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Researchers Develop Solar Energy Water Desalination Process

A team of researchers from Australia and China has developed a way to desalinate and purify salty or brackish water into potable drinking water using solar energy, a process that could provide hope for developing areas without reliable or abundant electricity.The World Health Organization says about 2 billion people worldwide do not have access to water that is safe to drink. Contaminated water can lead to cholera, dysentery, typhoid and a host of other diseases. And the WHO says that situation will only worsen in the next five years.In a study published Monday in the science journal Nature Sustainability, the scientists said they had created a sustainable solution that relies on sunlight to jump-start the filtration process instead of heat or electricity.Along with sunlight, the other key factor in their process is a special, incredibly porous metal compound composed of metal ions configured into a crystalline pattern.The researchers enhanced the viability of this material by adding another material to its pores, called PSP-MIL-53.After testing this material on both natural saltwater and synthetic saltwater, they found that the compound was able to absorb enough water in 30 minutes to create nearly 151 liters of fresh drinking water per single kilogram of the absorption material. They also discovered that this drinking water was even cleaner than WHO’s official guidelines.The researchers say the material could have other applications as well, for example, in mineral mining. The next step, they say, is getting their process out of the lab and into the field. 

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WHO in Talks With Russia About New Vaccine

The World Health Organization said Tuesday said it was holding talks with Russia regarding its recently approved COVID-19 vaccine. Russia on Tuesday became the first country to approve a vaccine for use in tens of thousands of its citizens. In an appearance on Russian television, President Vladimir Putin claimed the vaccine has proven efficient and has passed “all the necessary tests.”  Russian President Vladimir Putin chairs a meeting with members of the government via video link at the Novo-Ogaryovo state residence outside Moscow, Russia, Aug. 11, 2020. (Sputnik/Aleksey Nikolskyi/Kremlin)He said his own daughter has taken the vaccine and after two shots had a normal temperature and a “high number of antibodies.” The announcement came amidst global skepticism because the vaccine received approval after less than two months of human trials in Russia with a limited number of test subjects. “We are in close contact with Russian health authorities and discussions are ongoing with respect to possible WHO prequalification of the vaccine, but again prequalification of any vaccine includes the rigorous review and assessment of all required safety and efficacy data,” WHO spokesman Tarik Jasarevic told a U.N. briefing in Geneva.Jasarevic says he is encouraged by the speed in which possible vaccines are being developed around the world. He said the WHO’s main concern is equitably distributing whatever viable vaccines are developed around the world.  
 

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WHO: Non-Essential Dental Care Should Be Delayed During Pandemic

The World Health Organization is releasing guidance on measures to be taken by dental health professionals and patients in oral health services to minimize the risk of being infected with COVID-19. As everyone in the world can attest, having a tooth ache is no fun and when the pain is bad enough, people will go to the dentist. However, a World Health Organization survey of 103 countries between May and mid-July finds COVID-19 has affected dental services around the world in unprecedented ways.   
 
Dental officer in WHO’s Department of Noncommunicable Diseases, Benoit Varenne, says 75 percent of survey respondents reported dental services have been completely or partially disrupted because of the coronavirus.
 
He says the high-level of disruption is linked to the nature of the work provided by the oral health care personnel.   “As you know, dentists, dental nurses, hygienists, and dental assistants work in close contact with patients and are exposed to saliva and blood, and as so, they are using, what we call, spray-generating equipment … and all this equipment are generating, what we call, airborne particles or aerosol,” said Varenne. In communities where transmission of the coronavirus is high, Varenne says WHO recommends priority be given to urgent or emergency oral cases.  And in the treatment of patients, he says dental workers should avoid or minimize procedures that may generate aerosols, which can spread the infection and prioritize the use of hand instruments.“And, of course, to delay routine, non-essential oral health care,” said Varenne. “This means going for a checkup, dental cleaning, preventive care and certainly also some aesthetic dental treatment.”  
 
Other WHO recommendations include remote screening, maintaining physical distancing and wearing masks before and in-between dental sessions to prevent and reduce the risk of transmission.
 
Varenne says one of the most pressing issues is to ensure all dental workers have personal protective equipment.  This is essential, he says, to protect themselves from becoming infected with COVID-19 and passing it on to their patients. 

