News, August 3rd

‘Students will need COVID tests every 2-3 days to keep campus safe’

To fight against novel coronavirus, researchers have revealed that college students would need to be tested for COVID-19 infection in every two to three days for safely reopen of campuses this fall.

The study, published in the journal JAMA Network Open, defines the screening performance standards for SARS-CoV-2 tests that would permit the safe return of students to the US residential college campuses this fall.

“In the absence of an effective vaccine, the best hope for reopening campuses in the fall is likely to be a robust strategy of behavior-based prevention combined with regular monitoring to rapidly detect, isolate, and contain COVID-19 infections when they occur,” said the study authors from the Yale University in the US.

For the study, the research team used epidemic modelling to test different monitoring programs that would minimize COVID-19 cases and also maintain a college’s ability to isolate and quarantine infected students.

The analytic modelling study of a hypothetical cohort of 4,990 college-age students without SARS-CoV-2 infection and 10 students with undetected asymptomatic cases of SARS-CoV-2 infection were conducted.

The findings suggested that frequent screening (every two days) of all students with a low-sensitivity, the high-specificity test might be required to control outbreaks with manageable isolation dormitory utilization at a justifiable cost.

The research team found that every infection prevention strategy on the table will be crucial to preventing campus outbreaks — including frequent handwashing, wearing masks, social distancing in classrooms and dorms.

In this modelling study, symptom-based screening alone was not sufficient to contain an outbreak, and the safe reopening of campuses in fall 2020 may require screening every two days, uncompromising vigilance, and continuous attention to good prevention practices, the researchers said.

“The safe return of students to residential colleges demands an effective SARS-CoV-2 monitoring strategy,” the study authors wrote.

“Results suggest that a highly specific screening test that can easily be administered to each student everyone to seven days,” they added.

Annual Sturgis rally expecting 250K, stirring virus concerns

Sturgis is on. The message has been broadcast across social media as South Dakota, which has seen an uptick in coronavirus infections in recent weeks, braces to host hundreds of thousands of bikers for the 80th edition of the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally.

More than 250,000 people are expected to rumble through western South Dakota, seeking the freedom of cruising the boundless landscapes in a state that has skipped lockdowns. The Aug. 7 to 16 events, which could be the biggest anywhere so far during the pandemic, will offer businesses that depend on the rally a chance to make up for losses caused by the coronavirus. But for many in Sturgis, a city of about 7,000, the brimming bars and bacchanalia will not be welcome during a pandemic.

Though only about half the usual number of people are expected at this year’s event, residents were split as the city weighed its options. Many worried that the rally would cause an unmanageable outbreak of COVID-19.

“This is a huge, foolish mistake to make to host the rally this year,” Sturgis resident Lynelle Chapman told city counselors at a June meeting. “The government of Sturgis needs to care most for its citizens.”

In a survey of residents conducted by the city, more than 60% said the rally should be postponed. But businesses pressured the City Council to proceed.

Rallygoers have spent about $800 million in past years, according to the state Department of Tourism. Though the rally has an ignominious history of biker gangs and lawlessness, bikers of a different sort have shown up in recent years — affluent professionals who ride for recreation and come flush with cash. Though the rally still features libertine displays, it also offers charity events and tributes to the military and veterans.

The attorney for a tourism souvenir wholesaler in Rapid City wrote to the City Council reminding that a judge found the city does not solely own rights to the rally and threatening to sue if the city tried to postpone it. Meanwhile, the Buffalo Chip, which is the largest campground and concert venue that lies outside the bounds of the city, made clear that it would hold some version of the rally.

Rod Woodruff, who operates the Buffalo Chip, said he felt he had little choice but to proceed with the rally. He employs hundreds of people in August and a smaller full-time staff.

“We spend money for 355 days of the year without any return on it, hoping people show up for nine days,” he said. “We’re a nine-day business.”

Woodruff felt he could pull off a safe event, allowing people to keep their distance from one another at the outdoor concerts at his campground. He said he was emboldened by the July 3 fireworks celebration at Mount Rushmore, where 7,500 people gathered without any reported outbreaks after the event, according to health officials.

In the end, Sturgis officials realized the rally would happen whether they wanted it or not. They decided to try to scale it back, canceling city-hosted events and slashing advertising for the rally.

