UK Set to Formally Apply for Trans-Pacific Trade Bloc Membership 

Britain will next week formally apply to join a trans-Pacific trading bloc of 11 countries, with negotiations set to start later this year, the government has said.Since leaving the European Union, Britain has made clear its desire to join the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP), which removes most tariffs between Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore and Vietnam.”One year after our departure for the EU we are forging new partnerships that will bring enormous economic benefits for the people of Britain,” Prime Minister Boris Johnson said in a statement.Trade minister Liz Truss told Times Radio: “On Monday I am putting in the letter of intent” and that she expected formal negotiations will start in the spring.Reuters reported on Thursday that Britain will not publish an assessment of the economic benefits of CPTPP membership before requesting to join it – contrary to earlier promises.Previous government economic analyses of Brexit have pointed to small boosts to economic output from additional trade deals.The government said joining CPTPP would remove tariffs on food and drink and cars, while helping to boost the technology and services sectors.”Applying to be the first new country to join the CPTPP demonstrates our ambition to do business on the best terms with our friends and partners all over the world and be an enthusiastic champion of global free trade,” Johnson said.  …

US Lawmakers Push Mental Health Days for Kids Amid Pandemic

When she was growing up, Sophie Corroon struggled to get through a ballet class or soccer tryout without having an anxiety attack.The idea of going to sleepovers or being home alone left her feeling panicked. Corroon’s anxiety grew even more during high school in Salt Lake City in the U.S. state of Utah when the pressures of getting into college left her in tears at school or toiling for hours on assignments.Corroon, now 20, has struggled with her mental health since fourth grade, and she’s not alone. And now, the coronavirus pandemic has multiplied the pressures on kids — many have spent almost a year doing remote learning, isolated from their friends and classmates. The portion of children’s emergency-room visits related to mental health was 44% higher in 2020, compared with the year before.State lawmakers are increasingly seeking more support for kids. This year, legislation proposed in Utah and Arizona would add mental or behavioral health to the list of reasons students can be absent from class, similar to staying out with a physical illness. Similar laws have passed in the states of Oregon, Maine, Colorado and Virginia in the past two years.Offering mental health days can help children and parents communicate and prevent struggling students from falling behind in school or ending up in crisis, said Debbie Plotnick, vice president of the nonprofit advocacy group Mental Health America. Plotnick said mental health days can be even more effective when paired with mental health services in schools.“We know that this …

WHO Team Visits Wet Market Linked to First Coronavirus Cases

A team of World Health Organization scientists investigating the source of the coronavirus visited a wet market Sunday in Wuhan, China. A cluster of cases were linked to the Huanan Seafood Market when the coronavirus first emerged in Wuhan in late 2019. Since then, the coronavirus has infected more than 102 million people worldwide and killed more than 2.2 million.The scientists have already visited at least one of the hospitals in Wuhan that treated some of the first patients.”Just back from visit at Jinyintan hospital, that specialized in infectious diseases and was designated for treatment of the first cases in Wuhan,” Dutch virologist Marion Koopmans said on Twitter. “Stories quite similar to what I have heard from our ICU doctors.”Just back from visit at Jinyintan hospital, that specialised in infectious diseases and was designated for treatment of the first cases in Wuhan. Stories quite similar to what I have heard from our ICU doctors.— Marion Koopmans (@MarionKoopmans) January 30, 2021One American member of the team, zoologist Peter Daszak with the EcoHealth Alliance, said on Twitter that it is important to speak to the doctors who first fought COVID-19, the diseased caused by the coronavirus.2nd day on-the-ground in Wuhan meeting w/ leaders & staff at the famous Wuhan Jinyintan Hospital that treated large numbers of severe COVID cases early in the outbreak. Important opportunity to talk directly w/ medics who were on the ground at that critical time fighting COVID!— Peter Daszak (@PeterDaszak) January 30, 2021The scientists want to know where …

