Trump Says Coronavirus ‘Very Well Under Control’ in US

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President Donald Trump sought Tuesday to minimize fears about coronavirus spreading rampantly throughout the U.S., saying the situation is “very well under control in our country.”
   
At the same time, the Trump administration on Monday asked Congress for an additional $2.5 billion to prepare in case of a widespread outbreak and to assist other nations.
   
“We have very few people with it,” the president said at a news conference in India near the close of a two-day visit.
   
Trump referenced a group of 14 Americans who tested positive for coronavirus and were among hundreds of U.S. citizens recently evacuated from a cruise ship off the Japanese coast and brought to U.S. facilities.
   
Trump said those individuals were placed into quarantine and “we think they’ll be in very good shape very, very soon.”
   
In earlier remarks Tuesday, Trump said he wants the additional $2.5 billion to shore up defenses “in case something should happen” and to help other countries.
   
The White House budget office said the funding would be used for vaccine development, treatment and protective equipment, but Democrats immediately slammed the request as insufficient.
   
The budget request came as coronavirus fears were credited with Monday’s 1,000-plus-point drop in the Dow Jones Industrial Average.
   
The rapid spread of the virus around the world and its threat to the global economy has rocked financial markets, but Trump said China is getting the epidemic under control.
 
 “They’ve had a rough patch and … it looks like they’re getting it under control more and more,” Trump said. “They’re getting it more and more under control so I think that’s a problem that’s going to go away, but we lost almost 1,000 points yesterday on the (stock) market.”
   
The funding request released Monday evening came as key government accounts were running low. The Department of Health and Human Services had already tapped into an emergency infectious disease rapid response fund and was seeking to transfer more than $130 million from other HHS accounts to combat the virus but is pressing for more.
   
The Trump administration is requesting $1.25 billion in new funding and wants to transfer $535 million more from an Ebola preparedness account that’s been a top priority of Democrats. It anticipates shifting money from other HHS accounts and other agencies to complete the $2.5 billion response plan.
   
Democrats said Trump’s attempt to tap existing Ebola prevention funding was dead on arrival.
   
“All of the warning lights are flashing bright red. We are staring down a potential pandemic, and the administration has no plan,” said Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., who blasted a shortage of kits to test for the virus and Trump’s proposed budget cuts to health agencies including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “We have a crisis of coronavirus, and President Trump has no plan, no urgency, no understanding of the facts or how to coordinate a response.”
   
Trump said a “lot of talent” and a “lot of brainpower” was being tapped for the coronavirus response. He criticized Schumer for panning the budget request.
   
“These characters,”Trump said of Democrats. “They’re just not good for our country.’”   
Democrats in control the House wrote HHS Secretary Alex Azar earlier this month to request funds to help speed development of a coronavirus vaccine, expand laboratory capacity and beef up screening efforts at U.S. entry points. Azar was slated to testify before the Senate Appropriations Committee on Tuesday, and the U.S. response to the outbreak is sure to be a major topic.
   
The quickly spreading virus has slammed the economy of China, where the virus originated, and caseloads are rapidly increasing in countries such as South Korea, Iran and Italy. More than 80,000 people around the world have been infected with coronavirus, with more than 2,500 deaths, mostly in China.
   
As of Tuesday, the United States had 35 of the more than 80,000 known cases. Separately, one U.S. citizen died in China.

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Dozens of HIV-Positive S. African Women Forcibly Sterilized

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A scathing new report reveals that dozens of HIV-positive women were forced or coerced into sterilization after giving birth at public hospitals in South Africa.The Commission for Gender Equality’s report this week says it investigated complaints by at least 48 women of “cruel, torturous or inhumane and degrading treatment” at the hospitals. At times it occurred when women were in labor.
    
In many cases, “the hospitals’ staff had threatened not to assist them in giving birth” if they didn’t sign the consent forms for sterilization, the report says. The commission is a statutory body that operates as an independent watchdog.
    
The forced sterilizations at 15 public hospitals in South Africa between 2002 and 2005 have sparked public outrage. Some of the hospitals are in some of the country’s largest cities such as Johannesburg and Durban.
    
“When I asked the nurse what the forms were for, the nurse responded by saying: ‘You HIV people don’t ask questions when you make babies. Why are you asking questions now? You must be closed up because you HIV people like making babies and it just annoys us,'” the report quotes one complainant as saying.
    
