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Interactive Broadway Exhibit Opens in NYC

Showstoppers! – a bright and colorful exhibit of Broadway theatre has opened in New York City. Vladimir Lenski visited the exhibit which displays designs that are always in sight but seldom get the spotlight. Anna Rice narrates his story.

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Biden: 60 Million Americans Eligible for COVID-19 Boosters

U.S. President Joe Biden said Friday that around 60 million Americans are eligible for a booster shot against the coronavirus.

His announcement came after the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention approved a third Pfizer shot for those 65 and older, frontline workers and adults with underlying medical conditions.

Biden urged eligible Americans to get COVID-19 vaccine booster shots, and he said he would get his own shot as soon as possible.

In comments from the White House Friday, Biden said, “Like your first and second shot, the booster shot is free and easily accessible.”

The CDC approved the boosters for Americans 65 or older; frontline workers such as teachers, health care workers and others whose jobs place them at risk of contracting COVID-19; and those ages 50 to 64 with underlying conditions.

The booster shot will be available for those who received the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine at least six months ago. The White House said Friday 20 million Americans are eligible for the shot immediately, while a total of 60 million Pfizer-shot recipients will be eligible for boosters once they reach the six-month mark.

The European Union’s drug watchdog said Thursday it plans to decide in early October whether to approve a third dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine for those over age 16.

Elsewhere, Norway’s government said Friday it would end all remaining coronavirus restrictions on Saturday.

“It is 561 days since we introduced the toughest measures in Norway in peacetime. … Now the time has come to return to a normal daily life,” Prime Minister Erna Solberg told a news conference. 

In Australia, health officials announced Friday that more than half the population had been fully vaccinated against the coronavirus.

A wave of coronavirus infections has led to lockdowns in Australia’s two largest cities, Sydney and Melbourne, as well as the capital, Canberra. 

Health officials in South Korea said Friday the country set a record for daily cases with 2,434 in the past 24 hours, surpassing a record set last month. 

Officials said that although cases were spiking, the mortality rate and the number of severe cases remain relatively low. They attributed that in large part to a vaccination campaign that prioritized older people and those who were at high risk for disease.

In Singapore, the health ministry announced it was tightening restrictions to fight a wave of coronavirus infections. The new policies include limiting social gatherings to two people, down from five.

The ministry also reported 1,650 new COVID-19 cases on Friday, the highest since the beginning of the pandemic. 

Earlier this week, Singapore said 92% of the population had been fully vaccinated. Officials said about 98% of the confirmed coronavirus cases in the past four weeks were in people who had mild or no symptoms. 

Russia reported 828 deaths from COVID-19 in past 24 hours on Friday, the country’s highest daily number of the pandemic. The toll breaks the record set a day earlier.

South African President Cyril Ramaphosa said Thursday in a video address to the United Nations General Assembly, “It is an indictment on humanity that more than 82% of the world’s vaccine doses have been acquired by wealthy countries, while less than 1% has gone to low-income countries,” 

The African Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that 4% of Africa’s population is fully vaccinated.

“The hoarding and inequitable distribution with the resultant uneven vaccination patterns across the globe is not acceptable,” Zimbabwean President Emmerson Mnangagwa said in a prerecorded message to the assembly on Thursday.

“Vaccine nationalism is self-defeating and contrary to the mantra that ‘no one is safe until everyone is safe.’ Whether in the global North or South, rich or poor, old or young, all people of the world deserve access to vaccines.”

Some information for this report came from The Associated Press and Reuters.

 

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US Returns Ancient Gilgamesh Dream Tablet to Iraq

An ancient tablet displaying parts of the Epic of Gilgamesh that was stolen from Iraq 30 years ago was returned to that country on Thursday. The handover ceremony took place in Washington. VOA’s Sirwan Kajjo has more in this story.

Camera:  Mohammed Warmzyar 

Produced by: Sirwan Kajjo

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Huawei Executive Resolves Criminal Charges in Deal with US 

A top executive of Chinese communications giant Huawei Technologies has resolved criminal charges against her as part of a deal with the U.S. Justice Department that could pave the way for her to return to China. 

