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As Britain Reopens, Scientists Warn of Fertile Ground for Coronavirus Variants

As Britons celebrate the lifting of coronavirus lockdown restrictions earlier this month, some scientists warn that the country risks becoming a breeding ground for new variants of the virus that could be more resistant to vaccines.Most restrictions were removed July 19, including social distancing regulations and the compulsory wearing of face masks. Indoor venues such as nightclubs reopened for the first time since March 2020.For many young people in Britain, the changes marked the return of longed-for socializing and partying, a chance to forget the misery of lockdown.“We’ve been the last ones to get the vaccine, we’ve always been to blame, we’ve been blamed for the spread of the COVID. And it’s just nice to get freedom and just brush it all off,” said one clubgoer in the northern city of Leeds, who did not want to give her name.People walks past shops and restaurants at Leadenhall Market in the City of London on July 27, 2021.But those freedoms could bring added dangers, according to some scientists.While infection rates have declined in recent days, the relaxation of lockdown rules will likely lead to an increase in transmission, says Emilia Skirmuntt, an evolutionary virologist at the University of Oxford.“I think there will be more infections than we have seen in the last days. With more infections, there is a bigger chance that we will see a new variant which might be even more infectious,” Skirmuntt told VOA.Britain has rolled out one of the fastest vaccination programs in the world. Just over 70% of adults are fully vaccinated, meaning millions of people are not fully protected — and unlike in the United States and parts of Europe, those under age 18 have not been offered the vaccine.“If we have groups which are unvaccinated, they are the danger that the variant, which might be more infectious or better at evading our immune response, will appear there. Teenagers and children are unvaccinated and the new variant might appear among them,” said Skirmuntt.The combination of a high infection rate and an incomplete vaccination program poses considerable dangers, argues Sterghios Moschos, a virologist at Britain’s University of Northumbria.“We do know that the countries which have been the most successful in containing the delta variant or the delta+ variant are now seeing transmission in the population amongst the vaccinated individuals,” said Moschos. “It is creating the most perfect fertile ground for the virus, these variants that are present now, to evolve resistance to the vaccine.”So far, British government scientists say there is no evidence that the virus is becoming more resistant to vaccines. And as more people are vaccinated, total infections should decrease — reducing the scope for the virus to mutate.And Britain has one of the world’s most advanced genome sequencing programs so can quickly identify any new variants of concern.Professor Sharon Peacock poses for a photograph at the Wellcome Sanger Institute that is operated by Genome Research in Cambridge, March 4, 2021.Sharon Peacock, executive director and chair of the COVID-19 Genomics UK (COG-UK) consortium, says there are twin threats.“The key thing we need to look out for, actually, is not just a new variant emerging, a brand-new variant emerging, but actually delta (variant) changing to have increasing biological characteristics that could lead to more spread or to increased immune evasion,” Peacock told Reuters.Only 14% of the global population is fully vaccinated against the coronavirus. In some low income countries, just 1.1% of the total population has received a single dose. That poses a risk to everyone, said virologist Skirmuntt.“We need the whole world being vaccinated or having immunity on a certain level. And if only some countries will be vaccinated on that level, that wouldn’t give us this global safety net,” Skirmuntt told VOA.As long as large populations remain unvaccinated, scientists say the coronavirus will continue to pose a risk to the whole world.Some information from this report came from Reuters

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Weightlifter Guryeva Wins Turkmenistan’s 1st Olympic medal

