Month: November 2020

WHO Raises Alarm Over Virus Spread in Brazil, Mexico

The World Health Organization says it is very worried about the rapidly growing surge of coronavirus cases in in Brazil and Mexico.WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told reporters at his regular briefing in Geneva on Monday, “I think Brazil has to be very, very serious,” in combating the surge there. He echoed the same concern for Mexico, which he said was in “bad shape.””The number of cases doubled, and the number of deaths doubled. … We would like to ask Mexico to be very serious,” he said.Mexico’s cumulative COVID-19 death toll passed 100,000 on November 20, and the country has added more than 5.000 deaths since then.Dressed in protective gear to curb the spread of the new coronavirus, a medical worker attends to a patient at a military hospital set up to take care of COVID-19 patients in Mexico City, November 30, 2020.Brazil has recorded more than 172,000 deaths from COVID-19, second only to the United States, which has reported more than 267,000 deaths.On Monday, Brazil’s most populous state, Sao Paulo, ordered shops, bars and restaurants to limit themselves to 40% capacity to try to control the spread of the pathogen.Meanwhile, drugmaker Moderna said Monday it has requested emergency authorization in the U.S. and Europe to distribute its coronavirus vaccine after tests showed it is 94% effective.The request comes shortly after another drug company, Pfizer-BioNTech, sought the same emergency authorization. If granted, inoculations in the U.S. could begin as soon as mid-December.The Moderna and Pfizer requests for emergency use of their vaccines come as the number of coronavirus cases is surging in the U.S., where tens of thousands of new cases are being recorded daily.FILE – Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, speaks during a Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee hearing in Washington, June 30, 2020.The top U.S. infectious disease expert warned Sunday of a possible further spike of COVID-19.Speaking on the Sunday morning program “This Week,” Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said the infection rate would not “all of a sudden turn around.”He said in the coming weeks following the recent Thanksgiving holiday, “We may see a surge upon a surge.”Croatia’s Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic arrives on the second day of a EU summit, in Brussels, on October 16, 2020.In Europe, Croatia’s Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic tested positive for the coronavirus. A government spokesman said he is feeling fine and will continue to perform his duties from his home.Turkey’s president announced curfews during weeknights and for the entire weekend to limit daily infections that have spiked to around 30,000. Grocery stores and food delivery services will be exempt from most of the lockdown hours, officials said.France recorded 4,005 new COVID-19 infections on Monday, the fewest since August. However, health officials reported that a downward trend in hospitalizations was starting to level off.In Europe, some countries are hoping for a continentwide agreement to shut down ski resorts during the Christmas holidays to help prevent spreading the coronavirus. No unified pact, however, has yet been reached.The WHO urged nations Monday to carefully consider the ski season’s risks. It said while the risk of catching the coronavirus is low on the slopes, crowded airports and restaurants could help spread the virus. The agency urged nations to take a “risk-based approach” on which activities to allow.The global agency also warned Monday that malaria deaths will likely exceed COVID-19 deaths in Africa because of the health care disruptions caused by the pandemic.

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How US Military Invented America’s Favorite Snacks 

From instant coffee to Cheetos, packaged cookies and energy bars, the U.S. military helped invent many of the snacks Americans love to eat.    The effort accelerated during World War II, when military scientists needed to develop compact yet nutritional ways to feed the troops.   “There was a tremendous need for the military to develop modern rations, and it ended up not only inventing a bunch of new food processing techniques but putting in place a food science research system that exists to this day,” says food writer Anastacia Marx de Salcedo, author of “Combat-Ready Kitchen: How the U.S. Military Shapes the Way You Eat”. “Out of that came a lot of new techniques and food, and after the war, those were incorporated into snack and convenience foods.” Those new techniques include high pressure processing, which makes uncooked food safe to eat. The process is routinely used in packaged foods like guacamole, salsa and hummus. Cheetos, one of America’s favorite cheesy, crunchy snacks, are made possible by the dehydration process the military worked on to remove the water from cheese. That gave cheese both a longer shelf life and made it lighter to transport to troops overseas. Energy bars are a snack food that resulted from a long period of development to produce a small and nutritionally dense emergency ration.Military scientists discovered that pet food companies were working on a way to make the water level low enough to prevent bacteria and fungi from being produced, making the food safe. “Once they figured that out, they were able to keep foods moist and chewy at room temperature and with regular packaging,” Marx de Salcedo says. “And in fact, that tactic is not only used in energy bars, it’s used in the bakery aisle. If you go into a grocery store, and you see moist and chewy cookies, those are all that same technique that comes out of the military research.” The military also adopted a candy-coated chocolate snack found in Europe that service members could carry around in their pockets without the chocolate immediately melting. That’s how M&M candies were born. Today, some of the biggest military contractors continue to search for the perfect meltless chocolate that will be able to withstand extreme temperatures.  The Army hopes vacuum-microwave drying technology will allow them to put fruit and vegetables into rations. The vacuumed microwaved banana is about a third of its original size while still being springy and pliable. (Courtesy: US Army)The next known frontier in military food science has arrived in the form of mini-food that is shrunk to one-third of the normal size, resulting in foods that are small but still dense.  “They use microwave vacuum dehydration to reduce the water content of foods and what essentially that does is it miniaturizes the food so you get these little tiny carrots, but you can have a fresh carrot,” Marx de Salcedo says. “It still has the same amount of calories even though it’s small.” Whether American civilians will one day be packing miniature lunch boxes in order to lighten their load during their daily commute to work remains to be seen. 