The commission said its investigation took time because of challenges including some hospital staffers who tried to hide documents or refused to cooperate.
    
It will refer its report to the Health Professions Council of South Africa, which has a mandate to act against health care practitioners.
    
The World Health Organization says South Africa has the largest HIV epidemic in the world with more than 7 million people living with the illness. Some 19% of the people around the world with HIV live in the country, which also has 15% of new infections.
    
The commission has recommended that further research be done into how widespread the practice of forced sterilization of women living with HIV might be in South Africa.

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Britain’s Top Cop Calls for Law on Police Use of Artificial Intelligence

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Britain’s most senior police officer on Monday called on the government to create a legal
framework for police use of new technologies such as artificial intelligence.Speaking about live facial recognition, which police in London started using in January, London police chief Cressida Dick said that she welcomed the government’s 2019 manifesto pledge to create a legal framework for the police use of new technology like AI, biometrics and DNA.”The best way to ensure that the police use new and emerging tech in a way that has the country’s support is for the government to bring in an enabling legislative framework that is debated through Parliament, consulted on in public and which will outline the boundaries for how the police should or should not use tech,” Dick said.”Give us the law and we’ll work within it,” she added. Dick rejected evidence that facial recognition algorithms are racially discriminatory in that their accuracy rates vary depending on the skin colour of the person they detect.”We know there are some cheap algorithms that do have ethnic bias but, as I’ve said, ours doesn’t and currently the only bias in it is that it shows it is slightly harder to identify a wanted woman than a wanted man,” she said. The London police’s facial recognition technology is provided by NEC, a Japanese company.

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NASA Says Pioneering Black Mathematician Katherine Johnson Has Died

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NASA says Katherine Johnson, a mathematician who worked on NASA’s early space missions and was portrayed in the film “Hidden Figures,” about pioneering black female aerospace workers, has died.
   
In a Monday morning tweet, the space agency said it celebrates her 101 years of life and her legacy of excellence and breaking down racial and social barriers.
   
Johnson was one of the so-called “computers” who calculated rocket trajectories and earth orbits by hand during NASA’s early years.
   
Until 1958, Johnson and other black women worked in a racially segregated computing unit at what is now called Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia. Their work was the focus of the Oscar-nominated 2016 film.
   
In 1961, Johnson worked on the first mission to carry an American into space. In 1962, she verified computer calculations that plotted John Glenn’s earth orbits.
   
At age 97, Johnson received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor.
   
Johnson focused on airplanes and other research at first. But her work at NASA’s Langley Research Center eventually shifted to Project Mercury, the nation’s first human space program.
   
“Our office computed all the [rocket] trajectories,” Johnson told The Virginian-Pilot newspaper in 2012. “You tell me when and where you want it to come down, and I will tell you where and when and how to launch it.”
   
In 1961, Johnson did trajectory analysis for Alan Shepard’s Freedom 7 Mission, the first to carry an American into space. The next year, she manually verified the calculations of a nascent NASA computer, an IBM 7090, which plotted John Glenn’s orbits around the planet.

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WHO Warns It is Running Out of Money to Tackle Ebola Epidemic in DRC

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The World Health Organization is urgently appealing for $40 million to salvage its operation to bring the Ebola epidemic to an end in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo. The Ebola operation in eastern DR Congo’s conflict-ridden North Kivu and Ituri provinces is on financial life-support.  The World Health Organization reports its coffers will be empty at the end of this month.  It is urging donors to step up immediately and contribute the money needed to tackle this virulent disease.  WHO spokesman Tarik Jasarevic says failure to support this operation would be tragic as good progress is being made in containing the Ebola virus.  Over the past two months, he says between three and 15 cases of Ebola have been reported each week.   This is compared to 120 reported cases of Ebola in April 2019.“Last week there was only one case reported and we are down to only two health zones in eastern DRC where we have Ebola cases.  But again, if we do not receive this funding, we risk obviously to have more spread of the virus.  So, therefore, there is this appeal to get more funding,” he said. WHO reports 3433 cases of Ebola, including 2253 deaths, for an overall case fatality rate of 66 percent.  Jasarevic says money from the $40 million appeal also will be used for preparedness activities in neighboring countries.  FILE – A person dressed in Ebola protective apparel is seen inside an Ebola care facility at the Bwera general hospital near the border with the Democratic Republic of Congo in Bwera, Uganda, June 14, 2019.He notes a modest WHO investment of $18 million in helping Uganda set up screening, monitoring and other systems succeeded in stopping Ebola from taking root in that country last year.He tells VOA it is crucial that the Ebola operation not be interrupted because as long as there is one case of the disease, there will be a risk of further spread.“So, we have to really get down to zero.  We are making progress, but again, whether you have one case, or you have more cases, the activities that you have to put in place are the same.  So, we need to make sure that activities are funded,” said Jasarevic. There have been eight confirmed cases of Ebola reported from Beni and Mabalako in North Kivu Province in the past 21 days.  But WHO reports there have been no new cases reported for more than 42 days from Butembo and Mambasa Health Zones.  WHO calls the reduction of geographic spread of the Ebola virus and the declining number of cases encouraging.   

