the southern island province of Hainan, marking another major advance for the country’s space exploration.
The launch begins the first of 11 missions necessary to complete, supply and crew the station by the end of next year.
INDIA: COVID patient's daughters allegedly thrashed by hospital staff in Indore
[Indore] --- A COVID patient’s daughters were allegedly beaten up by staff at Chirayu Hospital in Madhya Pradesh’s Indore on April 25 after they complaint of overbilling during treatment.
Police took contingence after video went viral on social media. FIR has been registered against the hospital staff. Further investigations are underway.
Thailand gov't negotiating to buy Pfizer coronavirus vaccine
[Bangkok] --- Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha, under intense criticism for failing to secure adequate supplies of coronavirus vaccines, said Tuesday his government is negotiating to buy 5 million to 10 million doses from U.S. pharmaceutical company Pfizer.
FILE - In this April 12, 2021, file photo, Thai workers prepare a field hospital for COVID-19 patients in Bangkok, Thailand.
Office workers wearing face masks to help curb the spread of the coronavirus walk to work at Saen Saep pier in Bangkok, Thailand, Friday, April 16, 2021.
Thailand is experiencing a new wave of the coronavirus, with the number of daily new cases surpassing 1,000 this month for the first time. Health officials on Tuesday announced 1,443 new cases and four new fatalities, bring the totals to 45,185 cases and 108 deaths.
Half of US adults have received at least one Covid-19 dose: Report
[Washington] --- Half of all adults in the US have received at least one Covid-19 shot, the government announced Sunday, marking another milestone in the nation’s largest-ever vaccination campaign but leaving more work to do to convince skeptical Americans to roll up their sleeves. Almost 130 million people 18 or older have received at least one dose of a vaccine, or 50.4 per cent of the total adult population, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported. Almost 84 million adults, or about 32.5 per cent of the population, have been fully vaccinated.
In this March 3, 2021, file photo, Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine is held by pharmacist Madeline Acquilano at Hartford Hospital in Hartford. (Image Source : AP)
The US cleared the 50 per cent mark just a day after the reported global death toll from the coronavirus topped a staggering 3 million, according to totals compiled by Johns Hopkins University, though the actual number is believed to be significantly higher. The country’s vaccination rate, at 61.6 doses administered per 100 people, currently falls behind Israel, which leads among countries with at least 5 million people with a rate of 119.2. The U.S. also trails the United Arab Emirates, Chile and the United Kingdom, which is vaccinating at a rate of 62 doses per 100 people, according to Our World in Data, an online research site.
The vaccine campaign offered hope in places like Nashville, Tennessee, where the Music City Center bustled Sunday with vaccine seekers. High demand for appointment-only shots at the convention center has leveled off enough that walk-ins will be welcome starting this week.
Amanda Grimsley, who received her second shot, said she’s ready to see her 96-year-old grandmother, who lives in Alabama and has been nervous about getting the vaccine after having a bad reaction to a flu shot.
“It’s a little emotional. I haven’t been able to see my grandmother in a year and a half almost,” said Grimsley, 35. “And that’s the longest my entire family has ever gone without seeing her. And we’ll be seeing her in mid-May now.”
The states with the highest vaccination rates have a history of voting Democratic and supporting President Joe Biden in the 2020 election: New Hampshire at the top, with 71.1%, followed by New Mexico, Connecticut, Massachusetts and Maine, CDC data show.
The demand has not been the same in many areas of Tennessee — particularly, rural ones.
Tennessee sits in the bottom four states for rates of adults getting at least one shot, at 40.8 per cent. It’s trailed only by Louisiana, Alabama and Mississippi — three other Southern states that lean Republican and voted for Donald Trump last fall.
Vaccination rates do not always align with how states vote. But polling from The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research has shown trends that link political leanings and attitudes about the vaccines and other issues related to the pandemic, which has killed more than 566,000 people in the U.S.