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NASA Probe Discovers ‘Salty Water’ Beneath Surface of Dwarf Planet

The U.S. space agency, NASA says that says it believes it has discovered salty water beneath the surface of the dwarf planet, Ceres, in orbit around the sun in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter.The space agency’s Dawn spacecraft gathered up-close views of the dwarf planet – smaller than the earth’s moon – before ending its mission in October 2018.  At one point, Dawn dipped down to just 35 kilometers above Ceres’s surface.  Those up-close views revealed “mysterious bright regions”, which scientists later concluded to be deposits of sodium carbonate from liquid that likely filtered up to the surface and evaporated, leaving behind a reflective salty crust.In a study published Monday in the journal Nature Astronomy, NASA Scientists said, after studying the images and data sent back from the probe, they concluded the liquid came from a deep reservoir of salt-enriched water, about 40 kilometers deep and hundreds of kilometers wide.The Dawn spacecraft was launched in September 2007 with a mission to shed light on the early solar system.It explored the two largest bodies. After studying giant asteroid “Vesta”, Dawn arrived at dwarf planet “Ceres” in 2015. The scientists’ research focused on the 92-kilometer-wide “Occator Crater”.In October 2018, NASA called time on the Dawn mission, after the spacecraft ran out of its key fuel, hydrazine. NASA says it will remain in orbit of Ceres for decades.Dawn remains the only spacecraft to ever orbit two extraterrestrial destinations.

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Hit by Historic Monsoon, N. Korea Warns of More Floods

North Korea continues to see historic levels of rainfall, further threatening an economy already battered by a coronavirus-related lockdown.  Torrential rains have flooded hundreds of North Korean homes and wiped out vast swaths of rice fields in the country’s agricultural heartland, according to state media, intensifying worries about a poor harvest and food supply shortage. The Korean Peninsula has seen a much longer than usual monsoon seasons this year. The rains are expected to continue for much of the week.  South Korea has seen 49 consecutive days of rain — the longest streak on record. The downpours have caused landslides and floods in the South that have killed at least 42 people.  In the North, the extent of the damage is not precisely known. State media said Friday that North Korean leader Kim Jong Un visited a flood-hit village in North Hwanghae province, where 600 hectares of rice fields and more than 900 homes were inundated or destroyed. Hwanghae is the North’s most important rice-producing province. North Korean officials appearing on state TV have warned that rivers in both Hwanghae and the nearby province of Gangwon could overflow, according to South Korea’s Yonhap news agency. The rains are already more intense than in 2007, when North Korea saw some of its worst floods, according to a briefing by South Korea’s Unification Ministry, which handles inter-Korean relations.A part of a park near the Han River are flooded due to heavy rain in Seoul, South Korea, Aug. 9, 2020. The safety ministry said the Seoul area and the southern region are expected to receive more heavy rain on Sunday.“Their agricultural system is fragile, but they have had floods many times before,” says Peter Ward, a specialist in North Korea’s economy and PhD candidate at the University of Vienna. “I wouldn’t be surprised if it had a significant impact on the harvest.” North Korea is particularly vulnerable to flooding. It lacks adequate infrastructure and suffers from widespread deforestation, which resulted in part from people cutting down trees for fuel or firewood or to clear land for farming.  The floods come as North Korea steps up its anti-coronavirus efforts. Last month, North Korea locked down the southwestern city of Kaesong, after warning that a defector from the South may have brought the virus across the border.  North Korea has reported no confirmed coronavirus cases, even as it carries out strict measures to keep the disease from spreading. North Korea’s Red Cross has mobilized 43,000 volunteers who “have been working alongside health teams and authorities to prevent Covid-19 as well as helping communities to be prepared to evacuate and reduce disaster risks in their areas, including protecting homes from flooding and landslides,” according to a statement from the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies. “DPRK Red Cross volunteers are providing relief, including tarpaulins, kitchen sets, quilts, hygiene kits and water containers to support 2,800 of the most at risk families in North Hwanghae and (Gangwon) provinces, as well as Kaesong City, also while keeping people safe and preventing COVID-19,” the statement added. North Korea formally closed its borders due to coronavirus concerns in late January, shortly after the outbreak was first reported in neighboring China. The lockdown has resulted in plummeting economic activity with China, North Korea’s biggest trading partner. That has put even more strain on an economy already held back by international sanctions.  In a statement last week, research firm Fitch Solutions said it expected North Korea’s economy to contract by at least 8.5% in 2020, “not only due to a suspected domestic outbreak, but also due to the negative impact the disease will have on the external sector.”North Korea’s secretive government does not consistently release its own economic data. Instead, outside organizations try to estimate North Korea’s economic figures, in part based on numbers from South Korea’s central bank or Chinese customs data. 

