Climate Change Poses Grave Threat to a Healthy Planet

An expert group of 270 climate scientists warns the dire impacts of climate change soon will be irreversible unless governments act decisively to tackle these imminent global threats. Hoesung Lee, chairman of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, does not mince words. He said the stakes of our planet have never been higher. “Human activities have warmed the planet at a rate not seen in at least the past 2,000 years. We are on course to reaching global warming of 1.5 degrees Celsius within the next two decades and temperatures will continue to rise unless the world takes much bolder action,” said Lee. He said the action governments take today will shape how people will be able to adapt to climate change and how nature will respond to increasing climate risks. Debra Roberts is co-chair of the IPCC Working Group II, which produced the report. She said the scientific evidence that climate change is a threat to human well-being and the health of the planet is unequivocal. “Climate change combines with unsustainable use of natural resources. Habitat destruction, deforestation, and growing urbanization as well as inequity and marginalization … 3.3 to 3.6 billion people live in global hotspots of high vulnerability to climate change,” said Roberts. These include parts of Africa, as well as South Asia, Central and South America, small islands, and the Arctic. The report warns that people living in these hotspots will likely experience severe food shortages, leading to malnutrition, should global temperatures rise by two degrees …

YouTube Blocks RT, Other Russian Channels From Earning Ad Dollars

YouTube on Saturday barred Russian state-owned media outlet RT and other Russian channels from receiving money for advertisements that run with their videos, similar to a move by Facebook, after the invasion of Ukraine. Citing “extraordinary circumstances,” YouTube said in a statement that it was “pausing a number of channels’ ability to monetize on YouTube, including several Russian channels affiliated with recent sanctions.” Ad placement is largely controlled by YouTube. Videos from the affected channels also will come up less often in recommendations, YouTube spokesperson Farshad Shadloo said. He added that RT and several other channels would no longer be accessible in Ukraine due to “a government request.” Ukraine Digital Minister Mykhailo Fedorov tweeted earlier on Saturday that he contacted YouTube “to block the propagandist Russian channels such as Russia 24, TASS, RIA Novosti.” RT did not immediately respond to a request for comment. YouTube did not name the other channels it had restricted. For years, lawmakers and some users have called on YouTube, which is owned by Alphabet Inc’s Google, to take greater action against channels with ties to the Russian government out of concern that they spread misinformation and should not profit from that. Russia received an estimated $7 million to $32 million over the two-year period ended December 2018 from ads across 26 YouTube channels it backed, digital researcher Omelas told Reuters at the time. YouTube previously has said that it does not treat state-funded media channels that comply with its rules any differently than other channels …

World’s Oldest Known Stone Structures Discovered in Jordan

Archaeologists in Jordan’s southeast desert have discovered a 9,000-year-old ritualistic complex. It’s the earliest known large human-built structure involving Neolithic hunting communities. Experts say it points to civilization in the Middle East much earlier than originally thought. Jordan’s antiquities ministry recently announced the discovery of huge human stone structures believed to be the oldest known to date from 9,000 years ago in its southeastern desert plateau area of Jabal Khashabiyeh.  Jordanian archaeologist Wael Abu Aziza told reporters that “they’re the oldest huge human structures known to date.” He said Neolithic hunters living 9,000 years ago used huge stone enclosures to trap wild animals en masse. Also, one structure, thought to be a shrine, contained objects the experts believe to be related to ancient rituals.  Commenting on the discovery, archeologist Pearce Paul Creasman of the American Center of Research in Amman said it was likely older than other similar structures, also found in Jordan, known as the Ain Ghazal statues.   “Absolutely, no question that this is a significant find. The Ain Ghazal statues have been traditionally considered some of the oldest and the most significant of human occupation and so this could possibly be pushing that back, a little bit older,” Creasman said.   A team of international archaeologists—including those from the United States—say the discoveries show how hunting communities in Neolithic times, predating Iraq’s sophisticated Assyrians by several thousand years and who were far less developed, displayed early signs of civilization. At the site were also found children’s toys made by …

Are COVID-19 Restrictions Stunting Children’s Immune Systems?

Some medical experts have expressed concern that COVID-19 preventative measures, like masking and remote schooling, are potentially weakening children’s immune systems by shielding them from the usual childhood illnesses. “There’s a lot of reasons to believe that kids need to be exposed to things to keep their immunity complex, so that should they encounter something very dangerous, they have aspects of their immunity that might cross over and help protect them against those things,” says Sara Sawyer, a professor of molecular, cellular and developmental biology at the University of Colorado Boulder. At birth, vulnerable infants get antibodies from their mother’s breast milk, which helps protect them until they can build their own immunity. It’s no accident that babies start putting things in their mouths as soon as they gain enough dexterity to pick things up. “They’re doing that because they’re sampling the environment and building their immunity. That’s an evolutionary trait,” Sawyer says. “They’re exposing their body to germs in a certain, level way to build their immunity. So, some people would argue that childhood illnesses, like colds and stomach bugs, build our immunity so that when more dangerous things come along, we’re prepared and we don’t get as sick from those more dangerous things.” Even before the pandemic, epidemiological evidence suggested that children in more developed countries, where handwashing and the use of sanitizer are more prevalent, might have less-developed immune systems compared to kids in developing nations who are routinely exposed to more bacteria, viruses and allergens. This …