The deal with Meng Wanzhou, Huawei’s chief financial officer and the daughter of the company’s founder, was disclosed in federal court in Brooklyn on Friday. It calls for the Justice Department to dismiss the case next December, or four years after her arrest, if she complies with certain conditions. 

The deal, known as a deferred prosecution agreement, resolves a yearslong legal and geopolitical tussle that involved not only the U.S. and China but also Canada, where Meng has remained since her arrest there in December 2018. Meng appeared via videoconference at Friday’s hearing. 

The deal was reached as President Joe Biden and Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping have sought to minimize signs of public tension, even as the world’s two dominant economies are at odds on issues as diverse as cybersecurity, climate change, human rights, and trade and tariffs. 

A spokesperson for Huawei declined to comment, and a spokesman for the Justice Department in Washington did not respond to an email seeking comment. 

Charges unsealed in 2019

Under then-President Donald Trump, the Justice Department unsealed criminal charges in 2019, just before a crucial two-day round of trade talks between the U.S. and China, that accused Huawei of stealing trade secrets. The charges also alleged that Meng had committed fraud by misleading banks about the company’s business dealings in Iran. 

The indictment accuses Huawei of using a Hong Kong shell company called Skycom to sell equipment to Iran in violation of U.S. sanctions. 

Meng fought the Justice Department’s extradition request, and her lawyers called the case against her flawed. Last month, a Canadian judge didn’t rule on whether Meng should be extradited to the U.S. after a Canadian Justice Department lawyer wrapped up his case saying there was enough evidence to show she was dishonest and deserved to stand trial in the U.S. 

Huawei is the biggest global supplier of network gear for phone and internet companies, and some analysts say Chinese companies have flouted international rules and norms amid allegations of technology theft. The company represents China’s progress in becoming a technological power and has been a subject of U.S. security and law enforcement concerns. 

It has repeatedly denied the U.S. government’s allegations and the security concerns about its products. 

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CDC Approves Booster Shots for Some Pfizer Vaccine Recipients

The director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has approved Pfizer vaccine booster shots for some individuals who completed their first vaccinations at least six months ago.

Front-line workers – teachers, health care workers and others whose jobs place them at risk of contracting COVID-19 – will be able to get the boosters, in addition to people 65 and older, nursing home residents, and other people, 50-64, with underlying conditions.

Rochelle Walensky added the front-line workers to the list of those eligible for the boosters prepared by a CDC’s advisory panel.

Walensky’s move placed the CDC in agreement with the Food and Drug Administration as to who should get the Pfizer booster shots. FDA recommendations Wednesday included frontline workers.

Also included in the eligibility recommendations are people 18-49 with underlying conditions.

Some information for this report is from the Associated Press.

 

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Simple Australian First-Aid Technique Could Save Shark Bite Survivors

An Australian researcher has developed a new first-aid technique that could save shark attack victims from a fatal loss of blood in the crucial moments after the attack.

The method requires a rescuer or bystander to place his or her fist on the femoral artery, between the hip of the wounded leg and the genitals, and apply pressure using their full body weight to stop blood flow to the leg wound. It is a practice commonly used in some hospital emergency rooms for treating severe leg injuries.

The technique was developed by Dr. Nicholas Taylor, associate dean of the Australian National University Medical School and an avid surfer, and described in a paper published Friday in the Journal of Emergency Medicine Australasia.

Taylor says research has shown that compressing the femoral artery is more effective than applying pressure to a leg wound or using a makeshift tourniquet.

“You don’t need to be necessarily anywhere near the wound to make it work, and in some ways, it is less of a squeamish problem than trying to put pressure on a bleeding limb,” he said. “The trouble with a shark bite, they don’t just cause a clean cut, they cause lots of damage and trauma. They often break bones and rip muscle to pieces, and so trying to push on something to stop it bleeding is almost impossible. But pushing on the groin where there is no blood is actually an easy thing to do.”

Taylor says surfers are at a higher risk of a shark attack, and leg wounds are the most common injury. He says he would like his method to be promoted on first-aid posters at beaches around the world.

“On the International Shark Attack File, most of the shark attacks happen in the USA, followed by Australia, then South Africa and then Europe, and there’s a few islands like Reunion, which tends to get a, you know, disproportionate number of shark attacks,” he said. “Australia was unlucky to lead the world in fatalities in the last couple of years. You know, anywhere where there’s sharks, people are at potential risk, and I think this technique, if it’s well-known, could potentially be a lifesaver.”

