U.S. East Coast Blanketed in Smoke From Canadian Wildfires

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Schools across the U.S. East Coast canceled outdoor activities, airline traffic slowed, and millions of Americans were urged to stay indoors Wednesday as smoke from Canadian wildfires drifted south, blanketing cities in thick, yellow haze.

The U.S. National Weather Service issued air quality alerts for virtually the entire Atlantic seaboard. Health officials from Vermont to South Carolina and as far west as Ohio and Kansas warned residents that spending time outdoors could cause respiratory problems due to high levels of fine particulates in the atmosphere.

“It’s critical that Americans experiencing dangerous air pollution, especially those with health conditions, listen to local authorities to protect themselves and their families,” U.S. President Joe Biden said on Twitter.

U.S. private forecasting service AccuWeather said thick haze and soot extending from high elevations to ground level marked the worst outbreak of wildfire smoke to blanket the Northeastern U.S. in more than 20 years.

New York’s famous skyline, usually visible for miles, appeared to vanish in an otherworldly veil of smoke, which some residents said made them feel unwell.

“It makes breathing difficult,” Mohammed Abass said as he walked down Broadway in Manhattan. “I’ve been scheduled for a road test for driving, for my driving license today, and it was canceled.”

The smoky air was especially tough on people toiling outdoors, such as Chris Ricciardi, owner of Neighbor’s Envy Landscaping in Roxbury, New Jersey. He said he and his crew were curtailing work hours and wearing masks they used for heavy pollen.

“We don’t have the luxury to stop working,” he said. “We want to keep our exposure to the smoke to a minimum, but what can you really do about it?”

Angel Emmanuel Ramirez, 29, a fashion stylist at a Givenchy outlet in Manhattan, said he and fellow workers began feeling ill and closed up shop early when they realized the smell of smoke was permeating the store.

“It’s so intense, you would think the wildfire was happening right across the river, not up in Canada,” Ramirez said. New York Governor Kathy Hochul called the situation an “emergency crisis,” saying the air pollution index for parts of her state were eight times above normal.

Reduced visibility from the haze forced the Federal Aviation Administration to slow air traffic into the New York City area and Philadelphia from elsewhere on the East Coast and upper Midwest, with flight delays averaging about a half hour.

Schools up and down the East Coast called off outdoor activities, including sports, field trips and recesses.

A Broadway matinee of “Prima Facie” was halted after 10 minutes when actress Jodie Comer had difficulty breathing due to poor air quality. The show was restarted with understudy Dani Arlington going on for Comer in the role of Tessa, a production spokesperson said in a statement.

Even Major League Baseball was impacted, as the New York Yankees and the Philadelphia Phillies both postponed home games scheduled for Wednesday. A National Women’s Soccer League match in Harrison, New Jersey, was also rescheduled, as was a WNBA women’s basketball game in Brooklyn.

‘Unhealthy and ‘hazardous’

In some areas, the air quality index (AQI), which measures major pollutants including particulate matter produced by fires, was well above 400, according to Airnow, which sets 100 as “unhealthy” and 300 as “hazardous.”

At noon (1600 GMT), Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, was recording the nation’s worst air quality index, with an AQI reading of 410. Among major cities, New York had the highest AQI in the world on Wednesday afternoon at 342, about double the index for chronically polluted cities such as Dubai (168) and Delhi (164), according to IQAir.

Smoke drifting from Canada

Smoke billowed over the U.S. border from Canada, where hundreds of forest fires have scorched 3.8 million hectares and forced 120,000 people from their homes in an unusually early and intense start to the wildfire season.

The skies above New York and many other North American cities grew progressively hazier through Wednesday, with an eerie yellowish tinge filtering through the smoky canopy. The air smelled like burning wood.

Wildfire smoke has been linked with higher rates of heart attacks and strokes, increases in emergency room visits for asthma and other respiratory conditions, eye irritation, itchy skin and rashes, among other problems.

A Home Depot store in Manhattan sold out of air purifiers and masks. New York Road Runners canceled events intended to mark Global Running Day.

“This is not the day to train for a marathon or to do an outside event with your children,” New York Mayor Eric Adams advised. “If you are older or have heart or breathing problems or an older adult, you should remain inside.”

Pedestrians donned face masks in numbers that brought to mind the worst days of the coronavirus pandemic.

Tyrone Sylvester, 66, playing chess in Manhattan’s Union Square as he has on most days for 30 years, but wearing a mask, said he had never seen the city’s air quality so bad.

“When the sun looks like that,” he said, pointing out the bronze-like orb visible through the smoky sky, “we know something’s wrong. This is what global warming looks like.”

Poor air quality is likely to persist into the weekend, with a developing storm system expected to shift the smoke westward across the Great Lakes and deeper south through the Ohio Valley and into the mid-Atlantic region, AccuWeather said.

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Newer Transplant Method Could Boost Number of Donor Hearts By 30%

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Most transplanted hearts are from donors who are brain dead, but new research shows a different approach can be just as successful and boost the number of available organs.

It’s called donation after circulatory death, a method long used to recover kidneys and other organs but not more fragile hearts. Duke Health researchers said Wednesday that using those long-shunned hearts could allow possibly thousands more patients a chance at a lifesaving transplant — expanding the number of donor hearts by 30%.

“Honestly if we could snap our fingers and just get people to use this, I think it probably would go up even more than that,” said transplant surgeon Dr. Jacob Schroder of Duke University School of Medicine, who led the research. “This really should be standard of care.”

The usual method of organ donation occurs when doctors, through careful testing, determine someone has no brain function after a catastrophic injury — meaning they’re brain dead. The body is left on a ventilator that keeps the heart beating and organs oxygenated until they’re recovered and put on ice.

In contrast, donation after circulatory death occurs when someone has a nonsurvivable brain injury but, because all brain function hasn’t yet ceased, the family decides to withdraw life support and the heart stops. That means organs go without oxygen for a while before they can be recovered — and surgeons, worried the heart would be damaged, left it behind.

What’s changed: Now doctors can remove those hearts and put them in a machine that “reanimates” them, pumping through blood and nutrients as they’re transported –- and demonstrating if they work OK before the planned transplant.

Wednesday’s study, conducted at multiple hospitals around the country, involved 180 transplant recipients, half who received DCD hearts and half given hearts from brain-dead donors that were transported on ice.

Survival six months later was about the same –- 94% for the recipients of cardiac-death donations and 90% for those who got the usual hearts, the researchers reported in the New England Journal of Medicine.

The findings are exciting and show “the potential to increase fairness and equity in heart transplantation, allowing more persons with heart failure to have access to this lifesaving therapy,” transplant cardiologist Dr. Nancy Sweitzer of Washington University in St. Louis, who wasn’t involved with the study, wrote in an accompanying editorial.

Last year, 4,111 heart transplants were performed in the U.S., a record number but not nearly enough to meet the need. Hundreds of thousands of people suffer from advanced heart failure but many are never offered a transplant and still others die waiting for one.

Researchers in Australia and the U.K. first began trying DCD heart transplants about seven years ago. Duke pioneered the U.S. experiments in late 2019, one of about 20 U.S. hospitals now offering this method. Last year, there were 345 such heart transplants in the U.S., and 227 so far this year, according to the United Network for Organ Sharing.

In the Duke-led study, nearly 90% of the DCD hearts recovered wound up being transplanted, signaling that it’s worthwhile for more hospitals to start using the newer method.

Sweitzer noted that many would-be donors have severe brain injuries but don’t meet the criteria for brain death, meaning a lot of potentially usable hearts never get donated. But she also cautioned that there’s still more to learn, noting that the very sickest patients on the waiting list were less likely to receive DCD hearts in the study.

Schroder said most who received DCD hearts already had implanted heart pumps that made the transplant more difficult to perform, even if they weren’t ranked as high on the waiting list.

The study was funded by TransMedics, which makes the heart storage system.

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New Rules Seen Worsening India’s Stray Dog Problem

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Months after a 6-year-old child was hospitalized in an attack by stray dogs in a housing complex near Mumbai, more than 80 dogs still roam the community’s compound, regularly attacking other residents.

Yet community leaders say they are powerless to deal with the problem because of an animal welfare law, first enacted in 2001 and updated this year, which protects the right of the dogs to roam freely and even requires that they be fed on the streets where they live. It also prohibits euthanization.

“Neither concerned agencies are doing anything, nor can we do anything because of the [Animal Birth Control] policy,” said Nagendra Rampuria, a member of the managing committee at the gated housing society in Pune, 110 kilometers southeast of Mumbai.