Sparsely populated and isolated from most of the outside world, Turkmenistan has finally won its first Olympic medal since independence from the Soviet Union.Weightlifter Polina Guryeva won a silver medal for the Central Asian nation at the Tokyo Games on Tuesday, and then predicted she would go down in the country’s history.”I was in shock because it’s the first Olympic medal in the history of the Turkmen people. It’s the first medal, which I won. No sport in Turkmenistan has had a medal, not one medal,” the 21-year-old Guryeva said. “I think I’ve entered the history of Turkmenistan by winning a medal. I’m so in shock.”Guryeva lifted a total 217 kilograms in the 59-kilogram category, edging Mikiko Andoh of Japan for second place. Kuo Hsing-Chun of Taiwan won gold by lifting 236kg.Guryeva, who calls Kuo her “idol” and copies her training exercises, finished in 28th place at the 2019 world championships while competing one weight category higher. On her coach’s advice, she used the one-year Olympic delay caused by the coronavirus pandemic to reset, dropping down a class.”When the pandemic began, I didn’t have a chance of qualifying,” she said. “In October, I dropped down and started training. And I went to the Asian Championships in Uzbekistan, lifted 211 total, and then I got the chance to go to the Olympics. And then I started training even harder to get this medal.”Guryeva will return home to a country which has often had little contact with the outside world but is trying to make its name in the world of sports. The gas-rich nation sent two medalists to the Soviet Union’s Olympic teams for the 1956 and 1960 Games but success has been rare since.Hosting the 2018 weightlifting world championships at a lavish new sports complex in the capital, Ashgabat, was one step toward raising the country’s profile. Turkmenistan’s authoritarian president, Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov, is a fan of cycling and the country was scheduled to hold the track cycling championships this year, too, but they were moved because of the pandemic.The Turkmenistan government says it has not had any cases of COVID-19 but has made vaccinations mandatory.For Kuo, the victory was about completing a set of major championship medals. The Taiwanese lifter finally added Olympic gold to her four world titles.”I have all the pieces together. Now I am very happy,” she said through a translator.Andoh lifted a total of 214kg for bronze despite what she later revealed was severe pain in her feet. After her last lift, she fell to the ground on stage with a smile and was helped away by her coaches.In the 64-kilogram category, Maude Charron got hear a song at the Olympics that her “idol” never did — the Canadian national anthem.Charron won an unusually open competition with six women in the running for a place on the podium ahead of their last lifts. Charron’s total of 236kg was four more than silver medalist Giorgia Bordignon of Italy and six ahead of Chen Wen-Huei of Taiwan.Christine Girard, the Olympic champion from the 2012 London Games, never got to stand on the top step of the podium while “O Canada” was played because she originally finished in third place. The lifters that finished above her, from Kazakhstan and Russia, both later tested positive for doping.”I asked her how to prepare for the games, how not to be too intimidated by the rings, and she wrote me a message,” Charron said. “Now I just feel like that’s her medal, that’s her moment because she didn’t have it in real time.”Weightlifting has reallocated dozens of past Olympic medals and cut the Tokyo allocation for countries which racked up the most doping offenses.”For sure anti-doping made a great deal in just cleaning the sport,” Charron said. “There is a progression in this clean way.”

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US Gymnast Simone Biles Withdraws From Teams Finals in Day of Olympic Upsets, Setbacks and Surprises

Tuesday’s slate of competitions at the Tokyo Olympics has been filled with a number of stunning defeats and setbacks over a variety of events.One of the biggest shocks of the day came when U.S. gymnast Simone Biles, seeking to burnish her already legendary career, withdrew from the overall team finals after failing to execute her planned maneuver in the vault and stumbling backward on her landing. She then briefly left the floor with her coach, then returned to rejoin her teammates with her ankle wrapped in a bandage.”Simone Biles has withdrawn from the team final competition due to a medical issue. She will be assessed daily to determine medical clearance for future competitions,” said a statement from USA Gymnastics.Official statement: “Simone Biles has withdrawn from the team final competition due to a medical issue. She will be assessed daily to determine medical clearance for future competitions.”Thinking of you, Simone! Gold medalist Lydia Jacoby, center, of the U.S., stands with silver medalist Tatjana Schoenmaker, left, of South Africa, and bronze medalist Lilly King, of the U.S., after the final of the women’s 100-meter breaststroke.Hundreds of people packed into a railroad terminal in Jacoby’s hometown of Seward, Alaska, launched into a wild celebration as they watched her come from behind in the last lap overtake Schoenmaker.STAND UP ALASKA!17-year-old Lydia Jacoby WINS GOLD, and everybody’s celebrating! From left to right, Britain’s Duncan Scott, South Korea’s Hwang Sunwoo and Britain’s Tom Dean swim in a 200-meter freestyle semifinal at the 2020 Summer Olympics, July 26, 2021, in Tokyo.Olympic history was also made Tuesday when Italo Ferreira of Brazil and Carissa Moore of the United States won the first-ever gold medals for men and women’s surfing.   Ferreira, the reigning World Surf League champion, overcame a broken board on his first wave on his way to his historic victory at Tsurigasaki Surfing Beach in Ichinomiya town, outpointing Japan’s Kanoa Igarashi and Owen Wright of Australia, who won the silver and bronze medals respectively.   The Hawaii-born Moore, a four-time world champion and current top-ranked surfer, dominated her first two waves in the finals for a combined 14.93, easily outpointing South Africa’s Bianca Buitendag, who scored 8.46 to win the silver medal.  Amuro Tsuzuki of Japan took home the bronze.   In other Olympic events Tuesday, Flora Duffy of Bermuda won the women’s triathlon in 1:55:36 (one hour, 55 minutes, 36 seconds), which included a 1,500-meter swim, 40-kilometer bike ride and 10-kilometer run. Duffy’s gold medal victory is the first for the Caribbean island nation, and the second-ever Olympic medal since boxer Clarence Hill won bronze in the 1976 Montreal Games. Georgia Taylor-Brown won the silver medal, while Katie Zaferes of the United States won bronze.   Another gold medal event is taking place later Tuesday in Tokyo when the U.S. takes on host country Japan in women’s softball in Yokohama Baseball Stadium.The United States leads the overall medal count with 22, with China in second place with 22 and host country Japan in third with 17. The U.S., China and Japan are all tied in the gold medal count with nine, followed by five for the ROC.  Host country Japan took gold  in women’s softball, defeating the U.S. team 2-0.The United States leads the overall medal count with 25, with China in second place with 21 and host country Japan with 18.  Some information for this report came from the Associated Press. 