Jerry Cole, who directs the rally for the city, said organizers are not sure how many people will show up, but that they’re expecting at least 250,000. Travel restrictions from Canada and other countries have cut out a sizeable portion of potential visitors, he said.

Others think the rally could be the biggest yet.

“It’s the biggest single event that’s going on in the United States that didn’t get canceled,” Woodruff said. “A lot of people think it’s going to be bigger than ever.”

When the rally is over, every year the city weighs all the trash generated to estimate how many people showed up. This year, they will also conduct mass coronavirus testing to see if all those people brought the pandemic to Sturgis.

First Person: Turning ‘apathetic people into climate activists’; a young person’s view

An 18-year-old environmental campaigner from the United States has told UN News how she wants to “turn apathetic people into climate activists”. Sophia Kianni, whose family originally comes from Iran, is one of seven young people from across the world who have been selected to participate in the UN Secretary-General’s Youth Advisory Group on Climate Change. The group which was launched at the end of the July aims to engage young people in “an open and transparent dialogue” about climate issues.

“I first became interested in the effects of climate change as an Iranian-American when I visited my relatives in Iran as a 12 or 13-year old. I noticed how polluted the sky was; I couldn’t see the stars at night. I realized this was a symptom of the climate crisis that was particularly bad in the Middle East, where temperatures are rising at a rate of more than twice the global average.

I talked to my relatives about the pollution and was startled they knew pretty much nothing about climate change even though they were adults and so it became my pet passion to educate them about the climate crisis.

I understood that Iran as a country is facing many challenges and recognized that climate change was maybe not at the forefront of people’s minds, but I still thought that my Iranian family deserved to know about the climate crisis.

When I told them what that actually meant, and that I was worried about my future, they were pretty shocked. And following those conversations they have tried to be more conscientious about the impact of their daily activities, for example driving less and switching off lights. These are small steps to minimize their carbon footprint but if everyone took these steps it would make a huge difference.

I also realized there was no information in their language Farsi, so decided to translate information for them from English sources with the help of my mum.

This experience with my relatives in Iran inspired me to establish my international nonprofit organization, Climate Cardinals, which has just launched, and which has over 5,000 volunteers translating climate information into more than 100 languages and dialects, including everything from Spanish to Haitian Creole, or Farsi to an Indonesian dialect.

These volunteers have an average age of 16-years-old. We started by translating 3,000 pages of a sustainable fashion glossary as well as a forest climate glossary for which we are now awaiting feedback.

So, a small one-person show of educating my family has turned into a gigantic project with over 5,000 people involved and now I am helping to educate thousands and thousands of people. I am very excited about our partnership with Radio Javan (Persian language internet radio station based in the United States) which has a reach of 11 million people on social media. So, I moved from educating 11 family members to 11 million people and it made me realize that small actions are the gateway for gigantic visions to develop. Everyone has a power to affect change in their own way.

Most young people I talk to believe the climate crisis is a big deal but their passion to change depends on how much information they have; the more we talk, the more we raise awareness, the more people understand how pressing this is. For me, this is about turning apathetic people into climate activists.

Our group has been meeting online and we are due to talk the UN Secretary-General in the next couple of weeks. We will be giving him feedback on his climate strategy and how the UN can better engage young people in the process. Personally, I would like to tell him that we need climate information in more than just the UN languages.

The UN should also be engaging even younger people. At 18, I am the youngest in the group, but there are also many activists who are between the ages of 14 and 17, and their voices are very important. If more younger people are engaged in the climate discussion it is more likely they will become climate activists.

Ultimately, I am optimistic that we can reverse climate change, but a lot of this will fall into the political process as no matter how much I or other individuals do on a personal level, it is really up to the government to pass comprehensive climate legislation. I really hope people become more engaged in the political process and educate themselves on which candidates support climate change policies.

The younger generation is more progressive so I am hopeful in the future we will be able to elect more politicians who care about climate change issues, and who will pass aggressive legislation.

Israel’s Netanyahu rails at media over protests against him

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday railed at swelling protests against his rule, saying they were egged on by a biased media that distorts facts and cheers on the demonstrators.

