Scientists Finally Finish Decoding Entire Human Genome 

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Scientists say they have finally assembled the full genetic blueprint for human life, adding the missing pieces to a puzzle nearly completed two decades ago.

An international team described the first-ever sequencing of a complete human genome – the set of instructions to build and sustain a human being – in research published Thursday in the journal Science. The previous effort, celebrated across the world, was incomplete because DNA sequencing technologies of the day weren’t able to read certain parts of it. Even after updates, it was missing about 8% of the genome.

“Some of the genes that make us uniquely human were actually in this ‘dark matter of the genome’ and they were totally missed,” said Evan Eichler, a University of Washington researcher who participated in the current effort and the original Human Genome Project. “It took 20-plus years, but we finally got it done.”

Many — including Eichler’s own students — thought it had been finished already.

“I was teaching them, and they said, ‘Wait a minute. Isn’t this like the sixth time you guys have declared victory? I said, ‘No, this time we really, really did it!” Eichler said.

Scientists said this full picture of the genome will give humanity a greater understanding of our evolution and biology while also opening the door to medical discoveries in areas like aging, neurodegenerative conditions, cancer and heart disease.

“We’re just broadening our opportunities to understand human disease,” said Karen Miga, an author of one of the six studies published Thursday.

The research caps off decades of work. The first draft of the human genome was announced in a White House ceremony in 2000 by leaders of two competing entities: an international publicly funded project led by an agency of the U.S. National Institutes of Health and a private company, Maryland-based Celera Genomics.

The human genome is made up of about 3.1 billion DNA subunits, pairs of chemical bases known by the letters A, C, G and T. Genes are strings of these lettered pairs that contain instructions for making proteins, the building blocks of life. Humans have about 30,000 genes, organized in 23 groups called chromosomes that are found in the nucleus of every cell.

Before now, there were “large and persistent gaps that have been in our map, and these gaps fall in pretty important regions,” Miga said.

Miga, a genomics researcher at the University of California-Santa Cruz, worked with Adam Phillippy of the National Human Genome Research Institute to organize the team of scientists to start from scratch with a new genome with the aim of sequencing all of it, including previously missing pieces. The group, named after the sections at the very ends of chromosomes, called telomeres, is known as the Telomere-to-Telomere, or T2T, consortium.

Their work adds new genetic information to the human genome, corrects previous errors and reveals long stretches of DNA known to play important roles in both evolution and disease. A version of the research was published last year before being reviewed by scientific peers.

“This is a major improvement, I would say, of the Human Genome Project,” doubling its impact, said geneticist Ting Wang of the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, who was not involved in the research.

Eichler said some scientists used to think unknown areas contained “junk.”

“Some of us always believed there was gold in those hills,” he said. Eichler is paid by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, which also supports The Associated Press’s health and science department.

Turns out that the gold Eichler believed in includes many important genes, he said, such as some integral to making a person’s brain bigger than a chimp’s, with more neurons and connections.

To find such genes, scientists needed new ways to read life’s cryptic genetic language.

Reading genes requires cutting the strands of DNA into pieces hundreds to thousands of letters long. Sequencing machines read the letters in each piece and scientists try to put the pieces in the right order. That’s especially tough in areas where letters repeat.

Scientists said some areas were illegible before improvements in gene sequencing machines that now allow them to, for example, accurately read a million letters of DNA at a time. That allows scientists to see genes with repeated areas as longer strings instead of snippets that they had to later piece together.

Researchers also had to overcome another challenge: Most cells contain genomes from both mother and father, confusing attempts to assemble the pieces correctly. T2T researchers got around this by using a cell line from one “complete hydatidiform mole,” an abnormal fertilized egg containing no fetal tissue that has two copies of the father’s DNA and none of the mother’s.

The next step? Mapping more genomes, including ones that include collections of genes from both parents. This effort did not map one of the 23 chromosomes that is found in males, called the Y chromosome, because the mole contained only an X.

Wang said he’s working with the T2T group on the Human Pangenome Reference Consortium, which is trying to generate reference, or template, genomes for 350 people representing the breadth of human diversity.

“Now we’ve gotten one genome right and we have to do many, many more,” Eichler said. “This is the beginning of something really fantastic for the field of human genetics.”

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South Koreans Flock Overseas for ‘Revenge Travel’ as COVID Rules Ease

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After spending two years being socially distanced in his home country of South Korea, Kim Hoe-jun booked a last-minute flight to Hawaii, where he had enjoyed his honeymoon six years ago, giving in to his craving for overseas travel.

“I bought the ticket just a week ago, but it was rather a no-brainer. It felt like I was making up for those two years not being able to go abroad often as I used to before COVID,” he said, before boarding the plane from Incheon International Airport on Friday.

Vaccinated and boosted, Kim and his wife are among South Koreans joining in a rush for “revenge travel” — a term that has been trending on social media as people scramble to book overseas trips that were delayed by coronavirus restrictions.

The boom started after March 21 when South Korea lifted a seven-day mandatory quarantine for fully vaccinated travelers arriving from most countries. The restriction had been eased last year but was reimposed in December as the highly infectious Omicron variant spread.

The country has largely scrapped its once-aggressive tracing and containment efforts despite a record COVID-19 wave, joining a growing list of Asian countries that have eased quarantine rules, including Singapore, Japan, Australia and New Zealand.

Koreans now appear more ready to travel. Polls showed people are less worried about the implications of catching the virus, and increasingly see its prevention as out of their hands.

Sales of overseas flight tickets on 11st, an e-commerce unit of SK Telecom, South Korea’s top mobile carrier, rose more than eight-fold compared with a year before between March 11, when the lifting of quarantine was announced, and March 27, the company said.

Kim Na-yeon, 27, was excited to return to Hawaii, where she used to live.

“I couldn’t dare to travel even in Korea because of COVID,” she said. “But now I feel a bit freer with the exemption, so I’ve decided to go meet old friends and do some sightseeing.”

Exploding demand

Airlines and travel agencies have reported exploding demand for routes to Hawaii, Saipan and Guam, as well as some destinations in Europe and Southeast Asia where tourists submitting a vaccination certificate or negative test result are exempted from quarantine.

Saipan and Guam, both of which have travel bubble pacts with South Korea, also offer free COVID testing and pay for quarantine expenses if a traveler tests positive. Each South Korean national visiting Saipan receives $100 in “travel bucks” to spend at businesses there.

The tour arm of online retail giant Interpark reported a 324% growth in flight bookings for Oceania between March 11-22 from the same period of 2021, a 268% increase for Southeast Asia and 262% more bookings for Europe.