“These dog bites are making a mark upon the collective consciousness of India,” he told VOA in an interview.

Similar incidents take place regularly across India, where an average of 5,739 dog bites are reported every day. A group called End Pet Homelessness has calculated that India has more than 60 million stray dogs, with 77% of the population saying they see a stray dog at least once a week.

According to estimates by the World Health Organization, India accounts for 36% of the world’s rabies deaths in humans, with 30% to 60% of the cases involving children under 15, who are less able to defend themselves against aggressive dogs.

Abdul Hamid Dar, the in-charge medical officer at an anti-rabies clinic in Srinagar, told VOA that his clinic treated 700 cases of animal bites in April and 300 cases the month before.

“Last year, we received around 6,000 cases of animal bites, and before that year, we reported around 5,000 cases. We are witnessing a drastic increase in dog bite cases. Every age group, from children to adults, are victims of dogs because everybody is exposed to them from morning to evening. The reason is, dog and human interaction has increased,” Dar said.

The Animal Birth Control, or ABC policy, was enacted with the best intentions, aimed at ending a practice of mass culling of stray dogs that had prevailed since colonial times, sometimes involving clubbing, poisoning or electrocution, according to animal welfare groups.

The 2001 ABC policy as interpreted by the courts declared that the strays cannot be relocated, must not face cruelty and must be cared for. Under revisions promulgated in April, the strays must be caught, vaccinated, neutered and released back where they were originally captured.

The 2023 rules also “ask residents’ welfare associations to care for stray dogs and feed them away from the children and the elderly, at fixed intervals,” according to The Hindu newspaper.

Meghna Uniyal, director of the Humane Foundation for People and Animals based in Gurgaon, Haryana, challenges the underlying premise of the new legislation, arguing that sterilization increases aggression in male dogs and is only recommended for pets.

She also questions the wisdom of feeding stray dogs on the streets and in public places, blaming the practice for a spurt of fatal attacks on citizens.

“The policy requires packs of stray dogs to be maintained and fed in the same places, even if and where they have killed citizens,” she told VOA. “The ABC policy prohibits the euthanasia of even rabid dogs.”

Uniyal cited several instances this year of citizens, including children, being fatally mauled by packs of stray dogs that were being maintained and fed in public places. These included a 7-month-old infant inside a residential compound in Noida, a child inside a hospital in Rajasthan, and a doctor inside the campus of Aligarh Muslim University in Aligarh.

She urged a return to federal and state laws dating from the 1960s, similar to those in most developed countries, that require dogs to be kept under human supervision and control; provide for the removal and euthanasia of stray dogs; and follow other World Health Organization guidelines.

“There should be mandatory licensing, registration and vaccination of pets and offering low-cost pet sterilization,” she added.

Despite the frequent dog attacks, some animal welfare organizations continue to defend the new ABC policy, arguing that sterilization of stray dogs can significantly decrease canine attacks.

“Dogs bite when they are taken away from their original place,” animal rights activist Maneka Gandhi said during a media address last week in Srinagar. “If we stop relocating them from one place to another and use sterilization methods, their population can be contained, and they won’t bite.”

But Abi T. Vanak, director of the Centre for Policy Design in Bangalore, argued that the existing policy does not benefit the dogs themselves. The center is part of the Ashoka Trust for Research in Ecology and the Environment.

“They live miserable lives on the streets where they are subject to cruelty, suffer from diseases and cause accidents,” he told VOA.

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Hawaii’s Kilauea Erupting Again After 3-Month Pause

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Kilauea, one of the most active volcanoes in the world, began erupting Wednesday after a three-month pause, displaying spectacular fountains of mesmerizing, glowing lava that’s a safe distance from people and structures in a national park on the Big Island.

The U.S. Geological Survey’s Hawaiian Volcano Observatory said in a statement that a glow was detected in webcam images from Kilauea’s summit early in the morning, indicating that an eruption was occurring within the Halemaumau crater in the summit caldera.

The images show fissures at the base of the crater generating lava flows on the crater floor’s surface, the observatory said.

Before issuing the eruption notice, the observatory said increased earthquake activity and changes in the patterns of ground deformation at the summit started Tuesday night, indicating the movement of magma in the subsurface.

“We’re not seeing any signs of activity out on the rift zones right now,” said Mike Zoeller, a geologist with the observatory. “There’s no reason to expect this to transition into a rift eruption that would threaten any communities here on the island with lava flows or anything like that.”

All activity was within a closed area of Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.

“The lava this morning is all confined within … the summit caldera. So plenty of room for it still to produce more without threatening any homes or infrastructure,” said park spokesperson Jessica Ferracane. “So that’s the way we like our eruptions here.”

She said park officials are bracing for crowds to arrive because visitors can see the eruption from many overlooks.

“Kilauea overlook was spectacular this morning,” she said of the vast lava lake. “It was molten red lava. There’s several areas of pretty robust fountaining. It’s just really, really pretty.”

The lava lake, covering the crater floor over lava that remained from previous eruptions, measured about 150 hectares about 6 a.m., Zoeller said. It measured about 1,300 meters wide.

Word was getting out and parking lots were starting to fill up at the park, Ferracane said, adding that she expected long lines getting into the park by evening.

Since the park is open 24 hours a day, visitors can beat the crowds by visiting between 9 p.m. and sunrise, Ferracane said.

She reminded visitors to stay out of closed areas and remain on marked trails for safety reasons, including avoiding gases from the eruption.

Two small earthquakes jolted Janice Wei awake. As a volunteer photographer for the park who lives in the nearby town of Volcano, she was able to see fountains she estimated to be 46 meters high around 4:30 a.m.

The volcano’s alert level was raised to warning status and the aviation color code went to red as scientists evaluate the eruption and associated hazards.

Kilauea, Hawaii’s second largest volcano, erupted from September 2021 until last December. For about two weeks in December, Hawaii’s biggest volcano, Mauna Loa, also was erupting on Hawaii’s Big Island.

After a short pause, Kilauea began erupting again in January. That eruption lasted for 61 days, ending in March.

This eruption looks very similar, Zoeller said.

A 2018 Kilauea eruption destroyed more than 700 homes.

Before the major 2018 eruption, Kilauea had been erupting since 1983, and streams of lava occasionally covered farms and homes. During that time, the lava sometimes reached the ocean, causing dramatic interactions with the water. 

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Explainer: Will COP28 Deliver a New Fund for Climate Loss and Damage?

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As communities in countries rich and poor face soaring costs from extreme weather and rising seas, governments are grappling with how to set up a new fund to tackle “loss and damage” driven by global warming.

The topic was for years controversial at U.N. climate talks, as wealthy nations rejected demands for “compensation” for the impacts of their high share of the planet-heating emissions that are turbo-charging floods, droughts and storms around the world.

However, at the COP27 climate summit in Egypt last November, a group of 134 African, Asian and Latin American states and small island nations finally won agreement on a new fund that will pay to repair devastated property, or preserve cultural heritage before it disappears forever.

But the details of where the money will come from and how it will be disbursed were left to be worked out by this December’s COP28 conference in Dubai.

As mid-year U.N. climate talks got underway in Bonn in June, Saleemul Huq, director of the Dhaka-based International Centre for Climate Change and Development, called on the United Arab Emirates to declare its intention for COP28 — which it will host — to create the “Dubai Loss and Damage Fund.”

Here’s why the issue of “loss and damage” has grown in importance this past decade — and where the sticking points in finding finance to address it could lie.

What is climate change “loss and damage”?

“Loss and damage” refers to the physical and mental harm that happens to people and places when they are not prepared for climate-driven impacts, and are unable to adjust the way they live to protect themselves from longer-term shifts.

It can occur both from fast-moving weather disasters made stronger or more frequent by warming temperatures — such as floods or hurricanes — as well as from slower-developing stresses like persistent drought and sea levels creeping higher.

A large share of “loss and damage” can be measured in financial terms, like the cost of wrecked homes and infrastructure.

But there are other non-economic losses that are harder to quantify, such as graveyards and family photos being washed away, or Indigenous cultures that could disappear if a whole community must move because their land is no longer habitable.

A June 2022 report released by a forum of 55 climate-vulnerable countries — from Bangladesh to South Sudan — found they would have been 20% wealthier had it not been for climate change and the $525 billion in losses inflicted on them by shifts in temperature and rainfall over the past two decades.