The Australian research asserts that shark attacks “are increasing in frequency in Australasia and worldwide.”

The year 2020 was the worst for fatal shark attacks since 2013. The U.S.-based International Shark Attack File recorded 10 deaths last year. Six were in Australian waters.

 

 

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Somalia National Theater Reopens for Screening After Three Decades 

Somalia’s National Theater in Mogadishu held a landmark event Wednesday night, screening movies for the first time in three decades.

The theater was recently renovated and reopened after being destroyed twice – once in Somalia’s civil war, and then again in a 2012 suicide bombing.

More than 1,500 people attended the screenings.

The two films, Hoos, meaning “shadow” in Somali, and the other, Date of Hell, were screened in the Chinese-built theater constructed in 1967. 

Starring Egypt-based actor Kaifa Jama, the short films depict some of the challenges faced by young Somalis brought up outside the country and who are not familiar with Somali and Islamic culture. 

Jama said the films were produced in Cairo with no resources and largely on volunteers among her peers, with no payment for actors and actresses. She said the producers convinced hotels and hospitals to let them film on their grounds in exchange for advertisements in order to avoid extra costs. 

The theater also used volunteers for its reconstruction, which was overseen by the government. The building was completely destroyed during Somalia’s civil war in the early 1990s. It was rebuilt in 2012, only to be ruined again at its reopening after being targeted by an al-Shabab suicide bomber. Then-Prime Minister Abdiweli Mohamed Ali survived the explosion, but dozens of others died.

For this renovation, workers installed some 1,500 new seats. The theater officially reopened last year and has hosted graduation ceremonies for local schools.

According to organizers, more than 1,000 tickets were sold for Wednesday night’s screenings.

Among the participants was Ilham Mohamud.

The moviegoer said she was very happy and excited to be at the national theater for the first time in her life. She said she felt patriotic regarding the progress that is continuously made in her country. 

Information and Culture Minister Osman Dube said the theater will host more events in coming weeks. He said the theater is expected to showcase films, plays, poetry, book fairs and comedy that reflect Islamic and Somali culture. 

 

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Displaced Children in Northeast Syria May Never Recover, Observers Fear 

Nearly 2½ years after the fall of the Islamic State terror group’s self-declared caliphate, there still appears to be no escape for tens of thousands of children left homeless in its wake. 

Aid groups and observers say the children, some from families that flocked to join Islamic State and some from families who fled from its forces, are wasting away in displaced persons camps in northeast Syria, stalked by violence and even death. 

“These children are experiencing traumatic events that no child should have to go through,” said Sonia Khush, Syria response director for Save the Children, in a statement Thursday.

“It is incomprehensible that they are condemned to this life,” Khush added. “Every day they are denied the opportunity to return to their home, denied the specialized services they so desperately need, and denied the right to live in safety and recover from their experiences is a day too many.” 

In a report Thursday, the aid group described the conditions in the two main camps — al-Hol and Roj — as dire for the 40,000 children who live there. 

The camps are strewn with rubbish and waste, the report said, and there is little access to sanitation or health care. Some residents complained they sometimes go days without drinking water. 

Malnutrition rates are rising, and diseases are taking a toll, all contributing to the deaths of two children a week on average through the first eight months of 2021, according to the report. 

Despite a crackdown by the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) in late March and early April,  violence is also widespread. 

The pro-Kurdish Rojava Information Center (RIC) has recorded 86 killings at al-Hol through the end of August, including more than 30 since the start of April. 

In three cases this year, the victims were children, all shot to death. 

“I fear living in the camp,” one 10-year-old told Save the Children. “The people here keep fighting. I close my ears with my hands whenever I hear them fight. I don’t even let my mother go outside.” 

Many of the children are already starting to lash out. Thirty-seven percent of caregivers at the al-Hol camp told Save the Children that their children “are always or usually angry.” 

And there are concerns it will only get worse. 

“The longer they remain in the camps, the more acute a lack of belonging can become, growing frustration, a sense of uncertainty and a risk — particularly for boys — of prolonged detention can all reinforce trauma and isolation,” the report said. 

