Johns Hopkins: 177.8 Million Global COVID Infections

Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center has reported 177.8 million global COVID-19 cases and 3.8 million deaths. The U.S. remains the country with the most infections at 33.5 million, followed closely by India with 29.8 million.German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron urged European Union countries Friday to be vigilant against the spread of new coronavirus variants and called for the bloc to coordinate its COVID-19 border reopening policies.”Caution is still necessary so that we have a summer of many freedoms, if not all freedoms,” Merkel told a joint news conference in Berlin before the two leaders held a working dinner.”Some countries have reopened their borders earlier for tourist industry reasons, but we must be careful not to reimport new variants,” Macron said.Macron noted the situation in Britain, while Merkel pointed to Portugal to show how things can quickly change.Britain this week delayed a relaxation of pandemic restrictions because of the prevalence of the delta variant, which was first identified in India, while Portuguese authorities on Thursday banned travel in and out of the capital, Lisbon, because of the variant.In other developments Friday, Israel’s new government, which was sworn in Sunday, said it would transfer up to 1.4 million doses of soon-to-expire Pfizer coronavirus vaccine to the Palestinian Authority in exchange for about the same number of doses the authority anticipates receiving later this year.The authority canceled the deal later Friday, however. Its health minister, Mai Alkaila, told reporters that the expiration date for the vaccine was in June, …

Thailand Starts Human Trials of Homegrown COVID-19 Vaccines

Thailand has begun human trials with two of four homegrown vaccine candidates local scientists are developing against COVID-19, as the country scrambles to secure shots from abroad amid its worst wave of infections since the pandemic began.The homegrown vaccines will not be ready for mass production in time to help Thailand fight off the latest wave. Officials and developers are hoping, though, that they will arrive in time to give Thailand — and maybe its neighbors — booster shots tailored to the main variants of the novel coronavirus by next year.“The vaccine will be against the variants like the South African variant and the Indian variant and others, so that will be our strategy,” said Kiat Ruxrungtham, who is spearheading development of one of the most anticipated candidates at Chulalongkorn University’s Vaccine Research Center in Bangkok.A shot in the armFor now, Thailand is relying on a mix of vaccines from foreign drugmakers to reach herd immunity by the end of the year.Having kept infection rates low through 2020 with tight border controls and strict social distancing, Thailand secured relatively few doses early in the pandemic. It bought a few million shots from China’s Sinovac for the most vulnerable and struck a deal with AstraZeneca that lets local drugmaker SiamBioscience manufacture its COVID-19 vaccine in the country.Then came the third wave in April, sending death and infection rates to record highs, and authorities on a vaccine shopping spree, striking deals with Pfizer, Moderna, Johnson & Johnson and Sinopharm. The government says …

Namibian Chief who Urged German Reparations Dies of Virus

A prominent Namibian traditional leader, Vekuii Rukoro, the paramount chief of the OvaHererero people who led international legal battles to bring Germany to pay reparations for its genocide in the southern African country, has died of COVID-19.Rukoro died early Friday, secretary-general of the Ovaherero/OvaMbanderu and Nama Council, Mutjinde Katjiua, told The Associated Press.Rukoro, who was elected Paramount Chief of the OvaHerero in 2014, represented both ethnic groups in the international legal cases.Rukoro and other traditional chiefs have accepted Germany’s offer of compensation but said it should be improved through further negotiations, while some other traditional leaders have rejected it.Last month the German government apologized for the colonial-era massacres and agreed to pay 1.1 billion euros ($1.3 billion) to Namibia over a 30-year period.In what is now acknowledged to be the first genocide of the 20th century, the mass killings of the OvaHerero and Nama people were perpetrated by German colonial forces between 1904 and 1908.Namibia is currently experiencing a surge of COVID-19. The country’s seven-day rolling average of daily new cases has more than doubled over the past two weeks from 17.31 new cases per 100,000 people on June 3 to 49.13 new cases per 100,000 people on June 17, according to Johns Hopkins University.Namibia, a country of 2.5 million people, has a cumulative total of just over 70,000 confirmed cases, including 112 deaths, according to the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The current surge has brought the government to restrict movement into and out of the capital, …

French, German Leaders Urge Vigilance Against COVID-19 Variants

German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron urged European Union countries Friday to be vigilant against the spread of new coronavirus variants and called for the bloc to coordinate its COVID-19 border reopening policies.”Caution is still necessary so that we have a summer of many freedoms, if not all freedoms,” Merkel told a joint news conference in Berlin before the two leaders held a working dinner.”Some countries have reopened their borders earlier for tourist industry reasons, but we must be careful not to reimport new variants,” Macron said.Macron noted the situation in Britain while Merkel pointed to Portugal to show how things can quickly change.Britain this week delayed a relaxation of pandemic restrictions because of the prevalence of the delta variant, which was first identified in India, while Portuguese authorities on Thursday banned travel in and out of the capital, Lisbon, because of the variant.FILE – A Sri Lankan man rests in a vegetable market closed to curb the spread of the coronavirus in Colombo, Sri Lanka, June 16, 2021.In other developments Friday:— The delta variant was detected in Sri Lanka, a neighbor to India.”It is the worst we could have imagined at such a time,” Dr. Chandima Jeewandara, director of the Allergy, Immunity and Cell Biology Unit at Sri Jayewardenepura University, told The Hindu newspaper. “We are already dealing with a spike in cases with the alpha variant. Delta poses a greater risk because our vaccine coverage is low, and among those who are vaccinated a majority …