WHO Team Visits Wuhan Hospital That Treated Early Cases

Scientists with the World Health Organization’s team investigating the source of the coronavirus that has infected more than 102 million people worldwide and killed more than 2.2 million have visited one of the hospitals in Wuhan, China, that treated some of the first patients.Dutch virologist Marion Koopmans said on Twitter that the stories she’d heard at Jinyintan hospital were “quite similar to what I have heard from our ICU doctors.”Just back from visit at Jinyintan hospital, that specialised in infectious diseases and was designated for treatment of the first cases in Wuhan. Stories quite similar to what I have heard from our ICU doctors.— Marion Koopmans (@MarionKoopmans) A woman wearing a face mask walks past a closed souvenir shop near Berlin’s famed tourist magnet Checkpoint Charlie, Jan. 29, 2021, during the coronavirus pandemic.Travelers from several European and African nations — Brazil, Britain, Eswatini, Ireland, Lesotho, Portugal and South Africa — will not be allowed into Germany. However, German residents traveling from those countries will be granted entry, even if they test positive for the coronavirus virus.Fourteen University of Michigan students were in quarantine after being diagnosed with the British variant of the virus. One of the students was reported to have traveled to Britain over the winter break.Health officials in South Carolina said they had detected two cases of the South African COVID-19 variant, the first cases in the United States.The U.S. remained the country with the most cases at more than 26 million, followed by India with 10.7 million …

Israel Says Pfizer Coronavirus Vaccine Shows 92% Effectiveness

In the first large-scale, controlled data outside clinical trials, the two-dose Pfizer coronavirus vaccine is showing 92 percent effectiveness, according to Israeli health officials. It’s good news for Pfizer, which says the vaccine also appears to work against the British mutation of COVID-19. The Maccabi Health Fund studied 163,000 Israelis who had received two doses of the Pfizer coronavirus vaccine. Only 31 of them caught COVID-19 after they were fully vaccinated. In an equivalent sample of unvaccinated Israelis, almost 6,500 developed the disease.The study shows the Pfizer vaccine had 92 percent effectiveness, which was close to the 95 percent Pfizer saw in clinical trials. Israeli infectious-disease experts said the study is good news and that the slight difference between the clinical trials and this current study is within the standard deviation.Israel has become a real-time laboratory for the Pfizer vaccine, which is being widely distributed in the country through the public health funds. Israel bought the vaccine early, paying double the market price, according to media reports, and agreed to share all of its data with Pfizer. All Israelis belong to one of four health funds and all medical records are digitized.So far, almost 3 million Israelis out of a total population of 9.3 million have received the first dose of the vaccine, and almost 1.5 million have received the second dose.FILE – A woman waits outside a container at a coronavirus testing center while Israel is under a lockdown as part of the coronavirus disease restrictions, in Jerusalem Jan. 29, …

Fighting Climate Change in America Means Changes to America

Climate isn’t the only thing changing. What comes next in the nation’s struggle to combat global warming will probably transform how Americans drive, where they get their power and other bits of day-to-day life, both quietly and obviously, experts say. So far, the greening of America has been subtle, driven by market forces, technology and voluntary actions. The Biden administration is about to change that.In a flurry of executive actions in his first eight days in office, the president is trying to steer the U.S. economy from one that uses fossil fuels to one that no longer puts additional heat-trapping gases into the air by 2050.The United States is rejoining the international Paris climate accord and is also joining many other nations in setting an ambitious goal that once seemed unattainable: net-zero carbon emissions by midcentury. That means lots of changes designed to fight increasingly costly climate disasters such as wildfires, floods, droughts, storms and heat waves.Think of the journey to a carbon-less economy as a road trip from Washington to California that started about 15 years ago.”We’ve made it through Ohio and up to the Indiana border. But the road has been pretty smooth so far. It gets rougher ahead,” said climate scientist Zeke Hausfather, climate and energy director at the Breakthrough Institute, an environmental research center in Oakland, California.”The Biden administration is both stepping on the gas and working to upgrade our vehicle,” Hausfather said.What isn’t visible, and what isThe results of some of Biden’s new efforts may still not …

EU Tightens Vaccine Export Rules, Creates Post-Brexit Outcry

The European Union introduced tighter rules Friday on exports of COVID-19 vaccines that could hit shipments to nations like Great Britain, deepening a dispute with London over scarce supplies of potentially lifesaving shots.But amid an outcry in Northern Ireland and Britain, the European Commission made clear the new measure will not trigger controls on vaccines shipments produced in the 27-nation bloc to Northern Ireland, which is part of Britain bordering EU member Ireland.Under the post-Brexit deal, EU products should still be able to travel unhindered from the bloc to Northern Ireland.”In the process of finalization of this measure, the commission will ensure that the Ireland/Northern Ireland Protocol is unaffected,” the EU’s executive arm said in a statement late Friday.Amid a dispute with Anglo-Swedish drugmakerAstraZeneca, EU Commission president Ursula von der Leyen and British leader Boris Johnson had an unexpected phone call, during which the British prime minister “expressed his grave concerns about the potential impact which the steps the EU has taken today on vaccine exports could have,” a statement from the British government read.The EU unveiled its plans to tighten rules on exports of coronavirus vaccines produced inside the bloc amid fears some of the doses it secured from AstraZeneca could be diverted elsewhere. The measure could be used to block shipments to many non-EU countries and ensure that any exporting company based in the EU will first have to submit their plans to national authorities.TheBritish and Northern Ireland governments immediately lashed out at the move, saying the bloc …

