Chinese Study: New Coronavirus Spreads More Like Flu Than SARS

Scientists in China who studied the nose and throat swabs from 18 patients infected with the new coronavirus say it behaves much more like influenza than other closely related viruses, suggesting it may spread even more easily than previously believed.

In at least in one case, the virus was present even though the patient had no symptoms, confirming concerns that asymptomatic patients could also spread the disease.

Although preliminary, the findings published Wednesday in the New England Journal of Medicine, offer new evidence that this novel coronavirus, which has killed more than 2,000 people, mostly in China, is not like its closely related coronavirus cousins.

“If confirmed, this is very important,” said Dr. Gregory Poland, a virologist and vaccine researcher with the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, who was not involved with the study.

Easily spread

Unlike severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), which causes infections deep in the lower respiratory tract that can result in pneumonia, COVID-19 appears to inhabit both the upper and lower respiratory tracts. That would make it not only capable of causing severe pneumonia, but of spreading easily like flu or the common cold.

Researchers in Guangdong province monitored the amount of coronavirus in the 18 patients. One of them, who had moderate levels of the virus in their nose and throat, never had any disease symptoms.

Among the 17 symptomatic patients, the team found levels of the virus increased soon after symptoms first appeared, with higher amounts of virus present in the nose than in the throats, a pattern more similar to influenza than SARS.

The level of virus in the asymptomatic patient was similar to what was present in patients with symptoms, such as fever.

“What this says is clearly this virus can be shed out of the upper respiratory tract and that people are shedding it asymptomatically,” Poland said.

Related to SARS, not behaving like SARS

The findings add to evidence that this new virus, though genetically similar, is not behaving like SARS, said Kristian Andersen, an immunologist at Scripps Research in La Jolla who uses gene sequencing tools to track disease outbreaks.

“This virus is clearly much more capable of spreading between humans than any other novel coronavirus we’ve ever seen.

“This is more akin to the spread of flu,” said Andersen, who was not involved with the study.

The researchers said their findings add to reports that the virus can be transmitted early in the course of the infection and suggest that controlling the virus will require an approach different from what worked with SARS, which primarily involved controlling its spread in a hospital setting.

From: MeNeedIt

Bloomberg Targeted in Debate Debut

All eyes were on Michael Bloomberg Wednesday night, as six Democratic Party hopefuls took the debate stage in Las Vegas.  Mike O’Sullivan reports the billionaire newcomer to the presidential race quickly became a target, as did frontrunner Bernie Sanders.

From: MeNeedIt

China Cuts Loan Rate in Attempt to Blunt Coronavirus Impact

China announced Thursday that it would cut interest rates in a bid to boost the economy, as it battles the economic fallout of the new coronavirus outbreak.

The reduction in the loan prime rate (LPR), one of the preferential rates commercial banks impose on their best customers and which serves as a reference for other lending rates, is the latest measure to help companies struggling through the epidemic.

The one-year LPR was lowered to 4.05 percent from 4.15 percent, the People’s Bank of China (PBoC) said in a statement.

The five-year LPR, on which many lenders base their mortgage rates, was also lowered to 4.75 percent from 4.8 percent.

The LPR, released on the 20th day of every month, is based on rates of the central bank’s open market operations, especially medium-term lending facility rates.

Coronavirus effect

The rate reduction comes as Beijing battles to control a virus epidemic that has infected more than 74,500 people in the country.

The outbreak is threatening to put a dent in the global economy, with China paralyzed by vast quarantine measures and major firms such as iPhone maker Apple and mining giant BHP warning it could damage bottom lines.

The central bank said earlier this month it would offer a 300 billion yuan ($43 billion) boost to help businesses involved in fighting the epidemic.

More stimulus expected

Julian Evans-Pritchard of Capital Economics said the rate cut would “help companies weather the damage from the coronavirus at the margins.”

But he said the ability of firms to postpone loan repayments and access loans on preferential terms would be more important in the short term.