On Sunday, the company sold a record 5,200 Hawaii tour packages within 70 minutes. CJ Corp’s home shopping unit said it received about 2,800 orders for a Spain and Italy trip in one hour on Sunday, totaling 15 billion won ($12.41 million), days after garnering 9 billion won ($7.4 million) from its sales of a Hawaii package.

“The surge reflects growing customer sentiment that an end of COVID travel curbs might be in the offing after the mandatory quarantine was lifted,” said Lee Jeong-pil, general manager of CJ’s home shopping unit.

Lee Tae-woo, a 36-year-old frequent traveler to Japan, said he has changed some money into yen, taking advantage of the currency’s sharp decline and hoping to jump on the revenge travel bandwagon soon.

Though Japan has yet to allow tourists back in, it has reduced the quarantine period for arrivals for business and other purposes to three days from seven this month and signaled further easing of travel curbs.

“It’s been a long wait, and I’m ready to go back as soon as they finally open up again and visit my favorite coffee roastery and enjoy the night view from Shibuya station,” Lee said, referring to Tokyo’s bustling central district.

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CDC Drops COVID-19 Health Warning for Cruise Ship Travelers

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Federal health officials are dropping the warning they have attached to cruising since the beginning of the pandemic, leaving it up to vacationers to decide whether they feel safe getting on a ship.

Cruise-ship operators welcomed Wednesday’s announcement, which came as many people thought about summer vacation plans.

An industry trade group said the move by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention validated measures that ship owners have taken, including requiring crew members and most passengers to be vaccinated against the virus.

The CDC removed the COVID-19 “cruise ship travel health notice” that was first imposed in March 2020, after virus outbreaks on several ships around the world.

However, the agency expressed reservations about cruising.

“While cruising will always pose some risk of COVID-19 transmission, travelers will make their own risk assessment when choosing to travel on a cruise ship, much like they do in all other travel settings,” CDC spokesperson Dave Daigle said in an email.

Daigle said the CDC’s decision was based on “the current state of the pandemic and decreases in COVID-19 cases onboard cruise ships over the past several weeks.”

COVID-19 cases in the United States have been falling since mid-January, although the decline has slowed in recent weeks, and the current seven-day rolling average for daily new cases in the U.S. is roughly unchanged from two weeks ago, according to figures from Johns Hopkins University. States have rolled back mask mandates, putting pressure on federal officials to ease virus-related restrictions.

Outbreaks continue to be reported on cruise ships, which conduct random testing before the end of voyages.

On Sunday, a Princess Cruises ship returning from the Panama Canal had “multiple” passengers who had tested positive for the virus. Princess Cruises said all the affected passengers showed mild symptoms or none at all, and that all crew members and passengers had been vaccinated. About a dozen passengers tested positive before the same boat docked in San Francisco in January.

Operators are required to tell the CDC about virus cases on board ships. The agency has a colored-coded system to classify ships based on the percentage of passengers who test positive. The CDC said that system remains in place.

Cruise-ship operators have complained since the start of the pandemic that their industry has been singled out for a shutdown and then tighter COVID-19 restrictions than others, including airlines.

The Cruise Lines International Association said in a statement that the CDC’s decision to remove its health warning “recognizes the effective public health measures in place on cruise ships and begins to level the playing field between cruise and similarly situated venues on land.”

Colleen McDaniel, editor in chief of Cruise Critic, a site that publishes review of trips, called the CDC decision big news.

“Symbolically it’s a notice of winds of change when it comes to cruising,” she said. “I do think it can convince some of the doubters. What the CDC says does matter to cruisers.”

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Towering Ice Volcanoes Identified on Surprisingly Vibrant Pluto

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A batch of dome-shaped ice volcanoes that look unlike anything else known in our solar system and may still be active have been identified on Pluto using data from NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft, showing that this remote frigid world is more dynamic than previously known.

Scientists said that these cryovolcanoes — numbering perhaps 10 or more — stand anywhere from 1 kilometer (six-tenths of a mile) to 7 kilometers (4-1/2 miles) tall. Unlike Earth volcanoes that spew gases and molten rock, this dwarf planet’s cryovolcanoes extrude large amounts of ice — apparently frozen water rather than some other frozen material — that may have the consistency of toothpaste, they said.

Features on the asteroid belt dwarf planet Ceres, Saturn’s moons Enceladus and Titan, Jupiter’s moon Europa and Neptune’s moon Triton also have been pegged as cryovolcanoes. But those all differ from Pluto’s, the researchers said, owing to different surface conditions such as temperature and atmospheric pressure, as well as different mixes of icy materials.

“Finding these features does indicate that Pluto is more active, or geologically alive, than we previously thought it would be,” said planetary scientist Kelsi Singer of the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colorado, lead author of the study published this week in the journal Nature Communications.

“The combination of these features being geologically recent, covering a vast area and most likely being made of water ice is surprising because it requires more internal heat than we thought Pluto would have at this stage of its history,” Singer added.

Pluto, which is smaller than Earth’s moon and has a diameter of about 2,380 kilometers (1,400 miles), orbits about 5.8 billion kilometers (3.6 billion miles) away from the sun, roughly 40 times farther than Earth’s orbit. Its surface features plains, mountains, craters and valleys.

Images and data analyzed in the new study, obtained in 2015 by New Horizons, validated previous hypotheses about cryovolcanism on Pluto.

The study found not only extensive evidence for cryovolcanism but also that it has been long-lived, not a single episode, said Southwest Research Institute planetary scientist Alan Stern, the New Horizons principal investigator and study co-author.

“What’s most fascinating about Pluto is that it’s so complex – as complex as the Earth or Mars despite its smaller size and high distance from the sun,” Stern said. “This was a real surprise from the New Horizons flyby, and the new result about cryovolcanism re-emphasizes this in a dramatic way.”

The researchers analyzed an area southwest of Sputnik Planitia, Pluto’s large heart-shaped basin filled with nitrogen ice. They found large domes 30-100 kilometers (18-60 miles) across, sometimes combining to form more complexly shaped structures.

An elevation called Wright Mons, one of the tallest, may have formed from several volcanic domes merging, yielding a shape unlike any Earth volcanoes. Although shaped differently, it is similar in size to Hawaii’s large volcano Mauna Loa.

Like Earth and our solar system’s other planets, Pluto formed about 4.5 billion years ago. Based on an absence of impact craters that normally would accumulate over time, it appears its cryovolcanoes are relatively recent — formed in the past few hundred million years.

