China Reports Third Consecutive Daily Record for New COVID Cases

China reported 35,183 new COVID-19 infections on Friday, of which 3,474 were symptomatic and 31,709 were asymptomatic, the National Health Commission said on Saturday, setting a new high for the third consecutive day. That compared with 32,943 new cases a day earlier — 3,103 symptomatic and 29,840 asymptomatic infections, which China counts separately. Excluding imported cases, China reported 34,909 new local cases on Friday, of which 3,405 were symptomatic and 31,504 were asymptomatic, up from 32,695 a day earlier. There were no deaths, keeping fatalities at 5,232. As of Friday, mainland China had confirmed 304,093 cases with symptoms. Mega-cities continue to struggle to contain outbreaks, with Chongqing and Guangzhou recording the bulk of new cases. Chongqing, a southwestern city of 32 million people, reported 7,721 new local cases for Friday, a jump of almost 20% from the previous day. Guangzhou, a prosperous city of nearly 19 million people in southern China, reported 7,419 new local cases for Friday, down slightly from 7,524 cases a day earlier. New local cases for Friday in the capital Beijing jumped 58% to 2,595, according to figures released by local health authorities Saturday. There are COVID outbreaks in almost all Chinese provinces, with Hebei, Sichuan, Shanxi and Qinghai provinces each registering more than a thousand new cases on Friday. …

US Bans Huawei, ZTE Equipment Sales, Citing National Security Risk

The Biden administration has banned approvals of new telecommunications equipment from China’s Huawei Technologies HWT.UL and ZTE 000063.SZ because they pose “an unacceptable risk” to U.S. national security. The U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) said Friday it had adopted the final rules, which also bar the sale or import of equipment made by China’s surveillance equipment maker Dahua Technology Co 002236.SZ, video surveillance firm Hangzhou Hikvision Digital Technology Co Ltd 002415.SZ and telecoms firm Hytera Communications Corp Ltd 002583.SZ. The move represents Washington’s latest crackdown on the Chinese tech giants amid fears that Beijing could use Chinese tech companies to spy on Americans. “These new rules are an important part of our ongoing actions to protect the American people from national security threats involving telecommunications,” FCC Chairperson Jessica Rosenworcel said in a statement. Huawei declined to comment. ZTE, Dahua, Hikvision and Hytera did not immediately respond to requests for comment. Rosenworcel circulated the proposed measure — which effectively bars the firms from selling new equipment in the United States — to the other three commissioners for final approval last month. The FCC said in June 2021 it was considering banning all equipment authorizations for all companies on the covered list. That came after a March 2021 designation of five Chinese companies on the so-called “covered list” as posing a threat to national security under a 2019 law aimed at protecting U.S. communications networks: Huawei, ZTE, Hytera Communications Corp Hikvision and Dahua. All four commissioners at the agency, including two Republicans …

NASA’s Orion Capsule Enters Far-Flung Orbit Around Moon

NASA’s Orion capsule entered an orbit stretching tens of thousands of miles around the moon Friday, as it neared the halfway mark of its test flight. The capsule and its three test dummies entered lunar orbit more than a week after launching on the $4 billion demo that’s meant to pave the way for astronauts. It will remain in this broad but stable orbit for nearly a week, completing just half a lap before heading home. As of Friday’s engine firing, the capsule was 380,000 kilometers from Earth. It’s expected to reach a maximum distance of almost 432,000 kilometers in a few days. That will set a new distance record for a capsule designed to carry people one day. “It is a statistic, but it’s symbolic for what it represents,” Jim Geffre, an Orion manager, said in a NASA interview earlier in the week. “It’s about challenging ourselves to go farther, stay longer and push beyond the limits of what we’ve previously explored.” NASA considers this a dress rehearsal for the next moon flyby in 2024, with astronauts. A lunar landing by astronauts could follow as soon as 2025. Astronauts last visited the moon 50 years ago during Apollo 17. Earlier in the week, Mission Control in Houston lost contact with the capsule for nearly an hour. At the time, controllers were adjusting the communication link between Orion and the Deep Space Network. Officials said the spacecraft remained healthy. …

