Racial Minorities in US Dying From COVID at Higher Rates Than Whites

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Hispanics, Blacks and Asian Americans in the U.S. have been dying at disproportionately higher rates from the coronavirus compared to white Americans, government health experts reported Tuesday. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said in a new report that from late January — when the pandemic first hit U.S. shores from China and Europe — through early October, deaths of white people were about 12% higher than in the same months of the four previous years. But the CDC said deaths of Hispanics in that 2020 timeframe were 53.6% higher than in recent years, with deaths of Blacks up 32.9% and Asian Americans by 36.6%. “These disproportionate increases among certain racial and ethnic groups are consistent with noted disparities in COVID-19 mortality,” the CDC said. The federal health agency said the largest percentage increase in deaths was seen among individuals ages 25 to 44. In absolute numbers, people under age 25 fared best with 841 excess deaths. The total number of excess deaths compared to recent years ranged from 841 fatalities in people younger than 25 to 94,646 among those ages 75 to 84. The U.S. has now recorded more than 220,000 coronavirus deaths and 8.2 million infections, according to Johns Hopkins University. Both figures are the highest of any country across the globe. 
 

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Microsoft Disables Most of Cybercriminals’ Control Over Massive Computer Network

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Microsoft Corp said Tuesday it had disabled more than 90% of the machines used by a gang of Russian-speaking cyber criminals to control a massive network of computers with a potential to disrupt the U.S. election. Aided by a series of U.S. court orders and relationships with technology providers in other countries, Microsoft said its weeklong campaign against the gang running the Trickbot network was heading off a possible source of disruption to the November 3 U.S. vote. “We’ve taken down most of their infrastructure,” corporate Vice President Tom Burt said in an interview. “Their ability to go and infect targets has been significantly reduced.” The criminals in charge of Trickbot have infected more than 1 million personal computers, including many inside local governments, according to cybersecurity professionals. They then make deals with other gangs to install ransomware and other malicious programs on the infected machines, security professionals say. Although there is no evidence that the gang has worked with foreign governments, Burt said he wanted to disrupt Trickbot before the election in case Russian agencies attempted to use it to interfere with voting or cast doubt on the results by manipulating data. Some security experts who had seen little impact from Microsoft’s initial efforts to combat Trickbot said this week that new control servers being brought online by the gang were getting cut off, making it harder for the group to install new programs on infected computers. “Disruption operations against Trickbot are currently global in nature and have had success against Trickbot infrastructure,” said Intel 471 Chief Executive Mark Arena. “Regardless, there still is a small number of working controllers based in Brazil, Colombia, Indonesia and Kyrgyzstan that still are able to respond.” The Trickbot gang is now asking other malware groups to install its software, Arena and others said, and it is expected to rebuild its infrastructure in other ways. Burt said such efforts to adapt would at least distract the gang from bringing chaos to voting or other local government activity if it had been so inclined. 
 

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US First Lady Won’t Join President at Campaign Rally

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U.S. first lady Melania Trump will not join President Donald Trump on the campaign trail Tuesday because of a lingering cough from COVID-19, according to her chief of staff, Stephanie Grisham. Grisham said Tuesday that Mrs. Trump’s health continues to improve daily after she and the president announced in early October that they had contracted the infectious disease. The first lady has decided not to accompany Trump to a campaign rally Tuesday night in Erie, Pennsylvania, “out of an abundance of caution,” Grisham said. Melania Trump, who announced last week that she had recovered from COVID-19, made her last public appearance during the September 29 debate between Trump and Democratic presidential rival Joe Biden.  

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British Finance Chief Defends Government’s COVID-19 Strategy

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Britain’s finance minister Tuesday defended the government’s localized three-tiered approach to fighting the spread of COVID-19 in the country, saying another national lockdown would carry too heavy a cost.Finance Chief Rishi Sunak, also known as the Chancellor of the Exchequer, spoke to the House of Commons Tuesday about the government’s approach and said the government did not rule out tougher restrictions. But when opposition party members called for a temporary two-week “circuit breaker” lockdown — as suggested last week by Britain’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE), Sunak asked the members to “acknowledge the stark reality” of the economic impact of such a lockdown.
 
He said the circuit breaker lockdown would cause unnecessary pain and suffering on those in parts of the country where the virus prevalence is low. A localized approach is the best approach,” he said.
 
Opposition Labor Party Leader Keir Starmer last week called for the circuit breaker lockdown after SAGE made the recommendation. But Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s government has resisted that recommendation in favor of a three-tiered COVID-19 alert system.
 
