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Apr 08, 2020, 06:49 AM
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« on: Oct 20, 2019, 04:50 AM »

We will be posting in this thread a variety of interesting stories about our environment, cultures around the world, and the current news of the day.
« Last Edit: Nov 02, 2019, 05:22 AM by Rad » Logged
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« Reply #1 on: Mar 30, 2020, 05:56 AM »

Bosch develops fast, automated, user-friendly COVID-19 test

It will be available next month

Fermin Koop

The coronavirus outbreak has brought many challenges for the healthcare sector across the world, which is struggling under the growing number of cases. A key part of their work is now focused on diagnosing as many patients as quickly as possible — and technology is emerging to help our doctors out.
Credit BOSCH

Nevertheless, most tests take up to three days to provide the results. That’s why many companies and countries are looking for potential solutions. The German consortium Bosch has just developed a new, fully automated rapid test for COVID-19, which can provide results in just two and a half hours.

    “We want the Bosch rapid COVID-19 test to play a part in containing the coronavirus pandemic as quickly as possible. It will speed up the identification and isolation of infected patients,” said Dr. Volkmar Denner, chairman of the board of management of Bosch.

The test, which will be available in April in Germany and then in other markets, was developed in just six weeks by Bosch. It runs on the Vivalytic analysis device from Bosch Healthcare Solutions and, according to the company, it’s the first fully automatized procedure to test for COVID-19.

The test can be done directly at the hospital or health center, eliminating the need to transport samples, which can take more time. This adds certainty to patients eager to know about their state of health, allowing hospitals to identify and isolate them much faster than possible now.

    “Time is of the essence in the fight against coronavirus. Reliable, rapid diagnosis directly on-site with no back and forth – that is the great advantage of our solution, which we see as another example of technology that is ‘Invented for life,” Denner said in a statement.

Bosch’s test not only works for COVID-19 but also tests the other nine respiratory diseases simultaneously, such as influenza A and B. In laboratory tests with coronavirus, the test had results with an accuracy of over 95%, meeting the quality standards of the World Health Organization (WHO).

The test is used by taking a swab from the patient’s nose or throat and then inserting the cartridge, already containing the reagents required for the test, in Bosch’s analyzer – which is meant to be user friendly so more medical personnel can use it. Each analyzer can do ten tests in 24 hours.

    “The special feature of the Bosch test is that it offers differential diagnosis, which saves doctors the additional time needed for further tests. It also provides them with a reliable diagnosis quickly so they can then begin suitable treatment faster,” says Marc Meier, president of Bosch

Similar initiatives can be found in other countries. In the US, for example, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved new tests that can deliver a COVID-19 diagnosis in only 45 minutes. The test was developed by Cepheid, a California diagnosing company, and it will be sent to hospitals from next week.


Covid19 Live


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« Reply #2 on: Mar 30, 2020, 06:01 AM »

 Toxic America: Revealed: Monsanto predicted crop system would damage US farms

Internal documents describe how to profit from farmer losses and desire to oppose some independent testing

by Carey Gillam
Mon 30 Mar 2020 10.15 BST

The US agriculture giant Monsanto and the German chemical giant BASF were aware for years that their plan to introduce a new agricultural seed and chemical system would probably lead to damage on many US farms, internal documents seen by the Guardian show.

Risks were downplayed even while they planned how to profit off farmers who would buy Monsanto’s new seeds just to avoid damage, according to documents unearthed during a recent successful $265m lawsuit brought against both firms by a Missouri farmer.

The documents, some of which date back more than a decade, also reveal how Monsanto opposed some third-party product testing in order to curtail the generation of data that might have worried regulators.

And in some of the internal BASF emails, employees appear to joke about sharing “voodoo science” and hoping to stay “out of jail”.

The new crop system developed by Monsanto and BASF was designed to address the fact that millions of acres of US farmland have become overrun with weeds resistant to Monsanto’s glyphosate-based weedkillers, best known as Roundup. The collaboration between the two companies was built around a different herbicide called dicamba.

In the Roundup system, farmers could spray glyphosate herbicides such as Roundup over the top of certain crops that Monsanto genetically engineered to survive being sprayed with the pesticide. This “glyphosate-tolerant” crop system has been popular with farmers around the world but has led to widespread weed resistance to glyphosate. The new system promoted by Monsanto and BASF similarly provides farmers with genetically engineered dicamba-tolerant soybeans and cotton that can be sprayed directly with dicamba. The weeds in the fields die but the crops do not.

Dicamba has been in use since the 1960s but traditionally was used sparingly, and not on growing crops, because it has a track record of volatilizing – moving far from where it is sprayed – particularly in warm growing months. As it moves it can damage or kill the plants it drifts across.

The companies announced in 2011 that they were collaborating in the development of the dicamba-tolerant cropping systems, granting each other reciprocal licenses, with BASF agreeing to supply formulated dicamba herbicide products to Monsanto.

The companies said they would make new dicamba formulations that would stay where they were sprayed and would not volatilize as older versions of dicamba were believed to do. With good training, special nozzles, buffer zones and other “stewardship” practices, the company’s assured regulators and farmers that the new system would bring “really good farmer-friendly formulations to the marketplace”.

But in private meetings dating back to 2009, records show agricultural experts warned that the plan to develop a dicamba-tolerant system could have catastrophic consequences. The experts told Monsanto that farmers were likely to spray old volatile versions of dicamba on the new dicamba-tolerant crops and even new versions were still likely to be volatile enough to move away from the special cotton and soybean fields on to crops growing on other farms.

Importantly, under the system designed by Monsanto and BASF, only farmers buying Monsanto’s dicamba-tolerant cotton and soybean seeds would be protected from dicamba drift damage. Other cotton and soybean farmers and farmers growing everything from wheat to watermelons would be at risk from the drifting dicamba.

According to a report prepared for Monsanto in 2009 as part of industry consultation, such “off-target movement” was expected, along with “crop loss”, “lawsuits” and “negative press around pesticides”.

A 2015 document shows that Monsanto’s own projections estimated that dicamba damage claims from farmers would total more than 10,000 cases, including 1,305 in 2016, 2,765 in 2017 and 3,259 in 2018.

Both Monsanto and BASF defended their products and their different roles in bringing the new dicamba crop system to market. BASF said dicamba is safe “when used correctly” and an important tool for farmers. Monsanto said its XtendiMax dicamba herbicide, which it said was not invented until 2012, was “comprehensively evaluated” by the Environmental Protection agency (EPA) “and determined it does not pose any unreasonable risks of off-target movement when used according to label directions”.

Several million acres of crops have now been reported damaged by dicamba, according to industry estimates. And more than 100 US farmers are engaged in litigation in federal court alleging Monsanto and BASF collaboration created a “defective” crop system that has damaged orchards, gardens and organic and non-organic farm fields in multiple states.

Last month the first trial over dicamba damage ended with a $265m jury verdict against Monsanto and BASF. The documents reviewed by the Guardian were obtained through court-ordered discovery by the law firm that won that case.

The jury found on behalf of Missouri peach farmers Bill and Denise Bader, who alleged the companies’ actions led to the dicamba drift that damaged 30,000 peach trees, ruining their 34-year-old family farm. The companies’ actions to encourage widespread spraying of dicamba over large areas created an “ecological disaster”, Bader attorney Bill Randles told the jury.

BASF and Monsanto’s German owner, Bayer AG, has denied liability and has said it plans to appeal against the verdict in the peach farmer case. Their products are safe and effective when used correctly, both say. Monsanto’s owner, Bayer is also dealing with thousands of lawsuits alleging its glyphosate weedkillers cause cancer. Three juries so far have found that Roundup is carcinogenic and that Monsanto hid the risks.

Just as Monsanto has done in the Roundup litigation, Monsanto and BASF sought to keep most of the discovery documents they turned over in the dicamba litigation designated confidential. Roughly 180 have been unsealed and were cited at the Bader trial.

“The documents are the worst that I’ve ever seen for any case that I’ve worked on,” said lawyer Angie Splittgerber, a former tobacco industry defense attorney who works with Randles in the firm Randles & Splittgerber. “So many of them put things in writing that were just horrifying.”


Though they worked together to gain regulatory approval for the dicamba seeds, Monsanto and BASF each developed their own distinct dicamba herbicide products to be used with those seeds. And though the seeds were released for planting in 2016, the companies were unable to garner regulatory approval to start selling their new herbicides before 2017.

Academics were skeptical of the companies’ new use plan for dicamba from the outset but became more worried when the dicamba-tolerant seeds were commercialized before the new dicamba formulations. As critics had predicted, farmers who bought the new seeds then started spraying their fields with old dicamba formulations despite stickers on the seed bags prohibiting them from doing so.

The documents show that both companies were excited about the profit potential in the new system. BASF projected its new dicamba herbicide would be a “$400m brand in two years”, with sales by May 2017 exceeding $131m and a gross profit of 45%.

The companies saw part of the opportunity in selling to soybean and cotton farmers who didn’t need or want the special dicamba-tolerant crops but could be convinced to buy them as a means to protect their crops from dicamba drift, the documents show.

That strategy was noted in multiple documents. In one BASF 2016 strategy update, the company noted “defensive planting” as a “potential market opportunity”. Monsanto also saw “new users” in farmers who suffered drift damage.