Often the poorest people lack the means to recover what they have lost, particularly as aid fails to keep up with growing needs, as seen with last year’s huge floods in Pakistan or the drought that has left tens of millions hungry in the Horn of Africa.

What funding is on offer when loss and damage happens — and how can more be raised?

So far there has been very little money available apart from aid provided through the international humanitarian system to respond to disasters — which every year faces shortfalls.

A 2022 study by anti-poverty charity Oxfam found that aid needs in response to weather disasters had skyrocketed more than eightfold in the last 20 years.

But U.N.-coordinated humanitarian emergency appeals are, on average, only 60% funded.

“There is not enough money for humanitarian action — even to do the first-phase response [to disasters], never mind the preparedness, resilience [and] longer-term early recovery piece,” said Debbie Hillier, who manages flood resilience programs for Mercy Corps.

According to a 2018 study by researchers at the Basque Centre for Climate Change, the costs of loss and damage in low- and middle-income countries could reach between $290 billion and $580 billion a year by 2030.

But rich countries are already struggling to meet a goal to channel $100 billion annually to vulnerable countries for reducing emissions and adapting to climate change.

Some donor countries, including a few European nations, Canada and New Zealand, have already agreed to provide loss and damage funding to poorer nations – although so far, those pledges total only about $275 million.

Given this, climate justice activists have long argued for the need to find innovative sources for loss and damage funding, based on levies and taxation.

Those include a controversial proposal — backed by the U.N. chief — for rich governments to tax the windfall profits of fossil fuel companies.

Other ideas that have gained ground include levying a small fee on international flights – which contribute to climate-heating emissions – and a global tax on financial market transactions, which could be distributed by the new fund.

The most concrete loss and damage funding scheme so far, the “Global Shield Against Climate Risks”, aims to boost insurance coverage for vulnerable countries and communities, attracting about $200 million at its COP27 launch, largely from Germany.

It will expand initiatives — from subsidized insurance coverage to stronger social protection schemes and pre-approved disaster financing — that can swiftly channel support to disaster-hit poorer countries’ own contingency plans.

But many climate campaigners say insurance cannot be a lasting answer, with losses expected to soar and even become uninsurable as climate disasters intensify.

What are the obstacles to setting up a loss and damage fund?

A “Transitional Committee” is meeting regularly this year to work out the form and scope of the new loss and damage fund, and how to fill its coffers.

Observers say the discussions have progressed constructively — and are hoping this month’s Bonn climate talks will add political momentum. But there is disagreement on which parts of loss and damage finance should fall under the new fund’s remit.

Some countries, notably the United States, want the fund to focus tightly on two key areas less well-covered by humanitarian agencies — “slow onset” disasters, from desertification to islands sinking as seas rise, and “non-economic losses”.

That would also include support for communities — or even whole island nations — to relocate should they no longer be able to continue living in their current homes.

Climate justice campaigners and others, meanwhile, are pushing for the new fund to have a broader scope, which would include helping finance the humanitarian response to climate disasters as well as efforts to cover gaps, especially in terms of building resilience.

A report last month by the Zurich Flood Resilience Alliance outlined lessons learned by the aid sector that could help the new loss and damage fund operate effectively.

Its recommendations included a warning to donors not to re-label their humanitarian aid as loss and damage funding, and to find new sources of finance.

It also stressed the need to use existing systems to deliver aid on the ground fast, find ways to get funding to fragile and conflict-hit states, and work with local groups.

The key will be to agree on how loss and damage action can both benefit from — and amplify — the work already being done by humanitarian agencies to protect vulnerable communities, experts say.

“We can’t allow the accountability to be shifted outside the [U.N. climate] system — for a very simple reason: 90% of disasters we are facing today are climate-related,” said Harjeet Singh, head of global political strategy for Climate Action Network International.

“The loss and damage fund has to be the top-level mechanism that should have oversight on whether people are getting sufficient support or not.”

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China’s Latest COVID Wave May Hit 65 Million a Week With Mild Symptoms

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China, where COVID-19 was first identified in humans more than three years ago, expects its current wave of infection to hit as many as 65 million cases per week by late June, according to official accounts of models presented at a medical conference.

While that may be an exhausting number to a post-pandemic world wearied by a still rising toll of 767 million confirmed cases and more than 6.9 million deaths, the predicted onslaught in China comes with less severe symptoms, Wang Guiqiang, director of the Department of Infectious Diseases at Peking University First Hospital, told the official newspaper Beijing Daily.

And, experts say, the outbreak is likely to be confined to China. Raj Rajnarayanan, assistant dean of research and associate professor at the New York Institute of Technology and a top COVID-variant tracker, told Fortune that when it comes to XBB variants, “the rest of the world has seen them all.” But up until recently, “China hasn’t.”

Respiratory disease specialist Zhong Nanshan, who spoke on May 22 at a conference in the southern city of Guangzhou, said the current wave of infections that started in late April was “anticipated.” His modeling suggested that by the end of June, the weekly number of infections will peak at 65 million, according to the official Global Times.

After Beijing relaxed the draconian lockdowns enforced under its “zero-COVID” policy, an omicron variant different from the current one ripped through China in December 2022 and January 2023.

About 80% of China’s 1.4 billion people were infected during that wave, Wu Zunyou, chief epidemiologist at the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention, said in January, CNN reported. Patients packed hospitals and families waited for days to cremate those who died.

The latest COVID wave is something most people do not take seriously, said Mr. Lin, who requested anonymity due to the sensitivity of the issue. The resident of Quanzhou in Fujian province said, “They go about their activities normally and don’t do any protection. No one wears masks.”

Mr. Lin told VOA Mandarin he was infected in mid-December 2022, soon after Beijing lifted the lockdowns that had sent the world’s second-largest economy into a tailspin.

He realized he was infected — again — in May. Mr. Lin said he knew others who were likely reinfected and didn’t even bother to take a COVID test because their symptoms were so mild.

Mr. Zhang, who was infected for the first time in December, told VOA Mandarin he was infected a second time on a business trip to Shanghai and Beijing in May. The Hunan province resident, who asked to use a pseudonym to avoid attracting official attention, thought he had caught a cold because of the air conditioning he encountered on his trip.

But he took a test while still in Beijing and with a positive result, ended up at a hospital where he said a doctor told him, “People all over the country are like this. No need for medical attention at all. Just go home.”

After suffering four days with insomnia, loss of appetite and recurring fever, Mr. Zhang went to another Beijing hospital. Admitted, he was given Paxlovid, an anti-coronavirus drug developed by Pfizer.

“I took the medicine at noon and felt relieved at night,” he told VOA Mandarin.

During his hospital stay, Mr. Zhang said, “All the infectious disease wards were full, and there was a long queue to get an appointment. The hospital used wards of other departments for patients from the Infectious Diseases Department.”

Jin Dong-yan, a biochemistry professor with the Li Ka-shing Faculty of Medicine at the University of Hong Kong, told VOA Mandarin there is not much difference between the current situation in China and in the U.S., but the Chinese media devote more coverage to the outbreak.

Jin said, “In fact, looking at the data, the U.S. has experienced about four peaks after the outbreak last year, but each peak is getting smaller and smaller.”

The United States, by comparison, was reporting more than 5 million cases a week at its most recent peak in January.

The World Health Organization declared COVID-19 over as a global health emergency on May 5.

Like the U.S., China stopped providing weekly case updates in May, making it difficult to know the true extent of the current outbreak.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recorded more than 1.1 million deaths in the U.S. involving COVID-19 from January 4, 2020, to May 27, 2023. 

In China, from January 3, 2020, to May 31, 2023, there have been almost 100 million confirmed cases of COVID-19, with more than 120,000 deaths reported by Beijing to WHO.

Adrianna Zhang contributed to this report.

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Financial Institutions in US, East Asia Spoofed by Suspected North Korean Hackers

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There are renewed concerns North Korea’s army of hackers is targeting financial institutions to prop up the regime in Pyongyang and possibly fund its weapons programs.

A report published Tuesday by the cybersecurity firm Recorded Future finds North Korean aligned actors have been spoofing well-known financial firms in Japan, Vietnam and the United States, sending out emails and documents that, if opened, could grant the hackers access to critical systems.

“The targeting of investment banking and venture capital firms may expose sensitive or confidential information of these entities or their customers,” according to the report by Recorded Future’s Insikt Group.

“[It] may result in legal or regulatory action, jeopardize pending business negotiations or agreements, or expose information damaging to the company’s strategic investment portfolio,” it said.

The report said the most recent cluster of activity took place between September 2022 and March 2023, making use of three new internet addresses and two old addresses, and more than 20 domain names.

