Ignoring Experts, China’s Sudden Zero-COVID Exit Cost Lives, AP Finds

When China suddenly scrapped onerous zero-COVID measures in December, the country wasn’t ready for a massive onslaught of cases, with hospitals turning away ambulances and crematoriums burning bodies around the clock.

Chinese state media claimed the decision to open up was based on “scientific analysis and shrewd calculation,” and was “by no means impulsive.” But in reality, China’s ruling Communist Party ignored repeated efforts by top medical experts to kickstart exit plans until it was too late, The Associated Press found.

Instead, the reopening came suddenly at the onset of winter, when the virus spreads most easily. Many older people weren’t vaccinated, pharmacies lacked antivirals, and hospitals didn’t have adequate supplies or staff — leading to as many as hundreds of thousands of deaths that may have been avoided, according to academic modeling, more than 20 interviews with current and former China Center for Disease Control and Prevention employees, experts and government advisers, and internal reports and directives obtained by the AP.

“If they had a real plan to exit earlier, so many things could have been avoided,” said Zhang Zuo-Feng, an epidemiologist at the University of California, Los Angeles. “Many deaths could have been prevented.”

Experts estimate that many hundreds of thousands of people, perhaps millions, may have died in China’s wave of COVID-19 — far higher than the official toll of fewer than 90,000, but still a much lower death rate than in Western countries. However, 200,000 to 300,000 deaths could have been prevented if the country was better vaccinated and stocked with antivirals, according to modeling by the University of Hong Kong. Some scientists estimate even more lives could have been saved.

“It wasn’t a sound public health decision at all,” said a China CDC official, declining to be named to speak candidly on a sensitive matter. “It’s absolutely bad timing … this was not a prepared opening.”

For two years, China stood out for its tough but successful controls against the virus, credited with saving millions of lives as other countries struggled with stop-and-start lockdowns. But with the emergence of the highly infectious omicron variant in late 2021, many of China’s top medical experts and officials worried zero-COVID was unsustainable.

In late 2021, China’s leaders began discussing how to lift restrictions. As early as March 2022, top medical experts submitted a detailed reopening strategy to the State Council, China’s cabinet. The existence of the document is being reported for the first time by the AP.

But discussions were silenced after an outbreak the same month in Shanghai, which prompted Chinese leader Xi Jinping to lock the city down. Chinese public health experts stopped speaking publicly about preparing for an exit, as they were wary of openly challenging a policy supported by Xi.

By the time the Shanghai outbreak was under control, China was months away from the 20th Party Congress, the country’s most important political meeting in a decade, making reopening politically difficult. So the country stuck to mass testing and quarantining millions of people.

“Everybody waits for the party congress,” said one medical expert, declining to be named to comment on a sensitive topic. “There’s inevitably a degree of everyone being very cautious.”

At the Congress in mid-October, top officials differing with Xi were sidelined. Instead, six loyalists followed Xi onstage in a new leadership lineup, signaling his total domination of the party.

With the congress over, some voices in the public health sector finally piped up. In an internal document published October 28, obtained by The Associated Press and reported here for the first time, Wu Zunyou, China’s CDC chief epidemiologist, criticized the Beijing city government for excessive COVID-19 controls, saying it had “no scientific basis.” He called it a distortion of the central government’s zero-COVID policy, which risked “intensifying public sentiment and causing social dissatisfaction.”

At the same time, he called the virus policies of the central government “absolutely correct.” One former CDC official said Wu felt helpless because he was ordered to advocate for zero-COVID in public, even as he disagreed at times with its excesses in private.

Wu did not respond to an email requesting comment. A person acquainted with Wu confirmed he wrote the internal report.

Another who spoke up was Zhong Nanshan, a doctor renowned for raising the alarm about the original COVID outbreak in Wuhan. He wrote to Xi personally, telling him that zero-COVID was not sustainable and urging a gradual reopening, said a person acquainted with Zhong.

In early November, then-Vice Premier Sun Chunlan, China’s COVID czar, summoned experts from sectors including health, travel and the economy to discuss adjusting Beijing’s virus policies, according to three people with direct knowledge of the meetings. On November 10, Xi ordered adjustments.

The next day, Beijing announced 20 new measures tweaking restrictions, such as reclassifying risk zones and reducing quarantine times. But at the same time, Xi made clear, China was sticking to zero-COVID.

The government wanted order. Instead, the measures caused chaos.