In one November 2016 email exchange, a Monsanto distributor noted that “all the dicamba drift damage complaints” were spiking demand for Monsanto’s dicamba-tolerant seed. The Monsanto executive responded: “We have more potential this year than I have ever seen since 09 to blow it out.”

In its statement to the Guardian, Monsanto denied that it had planned to target drifters to become new users. The Guardian asked Monsanto to comment on warnings in 2009 that its plan to develop a dicamba crop system could damage farms. Monsanto said this was false and that it stood behind its system. The company said it takes “stewardship responsibility very seriously when introducing any new technology”.
Soybean fields in Arlington, Wisconsin, in August 2018, are among those which have been examined for possible damage from dicamba drift

Avoiding testing

A series of emails show efforts by Monsanto to block some independent testing by academics of the company’s new dicamba herbicides, in part for fear outside tests would disrupt the company’s efforts to gain product approval from the EPA.

The agency was aware of the volatility concerns and Monsanto was seeking to convince the EPA that the concerns were unfounded.

Two months later, in April 2015, Monsanto’s Robert Montgomery, who worked in technology development in Tennessee, wrote to colleagues that a University of Arkansas weed scientist had asked if Monsanto would provide “a few milliliters” of its Xtend-formulated dicamba herbicide for testing by academics. Montgomery said the weed scientist was told Monsanto was “not testing formulation this year because of the difficulty in producing quantities that would allow for broader testing”.

Joseph Sandbrink, a Monsanto technology development manager, responded: “Hahaha. Difficulty in producing enough product for field testing. Hahaha bullshit.”

In its statement, Monsanto said it had “facilitated a number of third-party tests” before and after EPA approvals.

Monsanto added that emails where individuals were occasionally using “shorthand or colloquialisms” had been “cherry-picked” by lawyers at the recent trial and this does “not detract from the fact that the products we are talking about were thoroughly tested and approved (twice) by the EPA”.

As some predicted, complaints about dicamba drift damage surged after Monsanto introduced its new seeds in 2016, and even after Monsanto and BASF’s new herbicide formulations were introduced in 2017, complaints of off-target movement of dicamba continued.

By late 2017, a Monsanto email thread referred to the “wall-to-wall damage we’ve been seeing”.

The high level of damage led the EPA to place new restrictions on the use of the dicamba herbicides in 2018, though the agency extended the registration until 20 December 2020. Monsanto, BASF and Corteva, which also markets a dicamba product, are hoping the registrations will be renewed.

Because of farmer concerns that dicamba drift would contaminate fruits and vegetable plots, the internal documents show that Monsanto and BASF devised a plan to ask the EPA to allow certain amounts of dicamba residues to be considered legal in crops such as tomatoes, potatoes, grapes and other foods expected to be accidentally exposed to dicamba spray.

The EPA said since Monsanto’s new seeds were introduced the agency has received about 1,851 “major” and 2,221 “aggregate” damage reports, but cautioned that might not be a total tally.

“EPA is taking the reports of crop damage related to the use of dicamba very seriously,” an EPA spokesperson said. “We are working with the states and the registrants to better understand the issue so we can address the problem of illegal drift. Considering the incidents that have been reported, we are reviewing the current use restrictions on the label to see what changes can be made so that unwanted exposures will not occur.”

Randles, the Bader attorney, said farmers are worried about continued damage. “Dicamba is a problem that could have been managed,” he said. “Instead they allowed it to become a catastrophe. They’ve mismanaged this from start to finish.”

“It’s a huge problem,” said Kansas organic farmer Jack Geiger, who said his wheat, corn and soybean farm has been hit multiple times by dicamba drift. “Dicamba is going to make Roundup look like a tea party.”
BASF: dicamba ‘is safe when used correctly’

In a statement, BASF said: “BASF believes that dicamba is safe when used correctly following the label instructions and stewardship guidelines and is an important tool for farmers who are increasingly battling resistant weeds.

“BASF and Monsanto are different entities and any effort to impute to BASF any misconduct by Monsanto is flatly wrong. In the recent trial, the jury made punitive damages findings against Monsanto, not BASF. For all the reasons that BASF has explained in court, BASF disagrees with the trial court’s judgment that BASF should be responsible for Monsanto’s conduct.”

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« Reply #3 on: Mar 30, 2020, 06:06 AM »

'Probably the worst year in a century': the environmental toll of 2019

The annual Australia’s Environment report finds last year’s heat and drought caused unprecedented damage

Graham Readfearn
30 Mar 2020 17.30 BST

Record heat and drought across Australia delivered the worst environmental conditions across the country since at least 2000, with river flows, tree cover and wildlife being hit on an “unprecedented scale”, according to a new report.

The index of environmental conditions in Australia scored 2019 at 0.8 out of 10 – the worst result across all the years analysed from 2000.

The year delivered unprecedented bushfires, record heat, very low soil moisture, low vegetation growth and 40 additions to the threatened species list.

The report’s lead author, Prof Albert van Dijk of the Australian National University’s Fenner school of environment and society, told Guardian Australia 2019 was “probably the worst in a century or more” for the environment.

“This is not the new normal – this is just getting worse and worse,” he said, adding that 2019 had seen a “continuing descent into an ever more dismal future. You start to see ecosystems fall apart and then struggle to recover before the next major disturbance.”

The Australia’s Environment report scored environmental conditions across seven indicators – inundation, streamflow, vegetation growth, leaf area, soil protection, tree cover and the number of hot days.

Across all years analysed, 2005 was the next worst year, impacted by the millennium drought. The year 2010 was the best; it was also one of Australia’s wettest on record.

Van Dijk said the cause of the impacts for 2019 were global heating as well as natural variability in Australia’s climate. The number of days above 35C was 36% higher than the previous 19 years.

The population had continued to grow and the country’s greenhouse gas emissions had remained high, the report said.

Greenhouse gas emissions per person were 11% below the 2000-18 average, but remained among the highest in the world because of high energy use per person and the burning of coal for electricity.

Findings were underpinned by about 1m gigabytes of data, including satellite data that only became available from 2000, as well as field data and on-the-ground surveys.

Reviewing biodiversity impacts, the report highlighted the number of spectacled flying foxes – one of many species vulnerable to heat stress – had dropped to 47,000 from an average of 100,000 before 2016.

The numbers of threatened species had risen by 36% since 2000, the report said.

River flows were 43% below the 2000-18 average, causing water storages to drop and mass fish deaths in the Murray-Darling Basin, and wetland environments had also seen record-low inundation.

River flows were above average around the coast of northern Queensland, around Karratha in Western Australia and at Strahan in Tasmania’s west.

The protection of soils by vegetation and moisture was “extremely poor”, causing dust storms. The average soil moisture was also lowest since at least 2000 and farming productivity had been hit.

The Great Barrier Reef, which has just experienced its third mass bleaching event in five years, had escaped bleaching in 2019 but its condition remained poor.

World heritage-listed Gondwana rainforests, the Blue Mountains, alpine regions, eastern Gippsland and Kangaroo Island had all been badly hit by bushfires.

A co-author of the report, Dr Marta Yebra, said: “Our data clearly shows that the combination of dry forests and hot weather made for an especially explosive mixture.”

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« Reply #4 on: Mar 30, 2020, 06:08 AM »

Builder aims to help UK construction industry kick its plastic habit

Neal Maxwell wants trade to go from 50,000 tonnes of plastic waste each year to zero by 2040

Henry McDonald
Mon 30 Mar 2020 07.00 BST

A builder from Merseyside has launched a project that aims to remove plastic from the British construction industry within two decades.

Neal Maxwell, who has worked in the trade for more than 30 years, co-founded the non-profit organisation Changing Streams after a trip to the Arctic.

Appalled by the levels of plastic pollutants in the Arctic Ocean and the often-lethal impact on animals in the polar region, Maxwell and researchers from the University of Liverpool have drawn up a programme that they say could make construction plastic-free by 2040.

The sector is the second largest producer of plastic waste in the UK, after packaging. It is estimated the building trade generates 50,000 tonnes of plastic waste each year.

Along with the architect Dr Gareth Abrahams from the university’s School of Environmental Science, Maxwell has drafted a charter that they hope could become legally binding.

The programme for the construction indusry includes:

• the phasing out of paint containing plastic;
• the establishment of a “traffic light” guide to warn which paints contain plastic to dissuade DIY consumers from buying them;
• the creation of a template house made without plastic;
• the end of the use of plastic wrapping for building materials such as bricks and cladding.
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Maxwell co-founded Changing Streams in 2018 after he and his wife toured the Arctic on a scientific exploration ship. He said: “On board were 20 scientific specialists from all around the world who helped us understand about the environment and the impact global warming and plastic pollution was having.

“We were told about the walruses while out in kayaks and learned about their feeding habits and plastic ingestion via clams when in the water. But the moment of truth for me came when we got back to England, when I went on our first food shop at the supermarket to stock up the kitchen again. When I saw row upon row of things covered in plastic it turned my stomach – I had to get out of the shop.

“When I got home I realised I had to do something about plastic pollution. And I could only do that in the industry I’ve worked in for over 30 years. That trip and that moment in the supermarket afterwards convinced me that I should try to make my industry plastic-free.”

Maxwell said he was even more shocked when he discovered how much plastic was used in the construction business.

He and Abrahams hope a “carrot and stick” approach can win over builders, many of whom fear replacing plastic will raise their costs.