Biden Touts US COVID-19 Vaccination Campaign

President Joe Biden announced Friday that 300 million COVID-19 vaccine doses had been administered in the United States since he took office January 20.But Biden’s plan to have 70% of Americans at least partially vaccinated by July 4 may fall short because of a sharp decline in the number of vaccinations that began about two months ago.As of early Friday, according to the website of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 377.9 million vaccine doses had been distributed in the U.S. and 316.0 million had been administered.The site said 176.3 million people, or 53.1 percent of the total U.S. population, had received at least one dose of the vaccine and 148.5 million, or 44.7 percent, had been fully vaccinated. COVID cases, hospitalizations and deaths have fallen to their lowest levels in more than a year, but the vaccination drive has flagged because of a lack of urgency on the part of some people to get the shots, especially in the South and Midwest.On Friday, Vice President Kamala Harris encouraged people to get vaccinated as she took a tour of a pop-up COVID-19 vaccination site at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, Georgia, where Martin Luther King Jr. served as pastor until his 1968 assassination. …

Takeaways From Biden-Putin ‘Cyber Summit’

Cybersecurity experts have been poring over the transcripts from Wednesday’s news conferences in Geneva to determine whether the U.S.-Russia summit will produce real progress in halting a wave of high-profile ransomware attacks. For most, the answer is: It’s too soon to tell. In the run-up to the meeting between President Joe Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin, cyberattacks for ransom emanating from Russia emerged as a critical national security issue for the United States. Concern over Russia’s purported role in these attacks grew after ransomware criminals believed to be based in Russia breached the computer networks of Colonial Pipeline — the largest pipeline system for refined oil products in the U.S. — and beef processing giant JBS last month.FILE – A JBS Processing Plant stands dormant after halting operations on June 1, 2021 in Greeley, Colorado. JBS facilities around the globe were impacted by a ransomware attack, forcing many of their facilities to shut down.Biden vowed to confront Putin over ransomware. But while no breakthrough over cybersecurity emerged from the summit, the two leaders agreed to start consultations over the issue.  Cyber consultations  Experts from the two countries will be tasked to work on “specific understandings of what’s off-limits” and to follow up on cyberattacks that originate in either country, Biden said.   What that will entail remains to be seen, but cybersecurity experts say the talks will likely be conducted by working groups composed of low-level officials from across the Biden administration and their Russian counterparts.   Sixteen exemptions The president said he handed Putin …

US Investing Billions in Pills for COVID-19, Other Viruses

The United States is investing $3.2 billion in the development of antiviral pills for COVID-19 and other viruses that could spark new pandemics.   The top U.S. infectious disease expert, Dr. Anthony Fauci, made the announcement Thursday at a White House briefing as part of a new initiative called the Antiviral Program for Pandemics.   The program will support research into the development of new drugs to address symptoms caused by the coronavirus and other potentially dangerous viruses.   Pills for COVID-19 are already in the developmental stage and could begin to be available by the end of 2021 if clinical trials are successful.     The funding will expedite the trials and bolster support for private sector research, development, and manufacturing.   The U.S. previously approved the antiviral drug remdesivir as a treatment for COVID-19. It has also authorized for emergency use three antibody combinations that help fight the virus. But the drugs must be infused at hospitals or other medical facilities, a logistical issue that has resulted in weak demand.   Pharmaceutical companies AstraZeneca, Pfizer and Roche have begun testing antiviral medications in pill form.   …

Facial Recognition Technology Solves Crimes, but at What Cost?

Even as big tech companies such as Amazon limit their sale of facial recognition software to law enforcement, one company has not: Clearview AI, a facial recognition search engine that contains three billion images scraped from the internet.    More than 3,000 U.S. law enforcement agencies employ the software, which uses an advanced algorithm to identify and match faces, the company says.   “The way it works is very similar to Google, but instead of putting in words, you’re putting in photos of faces, and it will find anything publicly available on the internet that looks like that face,” said Hoan Ton-That, chief executive and co-founder of the company.   Police argue that facial recognition software is an important tool in fighting and solving crimes. But its increasing use has raised concerns that there are too few rules in place for when and how police can use it.    Limiting the scope of software Police typically have image search engines at their disposal that pull drivers’ license pictures or other photos among police records.  Clearview AI, in contrast, has gathered billions of images from social media sites and other websites, which internet firms say were obtained by breaking their rules.  Clearview AI’s Ton-That says that the company only pulls publicly available information.   In one case, federal agents were able to identify a man suspected of sexual abuse of a girl using a single image from the “dark web,” an area of the internet only accessible by special software and matching it through Clearview AI.   “He was in the background of …

US Supreme Court Upholds Health Care Law Again

The U.S. Supreme Court for the third time on Thursday upheld the legality of the country’s chief health insurance law that provides millions of Americans with coverage to help pay their medical costs.   The court, in a 7-to-2 decision, rejected a bid by 18 Republican-led states and the administration of former President Donald Trump to upend the 2010 Affordable Care Act.   It was the signature legislative achievement of former President Barack Obama, Trump’s immediate predecessor, and is popularly known in the U.S. as Obamacare.   The country’s highest court had also rejected legal challenges in 2012 and 2015, with all three decisions keeping in place such politically popular provisions as allowing young adults to remain on their parents’ insurance policies until they turn 26 and ensuring coverage for patients with preexisting health conditions.   As originally approved by Congress, the law required people to pay a penalty if they chose to not buy health insurance. But Congress in 2017 set that penalty — the so-called individual mandate — at zero.   Republican state attorneys general, and the Trump administration, contended that removing the penalty provision made the whole law unconstitutional.   The court did not consider the validity of the claims made against the law but ruled that the states opposed to it did not have legal standing to make the challenge.   The majority decision was written by liberal Justice Stephen Breyer, and joined by two of the three conservative justices appointed to the court by Trump, …