Some of the domains imitated those used by the targeted financial institutions.

Recorded Future’s named the group behind the attacks Threat Activity Group 71 (TAG-71), which is also known as APT38, Bluenoroff, Stardust Chollima and the Lazarus Group.

This past April, the U.S. sanctioned three individuals associated with the Lazarus Group, accusing them of helping North Korea launder stolen virtual currencies and turn it into cash.

U.S. Treasury officials levied additional sanctions just last month against North Korea’s Technical Reconnaissance Bureau, which develops tools and operations to be carried out by the Lazarus Group.

The Lazarus Group is believed to be responsible for the largest theft of virtual currency to date, stealing approximately $620 million connected to a popular online game in Match 2022.

Earlier this month, U.S. and South Korean agencies issued a warning about another set of North Korean cyber actors impersonating think tanks, academic institutions and journalists in an ongoing attempt to collect intelligence.


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Japan, Australia, US to Fund Undersea Cable Connection in Micronesia to Counter China’s Influence

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Japan announced Tuesday that it joined the United States and Australia in signing a $95 million undersea cable project that will connect East Micronesia island nations to improve networks in the Indo-Pacific region where China is increasingly expanding its influence.

The approximately 2,250-kilometer (1,400-mile) undersea cable will connect the state of Kosrae in the Federated State of Micronesia, Tarawa in Kiribati and Nauru to the existing cable landing point located in Pohnpei in Micronesia, according to the Japanese Foreign Ministry.

Japan, the United States and Australia have stepped up cooperation with the Pacific Islands, apparently to counter efforts by Beijing to expand its security and economic influence in the region.

In a joint statement, the parties said next steps involve a final survey and design and manufacturing of the cable, whose width is about that of a garden hose. The completion is expected around 2025.

The announcement comes just over two weeks after leaders of the Quad, a security alliance of Japan, the United States, Australia and India, emphasized the importance of undersea cables as a critical component of communications infrastructure and the foundation for internet connectivity.

“Secure and resilient digital connectivity has never been more important,” Matthew Murray, a senior official in the U.S. State Department’s Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs, said in a statement. “The United States is delighted to be part of this project bringing our region closer together.”

NEC Corp., which won the contract after a competitive tender, said the cable will ensure high-speed, high-quality and more secure communications for residents, businesses and governments in the region, while contributing to improved digital connectivity and economic development.

The cable will connect more than 100,000 people across the three Pacific countries, according to Kazuya Endo, director general of the international cooperation bureau at the Japanese Foreign Ministry.


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‘Ray of Hope’: New Advances in Fighting Range of Cancers

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New advances in the fight against a range of cancers have been revealed at the annual meeting of the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO), which wraps up in Chicago on Tuesday.

Here are some of the announcements that have most excited experts.

Lung cancer

One of the trial results that caused a stir in Chicago has raised hopes for a new weapon against lung cancer, the deadliest of all cancers.

The treatment osimertinib was shown to halve the risk of death from a certain type of lung cancer when taken daily after surgery to remove the tumor.

Developed by the pharmaceutical group AstraZeneca, the daily pill targets patients with non-small cell cancer — by far the most common type — as well as a mutation of their epidermal growth factor receptor, or EGFR.

Iris Pauporte, head of research at France’s League Against Cancer, told AFP the advance was a “big ray of hope” for this type of cancer, for which progress has been slow.

Muriel Dahan, head of research at Unicancer, said that if the results are confirmed, it “should change” common practice in treating this kind of lung cancer.

Systematic testing for the EGFR mutation would also become necessary for lung cancer patients, she added.

Brain cancer

Another treatment, called vorasidenib, was found to significantly prolong the progression-free survival of patients with brain tumor glioma, according to clinical trial results.

The daily pill, developed by French pharma firm Servier, aims to block an enzyme responsible for the progression of some brain cancers, which have been particularly difficult to treat.

Patrick Therasse, Servier’s vice-president of oncology research, told AFP that there “have been few therapeutic advances for brain tumors over the last 20 years.”

“Thanks to our targeted treatment, patients avoided cancer progression for 27.7 months, compared to 11.1 months” for those taking a placebo, he added.

Fabrice Andre, head of research at France’s Gustave Roussy cancer center, said “precision medicine opens a door for a disease for which there was nothing until now.”

“It means that science can unblock situations that were catastrophic,” he told AFP.

Unicancer’s Dahan said it was important to “remain cautious” but added that “this could become the new therapeutic standard — depending on further trials.”

Breast cancer

Preliminary trial results also released in Chicago indicated the drug ribociclib reduced the risk of breast cancer recurring by 25 percent for a large group of early-stage survivors.

The drug, developed by Swiss pharmaceutical maker Novartis, is already widely approved around the world. It was tested in combination with hormonal therapy.

ASCO expert Rita Nanda said it was a “very important and practice-changing clinical trial.”

Cervical cancer

There was also good news for patients with early-stage cervical cancer with a low risk of progression.

There was no greater risk of the cancer returning for patients who get a simple hysterectomy, in which the uterus and cervix are removed, than a radical hysterectomy, in which the uppermost part of the vagina is also removed, according to phase three trials.

League Against Cancer’s Pauporte said this was “good news,” adding that “it shows that it’s not just progress involving drugs that was important.”

Ovarian cancer

A trial also presented at ASCO showed that taking the antibody treatment mirvetuximab soravtansine significantly improved the survival rate of patients with ovarian cancer, a particularly deadly form of cancer.

ASCO expert Merry Jennifer Markham said the treatment “demonstrates progress and offers hope for these patients.”

Rectal cancer

Study results released in Chicago indicated that patients with locally advanced rectal cancer could receive chemotherapy without getting radiation therapy before undergoing surgery.

This would spare patients from the brutal side effects of radiation.


Vaccines that treat existing cancer have long been a goal of the medical community.

Preliminary studies announced at the ASCO meeting involved vaccines targeting lung cancer, head and neck cancers, brain tumor glioblastoma and the cancer-causing HPV virus.

Christophe Le Tourneau, an oncologist at France’s Curie Institute which presented a study about a vaccine for a certain form of HPV, said there has been “significant technological progress” in the area recently.

“Therapeutic vaccines, we talk about them more and more, and there are more and more trials in progress,” he said.

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Musk Says China Detailed Plans to Regulate AI

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Top Chinese officials told Elon Musk about plans to launch new regulations on artificial intelligence on his recent trip to the Asian giant, the tech billionaire said Monday, in his first comments on the two-day visit.

The Twitter owner and Tesla CEO — one of the world’s richest men — held meetings with senior officials in Beijing and employees in Shanghai last week.

“Something that is worth noting is that on my recent trip to China, with the senior leadership there, we had, I think, some very productive discussions on artificial intelligence risks, and the need for some oversight or regulation,” Musk said. “And my understanding from those conversations is that China will be initiating AI regulation in China.”

Praised China

Musk, whose extensive interests in China have long raised eyebrows in Washington, spoke about the exchange in a livestreamed Twitter discussion with Democratic presidential hopeful and vaccine conspiracy theorist Robert Kennedy Jr., the nephew of the late U.S. President John F. Kennedy.

Musk did not tweet while in China and Tesla has not released readouts of Musk’s meeting with officials.

But official Chinese channels said he lavished praise on the country, including for its “vitality and promise,” and expressed “full confidence in the China market.”

Several Chinese companies have been rushing to develop AI services that can mimic human speech since San Francisco-based OpenAI launched ChatGPT in November.

But rapid advancements have stoked global alarm over the technology’s potential for disinformation and misuse.

Musk didn’t elaborate on his discussions in China but was likely referring to a sweeping draft law requiring new AI products to undergo a security assessment before release and a process ensuring that they reflect “core socialist values.”

The “Administrative Measures for Generative Artificial Intelligence Services” edict bans content promoting “terrorist or extremist propaganda,” “ethnic hatred” or “other content that may disrupt economic and social order.”

Under Beijing’s highly centralized political system, the measures are almost certain to become law.

Describes meetings as ‘promising’

Musk has caused controversy by suggesting the self-ruled island of Taiwan should become part of China — a stance that was welcomed by Chinese officials but which deeply angered Taipei.

The 51-year-old South African native described his meetings in China as “very promising.”

“I pointed out that if there is a digital super intelligence that is overwhelmingly powerful, developed in China, it is actually a risk to the sovereignty of the Chinese government,” he said. “And I think they took that concern to heart.”