“We will not only ask government eventually to adopt this as legally binding regulations, but also petition large pension fund providers which finance construction to adopt the charter as well,” Maxwell said.

Abrahams says the University of Liverpool aims to construct plastic-free accommodation on its campus, which is undergoing a multimillion-pound rebuild.

He said: “One of our projects is to create the first ever plastic-neutral commercially viable house. We want to show the building industry this can be done. And through things like coding paint we can hopefully change consumer behaviour as well.”

Maxwell says plastic became widely used in the late 1950s and 60s. “What did we do before [it] was ubiquitous? Pre-plastic, we built houses, factories, offices and buildings without it. We don’t have to reinvent the wheel here. There are alternatives we have used before and new ones we can invent.

“We used to use asbestos throughout our industry before we knew the damage it was doing to our lungs. We know the damage plastic is doing to our planet and other species. Shouldn’t we treat plastic as the new asbestos?”

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« Reply #5 on: Mar 30, 2020, 06:11 AM »

Former child bride wrongfully accused of murdering husband sues in Pakistan

Rani Bibi was 14 when she was convicted but received no compensation for the miscarriages of justice that led to her spending two decades in prison

Haroon Janjua in Islamabad
30 Mar 2020

A child bride who spent 19 years in prison for a murder she did not commit is to sue the Pakistan authorities in an effort to persuade the country to help thousands of other victims of miscarriages of justice.

Rani Bibi was just 14 when she was convicted, alongside her father, brother and cousin, of the murder of her husband and spent the next two decades sweeping the floors of an overcrowded Pakistan prison.

Last year a Lahore high court judge acquitted her of all charges, apologetically noting that she “was left to languish in the jail solely due to [the] lacklustre attitude of the jail authorities”. He added that “this court feels helpless in compensating her”.

Bibi is trying to regain her life as best she can. Sitting on a chair in her dilapidated two-room shack on the outskirts of Islamabad, with no financial means, she despairs of her second chance in life. Now 36, she had not reached the legal age of marriage under Pakistani law when she was forcibly married off by her parents. Soon after her husband was murdered, with his body buried alongside the shovel used to kill him. She was jailed along with her father, who died in prison, her brother and cousin, who were both released long before she was. There was no evidence at all to link Bibi to the crime.

“I am a victim of the injustice; the entire system is responsible for ruining my teenage and youth years in prison without any crime,” she told the Guardian.

Bibi struggles to find work because of her notoriety. She has remarried and lives with her husband and brother. “I was formerly working as domestic help but have not a stable job since then. Although acquitted, I struggle to find employment due to the stigma attached to time spent in prison”.

She was let down on several occasions by the authorities, after being convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment in 2001. The prison superintendent did not follow the legal process, and failed to file her appeal to the high court.

She only found out in 2014 when, by chance, her case was discovered by a lawyer, the late advocate Asma Jahangir , who came across Bibi in prison and pursued an appeal. She was finally acquitted in 2017. However, Pakistan has no system to compensate victims of miscarriages of justice, something Bibi and her supporters now hope to change.

This month saw a petition filed at Lahore’s high court against the Punjab government, urging judges to compensate Bibi and seeking new legislation to act against wrongful convictions.

“This case needs acknowledgement from the judges of the miscarriage of justice,” said Michelle Shahid, a lawyer from the Foundation for Fundamental Rights, a group working for Bibi, who estimates that there are thousands of similar cases in Pakistan. “There is no debate in Pakistan about wrongful convictions of criminal cases and this is the right time to introduce legislation about this issue,” she said.

A 2019 study by the foundation found that of the death sentences reviewed by the Pakistan supreme court, 78% of those decided by lower courts were overturned.

A senior official at Lahore high court told the Guardian, on condition of anonymity, that “wrongful convictions are due to false testimony and judges have no fault on this issue”.

Legal experts believe Bibi’s case is a precedent and can help fix a flawed legal system that wrongfully convicts thousands of people and leaves the innocent without support to rebuild lives after they are eventually acquitted.

“The case of Rani Bibi spending two decades in jail after being wrongly convicted, may seem rather alarming to outside observers, but those who practise law recognise that convictions on the basis of circumstantial evidence or confessions extracted through torture by the investigating agencies are a fairly common occurrence,” a senior Islamabad attorney, Osama Malik, told the Guardian.

He said the judicial system lacks the capacity to cope with the country’s growing population and huge caseloads lead to backlogs. Lower courts rely too heavily on flimsy evidence and dubious confessions, sometimes obtained through torture.

“Pakistan in 2008 became a signatory to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which guarantees that anyone who suffers from a miscarriage of justice will be compensated. However, this is something that Pakistani courts have been reluctant to enforce for fear that the sheer number of wrongful convictions every year may result in opening of the floodgates with thousands of victims demanding compensation,” Malik said.

For Bibi, her wish is to ensure “that no citizen of Pakistan suffers at the hands of the criminal justice system like I have”.

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« Reply #6 on: Mar 30, 2020, 06:21 AM »

Coronavirus latest: at a glance

A summary of the biggest developments in the global coronavirus outbreak
Ben Quinn
Mon 30 Mar 2020 12.18 BST

Key developments in the global coronavirus outbreak today include:

Global infections pass 730,000

Covid-19 infections worldwide have risen to 732,000, according to the Johns Hopkins University tracker. The US had the most cases, with over 142,000; Italy was second with nearly 98,000; and Spain has passed China’s 82,000 cases with 85,000. Italy still had the highest death toll, with nearly 10,800. Spain was second with 7,340. More than 2,500 people have died in the US.
Lockdowns increase in cities across the world

Europe’s largest capital and Africa’s most populous city have gone into lockdown and countries including the US have prolonged and tightened already strict confinement orders as the coronavirus epidemic continues to spread across the globe. Moscow on Monday imposed strict isolation measures after many residents ignored official requests to stay indoors. In Italy, which accounts for a third of all global deaths from Covid-19, the government meanwhile warned citizens should be ready for a lengthy confinement that would only be lifted gradually.

UK spread shows early signs of slowing – key adviser

The spread of coronavirus in the UK is showing early signs of slowing, according to Prof Neil Ferguson, a key epidemiologist advising the government. Ferguson, whose modelling informed the government’s decision to impose a lockdown, said the data was showing signs that social distancing measures were beginning to work, although it has not yet had an effect on the number of daily reported deaths

Spain logs slight fall in number of deaths

Spain, one of the European countries worst hit by the coronavirus pandemic, has logged a slight fall in the number of people dying from the disease after days of record death tolls. Figures released by the ministry of health recorded that 812 people died from the virus between Sunday and Monday. The news came as Fernando Simón, the head of Spain’s centre for health emergencies and the public face of the government’s response, awaited the results of testing after displaying symptoms of Covid-19.
Trump says keeping US deaths under 100,000 would be ‘a very good job’

Donald Trump has acknowledged the scale of possible fatalities from Covid-19 in the US, while extending social distancing rules until 30 April. The president said if his administration kept deaths under 100,000 it would have done a “very good job”, bringing him closer in line with the top US diseases expert, Anthony Fauci, who suggested on Sunday deaths could reach 200,000. Trump also claimed his push to reopen the country by Easter had only been “aspirational”, now saying he hoped normality might return by 1 June.'

Tokyo Olympics set for July 2021 as Wimbledon cancelation looms

Organisers of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics are in final-stage discussions to hold the opening ceremony for the rescheduled Games on 23 July 2021, according to reports in Japan. In the UK, Wimbledon organisers are set to announce the cancellation of the 2020 tournament on Wednesday due to the coronavirus pandemic, according to a senior German tennis official.

Concern over infections spread by asymptomatic people in China

Asymptomatic people may be infecting others in China despite officials saying the risk of this is low, it has emerged. As China relaxes lockdown measures and people return to work, ​​authorities are concerned about the possibility that asymptomatic carriers will continue spreading the virus.

New breathing aid to be mass-produced if trials successful

A breathing aid that should help keep coronavirus-19 patients out of intensive care has been developed in Britain by a group including University College London researchers and the Mercedes Formula One team. Mercedes said that they can distribute up to 1,000 a day of the trials set to start this week are successful.

Australia begins tighter restrictions

New rules restricting group meetings outside to just two people came into force on Monday, as children’s playgrounds, outdoor gyms and skateparks were closed in an attempt to stop the spread of the virus. So far the country has more than 4,000 cases and 16 deaths.
Aviation industry continues to suffer

The virus has continued to wreak havoc in the aviation sector. EasyJet has grounded its entire fleet of aircraft for at least two months while Virgin Atlantic has reportedly asked the UK government for emergency financial help. Thai Airways International said it may permanently reduce the number of aircraft types it deploys once the coronavirus outbreak ends.

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« Reply #7 on: Mar 30, 2020, 06:22 AM »

Hungary set to pass law that critics say will let Orbán rule by decree

Fears over lack of checks and balances in new law, which includes jail terms for spreading misinformation 

Shaun Walker in Budapest
Mon 30 Mar 2020 05.00 BST

Hungary is set to pass a new law on coronavirus that includes jail terms for spreading misinformation as critics warn that the nationalist prime minister Viktor Orbán could be given carte blanche to rule by decree, with no clear time limit.

Hungary’s parliament, in which Orbán’s Fidesz party has a two-thirds majority, looks set to pass the bill on Monday in spite of opposition from other political parties, who had demanded a time limit or sunset clause on the legislation.