“That is young on a geologic timescale. Because there are almost no impact craters, it is possible these processes are ongoing even in the present day,” Singer said.

Pluto has lots of active geology, including flowing nitrogen ice glaciers and a cycle in which nitrogen ice vaporizes during the day and condenses back to ice at night — a process constantly changing the planetary surface.

“Pluto is a geological wonderland,” Singer said. “Many areas of Pluto are completely different from each other. If you just had a few pieces of a puzzle of Pluto you would have no idea what the other areas looked like.” 

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Kenya Gets Huawei-Linked Chinese Communications Cable

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China has connected a high-speed, multimillion-dollar, 15,000-kilometer undersea cable to Kenya, as Beijing advances what’s been dubbed its “digital silk road,” and Africa seeks the infrastructure it badly needs for better internet connectivity.  

Chinese giant Huawei is a shareholder in the $425-million PEACE cable, which stands for “Pakistan and East Africa Connecting Europe.” It stretches from Asia to Africa and then into France, where it terminates. 

It reached the coastal city of Mombasa on Tuesday, with the CEO of local partner company Telekom Kenya, Mugo Kibati, saying the cable would help meet the sharp rise in demand for internet services on a continent where internet adoption has trailed the rest of the world, but which is home to a growing, young and increasingly digital population.   

“This ultra-high-capacity cable will assist Kenya and the region in meeting its current and future broadband capacity requirements, bolster redundancy, minimize transit time of our country’s connectivity to Asia and Europe, as well as assist carriers in providing affordable services to Kenyans,” said Kibati.  

Business development

For his part, the PEACE Cable’s COO, Sun Xiaohua, said in a statement that the new infrastructure would “bring more business development to this region.” From Kenya, the cable will later be extended further down the continent’s east coast to South Africa. 


It’s estimated that 95% of international data flows via submarine cables, and in terms of Africa, China dominates, with the most projects aimed at connecting the continent. Aside from the PEACE cable, China’s proposed 2Africa cable will become one of the biggest undersea projects in the world when it goes live in 2024. 


But China’s massive digital infrastructure investments in Africa and elsewhere have not been without controversy, and Washington has expressed deep concerns that Beijing is attempting to monopolize networks and possibly use them for espionage.  

Safety concerns

Some analysts are concerned the technology could be misused by authoritarian leaders on the continent, but Cobus van Staden, a senior China-Africa researcher at the South African Institute of International Affairs, said most Africans simply want better internet. 

“I think this PEACE Cable generally plays very positively in Africa. Obviously, the United States has raised … concerns around this, particularly in relation to security, but I think for lot of African countries, the security issue is actually balanced by the wider issue of a lack of connectivity,” van Staden told VOA.  

Huawei was sanctioned by the U.S. under former president Donald Trump, but the company has built about 70% of Africa’s 4G networks, and van Staden said it seems China is winning the race for digital soft power on the continent. 

“I think there’s a space there for competition, but Western actors will have to step up,” he said.  

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Biden Introduces, Urges Congress to Approve Additional Funding

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U.S. President Joe Biden on Wednesday introduced his administration’s new website,, designed to be a clearinghouse for the latest pandemic information, as well as a means of providing access to vaccines, tests, treatments and masks on a single site.

Speaking to reporters at the White House, Biden also asked Congress to approve an additional $22 billion in emergency funding to help continue the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic.

Biden said the nation was entering a new moment in the pandemic. He stressed that though the pandemic no longer controlled our lives, it was not over, noting an uptick of new cases in recent weeks — as expected, he said.

Biden added that the U.S. now had the tools to protect all people.

The president said provides access to all the tools available to address COVID-19, including a list of all 90,000 vaccination sites in the United States, links to obtaining masks and tests, and where to obtain COVID-19 treatments. The site also has a search function, which can be used to find the latest information on the status of the pandemic in any region in the country.

‘Test-to-treat’ sites

The website also features a so-called “test-to-treat” locator, designed to allow access to U.S. pharmacies and community health centers where anyone can get tested for COVID-19 and, if required, receive appropriate treatment.

The White House said the administration had launched more than 2,000 such sites across the country, as well as 240 in Veterans Affairs and Department of Defense facilities to serve veterans, military personnel and their families.

The president also urged Congress to approve additional funding to fight the pandemic. He said without it, the U.S. would not be able to sustain its testing capacity beyond June, and vaccines could run out as early as September, leaving the nation vulnerable should another wave of the virus that causes COVID-19 hit.

Biden also noted that the U.S. Food and Drug administration on Tuesday approved a second COVID-19 booster — a fourth shot overall for those receiving the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines — for all people over age 50 and people with compromised immune systems.

He urged all eligible people to get their boosters. To prove his point, following his remarks at the White House, he received his fourth vaccination as reporters watched.

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WHO Reports 43 Percent Increase in Global COVID-19 Deaths, While Caseload Drops

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The World Health Organization reported a 43 percent spike in deaths from COVID-19 globally last week, while the number of cases continued to fall worldwide.

In its weekly epidemiological report, the WHO said 45,000 deaths attributed to COVID-19 were reported in the week ending March 27, up from 33,000 the week before. That spike follows a week in which deaths declined by 23 percent.

The agency said the increase in deaths is likely driven by changes in the definition of COVID-19 deaths in nations in the Americas such as Chile and the United States, and by retrospective adjustments reported from India in Southeast Asia.

As an example, Chile had the highest number of new deaths, reporting 11,858, a leap of 1,710 percent from the previous week. The United States saw a smaller but still significant increase of 5,367 new deaths, an increase of 8 percent.

While India saw 4,525 of new deaths; it represented an increase of 619 percent. The WHO said those deaths included numbers from Maharashtra state, which initially were not included in last week’s COVID-19 death toll.

While the number of new cases overall fell globally, three European countries — Germany, Italy and France — all saw an increase in new cases from the previous week. While Germany and Italy reported increases of two and six percent respectively, France reported 845,119 new cases – a increase of 45 percent.

The WHO has said repeatedly that COVID-19 case counts are likely a vast underestimate of the coronavirus’ prevalence. The agency also expressed concern that many countries in recent weeks announced plans to drop their comprehensive testing programs and other surveillance measures. They said doing so will cripple efforts to accurately track the spread of the virus.

Some information for this report was provided by the Associated Press.