EU Drug Regulator Approves AstraZeneca Vaccine for Emergency Use

European Union regulators on Friday approved the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine, the third vaccine approved for use on the European continent. Amid criticism the bloc is not moving fast enough to vaccinate its population, the European Medicines Agency’s (EMA) expert committee unanimously recommended the vaccine for adults, despite concerns of inadequate data proving its effectiveness for people over 55. Addressing reporters from agency headquarters in Amsterdam, EMA chief Emer Cooke told reporters the agency had approved the drug for conditional or emergency use because clinical studies found the vaccine to be about 60% effective at fighting the coronavirus — lower than the two previously approved vaccines from Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna, which show efficacy in the 90% range. Many EU health officials had been anticipating approval of the AstraZeneca vaccine because it is less expensive and does not require deep-freeze storage like the Pfizer-BioNTech drug. Earlier Friday, German Health Minister Jens Spahn indicated the vaccine would be approved, but not recommended for patients older than 65, as the clinical studies lacked data regarding its efficacy for patients in that age range.   But Emer said EMA’s experts determined, based on the immune results seen in patients between the ages of 18 and 55 years, older adults are expected get the same protection from the vaccine. The AstraZeneca vaccine had already been approved for use in Britain and a number of other countries. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is still considering the drug company’s application for emergency use.  …

Johnson & Johnson One-dose Vaccine 66% Successful

U.S. pharmaceutical and medical device maker Johnson & Johnson says after a global trial, the COVID-19 vaccine it has developed is 66% effective in preventing infection. The one-dose vaccine, which was developed by the company’s Belgian subsidiary Janssen, appears to be 85% effective in preventing serious illness, even against the South African variant. Of the 44,000 people who participated in the trail in the U.S., South Africa and Brazil, no one who was given the vaccine died, the company said. “The potential to significantly reduce the burden of severe disease, by providing an effective and well-tolerated vaccine with just one immunization, is a critical component of the global public health response,” Paul Stoffels, chief scientific officer of Johnson & Johnson, said in a company press release. “A one-shot vaccine is considered by the World Health Organization to be the best option in pandemic settings, enhancing access, distribution and compliance,” said the statement. Health care workers line up before receiving the first dose of the Sinovac’s CoronaVac coronavirus vaccine in the Positivo event center at the Barigui Park in Curitiba, Brazil, Jan. 28, 2021.The U.S. has agreed to buy 100 million doses of the vaccine with a further option to buy 200 million more, according to the company. The Johnson & Johnson vaccine is the fourth vaccine approved to fight the pandemic. Variant detected in U.S. There are more than 101 million global COVID-19 infections, the disease caused by the coronavirus, Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center reported early Friday. The U.S. tops the list with more than 25 million …

Report Finds US Feds Were Unprepared to Meet First American Evacuees from Wuhan in 2020

Federal officials at a California military base last year who met with the first American evacuees from Wuhan, China, the place where the coronavirus emerged, were not prepared for their mission, according to The Washington Post.   They did not wear masks and had “no virus prevention plan or infection-control training” when they met with the evacuees, the Post said, according to two federal reports the newspaper said it has obtained. The newspaper reported on its website late Thursday that the reports supported “a whistleblower’s account of the chaos as U.S. officials scrambled to greet nearly 200 evacuees” who eventually did not test positive for the coronavirus.The whistleblower’s complaint, however, resulted in “internal reviews by the Health and Human Services Department and an investigation overseen by the Office of Special Counsel,” the Post said. According to the newspaper’s account, the federal officials who first interacted with the Wuhan evacuees at March Air Reserve Base in Riverside County, California, were instructed to remove their protective gear when meeting with the evacuees to avoid “bad optics.” (bad appearances)The Health and Human Services general counsel’s office, headed by Robert Charrow, a Trump appointee, conducted a campaign against the whistleblower among members of Congress who received from HHS an account of what the agency said was the whistleblower’s conflicting information.  That HHS move was “reprehensible,” Special Counsel Henry Kerner said in a letter to President Joe Biden on Thursday.  Kerner praised the whistleblower’s “tremendous courage in bringing these allegations forward.”  There are more than 101 million global COVID-19 …