The bill will also introduce jail terms of up to five years for intentionally spreading misinformation that hinders the government response to the pandemic, leading to fears that it could be used to censor or self-censor criticism of the government response.

As of Sunday morning, Hungary had 408 confirmed cases of coronavirus and 13 deaths, although the real figures are likely to be higher. The country is under a partial lockdown, with people discouraged from going outside except for essential activities, and schools, restaurants and many shops closed.

Rights groups and government critics say that while it is clear coronavirus brings extraordinary challenges, some checks and balances should be placed on the government response, especially given Orbán’s erosion of democratic norms during his 10 years in power.

“This bill would create an indefinite and uncontrolled state of emergency and give Viktor Orbán and his government carte blanche to restrict human rights,” said David Vig, Amnesty International’s Hungary director. “This is not the way to address the very real crisis that has been caused by the Covid-19 pandemic.”

The government tried to pass the bill last week, but would have needed four-fifths of MPs to vote on it. Hungary’s liberal opposition said that although it had concerns over a number of elements of the law, it was willing to overlook them in the spirit of compromise as long as a sunset clause was introduced.

“Of course we support the emergency situation. We agree with the government that there’s an emergency and that they have to do everything to combat it. We offered almost everything, but we asked for the time limit,” said Ágnes Vadai, an MP with the opposition democratic coalition.

However, the ruling party had made it clear that it was not willing to back down over the sunset clause, she claimed. “I think from the very beginning, they didn’t want an agreement, because they have used the whole thing for political communication,” said Vadai, referencing claims that the opposition’s stance had been “unpatriotic” and was aiding the spread of coronavirus.

Orbán’s government has fiercely defended the measures. “I assure every Hungarian citizen that everything the government is doing is in relation to fighting the coronavirus and protecting the citizens’ life and health,” said Judit Varga, the justice minister, on Friday.

Varga said the new criminal provision was “both adequate and necessary in order to fight malicious disinformation campaigns” against Hungary. This is unlikely to quell fears that the bill could be used to target critical reporting of the government’s response to the pandemic, given that top Hungarian government figures frequently claim that independent Hungarian journalists and foreign media are engaged in a deliberate plot to smear the Orbán government. Varga clarified that the law would apply to everyone, including journalists.

She pointed out that parliament could end the emergency situation at any time, as long as it is still sitting. However, Fidesz controls parliament and is unlikely to cancel the legislation without Orbán’s say-so. The lack of an end date was because it is unclear when the pandemic would end, she said. Asked who would decide when it could be declared over, she said: “Life will give the answer to this. I’m not a doctor, I’m not a scientist, but I think it will be crystal clear for everyone in Europe when the crisis is over.”

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« Reply #8 on: Mar 30, 2020, 06:24 AM »

Oil rig closures rising as prices hit 18-year lows

Global producers running out of storage for surplus due to coronavirus crisis   

Jillian Ambrose
Mon 30 Mar 2020 11.58 BST

Global oil producers have begun shutting down their oil rigs on the largest scale in 35 years as the coronavirus continues to drive market prices to their lowest level since 2002.

The shutdown of oil wells has already wiped out almost 1m barrels a day from global production, but the figure is expected to rise as producers run out of space to store their extra oil as the crisis continues.

In some landlocked markets in the US, where storage space is scarce and shipping costs are high, oil producers started oil well “shut-ins” late last week rather than pay buyers to take their barrels.

In Canada the price of a barrel of oil fell below the cost of shipping it to a refinery – $5 – making it more economic for producers to shut down their wells than plummet to “negative prices”.

The international oil price benchmark, Brent crude, has fallen to its lowest level in 18 years, at below $23 a barrel. The latest price plunge came after Saudi Arabia denied it was in talks with Russia over a truce in the oil price war which earlier this month triggered the fastest oil price crash since 1991.

The major oil companies are preparing to pump record levels of oil into the global market as part of a bitter oil price war to win a stranglehold on the market, despite plummeting demand for energy during the Covid-19 economic crisis.

The US banking group Goldman Sachs said oil well shut-ins had reached at least 900,000 barrels of oil a day, but “the true number [is] likely higher and growing by the hour”.

“Given the cost of shutting down a well, a producer would be willing to pay someone to dispose of a barrel, implying negative pricing in landlocked areas,” the bank said in an investor note on Monday.

Jeffery Currie, the global head of commodities at Goldman Sachs, said the mothballed oil wells may fail to restart as quickly as the economy recovered from the “coronacrisis”, or at all, which could trigger “a very quick risk reversal towards oil shortages” and cause oil prices to more than double again by next year.

“Not only is this the largest economic shock of our lifetimes, but carbon-based industries like oil sit in the cross-hairs,” he said. “Accordingly, oil has been disproportionately hit.”

Goldman Sachs estimates that global oil demand has fallen 25% in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak and the price of Brent crude could fall to lows of $20 a barrel. Saudi Arabia will begin pumping record levels of crude from April.

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« Reply #9 on: Mar 30, 2020, 06:35 AM »

Lucifer-In-Chief' Trump says keeping US Covid-19 deaths to 100,000 would be a ‘very good job’

President extends social distancing rules to 30 April, saying open for Easter plans were only ‘aspirational’
David Smith in Washington
Mon 30 Mar 2020 02.52 BST

Donald Trump has extended America’s national shutdown for a month, bowing to public health experts, and scientific reality, and warning that the worst of the coronavirus pandemic is yet to come.

Speaking in the White House Rose Garden, the US president claimed that, if his administration keeps the death toll to 100,000, it will have done “a very good job” – a startling shift from his optimistic predictions of a few days ago when he said he hoped to restart the economy by Easter.

Trump also undermined his plea for unity by uttering falsehoods, verbally abusing reporters and making incendiary allegations that implied health care workers were stealing masks, without providing evidence.

The extended deadline marked a humiliating retreat for the president who, having squandered six precious weeks at the start of the pandemic, more recently complained that the cure is worse than the problem and floated Easter Sunday as a “beautiful timeline” for reopening big swathes of the country.

On Sunday he claimed this had only been “aspirational” as his advisers urged him not to move too hastily. He announced the initial 15-day period of social distancing urged by the federal government, which was due to expire on Monday, would be extended to 30 April, and said he hoped normality might return by 1 June.

The guidelines recommend against big group gatherings and urge older people and anyone with existing health problems to stay at home. People were also urged to work at home when possible and avoid restaurants, bars, non-essential travel and shopping trips.

“The modelling estimates that the peak in death rate is likely to hit in two weeks,” Trump told reporters, with the toll already at more than 2,400. “Nothing would be worse than declaring victory before the victory is won. That would be the greatest loss of all.”

He added: “We can expect by June 1st we will be well on our way to recovery.”

The shift came as the full horror of the pandemic appeared to dawn on a president who long downplayed it. Dr Anthony Fauci, the government’s top infectious disease expert, said the US could experience more than 100,000 deaths and millions of infections. Fauci praised the extension as a “wise and prudent” decision.

Trump cited projection models that said potentially 2.2 million people or more could have died had the country tried to “wing it” and not put social distancing measures in place. “I kept asking and we did models,” he said. “These are 2.2 million people would have died.

“And so, if we could hold that down, as we’re saying, to 100,000 – it’s a horrible number, maybe even less, but to 100,000, so we have between 100 [thousand] and 200,000 – we altogether have done a very good job.”

Trump also appeared to have been rattled by scenes at Elmhurst Hospital where he grew up in Queens, New York. “I’ve been watching that for the last week on television,” he said. “Body bags all over, in hallways.”

“I’ve been watching them bring in trailer trucks, freezer trucks, they’re freezer trucks, because they can’t handle the bodies, there are so many of them. This is essentially in my community, in Queens; Queens, New York. I’ve seen things that I’ve never seen before.”

Trump had minimised the threat of the coronavirus for weeks and ignored the pleas of his health secretary to investing in testing kits and breathing apparatus. The House Speaker, Nancy Pelosi, told CNN’s State of the Union this attitude had cost American lives. “The president, his denial at the beginning, was deadly,” she said.

Trump has long been criticised for refusing to own up to his own mistakes and shifting blame to others. In another lengthy, abrasive press conference, he pushed a conspiracy theory speculating that hospital staff may be stealing N95 masks and selling them on the black market.

The current demand does not square with what hospitals usually use, he told reporters. “It’s a New York hospital, very – it’s packed all the time. How do you go from 10 to 20 [thousand masks per week] to 300,000? Ten [thousand] to 20,000 masks, to 300,000 – even though this is different? Something is going on, and you ought to look into it as reporters. Are they going out the back door?”

He added: “How do you go from 10,000 to 300,000? And we have that in a lot of different places. So somebody should probably look into that, because I just don’t see from a practical standpoint how that’s possible to go from that to that.”

When a reporter asked the president to clarify, he asked for New York Governor Andrew Cuomo and Mayor Bill de Blasio to investigate, adding: “I don’t think it’s hoarding. I think it’s maybe worse than hoarding.”

The comments provoked widespread outrage. Joe Kennedy III, a Democratic Congressman from Massachusetts, tweeted: “We need supplies. We need masks. Our frontlines are suffering. Suggesting otherwise is disgusting.”