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US Astronaut Returns to Earth Safely in Russian Capsule

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A U.S. astronaut has returned to Earth Wednesday aboard a Russian Soyuz spacecraft after nearly a full year aboard the International Space Station, during which relations between the two space giants plummeted over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

The capsule carrying NASA astronaut Mark Vande Hei and Russian cosmonauts, Anton Shkaplerov and Pyotr Dubrov, completed a parachute-assisted landing on the snow-covered steppe of central Kazakhstan, several hours after undocking from the ISS.

For Vande Hei, it ended a U.S. record-breaking stay in space. He was in space for 355 days, breaking the previous record of 340 days set by Scott Kelly in 2016.

NASA says the two countries are continuing to cooperate on the ISS, although Dmitry Rogozin, the head of Russia’s space agency Roscosmos, posted a series of angry tweets shortly after the invasion of Ukraine, suggesting Russia could abandon the ISS and let it plummet back to Earth. He also shared a video showing Russian cosmonauts abandoning Vande Hei on the ISS.

But in a handover ceremony Tuesday before departing the orbital outpost, Shkaplerov, who commanded the latest ISS crew, expressed a more harmonious view.

“People have problems on Earth. On orbit we are one crew,” he said.

The invasion has led to fallout in other areas of cooperation between Moscow and other international partners in space travel. The European Space Agency has postponed an unmanned mission to Mars because it relied on a Russian rocket. And British-based satellite company One Web canceled a series of launches because they also relied on Russian-built rockets, shifting some of them to U.S.-based SpaceX.

Some information for this report was provided by the Associated Press, Reuters and Agence France-Presse.

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Botswana Approves Texas-Made COVID Vaccine, Manufacturing Plant

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Botswana has become the first country in Africa to approve the use of the Texas-made COVID-19 vaccine Corbevax. Botswana’s president and California biotech company NantWorks made the announcement Monday as they began construction of a plant to produce COVID-vaccines and drugs to fight cancer.

CEO of biotech firm NantWorks Patrick Soon-Shiong announced on Monday that Botswana’s Medicines Regulatory Authority (BOMRA) had approved the Corbevax jab.

He made the announcement at a groundbreaking ceremony for a vaccine and cancer drug production facility, along with Botswana’s President Mokgweetsi Masisi.

“I am pleased to announce, Mr. President, with the incredibly hard work of both the Ministry of Health and BOMRA, today we announce Africa’s first approved vaccine for Africa by Botswana,” Soon-Shiong said.

Corbevax is a patent-free COVID vaccine developed by the Baylor College of Medicine and Texas Children’s Hospital in the United States. It has been used in Bangladesh, India, and Indonesia.

Soon-Shiong said the first consignment would be delivered to Botswana for distribution across Africa.

“This vaccine has been tested and shown to be active in every variant including omicron. I got a commitment this morning that Botswana, effective immediately, will have access to 100 million of these vaccines that you can distribute,” Soon-Shiong said.

The plant, which is expected to be operational by 2026, plans to produce vaccines for COVID and other diseases, as well as cancer treatment drugs.

Masisi said the plant heralds a new dawn for the production of pharmaceuticals on the continent.

“This is particularly noteworthy in the Africa region, which bears a disproportionate disease burden exacerbated limitation of resources and capabilities to address these health challenges. We are determined to dictate a new legacy associated with access to medicines, vaccines and other health technologies,” he said.

Masisi said the facility would help address vaccine inequality in Africa, where less than 20% of the population is fully vaccinated against COVID – two years into the pandemic.

“Disparities in the distribution of vaccines across the world resulted in a lopsided vaccination drive that seriously hampered efforts to effectively contain the COVID-19 worldwide. This problem has been aptly defined as vaccine nationalism. It is therefore our intent, our conviction that the opening of this vaccine manufacturing facility, will go a long way in changing this narrative,” Masisi said.

Botswana’s Health Minister Edwin Dikoloti says the project would also help treat chronic diseases.

“This day marks a new level in our scientific development and advancement. It signifies a new technological breakthrough which will see us as not just a consumer but also a manufacturer of vaccines and other medication that will come out of this magnificent project,” Dikoloti said.

Botswana’s vaccine manufacturing facility will be the second in Africa being built by Soon-Shiong.

In January, the South African-born U.S. billionaire opened a similar facility in Cape Town.

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FDA Authorizes Second Vaccine Booster for Those 50 and Older

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The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has authorized a fourth dose of the Pfizer and Moderna COVID-19 vaccines for people 50 and over.

Previously a fourth dose was only authorized for people 12 and up, who are badly immunocompromised.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Prevention and Control will not weigh in on how to implement the FDA’s authorization.

People wanting the fourth shot should only do so at least four months after the previous booster, the FDA said Tuesday.

The FDA’s authorization comes as COVID-19 cases in the U.S. are falling after a winter surge of the omicron variant. 

However, a new subvariant, BA.2, is spreading in Europe and the U.S.

Roughly two-thirds of Americans are fully vaccinated, meaning they’ve had two doses of Pfizer or Moderna or one dose of Johnson & Johnson vaccine. Only half of those eligible have gotten a first booster.

While the vaccines did not stop omicron from circulating widely, health officials say they did help those infected avoid serious illness or death.

The government is also considering authorizing a fourth dose for everyone in the Fall when cases could surge again.

Some information in this report comes from The Associated Press.

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Southern Malawi Records Continued Rise in Cholera Cases

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Southern Malawi has started recording a rise in cholera cases, which health authorities blame on flooding from a recent tropical storm and cyclone. More than 30 people have been infected and two have died. UNICEF is intervening to reduce the spread of the disease.

Malawi confirmed the first cholera case March 2 in the Machinga district.

Health authorities say the disease has so far hit the Nsanje and Machinga districts in southern Malawi with a cumulative number of cases now reaching 33. There have been two deaths as of Friday.

“Out of 33 cases, eight cases were still receiving treatment at the cholera treatment center, Ndamera treatment center specifically. We also have a cumulative number of two deaths. The rest were discharged,” said George Mbotwa, the spokesperson for the Nsanje District Health Office.

He says they have put in place measures to prevent and control the further spread of the disease such as surveillance and contact tracing.

“We are also doing health education; health talks in [evacuation] camps where there are a lot of people and of course in surrounding communities. We have also instituted health workers; HSAs (Health Surveillance Assistants) in all uncharted entry points where actually they are conducting health promotion in water treatment efforts, health talks and all that,” he said. 

Cholera is an acute diarrheal infection caused by ingesting food or water contaminated with bacteria. The disease affects both children and adults if untreated and it can kill within hours. Cholera is more common during the rainy season.

Health authorities in Malawi say the disease is largely a result of floods caused by Tropical Storm Ana and Cyclone Gombe, which hit Malawi in the past two months.