Netanyahu has faced a wave of protests in recent weeks, with demonstrators calling for the resignation of the long-serving leader, who is on trial for corruption charges. They’ve also panned his handling of the coronavirus crisis. Netanyahu has painted the protests as dens of “anarchists” and “leftists” out to topple “a strong right-wing leader.”

The protests have largely been peaceful. In some cases, they have ended with clashes between demonstrators and police. In others, small gangs of Netanyahu supporters and individuals affiliated with far-right groups have assaulted demonstrators.

In a six-minute rant at a meeting of his Cabinet, Netanyahu slammed the media for “inflaming” the protests and for misrepresenting incidents of violence against the protesters.

“There has never been such a distorted mobilization — I wanted to say Soviet, but it has already reached North Korean terms — of the media in favor of the protests,” he said.

Netanyahu said the media ignored “wild and unfettered incitement, including daily calls — including the day before yesterday — to murder the prime minister and his family.”

He said the protests were breeding grounds for the virus that were being allowed to take place with no limits, shutting down streets and neighborhoods. He said right-wing protests have not been given such free rein.

He condemned violence “from all sides” at the start of his remarks before tearing into the media he has long viewed as hostile toward him.

Also, at the Cabinet meeting, Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz, who is the country’s “alternate” prime minister under a power-sharing deal, said the protests must be allowed to take place with demonstrators shielded from violence.

“The right to protest is the lifeblood of democracy and violence is the erosion of the foundation of democracy,” he said.

Netanyahu’s tirade came as a Jerusalem court ruled that his son Yair Netanyahu must remove a tweet that published the names, addresses and phone numbers of prominent protesters and called for his followers to demonstrate outside their homes “day and night.” Protesters said they received threatening calls after the tweet. The court also decided he must “refrain from harassing” the protesters for six months.

“Turns out that in our ‘democracy’ you aren’t allowed to protest outside the homes of anarchists who have called to for the prime minister’s murder,” tweeted Yair Netanyahu after the ruling. The 28-year-old has emerged as a driving force in a counterattack against his father’s critics.

Throughout the summer, thousands of Israelis have taken to the streets, calling for Netanyahu to resign, protesting his handling of the country’s coronavirus crisis and saying he should not remain in office while on trial. Though Netanyahu has tried to play down the protests, the twice-a-week gatherings show no signs of slowing, and Saturday night’s Jerusalem gathering drew more than 10,000 people.

The rallies against Netanyahu are the largest Israel has seen since 2011 protests over the country’s high cost of living.

After moving quickly to contain the virus last spring, many believe Israel reopened its economy too quickly, leading to a surge in cases. The country is now coping with record levels of coronavirus, while unemployment has surged to over 20%.

Netanyahu faces charges of fraud, breach of trust and accepting bribes in a series of scandals involving wealthy associates and media moguls. He denies wrongdoing.

US Ambassador to Netherland’s accusations on China slander and groundless: Chinese Embassy

US Ambassador to the Netherlands Pete Hoekstra’s accusations of China stealing knowledge from the West to develop coronavirus vaccines is slander and not based on any evidence. The aim is only to disparage and to turn attention away from US domestic politics, according to a statement released by the Chinese Embassy on Saturday.

When it comes to developing COVID-19 vaccines, China leads the way with top researchers, per the Embassy.

Chinese teams are taking steps with several different vaccines. Four Chinese vaccines have already reached, or are about to reach, clinical trials, the final research phase. China will not try to create a monopoly like other countries or buy vaccines or antivirals only for itself.

Several vaccine productions bases have been built or are currently being constructed in China. The biggest annual output could surpass 200 million doses from one workshop of Sinopharm China National Biotec Group.

China has already promised that the Chinese COVID-19 vaccine will be made available to the entire world. This will be China’s contribution to increasing the availability and affordability of a vaccine for developing countries. Unlike some other countries, China will not seek a monopoly on vaccines or anti-epidemic drugs.

That Ambassador Hoekstra based his accusations against China on his work experience in the US intelligence department is very doubtful. It is widely known that last year US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, former CIA director, admitted during a speech that US intelligence departments have lied, cheated, and stolen.

“We hope that US politicians can stop their slander and rumors, and focus on domestic control of the virus, and on global solidarity to fight the virus,” read the statement from the Chinese Embassy.