Joe Biden, the front runner for the Democratic presidential nomination, said: “This is ridiculous and completely false. Today’s conspiracy mongering from our president is among the most reckless and ignorant moves he has made during this crisis, and there have been many. Lives hang in the balance.”
A White House aide attempts to take the microphone out of the hands of correspondent Yamiche Alcindor as she questions Donald Trump.

As in previous briefings all week, the president picked fights with individual reporters including Yamiche Alcindor, a reporter at PBS NewsHour who is a woman of colour.

When Alcindor questioned him about comments he made during an interview with Fox News’s Sean Hannity that suggested state governors were making exaggerated demands, Trump retorted: “Why don’t you act in a little more positive? ... It’s always get ya, get ya, get ya. You know what? That’s why nobody trusts the media anymore.”

He added: “Look, let me tell you something, be nice. Don’t be threatening. Be nice.”


MSNBC host goes off on Trump for ‘choosing to ignore’ intelligence on coronavirus: ‘That’s a provable lie’

By Sarah K. Burris
Raw Story

MSNBC had a panel discussion about Sunday about the ways in which President Donald Trump has ignored all of the intelligence that warned him that a health crisis was coming.

Reports have surfaced over the past several weeks about the information that Trump received urged him to prepare for the coronavirus, but it was ignored. U.S. intelligence agencies were sounding the alarm in January and February that a pandemic was likely and that it would come to the United States, the Washington Post reported. Trump ignored the reports. Politico reported that the Trump team failed to heed warnings about a pandemic by top advisers. Those people are now gone from the administration.

Former National Security Adviser Susan Rice warned the NSC that the U.S. wasn’t prepared for such a crisis back in 2017 and her reports were ignored. Trump was given a 69-page report three years ago that warned the country wasn’t ready in case of a pandemic. Trump’s team failed to use the “pandemic playbook,” which could have also saved lives.

Speaking with MSNBC’s Ali Velshi spoke with Katrina Mulligan, who preciously directed preparedness and response at the Justice Department, explained that the Obama administration had a pandemic exercise as part of the transition process.

“Because some people in the White House felt, ‘we already did that. We already explored the pandemic response. We don’t really need to do anything more,'” Mulligan explained. “Now, it’s interesting to hear the president say, ‘Nobody could have conceived of this. Nobody could have thought that this was going to happen because, in fact, the outgoing administration handed him an actual playbook of exactly this type of thing happening and exactly what to do to respond to it effectively. He just hasn’t used that playbook.”

Velshi noted that Trump admitted in the press conference that he heard, for the first time, that 2.2 million people could die if he doesn’t take action.

“That’s an absolute lie,” Velshi said about Trump, saying he heard it for the first time. “We know it’s a provable lie. We know Dr. Birx, who’s been advising him, has this information. It’s a study that was published in the New York Times in the middle of March. I had guests on my show in January, and I have no intelligence, telling me that this was going to be a concern. He chose to avoid this.”

Former FBI assistant director of counterintelligence, Frank Figliuzzi, explained that many in the intelligence community anticipated something significant like this happening that Trump would get intelligence about and ignore it because he has been at war with the intel community since his campaign.

“Those of us who served in the intelligence community knew that this day would eventually come,” he said. “The day when the president’s disdain for and ignorance of intelligence reporting would actually be at our own peril. Personally, Ali, I thought that might be in the form of ignoring an imminent terrorist attack or imminent cyber attack. It turns out it’s even worse than that, in terms of potential death toll and impact on all of us because we know from clear reporting that as early as January he was getting intelligence agency reporting that there was a big problem coming out of China and that it had actionable intelligence that needed to be acted on.”

Trump chose to ignore it, he said, which is par for the course with this president.

“He’s chosen to ignore intelligence community reporting that the Saudi crown prince was involved in the murder of journalist from the Washington Post. He’s chosen to ignore that Vladimir Putin was to blame for the hacking and the interruption of our and messing with our presidential campaign in 2016. He’s ignoring intelligence that North Korea continues to develop a nuclear program. And now it’s impacting all of us, and he had a pandemic playbook on the shelf. It was ‘Pandemic for Dummies.’ And he’s refused to pull that off the shelf, and we’re all suffering from it.”


‘Grounds for a lawsuit’: MSNBC’s Mika calls for legal consequences for Fox News coronavirus ‘misinformation’

Raw Story
By Travis Gettys

MSNBC’s Mika Brzezinski suggested Fox News might be liable for the deaths of viewers who trusted their “misinformation” about the deadly coronavirus.

Brzezinski and her “Morning Joe” co-host Joe Scarborough were shocked that President Donald Trump’s loyalists continue to downplay the outbreak — which has already killed more than 2,500 Americans and wreaked havoc on the U.S. economy.

“I even heard people on television — and I’m just shocked — still suggesting this epidemic will only hit New York City and not Middle America,” Scarborough said.
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Brzezinski suggested those broadcasters and their guests could be held liable for their misleading claims.

“That’s malpractice,” she said. “That’s grounds for a lawsuit. People delivering the news are supposed to be giving facts, not fiction. The viewers are there to trust them. If they get poor information, or they are misled to believe they can’t get sick, and they get sick, exactly how is that not grounds for some sort of situation to arise? This is clear, and if anyone is trying to push against it, they are committing malpractice.”

Watch: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=waOzfQrozVs&feature=emb_title


Rick Wilson: Trump voters are about to pay a terrible price for cheering on his early coronavirus denialism

Raw Story
By Tom Boggioni

In a column for the Daily Beast that was equal parts sad and furious, GOP strategist Rick Wilson warned Donald Trump’s most rabid fans that are about to pay a personal and horrible price for supporting the feckless president because the coronavirus pandemic is slowly coming to their states — and it is going to hit hard.

Staring off by noting that pandemic will soon “have killed as many Americans as Osama Bin Laden did on 9/11, with many more deaths to come,” Wilson writes, “It didn’t have to be this way.”

“It was inevitable that Trump would face a crisis immune to tweets or stupid memes or insulting nicknames. The damage he does to everyone and everything around him has become an iron law of American politics, an invariable and inevitable process. Still, I didn’t think it extended to everyone in the country, that it would produce actual bodies stacked like cordwood in a preventable, slow-rolling pandemic,” he explained. “When I wrote Everything Trump Touches Dies, I didn’t mean it literally. Donald Trump seems intent on proving me wrong.”

“Every lie about testing kits, personal protective equipment, miracle cures, economic resurgences, and his understanding of the science behind epidemics, viruses, and the health-care system breaks the faith of Americans a little more,” he warned. “Every day that passes compounds his errors from the day before. Every time he promises miracles and produces little, but chaos leaves the states on the front line of this battle a little less able to face the rising curve of the coronavirus crisis.”

And that, he claimed, should be worrying to people living in red states, because the coronavirus will soon hit their communities too.

“Every day, we see a president prove himself unworthy of risks and sacrifices already accepted by first responders and health-care workers—and unworthy of leading a nation of which much, much more will soon be asked,” he explained. “Until now, none of this would have put a dent in Trump’s support. I mean, we’ve learned that lesson by now as a nation. Trump’s base loves his transgressive nature—not that they can define it—and love that he’s a middle finger to decency, normality, tradition, and the law.”

“But COVID-19 is coming to pay a house call they won’t soon forget, and the damage in some of the places in this country where the Trump-Fox party’s support is the most passionate and unwavering will be staggering,” Wilson warned. “No, MAGAs, this isn’t a disease of the degenerate socialist coastal elites states. The coronavirus doesn’t see this through the lens of Flight 93 Trumpism; it’s about to scythe through red states, red districts, red towns, and red neighborhoods while giving no fucks what’s on Fox, MAGA Twitter, or on the local Sinclair agitprop outlet. “

According to conservative, those parts of the country and the most ill-prepared for what is to come because Republican lawmakers in those states have not heeded what is going on in other states that have already been hit hard.

“First, and most importantly, they are where the Fox audience lives, and for seven long weeks, they were told coronavirus was a seasonal flu… no big deal… totally under control. Nothing to worry about. Trump had shut down travel with China, and one day soon it would all just—poof!—disappear. ‘It’s a great time to travel!’ said Frau [Laura] Ingraham,” Wilson elaborated. “The second pain point for Trump states is just beginning to play out. Louisiana is the fastest-growing hotspot, with the case curve nearly vertical in the last five days. In Mississippi, Governor Tate Reeves seems intent on winning the award for Darwin’s Waiting Room by slow-rolling preparations and laughing off efforts to flatten the curve.”

 “Now, they need experts and elites. Experts are the people in emergency rooms, admitting them. Experts are working around the clock to unf*ck Trump’s ineptitudes. Experts are mapping the inexorable spread of this disease and mapping strategies to mitigate it. Their lives are now literally in the hands of experts. They need truth and facts and transparency. Lives depend on it. Suddenly, the world of f*ck-your-feelings shock-jock presidential leadership fails utterly when called on to deliver measurable results and to hit real metrics,” Wilson wrote before concluding, “Some will never, ever leave Trump, just as there are still men in the world who believe the South will rise again, or that al Qaeda is poised for a comeback. Mere facts won’t break their bet on Trump—and his bet on a mendacious, reality television style that would forever appeal to his audience, or a death toll higher than it should be. “


Fauci says coronavirus could claim up to 200,000 US lives

on March 30, 2020
By Agence France-Presse

Senior US scientist Dr. Anthony Fauci issued a cautious prediction Sunday that the novel coronavirus could claim as many as 200,000 lives in the United States, as state and local officials described increasingly desperate shortages in hard-pressed hospitals.