Estere Tsoka, an emergency specialist for the U.N.’s children agency, UNICEF, in Malawi, told VOA that UNICEF is making several interventions to control the further spread of the disease.

“UNICEF is supporting the disinfection of household water sources and also chlorination of water sources at community level that got affected by the floods. UNICEF is also supporting sanitation of the cholera treatment centers that have been established so that they should not become a source of infection,” she said.

Tsoka also says plans are underway to procure a cholera vaccine.

“Also there are plans to administer oral cholera vaccine in eight districts of the country. And UNICEF is providing support to bring in the vaccines in the country and also supporting planning processes for the vaccine’s national campaign.” 

Maziko Matemba, the national health ambassador in Malawi, says cholera can be prevented if community health structures are financially empowered to effectively perform their task of educating communities on matters of hygiene and sanitation particularly in flood-prone areas. 

“Because we already know that we normally have cholera and also floods more especially in that part of Malawi because it’s a low-lying area and our rivers do burst when the rains come more than expected,” Matemba said.

The Ministry of Health said in a statement this week that it is distributing chlorine to communities in affected areas for water treatment as well as sending cholera control information to all the people there through various channels of communication.

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Ice Shelf Collapses in Previously Stable East Antarctica

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An ice shelf the size of New York City has collapsed in East Antarctica, an area long thought to be stable and not hit much by climate change, concerned scientists said Friday.

The collapse, captured by satellite images, marked the first time in human history that the frigid region had an ice shelf collapse. It happened at the beginning of a freakish warm spell last week when temperatures soared more than 70 degrees (40 Celsius) warmer than normal in some spots of East Antarctica. Satellite photos show the area had been shrinking rapidly the last couple of years, and now scientists say they wonder if they have been overestimating East Antarctica’s stability and resistance to global warming that has been melting ice rapidly on the smaller western side and the vulnerable peninsula.

The ice shelf, about 460 square miles wide (1200 square kilometers) holding in the Conger and Glenzer glaciers from the warmer water, collapsed between March 14 and 16, said ice scientist Catherine Walker of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute. She said scientists have never seen this happen in this part of the continent and that makes it worrisome.

“The Glenzer Conger ice shelf presumably had been there for thousands of years and it’s not ever going to be there again,” said University of Minnesota ice scientist Peter Neff.

The issue isn’t the amount of ice lost in this collapse, Neff and Walker said. It’s negligible. But it’s more about the where it happened.

Neff said he worries that previous assumptions about East Antarctica’s stability may not be so right. And that’s important because the water frozen in East Antarctica if it melted — and that’s a millennia-long process if not longer — would raise seas across the globe more than 160 feet (50 meters). It’s more than five times the ice in the more vulnerable West Antarctic Ice Sheet, where scientists have concentrated much of their research.

Scientists had been seeing the ice shelf shrink a bit since the 1970s, Neff said. Then in 2020, the shelf’s ice loss sped up to losing about half of itself every month or so, Walker said.

“We probably are seeing the result of a lot of long time increased ocean warming there,” Walker said. “it’s just been melting and melting.”

And then last week’s warming “probably is something like, you know, the last straw on the camel’s back.”

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EU Negotiators Agree on Landmark Law to Curb Big Tech

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Negotiators from the European Parliament and EU member states agreed Thursday on a landmark law to curb the market dominance of U.S. big tech giants such as Google, Meta, Amazon and Apple.

Meeting in Brussels, the lawmakers nailed down a long list of do’s and don’ts that will single out the world’s most iconic web giants as internet “gatekeepers” subject to special rules.

The Digital Markets Act (DMA) has sped through the bloc’s legislative procedures and is designed to protect consumers and give rivals a better chance to survive against the world’s powerful tech juggernauts.

“The agreement ushers in a new era of tech regulation worldwide,” said German MEP Andreas Schwab, who led the negotiations for the European Parliament.

“The Digital Markets Act puts an end to the ever-increasing dominance of Big Tech companies,” he added.

The main point of the law is to avert the years of procedures and court battles needed to punish Big Tech’s monopolistic behavior in which cases can end with huge fines but little change in how the giants do business.

Once implemented, the law will give Brussels unprecedented authority to keep an eye on decisions by the giants, especially when they pull out the checkbook to buy up promising startups.

“The gatekeepers – they now have to take responsibility,” said the EU’s competition supremo Margrethe Vestager.

“A number of things they can do, a number of things they can’t do, and that of course gives everyone a fair chance,” she added.

‘Concrete impacts’

The law contains about 20 rules that in many cases target practices by Big Tech that have gone against the bloc’s rules on competition, but which Brussels has struggled to enforce.

The DMA imposes myriad obligations on Big Tech, including forcing Apple to open up its App Store to alternative payment systems, a demand that the iPhone maker has opposed fiercely, most notably in its feud with Epic games, the maker of Fortnite.

Google will be asked to clearly offer users of Android-run smartphones alternatives to its search engine, the Google Maps app or its Chrome browser.

A Google spokesperson told AFP that the US internet giant will “take time to study the final text and work with regulators to implement it.”

“While we support many of the DMA’s ambitions around consumer choice and interoperability, we remain concerned that some of the rules could reduce innovation and the choice available to Europeans,” the spokesperson said.

Apple would also be forced to loosen its grip on the iPhone, with users allowed to uninstall its Safari web browser and other company-imposed apps that users cannot currently delete.

In a statement, Apple swiftly expressed regret over the law, saying it was “concerned that some provisions of the DMA will create unnecessary privacy and security vulnerabilities for our users.”

After a furious campaign by influential MEPs, the law also forces messaging services such as Meta-owned WhatsApp to make themselves available to users on other services such as Signal or Apple’s iMessage, and vice versa.

France, which holds the EU presidency and negotiated on behalf of the bloc’s 27 member states, said the law would deliver “concrete impacts on the lives of European citizens.”

“We are talking about the goods you buy online, the smartphone you use every day, and the services you use every day,” said France’s digital affairs minister, Cedric O.

Stiff fines

Violation of the rules could lead to fines as high as 10% of a company’s annual global sales and even 20% for repeat offenders.

The DMA “will have a profound impact on the way some gatekeepers’ operations are currently conducted,” said lawyer Katrin Schallenberg, a partner at Clifford Chance.

“Clearly, companies affected … are already working on ways to comply with or even challenge the regulation,” she added.

The Big Tech companies have lobbied hard against the new rules and the firms have been defended in Washington, where it is alleged that the new law unfairly targets U.S. companies.