With conflicting signals from the top, local governments weren’t sure whether to lock down or open up. Policies changed by the day.

In late November, public frustration boiled over. A deadly apartment fire in China’s far west Xinjiang region sparked nationwide protests over locked doors and other virus control measures. Some called on Xi to resign, the most direct challenge to the Communist Party’s power since pro-democracy protests in 1989.

Riot police moved in, and the protests were swiftly quelled. But behind the scenes, the mood was shifting.

References to zero-COVID vanished from government statements. State newswire Xinhua said the pandemic was causing “fatigue, anxiety and tension,” and that the cost of controlling it was increasing day by day.

Days after the protests, Sun held meetings where she told medical experts the state planned to “walk briskly” out of zero-COVID. The final decision was made suddenly, and with little direct input from public health experts, several told the AP.

“None of us expected the 180-degree turn,” a government adviser said.

Many in the Chinese government believe the protests accelerated Xi’s decision to scrap virus controls entirely, according to three current and former state employees.

“It was the trigger,” said one, not identified because they weren’t authorized to speak to the media.

On December 6, Xi instructed officials to change COVID-19 controls, Xinhua reported.

The next day, Chinese health authorities announced 10 sweeping measures that effectively scrapped controls, canceling virus test requirements, mandatory centralized quarantine and location-tracking health QR codes. The decision to reopen so suddenly caught the country by surprise.

“Even three days’ notice would have been good,” said a former China CDC official. “The way this happened was just unbelievable.”

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Lithium Discovery Seen as Mixed Blessing in India’s Kashmir

The discovery of major lithium deposits is being seen as a mixed blessing in India’s troubled Kashmir region, where hopes for a major economic boost are tempered by fears of human displacement and damage to the territory’s fragile ecology.

The finding of the lithium, key to the manufacture of batteries used in electric cars and other electronic devices, is likely very good news for India as a whole, promising to save the country billions of dollars as it seeks to move its economy away from fossil fuels.

It also offers the hope of good-paying jobs in Kashmir, where investment has been in decline amid political uncertainty and frequent internet shutdowns since the Indian government revoked the region’s autonomous status in 2019.

But residents in the southwestern Reasi district of Jammu & Kashmir where the deposits are located say they are torn between those hopes and a fear of being driven off their land to make way for mining operations, as well as concern about the impact on local vegetation and wildlife.

The Geological Survey of India has estimated the area holds 5.9 million metric tons of lithium valued at around $410 billion, although further studies will be needed to determine the quality of the lithium and confirm it can be recovered.

If initial hopes are borne out, the deposit would represent a significant share of the world’s known lithium reserves, which were estimated last year by the U.S. Geological Survey at just 80.7 million tons. The Indian government plans to hold auctions for the reserves as early as June, with the caveat that refined lithium can only be processed within India.

“The scale of the reserves is significant and can — if proven to be commercially viable — reduce India’s reliance on imports of lithium-ion cells, which are a key component for EV batteries and other clean energy technologies,” said Siddharth Goel, a senior policy adviser at the Canada-based International Institute for Sustainable Development, in an interview with VOA.

“These reserves could potentially be a huge carrot to attract investment into domestic battery manufacturing and other clean energy technologies,” he said.

Having a domestic source of lithium would dramatically improve India’s prospects of meeting its goal of achieving 30% electric vehicle penetration for private cars, 70% for commercial vehicles, and 80% for two and three-wheelers by 2030.

India’s ministry of commerce data shows that India spent around $3.2 billion importing lithium between 2018 and 2021, money that would remain in the country if the lithium could be produced domestically. By speeding its transition to electric vehicles, India also hopes to reduce its dependency on imported oil.

“It will help India reduce import bill substantially and boost domestic production if the entire reserve can be extracted sustainably and is economically viable,” said Pradeep Karuturi, a researcher at the India-based OMI Foundation, a new-age policy research and social innovation think tank.

“However, it may take years for actual output so it’s important for India to create a cohesive multi-dimensional policy to strengthen energy security,” he said.

Effect on environment

Kashmiri environmentalists are more focused on the impact that lithium extraction will have on the ecology of the scenic Himalayan region. A report published by an environmental organization, the Nature Conservancy, notes that proven technologies for lithium extraction require vast amounts of land and can result in the removal of native vegetation.

Earlier this month, a group of NGOs including Climate Front Jammu, Environmental Awareness Forum and Nature Human Centric People’s Movement organized a climate strike at Press Club Jammu to express their concerns.