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Italy Town Shuts Schools, Cafes as 6 Test Positive for Virus

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Italian officials ordered schools, public buildings, restaurants and coffee shops closed in a tiny town in northern Italy Friday after six people tested positive for the new virus, including some who had not been to China or the source of the global health emergency.
    
The new cases represented the first infections in Italy acquired through secondary contagion and tripled the country’s total to nine. The first to fall ill met with someone in early February who had returned from China on Jan. 21 without presenting any symptoms of the new virus, health authorities said.
    
Authorities think that person passed the virus onto the 38-year-old Italian, who went to a hospital in the town of Codogno with flu-like symptoms on Feb. 18 but was sent home. He returned to the hospital after his conditions worsened and is now in intensive care, Lombardy region public welfare director Giulio Gallera said.
    
The man’s wife and a friend who did sports with him have also tested positive for the virus. The Italian Health Ministry ordered anyone who came into direct contact with the three to be quarantined for 14 days. About 150 people, including medical personnel, were in isolation undergoing tests.
    
Another three people in the Lombardy region also tested positive Friday, the health ministry said later.

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US States Step Up Funding for Planned Parenthood Clinics

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Several states have begun picking up the tab for family planning services at clinics run by Planned Parenthood, which last year quit a $260 million federal funding program over a Trump administration rule prohibiting clinics from referring women for abortions.
    
States including New Jersey, Massachusetts and Hawaii already are providing new funding, and Democratic governors in Connecticut and Pennsylvania have proposed carving out money in state budgets to counter the effects of the national provider’s fallout with the Republican presidential administration.
    
The proposals have stirred political debates over abortion at the state level, with some opponents claiming it’s a government endorsement of abortion and an inappropriate use of taxpayer money.
    
Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont earmarked $1.2 million for Planned Parenthood in his new budget proposal. The executive director of the Connecticut Catholic Conference, Christopher Healy, criticized it as a purely political act.
    
“Where is the pressing need here to do this?” Healy said, arguing Planned Parenthood does not need taxpayer money. “They have the ability to raise money.”
    
Lamont said he wants to help cover an expected shortfall for Planned Parenthood to ensure women in Connecticut have access to all the health services they need. A spokesman for Lamont said the administration doesn’t want the abortion debate to stymie access to things like contraception and cervical cancer screenings.
   
“Look, this is the law of the land. Here in a state like this, we believe that abortion rights are right, and we believe they ought to be affordable for folks who otherwise might not have that availability,” Lamont said. “So I think it’s the right thing to do.”
    
Nationwide, about 4 million women across the U.S., many low-income and uninsured, were receiving services last year under the Title X federal program, including STD testing, various screenings, education and wellness exams. Planned Parenthood and some other providers decided to withdraw from the program  rather than comply with what Planned Parenthood calls the Trump administration’s “gag order,” which bars clinics that participate in Title X from referring women for abortions. The move caused a money crunch for some clinics.
    
Since then, some of the rejected federal funds have been replenished by state or local funds in Hawaii, Illinois, Maryland, Vermont, Oregon, Washington, Massachusetts, California and New York. Hawaii’s current fiscal year budget sets aside $750,000 to partly cover a $2 million loss in Title X grant money.
    
In Massachusetts, Republican Gov. Charlie Baker signed legislation authorizing up to $8 million. In California, the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors last year voted to cover a $482,000 expected shortfall for six Planned Parenthood clinics serving 36,274 patients. And Pennsylvania’s Democratic governor, Tom Wolf, has included a $3 million line item in his proposed 2020-21 budget to also help offset the funding loss for Planned Parenthood providers.
    