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Moderna to Seek Quick Approval of Coronavirus Vaccine in US, Europe

Drugmaker Moderna said Monday it is seeking emergency authorization in the United States and Europe to distribute its coronavirus vaccine after tests showed it is 94% effective.The U.S. biotechnology company’s request could mean that health workers will be able to inoculate patients against the virus as soon as mid-December with either of two coronavirus preventatives — Moderna’s or another equally successful test drug produced by the corporate tandem of Pfizer-BioNTech — if the companies win approval from drug regulators.Moderna said it conducted a 30,000-person clinical trial, and its results were on a par with the best pediatric vaccines.The drugmaker said that of the 196 volunteers who contracted COVID-19, 185 had received a placebo versus 11 who received the vaccine. Moderna reported 30 severe cases — all in the placebo group — including one COVID-19-related death. The Moderna and Pfizer requests for emergency use of their vaccines come as the number of coronavirus cases is surging in the U.S., where tens of thousands of new cases are being recorded daily.Health officials say they are especially worried about an even further spread of the virus because millions of people ignored warnings against traveling for last week’s Thanksgiving holiday and could travel again over the upcoming Christmas and New Year’s holiday weekends.Air travelers line up to go through a security checkpoint at Salt Lake City International Airport in Salt Lake City, Utah, Nov. 25, 2020.The U.S. has 4% of the world’s population but nearly a fifth of its recorded coronavirus deaths — more than 266,000 — the most in any country, according to Johns Hopkins University. Worldwide, the death toll has topped 1.46 million.Top U.S. health experts say 20 million Americans could get vaccine shots in the latter half of December, possibly with front-line health care workers targeted initially, followed by elderly people living in nursing homes. An advisory committee at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is meeting Tuesday to lay out the order in which Americans will be able to get vaccinated.Millions of people will likely be able to get one of the vaccines in the first months of 2021, although polls show that about four in 10 Americans say they will refuse to get a shot, either because they are opposed to vaccinations in general or are particularly wary of coronavirus inoculations.The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is considering the Pfizer vaccine on December 10, with consideration of Moderna’s a week later. In addition to seeking U.S. approval, Moderna said it would apply for conditional approval from the European Medicines Agency. 

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In France, Public Resistance to COVID Vaccine

As French authorities prepare to roll out their COVID immunization strategy this week, they face skepticism in a country where surveys show many people do not trust the vaccine.France was among the nations of Europe taking the heaviest hit from the COVID-19 outbreak as more than 50, 000 people died of the virus.Like the rest of the world, hopes are high that vaccines will defeat the virus and enable people to go back to a normal life. The French immunization campaign is scheduled to start by the end of December with the elderly, people living in nursing homes and medical personnel slated to receive the first doses.In an address to the nation, French President Emmanuel Macron said a scientific committee would supervise the immunization campaign and a citizen group would be created to make sure the population is part of the process. Immunization against COVID-19 must be clear and transparent and information must be shared  on what is known and unknown, insists Macron, who stressed that immunization will not be mandatory in France.The government is worried that millions of French people will refuse coronavirus vaccine shots due as skepticism grows in the country. Fifty-nine percent of French people surveyed say they would not get vaccinated, according to an IFO poll published on Sunday.Prime Minister Jean Castex recently said his fear is that not enough French people will get vaccinated.Jean Paul Stahl, a French doctor of infectious diseases, said the numbers concern him.The professor explains there is a common fear of side effects for these vaccine.He said there is also skepticism as people see this vaccine as a tool used by the government. Stahl said that nowadays in our societies, more and more people do not trust any authority: political, scientific, and others.France has budgeted more than $1.75 billion to buy vaccines next year. 