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EU: 70% of Adults in Bloc Now Have at Least One COVID Vaccination

European Union leaders said Tuesday that 70% of adult residents have now received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, hitting the target they set for the end of July.
 
Speaking to reporters in Brussels, European Commission President Ursula Von der Leyen said 57% of all adults in the EU are now fully vaccinated. She said these numbers put Europe among the world leaders.
 
Von der Leyen said that, after falling behind early in its vaccination program, the EU’s “catch-up process has been very successful — but we need to keep up the effort.”
 
She said the Delta variant of the virus that causes COVID-19 “is very dangerous. I therefore call on everyone — who has the opportunity — to be vaccinated. For their own health and to protect others.” She said the EU will continue to provide sufficient volumes of vaccine.
 
The Reuters news agency reports the EU hopes to have 70% of all adults fully vaccinated by the end of the summer and the current statistics indicate that goal is within reach.
 
From her Twitter account, EU Health Commissioner Stella Kyriakides called on all citizens to “trust the science” and get vaccinated to protect themselves and those around them. 

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COVID Exacerbating Terrorist Recruitment in Kenya, Experts Say

Kenyan aid groups and analysts say the al-Shabab terror group is preying on young people who are struggling during the COVID pandemic, to recruit them into their ranks. To counter the effort, local groups in Kenya hold outreach sessions in low-income neighborhoods, as Ruud Elmendorp reports from Mombasa.

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WHO: E-Cigarettes Threaten Fight Against Global Tobacco Use

The World Health Organization warns e-cigarettes and other novel nicotine and tobacco products threaten progress in the fight against tobacco use across the globe. Many countries are making progress in adopting tobacco control measures to get their populations to quit smoking or to dissuade them from starting to smoke.  But a new World Health Organization report finds governments are no match for the tobacco industry.  For the first time, the WHO is presenting new data on electronic delivery systems, such as e-cigarettes and heated tobacco products.  The head of WHO’s Tobacco Control Program, Vinayak Prasad, tells VOA the tobacco industry is marketing these products to children and adolescents. He says e-cigarettes, which come in more than 15,000 different flavors, are being promoted to appeal to young people and get them hooked.   “But only three countries have banned the use of flavors and the rest do not.  Also…42 percent of the countries only restrict sale to minors, so children are able to buy cigarettes…Children who start using e-cigarettes are twice likely to become regular tobacco users.  That is dangerous.  It risks the renormalization of tobacco in society” Prasad said.WHO Calls for Stricter Regulations on E-CigarettesConcern about the risks posed by e-cigarettes are increasing as reported cases of deaths and illnesses from these devices spread around the world WHO reports the proportion of people using tobacco has declined in most countries.  However, the total number of people smoking remains stubbornly high because of population growth.  The U.N. health agency estimates the number of current smokers at one billion.   It adds eight million people die prematurely from tobacco-related illnesses every year.Prasad says more than 80 percent of tobacco users live in developing countries.  He says the tobacco industry is fighting to prevent countries from adopting regulations against the use of so-called smokeless products.”The biggest challenge of today is the tobacco industry coming out with products at a fairly high frequency, claiming it to be cleaner, safer, less harmful, and putting the governments under a lot of pressure,” Prasad said.  There is limited evidence that electronic devices are effective in weaning people off tobacco.  WHO recommends the use of conventional quitting regimens.  It also advises governments to implement regulations to stop non-smokers from starting.  It says conventional tobacco control measures can be effective in protecting young people from the harmful use of e-cigarettes.  These include raising taxes, pictorial health warnings, and bans on advertising, promotion, and sponsorship.