Johnson’s plan includes areas classified as medium, high or very high virus risk. In the top tier, pubs must close, and people are barred from mixing with members of other households. So far, only the Liverpool and Lancashire regions of northwest England have been placed in Tier 3, the highest level.
 
Nearby Greater Manchester, with a population of almost 3 million, has been holding out for more support for workers and businesses affected by the restrictions.
 
Britain has Europe’s deadliest coronavirus outbreak, with more than 43,800 confirmed deaths.
 
Meanwhile, governments in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales, which control their own health policies, are taking strong steps.  Wales has the strictest plan, imposing a two-week “firebreak” lockdown starting Friday which will close all nonessential businesses and ban most trips outside the home.
 
In Scotland, pubs and other leisure facilities are closed, and sports and live events are banned in the largest cities of Glasgow and Edinburgh, with slightly less stringent restrictions elsewhere.
 
Northern Ireland has closed schools for two weeks, banned most social gatherings and shut down many businesses, including bars and restaurants for a month.

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NASA Spacecraft to Skim Asteroid Surface, Bring Home Sample

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A spacecraft from U.S. space agency NASA is set to touch an asteroid, break off a sample and bring it back to Earth for the first time during a history-making mission that culminates Tuesday.The OSIRIS-REx spacecraft — an acronym for Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security-Regolith Explorer — is set to attempt a touch-and-go sample collection on the asteroid Bennu later Tuesday afternoon. Starting at just before 2 p.m. Eastern time, the spacecraft will begin its set of maneuvers to slowly descend to the Nightingale landing spot on the surface of the asteroid to collect the sample. The event is expected to take more than four hours.In a statement on its website, NASA says OSIRIS-REx is about the size of a large passenger van, has been orbit orbiting the asteroid since 2018 and is now more than 321 million kilometers from Earth. Scientists are interested in Bennu because they believe it contains material from the early solar system and may contain the molecular precursors to life and Earth’s oceans.The asteroid is about as tall as the Empire State Building and could potentially threaten Earth late in the next century, with a 1‐in‐2,700 chance of affecting our planet during one of its close approaches.The OSIRIS-REx spacecraft will orbit the asteroid until next year, when it will begin its journey home to Earth. It is expected to land with the sample in 2023. 

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US Justice Department, 11 States Sue Google

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The U.S. Justice Department along with the attorneys general of 11 states on Tuesday brought a massive anti-trust lawsuit against Google, accusing the tech giant of maintaining illegal monopolies over search and search advertising on the internet.The widely expected lawsuit, the most significant anti-trust case since the Justice Department sued Microsoft for its monopoly of the software market in 1998, stemmed from a yearlong investigation into Google and three other tech giants — Apple, Amazon and Facebook.Attorney General William Barr called the lawsuit a monumental case “both for the Department of Justice and for the American people.”“This lawsuit strikes at the heart of Google’s grip over the internet for millions of American consumers, advertisers, small businesses and entrepreneurs beholden to an unlawful monopolist,” Barr said.Barr said the lawsuit, filed in federal court in Washington, D.C., is not tied to conservative concern over content moderation and censorship by online platforms.In recent years, President Donald Trump and Republicans have accused Google and other online platforms of silencing conservative viewpoints. In May, Trump signed an executive order targeting a law that shields social media companies from liability lawsuits. Last month, the Justice Department proposed legislation to reform the law.In a statement, Google chief legal officer Kent Walker called the lawsuit “deeply flawed.”“People use Google because they choose to, not because they’re forced to, or because they can’t find alternatives,” Walker wrote in a blog post. “This lawsuit would do nothing to help consumers. To the contrary, it would artificially prop up lower-quality search alternatives, raise phone prices, and make it harder for people to get the search services they want to use.”Google’s parent company, Alphabet Inc, is a trillion-dollar company based in California, with revenues of $162 billion last year. Google accounts for nearly 90 percent of all search queries in the United States, making it by far the largest internet search engine.For years, the 64-page lawsuit alleges, Google “has used anticompetitive tactics to maintain and extend its monopolies in the markets for general search services, search advertising, and general search text advertising—the cornerstones of its empire.”Specifically, the lawsuit alleges that Google pays manufacturers like Apple and U.S. wireless carriers, such as AT&T, billions of dollars each year to secure default status for its search engine on billions of devices and computers around the world. Users rarely change the default, effectively blocking rival search engines, the lawsuit alleges.“Google has foreclosed any meaningful search competitor from gaining vital distribution and scale, eliminating competition for a majority of search queries in the United States,” the complaint says.U.S. lawmakers and consumer advocates have long accused Google of exploiting its market clout to suppress competition, increase profits and hurt consumers. A recent House Judiciary subcommittee report concluded after a yearlong investigation into Silicon Valley’s market dominance that Google has monopolized the search market. The report said Google established its dominant position through acquisition in several markets, buying about 260 companies that other businesses had developed over a 20-year span.The state attorneys general participating in the lawsuit represent Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, South Carolina, and Texas. All are Republican. A separate group of states is expected to file a lawsuit against Google later this year.In recent years, Google has faced hefty fines over its business practices in Europe. The European Union fined Google $1.7 billion in 2019 for stopping websites from using Google’s rivals to find advertisers, $2.6 billion in 2017 for favoring its own shopping business in search, and $4.9 billion in 2018 for blocking rivals on its wireless Android operating system, the Reuters news agency reported. 