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New Global Climate Assessment Aims to Gauge Progress

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Global leaders in the battle against global warming convened in Bonn, Germany, on Monday for the start of the final phase of a two-year long assessment of the progress being made to limit rising temperatures.

The annual Bonn Climate Change Conference is part of the “global stocktake” — a process by which countries around the world assess how much progress has been made toward compliance with the 2015 Paris Agreement, a worldwide effort to prevent global temperatures from exceeding 1.5 degrees Celsius above the pre-industrial era average.

“The global stocktake is an ambition exercise. It’s an accountability exercise. It’s an acceleration exercise,” U.N. Climate Change Executive Secretary Simon Stiell said in a statement. “It’s an exercise that is intended to make sure every Party is holding up their end of the bargain, knows where they need to go next and how rapidly they need to move to fulfill the goals of the Paris Agreement.”

However, Stiell warned that the findings will only be meaningful if they are paired with action.

“The global stocktake will end up being just another report unless governments and those that they represent can look at it and ultimately understand what it means for them and what they can and must do next. It’s the same for businesses, communities and other key stakeholders,” he said.

The stocktake will conclude in November, when the annual U.N. Climate Change Conference (COP28) is held in Dubai, United Arab Emirates.

Stocktake process

The global stocktake is a two-year process that happens once every five years, as dictated by the Paris Agreement. It has three parts: an information collection and preparation phase, a technical assessment and a consideration of the process’s outputs.

The stocktake began in 2021, with countries, NGOs, experts and other stakeholders gathering information about efforts currently underway to slow global warming. This includes efforts by individual countries to meet the emission-reduction goals they have agreed to at previous COP gatherings — known as nationally determined contributions (NDCs) — as well as challenges and barriers to meeting those goals, and data about new mitigation techniques.

At last year’s Bonn Climate Conference, technical experts began to assess the findings, a process meant to be finalized over this year’s 10-day gathering.

The consideration of the findings will begin immediately following the conference and will be translated into recommendations for further action meant to be finalized in Dubai later this year.

No mystery

While the final details of the global stocktake will not be published until later this year, there is little mystery about what the process is likely to uncover. An interim report published in March found that progress has been “significant yet inadequate” in terms of reaching the goals set out in the Paris Agreement.

“While the remarkable speed with which the Paris Agreement entered into force in 2016 demonstrates a broad commitment, and Parties are making progress in implementation, we as a global community are not on track to meet its long-term goals,” the report found.

Still, experts said that there are reasons for optimism.

“The big value out of the global stocktake is that it’s also meant to be telling us not only where we are and where we need to be, but how to get there. What we’re hearing through the process so far is that there are solutions across all sectors and all [greenhouse] gases,” Maggie Ferrato, a manager for global climate cooperation at the Environmental Defense Fund, told VOA.

“And really the challenge is to kind of distill really clear signals from the wealth of information that’s out there on the highest impact opportunities that should be incorporated into Nationally Determined Contributions in the next round.”

More upbeat assessment

The Bonn Conference comes just a few weeks after a pair of reports from U.N.-affiliated research organizations painted grim pictures of the planet’s climate future.

In March, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warned that the planet is getting close to being unable to avoid a temperature increase of more than 1.5 degrees Celsius and predicted that more negative consequences of global climate change will soon become apparent. It said that the changes will frequently harm poor and vulnerable populations across the globe, many of which have contributed little to global warming.

Last month, the World Meteorological Organization issued a report that found a two-thirds chance the world will experience at least one year of temperatures averaging more than 1.5 degrees over the pre-industrial average within the next five years.

Michael Mehling, deputy director of the Center for Energy and Environmental Policy Research at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, told VOA that organizers of the Bonn Conference and of the COP process in general seem to realize unremitting gloom about the climate future may be doing more harm than good.

“I think there’s certainly a realization that just always saying, ‘We’re far behind. Everything looks terrible,’ is losing some impact,” he said.

Mehling said that he anticipates a report that recognizes that progress has been made and that achieving a less ambitious goal of keeping warming below 2 degrees — a level that scientists warn could be catastrophic — is achievable.

“I would probably anticipate some sort of a split message that suggests that we have to continue holding the line and staying [focused] on 2 degrees, but we can achieve that,” he said. “But it doesn’t look good for 1.5, unless we dramatically change what we’re doing. That’s what I expect to be the headline message.”

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Is It Real or Made by AI? Europe Wants a Label as It Fights Disinformation 

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The European Union is pushing online platforms like Google and Meta to step up the fight against false information by adding labels to text, photos and other content generated by artificial intelligence, a top official said Monday.

EU Commission Vice President Vera Jourova said the ability of a new generation of AI chatbots to create complex content and visuals in seconds raises “fresh challenges for the fight against disinformation.”

Jourova said she asked Google, Meta, Microsoft, TikTok and other tech companies that have signed up to the 27-nation bloc’s voluntary agreement on combating disinformation to dedicate efforts to tackling the AI problem.

Online platforms that have integrated generative AI into their services, such as Microsoft’s Bing search engine and Google’s Bard chatbot, should build safeguards to prevent “malicious actors” from generating disinformation, Jourova said at a briefing in Brussels.

Companies offering services that have the potential to spread AI-generated disinformation should roll out technology to “recognize such content and clearly label this to users,” she said.

Jourova said EU regulations are aimed at protecting free speech, but when it comes to AI, “I don’t see any right for the machines to have the freedom of speech.”

The swift rise of generative AI technology, which has the capability to produce human-like text, images and video, has amazed many and alarmed others with its potential to transform many aspects of daily life. Europe has taken a lead role in the global movement to regulate artificial intelligence with its AI Act, but the legislation still needs final approval and won’t take effect for several years.

Officials in the EU, which is bringing in a separate set of rules this year to safeguard people from harmful online content, are worried that they need to act faster to keep up with the rapid development of generative artificial intelligence.

The voluntary commitments in the disinformation code will soon become legal obligations under the EU’s Digital Services Act, which will force the biggest tech companies by the end of August to better police their platforms to protect users from hate speech, disinformation and other harmful material.

Jourova said, however, that those companies should start labeling AI-generated content immediately.

Most of those digital giants are already signed up to the EU code, which requires companies to measure their work on combating disinformation and issue regular reports on their progress.

Twitter dropped out last month in what appeared to be the latest move by Elon Musk to loosen restrictions at the social media company after he bought it last year.

The exit drew a stern rebuke, with Jourova calling it a mistake.

“Twitter has chosen the hard way. They chose confrontation,” she said. “Make no mistake, by leaving the code, Twitter has attracted a lot of attention and its actions and compliance with EU law will be scrutinized vigorously and urgently.”

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Pill Halves Risk of Death in Type of Lung Cancer

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A pill has been shown to halve the risk of death from a certain type of lung cancer when taken daily after surgery to remove the tumor, according to clinical trial results presented on Sunday.

The results were unveiled in Chicago at the largest annual conference of cancer specialists, hosted by the American Society for Clinical Oncology.

Lung cancer is the form of the disease that causes the most deaths, with approximately 1.8 million fatalities every year worldwide.

The treatment developed by the pharmaceutical group AstraZeneca is called osimertinib and is marketed under the name Tagrisso. It targets a particular type of lung cancer in patients suffering from so-called non-small cell cancer, the most common type, and showing a particular type of mutation.

These mutations, on what is called the epidermal growth factor receptor, or EGFR, affect 10% to 25% of lung cancer patients in the United States and Europe, and 30 to 40% in Asia.

The clinical trial included some 680 participants at an early stage of the disease (stages 1b to 3a), in more than 20 countries. They had to have been operated on first to remove the tumor, then half of the patients took the treatment daily, and the other a placebo.

The result showed that taking the tablet resulted in a 51% reduction in the risk of death for treated patients, compared to placebo.

After five years, 88% of patients who took the treatment were still alive, compared to 78% of patients who took the placebo.

These data are “impressive,” said Roy Herbst of Yale University, who presented them in Chicago. The drug helps “prevent the cancer from spreading to the brain, to the liver, to the bones,” he added at a press conference.

About a third of cases of non-small cell cancers can be operated on when detected, he said.

“It is hard for me to convey, I think, how important this finding is,” said Nathan Pennell of the Cleveland Clinic Foundation at the press conference.

“We started entering the personalized therapy era for early-stage patients,” said Pennell, who did not take part in the trials, and noted that “we should firmly close the door on one-size-fits-all treatment for people with non-small cell lung cancer.”