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Pentagon Identifies More Bandwidth for Commercial 5G Network Sharing

The Pentagon and the White House have identified an additional 100 MHz in the coveted mid-band frequency spectrum to be used for the commercial 5G wireless technology network within the United States.The announcement on Monday takes frequencies previously designated for use by the Department of Defense and makes them available for spectrum sharing between the military and commercial telecommunication businesses.Senior administration officials say the spectrum, ranging from 3450 to 3550 MHz, is “ideal” for 5G because waves on that frequency can travel long distances at fast speeds, which could ensure more access to the network across the United States.Department of Defense chief information officer Dana Deasy testifies before the Senate Armed Services Committee, in Washington, May 6, 2020.But that particular mid-band spectrum currently supports critical military operations ranging from air defense, missile and gunfire control, counter mortar, battlefield weapon locations and air traffic control, according to Dana Deasy, chief information officer of the Department of Defense.Deasy addressed concerns about sharing the spectrum Monday, stressing that the Pentagon was planning a spectrum relocation transition that would minimize any impact to military operations.United States White House CTO Michael Kratsios delivers a speech on the last day of the Web Summit in Lisbon on Nov. 7, 2019.“This particular part of the band between 3450 and 3550 MHz has been identified because it can be made available without sacrificing our nation’s great military and national security capabilities,” said Michael Kratsios, the Trump administration’s chief technology officer.Deasy said the latest mid-band transition would use rules similar to those agreed upon in previous government-commercial sharing plans.An auctioning of the right to share a nearby frequency band, dubbed the Citizens Broadband Radio Service, with the military is currently ongoing and could bring in as much as $10 billion.The latest moves will provide U.S. commercial businesses with a continuous spectrum spanning from 3450 MHz to 3980 MHz in which to build a new 5G network. 5G will come with faster data transfer, better responsiveness and the ability to connect a lot more devices at once.The United States and China are currently racing to deploy 5G with the hopes of dominating the technology’s standards, patents and leadership in the global supply chain. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) will auction the latest 100 MHz spectrum beginning in December 2021 for use as soon as mid-2022, a process that senior administration officials say chops the typical time for mid-band availability from years to months.“This process reflects the fastest transfer of federal spectrum to commercial use in history,” Kratsios added.

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Trump Weighs Blocking US Citizens from Coming Home if Coronavirus Infection Feared

The administration of U.S. President Donald Trump is considering a measure to block U.S. citizens and permanent residents from returning home if they are suspected of being infected with the new coronavirus, a senior U.S. official confirmed to Reuters.The official said a draft regulation, which has not been finalized and could change, would give the government authorization to block individuals who could “reasonably” be believed to have contracted COVID-19 or other diseases.Trump has instituted a series of sweeping immigration restrictions since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, suspending some legal immigration and allowing U.S. border authorities to rapidly deport migrants caught at the border without standard legal processes.Omar Jadwat, director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s immigrants’ rights project, said in a written statement that barring U.S. citizens from entering the country would be unconstitutional and “another grave error in a year that has already seen far too many.”Reuters reported in May that U.S. government officials were concerned that dual U.S.-Mexico citizens might flee to the United States if the coronavirus outbreak in Mexico worsened, putting more stress on U.S. hospitals.The draft regulation, which was first reported by The New York Times on Monday, would be issued by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which has played a lead role in the pandemic response, the senior official told Reuters.A Trump pandemic task force was not expected to act on the proposal this week, although that timeline could change, the official said.The United States leads the world in both confirmed coronavirus cases and deaths, with more than 5 million cases recorded and over 162,000 deaths, according to a Reuters tally.The CDC did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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Powerful Derecho Leaves Path of Devastation Across Midwest