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Upset Victories in Swimming, Women’s Tennis Mark Day 7 of Tokyo Olympics  

The Tokyo Olympics got off to a busy start Tuesday at the Tokyo Aquatics Center with a trio of high-profile finals in the men’s and women’s swimming.   In the women’s 100-meter breaststroke, the highly anticipated race between Lilly King of the United States, who won the event in the 2016 Rio Olympics, and Tatjana Schoenmaker of South Africa ended in an upset when Lydia Jacoby, King’s 17-year-old teammate, edged both women to win the gold. Schoenmaker finished in second place to win the silver medal while King ended in third, taking home the bronze medal.  Hundreds of people packed into a railroad terminal in Jacoby’s hometown of Seward, Alaska, launched into a wild celebration as they watched her come from behind in the last lap overtake Schoenmaker.STAND UP ALASKA!17-year-old Lydia Jacoby WINS GOLD, and everybody’s celebrating! #TokyoOlympics x @USASwimming📺: NBC💻: https://t.co/GFrdWbcFoO📱: NBC Sports App pic.twitter.com/leYOC2Mzju— #TokyoOlympics (@NBCOlympics) July 27, 2021Jacoby is the first swimmer from the remote northwestern state to qualify for a Summer Olympics.   In another surprise finish, Ryan Murphy of the United States finished third in the men’s 100-meter backstroke final, as teammates Evgeny Rylov and Kliment Kolesnikov of the Russian Olympic Committee, or the ROC, finished in first and second place respectively. Murphy had hoped to repeat his 2016 gold medal Rio performance, but took the bronze medal instead. His loss also ended a streak of six consecutive U.S. wins in the 100-meter backstroke dating back to 1996.   Meanwhile, Australia’s Kaylee McKeown won the women’s 100-meter backstroke and set a new Olympic record of 57.47 seconds. Canada’s Kylie Masse won the silver medal while Regan Smith of the United States took the bronze medal.   And British swimmers Tom Dean and Duncan Scott won the gold and silver medals, respectively, in the men’s 200-meter freestyle final. Brazil’s Fernando Scheffer won the bronze medal.   Yet another upset occurred Tuesday in women’s tennis as Japan’s Naomi Osaka, the world’s second-ranked player, suffered a shocking 6-1 6-4 defeat to Marketa Vondrousova of the Czech Republic in the third round. Osaka, a four-time Grand Slam winner and a favorite to win gold for her native country, struggled during the match with 32 unforced errors. In other Olympic events Tuesday, Flora Duffy of Bermuda won the women’s triathlon in 1:55:36 (one hour, 55 minutes, 36 seconds), which included a 1,500-meter swim, 40-kilometer bike ride and 10-kilometer run. Duffy’s gold medal victory is the first for the Caribbean island nation, and the second-ever Olympic medal since boxer Clarence Hill won bronze in the 1976 Montreal Games. Georgia Taylor-Brown won the silver medal, while Katie Zaferes of the United States won bronze.   Another historic gold medal victory occurred Monday in women’s weightlifting, when Hidilyn Diaz of the Philippines won the 55-kilogram division to win the first-ever gold medal for the Pacific archipelago. Diaz also set two Olympic records when she lifted 127 kilograms in the clean and jerk section as well as an overall total of 224 kilograms.   And fencer Edgar Cheung won Hong Kong’s first Olympics gold medal in 25 years when he beat Italy’s Daniele Garozzo by a score of 15-11.   Two gold medal events will take place later Tuesday in Tokyo when the U.S. takes on host country Japan in women’s softball in Yokohama Baseball Stadium. And gymnast Simone Biles will seek to burnish her already legendary career when she leads the U.S. women in the overall team finals.   The United States and China are tied in the overall medal count with 19, while the Russian Olympic Committee has 15 and host country Japan has 13 medals. The U.S. and Japan are tied in the gold medal count with eight, followed by seven for China and 5 for the ROC.  Some information for this report came from Reuters and AFP. 