Osimertinib is already authorized in dozens of countries for various indications, and has already been given to some 700,000 people, according to a press release from AstraZeneca.

Its approval in the United States for early stages in 2020 was based on previous data that showed an improvement in patient disease-free survival, that is, the time a patient lives without a recurrence of cancer.

But not all doctors have adopted the treatment, and many were waiting for the data on overall survival that was presented on Sunday, said Herbst.

He stressed the need to screen patients to find out if they have the EGFR mutation. Otherwise, he said, “we cannot use this new treatment.”

Osimertinib, which targets the receptor, causes side effects that include severe fatigue, skin rashes or diarrhea.

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Tour de France Anti-COVID Protocol to Keep Riders in Hotels

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Tour de France organizers have set up an anti-COVID protocol for this year’s race, with riders and team staff banned from signing autographs and eating out of their hotels, a source with direct knowledge of the matter told Reuters Saturday. 

Riders and staff members were allowed out of their hotels last year. Access to the paddock at the start of the stages was open to reporters until midway through the race, when organizers decided to close it to “fight against the propagation of COVID-19.” 

Access to the paddock will be allowed when the Tour starts in Bilbao, Spain, on June 29, with everyone required to wear a mask. 

“For all the team members: Respect a confinement – Limit the interactions outside the race bubble. No eating out. Respect social distancing at the hotel,” the chart, seen by Reuters, said. 

“Do not get too close to the spectators – Social distancing, no selfies, no autograph.” 

On Friday, France reported 3,204 COVID-19 cases in the country. At this time last year, there were about 25,000 reported daily cases in France. 

Giro d’Italia organizers last month set up an anti-COVID protocol near the halfway point of the race after overall leader Remco Evenepoel pulled out after testing positive for coronavirus. 

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Death in the Amazon: Dangers of Environmental Reporting 

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The latest threat to the life of Txai Surui is still fresh in her mind. Protesting deforestation in the Amazon with other Indigenous people last week, she found herself held at gunpoint.

“They got out guns and ambushed two days ago,” Surui said. The Indigenous campaigner recalled the confrontation with gunmen in a telephone interview from Brazil with VOA.

“I am 26 and my parents have been getting death threats since before I was born. We are threatened all the time,” Surui said.

Her testimony speaks of the dangers faced by Indigenous protesters and the journalists who report their stories from gunmen hired by illegal loggers or fishermen.

On June 5, 2022, Dom Phillips, a British journalist who wrote for The Guardian and The Washington Post, and Brazilian Indigenous expert Bruno Pereira, went missing.

They had been on a four-day reporting trip looking at the situation for communities in the Javari region of the Amazon and were working on a book together.

Ten days after they went missing, their bodies were found. 

 In May 2023, Brazilian federal police brought criminal charges against the former head of Brazil’s Indigenous protection agency for alleged acts of omission they believe indirectly paved the way for the killings.

Marcelo Xavier, a former police chief and head of the protection agency that covered the region where the killings took place, has not commented on the accusations.

Three fishermen are being held in high-security prisons for their alleged involvement in the killings while a judge prepares to rule on whether they will face trial by jury, Reuters reported.

A fourth man, who is suspected of running an illegal fishing network in the Javari Valley region, was named as the mastermind in January, although he has yet to be formally charged.

‘I am here in resistance’ Listen to Bruno Pereira’s last voice note to Survival International. 

For those who cover or live in that region, the killings underscored the increasingly risky environment.

“I was not surprised Dom and Bruno were killed. A friend of mine, Ari Uru-eu-wau-wau, was murdered three years ago too,” said Surui, who lives in Rodoñia, another Amazonian state.

Her struggle to save the Amazon with her mother, Neidinha Surui, was made into a 2021 film, Believing in a New World.

“People outside Brazil have to realize the damage that these gangs are doing to the Amazon,” she said.

In the wake of the Phillips killing, The Guardian and about a dozen other international media organizations investigated organized crime and the theft of natural resources in the Amazon.

The joint project was arranged by Forbidden Stories, a Paris-based nonprofit dedicated to completing the work of journalists killed for their work.

Sarah Shenker, a campaigner for Survival International, which campaigns for Indigenous people’s rights, was a close friend of Phillips and Pereira.

She says their deaths left her “shocked and devastated.”

“The difference here is that Bruno and Dom were not Indigenous and Bruno was not from the area. Some non-Indigenous people were killed. It sets a sort of difference with the killings of Indigenous,” she told VOA.

“People thought the gunmen would not go as far as to kill non-Indigenous people, maybe they would not enjoy the same impunity as if they killed Indigenous people, but clearly they did go that far.”

Shenker said she had received threats from gunmen while working to protect Indigenous rights from illegal loggers.

“We are questioned and threatened. Gunmen sometimes fire shots because they don’t want activists to protect Indigenous land. They just want to steal Indigenous land. But we have to carry on. This is one of the most important fights of our time.”

Jonathan Watts, The Guardian’s global environmental editor, is one of the contributors to the book Phillips and Pereira were working on.

Phillips had completed half of How to Save the Amazon: Ask the People Who Know, before he was killed. Watts and other journalists hope they can finish the book as they mark the journalist’s death and that of Pereira.

‘The dangers are immense’

“I think obviously as we have seen, horrifically with the case of Dom Phillips, the dangers are immense. It is unusual for a journalist to be killed in the [Amazon] forest.  But it is becoming more dangerous as organized crime increases its presence in the region,” Watts said in a telephone interview with VOA.

“In the past, there was crime, but there was not big narco gangs as it is today. There are suspicions that they are linked to the illegal fishing gangs which were responsible for the deaths of Dom and Bruno,” Watts said.

He said environmental campaigners who stand in the way of “extractive industries” like logging or illegal fishing face the same dangers as war reporters.

“I think the risk is like being a war reporter. It is a toll on a scale with a war and we lose about 300 per year, according to Global Witness,” Watts said.

Global Witness, an NGO that challenges abuses of power that threaten human rights and the environment, published a report in May that said since 2012, 1,733 of what it terms environmental defenders had been killed. The most dangerous countries: Brazil, Mexico and Colombia.

Environmental journalists who often accompanied activists like Pereira also ran the same risks as war reporters, Watts said.

“Sometimes being an environment reporter has similarities with being a war reporter. By being with a target or traveling with a target, as in the case of Dom, you can accidentally become a witness to a crime.”

Figures from the Brazilian Forum on Public Safety showed that with more than 8,000 deaths, the rate of intentional lethal crime in the Amazon was more than 50% higher than the rest of the country in 2022, The Guardian reported, making it a murder rate similar to Mexico.

In Amazonas state, where Phillips and Pereira were among 1,432 people killed last year, the murder rate was 74% above the national average. 

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Honeybee Health Blooming at Federal Facilities Across US

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While judges, lawyers and support staff at the federal courthouse in Concord, New Hampshire, keep the American justice system buzzing, thousands of humble honeybees on the building’s roof are playing their part in a more important task — feeding the world. 

The Warren B. Rudman courthouse is one of several federal facilities around the country participating in the General Services Administration’s Pollinator Initiative, a government program aimed at assessing and promoting the health of bees and other pollinators, which are critical to life on Earth. 

“Anybody who eats food, needs bees,” said Noah Wilson-Rich, co-founder, CEO and chief scientific officer of the Boston-based Best Bees company, which contracts with the government to take care of the honeybee hives at the New Hampshire courthouse and at some other federal buildings. 

Bees help pollinate the fruits and vegetables that sustain humans, he said. They pollinate hay and alfalfa, which feed cattle that provide the meat we eat. And they promote the health of plants that, through photosynthesis, give us clean air to breathe. 

Yet the busy insects that contribute an estimated $25 billion to the U.S. economy annually are under threat from diseases, agricultural chemicals and habitat loss that kill about half of all honeybee hives annually. Without human intervention, including beekeepers creating new hives, the world could experience a bee extinction that would lead to global hunger and economic collapse, Wilson-Rich said. 

The pollinator program is part of the federal government’s commitment to promoting sustainability, which includes reducing greenhouse gas emissions and promoting climate resilient infrastructure, said David Johnson, the General Services Administration’s sustainability program manager for New England. 

The GSA’s program started last year with hives at 11 sites. 

Some of those sites are no longer in the program. Hives placed at the National Archives building in Waltham, Massachusetts, last year did not survive the winter. 

Since then, other sites were added. Two hives, each home to thousands of bees, were placed on the roof of the Rudman building in March. 