Others have also been sounding alarms. 

“Fear, worry and stress is commonplace among children, adolescents and young people,” an international aid worker with access to the camps told VOA last year. “Deprived from the traditional community support they enjoyed back home, it has led to significant long-term mental health and psychosocial consequences.” 

The worker further warned that “specialized targeted mental health interventions” had not been available. 

VOA reached out to the SDF and the Autonomous Administration for North and East Syria, which oversee security for the camps and have yet to respond to the Save the Children report. But both have repeatedly called for more help to maintain the camps and for third countries to repatriate their citizens.

“The international community must help, and the citizens of every country must return to their homeland,” Ali al-Hassan, a spokesman for the internal security forces, said earlier this year. 

The process, though, has been slow. 

According to Save the Children, since 2017, just under 1,200 children have been repatriated from Syria, with just 14 repatriation operations taking place so far this year. 

The U.S. State Department has consistently pressured countries to take back citizens stuck in northeast Syria. The department itself repatriated 27 known Islamic State supporters from SDF custody.

Still, top U.S. military officials have repeatedly raised concerns that the combined efforts have not been enough. 

“It is one of my very highest concerns,” General Kenneth “Frank” McKenzie, the commander of U.S. Central Command, said in April. 

“The long-term threat is ISIS radicalization,” he said, using an acronym for the terror group. “Unless we find a way to pull these children out of these camps … find a way to reintegrate them into civil society and deradicalize them, we are giving ourselves a very significant military problem 10 years down the road.” 

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Disabled People Can Now Use Android Phones with Face Gestures

Using a raised eyebrow or smile, people with speech or physical disabilities can now operate their Android-powered smartphones hands-free, Google said Thursday.

Two new tools put machine learning and front-facing cameras on smartphones to work detecting face and eye movements.

Users can scan their phone screen and select a task by smiling, raising eyebrows, opening their mouth, or looking to the left, right or up.

“To make Android more accessible for everyone, we’re launching new tools that make it easier to control your phone and communicate using facial gestures,” Google said.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 61 million adults in the United States live with disabilities, which has pushed Google and rivals Apple and Microsoft to make products and services more accessible to them.

“Every day, people use voice commands, like ‘Hey Google,’ or their hands to navigate their phones,” the tech giant said in a blog post.

“However, that’s not always possible for people with severe motor and speech disabilities.”

The changes are the result of two new features, one is called “Camera Switches,” which lets people use their faces instead of swipes and taps to interact with smartphones.

The other is Project Activate, a new Android application which allows people to use those gestures to trigger an action, like having a phone play a recorded phrase, send a text, or make a call.

“Now it’s possible for anyone to use eye movements and facial gestures that are customized to their range of movement to navigate their phone – sans hands and voice,” Google said.

The free Activate app is available in Australia, Britain, Canada and the United States at the Google Play shop.

Apple, Google and Microsoft have consistently rolled out innovations that make internet technology more accessible to people with disabilities or who find that age has made some tasks, such as reading, more difficult.

Voice-commanded digital assistants built into speakers and smartphones can enable people with sight or movement challenges to tell computers what to do.

There is software that identifies text on webpages or in images and then reads it aloud, as well as automatic generation of captions that display what is said in videos.

An “AssistiveTouch” feature that Apple built into the software powering its smart watch lets touchscreen displays be controlled by sensing movements such as finger pinches or hand clenches.

“This feature also works with VoiceOver so you can navigate Apple Watch with one hand while using a cane or leading a service animal,” Apple said in a post.

Computing colossus Microsoft describes accessibility as essential to empowering everyone with technology tools.

“To enable transformative change accessibility needs to be a priority,” Microsoft said in a post.

“We aim to build it into what we design for every team, organization, classroom, and home.” 

 

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Mask Mandate Prompts Cheers, Jeers in Charlotte, North Carolina

The fluctuating severity of the pandemic and ever-changing public health pronouncements have left North Carolina with a patchwork of masking requirements, mirroring much of the United States. Some residents embrace the mandates, others do not.

“I personally feel like it affects my breathing,” said Mackenzie Gilley when asked about mask-wearing.

