Pakistan’s COVID-19 Positivity Rate Dips, But ‘We Aren’t Out of the Woods’, Official Tells VOA

Pakistan reported Monday that the national coronavirus positivity rate had remained well below 5% over the past week, with the country’s top health official attributing the declining trend to “effective” government policies, including restrictions on public movement and effective screening of international travelers.Officials recorded 43 deaths and detected more than 2,100 new cases in the last 24 hours, raising the national tally of deaths to nearly 21,000 and infections to more than 921,000 since the pandemic hit the South Asian nation early last year.The national positivity ratio decreased to just over 4% from more than 11% a couple of weeks ago.Last week, health authorities reported the detection of the first case of a fast-spreading variant of the coronavirus which has caused record infections and deaths in neighboring India, threatening Pakistan’s gains against the disease.But Faisal Sultan, an infectious disease physician who is also special assistant to the prime minister on national health services, told VOA that an “effective” screening system for international travelers and other measures to deal with the health crisis have so far enabled the country to keep the situation under control in a country of about 220 million.“I would say we are not out of the woods yet, but it seems at this point that I don’t foresee an India-like situation,” Sultan, who is directing all health-related interventions and measures against the pandemic, told VOA in a detailed interview at his office in Islamabad.People queue to receive the first shot of the Sinopharm COVID-19 vaccine at a …

UNICEF Says Malnutrition Spikes for Haiti Kids Amid Pandemic

Severe acute childhood malnutrition is expected to more than double this year in Haiti as the country struggles with the coronavirus pandemic, a spike in violence and dwindling resources, a UNICEF report said Monday. More than 86,000 children under age 5 could be affected, compared with 41,000 reported last year, said Jean Gough, UNICEF’s regional director for Latin America and the Caribbean. “I was saddened to see so many children suffering from malnutrition,” she said after a weeklong visit to Haiti. “Some will not recover unless they receive treatment on time.” Severe acute malnutrition is considered a life-threatening condition.   In a slightly less dangerous category, acute malnutrition in kids younger than 5 in Haiti has risen 61%, with some 217,000 children expected to suffer from it this year, compared with 134,000 last year.   Overall, UNICEF said, about 4.4 million of Haiti’s more than 11 million inhabitants lack sufficient food, including 1.9 million children. Gough told The Associated Press during a recent visit to a hospital in the southern city of Les Cayes that UNICEF has only a one-month supply left of a special food paste given to children in need and is seeking $3 million by the end of June.   Officials said the pandemic also has disrupted health services, with childhood immunization rates dropping from 28% to 44%, depending on the vaccine. The decrease has led to a rise in diphtheria cases as health workers brace for an expected measles outbreak this year. UNICEF noted that unvaccinated …

British, Other Western Intel Agencies Assist US in Wuhan Probe

Britain’s intelligence agencies — along with other Western European security services — are assisting a new American investigation to try to establish the origins of the coronavirus pandemic, according to officials on both sides of the Atlantic.  The central focus of the investigation is on the Wuhan Institute of Virology in China as suspicions mount that the novel bat-derived virus roiling the world, and which has led to at least four million deaths, may have leaked from its lab, a claim Beijing has furiously denied.British officials briefed London newspapers Sunday that the thesis the virus escaped from the lab is “plausible” and “feasible,” a turnaround from British intelligence’s skepticism for most of the past 18 months of the possibility that the pandemic may have been triggered by a lab leak. Other Western intelligence agencies were also skeptical last year of the leak theory, seeing it as being only a remote possibility.But last week, U.S. President Joe Biden instructed American intelligence agencies to investigate the leak theory and report back within three months. Biden’s order came after U.S. intelligence discovered more details about three researchers at the Wuhan lab who fell ill in November 2019, several weeks before the first identified case of the outbreak — and more than a month before China informed the World Health Organization of “cases of pneumonia” of an “unknown cause” had been detected in Wuhan.The researchers were hospitalized with symptoms consistent with both COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, but also with common seasonal …

Report: Japan Considering Proof of COVID-19 Vaccination or Negative Test for Olympic Spectators

A Japanese newspaper is reporting that potential spectators of the Tokyo Olympics will either have to show proof they received a COVID-19 vaccine or tested negative for the virus. On Monday, government officials are considering to impose other measures such as banning eating, loud cheering and exchanging high-fives, the Yomiuri Shimbun reported. Commuters walk near Shinjuku Station in Tokyo on May 31, 2021 after the announcement that the government extended a coronavirus emergency in Tokyo and other parts of the country until just a month before the Olympics. (Photo by Kazuhiro NOGI / AFP)Reports of restrictions will likely cast a further cloud over the upcoming Olympics, observers say, which are facing growing public opposition amid a new wave of COVID-19 infections across Japan and a slow rate of vaccinations. Tokyo and several other regions in Japan are under a state of emergency that was set to expire Monday, but have been extended until June 20, just a little over a month before the opening ceremonies.   Foreign spectators have already been barred from attending the Olympics.   The Tokyo Olympics are set to take place after a one-year postponement as the novel coronavirus pandemic began spreading across the globe. But a new public opinion survey published Monday by the Nikkei newspaper revealed over 60% of those asked want the games to either be delayed again or outright cancelled, compared to just 34% in favor of holding the event as scheduled. Members of Australia’s Olympic softball squad at Sydney Airport on May 31, 2021 before their …