The program is collecting data to find out whether the honeybees, which can fly 3 to 5 miles from the roof in their quest for pollen, can help the health of not just the plants on the roof, but also of the flora in the entire area, Johnson said. 

“Honeybees are actually very opportunistic,” he said. “They will feed on a lot of different types of plants.” 

The program can help identify the plants and landscapes beneficial to pollinators and help the government make more informed decisions about what trees and flowers to plant on building grounds. 

Best Bees tests the plant DNA in the honey to get an idea of the plant diversity and health in the area, Wilson-Rich said, and they have found that bees that forage on a more diverse diet seem to have better survival and productivity outcomes. 

Other federal facilities with hives include the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services headquarters in Baltimore; the federal courthouse in Hammond, Indiana; the Federal Archives Records Center in Chicago; and the Denver Federal Center. 

The federal government isn’t alone in its efforts to save the bees. The hives placed at federal sites are part of a wider network of about 1,000 hives at home gardens, businesses and institutions nationwide that combined can help determine what’s helping the bees, what’s hurting them and why. 

The GSA’s Pollinator Initiative is also looking to identify ways to keep the bee population healthy and vibrant and model those lessons at other properties — both government and private sector — said Amber Levofsky, the senior program advisor for the GSA’s Center for Urban Development. 

“The goal of this initiative was really aimed at gathering location-based data at facilities to help update directives and policies to help facilities managers to really target pollinator protection and habitat management regionally,” she said. 

And there is one other benefit to the government honeybee program that’s already come to fruition: the excess honey that’s produced is donated to area food banks. 

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WHO: Tanzania Declares End of Deadly Marburg Virus Outbreak

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Tanzania on Friday declared the end of a deadly outbreak of the Marburg virus, more than two months after it was first confirmed, the World Health Organization said. 

Nine cases – eight confirmed and one probable – and six deaths were recorded in the outbreak of the hemorrhagic fever in the northwestern region of Kagera, the WHO said in a statement. 

The U.N. health agency said it was the first such outbreak in Tanzania, an East African country with a population of almost 62 million. 

The last confirmed case tested negative on April 19, setting off the 42-day mandatory countdown to declare the end of the outbreak, it added. 

Neighboring Uganda, which witnessed its last outbreak in 2017 and shares a porous border with Tanzania, had gone on high alert after Marburg was confirmed by Tanzania’s health ministry on March 21. 

Uganda had just emerged in January from an almost four-month-long Ebola outbreak, which killed 55 people. 

The WHO said Tanzania’s health authorities, with help from the U.N. agency and other partners, had “immediately rolled out outbreak response to stop the spread of the virus and save lives.” 

The Marburg virus is a highly virulent microbe that causes severe fever, often accompanied by bleeding and organ failure. 

No vaccines 

It is part of the so-called filovirus family that also includes Ebola, which has caused havoc in several previous outbreaks in Africa. 

Fatality rates from Marburg in confirmed cases have ranged from 24% to 88% during previous outbreaks, according to the WHO. 

The virus is transmitted to people from fruit bats and spreads among humans through direct contact with the bodily fluids of infected people, surfaces and materials, it says.  

There are currently no vaccines or antiviral treatments, but the WHO has said potential treatments, including blood products, immune therapies and drug therapies, as well as early vaccine candidates, are being evaluated. 

Tanzania’s outbreak coincided with cases in the West African state of Equatorial Guinea, where the death toll had risen to 12, according to health ministry figures issued on April 24. 

WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus on Friday said the outbreak in Equatorial Guinea “is also expected to be declared there over in the next week, if no further cases are detected.” 

The agency “will continue to support both countries to strengthen their outbreak prevention and preparedness activities,” he told reporters in Geneva.  

Previous Marburg outbreaks and sporadic cases have been also reported in South Africa, Angola, Kenya and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.  

The virus takes its name from the German city of Marburg, where it was first identified in 1967 in a lab where workers had been in contact with infected green monkeys imported from Uganda.

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US Proposal for Remote Pacific Marine Sanctuary Draws Mixed Response

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In March, U.S. President Joe Biden announced the creation of a marine sanctuary across a wide swath of the Pacific Ocean. If finalized, it would help the U.S. meet its goal of protecting 30% of its oceans by 2030. The public comment period is underway, revealing the competing interests of conservation and economic development across the region. VOA’s Jessica Stone reports.

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Sweden Approaches ‘Smoke-Free’ Status as Daily Use of Cigarettes Dwindles

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Summer is in the air — cigarette smoke is not — in Sweden’s outdoor bars and restaurants.

As the World Health Organization marks “World No Tobacco Day” on Wednesday, Sweden, which has the lowest rate of smoking in the Europe Union, is close to declaring itself “smoke-free” — defined as having fewer than 5% daily smokers in the population.

Many experts give credit to decades of anti-smoking campaigns and legislation, while others point to the prevalence of “snus,” a smokeless tobacco product banned elsewhere in the EU but marketed in Sweden as an alternative to cigarettes.

Whatever the reason, the 5% milestone is now within reach. Only 6.4% of Swedes over 15 were daily smokers in 2019, the lowest in the EU and far below the average of 18.5% across the 27-nation bloc, according to the Eurostat statistics agency.

Figures from the Public Health Agency of Sweden show the smoking rate has continued to fall since then, reaching 5.6% last year.

“We like a healthy way to live, I think that’s the reason,” said Carina Astorsson, a Stockholm resident. Smoking never interested her, she said, because “I don’t like the smell; I want to take care of my body.”

The risks of smoking appear well understood among health-conscious Swedes, including younger generations. Twenty years ago, almost 20% of the population were smokers — which was a low rate globally at the time. Since then, measures to discourage smoking, including bans on smoking in restaurants, have brought down smoking rates across Europe.

France saw record drops in smoking rates from 2014-19, but that success hit a plateau during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic — blamed in part for causing stresses that drove people to light up. About one-third of people ages 18-75 in France professed to having smoked in 2021 — a slight increase on 2019. About a quarter smoke daily.

Sweden has gone further than most to stamp out cigarettes, which it says has resulted in a range of health benefits, including a relatively low rate of lung cancer.

“We were early in restricting smoking in public spaces, first in school playgrounds and after-school centers, and later in restaurants, outdoor cafes and public places such as bus stations,” said Ulrika Årehed, secretary-general of the Swedish Cancer Society. “In parallel, taxes on cigarettes and strict restrictions on the marketing of these products have played an important role.”

She added that “Sweden is not there yet,” noting that the proportion of smokers is higher in disadvantaged socioeconomic groups.

The sight of people lighting up is becoming increasingly rare in the country of 10.5 million. Smoking is prohibited at bus stops and train platforms and outside the entrances of hospitals and other public buildings. Like in most of Europe, smoking isn’t allowed inside bars and restaurants, but since 2019 Sweden’s smoking ban also applies to their outdoor seating areas.

On Tuesday night, the terraces of Stockholm were full of people enjoying food and drinks in the late-setting sun. There was no sign of cigarettes, but cans of snus could be spotted on some tables. Between beers, some patrons stuffed small pouches of the moist tobacco under their upper lips.

Swedish snus makers have long held up their product as a less harmful alternative to smoking and claim credit for the country’s declining smoking rates. But Swedish health authorities are reluctant to advise smokers to switch to snus, another highly addictive nicotine product.

“I don’t see any reason to put two harmful products up against each other,” Årehed said. “It is true that smoking is more harmful than most things you can do, including snus. But that said, there are many health risks even with snus.”

Some studies have linked snus to increased risk of heart disease, diabetes and premature births if used during pregnancy.

Swedes are so fond of their snus, a distant cousin of dipping tobacco in the United States, that they demanded an exemption to the EU’s ban on smokeless tobacco when they joined the bloc in 1995.

“It’s part of the Swedish culture, it’s like the Swedish equivalent of Italian Parma ham or any other cultural habit,” said Patrik Hildingsson, a spokesperson for Swedish Match, Sweden’s top snus maker, which was acquired by tobacco giant Philip Morris last year.

WHO, the U.N. health agency, says Turkmenistan, with a rate of tobacco use below 5%, is ahead of Sweden when it comes to phasing out smoking, but notes that’s largely due to smoking being almost nonexistent among women. For men the rate is 7%.

WHO attributes Sweden’s declining smoking rate to a combination of tobacco control measures, including information campaigns, advertising bans and “cessation support” for those wishing to quit tobacco. However, the agency noted that Sweden’s tobacco use is at more than 20% of the adult population, similar to the global average, when you include snus and similar products.