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Chinese Pair Outduels Russians to Win Mixed Team Pistol Gold

China’s Jiang Ranxin and Pang Wei out-dueled their Russian rivals in a riveting contest to secure gold in the 10-meter air pistol mixed team event at the Tokyo Olympics on Tuesday. The Chinese pair scored a 16-14 victory against newly minted women’s Olympic champion Vitalina Batsarashkina and Artem Chernousov at the Asaka Shooting Range. Jiang and Pang, bronze winners in their individual events in Tokyo, overcame an 8-4 deficit to lead 14-10 before the Russians staged a comeback to level the scores. The Chinese shooters, however, held their nerve to reach the 16-point mark and claim gold. Russian athletes are competing in Tokyo under the flag of the Russian Olympic Committee (ROC) as part of sanctions for several doping scandals. Ukraine won the bronze medal match after Olena Kostevych and Oleh Omelchuk beat Serbians Zorana Arunovic and Damir Mikec 16-12. South Korean pistol great Jin Jong-oh will return empty-handed from his fifth, and possibly final, Olympics as his pairing could not get through the qualification round. The four-time Olympic gold medalist failed to qualify for the final of the men’s individual event on Saturday. 

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Tunisia’s President Suspends Parliament

Tunisian troops blocked the head of parliament from entering the building early Monday, hours after President Kais Saied announced he had fired Prime Minister Hichem Mechichi and suspended parliament for 30 days.  

Saied, a political independent, said he was acting in response to the country’s economic woes and political deadlock and added that the country’s constitution gave him that authority.  

The move follows weeks of political turbulence in the country – fueled in part by public anger over the government’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Rached Ghannouchi, the parliament speaker and head of the dominant Ennahdha party, called the president’s actions a “coup” and said the legislature would continue its work.  

Two other main parties in parliament also called it a coup, which the president rejected.  

A U.S. State Department spokesman said that the United States is closely monitoring the developments and that any solution to Tunisia’s political and economic troubles should be based on the country’s constitution.  

“Tunisia must not squander its democratic gains,” State Department spokesman Ned Price said in a statement Monday. 

U.S. Representatives Gregory Meeks, chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, and Ted Deutch, chairman of the Subcommittee on Middle East, North Africa and Global Counterterrorism, said they were “seriously concerned” by the events in Tunisia.  

“We call on all parties to respect and adhere to the rule of law,” they said in a statement Monday. 

Saied’s announcement drew crowds of demonstrators into the streets of the capital, Tunis, and elsewhere to celebrate, reflecting people’s anger at parliament to address the country’s problems. 

There were also protesters outside the parliament building who were against the president’s actions, and clashes took place between the opposing groups.  

Tunisian authorities shut down a live broadcast of Qatar’s Al-Jazeera TV, alleging that its correspondent appeared to encourage the small crowd of protesters to chant against the government. The broadcaster reported that its office in the Tunisian capital was sealed shut and that journalists were not being allowed to enter.  

Tunisia has struggled economically for years, and along with political challenges, it has dealt with a spike in COVID-19 cases and deaths.  

Political analyst Amin Mustafa told VOA that “most Tunisians have been badly hurt by the ongoing economic crisis and high unemployment, so the issue of suspending parliament is not likely to arouse a strong negative reaction.”  

The influential Tunisian Federation of Labor declared Monday that it considers “all measures taken by the president to be legal.”  

Edward Yeranian in Cairo contributed to this report. Some information for this report came from The Associated Press, AFP and Reuters. 
 

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July 26, 2021

A look at the best news photos from around the world.

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