In Oregon, the lead plaintiff in a lawsuit challenging the Trump administration’s rule, a spokesman for Planned Parenthood Advocates of Oregon said the agency has been “working closely with state officials to create critical backstops and protect access to care for all Oregonians who need it, regardless of federal action on Title X,” and commended Gov. Kate Brown, a Democrat, for prioritizing funding for reproductive health services.
    
Abortion opponents have accused governors of providing the money to gain favor with an organization that often supports Democrats at election time.
    
In New Jersey, where Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy last month signed legislation that set aside $9.5 million in state money for family planning at Planned Parenthood, New Jersey Right to Life called it a disgraceful money grab.
    
“The taxpayers of NJ should not be forced to fund abortion, and make no mistake, that is what this bill will do,” Marie Tasy, the group’s executive director, said in a written statement.
    
Title X regulations prohibit funds from being used for abortions, with some narrow exceptions, and the money Lamont has proposed would fund Title X services and not on abortions, according to Connecticut’s Department of Public Health.
Abortion opponents in Connecticut have argued for years that state funds should not be used for abortions or abortion referrals. The state’s health insurance program paid for 6,995 abortions in 2018. A Department of Social Services spokesman said Connecticut is under a court order to pay for any abortion for a Medicaid-covered woman that she and her doctor have determined to be necessary.
    
The state money budgeted by Lamont would not go toward abortions, as it would fund only Title X services, according to state health officials. But opponents say that regardless of where it goes, the money for Planned Parenthood makes it appear the state is outwardly advocating for abortion.
    
“I’m disturbed by it, that it’s now state policy to outwardly advocate it no, matter what,”said Chris O’Brien, executive director of Connecticut Right to Life.
    
It’s unclear how long the help from states will continue.
    
Jacqueline Ayers, vice president of government relations and public policy at Planned Parenthood Federation of America, said it’s “encouraging” that governors and state legislators are trying to fill the gap, but said the state-by-state efforts cannot replace the nearly 50-year-old Title X program.
    
“While we applaud leaders in the states for taking these temporary but critical steps, we must continue fighting for a nationwide solution,” Ayers said. “Only Congress has the power to permanently stop this harmful rule, and people across the country are continuing to call on them to do so.”

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First Coronavirus Case Confirmed in Lebanon, Linked to Iranian City of Qom

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Lebanon confirmed its first coronavirus case Friday, a 45-year-old woman who had arrived from Iran and was being quarantined in a hospital.”We confirmed the first case today,” Lebanese health minister Hassan Hamad told a news conference, adding that two other suspected cases are being investigated.The woman arrived Thursday on a flight from the city of Qom in Iran. The woman and two other suspected victims were quarantined at the Rafik Hariri government hospital in Beirut.Meanwhile, Iranian health authorities Friday reported two more deaths from the new coronavirus.Lebanese Health Minister Hassan Hamad speaks during a news conference, in Beirut, Lebanon, Feb. 21, 2020.The spokesman of Iran’s health ministry, Kianoush Jahanpour said the newly detected cases are all linked with Qom, where the first two elderly patients died Wednesday. So far, 18 cases have been confirmed in Iran, including the four who died.Another official with Iran’s health ministry, Minoo Mohraz, said the virus “possibly came from Chinese workers who work in Qom and traveled to China.” A Chinese company has been building a solar power plant in Qom.Qom is a popular religious destination and a center of learning and religious studies for Shi’ite Muslims from inside Iran, as well as Iraq, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Azerbaijan.Cases elsewhereIn neighboring Turkey, Health Minister Fahrettin Koca said officials have started to screen travelers arriving from Iran at border gates and are refusing entry to anyone with signs of illness. He also said Iranians who have traveled to Qom in the past 14 days will be refused entry.There have been few virus cases in the Middle East. Nine cases have been confirmed in the United Arab Emirates, and one case in Egypt.Iran’s neighbor Iraq, which hasn’t reported any cases yet, suspended visas on arrival for Iranian passport holders and stopped direct flights between the two countries.Also Friday, one of 11 Israelis who were flown home after being quarantined on a cruise ship in Japan has tested positive for the virus. Israel’s Health Ministry says this is the first case to be reported inside Israel. The Israeli cruise ship passengers all had initially tested negative after arriving on a charter plane overnight.Another four Israelis were hospitalized in Japan after testing positive for the virus.
 

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