“Switching from one harmful product to another is not a solution,” WHO said in an email. “Promoting a so-called ‘harm reduction approach’ to smoking is another way the tobacco industry is trying to mislead people about the inherently dangerous nature of these products.”

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Private Astronaut Crew, Including First Arab Woman in Orbit, Returns from Space Station

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An all-private astronaut team of two Americans and two Saudis, including the first Arab woman sent into orbit, splashed down safely off Florida on Tuesday night, capping an eight-day research mission aboard the International Space Station.

The SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule carrying them parachuted into the Gulf of Mexico off the coast of Panama City, Florida, after a 12-hour return flight and blazing re-entry plunge through Earth’s atmosphere.

The splashdown was carried live by a joint webcast presented by SpaceX and the company behind the mission, Axiom Space.

It concluded the second space station mission organized, equipped and trained entirely at private expense by Axiom, a seven-year-old Houston-based venture headed by NASA’s former ISS program manager.

The Axiom 2 crew was led by retired NASA astronaut Peggy Whitson, 63, who holds the U.S. record for most time spent in orbit with 665 days in space over three long-duration missions to the ISS, including 10 spacewalks. She now serves as Axiom’s director of human spaceflight.

“That was a phenomenal ride. We really enjoyed all of it,” Whitson radioed to mission controllers moments after splashdown.

Ax-2’s designated pilot was John Shoffner, 67, an aviator, race car driver and investor from Alaska.

Rounding out the crew as mission specialists were the first two astronauts from Saudi Arabia to fly aboard a private spacecraft: Ali Alqarni, 31, a fighter pilot for the Royal Saudi Air Force; and Rayyanah Barnawi, 34, a biomedical scientist in cancer stem cell research.

Barnawi was the first woman from the Arab world ever launched into Earth orbit and the first Saudi woman to fly in space, an achievement that came barely five years after women in the Persian Gulf kingdom gained the right to drive in June 2018.

In August 2022, Sara Sabry became the first Arab woman and the first Egyptian to fly to space on a brief suborbital ride operated by the Blue Origin astro-tourist venture of Jeff Bezos.

The ISS stay of Alqarni and Barnawi was also notable for overlapping with that of Sultan Al Neyadi, an ISS Expedition-69 crew member from the United Arab Emirates, marking the first time three astronauts from the Arab world were aboard the space station together.

The Axiom 2 mission, which launched on May 21, was the latest in a series of space expeditions bankrolled by private investment capital and wealthy passengers rather than by taxpayer dollars as NASA seeks to expand commercial access to low-Earth orbit.

Axiom, which sent its first four-member astronaut team to the ISS in April 2022, also has signed a contract with the U.S. space agency to build the first commercial addition to the orbiting laboratory.

California-based SpaceX, founded by Twitter owner and Tesla Inc. electric carmaker CEO Elon Musk, supplied the Falcon 9 rocket and crew capsule that ferried Axiom’s team to and from orbit and controlled the flight.

NASA furnished the launch site at its Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida, and assumed responsibility for the Axiom crew during its stay aboard the space station, orbiting some 400 kilometers above Earth.

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Amazon to Pay $31 Million in Privacy Violation Penalties for Alexa Voice Assistant, Ring Camera

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Amazon agreed Wednesday to pay a $25 million civil penalty to settle Federal Trade Commission allegations it violated a child privacy law and deceived parents by keeping for years kids’ voice and location data recorded by its popular Alexa voice assistant.

Separately, the company agreed to pay $5.8 million in customer refunds for alleged privacy violations involving its doorbell camera Ring.

The Alexa-related action orders Amazon to overhaul its data deletion practices and impose stricter, more transparent privacy measures. It also obliges the tech giant to delete certain data collected by its internet-connected digital assistant, which people use for everything from checking the weather to playing games and queueing up music.

“Amazon’s history of misleading parents, keeping children’s recordings indefinitely, and flouting parents’ deletion requests violated COPPA (the Child Online Privacy Protection Act) and sacrificed privacy for profits,” Samuel Levine, the FCT consumer protection chief, said in a statement. The 1998 law is designed to shield children from online harms.

FTC Commissioner Alvaro Bedoya said in a statement that “when parents asked Amazon to delete their kids’ Alexa voice data, the company did not delete all of it.”

The agency ordered the company to delete inactive child accounts as well as certain voice and geolocation data.

Amazon kept the kids’ data to refine its voice recognition algorithm, the artificial intelligence behind Alexa, which powers Echo and other smart speakers, Bedoya said. The FTC complaint sends a message to all tech companies who are “sprinting to do the same” amid fierce competition in developing AI datasets, he added.

“Nothing is more visceral to a parent than the sound of their child’s voice,” tweeted Bedoya, the father of two small children.

Amazon said last month that it has sold more than a half-billion Alexa-enabled devices globally and that use of the service increased 35% last year.

In the Ring case, the FTC says Amazon’s home security camera subsidiary let employees and contractors access consumers’ private videos and provided lax security practices that enabled hackers to take control of some accounts.

Amazon bought California-based Ring in 2018, and many of the violations alleged by the FTC predate the acquisition. Under the FTC’s order, Ring is required to pay $5.8 million that would be used for consumer refunds.

Amazon said it disagreed with the FTC’s claims on both Alexa and Ring and denied violating the law. But it said the settlements “put these matters behind us.”

“Our devices and services are built to protect customers’ privacy, and to provide customers with control over their experience,” the Seattle-based company said.

In addition to the fine in the Alexa case, the proposed order prohibits Amazon from using deleted geolocation and voice information to create or improve any data product. The order also requires Amazon to create a privacy program for its use of geolocation information.

The proposed orders must be approved by federal judges.

FTC commissioners had unanimously voted to file the charges against Amazon in both cases.

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China Eyes Spain in Drive to Conquer European EV Market

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The International Energy Agency says Chinese car manufacturers are emerging as a major force in the global electric car market, with more than 50% of all electric cars on roads worldwide now produced in China. Spain is the second-largest vehicle manufacturer in Europe after Germany and its market has become a target for Chinese automakers. From Barcelona, Alfonso Beato has this report, narrated by Marcus Harton.

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SpaceX’s Starlink Wins Pentagon Contract for Satellite Services for Ukraine

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SpaceX’s Starlink, the satellite communications service started by billionaire Elon Musk, now has a Defense Department contract to buy those satellite services for Ukraine, the Pentagon said Thursday.  

“We continue to work with a range of global partners to ensure Ukraine has the resilient satellite and communication capabilities they need. Satellite communications constitute a vital layer in Ukraine’s overall communications network and the department contracts with Starlink for services of this type,” the Pentagon said in a statement.

Starlink has been used by Ukrainian troops for a variety of efforts, including battlefield communications.  

SpaceX, through private donations and under a separate contract with a U.S. foreign aid agency, has been providing Ukrainians and the country’s military with Starlink internet service, a fast-growing network of more than 4,000 satellites in low Earth orbit, since the beginning of the war in 2022.

The Pentagon contract is a boon for SpaceX after Musk, the company’s CEO, said in October it could not afford to indefinitely fund Starlink in Ukraine, an effort he said cost $20 million a month to maintain.

Russia has tried to cut off and jam internet services in Ukraine, including attempts to block Starlink in the region, though SpaceX has countered those attacks by hardening the service’s software.

The Pentagon did not disclose the terms of the contract, which Bloomberg reported earlier on Thursday, “for operational security reasons and due to the critical nature of these systems.”

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Argentinian Meteorologist Celeste Saulo to Lead UN Weather Agency

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The U.N.’s weather service, the World Meteorological Organization, selected Argentinian meteorologist Celeste Saulo Thursday to be the agency’s first woman secretary-general, effective in January 2024.

In a statement, the WMO said Saulo was elected by the organization’s 193 members as part of the World Meteorological Congress being held at the U.N. in Geneva. 

In the WMO statement, Saulo said inequality and climate change are among the biggest threats facing the world, and that “the WMO must contribute to strengthening the meteorological and hydrological services to protect populations and their economies, providing timely and effective services and early warning systems.”

She said, “My ambition is to lead the WMO towards a scenario in which the voice of all members is heard equally, prioritizing those most vulnerable and in which the actions it undertakes are aligned with the needs and particularities of each one of them.”

Saulo has been director of the National Meteorological Service of Argentina since 2014 and is currently the first vice-president of the WMO. She will succeed outgoing Secretary-General Petteri Taalas of Finland, who will complete his two-year term at the end of this year.

Some information for this report came from Reuters and Agence France-Presse.

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