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Merriam-Webster’s Top Word of 2020 Not A Shocker: Pandemic

If you were to choose a word that rose above most in 2020, which word would it be?
Ding, ding, ding: Merriam-Webster on Monday announced “pandemic” as its 2020 word of the year.
“That probably isn’t a big shock,” Peter Sokolowski, editor at large for Merriam-Webster, told The Associated Press.
“Often the big news story has a technical word that’s associated with it and in this case, the word pandemic is not just technical but has become general. It’s probably the word by which we’ll refer to this period in the future,” he said.
The word took on urgent specificity in March, when the coronavirus crisis was designated a pandemic, but it started to trend up on Merriam-Webster.com as early January and again in February when the first U.S. deaths and outbreaks on cruise ships occurred.
On March 11, when the World Health Organization declared the novel coronavirus outbreak a global pandemic, lookups on the site for pandemic spiked hugely. Site interest for the word has remained significantly high through the year, Sokolowski said.
By huge, Sokolowski means searches for pandemic on March 11 were 115,806% higher than lookups experienced on the same date last year.
Pandemic, with roots in Latin and Greek, is a combination of “pan,” for all, and “demos,” for people or population. The latter is the same root of “democracy,” Sokolowski noted. The word pandemic dates to the mid-1600s, used broadly for “universal” and more specifically to disease in a medical text in the 1660s, he said.
That was after the plagues of the Middle Ages, Sokolowski said.
He attributes the lookup traffic for pandemic not entirely to searchers who didn’t know what it meant but also to those on the hunt for more detail, or for inspiration or comfort.
“We see that the word love is looked up around Valentine’s Day and the word cornucopia is looked up at Thanksgiving,” Sokolowski said. “We see a word like surreal spiking when a moment of national tragedy or shock occurs. It’s the idea of dictionaries being the beginning of putting your thoughts in order.”
Merriam-Webster acted quickly in March to add and update entries on its site for words related to the pandemic. While “coronavirus” had been in the dictionary for decades, “COVID-19” was coined in February. Thirty-four days later, Merriam-Webster had it up online, along with a couple dozen other entries that were revised to reflect the health emergency.
“That’s the shortest period of time we’ve ever seen a word go from coinage to entry,” Sokolowski said. “The word had this urgency.”
Coronavirus was among runners up for word of the year as it jumped into the mainstream. Quarantine, asymptomatic, mamba, kraken, defund, antebellum, irregardless, icon, schadenfreude and malarkey were also runners up based on lookup spikes around specific events.
Particularly interesting to word nerds like Sokolowski, a lexicographer, is quarantine. With Italian roots, it was used during the Black Death of the 1300s for the period of time a new ship coming into port would have to wait outside a city to prevent disease. The “quar” in quarantine derives from 40, for the 40 days required.
Spikes for mamba occurred after the January death of Kobe Bryant, whose nickname was the Black Mamba. A mass of lookups occurred for kraken in July after Seattle’s new National Hockey League franchise chose the mythical sea monster as its name, urged along by fans.
Country group Lady Antebellum’s name change to Lady A drove dictionary interest in June, while malarkey got a boost from President-elect Joe Biden, who’s fond of using the word. Icon was front and center in headlines after the deaths of U.S. Rep. John Lewis and U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg.
The Merriam-Webster site has about 40 million unique monthly users and about 100 million monthly page views.

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Australia Develops ‘Revolutionary’ Electric Air Ambulance