The founding director of Climate Front India, Anmol Ohri, told VOA the mining could cause irreversible harm to the ecosystem and adversely affect the indigenous and local communities near the mining area.

“If regulations are not stringent enough, this discovery could result in the communities surrounding the region abandoning their homes and relocating to urban areas, resulting in a loss of cultural heritage,” he said.

Kulwant Raj, a local resident and former candidate in area elections, said residents are pleased about the economic prospects that the deposits represent but simultaneously fear the government will confiscate their land.

While not opposed to mining in the area, Raj told VOA, the locals would like to be relocated to someplace nearby and compensated with government jobs.

Goel said it is important for the government of India to look to the experience of other countries as it seeks to balance the economic benefits of the lithium discovery with the environmental and social safeguards demanded by residents.

“Meaningful representation and participation of local communities in decision-making are essential to prevent community opposition to lithium mining,” he said. “As India is looking to export li-ion batteries, ensuring an environmentally friendly mining process is also essential to attract investment from large international companies given the growing global scrutiny of the battery value chain’s environmental footprint.”

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COVID-19, Global Crises Hinder Progress in Ending TB

In marking World TB Day, health officials warn the COVID-19 pandemic and multiple global crises are setting back years of progress in fighting tuberculosis and eventually ending the deadly disease.

Tuberculosis, an ancient disease that some say goes back to biblical times, kills more people than any other infectious disease. The World Health Organization says 1.6 million people globally died from TB in 2021 and an estimated 10.6 million people were newly infected.

Tuberculosis – a bacterial infection of the lungs – is a preventable, treatable and curable disease.

Significant inroads have been made in battling tuberculosis, with the WHO saying that TB deaths have dropped by nearly 40 percent globally since 2000. Additionally, the organization reports an estimated 74 million lives were saved through TB diagnosis and treatment.

While acknowledging the promising results, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the WHO director-general, said progress in the fight against TB recently has stalled and even been reversed.

“The COVID-19 pandemic and conflicts in many countries have severely disrupted services to prevent, detect and treat TB.”

As a result, he said the “WHO last year reported an increase in TB deaths for the first time in more than a decade” as well as an increase in the number of people falling ill with TB and drug-resistant TB.

He deplored the enormous impact of the ongoing epidemic on families and communities.

“We cannot truly end TB unless we address its drivers.”

Those, he said, included conditions of “poverty, malnutrition, diabetes, HIV, tobacco and alcohol use, poor living and working conditions, stigma and discrimination.”

The WHO says the largest number of new TB cases – 46% – occurred in the Southeast Asian region (or Southeast Asia), followed by the African region with 23% and the Western Pacific with 18%.

While the numbers remain high, WHO Regional Director for Africa Matshidiso Moeti observed that the continent has made progress in recent years in combating TB. For example, she noted that deaths in the region have fallen by 26% between 2015 and 2021.

“We do still face some challenges, notably delayed diagnosis and testing, since 40 percent of people living with TB did not know their diagnosis or the disease was not reported in 2021.

“Moreover, an estimated 1 million people are living with TB in the region, yet to be detected,” she said.

WHO chief Tedros’ five-year flagship initiative on TB, which he launched in 2018, seeks to build on the progress achieved by improving delivery of quality care to people living with TB.

Under the program, the WHO has provided two new TB drugs and 12 new TB diagnostic tests to more than 100 countries.

Tereza Kasaeva, director of the WHO’s global tuberculosis program, said the WHO, for the first time, has recommended “a fully oral, two to three times shorter and more effective treatment, including for the most severe forms of multi-resistant TB.”

Jeff Acebo, a TB and HIV survivor from the Philippines and a member of the WHO’s civil society task force, welcomed the development.

He said for too long, people with multidrug resistant TB “have struggled with painful injections, longer regimens, side effects and catastrophic out-of-pocket costs.

“We strongly urge governments, especially one with [a] high burden of TB, to roll out and accelerate the implementation of the novel six-month all-oral regimen treatment,” which he said “would improve the quality of life” for those suffering from the disease.

Given its success, Tedros said, “we have decided to extend the initiative for a further five years, until 2027 and broaden its scope.”

In 2015, the United Nations set a target date of 2030 to end the global TB epidemic as part of its sustainable development goals. In September, world leaders will meet in New York for the second high-level meeting on TB to invigorate the flagging process.

Tedros said he believes the meeting should be a turning point in the fight against TB – if leaders make real and lasting commitments to invest the financial resources needed to end it.