“We expect the People’s Bank to continue loosening monetary conditions in the coming weeks, especially given signs that the coronavirus disruptions have started to weigh on employment,” he said.

“But rate cuts alone will provide limited relief to the millions of small private firms that are suffering the most from the epidemic and are poorly served by the formal banking (sector).”

From: MeNeedIt

International Journalists Face Changing Regulations in China, US

China and the United States in the past year have unveiled new regulations that force some news media organizations that receive government funding to register as government entities. Amid the regulatory changes, China Wednesday ordered three foreign reporters to leave the country because of complaints over a headline that appeared in their newspaper. Here’s an overview of the changing media laws, and the fallout for journalists.

Why did Beijing expel the American reporters?

China’s foreign ministry said Wednesday that the Wall Street Journal’s decision to publish an opinion column with the headline “China is the Real Sick Man of Asia,” was “racially discriminatory” and tried to discredit China’s efforts to fight the coronavirus outbreak. The editorial was written by an American academic in the newspaper’s opinion section, but the foreign ministry said: “Chinese people do not welcome media that speak racially discriminatory languages … as such, it is decided today, the press credentials of three WSJ journalists will be revoked.” 

Beijing said the decision to force the reporters to leave the country was not linked to the State Department’s ruling on restricting Chinese news organizations operating in the U.S. earlier this week.

Why did the U.S. State Department designate five Chinese news agencies as foreign government entities?

The State Department said Tuesday that Xinhua, China Radio, China Daily, CGTN and The People’s Daily will be officially treated as extensions of China’s government, subjecting employees to similar rules that foreign diplomats operate under. U.S. officials say the designation reflects the reality that these are not editorially independent newsrooms, but are controlled by the Chinese government. Chinese officials rejected the decision and said Chinese media covers news objectively.

Why is the State Department making this change now?

U.S. officials have been warning for years about China’s expanding operations targeting foreign countries, and in recent months have taken action. U.S. officials have announced prosecutions of academics who did not report receiving money from Chinese-government-linked institutions, named Chinese military hackers who allegedly stole personal records of millions of Americans, and accused Chinese technology companies of stealing intellectual property. The director of the FBI, Christopher Wray, said this month that China is threatening U.S. security by exploiting the openness of the American economy and society.

Are VOA, BBC, DW and other state-funded broadcasters subject to the same State Department regulations on government funding?

News organizations that receive government funding and also maintain editorially independent newsrooms are not subjected to the new State Department regulations because they have policies and structures to protect their editorial independence. For example, at the BBC, the organization’s charter commits it to pursuing “due impartiality” in all of its output. At VOA, the founding charter and editorial firewall keep its journalists independent and prevent government officials from interfering in news decisions.

From: MeNeedIt

UN Calls for Independent, Impartial Investigation Into Cameroon Massacre

The U.N. human rights office is calling for an independent, impartial and thorough investigation into the massacre of 23 people in a village in Cameroon’s Northwest Anglophone region on February 14.

More information has emerged since this shocking attack occurred.  U.N. human rights monitors on the ground report 15 children, nine under the age of five were killed.  They say two pregnant women also were among the victims.  One has since died of her injuries in hospital.

U.N. human rights spokesman, Rupert Colville, says the facts are still sketchy.  But he tells VOA witnesses say 40 armed men and members of the security and defense forces attacked the village.

“The authorities claim there was gunfire coming out of the village towards them — towards the defense forces and gendarmes,” he said. “Our understanding is that two houses in particular were targeted.  But the upshot of that — the number of children killed, and pregnant women is really horrifying.”  

Hundreds of thousands of people have been displaced and clashes between security and defense forces and armed separatist groups have escalated since 2016.  That was when a separatist insurgency erupted in the minority English-speaking Northwest and Southwest regions of Cameroon against the dominant French-speaking government.

In the aftermath of the massacre, the Cameroonian government has announced it would mount an investigation into the killings and would make the findings public.  The U.N. human rights office urges the authorities to ensure the independence and impartiality of the investigation and to hold those responsible to account.  