With the deal now reached by negotiators, the DMA now faces final votes in a full session of the European Parliament as well as by ministers from the EU’s 27 member states.

The rules could come into place starting Jan. 1, 2023, though tech companies are asking for more time to implement the law.

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Russian Agents Charged With Targeting US Nuclear Plant, Saudi Oil Refinery

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U.S. and British officials on Thursday accused the Russian government of running a yearslong campaign to hack into critical infrastructure, including an American nuclear plant and a Saudi oil refinery.

The announcement was paired with the unsealing of criminal charges against four Russian government officials, whom the U.S. Department of Justice accused of carrying out two major hacking operations aimed at the global energy sector. Thousands of computers in 135 countries were affected between 2012 and 2018, U.S. prosecutors said.

Cybersecurity analysts described the moves as a shot across the bow to Moscow after U.S. President Joe Biden had warned just days ago about “evolving intelligence” that the Russian government might be preparing cyberattacks against American targets.

John Hultquist, whose firm Mandiant investigated the Saudi refinery hack, said that by making the criminal charges public, the United States “let them know that we know who they are.”

In one of the two indictments unsealed on Thursday and dated June 2021, the Justice Department accused Evgeny Viktorovich Gladkikh, a 36-year-old Russian Ministry of Defense research institute employee, of conspiring with others between May and September 2017 to hack the systems of a foreign refinery and install malware known as “Triton” on a safety system produced by Schneider Electric SE.

The refinery wasn’t named, but the British government said it was in Saudi Arabia and had previously been identified as the Petro Rabigh refinery complex on the Red Sea coast.

In a second indictment, dated August 2021, the Justice Department said three other suspected hackers from Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB) carried out cyberattacks on the computer networks of oil and gas firms, nuclear power plants, and utility and power transmission companies between 2012 and 2017 — a campaign researchers have long attributed to a group sometimes dubbed “Energetic Bear” or “Berserk Bear.”

The Russian Embassy in Washington did not immediately return a message seeking comment.

The three accused Russians in the second case are Pavel Aleksandrovich Akulov, 36, Mikhail Mikhailovich Gavrilov, 42, and Marat Valeryevich Tyukov, 39. None of the four defendants have been arrested, a U.S. official said.

Britain’s Foreign Office said that the FSB hackers targeted the systems controlling the Wolf Creek nuclear plant in Kansas “but failed to have any negative impact.”

“Russia’s targeting of critical national infrastructure is calculated and dangerous,” British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss said in a statement. She said it showed Russian President Vladimir Putin “is prepared to risk lives to sow division and confusion among allies.”

A Justice Department official told reporters that even though the hacking at issue in the two cases occurred years ago, investigators remained concerned Russia will carry out similar attacks in future.

“These charges show the dark art of the possible when it comes to critical infrastructure,” the official said.

The official added that the department decided to unseal the indictments because they determined the “benefit of revealing the results of the investigation now outweighs the likelihood of arrests in the future.”

The 2017 Saudi refinery attack stunned the cybersecurity community when it was made public by researchers later that year. Unlike typical digital intrusions aimed at stealing data or holding it for ransom, the attack appeared aimed at causing physical damage to the facility itself by disabling its safety system. U.S. officials have been tracking the case ever since.

In 2019, those behind Triton were reported to be scanning and probing at least 20 electric utilities in the United States for vulnerabilities.

Two weeks before the 2020 U.S. presidential election, the U.S. Treasury Department imposed sanctions on the Russian government-backed Central Scientific Research Institute of Chemistry and Mechanics. Prosecutors believe Gladkikh worked there. On Thursday, British officials also announced sanctions on the institute.

The Foreign Office said FSB hackers had targeted British energy companies and had successfully stolen data from the U.S. aviation sector. It also accused the hackers of trying to compromise an employee of Mikhail Khodorkovsky, a former oil tycoon who fell afoul of the Kremlin and now lives in London. 

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Nigerian Authorities, Partners Raise Concerns of Funding Gaps for TB Programs

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On World Tuberculosis Day, Nigeria said cases of the disease increased by nearly 50 percent last year. At a summit Thursday to heighten awareness of the disease, health authorities said to tackle the epidemic, they need to close a huge funding gap.  

At least 200 people attended the ministerial briefing Thursday in Abuja, where health authorities said confirmed cases jumped from about 138,000 in 2020 to more than 207,000 cases last year.

Health minister Osagie Ehanire said the actual number of cases is probably higher.  

“There’s still a significant gap between the estimated and the notified cases,” he said. “The 207,000 which I spoke of represents only 45 percent of what we estimated.” 

Health authorities said the increase was as a result of heightened surveillance and that Nigeria was one of the few countries in the world to sustain its TB detection program despite COVID-19 disruptions. 

Authorities said there is still a huge funding shortage when it comes to tuberculosis interventions, as only 31% of funding needed for TB control in 2020 was achieved. 

“This year’s world TB Day theme, ‘Invest to End TB, Save Lives,’ is a call to action that resonates with the most critical needs of Nigeria’s national TB program,” said Rachel Goldstein, officer for HIV and TB control for the U.S. Agency for International Development. “We know that the program currently has a significant funding gap, and that’s something we’ve got to work together to advocate for additional resources.”  

Every year, about 590,000 new cases of tuberculosis occur in Nigeria, and around 200,000 people die. 

Experts said apart from low awareness, stigmatization prevents early reporting of the disease.

Joyce Agerl was diagnosed with tuberculosis in 2019, but only began her treatment late last year. Now, she’s helping to warn others about the dangers of the disease. 

“For me, one way I’ll help to give more to the society is to talk to someone about TB,” she said, “and another way is to also do my own publicity on social media.” 

Tuberculosis is a bacterial disease that affects the lungs. Nigeria has the sixth-highest TB burden in the world, and has the most cases in Africa.  


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Peace in Space Despite War on Earth

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NASA says international space cooperation “hasn’t missed a beat” despite Russia’s war on Ukraine and punishing Western sanctions on Moscow. Meanwhile, Europe’s space agency cancels travel plans with Russia, and space station astronauts perform repairs. Arash Arabasadi brings us The Week in Space.]

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WHO: Increased Funding Can End Global TB Epidemic

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The World Health Organization warns the fight against tuberculosis is at a critical juncture. It says the COVID-19 pandemic has reversed gains made since 2000 in saving lives from the infectious disease. For the first time in over a decade, the WHO says TB deaths increased in 2020.

