Australian State Blames Illegal Parties For COVID-19 Surge

COVID-19 infections have hit a new record in the Australian state of Victoria. Authorities blame rule-breakers for the latest surge in cases. More than 1,400 new daily locally acquired cases of COVID-19 were reported in Victoria Thursday. Five more people have died. The numbers have soared despite some of Australia’s strictest stay-at-home orders. Melbourne, the Victorian state capital, has become the third-most locked-down city in the world according to the city’s mayor. Residents have endured more than 235 days of lockdown since the pandemic began. Household visits are banned. Victorian authorities have said illegal gatherings and house parties over a public holiday long weekend the last weekend in September were behind the sharp rise in COVID-19 infections in the state. Officials also said many people had ignored lockdown directives to be with friends and family to watch the Australian Rules Football grand final on television, one of the country’s most popular sporting events. Victoria Premier Daniel Andrews said when rules are broken, infections increase. “They go up faster, of course, if people do not follow the rules,” he said. “They go up faster if people are out visiting each other in their homes. That is not a sense of blame. If people continue to visit each other in their homes, they will bring the virus with them, they will spread the virus. Many of these cases were completely avoidable.” A recently discovered delta variant cluster is causing concern in Queensland state, while 941 new infections and six deaths were reported …

US Opioid Overdose Deaths Soar

In the shadows of Washington’s government office buildings, Gary Hayes searches for another dose of heroin, chasing a high that will last only a few hours before he wants more. “It’s hard to stop using when you are living on the streets and there’s no treatment help,” Hayes told VOA. The 28-year-old Black man, who lives in a homeless tent encampment in the nation’s capital, has struggled with substance abuse disorder for a decade. “I overdosed twice in the last year, but I know several people who died,” Hayes said, reflecting on the deadly opioid epidemic playing out during another health tragedy, the coronavirus pandemic. More than 93,000 Americans died from drug overdoses in 2020, the highest number on record, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) statistics released in July. U.S. health officials attribute the rise in deaths to powerful synthetic opioids such as fentanyl, which can be up to 100 times more potent than morphine. Overdose deaths: Black vs. white In the District of Columbia, more than 400 people died from opioid overdoses last year, and most were African American. The medical examiner’s office reported that fentanyl or fentanyl analogs were present in many cases. “In some communities, we’ve seen deaths among African Americans eclipse the death rates among whites over the past several years,” said Dr. Caleb Alexander, a professor of epidemiology and medicine at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in Baltimore, Maryland. “Many people who have died from the opioid epidemic …

YouTube Will Ban All Content Containing What it Calls Vaccine Misinformation

YouTube will ban any video that claims vaccines are ineffective or dangerous, including those that question vaccines for measles and chickenpox, the company announced Wednesday.   “Specifically, content that falsely alleges that approved vaccines are dangerous and cause chronic health effects, claims that vaccines do not reduce transmission or contraction of disease, or contains misinformation on the substances contained in vaccines will be removed,” the Google-owned company said in a blog post announcing the new enforcement measures. The company said “vaccines in particular have been a source of fierce debate over the years, despite consistent guidance from health authorities about their effectiveness.”   “Today, we’re expanding our medical misinformation policies on YouTube with new guidelines on currently administered vaccines that are approved and confirmed to be safe and effective by local health authorities and the WHO.” The company said it “will continue to allow content about vaccine policies, new vaccine trials and historical vaccine successes or failures.”   YouTube’s COVID-19 vaccine policy has met with some backlash for being overly aggressive. On Tuesday, the company removed Russian state-backed broadcaster RT’s German-language channels, saying they violated the company’s COVID-19 policy. On Wednesday, Russia threatened to block YouTube, calling the channel removals “unprecedented information aggression.” YouTube said it has removed over 130,000 videos over the past year for violating its COVID-19 policies. Some information in this report comes from Reuters.   …

Ivory-Billed Woodpecker, 22 More Species Extinct

The U.S National Fish and Wildlife Service Wednesday is expected to announce the extinction of 23 species, including the Ivory-Billed Woodpecker, an elusive bird long-sought after by bird watchers throughout the southeast United States.   The New York Times reports the list of extinctions includes 11 birds, eight freshwater mussels, two fish, a bat and a plant. Many of them were likely extinct, or almost so, by the time the Endangered Species Act passed in 1973.   The measure is intended to provide special protection for rare species on the brink of extinction. U.S. officials have determined no amount of conservation would have been able to save these particular species. Fish and Wildlife Species Classification Specialist Bridget Fahey told the Times, “Each of these 23 species represents a permanent loss to our nation’s natural heritage and to global biodiversity. And it’s a sobering reminder that extinction is a consequence of human-caused environmental change.” Wildlife experts cite loss of habitat, usually due to human activities, as the top driver of extinction of species. Farming, logging, mining and damming take habitat from animals, while pollution and poaching drive down numbers as well.   U.S. government scientists do not declare extinctions casually. It often takes decades of fruitless searching. About half of the species in this group were already considered extinct by the Switzerland-based International Union for Conservation of Nature, the global authority on the status of animals and plants.   Officials with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service tend to move more …

New Technologies Aim to Reduce Carbon in Atmosphere

A bunch of new technologies are popping up that could help bring global energy-related carbon dioxide emissions to net-zero by 2050, and all need investment. Governments worldwide are having to decide which one suits their geography and how much they can spend on a given technology. More with VOA’s Mariama Diallo. Produced by: Kimberlyn Weeks     …