London to Expand Vehicle Pollution Zone to Cover 9 Million People

Older and more heavily polluting vehicles will have to pay to enter the entire metropolitan area of London starting next August, the British capital’s mayor said Friday. Sadiq Khan said the ultra-low emission zone (ULEZ) would be expanded beyond its current confines starting August 29 to encompass the entire 9 million people of greater London. Announcing a parallel expansion of bus services in outer London, he argued that air pollution from older and heavier vehicles was making Londoners “sick from cradle to the grave.” The ULEZ has proved transformational, the mayor said, and its extension would mean “5 million more people will be able to breathe cleaner air and live healthier lives.” But the plan has prompted a fierce backlash from political opponents and some residents in the capital, who point to a survey indicating that most Londoners opposed extending the zone. The two-month outreach exercise was held earlier this year by Transport for London, which runs the capital’s various transport systems. The survey heard from 57,913 people, including nearly 12,000 campaigners on either side of the issue. Although it found 55% of respondents had “some concern” about their local air quality, the survey also recorded 59% as opposed to the ULEZ being expanded. That rose to 70% in the outer London areas set to be part of the enlargement. “Sadiq Khan has broken his promise to listen to Londoners,” the Conservative grouping in London’s lawmaking assembly said on Twitter. “He must U-TURN on the ULEZ expansion.” The zone has …

Global Wildlife Summit Approves Shark Protections 

Delegates at a global summit on trade in endangered species on Friday approved a plan to protect 54 more shark species, a move that could drastically reduce the lucrative and cruel shark fin trade.  Members of the requiem shark and the hammerhead shark families will now have their trade tightly controlled under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES).  The binding resolutions were adopted by consensus on the final day of the two-week meeting by delegates from 183 countries and the European Union.  “Proposal 37 approved,” Shirley Binder, Panamanian delegate and head of the plenary, said of the requiem shark proposal, after Japan failed to get the blue shark removed from the measure.  The proposal regarding the hammerhead shark passed without debate.  Binder earlier told AFP the “historic decision” would mean up to 90 percent of sharks in the market would now be protected.   The insatiable appetite in Asia for shark fins, which make their way onto dinner tables in Hong Kong, Taiwan and Japan, has spurred their trade.  Despite being described as almost tasteless and gelatinous, shark fin soup is viewed as a delicacy and is enjoyed by the very wealthy, often at weddings and expensive banquets.  Shark fins, representing a market of about $500 million per year, can sell for about $1,000 a kilogram (2.2 pounds).  “This will be remembered as the day we turned the tide to prevent the extinction of the world’s sharks and rays,” said Luke Warwick, director of shark protection for the …

Musk Plans to Relaunch Twitter Premium Service, Again

Elon Musk said Friday that Twitter plans to relaunch its premium service that will offer different colored check marks to accounts next week, in a fresh move to revamp the service after a previous attempt backfired. It’s the latest change to the social media platform that the billionaire Tesla CEO bought last month for $44 billion, coming a day after Musk said he would grant “amnesty” for suspended accounts and causing yet more uncertainty for users. Twitter previously suspended the premium service, which under Musk granted blue-check labels to anyone paying $8 a month, because of a wave of imposter accounts. Originally, the blue check was given to government entities, corporations, celebrities and journalists verified by the platform to prevent impersonation. In the latest version, companies will get a gold check, governments will get a gray check, and individuals who pay for the service, whether or not they’re celebrities, will get a blue check, Musk said Friday. “All verified accounts will be manually authenticated before check activates,” he said, adding it was “painful, but necessary” and promising a “longer explanation” next week. He said the service was “tentatively launching” Dec. 2. Twitter had put the revamped premium service on hold days after its launch earlier this month after accounts impersonated companies including pharmaceutical giant Eli Lilly & Co., Nintendo, Lockheed Martin, and even Musk’s own businesses Tesla and SpaceX, along with various professional sports and political figures. It was just one change in the past two days. On Thursday, Musk …

Uganda Closes Schools to Fight Ebola, New Cases Fall

Uganda closed schools nationwide on Friday to curb the spread of Ebola, despite the health minister insisting to AFP that new cases had declined. The directive to close schools two weeks before the end of term was announced earlier this month following the deaths of eight children from the highly contagious disease.  But in recent weeks, the number of new infections registered in the capital, Kampala, and the epicenters of Mubende and Kassanda has declined, Health Minister Jane Ruth Aceng told AFP. “The major breakthrough in this fight against Ebola for Uganda is that the communities have realized that Ebola is deadly and it kills,” she said.  “We encourage the population to remain alert and cooperate with the health teams if we are to win this battle and there are signs Uganda is winning,” she added. Uganda’s WHO office said Thursday that as of November 22, no case had been declared for nine days in Kamapala, 10 days in Mubende and 12 days in Kassanda. The outbreak has claimed 55 lives out of 141 known cases, according to Ugandan authorities, who have imposed lockdowns in Mubende and Kassanda. The measures include a dusk-to-dawn curfew, a ban on personal travel and the closure of markets, bars and churches. At a school in Kampala, one parent told AFP he was relieved to take his child home. “I think this early closure was really necessary, because of the situation, the Ebola situation in the country,” said banker Joab Baryayaka. “We trust they are …