A poll conducted in late March found that 36% of Republicans said they will probably or definitely not get vaccinated, compared with 12 per cent of Democrats. Similarly, a third of rural Americans said they were leaning against getting shots, while fewer than a fourth of people living in cities and suburbs shared that hesitancy.
Overall, willingness to get vaccinated has risen, polling shows.
In January, 67 per cent of adult Americans were willing to get vaccinated or had already received at least one shot. The figure has climbed to 75 per cent, according to the latest AP-NORC poll.
Nationwide, 24 per cent of Black Americans and 22% per cent of Hispanic Americans say they will probably or definitely not get vaccinated, down from 41 per cent and 34 per cent in January, respectively. Among white Americans, 26 per cent now say they will not get vaccinated. In January, that number was 31 per cent.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, said the goal is to get community figures, from athletes to clergy, to encourage vaccinations, particularly as the seven-day national average of cases remains over 60,000 new infections per day.
“What we are doing is we’re trying to get, by a community core, trusted messages that anyone would feel comfortable with listening to, whether you’re a Republican, a Democrat, an independent or whomever you are, that you’re comfortable,” Fauci said Sunday on ABC’s “This Week.”
Fauci also indicated Sunday that the government will likely move to resume use of Johnson & Johnson’s Covid-19 vaccine this week, possibly with restrictions or broader warnings after reports of some very rare blood clot cases.
In a series of news show interviews, Fauci said he expects a decision when advisers to the CDC meet Friday to discuss the pause in J&J’s single-dose vaccine.
“I would be very surprised if we don’t have a resumption in some form by Friday,” he said. “I don’t really anticipate that they’re going to want it stretch it out a bit longer.”
Fauci, who is President Joe Biden’s chief medical adviser, said he believed federal regulators could bring the shots back with limits based on age or gender, or with a blanket warning, so the vaccine is administered in a way “a little bit different than we were before the pause.”
The J&J vaccine was thrown into limbo after the CDC and the Food and Drug Administration said last week that they needed more evidence to decide if a handful of unusual blood clots were linked to the shot — and if so, how big the risk is.
The reports are rare — six cases out of more than 7 million U.S. inoculations with the J&J vaccine. The clots were found in women between the ages of 18 and 48. One person died. Authorities stressed that they have found no sign of clot problems with the most widely used Covid-19 vaccines in the US — from Moderna and Pfizer.
Antarctica's 'doomsday glacier' will melt faster than thought
The supply of warm water to Antarctica's Thwaites Glacier, also known as the "doomsday glacier", is larger than previously thought, triggering concerns of faster melting and accelerating ice flow-a risk for global sea levels, say researchers. Thwaites is particularly sensitive to warm and salty ocean currents, due to its location and shape. For the first time researchers were able to take measurements beneath it, with the help of an uncrewed submarine called "Ran" that made its way under the glacier front.
Thwaites glacier in Western Antarctica (pictured) is warming and melting faster than previously thought
Among other things, it measured the strength, temperature, salinity and oxygen content of the ocean currents under the glacier and found variations. This indicates that the area under the glacier is a previously unknown active area where different water masses meet and mix with each other.
Global sea level is affected by how much ice there is on land, and the biggest uncertainty in the forecasts is the future evolution of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet, said lead author Anna Wahlin, Professor at the University of Gothenburg in Sweden.
Using the Ran results, the team mapped the ocean currents that flow below Thwaites's floating part. The observations, published in the journal Science Advances, show warm water approaching from all sides on pinning points, critical locations where the ice is connected to the seabed and give stability to the ice shelf.
Melting around these pinning points may lead to instability and retreat of the ice shelf and, subsequently, the upstream glacier flowing off the land, the researchers said. They also discovered a deep connection to the east through which deep water flows from Pine Island Bay -- a connection previously thought to be blocked by an underwater ridge.
Further, they measured the heat transport in one of the three channels that lead warm water towards Thwaites Glacier from the north.