In the meantime, the United Nations reports 2.3 million people in Cameroon urgently need food, shelter, non-food items, and protection because of the crisis in the Northwest and Southwest.  It adds the majority of those in need remain within these two regions.  

U.N. aid agencies are urgently appealing for $317 million so they can carry out their life-saving mission this year.

From: MeNeedIt

While Ousted President Faces ICC, Sudan’s AG Reconsiders Country’s Ties to Islamist Groups

Former Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir has been questioned for his role in financing international Islamist groups, according to the country’s attorney general.

“We have organizations like Hamas in our country and it has its offices,” said Abdullahi Ibrahim, a professor emeritus at the University of Missouri. Ibrahim participated in the country’s 1960s revolution and ran for president against al-Bashir in 2010. However, he added that there are some groups in Sudan who see Hamas as a legitimate political movement. 

“This is the reason why I say we are getting ready to get into semantics,” he said. “I don’t want my people to get into this semantic quagmire. But if Bashir’s regime [was] money laundering through them [Hamas], that stands out as a crime and worthy of looking into.”

Sudan is still designated as a state sponsor of terrorism due to the past administration’s support of terrorist groups, including Hamas and Hezbollah. Hamas is a militant group that has sought to destroy Israel.

In December, al-Bashir was sentenced to two years in a correctional facility for corruption and money laundering charges.

Last week, Sudanese officials announced the ousted leader will be transferred to the International Criminal Court to face charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity allegedly committed in the Darfur region. 

“We have a very clear-cut accusation against this man. He is wanted by the ICC,” Ibrahim said.

The move by the Supreme Council, Sudan’s ruling body, which is currently controlled by the military, was hailed by international observers as an important decision. Cameron Hudson, a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council’s Africa Center, told VOA’s English-to-Africa TV show “Africa 54” that the civilian government took a bold step that wouldn’t be possible without consulting with the military.

The fact that the military changed its position to make a compromise, Hudson said, “catapults Sudan from the country that was leading the international coalition against the court to serve up to the court its biggest and most important case to date in one fell swoop. It really is a complete 180 on the part of the Sudanese government. I think a shot in the arm, as they say, for international justice.”

Ibrahim agrees that the military has reversed its position on the issue. “The military was the one that was rather opposed in clear-cut terms earlier. But now I don’t know whether it is about [Head of the Supreme Council] Abdel Fattah al-Burhan’s movement to soothe,” he said. “I think they are more inclined to come to terms with the civilian leaders. Now they don’t have any qualms about this.”

Civilian or military rule?

In April, pro-democracy demonstrators toppled al-Bashir and demanded civilian rule. But Ibrahim said what happened last year was a compromise because recent diplomatic announcements, including the meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, were spearheaded by al-Burhan. The meeting faced a backlash from pro-Bashir groups.

“The structure that we have now is a product of a compromise. That tug of war and it is not a compromise between revolutionaries of different persuasions. It is a situation in which the revolution gave birth to counterrevolution simultaneously,” he said. “Some people consider difficulties like taking this kind of arbitrary decision as a sign of weakness. No, it is a sign of struggle. We will be free if we come to grips with the reality that on that day in April, we had a revolution and a counterrevolution.”  

‘Comprehensive peace’

It is not yet clear when the 76-year-old former president will be sent to the International Criminal Court , and Hudson said that the Sudanese are “a few steps away” from seeing him at the Hague. He added that handing al-Bashir over to the ICC paves the way for the peace talks between the government and the armed movements and signals willingness to cooperate with the court.

Hudson said that it is “part of a larger peace deal that the government is trying to secure with the remaining armed movements in the country. So it’s really dependent upon that kind of comprehensive peace.” 

‘New Sudan’

Nevertheless, the transitional government’s steps to mend international relationships, including outreach to the United States, the United Nations and Israel, are a historic break from past policies, Hudson added. 

“It is a completely new Sudan. It’s a Sudan that takes justice and accountability and the rule of law seriously for the first time in more than a generation. Obviously, we want to see justice delivered for the many, victims of atrocity crimes in Darfur. More than 2 million people continue to be displaced inside and outside the country. More than 300,000 people were murdered during that conflict in Darfur.”