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Emergency Food Needs Surge as COVID-19 Continues to Spread

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The World Food Program reports food insecurity is increasing worldwide because of the devastating socio-economic impact of COVID-19, with tens of millions of people on the verge of famine.Hunger is on the rise as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to rage across the world. Last year, the World Food Program, the world’s largest humanitarian operation fighting hunger, provided food aid to nearly 100 million people.  Amer Daoudi is WFP senior director of operations and corporate response.  He tells VOA the number of people who do not know where their next meal is coming from has risen by 39 percent this year.“So, the global figure is the immediate need 138 million but if the situation continues to deteriorate, we can end up with almost 260 million people in critical need,” Daoudi said.   The latest Integrated Phase Classification, a system that gauges the severity of food emergencies finds 146 million people in 49 countries are facing an acute food and livelihood crisis.  The IPC finds another 29 million people in 36 countries are on the verge of famine.Daoudi says WFP will need $5.1 billion to deal with this hunger crisis over the next six months.  He says countries in Africa are among those in greatest need.  He notes 13 million people in the Central Sahelian countries of Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger have been laid low by the pandemic as well as by conflict and climate change.  He says they will require life-saving food assistance.“We are seeing the knock-on effect of COVID, whether it is on trade, socio-economic income, as well as inflation,” Daoudi said.  “In Africa, South Sudan comes to mind.  Sudan, southern Africa region is suffering…DRC—Congo is seeing quite significant increase in needs.  Up to almost 22 million people this year.”The WFP official says similar conditions of distress exist in all regions of the world and are likely to get worse as COVID continues to evolve.  He says the current spike in cases and deaths in the United States, Europe and Latin America are not encouraging. 

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Imperial College London Recruiting Healthy Volunteers to Infect with COVID-19

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The British government is supporting human trials for a potential COVID-19 vaccine in which healthy human subjects will be infected with the virus to accelerate the process.The tests will be conducted by Imperial College London as part of a partnership between government, laboratory and trial services company hVIVO and the Royal Free London NHS Foundation Trust.The government is providing $43.5 million to fund the project, which, if approved by regulators and an ethics committee, would start in January with results expected by May 2021.Researchers say they are seeking recruits between the ages of 18 and 30 with no previous history or symptoms of COVID-19 and no underlying health conditions or adverse factors. They say in the initial phase of the testing, their goal would be to discover the least amount of the virus it takes to infect a person.Once that phase is complete, the researchers say they would study how the vaccine works in the body to stop or prevent COVID-19 and investigate possible treatments.The risk for the volunteers is that at the time of their infection, there will be no known cure. The Imperial College lead researcher on the project, Dr. Chris Chiu, insists the safety of the volunteers is the number one priority.  He said while no study like this is risk free, but scientists would work as hard as possible to limit the risks.The upside, Chiu says, is that these so-called “human challenge studies” can increase understanding of a virus like COVID-19 in unique ways and accelerate the development of treatments and vaccines. 

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Honduras Ex-President Receives Experimental Russian COVID Vaccine

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Former Honduran President Manuel Zelaya is taking part in Phase 3 trials of a potential coronavirus vaccine.  Venezuelan state television showed Zelaya receiving a shot of Russia’s experimental Sputnik V coronavirus vaccine in Caracas on Monday.  Venezuela is the first Latin American country to participate in the testing process.FILE – A Russian medical worker administers a shot of Russia’s experimental Sputnik V coronavirus vaccine in Moscow, Russia, Sept. 15, 2020.Western experts raised questions over the Sputnik V vaccine’s readiness for mass trials, citing the fact that Russia had tested the vaccine on just a small sample group before launching widespread testing. Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro discounted the criticism, expressing satisfaction Zelaya is taking part in the trials.  So far, Venezuela has confirmed more than 87,000 coronavirus cases and at least 736 deaths. 

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