And with stress, uncertainty and exhaustion rising across the country, House speaker Nancy Pelosi squarely blamed President Donald Trump for unnecessary loss of life by initially playing down the pandemic.

“His denial at the beginning was deadly,” she told CNN’s “State of the Union.” She added, “Don’t fiddle while people die, Mr. President.”
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Dr. Fauci, who leads research into infectious diseases at the National Institutes of Health, played down worst-case predictions of one million or more deaths, instead offering a rough estimate of 100,000 to 200,000 deaths and “millions of cases.”

But Fauci, a leading member of Trump’s coronavirus task force and for many Americans a comforting voice of authority, quickly added, “I don’t want to be held to that … It’s such a moving target that you can so easily be wrong and mislead people.”

By way of comparison, a US flu epidemic in 2018-19 killed 34,000 people.

COVID-19 has hit the US with explosive force in recent weeks, following a path seen earlier in parts of Asia and Europe.

It took a month for the US to move from its first confirmed death, on February 29, to its 1,000th. But in two days this week that number doubled, to nearly 2,200 on Sunday. The case total of 124,763 — as tallied by Johns Hopkins University — is the world’s highest.

“This is the way pandemics work, and that’s why we all are deeply concerned and why we have been raising the alert,” Dr. Deborah Birx, the response coordinator for the White House task force, said Sunday on NBC.

“No state, no metro area will be spared.”

– ‘A sharp escalation ahead’ –

In the US, the epicenter has been New York City, with 672 deaths so far. Hospital staff have issued desperate pleas for more protective equipment.

Mayor Bill de Blasio said Sunday that his city’s hospitals have enough protective equipment for only another week. He said he had made a direct request to Trump and the US military “to find us immediately more military medical personnel and get them here by next Sunday.”

De Blasio credited federal officials with being “very responsive,” but added, “we’re talking about a sharp escalation ahead.”

New York governor Andrew Cuomo said the statewide death toll had risen to 965 from 728 a day earlier — its largest one-day jump yet — and he extended by two weeks an order for nonessential state employees to continue working from home.

Early Saturday, Trump had floated the idea of a “quarantine” for New York and two neighboring states, but when state officials and health experts questioned the idea — which Cuomo derided as “preposterous” and “a declaration of war on the states” — the president dropped it.

Instead, the federal Centers for Disease Control issued an advisory urging people in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut to avoid non-essential domestic travel.

In Washington state, where the disease first struck with force, Governor Jay Inslee described “a desperate need for all kinds of equipment.” He said the nation needed to be put on an essentially wartime footing.

Inslee pushed back against the notion, advocated earlier by Trump, that the country could begin returning to work by Easter, which is April 12.

“There are some hard realities we have to understand,” he said on CNN. “Unless we continue a very vigorous social distancing program in my state, this will continue to spread like wildfire.”

– ‘Worse by the minute’ –

Governor Gretchen Whitmer of Michigan also described a deteriorating picture, especially in her state’s largest city, Detroit.

“We had a thousand new cases yesterday,” she said. “We know that number will be even higher today … The dire situation in Detroit is getting worse by the minute.”

Whitmer bemoaned a system that has states competing against one another for desperately needed supplies.

“We’re bidding against one another, and in some cases the federal government is taking priority,” she said.

“It’s really, I think, creating a lot more problems for all of us.”

Pelosi said earlier that Trump’s “continued delay in getting equipment to where it’s needed is deadly.”

Dr. Birx, the task force coordinator, declined to say what her recommendation would be to the president in the next few days about an eventual easing of work and travel restrictions, but she offered this advice:

“Every metro area should assume that they could have an outbreak equivalent to New York, and do everything right now to prevent it.”


Trump sent 17.8 tons of protective equipment to China in February after US had first case of COVID-19: report

Raw Story
By Sarah K. Burris

The first case of COVID-19 or the coronavirus hit the United States Jan. 19, 70 days ago, but President Donald Trump sent 17.8 tons of personal protective equipment (PPE) to China as cases were ramping up here at home.

Mother Jones reported Sunday, that a press release the State Department sent out on Feb. 7 announced they would be sending up to $100 million in assistance to China so they could better handle the COVID-19 cases.

That same day, Trump tweeted he had spoken to President Xi Jinping and that China would be “successful especially as the weather starts to warm & the virus hopefully becomes weaker and then gone.”
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Rep. Chris Murphy (D-CT), tweeted about it at the time, saying that the White House wasn’t taking the threat to the United States seriously.

“Local health systems need supplies, training, screening staff, etc…” tweeted Murphy, “and they need it now.”

    Just left the Administration briefing on Coronavirus. Bottom line: they aren't taking this seriously enough.

    Notably, no request for ANY emergency funding, which is a big mistake. Local health systems need supplies, training, screening staff etc. And they need it now.

    — Chris Murphy (@ChrisMurphyCT) February 5, 2020

The United States is now scrambling to gather PPE along with ventilators to handle the shortage of equipment.


Steve Mnuchin insists Americans can live on just $17/day during pandemic

Raw Story
By David Edwards

Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin on Sunday said that he expects Americans to be able to survive for two and a half months on just $1,200, which is about $17 per day.

In an interview on CBS’s Face the Nation, host Margaret Brennan noted that the $1,200 relief checks that many Americans will be getting would not be enough in some parts of the country.

“I think the entire package provides economic relief overall for about 10 weeks,” Mnuchin explained. “Hopefully we will kill this virus quicker and we won’t need it, but we have liquidity to put into the American economy to support American workers and American business.”

Watch: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qcCGdhA2Vuw&feature=emb_title

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« Reply #10 on: Mar 30, 2020, 07:31 AM »

Another Trump screw-up: Food may ‘rot in the fields’ — and our distribution system may collapse

By David Cay Johnston, DC Report @ Raw Story
on March 30, 2020

Early signs show that the systems that get fresh fruit and vegetables to American homes is strained and may experience major failures. The Trump administration is only making matters worse, allowing his racism against Mexicans to inflict damage on American farms that depend on legal labor from south of the border.

In Florida, winter crops are rotting in the fields because the prime products like blemish-free squash, spinach and lettuce—sold to restaurants—lack buyers, according to the Florida Fruit & Vegetable Association. It offers members extensive advice on how to stay in business during the pandemic.

    U.S. farmers depend on more than  200,000 Mexicans who get visas each year to pick apples, pears and other crops.

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“Nearly all of our fruits and vegetables are not automated and you need a strong labor force to handpick those crops,” John Walt Boatright of the Florida Farm Bureau Federation told the Palm Beach Post.  “We are hearing a lot of concerns from the blueberry industry and other labor-intensive crops, and working to find a solution.”

U.S. farmers depend on more than  200,000 Mexicans who get visas each year to pick apples, pears and other crops.

Yet Mother Jones magazine reports that the American consulate in Monterrey, Mexico’s third-largest city, and other consulates have closed. That means most Mexican farmworkers have no way to get annual work visas. Unless the visas are issued much of this year’s American fruit and vegetable crops will not be harvested, barring some other unexpected development.

Each year as president, Donald Trump has gotten such visas for Mar-a-Lago while assiduously avoiding the many qualified workers in Palm Beach County, many of whom are African American. Federal law allows such visas for chambermaids, cooks and waitstaff only when no Americans are available.

Truckers Affected

So far the trucking networks that move perishable foods from farm to supermarket have not been affected, though some truckers say that they are finding it more difficult to buy food on the road. Most big rig trucks come with small built-in refrigerators or space where a portable one can be placed, electricity obtained through a cigarette-lighter type plug.

Representative Austin Scott (R-Ga.) says that delays in issuing visas to farm laborers are a serious threat to vegetable and fruit growers who, unlike grain farmers, don’t have federal crop insurance. “If delays continue” in issuing visas to Mexican farmworkers “we’re going to see crops rotting in the field,” Scott said.

The number of these Mexican farm labor visas has grown more than six-fold since 2000, a revealing indicator of how much America depends on Mexican labor to supply fresh fruits and vegetables in grocery stores.

Not Issuing Visas

Of course, Trump is hostile to all Mexicans and his administration has shown no signs it wants to resume the issuance of visas for Mexican farm laborers who take most of their money home with them. Trump thinks like a 16th Century mercantilist, believing any dollar that leaves us makes America worse off. It’s discredited and downright crazy economic thinking that hurts America more than Mexico, not that Trump understands this.

A lack of imported farm labor means not just the loss of those foodstuffs, but of income for farmers and those in the related packing, processing and shopping businesses, worsening the cascade of economic damage.

Labor intensive crops such as strawberries and crops that require placing beehives for pollination will be most affected by a shortage of labor.

Tree fruits require intensive labor not just to harvest, but also to cut away diseased limbs and plant replacement trees. Not minding the trees each year means reduced production in future years.
Other Countries Affected

This shortage of farm labor isn’t limited to America in this global pandemic.

In Britain, the National Farmers Union says that without government intervention, “Growers who rely on seasonal workers to pick, pack and grade our fruit and vegetables are extremely concerned about their ability to recruit workers this year.”

The British government is working on a “Pick for Britain” campaign to get thousands of unemployed to work the fields, British newspapers report.

A similar approach is taking place in France. That government urged those who have been laid off to join “France’s great agricultural army” so unpicked crops don’t rot.