A rare storm packing 100 mph winds and with power similar to an inland hurricane swept across the Midwest on Monday, blowing over trees, flipping vehicles, causing widespread property damage and leaving hundreds of thousands without power as it turned toward Chicago. The storm known as a derecho lasted several hours as it tore across eastern Nebraska, Iowa and parts of Wisconsin, had the wind speed of a major hurricane, and likely caused more widespread damage than a normal tornado, said Patrick Marsh, science support chief at the National Weather Service’s Storm Prediction Center in Norman, Oklahoma. It’s not quite a hurricane. It has no eye and its winds come across in a line. But the damage it is likely to spread over such a large area is more like an inland hurricane than a quick more powerful tornado, Marsh said. He compared it to a devastating super derecho of 2009, which was one of the strongest on record and traveled more than 1,000 miles in 24 hours, causing $500 million in damage and widespread power outages and killing a handful of people. “This is our version of a hurricane,” Northern Illinois University meteorology professor Victor Gensini said in an interview from his home about 15 minutes before the storm was about to hit. Minutes later he headed to his basement for safety as the storm took aim at Chicago, starting with its suburbs. Gensini said this derecho will go down as one of the strongest in recent history and be one of the nation’s worst weather events of 2020. “It ramped up pretty quick” around 7 a.m. Central time in Eastern Nebraska. “I don’t think anybody expected widespread winds approaching 100, 110 mph,” Marsh said. ‘Life-saving mode’Several people were injured and widespread property damage was reported in Marshall County in central Iowa after 100 mph winds swept through the area, said its homeland security coordinator Kim Elder. She said the winds blew over trees, ripped road signs out of the ground and tore roofs off of buildings. “We had quite a few people trapped in buildings and cars,” she said. She said the extent of injuries is unknown and that no fatalities have been reported. Elder said some people reported their cars flipping over from the wind, having power lines fall on them and being injured when hit by flying debris. Dozens of cars at one factory had their windshields blown out. Buildings have also caught on fire, she said. “We’re in life-saving mode right now,” Elder said. Marshalltown Mayor Joel Greer declared a civil emergency, telling residents to stay home and off the streets so that first responders can respond to calls. MidAmerican Energy said nearly 101,000 customers in the Des Moines area were without power after the storm moved through the area. Reports from spotters filed with the National Weather Service in Des Moines had winds in excess of 70 mph. Roof damage to homes and buildings were reported in several Iowa cities, including the roof of a hockey arena in Des Moines. Across the state, large trees fell on cars and houses. Some semi-trailers flipped over or were blown off highways. Farmers reported that some grain bins were destroyed and fields were flattened, but the extent of damage to Iowa’s agriculture industry wasn’t immediately clear. MidAmerican spokeswoman Tina Hoffman said downed trees are making it difficult in some locations for workers to get to the power lines. In some cases power line poles were snapped off. “It’s a lot of tree damage. Very high winds. It will be a significant effort to get through it all and get everybody back on,” she said. “It was a big front that went all the way through the state.” Cedar Rapids, Iowa, has “both significant and widespread damage throughout the city,” said public safety spokesman Greg Buelow. “We have damage to homes and businesses, including siding and roofs damaged,” he said. “Trees and power lines are down throughout the entire city.” Buelow said residents should stay home so crews can respond to “potentially life-threatening calls.” Tens of thousands of people in the metro area were without power. Dangers of derechoWhat makes a derecho worse than a tornado is how long it can hover one place and how large an area the high winds hit, Marsh said. He said winds of 80 mph or even 100 mph can stretch for “20, 30, 40 or God forbid 100 miles.” “Right now, it’s making a beeline for Chicago,” Marsh said Monday mid-afternoon. “Whether or not it will hold its intensity as it reaches Chicago remains to be seen.” But the environmental conditions between the storm and Chicago are the type that won’t likely diminish the storm, Marsh said. It will likely dissipate over central or eastern Indiana, he said. What happened is unstable super moist air has parked over the northern plains for days on end and it finally ramped up Monday morning into a derecho. “They are basically self-sustaining amoebas of thunderstorms,” Gensini said. “Once they get going like they did across Iowa, it’s really hard to stop these suckers.” Derechoes, with winds of at least 58 mph, occur about once a year in the Midwest. Rarer than tornadoes but with weaker winds, derechoes produce damage over a much wider area. The storms raced over parts of eastern Nebraska before 9 a.m. Monday, dropping heavy rains and high winds. Strong straight-line winds pushed south into areas that include Lincoln and Omaha, National Weather Service meteorologist Brian Barjenbruch said. “Once that rain-cooled air hit the ground, it surged over 100 miles, sending incredibly strong winds over the area,” Barjenbruch said.  Omaha Public Power District reported more than 55,500 customers without power in Omaha and surrounding communities.  The weather service’s Marsh said there’s a huge concern about power outages that will be widespread across several states and long lasting. Add high heat, people with medical conditions that require power and the pandemic, “it becomes dire pretty quickly.” 
 

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A Ban on WeChat and TikTok, a Disconnected World and Two Internets