It says around 1.5 million people died of TB during that pandemic year because of disruptions in services and lack of resources. Most deaths have occurred in developing countries, with conflict affected countries across Eastern Europe, Africa, and the Middle East at greatest risk.

The director of the WHO’s Global Tuberculosis Program, Tereza Kaseva, says an extra $1.1 billion a year is needed for the development of new tools, especially new vaccines, to achieve the goal of ending TB by 2030.

She says investing in the fight against tuberculosis is a no-brainer given the benefits gained for each dollar spent.

“For every one dollar invested to end TB, 43 is returned as the benefits of a healthier, functioning society…Ending TB by 2030 can lead to avoiding 23.8 million tuberculosis deaths and almost 13 trillion U.S. dollars in economic losses.”

The WHO says extra funding would allow the world to treat 50 million people with TB, including 3.7 million children and 2.2 million with drug-resistant TB. WHO officials say that would be particularly beneficial for children and young adults who lag adults in accessing TB prevention and care.

Team leader of vulnerable populations in the WHO’s global TB program, Kerri Viney, says 1.1 million children and young adolescents become ill with tuberculosis every year.

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Cameroon Says Hospitals Overwhelmed with Cholera Patients 

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Cameroon’s public health ministry says a cholera outbreak is sweeping across the towns of Limbe, Buea and Tiko, near the border with Nigeria.

The government says 12 of the 600 patients rushed to hospitals in those towns died within the past 72 hours.

Nyenti Annereke, director of the Limbe government hospital, said the facility, which has a capacity of 200 beds, has received more than 240 cholera patients.

“We built three tents in Limbe hospital yesterday because patients were at the veranda, in the corridors of the wards,” he said. “All the beds were full. The Tiko district hospital, the capacity also is overpowered. The hospital in Bota is another crisis zone.”

To cope with the overflow, humanitarian workers are helping to erect tents at the hospitals in Limbe and Buea.

Still, The government says many families are rushing their sick relatives to surrounding towns, including Mutengene and Douala, a commercial hub on the Atlantic coast.

Bernard Okalia Bilai, governor of the South West region where Limbe, Tiko and Buea are located, chaired at least three crisis meetings on Wednesday.

Bilai said the cholera outbreak is caused by a shortage of clean drinking water in western towns and villages provoked by the long dry season and civilians should desist from drinking open stream water. He said the disease is spreading fast because cattle and civilians defecate in the open and in rivers.

“Our structures, the hospitals are overloaded, but thank God that the medical officers in charge of those hospitals have been proactive and they have taken measures to receive various patients,” he said. “All the patients are under treatment.”

Bilai said the government will provide water to arid towns like Limbe, Buea and Tiko and surrounding villages but did not say when.

Meanwhile, health officials are moving from door to door encouraging civilians to boil water from wells and streams before drinking it.

The government says people should also eat only properly cooked food and wash their hands before and after meals, and after using the bathroom.

Another cholera outbreak in Cameroon in February affected 1,300 people and killed about three dozen.

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Moderna Says Its COVID-19 Vaccine Is Safe, Effective for Young Children

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U.S. pharmaceutical company Moderna said Wednesday interim studies it has conducted indicated its COVID-19 vaccine is safe and effective for very young children, and the company is submitting a request for its approval to U.S. and international drug regulators.

In a release published on its website, Moderna said interim data from its Phase 2/3 Study showed “a robust neutralizing antibody response” from a 25 microgram two-dose series of its vaccine among children ages 6 months to just under 2 years of age, and children from 2 years to just under 6.

Based on these results, the company said it will submit a request for approval for the two-dose series for children 6 months to just under 6 years old to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, the European Medicines Agency and other global regulators in the coming weeks.

If approved, it would be the first vaccination available in the United States for children under the age of 5. The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine is currently available in smaller doses for children 5 to 12, and in full-size doses for those 12 and older.

An initial trial of the Pfizer vaccine for 2- to 4-year-olds showed a weaker immune response than in adults, forcing the trial to be extended to test a third dose. Results are expected in April.

Some information for this report was provided by The Associated Press, Reuters and Agence France-Presse.

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Hackers Hit Authentication Firm Okta; Customers ‘May Have Been Impacted’ 

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Okta whose authentication services are used by companies including Fedex and Moody’s to provide access to their networks, said on Tuesday that it had been hit by hackers and that some customers may have been affected.

The scope of the breach is still unclear, but it could have major consequences because thousands of companies rely on San Francisco-based Okta to manage access to their networks and applications.

Chief Security Officer David Bradbury said in a blog post that the computer of a customer support engineer working for a third-party contractor was accessed by the hackers for a five-day period in mid-January and that “the potential impact to Okta customers is limited to the access that support engineers have.”

“There are no corrective actions that need to be taken by our customers,” he said.

Nevertheless, Bradbury acknowledged that support engineers were able to help reset passwords and that some customers “may have been impacted.” He said the company was in the process of identifying and contacting them.

The nature of that impact wasn’t clear, and Okta did not immediately respond to an email asking how many organizations were potentially affected or how that squared with Okta’s advice that customers did not need to take corrective action.

On its website, Okta describes itself as the “identity provider for the internet” and says it has more than 15,000 customers on its platform.

It competes with the likes of Microsoft, PingID, Duo, SecureAuth and IBM to provide identity services such as single sign-on and multifactor authentication used to help users securely access online applications and websites.

Okta’s statement follows the posting of a series of screenshots of Okta’s internal communications by a group of ransom-seeking hackers known as Lapsus$ on their Telegram channel late on Monday.

In an accompanying message, the group said its focus was “ONLY on Okta customers.”

Lapsus$ responded to Okta’s statement on Tuesday by saying the company was trying to minimize the importance of the breach.

Some outside observers weren’t impressed with Okta’s explanation either.

Dan Tentler, the founder of cybersecurity consultancy Phobos Group, earlier told Reuters that Okta customers should “be very vigilant right now.”

There were signs that Okta customers were taking action to revisit their security.

Web infrastructure company Cloudflare issued a detailed explanation  of how it reacted to the Okta breach and saying the company did not believe it had been compromised as a result.

FedEx said in a statement that it too was investigating and “we currently have no indication that our environment has been accessed or compromised.” Moody’s did not return a message seeking comment.

Lapsus$ is a relatively new entrant to the crowded ransomware field but has made waves with high-profile hacks and attention-seeking behavior.

The group compromised the websites of Portuguese media conglomerate Impresa earlier this year, tweeting the phrase “Lapsus$ is now the new president of Portugal” from one newspaper’s Twitter accounts. The Impresa-owned media outlets described the hack as an assault on press freedom.