Still, the progress isn’t without resistance, as al-Bashir loyalists protested against handing him over to the ICC.  

That, Hudson said, is “the last gasp of a fading regime.”

This story originated in the Africa division with reporting contributions from English to Africa’sEsther Githui Ewart.

From: MeNeedIt

Homeland Security Waives Contracting Laws for Border Wall

The Trump administration said Tuesday that it will waive federal contracting laws to speed construction of a wall at the U.S.-Mexico border.

The Department of Homeland Security said waiving procurement regulations will allow 177 miles (283 kilometers) of wall to be built more quickly in California, Arizona, New Mexico and Texas. The 10 waived laws include requirements for having open competition, justifying selections and receiving all bonding from a contractor before any work can begin.

The acting Homeland Security secretary, Chad Wolf, is exercising authority under a 2005 law that gives him sweeping powers to waive laws for building border barriers.

“We hope that will accelerate some of the construction that’s going along the Southwest border,” Wolf told Fox News Channel’s “Fox & Friends” on Tuesday.

Secretaries under President Donald Trump have issued 16 waivers, and President George W. Bush issued five, but Tuesday’s announcement marks the first time that waivers have applied to federal procurement rules. Previously they were used to waive environmental impact reviews.
Full Coverage: Immigration

The Trump administration said it expects the waivers will allow 94 miles (150 kilometers) of wall to be built this year, bringing the Republican president closer to his pledge of about 450 miles (720 kilometers) since taking office and making it one of his top domestic priorities. It said the other 83 miles (133 kilometers) covered by the waivers may get built this year.

“Under the president’s leadership, we are building more wall, faster than ever before,” the department said in a statement.

The move is expected to spark criticism that the Trump administration is overstepping its authority, but legal challenges have failed. In 2018, a federal judge in San Diego rejected arguments by California and environmental advocacy groups that the secretary’s broad powers should have an expiration date. An appeals court upheld the ruling last year.

Congress gave the secretary power to waive laws in areas of high illegal crossings in 2005 in a package of emergency spending for wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and minimum standards for state-issued identification cards. The Senate approved it unanimously, with support from Joe Biden, Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. The House passed it with strong bipartisan support; then-Rep. Bernie Sanders voted against it.

The waivers, to be published in the Federal Register, apply to projects that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers will award in six of nine Border Patrol sectors on the Mexican border: San Diego and El Centro in California; Yuma and Tucson in Arizona; El Paso, which spans New Mexico and west Texas, and Del Rio, Texas.

The administration said the waivers will apply to contractors that have already been vetted. In May, the Army Corps named 12 companies to compete for Pentagon-funded contracts.

The Army Corps is tasked with awarding $6.1 billion that the Department of Defense transferred for wall construction last year after Congress gave Trump only a fraction of the money. The administration has been able to spend that money during legal challenges.

From: MeNeedIt

Huge Locust Outbreak in East Africa Reaches South Sudan

The worst locust outbreak that parts of East Africa have seen in 70 years has reached South Sudan, a country where roughly half the population already faces hunger after years of civil war, officials announced Tuesday.

Around 2,000 locusts were spotted inside the country, Agriculture Minister Onyoti Adigo told reporters. Authorities will try to control the outbreak, he added.

The locusts have been seen in Eastern Equatoria state near the borders with Ethiopia, Kenya and Uganda. All have been affected by the outbreak that has been influenced by the changing climate in the region.

The situation in those three countries “remains extremely alarming,” the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization said in its latest Locust Watch update Monday. Locusts also have reached Sudan, Eritrea, Tanzania and more recently Uganda.

The soil in South Sudan’s Eastern Equatoria has a sandy nature that allows the locusts to lay eggs easily, said Meshack Malo, country representative with the FAO.

At this stage “if we are not able to deal with them … it will be a problem,” he said.