In Germany, a government spokesman said “Seasonal and harvest workers will no longer be allowed to enter Germany.” The ban includes workers from other European Union countries.

So far, Trumpian policy is more Germanic than Francophile or British. Trump’s de facto policy: Crops be dammed, just keep Mexicans out.

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« Reply #11 on: Mar 31, 2020, 03:50 AM »

AI tool predicts which COVID-19 patients get deadly ‘wet lung’

on March 31, 2020
By Agence France-Presse

Researchers in the US and China reported Monday they have developed an artificial intelligence tool that is able to accurately predict which newly infected patients with the novel coronavirus go on to develop severe lung disease.

Once deployed, the algorithm could assist doctors in making choices about where to prioritize care in resource-stretched health care systems, said Megan Coffee, a physician and professor at New York University’s Grossman School of Medicine who co-authored a paper on the finding in the journal Computers, Materials & Continua.

The tool discovered several surprising indicators that were most strongly predictive of who went on to develop so-called acute respiratory disease syndrome (ARDS), a severe complication of the COVID-19 illness that fills the lungs with fluid and kills around 50 percent of coronavirus patients who get it.
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The team applied a machine learning algorithm to data from 53 coronavirus patients across two hospitals in Wenzhou, China, finding that changes in three features — levels of the liver enzyme alanine aminotransferase (ALT), reported body aches, and hemoglobin levels –- were most accurately predictive of subsequent, severe disease.

Using this information along with other factors, the tool was able to predict risk of ARDS with up to 80 percent accuracy.

By contrast, characteristics that were considered to be hallmarks of COVID-19, like a particular pattern in lung images called “ground glass opacity,” fever, and strong immune responses, were not useful in predicting which of the patients with initially mild symptoms would get ARDS.

Neither age nor sex were useful predictors either, even though other studies have found men over 60 to be at higher risk.

“It’s been fascinating because a lot of the data points that the machine used to help influence its decisions were different than what a clinician would normally look at,” Coffee told AFP.

Using AI in medical settings isn’t a brand new concept — a tool already exists to help dermatologists predict which patients will go on to develop skin cancer, to give just one example.

What makes this different is that doctors are learning on the fly about COVID-19, and the tool can help steer them in the right direction, in addition to helping them decide which patients to focus on as hospitals become overwhelmed, said co-author Anasse Bari, a computer science professor at NYU.

The team is now looking to further refine the tool with data from New York and hope it is ready to deploy sometime in April.

© 2020 AFP


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« Reply #12 on: Mar 31, 2020, 03:52 AM »

Antarctica: what it means when the coldest place on Earth records an unprecedented heatwave

Antarctica’s weather has worldwide impacts and can be a ‘canary in the mine’ for patterns of change elsewhere

Dana M Bergstrom, Andrew Klekociuk, Diana King and Sharon Robinson for the Conversation
Tue 31 Mar 2020 01.31 BST

While the world rightfully focuses on the Covid-19 pandemic, the planet is still warming. This summer’s Antarctic weather, as elsewhere in the world, was unprecedented in the observed record.

Our research, published today in Global Change Biology, describes the recent heatwave in Antarctica. Beginning in late spring east of the Antarctic Peninsula, it circumnavigated the continent over the next four months. Some of our team spent the summer in Antarctica observing these temperatures and the effect on natural systems, witnessing the heatwave first hand.

Antarctica may be isolated from the rest of the continents by the Southern Ocean, but has worldwide impacts. It drives the global ocean conveyor belt, a constant system of deep-ocean circulation which transfers oceanic heat around the planet, and its melting ice sheet adds to global sea level rise.

Antarctica represents the simple, extreme end of conditions for life. It can be seen as a “canary in the mine”, demonstrating patterns of change we can expect to see elsewhere.

Most of Antarctica is ice-covered, but there are small ice-free oases, predominantly on the coast. Collectively 0.44% of the continent, these unique areas are important biodiversity hotspots for penguins and other seabirds, mosses, lichens, lakes, ponds and associated invertebrates.

This summer, Casey Research Station, in the Windmill Islands oasis, experienced its first recorded heatwave. For three days, minimum temperatures exceeded zero and daily maximums were all above 7.5C. On 24 January, its highest maximum of 9.2C was recorded, almost 7C above Casey’s 30-year mean for the month.

The arrival of warm, moist air during this weather event brought rain to Davis Research Station in the normally frigid, ice-free desert of the Vestfold Hills. The warm conditions triggered extensive meltwater pools and surface streams on local glaciers. These, together with melting snowbanks, contributed to high-flowing rivers and flooding lakes.

By February, most heat was concentrated in the Antarctic Peninsula at the northernmost part of the continent. A new Antarctic maximum temperature of 18.4C was recorded on 6 February at Argentina’s Esperanza research station on the peninsula – almost 1C above the previous record. Three days later this was eclipsed when 20.75C was reported at Brazil’s Marambio station, on Seymour Island east of the peninsula.

The pace of warming from global climate change has been generally slower in East Antarctica compared with West Antarctica and the Antarctic Peninsula. This is in part due to the ozone hole, which has occurred in spring over Antarctica since the late 1970s.

The hole has tended to strengthen jet stream winds over the Southern Ocean, promoting a generally more “positive” state of the Southern Annular Mode in summer. This means the Southern Ocean’s westerly wind belt has tended to stay close to Antarctica at that time of year creating a seasonal “shield”, reducing the transfer of warm air from the Earth’s temperate regions to Antarctica.

But during the spring of 2019 a strong warming of the stratosphere over Antarctica significantly reduced the size of the ozone hole. This helped to support a more “negative” state of the Southern Annular Mode and weakened the shield.

Other factors in late 2019 may have also helped to warm Antarctica. The Indian Ocean Dipole was in a strong “positive” state due to a late retreat of the Indian monsoon. This meant that water in the western Indian Ocean was warmer than normal. Air rising from this and other warm ocean patches in the Pacific Ocean provided energy sources that altered the path of weather systems and helped to disturb and warm the stratosphere.

Is a warming Antarctica good or bad?

Localised flooding appeared to benefit some of Vestfold Hills’ moss banks that were previously very drought-stressed. Prior to the flood event, most mosses were grey and moribund, but a month later many moss shoots were green.

Given the generally cold conditions of Antarctica, the warmth may have benefited the flora (mosses, lichens and two vascular plants) and microbes and invertebrates, but only where liquid water formed. Areas in the Vestfold Hills away from the flooding became more drought-stressed over the summer.
High temperatures may have caused heat stress in some organisms. Antarctic mosses and lichens are often dark in colour, allowing sunlight to be absorbed to create warm microclimates. This is a great strategy when temperatures are just above freezing, but heat stress can occur once 10C is exceeded.

On King George Island, near the Antarctic Peninsula, our measurements showed that in January 2019 moss surface temperatures exceeded 14C for only 3% of the time, but in 2020 this increased fourfold (to 12% of the time).

Based on our experience from previous anomalous hot Antarctic summers, we can expect many biological impacts, positive and negative, in coming years. The most recent event highlights the connectedness of our climate systems: from the surface to the stratosphere, and from the monsoon tropics to the southernmost continent.

Under climate change, extreme events are predicted to increase in frequency and severity, and Antarctica is not immune.

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« Reply #13 on: Mar 31, 2020, 03:56 AM »

Report reveals ‘massive plastic pollution footprint’ of drinks firms

Report says plastic from Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, Nestlé and Unilever products could cover 83 football pitches every day

Sandra Laville
Tue 31 Mar 2020 00.01 BST

Four global drinks giants are responsible for more than half a million tonnes of plastic pollution in six developing countries each year, enough to cover 83 football pitches every day, according to a report.

The NGO Tearfund has calculated the greenhouse gas emissions from the open burning of plastic bottles, sachets and cartons produced by Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, Nestlé and Unilever in developing nations, where waste can be mismanaged because people do not have access to collections.

Taking a sample of six developing countries, reflecting a spread across the globe, the NGO estimated the burning of plastic packaging put on to the market by the companies creates 4.6m tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent – equivalent to the emissions from 2m cars.

Tearfund analysed the plastic put on the market in China, India, the Philippines, Brazil, Mexico and Nigeria by the four companies to examine the impact of single use plastic in developing countries. The countries were chosen because they are large developing country markets, spread across three continents.

The sachets, bottles, and cartons sold in these countries often end up either being burned or dumped – creating a pollution problem equivalent to covering 83 football pitches with plastic to 10 centimetres deep each day.

The report says: “This massive plastic pollution footprint, while a crisis in and of itself, is also contributing to the climate crisis.”

It adds that the four companies make little or no mention of emissions from disposal of their products or packaging in their climate change commitments.

“These companies continue to sell billions of products in single-use bottles, sachets and packets in developing countries,” says the report.

“And they do this despite knowing that: waste isn’t properly managed in these contexts; their packaging therefore becomes pollution; and such pollution causes serious harm to the environment and people’s health. Such actions – with such knowledge – are morally indefensible.”

The charity is calling for the companies to urgently switch to refillable and reusable packaging instead of sachets and plastic bottles.

The NGO estimated how much of their plastic waste in each country is mismanaged, burned or dumped using World Bank data.

Their analysis of emissions quantities were calculated by estimating the proportion of each company’s mismanaged plastic that is openly burned, and combining these amounts with emissions factors for three different types of plastic. Their analysis was independently reviewed.