Climate Talks Resume Online as Pressure to Act Grows

For the first time since 2019 and following a flurry of net-zero pledges from the world’s largest emitters, UN climate negotiations resume Monday in a virtual format just six months before the crunch COP26 summit. The talks, nominally hosted by the United Nations climate change program in the German city of Bonn, will all be informal, meaning that no decisions will be taken during the three-week dialogue. But with increasingly dire warnings from scientists that the pace of global warming is already outstripping humanity’s best plan to cut emissions, the pressure for progress to be made on several thorny issues is high.   In 2018, countries agreed to many elements of the Paris agreement “rulebook”, governing how each nation implements its goals. But several issues remain unresolved, including rules about transparency, carbon markets, and a unified timeframe for all countries to ratchet up their emissions cuts.At the last UN climate summit in December 2019, countries also failed to agree upon a universal system of reporting climate finance. Nathan Cogswell, a research associate at the World Resources Institute, said a deal on greater transparency was “a central component of the effective implementation of the Paris agreement”. “The upcoming session will hopefully help parties get closer to that.”   One of the thorniest debates during recent UN climate talks has been Article 6 of the Paris Agreement, which deals with the trade of emissions cuts.   A major sticking point remains over rules to avoid double counting emissions reductions within both bi-lateral and international carbon markets. Some wealthy nations without the natural resources — forests, for …

Studies Reveal China’s Dominant Position in High-Tech Minerals

New clean energy technologies like solar power and electric vehicles are expected to remake the global energy industry. Trillions of dollars used to drill and ship oil and gas will instead be spent finding and processing the specialized minerals used to make high-tech gear including advanced electric generators and powerful, compact batteries.Energy analysts say this will challenge the United States, which will likely need to import vastly more minerals like cobalt, lithium and aluminum, at the same time that China has increased its control over the supply of some key resources.People cool off in the beach near the mining pipeline “Puerto Coloso” of the “Escondida” cooper mine in Antofagasta, Chile, Feb. 16, 2017.A VOA examination of U.S. government data shows how China has become the main supplier for some of the most important raw materials that Western countries import, giving Beijing leverage over the materials that go into everything from advanced fighter jets to solar panels.Not only has Beijing bought up some of the world’s biggest mines for these minerals, the country also has invested heavily in the processing facilities that refine the raw materials into industrially-useful products, strengthening Beijing’s position in global supply chains.Beijing has already given the world reason to worry about its reliability as a global supplier. In 2011, it used its position as the top global supplier of rare earth metals to cut exports, driving up prices. China’s critics say Beijing’s dominant position in so-called “critical minerals” gives them similar leverage.Aerial view of evaporation pools of …

Australians Rush for Vaccines as COVID Lockdown Continues in Victoria

Record numbers of COVID-19 vaccinations have been completed in Australia as a snap seven-day lockdown continues in the nation’s second most-populous state.Seven million people in Victoria are subject to strict stay-at-home orders after a growing cluster of infections was detected in recent days. Australia has managed to mostly contain the coronavirus through lockdowns, the closure of its international borders and strict quarantine measures for returning citizens, but the national vaccination program has been beset by supply issues and hesitancy among many Australians.There are estimated to be 100 active coronavirus cases in Australia, according to the Health Department. About half are in Victoria, which is under a seven-day lockdown. It is the state’s fourth shutdown since the pandemic began.The number of infections in Australia is small compared to other countries, including Japan, Brazil and the United States.However, community transmission of the virus has been rare in recent months and the outbreak in Victoria is significant.There has been complacency in the community and mounting hesitancy about vaccines and possible side effects, which have delayed the national inoculation plan.Health authorities in Victoria, though, have said the lockdown has sent residents flocking to injection centers across the country in record numbers.However, some experts believe that it might be too late to prevent another wave of infections in Australia’s second most populous state.“We have been here before,” said Dr. Michelle Ananda-Rajah, an infectious diseases expert at Melbourne’s Alfred Hospital. “I think, though, that the stakes are higher this time because we have all the factors …

Dangerously Trending: Driverless Tesla Videos on Social Media

It was a boozy joyride captured for TikTok with a soundtrack provided by Justin Bieber and with a Tesla serving as the “Designated Driver” for the night.In the short video, three young men are shown dancing in their seats, beers nearby, as the vehicle moves down the highway near other cars at 105 kph, as shown on the speedometer.Nobody is behind the steering wheel.The video clip, which has been “liked” by nearly 2 million people and shared 105,000 times, is just one of many similar ones on social media reviewed by AFP.Such behavior is illegal and flouts the instructions of the automaker, which says on its website that Tesla’s driver-assistance system is “intended for use with a fully attentive driver, who has their hands on the wheel and is prepared to take over at any moment.”Besides Tesla’s “Autopilot” system, which matches a vehicle’s speed to that of surrounding traffic and assists in steering within a clearly marked lane, Tesla offers what it calls “full self-driving capability.”That program’s capabilities include helping park a car, maneuver a vehicle in and out of a tight parking space and guide a car from a highway on-ramp to an off-ramp.Tesla will alert the driver and ultimately disengage the self-driving system if the driver’s seatbelt is not buckled, or if the hands of the driver are not detected on the steering wheel.Fooling the systemHowever, these protections have proved little match for Tesla motorists determined to misuse their vehicles. The magazine Consumer Reports released a video in …