Workers and supporters shut down San Leandro Amazon Warehouse

On the morning of Aug. 1, Amazon workers and supporters shut down Amazon warehouse DSF4 in San Leandro, Ca. for several hours to expose the corporation’s hypocrisy and utter disdain for essential workers. The cul-de-sac where DSF4 is located was jammed full of honking cars that brandished signs calling for workers’ rights and racial justice. A motorcycle crew was in position to block off roads and keep protesters safe while activists held a socially distanced rally with music and revolutionary speeches. Many Amazon workers at the facility watched in quiet excitement — while their warehouse bosses were clearly panicking and refused to talk to organizers.

A coalition including Bay Area Amazonians, Tesla workers, Gig Workers Collective, People’s Strike Bay Area, Workers United Against COVID-19, and the Party for Socialism and Liberation held a car caravan to deliver a petition to the warehouse. The fiery and energetic action blocked entrances and exits to the facility — halting all shipping and loading activity — to demand the warehouse be shut down for deep cleaning, and all workers be given two weeks off with pay to quarantine.

The facility has seen four workers fall ill to COVID-19 in the past month, but management has not taken responsible action to ensure the safety of their workers by stopping operations and cleaning the warehouse. People around the United States have recently demonstrated a profound rage toward Jeff Bezos and Amazon leadership, which has boasted about its solidarity with the Black community and its care for essential workers, while simultaneously denying workers hazard pay and crushing warehouse organizing attempts under the pretense of “social distancing violations.”

Jeff Bezos has made an enormous amount of money during the pandemic, as Amazon is a popular and convenient shopping choice for those who have the means to stay home and socially distance. But these products do not just magically appear on people’s doorsteps.

Speeches by activists with the Bay Area Amazonians outlined this contradiction: Essential workers risk their lives every single day to transport millions of dollars’ worth of product, but who pockets the profits this work generates? Many of Amazon’s warehouse employees and drivers live paycheck-to-paycheck and belong to the same Black and Brown communities which bear the brunt of the COVID-19 pandemic’s deadly impact. Meanwhile, Jeff Bezos is making around $150,000 every single minute, and is on track to be humanity’s first trillionaire.

Who is the benefactor between the capitalist owner and the masses of essential workers who handle Amazon’s daily processes and distribution? Well, Amazon would like for its employees to cling to the idea that Bezos is the benefactor, since he owns the warehouses, owns the trucks, instructs workers on what they should do and pays them a wage. But that is a flawed line of reasoning that seeks to keep workers quiet and to manufacture gratitude toward corporate leadership. In reality, the worker is the benefactor, and the capitalist is a parasite who appropriates the value the worker generates and tosses back a few scraps. This action highlighted that without all the back-breaking work of Amazon’s warehouse employees and drivers, Jeff Bezos would not be making any money.

More speeches connected the ongoing struggle at Amazon with other workers’ struggles. Present at the action were activists from the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, the International Longshore and Warehouse Union, as well as the Service Employees International Union, all representing the interests of essential workers and their demands for just working conditions and compensation.

Bay Area Amazonians activist and organizer Adrienne Williams explained how Amazon products have to be loaded and unloaded by ILWU port workers, and that Teamster drivers have to handle the safe transport of these products before Amazon workers even interact with them. She also pointed out that Amazon leverages global inequality to seek out the cheapest labor costs and looks with contempt upon the criminally underpaid workers in the Global South who manufacture their products. Read Liberation News’ interview with Williams for more information and a deeper perspective on the workers’ struggle at Amazon.

Amazon’s brutal repression of dissent and consistent union-busting by management makes it difficult for workers to speak up. Many faces the disastrous consequences of the pending eviction crisis in the United States and could easily be fired for fighting back against management. To Amazon, these workers are disposable, since capitalist society forces people to fiercely compete with each other for jobs in a job market that has been utterly devastated by the COVID-19 pandemic. One brave Amazon worker, John Hopkins, was a key organizer of Saturday’s action and gave a powerful speech encouraging his fellow workers to speak up and fight back against corporate bigotry. He also concisely connected the struggle for workers’ rights at Amazon with the struggle for Black liberation:

“I want to tell you guys an anecdote about the last time I visited my grandmother in Mississippi. We were rolling down one of these old roads that she knows like the back of her hand. And, you know, it’s just one of these quiet old roads. You don’t see anything for a long time. And then suddenly, out of nowhere, we see this little beaten-up old shack. My grandmother says to me, ‘That’s the place where our neighbor came and forced my daddy to work the fields at gunpoint.’ [pause] Now, Jeff Bezos isn’t using a shotgun to force us to come to work, but he is absolutely coercing us.”