"The channels for warm water to access and attack Thwaites weren't known to us before the research. Using sonars on the ship, nested with very high-resolution ocean mapping from Ran, we were able to find that there are distinct paths that water takes in and out of the ice shelf cavity, influenced by the geometry of the ocean floor," said Alastair Graham, from the University of Southern Florida.
Although the amount of ice that melts as a result of the hot water is not much compared to other global freshwater sources, the heat transport has a large effect locally and may indicate that the glacier is not stable over time.
Vaccines may need regular updates as coronavirus evolves, say scientists
[Berlin] --- Scientists have assessed the course of evolution of the novel coronavirus and predicted that COVID-19 vaccines currently in use across the world may need regular updates to counter new variants of the virus which are capable of escaping the body's protective antibodies. The study, published in the journal Virus Evolution, assessed whether, over the long term, the SARS-CoV-2 virus is likely to demonstrate an immune evasion capability on par with that of influenza viruses.
In the research, virologists from Charite -- Universitatsmedizin Berlin in Germany studied the genetic evolution of the four currently known 'common cold' coronaviruses, particularly the two longest-known viruses, 229E and OC43.
They traced changes in the spike protein of these coronaviruses, which enable them to enter host cells, approximately 40 years into the past.
Based on the analysis, the scientists found one feature which was common to both the coronaviruses and the influenza virus -- all three had a pronounced ladder-like shape in their evolutionary paths.
"An asymmetrical tree of this kind likely results from the repeated replacement of one circulating virus variant by another which carried a fitness advantage," explained the study's first author, Wendy K. Jo.
According to Jo, this is evidence of 'antigenic drift', a continuous process involving changes to surface structures which enable viruses to evade the human immune response.
"It means that these endemic coronaviruses also evade the immune system, just like the influenza virus. However, one also has to look at the speed with which this evolutionary adaptation happens," she added.
The scientists said the novel coronavirus genome is currently estimated to change at a rate of approximately 10 mutations per 10,000 base molecules per year, meaning the speed at which it evolves is substantially higher than that of the endemic coronaviruses.
"This rapid genetic change in SARS-CoV-2 is reflected in the emergence of numerous virus variants across the globe," explained study co-author Jan Felix Drexler.
"This, however, is likely due to the high rates of infection seen during the pandemic. When infection numbers are so high, a virus is able to evolve more rapidly," Drexler added.
Based on the rates of evolution seen in the endemic common cold coronaviruses, the scientists believe SARS-CoV-2 will start to change more slowly once infections start to die down.
"Once a large proportion of the global population has developed immunity either as a result of infection or through vaccination. We expect therefore that COVID-19 vaccines will need to be monitored regularly throughout the pandemic and updated where necessary," Drexler explained.
According to the virologists, vaccines are likely to remain effective for longer once the pandemic reaches this stable situation.
WHO asking rich countries to donate 10 million vaccines
[Geneva] --- The head of the World Health Organization is asking rich countries to donate at least 10 million coronavirus vaccines so the UN health agency can reach its goal of vaccination in all countries within the first 100 days of 2021.
Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus says supply problems faced by the UN-backed effort COVAX, which aims to provide vaccines to all countries, means that about 20 countries are still awaiting their first doses of vaccines from the program.
Tedros says he's also asking manufacturers to scale up their production so extra vaccines could be donated to poorer countries.
He slammed the numerous private deals countries have struck with pharmaceuticals that have meant fewer vaccines for developing countries and warned COVAX would need many more hundreds of millions of vaccines in the coming months.
On Thursday, WHO's COVAX partner Gavi, announced supply problems meant it would have to delay the delivery of about 90 million vaccines until about May.
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Authorities announced that primary, secondary schools and junior colleges would shift to full home-based learning from Wednesday .
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The vaccine "achieved strong rates of neutralizing antibody responses, in line with those measured in people who have recovered from COVID-19," the companies said in a statement.