Thousands Could Die From COVID in Hong Kong, Study Shows 

Hong Kong’s fifth wave of coronavirus could see thousands of deaths, a new study said. Slammed by the city’s fifth wave of COVID-19, Hong Kong is facing its worst health period since the pandemic began two years ago. It has forced the city’s government to implement strict measures, including compulsory tests for all Hong Kong residents. February has seen thousands of new cases, mostly from the omicron variant. A new daily high of 10,010 infections was recorded Friday. A study by the University of Hong Kong considered the potential outcomes from the current wave of coronavirus cases. One of the worst scenarios outlined that if the hospitals were to be overburdened, Hong Kong could see 7,000 COVID-19-related deaths by the end of June. “The infection fatality risk may increase by 50% when the health care system becomes overburdened, in which case the cumulative number of deaths could further increase to 4,231 – 6,993,” the study said. But it also said deaths could be half that number, about 3,200 by mid-May, if health measures remained. ‘Zero-COVID’ plan Hong Kong had adopted a “zero-COVID” strategy, aligned with Beijing’s effort to control the pandemic across China. It had some success, with authorities quickly clamping down on rare outbreaks by contact tracing, social restrictions, mass testing and quarantine. Fan Hung-ling, chairman of the Hong Kong Hospital Authority, told the Chinese state’s Global Times that the strategy was “our country’s basic policy” and “won’t change.” Earlier this month, Chinese President Xi Jinping ordered the city’s …

CDC: Many Healthy Americans Can Take a Break From Masks 

Most Americans live in places where healthy people, including students in schools, can safely take a break from wearing masks under new U.S. guidelines released Friday.  The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention outlined the new set of measures for communities where COVID-19 is easing its grip, with less of a focus on positive test results and more on what’s happening at hospitals.  The new system greatly changes the look of the CDC’s risk map and puts more than 70% of the U.S. population in counties where the coronavirus is posing a low or medium threat to hospitals. Those are the people who can stop wearing masks, the agency said.  The agency is still advising that people, including schoolchildren, wear masks where the risk of COVID-19 is high. That’s the situation in about 37% of U.S. counties, where about 28% of Americans reside.   The new recommendations do not change the requirement to wear masks on public transportation and indoors in airports, train stations and bus stations.   The CDC guidelines for other indoor spaces aren’t binding, meaning cities and institutions even in areas of low risk may set their own rules. And the agency says people with COVID-19 symptoms or who test positive should wear masks. Risk is generally lower  But with protection from immunity rising — both from vaccination and infection — the overall risk of severe disease is now generally lower, the CDC said.  “Anybody is certainly welcome to wear a mask at any time if they …

US Drugmaker, Distributors Finalize $26B Opioid Settlement

Drugmaker Johnson & Johnson and three major distributors finalized nationwide settlements over their role in the opioid addiction crisis Friday, an announcement that clears the way for $26 billion to flow to nearly every state and local government in the U.S. Taken together, the settlements are the largest to date among the many opioid-related cases that have been playing out across the country. They’re expected to provide a significant boost to efforts aimed at reversing the crisis in places that have been devastated by it, including many parts of rural America. Johnson & Johnson, AmerisourceBergen, Cardinal Health and McKesson announced the settlement plan last year, but the deal was contingent on getting participation from a critical mass of state and local governments. Friday was the deadline for the companies to announce whether they felt enough governments had committed to participate in the settlement and relinquish the right to sue. The four companies notified lawyers for the governments in the case that their thresholds were met, meaning money could start flowing to communities by April. “We’re never going to have enough money to immediately cure this problem,” said Joe Rice, one of the lead lawyers who represented local governments in the litigation that led to the settlement. “What we’re trying to do is give a lot of small communities a chance to try to change some of their problems.” While none of the settlement money will go directly to victims of opioid addiction or their survivors, the vast majority of it …

Drug Overdoses Are Killing More Americans Than Guns, Traffic Accidents

Over 100-thousand people died in the U.S. from drug overdoses in the 12 months between June 2020 to May 2021, according to the latest data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That figure is more than COVID, and more than twice the number of those killed by guns and traffic accidents. Liliya Anisimova has details on this epidemic of drug use in this report narrated by Anna Rice. VOA footage by David Gogokhia. …

Thailand at ‘Crossroads’ as COVID-19 Surges Amid Tourism, Economy Rebound

Thailand’s economy has seen growth in its recovery amid the global pandemic, but rising COVID-19 cases concern health experts. Heavily reliant on international tourism to boost its economy, Thailand dropped its quarantine requirement for fully vaccinated visitors in November, with thousands of arrivals flocking to the country since. But along with the renewal of tourism in Thailand, new COVID-19 infections have also begun to accelerate throughout the country. Dr. Anan Jongkaewwattana, a virologist and researcher at the National Centre for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology in Thailand, has said the country is at a “crossroads” over what to do next. “We are experiencing rising in omicron cases — a very rapid one. The question should be how long we can expect it to slow down … it can be days or weeks or even months,” he told VOA. “In my opinion, we are at the crossroads at the moment. The number of cases are rising but, to many doctors, the majority of them are still considered mild when compared to the delta wave,” he added. Data show that the omicron variant is highly transmissible, has an incubation period of about five days and causes less severe symptoms than earlier variants. Thailand saw a new daily record high on Friday, with 24,932 cases. Last year saw strict curfews and social restrictions enforced throughout the country for months. However, after a speedy vaccination rollout – sometimes reaching one million doses administered per day – measures were eventually relaxed toward the end of the …