Hopkins was the one to personally deliver the petition to DSF4 demanding the warehouse be cleaned and its employees be given two weeks with pay to quarantine. He also advocated for another petition demanding that Jeff Bezos say the words “Black Lives Matter,” since the company leadership has carefully avoided using this phrase, allegedly too incendiary. But it is not. It is a simple and clear fact that BLACK LIVES MATTER! Hopkins demanded the company, “Not only talk the talk, but walk the walk.”

If Amazon is to use feel-good marketing slogans regarding essential workers and the anti-racist movement, then they must actively take the precautions to protect essential workers and to protect Black and Brown communities. The problem is that the company itself will not ensure the material safety of its workers, because it is simply not profitable for the owners. It is up to the workers themselves to rise up, demand their rights, and win.

This image from the petition delivered to DSF4 underscores the hypocrisy of Amazon’s corporate messaging strategy.

Bay Area Amazonians also introduced a comprehensive set of demands to be considered after the San Leandro warehouse has been properly cleaned:

Safety: Redesign workplaces with social distancing markers on the floor & train workers to use them

PPE: Sterilize vans daily and provide drivers & flex drivers with adequate supplies & PPE

Inform of cases: Create a transparent process for informing workers of positive COVID-19 cases

Quarantine pay: Send any employee exposed to COVID-19 home immediately

Essential items only: Suspend delivery of non-essential items during the pandemic.

Living wage: Starting pay of $30 per hour

Health care: Full medical benefits for all workers

Workplace: Route designer in every warehouse

No retaliation against workers who speak out & organize

Safety laws: Follow state and local labor and safety laws

At around 11 a.m., the rally wrapped up and the participants rode off in victory. One of the final chants was “WE’LL BE BACK,” and activists hope to spark a nationwide movement of similarly disruptive direct actions in the continued workers’ struggle against blood-sucking capitalists like Jeff Bezos.

World Bank Announces New Country Director for Pakistan

Mr. Najy Benhassine is the World Bank’s new Country Director for Pakistan effective August 1. He succeeds Mr. Illango Patchamuthu, who completed his term on July 31.

Mr. Benhassine most recently served as Regional Director for Equitable Growth, Finance and Institutions in the Middle East and North Africa. Prior to this, he was Director for the Finance, Competitiveness & Innovation Global Practice. Since joining the World Bank in 2001, he has worked extensively on economic development, finance, private sector development and impact evaluations.

Mr. Benhassine’s appointment comes at a time when the government of Pakistan is confronting both the immediate and longer-term health and economic impacts of the COVID-19 crisis.

“It is critical that we help protect the lives and livelihoods of the people of Pakistan and support economic recovery in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Mr. Benhassine. “My first priority is to ensure that World Bank support helps to not only alleviate the immediate health and economic impacts of the crisis but at the same time support the Government’s ambitious social and economic reform program to promote a more resilient and inclusive economy so that Pakistan can build back better.”

The World Bank portfolio in Pakistan includes 56 active projects amounting to approximately $11 billion.  The portfolio supports reforms and investments to strengthen institutions, particularly in fiscal management and human development; multi-sectoral initiatives in children’s nutrition, education and skills, irrigated agriculture, tourism, disaster risk management, and urban development; and clean energy, and social and financial inclusion.

The World Bank is supporting the government of Pakistan through COVID-19 emergency response projects totaling almost half a billion to help the country prevent, detect, and respond to the pandemic and strengthen public health preparedness.

The World Bank Group, one of the largest sources of funding and knowledge for developing countries, is taking broad, fast action to help developing countries strengthen their pandemic response. We are supporting public health interventions, working to ensure the flow of critical supplies and equipment, and helping the private sector continue to operate and sustain jobs. We will be deploying up to $160 billion in financial support over 15 months to help more than 100 countries protect the poor and vulnerable, support businesses, and bolster economic recovery. This includes $50 billion of new IDA resources through grants and highly concessional loans.

Published by jim

Curator of things...

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