The research found that emissions produced from the open burning of Coca-Cola, Nestlé, PepsiCo and Unilever’s plastic packaging on street corners, open dumps and in backyards in developing countries was a major contribution to the climate emergency.

Coca-Cola creates the biggest plastic pollution footprint in the six countries. The drinks giant creates 200,000 tonnes of plastic waste – or about 8bn bottles – which is burned or dumped each year in the six countries: enough to cover 33 football pitches every day.

    PepsiCo creates 137,000 tonnes of plastic pollution per year – equivalent to covering 22 football pitches a day.

    Nestlé leaves a pollution footprint of 95,000 tonnes per year or covering 15 football pitches a day.

    Unilever’s pollution footprint amounts to 70,000 tonnes per year – covering more than 11 football pitches a day.

Global plastic production is increasing, and is set to double over the next 10 to 15 years creating plastic pollution, increased carbon emissions and deadly health impacts for people in the poorest nations.

The report highlighted how communities in low- and middle-income countries continue to be swamped by mismanaged waste, including plastic pollution, that causes environmental destruction, sickness and death.

Dr Ruth Valerio, the director of global advocacy and influencing at Tearfund, said: “These companies are selling plastic in the full knowledge that it will be burned or dumped in developing countries: scarring landscapes, contributing to climate change and harming the health of the world’s poorest people.

“Coca-Cola, Nestlé, PepsiCo and Unilever make little or no mention of emissions from the disposal of their products or packaging in their climate change commitments. These companies have a moral responsibility for the disposal of the products they continue to pump into developing countries without proper waste management systems.”

The report says examples of multinational companies adopting reusable and refillable delivery mechanisms in developing countries were still few and far between.

Positive cases included Unilever’s use of a mobile dispensing delivery system run by Chilean social enterprise group Algramo to offer refills to customers in Chile, and the scaling-up of returnable Coca-Cola PET bottles in Brazil.

“These examples show moving to refill and reuse models is possible … there are decision-makers in companies who are willing to think outside the (single-use plastic) box,” the report said.

Tearfund is calling on the companies to dramatically reduce the production and sale of single-use plastic packaging and switch to refillable and reusable models.

The NGO is demanding the companies:

    Report the number of units of single-use plastic products they use and sell in each country by the end of this year.

    Reduce this amount by half, country by country, by 2025, and instead use environmentally sustainable delivery methods such as refillable or reusable containers.

    Recycle the single-use plastics they sell in developing countries, ensuring that by 2022 one is collected for every one sold.

    Restore dignity through working in partnership with waste pickers to create safe jobs.

A spokesperson for Nestlé said: “We have set ourselves the commitment to make 100% of our packaging recyclable or reusable by 2025. We are working hard to eliminate non-recyclable plastics and invest in innovative, alternative delivery systems, including bulk, reuse and refill options.”

A spokesperson for Unilever said: “We’ve committed to halve our use of virgin plastic in our packaging in just five years and reduce our total use of plastic by more than 100,000 tonnes. This demands a fundamental rethink in our approach to packaging and products, and as we speak, we’re piloting different reuse and refill formats across the world, so we can test, learn and scale these solutions.”

A PepsiCo spokesperson said: “We are working to reduce the amount of plastic we use and have set a target to, by 2025, decrease virgin plastic content across our beverage business by 35 per cent. Between July 2018 and 2019 we pledged over $51m to global partnerships designed to boost recycling rates to support a circular economy.”

A Coca-Cola spokesperson, said: “We are absolutely committed to ensuring the packaging in which we serve our products is sustainable and our efforts are focused on continuing to improve the eco-design and innovation of our packaging. As part of a number of global commitments, we have committed to getting every bottle back for each one sold by 2030, with the aim to ensure that every plastic bottle contains at least 50% recycled plastic by 2030.”

‘The dump is on fire every two days’

Royda Joseph is 32. She has three children and lives with her family in a community situated next to the Pugu Kinyamwezi rubbish dump in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania.

Her and her family’s lives are blighted by the impact of pollution from the dump. It is frequently on fire, and dust and litter spreads through the community, attracting huge amounts of flies.

Between 400,000 and a million people die every year in low- and middle-income countries because of diseases related to plastic and other mismanaged waste.

Joseph said the impact of the burning of waste was felt by her family every day. “The dump is on fire every two days,” she said.

“Sometimes, when it is on fire, the smoke is so dark and huge that you can’t see the person in front of you or the house next to you. Because of that smoke I get breathing problems and coughing, and eye problems too. The kids also get a lot of breathing problems: they cough a lot. When it is really bad, there is no way that you can deal with it without going to the hospital.

“The smoke and the fire come when the weather is very dry and the gases are coming out of the fire … when the dump is on fire, it can take one to two hours until they call the fire brigade to come here and try to stop it. It is that bad. Sometimes it can take two to three hours because of the traffic.”

At times Joseph has to leave her home because of the density of the smoke.

“Many times when the dump is on fire and really bad, when the smoke is so heavy, I shift to my relatives for a time,” she said.

Joseph is concerned for her children’s future. “I am worried about my children’s health because always when it is very dry, the smoke always comes,” she said. “I am sure in the long run they will develop health complications.”

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« Reply #14 on: Mar 31, 2020, 03:58 AM »

Campaigners attack Japan's 'shameful' climate plans release

Proposals criticised amid fears countries may use coronavirus crisis to rein in commitments

Fiona Harvey Environment correspondent
31 Mar 2020 11.21 BST

Japan has laid out its plans to tackle greenhouse gas emissions under the Paris agreement in the run-up to UN climate talks this year, becoming the first large economy to do so.

But its proposals were criticised by campaigners as grossly inadequate, amid fears the Covid-19 crisis could prompt countries to try to water down their climate commitments.

The UK, which will host the talks, hopes every country will produce renewed targets on curbing emissions and achieving net zero carbon by 2050.

New commitments are needed to achieve the Paris goals of holding temperature rises to no more than 2C, and ideally 1.5C, above pre-industrial levels, as on current national targets the world would far exceed those limits.

Japan’s carbon targets – known as its nationally determined contribution (NDC) in the UN jargon – as announced on Monday morning are almost unchanged from its commitments made in 2015 towards the Paris accord, however.

The country’s target of a 26% reduction in emissions by 2030, based on 2013 levels, is rated as “highly insufficient” by the Climate Action Tracker analysis, meaning that if all targets were at this level, temperature rises would exceed 3C.

The country, the world’s fifth biggest emitter and third biggest economy, is one of the only developed countries still building new coal-fired power stations, although there are signs it may hold back.

Japan’s energy systems were thrown into turmoil by the accident at the Fukushima nuclear plant in 2011, after which the country shut its many nuclear reactors. The country’s politics have also been affected by intensified competition from neighbouring China, which overtook Japan as the world’s second largest economy in 2010.

Once a strong proponent of climate action – and proud of the 1997 Kyoto protocol signed under its auspices – Japan in recent years has appeared lukewarm in its commitments at a succession of UN meetings, before and since the landmark Paris conference of 2015.

Campaigners fear the coronavirus pandemic will be seen by some countries as a way to weaken their commitment to the Paris accord and present less stringent targets instead of the strong cuts needed.

“Japan should not slow down climate actions even amid the Covid-19 global fights, and must revisit and strengthen this plan swiftly in order to be in line with the Paris agreement,” said Kimiko Hirata, the international director of the Kiko Network, a climate group in Japan.

She added that the prime minister, Shinzo Abe, appeared content “to settle for a low target and policies to continue to fund coal, which are firmly taking us down the path to economic and environmental ruin”.

Kat Kramer, the global climate lead at Christian Aid, said of the latest Japanese plan: “The fact they are smuggling it out during a global pandemic, when it will avoid the scrutiny it deserves, is shameful.”

Laurence Tubiana,the chief executive of the European Climate Foundation and the French architect of the Paris agreement, called Japan’s move disappointing and contrasted it with those of economic rivals the EU, UK, China and South Korea, which she said were moving to a low-carbon economy.

“At one of the most challenging times of recent memory, we need bolder, mutually reinforcing plans that protect our societies from the global risks we all face,” Tubiana said.

Environmental regulations and climate commitments have come under attack in the context of the coronavirus crisis. Under Donald Trump’s administration in the US, the Environmental Protection Agency has rolled back key regulations including car efficiency standards. In the EU, carmakers wrote to the European commission last week to demand a loosening of requirements on them to cut carbon.

There is still scope for Japan to revise its targets. Other countries have yet to submit their detailed NDCs, but several – including the UK and the EU, and more than 70 smaller economies – made public their intention to reach net zero carbon by 2050, at last year’s UN climate talks in Madrid.

This year’s talks, called Cop 26, are still officially scheduled to be held in Glasgow this November, although there has been pressure from some quarters to announce a postponement.

Many notable figures, including the leading climate economist Lord Stern, and former UN climate chief Christiana Figueres, have spoken out against postponement at this stage. They fear a delay would mean countries slowing their work on emissions cuts.

Under the plans that national governments submitted to the UN under the Paris agreement, the world would reach more than 3C of warming according to estimates – a figure scientists say would be disastrous in terms of increases in extreme weather, droughts, floods, heatwaves and sea level rises.

New plans are urgently needed, campaigners say, as emissions have risen globally by 4% since the Paris agreement was signed.

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