An electric “aero-ambulance” that is estimated to be faster, safer and quieter than a helicopter has been developed by researchers in Australia.  The aero ambulance is called Vertiia. It is an electric, vertical takeoff and landing aircraft designed to get patients to the hospital quicker and more safely.   It is set for commercial release in 2023, and developers say it will be the world’s most efficient aircraft of its type for passenger and “aeromedical transport.”   The transfer of patients in remote parts of Australia can be slow. Often, they must be driven to an airport by ambulance, transferred onto a plane, and then back into another ambulance for delivery to the hospital. Vertiia aims to take them from door to door. It is built to cruise at a speed of 300 kilometers per hour and travel 250 kilometers powered by electric batteries before needing to recharge. It is also designed to travel nonstop for more than 800 kilometers using hydrogen as an alternative fuel. The project is a collaboration between the University of Sydney, the startup company AMSL Aero and the charity CareFlight. Associate Professor Dries Verstraete is an aerospace engineer from the University of Sydney.   His team is working to increase the aircraft’s efficiency through its aerodynamic and structural design and reduce its operating costs.  “Aero ambulances work by taking off vertically and tilting the wing to horizontal, to tilt it back before they land,” he said. “The advantage of this concept is that they are flying efficiently like an aircraft, but they can still take off like a helicopter, and this allows us to reach more people in a shorter time and do that in a way that is safer than helicopters and also significantly quieter.” The project has received federal government funding of U.S. $2.2 million. Michael McCormack, Australia’s deputy prime minister, said it was “a revolution in aeromedical support.” Vertiia is currently flown by pilots, but researchers want to be able to fly it by computer in bad weather and other hazardous conditions.  

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WHO: Coronavirus Threatens to Reverse Gains Made in Malaria Control

On World Malaria Day, the World Health Organization is calling on countries to step up the fight against malaria, saying the coronavirus pandemic threatens to reverse important gains made in efforts to control this deadly disease. Since 2000, the U.N.’s World Health Organization reports 1.5 billion malaria cases and 7.6 million deaths have been averted globally. Some of the greatest achievements were made in sub-Saharan Africa, which bears the brunt of this deadly disease spread by mosquitos. Additionally, the director of the WHO’s Global Malaria Program, Pedro Alonso, said 21 countries have eliminated malaria over the last two decades. Of these, he says 10 have been officially certified as malaria-free by the WHO. “That means that more than half of all the world’s endemic countries are within reach of elimination,” Alonso said. “In the beginning of the century, three countries had less than 10 cases per year. Now, we have 24 countries, which are literally one step away from elimination.”  Despite remarkable progress, however, the World Health Organization reports global gains have leveled off in recent years. This is because of insufficient funding and a lack of access to proven malaria control tools, such as insecticide-treated mosquito nets and preventive medicines for children. The emergence of the coronavirus pandemic is now posing an additional challenge to the malaria response. WHO’s regional director for Africa, Matshidiso Moeti, said the gains made in Africa over many years against poverty and disease risk being reversed by the virus responsible for the COVID-19 disease. “Already, malaria causes a 1.3 percent loss in Africa’s economic growth every year,” Moeti said. “And we know that the COVID-19 pandemic is projected to push sub-Saharan Africa into recession for the first time in 25 years. This incredibly challenging situation requires renewed commitment to sustained and accelerate the gains that have been made in the fight against malaria.” Moeti noted malaria continues to kill many more people than diseases like COVID-19 and Ebola. In 2019, the WHO reported the global tally of malaria cases was 229 million, including more than 400,000 deaths. It said 90 percent of these cases and deaths were in the African region. Most of the victims were children. The U.N. health agency reports global funding for malaria last year totaled $3 billion. This falls far short of the $5.6 billion needed to roll back malaria. 

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US Health Experts: Coronavirus Vaccines on the Way, but Precautions Still Paramount   