President Trump’s new executive orders banning Chinese social media apps TikTok and WeChat marked a significant escalation in the ongoing technology tensions between the U.S. and China, according to analysts.On Aug. 6, 2020, Trump declared that TikTok and WeChat posed a threat to national security and invoked the International Emergency Economic Power Act. He prohibited Americans from carrying out any transactions with the parent companies of TikTok and WeChat beyond 45 days — meaning U.S. companies and individuals will not be able to advertise with the platforms, offer them for download via app stores, or enter into licensing agreements with them.WeChat logoVOA spoke with government officials, think tank experts and app users for perspective on the immediate and long-term implications of the decision to ban the two major Chinese apps.Two Internets: One controlled by US, other by ChinaMembers of the City Youth Organization hold posters with the logos of Chinese apps in support of the Indian government for banning the popular video-sharing ‘TikTok’ app, in Hyderabad on June 30, 2020.Mixed reaction from app usersTikTok is one of the world’s best-loved apps, with more than 800 million monthly active users in the United States.WeChat, while not as popular in the U.S. as TikTok, is extensively used by the Chinese diaspora to connect with family and friends in China.“I think my life will be hugely impacted if WeChat is banned,” said Helen, a Chinese international student at New York University (NYU). “WeChat is the only way of communication between me and my friends in China.”Most chatting apps, such as Line, WhatsApp, Facebook, and Instagram, are banned in China. Currently WeChat is the only “super app” connecting people living in the U.S. and China and offers cross-border payment options.Kevin, who works in a restaurant in New York’s Chinatown, told VOA that it would be hard for him to connect with family back home. “I know some people who have houses here for rent and live in China, they are using WeChat to collect rent. If the app is banned, it will be a big problem for them,” he said.Chinese Americans who spoke with VOA, meanwhile, do not seem to be concerned with the ban on WeChat.“It’s not going to stop people from making other apps to chat, I don’t know what’s the point,” said Stanley, a nurse living in New York.Monica Xu,  Wenhao Ma contributed to this report. 

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Chatbots and Telemedicine Join Vietnam’s COVID-19 Fight

An idea is percolating in Vietnam as it fights COVID-19: “send in the robots.”  The pandemic has brought artificial intelligence (AI) more of a spotlight as nations around the world look for uses, from combing data for clues to predict an outbreak, to robot waiters that reduce human contact. In Vietnam, which has reported remarkably low infection and death figures, the possible uses are still being tested. They include chatbots to dispense information, face recognition technology, predictive mapping, and software to combat rumors about the disease.  For instance, FPT Corp., the nation’s biggest telecommunications and software company, introduced a web application that uses automation to assess COVID-19 risk. How it works: Vietnamese go to the Corona Check website and enter data on where they have been recently. The app then cross references that with data on the location, timing, and quantity of cases nationwide to calculate the odds someone has come into contact with the coronavirus.  “Our AI system is continuously updating data to improve itself,” Tran Hoang Giang, the FPT Software vice president, said. “Currently it could predict the probability of coronavirus infection with 90% accuracy. But it’ll get even better as more people submit self-assessments on the web.” The process is helped in part by the fact that Vietnam, which has had 841 COVID-19 cases this year, publishes uniquely detailed, anonymized data on patients’ movements so that others can check if they went somewhere at the same time as an infected person. For instance, one record showed the times that a patient had gone to a mall, a cafe, and a market. Warning system The work on machine learning sends a good message, according to FPT chairman Truong Gia Binh.   “Not only tech enthusiasts in developed countries but also young, talented Vietnamese have the opportunity to exchange knowledge and research about AI,” he said. Vietnam has also joined in on a popular AI strategy globally to map out many data points that might predict where the next cluster of COVID-19 cases will occur. The data points can number in the dozens and may not seem directly related, such as weather, density in a shopping center, or popular Google searches. However, taken together, the right data can correlate with disease outbreaks and serve as a warning system that detects risks before humans do.  In addition to models that assess the threat of a disease, Vietnam has a COVID-19 map that is paired with news articles, which are updated through automation software to dispel misinformation. The Southeast Asian nation has taken a hard line against pandemic rumors, which could prove deadly and in other nations have encouraged unscientific home remedies. Telemedicine  Beyond machine learning, COVID-19 is also spurring more interest in another emerging technology called telemedicine. For instance, the company Doctor Anywhere now has physicians assessing Vietnamese patients for signs of the disease via video consultations, which are also conducted in Thailand and Singapore.  All of this is part of Industry 4.0, a term for the latest advancements that are supposed to help economies move to the next stage of development. Vietnam expects these advances to help it recover from the pandemic, too. “AI is considered a core technology for Industry 4.0 that has implications for post COVID-19 healing,” Chu Ngoc Anh, the Minister of Science and Technology in Vietnam, said. His government is working with Australia, which said last week it donated 650,000 Australian dollars “to find new ways to use AI as Vietnam recovers from COVID-19.” The money will fund things like a contest in which programmers submit competing ideas to put machine learning to use. “In the face of the global pandemic, it [innovation] has become more important than ever,” Robyn Mudie, the Australian Ambassador to Vietnam, said.  She added: “This AI initiative is a great example of how new technology can be adapted quickly to respond to Vietnam’s emerging needs.” 

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