Gilley, 26, a leasing agent in a Charlotte high-rise apartment complex, said masks impede her work.

“I have a job that’s always been on the front lines in property management, where it’s very difficult to talk to people and relate to people wearing the mask all day,” Gilley told VOA.

In May of this year, as vaccination rates increased and COVID-19 cases plunged, North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper lifted a statewide mask mandate that had been in effect for nearly a year.

In August, amid a surge of COVID-19 cases triggered by the delta variant, the city of Charlotte reimposed a mandate that masks be worn “in any indoor public place, business, or establishment” regardless of a person’s vaccination status.

The Aug. 18 citywide mandate was followed by a similar order for surrounding Mecklenburg County, population 1.1 million, where average daily infection rates topped 500.

The trend of rising infections appears to have reversed in recent weeks, but area residents are nevertheless compelled to embrace a public health measure some find cumbersome, and many had hoped were a thing of the past.

Others applauded Charlotte for requiring masks indoors.

“Personally, I was very happy about the mask mandate,” medical student Kirthi Reddy, 23, told VOA. “I think this is a great step to try and control the virus the best we can.”

Reddy, who is aiming for placement as a medical resident, added, “COVID is something that is rapidly spreading and mutating, so I think it’s very important. If we don’t (mask up), the virus will only mutate and spread even more.”

Gilley urged a case-by-case basis for face coverings.

“I think it should be up to the (individual) business whether or not they want to enforce it,” she said. “It has just gone on for way too long.”

 

Health care professionals like pediatric nurse Zoe Morgan warned against apathy in preventing virus transmission.

“I think the new mask mandate since the delta variant is very necessary,” she said, adding that, even with rising vaccination rates, people shouldn’t lose diligence in protecting themselves.

“I think everyone getting vaccinated and the numbers of vaccinated (people) increasing is wonderful,” Morgan said. “However, the delta variant is just that, it’s a variant. This proves that we can still catch the virus, spread it, even if we are vaccinated.”

Morgan described how a few weeks ago, amid aggressive spread of the delta variant, her entire hospital unit suspended operations when several staffers contracted the virus, forcing her and her colleagues into quarantine. The unit resumed admitting patients this week.

Morgan believes people went about their lives with a false sense of security as the delta variant spread.

“I think this has to do with the delta variant, and people feeling reassured since everyone was getting vaccinated, the numbers were going down, and employees were admittedly less strict and … probably not as diligent as they should have been with masks,” she said.

Enforcing the mandate

Authorities in Charlotte and Mecklenburg County are relying on the public to comply with mask mandates rather than strict enforcement. As of the beginning of the week, the local police department reported it had issued zero citations for failing to wear a mask since the renewed orders went into effect.

The Charlotte Mecklenburg Police Department (CMPD) “has worked to reach voluntary cooperation with each member of the community through education and conversations,” Public Information Officer Thomas Hildebrand told VOA, saying officers have focused on communication and outreach to the community.

“Our efforts are prompted through a complaint-driven approach,” he said. “This has been the CMPD’s approach to consistent enforcement of the mandate, and it will remain so until the mandate is rescinded.”

Some see voluntary enforcement as no enforcement.

“I think the overall mask mandate should be enforced a little more,” said Tamia Wately.

The 21-year-old works at an arcade park and said that mask-wearing is not strictly enforced in her workplace. She indicated she would welcome more coercive means to force compliance.

“It would definitely make a difference. I think many companies would start enforcing it more,” she said, adding that, to the extent she can make arcade visitors don masks, “I try to do my best.”

Morgan said business owners should do their part.

“I think everyone should just kind of be, in essence, a team player and wear their masks,” she said.

No date has been set for ending mask mandates in the Charlotte area. Local officials told VOA any decision will be made in consultation with Mecklenburg County’s health department.

Meanwhile, the city is incentivizing municipal employees to get vaccinated, offering a $250 pay bonus to those who provide proof of vaccination by Sept. 30. An additional bonus has been promised if the municipal workforce reaches a 75% inoculation rate.

As of Sept. 1, about 62% of Charlotte city employees were vaccinated.

For Mecklenburg County as a whole, about 54% of the population, or just over 600,000 people, were fully vaccinated as of Sept. 16.

 

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