Two top U.S. coronavirus experts assured Americans Sunday that vaccines against the pandemic would soon become available but warned that not taking precautions against the spread of the virus before then could prove disastrous. “We should have enough vaccine by the end of the year to immunize 20 million Americans and we have to immunize for impact,” Admiral Brett Giroir, the White House virus testing chief, told CNN. “But the American people have to do the right things until we get that vaccine widely distributed.” FILE – Adm. Brett Giroir, director of the U.S. coronavirus diagnostic testing, testifies at a Senate committee hearing, on Capitol Hill, in Washington, June 30, 2020.Giroir described two prospective vaccines, which are now under review by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, as “lifesaving,” saying, “This puts an end to the pandemic.” But until then, he said, “The American people have to do the right things until we get that vaccine widely distributed, wear a mask, avoid indoor crowded spaces, all the things you know.”   Giroir said he believes there will be a “smooth, professional transition” in handling the vaccine distribution from the administration of outgoing President Donald Trump to that of President-elect Joe Biden when he is set to be inaugurated on January 20. Dr. Anthony Fauci, the country’s top infectious disease expert, speaking to ABC’s “This Week” show, said, “Help is on the way,” and that the initial supply of vaccines might be available by mid-December. Dr. Anthony Fauci, Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, listens during a Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee Hearing on the federal government response to COVID-19, Capitol Hill, Sept. 23, 2020.Fauci said health experts are “empathetic about the fatigue” of Americans being careful about becoming exposed to the virus. But he said wearing face masks and people physically distancing themselves from others “do make a difference.” Millions of Americans curtailed their traditional family gatherings for last Thursday’s annual Thanksgiving holiday, yet millions of others ignored warnings from health care experts against traveling to visit far-flung relatives for fear of spreading the virus. “I don’t see how we’re not going to have the same thing” happen with people traveling — and potentially spreading the virus — for Christmas visits with their families, Fauci said. He said there is “a considerable risk” for people getting together. FILE – Travelers wait to check in for flights at LaGuardia Airport, Nov. 25, 2020, in Queens, New York.Fauci called on state and municipal officials to “close the bars, keep the schools open,” to keep “the community level of spread low.” “Let’s try to get the kids back, and let’s try to mitigate the things that maintain and just push the kind of community spread that we’re trying to avoid,” Fauci said. “And those are the things that you know well – the bars, the restaurants where you have capacity seating indoors without masks.” “Those are the things that drive the community spread — not the schools,” he said. Teresa Nguyen, a respiratory therapist, treats a patient inside a room for people with COVID-19 at a hospital in Hutchinson, Kan., Nov. 20, 2020.The assessments came as the United States topped 13 million confirmed cases on Friday, just six days after it reached 12 million cases. The highly contagious virus that causes the COVID-19 disease has killed more than 266,000 Americans, more than in any other country, according to the Johns Hopkins University. More than 91,000 infected individuals are currently hospitalized in the U.S., an all-time high, with more than 18,000 in intensive care units.   

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UN Agency: Physical Activity Can Save Up to 5 Million Lives a Year 

The World Health Organization is urging people to get moving and keep moving for better health.  The U.N. health agency says physical activity can avert the deaths of up to 5 million people annually.  WHO statistics show 1 in 4 adults and 80% of adolescents do not do enough physical activity, and women and girls generally do less than men and boys.  This, the agency says, hurts both human health and the health of world economies.     The agency reports physical activity can help prevent heart disease, type-2 diabetes, and cancer; as well reduce cognitive decline, including Alzheimer’s disease.  It says physical inactivity also can put societies into an economic hole.  The global cost of direct health care is estimated at $54 billion, with an additional cost of $14 billion in lost productivity.      WHO Director for Health Promotion Ruediger Krech says it is never too late to begin moving.  He says any type of physical activity, including walking, cycling, dancing, household tasks and gardening can counteract the harm from sitting too long.     “WHO urges everyone to continue to stay active through the COVID-19 pandemic.  If we do not remain active, we run the risk of creating another pandemic of ill health as a result of sedentary behavior,”  he said.New WHO guidelines recommend adults engage in at least 150 to 300 minutes of moderate to vigorous aerobic activity per week, and an average of 60 minutes a day for children and adolescents.   For the first time, WHO’s unit head for physical activity, Fiona Bull, says the guidelines delve into the impact of sedentary behavior on health. “The evidence shows that doing a lot of sedentary behavior, often considered, for example, sitting, is detrimental to your health.  It can increase your risk of noncommunicable disease, like cardiovascular disease … And the evidence shows that if we are more active, we can counteract the detrimental effects of too much sedentary,”  said Bull.  The WHO guidelines also highlight the valuable health benefits of physical activity for those with disabilities.  It advises people over age 65 to engage in muscle-strengthening, balance and coordination activities to help prevent falls and improve health.    

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Darth Vader Actor Dave Prowse Dead at 85, Agent Says

Dave Prowse, the British actor behind the menacing black mask of Star Wars villain Darth Vader, has died, his agent Thomas Bowington said Sunday.”It’s with great sadness that we have to announce that our client Dave Prowse… passed away yesterday morning at the age of 85,” Bowington wrote on Facebook.”May the force be with him, always!” the agent told the BBC.Bowington added that Prowse’s death was “a truly and deeply heart-wrenching loss for us and millions of fans all over the world.”A former bodybuilder turned actor, Prowse’s towering stature at almost two meters clinched him the role of the instantly recognizable antagonist in the original Star Wars trilogy.But while he donned the glossy black armor and cape, the Bristol native’s strong western English accent meant the filmmakers turned to James Earl Jones for the chilling voice that would emerge from behind the mask.Prowse nevertheless remained attached to the character, telling AFP in 2013 that he was “the greatest big-screen villain of all time.”Since the original Star Wars trilogy was released in the late 1970s and early 80s, Prowse had travelled the world meeting hardcore fans.

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