Last month, the group leaked proprietary information about U.S. chipmaker Nvidia to the Web.

More recently the group has purported to have leaked source code from several big tech firms, including Microsoft. In a blog post published Tuesday and devoted to Lapsus$, the software firm confirmed that one of its accounts had been compromised, “gaining limited access.”

The hackers did not respond to a message left on their Telegram group chat seeking comment.


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New Corporate Climate Change Disclosures Proposed by SEC

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Companies would be required to disclose the greenhouse gas emissions they produce and how climate risk affects their business under new rules proposed Monday by the Securities and Exchange Commission as part of a drive across the government to address climate change. 

Under the proposals adopted on a 3-1 SEC vote, public companies would have to report on their climate risks, including the costs of moving away from fossil fuels, as well as risks related to the physical impact of storms, drought and higher temperatures caused by global warming. They would be required to lay out their transition plans for managing climate risk, how they intend to meet climate goals and progress made, and the impact of severe weather events on their finances. 

The number of investors seeking more information on risk related to global warming has grown dramatically in recent years. Many companies already provide climate-risk information voluntarily. The idea is that, with uniform required information, investors would be able to compare companies within industries and sectors. 

“Companies and investors alike would benefit from the clear rules of the road” in the proposal, SEC Chairman Gary Gensler said. 

The required disclosures would include greenhouse gas emissions produced by companies directly or indirectly — such as from consumption of the company’s products, vehicles used to transport products, employee business travel and energy used to grow raw materials. 

The SEC issued voluntary guidance in 2010, but this is the first-time mandatory disclosure rules were put forward. The rules were opened to a public comment period of around 60 days and they could be modified before any final adoption. 

Climate activists and investor groups have clamored for mandatory disclosure of information that would be uniformly required of all companies. The advocates estimate that excluding companies’ indirect emissions would leave out some 75% of greenhouse gas emissions. 

“Investors can only assess risks if they know they exist,” Mike Litt, consumer campaigns director of the U.S. Public Interest Research Group, said in a prepared statement. “Americans’ retirement accounts and other savings could be endangered if we don’t acknowledge potential liabilities caused by climate change and take them seriously.” 

“Climate risks and harms are growing across our communities with threats to our economy,” said Rep. Kathy Castor, D-Fla., chair of the House Select Committee on the Climate Crisis. “Investors, pension fund managers and the public need better information about the physical and transition-related risks that climate change poses to hard-earned investments,” 

On the other hand, major business interests and Republican officials — reaching down to the state level — began mobilizing against the climate disclosures long before the SEC unveiled the proposed rules Monday, exposing the sharply divided political dynamic of the climate issue. 

Hester Peirce, the sole Republican among the four SEC commissioners, voted against the proposal. “We cannot make such fundamental changes without harming” companies, investors and the SEC, she said. “The results won’t be reliable, let alone comparable.” 

The SEC action is part of a government-wide effort to identify climate risks, with new regulations planned from various agencies touching on the financial industry, housing and agriculture, among other areas. President Joe Biden issued an executive order last May calling for concrete steps to blunt climate risks, while spurring job creation and helping the U.S. reduce greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to climate change. 

Biden has made slowing climate change a top priority and has set a target to cut U.S. greenhouse gas emissions by as much as 52% below 2005 levels by 2030. He also has said he expects to adopt a clean-energy standard that would make electric power carbon-free by 2035, along with the wider goal of net-zero carbon emissions through the economy by 2050. 

“This is a huge step forward to protect our economy and boost transparency for investors and the public,” White House national climate adviser Gina McCarthy tweeted as the SEC acted. 

The premier business lobby, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and the American Petroleum Institute, the oil industry’s top trade group, expressed objections in letters to the SEC last year. 

Frank Macchiarola, senior vice president of policy, economics and regulatory affairs at API, said Monday the group is concerned that the SEC’s proposal could require disclosure of information that isn’t significant for investors’ decisions, “and create confusion for investors and capital markets.” 

“As the (SEC) pursues a final rule, we encourage them to collaborate with our industry and build on private-sector efforts that are already underway to improve consistency and comparability of climate-related reporting,” Macchiarola said in a statement. 

The threat that opponents could take the SEC to court over the regulations has loomed. 

Last June, a group of 16 Republican state attorneys general, led by Patrick Morrisey of West Virginia, raised objections in a letter to SEC Chairman Gensler. “Companies are well positioned to decide whether and how to satisfy the market’s evolving demands, for both customers and investors,” they said. “If the (SEC) were to move forward in this area, however, it would be delving into an inherently political morass for which it is ill-suited.” 

Morrisey previously threatened to sue the SEC over expanded disclosures from companies of environmental, social and governance information. 


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Ukraine War Delays EU Sustainable Farming Proposals

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The European Commission is set to delay the publication of proposals on sustainable farming and nature that were expected this week, with the impact of the war in Ukraine on food supply leading some countries to question the European Union’s environmental push. 

The EU’s “Green Deal” is overhauling all sectors, including agriculture, which produces roughly 10% of EU greenhouse gas emissions. Brussels has targets that include halving chemical pesticide use by 2030 and is drafting laws to make them a reality. 

The EC was due to have made public on Wednesday two new proposals — binding targets to restore nature and a more sustainable pesticides law. 

However, EU Agriculture Commissioner Janusz Wojciechowski on Monday said that the EU would not discuss pesticides at its meeting this week, meaning that the proposal’s publication would be pushed back. He did not comment on the nature restoration plan. 

Earlier, EU Health and Food Safety Commissioner Stella Kyriakides told national agriculture ministers in Brussels that the bloc had to shift to sustainable pesticide use but that the Ukraine crisis did not give the “political space” for a proper discussion now. 

The EC will put forward measures to deal with the impact of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which has driven up prices of wheat and barley, and raised fears of shortages. 

Russia and Ukraine make up more than 30% of global trade in wheat and more than 50% for sunflower oils, seeds and meals. 

One proposal would be to allow cultivation on land lying fallow, a practice that allows the environment to recover between farming cycles. 

The measures are also set to include help for pig farmers, given pork exports to Ukraine are now cut off, and greater freedom to provide state aid. 

A group of 400 scientists and food sector experts on Friday said abandoning sustainable farming practices would be counterproductive. 

“These measures would not move us toward but further away from a reliable food system that is resilient to future shocks, and delivers healthy and sustainable diets,” their statement said. 

They called instead for a shift to crops less reliant on fertilizers produced using Russian gas, and to more plant-based diets to cut the amount of grain needed for animal feed. 


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