China Reports Another One-Day COVID Case Record, Tightens Curbs

China on Friday reported another single-day record-high number of COVID-19 infections, as cities across the country enforced measures and curbs to try to control outbreaks.  Excluding imported infections, China recorded 32,695 new local COVID-19 cases on Thursday, of which 3,041 were symptomatic and 29,654 were asymptomatic, up from 31,144 a day earlier, which was the previous record. Big outbreaks are numerous and far-flung, with the southern city of Guangzhou and southwestern Chongqing recording the bulk of the new cases, although hundreds of new infections have been reported daily in cities such as Chengdu, Jinan, Lanzhou, Xian and Wuhan.  Cases quadrupled in Shijiazhuang to 3,197 on Thursday from the previous day.   China’s capital, Beijing, reported 424 symptomatic and 1,436 asymptomatic cases on Thursday, compared with 509 symptomatic and 1,139 asymptomatic cases the previous day, local government data showed.  Financial hub Shanghai – where a COVID lockdown that began in mid-April crippled the city of 25 million residents for two months – reported nine symptomatic cases and 77 asymptomatic cases on Thursday, compared with nine symptomatic cases and 58 asymptomatic cases a day before, the local health authority reported.  Guangzhou, a city in the south of nearly 19 million people, reported 257 new locally transmitted symptomatic and 7,267 asymptomatic cases Thursday, compared with 428 symptomatic and 7,192 asymptomatic cases a day before, local authorities said.  Chongqing reported 258 new symptomatic locally transmitted COVID-19 infections and 6,242 asymptomatic cases for Thursday, compared with 409 symptomatic and 7,437 asymptomatic cases the previous day, local government …

Twitter, Others Slip on Removing Hate Speech, EU Review Says

Twitter took longer to review hateful content and removed less of it in 2022 compared with the previous year, according to European Union data released Thursday. The EU figures were published as part of an annual evaluation of online platforms’ compliance with the 27-nation bloc’s code of conduct on disinformation. Twitter wasn’t alone; most other tech companies signed up to the voluntary code also scored worse. But the figures could foreshadow trouble for Twitter in complying with the EU’s tough new online rules after owner Elon Musk fired many of the platform’s 7,500 full-time workers and an untold number of contractors responsible for content moderation and other crucial tasks. The EU report, carried out over six weeks in the spring, found Twitter assessed just over half of the notifications it received about illegal hate speech within 24 hours, down from 82% in 2021. In comparison, the amount of flagged material Facebook reviewed within 24 hours fell to 64%, Instagram slipped to 56.9%, and YouTube dipped to 83.3%. TikTok came in at 92%, the only company to improve. The amount of hate speech Twitter removed after it was flagged slipped to 45.4% from 49.8% the year before. TikTok’s removal rate fell by a quarter to 60%, while Facebook and Instagram saw only minor declines. Only YouTube’s takedown rate increased, surging to 90%. “It’s worrying to see a downward trend in reviewing notifications related to illegal hate speech by social media platforms,” European Commission Vice President Vera Jourova tweeted. “Online hate speech …

Avian Flu Outbreak Wipes Out 50.54 Million US Birds, a Record

Avian flu has wiped out 50.54 million birds in the United States this year, making it the country’s deadliest outbreak in history, U.S. Department of Agriculture data showed on Thursday.  The deaths of chickens, turkeys and other birds represent the worst U.S. animal-health disaster to date, topping the previous record of 50.5 million birds that died in an avian flu outbreak in 2015.  Birds often die after becoming infected. Entire flocks, which can top a million birds at egg-laying chicken farms, are also culled to control the spread of the disease after a bird tests positive.  Losses of poultry flocks sent prices for eggs and turkey meat to record highs, worsening economic pain for consumers facing high inflation and making Thursday’s Thanksgiving celebrations more expensive in the United States. Europe and Britain are also suffering their worst avian-flu crises, and some British supermarkets rationed customers’ egg purchases after the outbreak disrupted supplies.  The U.S. outbreak, which began in February, infected flocks of poultry and non-poultry birds across 46 states, USDA data show. Wild birds like ducks transmit the virus, known as highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI), through their feces, feathers or direct contact with poultry.  “Wild birds continue to spread HPAI throughout the country as they migrate, so preventing contact between domestic flocks and wild birds is critical to protecting U.S. poultry,” said Rosemary Sifford, the USDA’s chief veterinary officer.  Farmers struggled to keep the disease and wild birds out of their barns, having bolstered security and cleaning measures following …