South Sudan is even less prepared than other countries in the region for a locust outbreak, and its people are arguably more vulnerable. More than 5 million people are severely food insecure, the U.N. humanitarian office says in its latest assessment, and some 860,000 children are malnourished.

Five years of civil war shattered South Sudan’s economy, and lingering insecurity since a 2018 peace deal continues to endanger humanitarians trying to distribute aid. Another local aid worker was shot and killed last week, the U.N. said Tuesday.

The locusts have traveled across the region in swarms the size of major cities. Experts say their only effective control is aerial spraying with pesticides, but U.N. and local authorities have said more aircraft and pesticides are required. A handful of planes have been active in Kenya and Ethiopia.

The U.N. has said $76 million is needed immediately. On Tuesday, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo during a visit to Ethiopia said the U.S. would donate another $8 million to the effort. That follows an earlier $800,000.

The number of overall locusts could grow up to 500 times by June, when drier weather begins, experts have said. Until then, the fear is that more rains in the coming weeks will bring fresh vegetation to feed a new generation of the voracious insects.

South Sudanese ministers called for a collective regional response to the outbreak that threatens to devastate crops and pasturage.

From: MeNeedIt

Trump Confidant Roger Stone Loses Bid to Delay Sentencing Hearing

Roger Stone, a longtime friend of President Donald Trump, lost his bid to delay his sentencing, a federal judge said on Tuesday.

Stone is due to be sentenced on Thursday after he was found guilty in November of seven counts of lying to Congress, obstruction and witness tampering.

A lawyer for Stone on Tuesday argued that Thursday’s sentencing hearing should be postponed until after U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson rules on a request he made for a new trial.

Jackson rejected the proposed delay during a short conference call with lawyers on Tuesday, saying Stone’s proposal would not be prudent and is not required by law.

The judge said the longtime Republican operative would not need to begin serving his sentence until she rules on his request for a new trial.

Stone’s sentencing on Thursday is expected to draw widespread interest, after senior officials at the Justice Department last week pulled back on an earlier sentencing recommendation by career prosecutors to keep Stone’s prison term within the U.S. sentencing guidelines of seven to nine years.

The intervention by Attorney General William Barr prompted all four career prosecutors who tried the case to withdraw, with one of them resigning from the department entirely.

In the new sentencing memo, the department said it viewed a sentence of between seven and nine years as excessive, but left it to the judge’s discretion what prison term would be appropriate.

Since then, Trump has used Twitter to attack the four prosecutors, as well as Jackson, who previously oversaw cases involving Trump’s other political allies including former campaign chairman Paul Manafort.

Jackson did not comment during Tuesday’s 15-minute conference call on the prosecutor withdrawals or the political furor over Stone’s case.


From: MeNeedIt

Kellye Nakahara Wallett of ‘M-A-S-H’ Dies at Age 72

Kellye Nakahara Wallett, a film and television actress best known for playing Lt. Nurse Kellye Yamato on “M-A-S-H,” has died at age 72.

Son William Wallett told The Associated Press that Wallett died Sunday after a brief battle with cancer. She was at her home in Pasadena, California, surrounded by family and friends.

A native of O’ahu, Hawaii, who was listed as Kellye Nakahara while in “M-A-S-H,” Wallett also appeared in the film “Clue” and in John Hughes’ “She’s Having a Baby.” More recently, she worked as a watercolor artist and was involved in the local arts community. She is survived by her husband, David Wallett; two children and four grandchildren.

“M-A-S-H,” the acclaimed sitcom set during the Korean War, ran from 1972-83. Nurse Kellye carries a secret crush on the show’s major character, the womanizing surgeon Hawkeye Pierce, played by Alan Alda. In a memorable scene, Kellye reveals her feelings, scolding Hawkeye for having his “eyes … on every nurse” except her.

“For your information,” she tells him, “I happen to have a fantastic sense of humor, a bubbly personality and I am warm and sensitive like you wouldn’t believe. I also sing and play the guitar and I’m learning to tap dance. And on top of all that, I happen to be cute as hell.”

From: MeNeedIt