Lucica Ditiu, executive director of the Stop TB Partnership, echoed those sentiments.

“We have new innovations now to help us save lives—new diagnostic tools, shorter, less toxic treatment regimens and new digital tools,” she said.

“When we add the political muscle that the UNHLM [U.N. high level meeting] will gather to the many dedicated health care professionals already in the front lines,” she said, “ending TB looks increasingly possible.”

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Huge River Restoration Effort Launched at UN Water Summit 

Several African and Latin American countries on Thursday launched a major initiative to restore 300,000 kilometers of rivers by 2030, as well as lakes and wetlands degraded by human activity. 

The “Freshwater Challenge,” led by a coalition of governments that includes Colombia, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Mexico and Gabon, is the largest river and wetland restoration project in history. 

It aims to restore degraded rivers as long as seven times the Earth’s circumference and an area of wetlands larger than India by 2030, according to a statement from the U.N. Water Conference, which ends Friday in New York City. 

The initiative calls on all governments to set national river restoration targets to restore healthy freshwater ecosystems critical to humanity’s water needs and biodiversity. 

No details were given on how the effort will be funded. 

As water shortages become more widespread globally, driven by overconsumption, pollution and climate change, freshwater ecosystems are among the most threatened on the planet. 

“The clearest sign of the damage we have done — and are still doing — to our rivers, lakes and wetlands is the staggering 83 percent collapse in freshwater species populations since 1970,” Stuart Orr of the World Wildlife Fund said in a statement, adding that the initiative may “turn this around.” 

Inger Andersen, executive director of the U.N. Environment Program, said: “Healthy rivers, lakes and wetlands underpin our societies and economies, yet they are routinely undervalued and overlooked.” 

“While countries have pledged to restore 1 billion hectares of land, the Freshwater Challenge is a critical first step in bringing a much-needed focus on freshwater ecosystems,” Anderson added. 

Martha Delgado Peralta, Mexico’s undersecretary for multilateral affairs, voiced a similar view. 

“Healthy freshwater ecosystems are central to water and food security, while tackling the climate and nature crises, and driving sustainable development,” she said. 

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In Kenya’s Kibera Slum, a Tech Initiative Empowers Children

In the sprawling Nairobi slum of Kibera, Renice Owino, a young computer programmer, is passing on her knowledge to disadvantaged students. Owino is the founder and driving force behind the “Code with Kids” initiative, which has reached hundreds of children in Nairobi and other areas. Saida Swaleh visited Owino’s classroom in Nairobi and has this story. Camera: Nelson Aruya.

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Launch Debut of 3D-Printed Rocket Ends in Failure, No Orbit

A rocket made almost entirely of 3D-printed parts made its launch debut Wednesday night, lifting off amid fanfare but failing three minutes into flight — far short of orbit.

There was nothing aboard Relativity Space’s test flight except for the company’s first metal 3D print made six years ago.

The startup wanted to put the souvenir into a 125-mile-high (200-kilometer-high) orbit for several days before having it plunge through the atmosphere and burn up along with the upper stage of the rocket.

As it turned out, the first stage did its job following liftoff from Cape Canaveral Space Force Station and separated as planned. But the upper stage appeared to ignite and then shut down, sending it crashing into the Atlantic.

It was the third launch attempt from what once was a missile site. Relativity Space came within a half-second of blasting off earlier this month, with the rocket’s engines igniting before abruptly shutting down.

Although the upper stage malfunctioned and the mission did not reach orbit, “maiden launches are always exciting and today’s flight was no exception,” Relativity Space launch commentator Arwa Tizani Kelly said after Wednesday’s launch.

Most of the 110-foot (33-meter) rocket, including its engines, came out of the company’s huge 3D printers in Long Beach, California.

Relativity Space said 3D-printed metal parts made up 85% of the rocket, named Terran. Larger versions of the rocket will have even more and also be reusable for multiple flights.

Other space companies also also rely on 3D-printing, but the pieces make up only a small part of their rockets.

Founded in 2015 by a pair of young aerospace engineers, Relativity Space has attracted the attention of investors and venture capitalists.

The Associated Press Health and Science Department receives support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Science and Educational Media Group. The AP is solely responsible for all content.

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Malawi President Seeks More Support for Cyclone Victims

Malawi President Lazarus Chakwera is appealing for additional humanitarian assistance for thousands of Malawians displaced by Cyclone Freddy, which has killed more than 500 people in the country.

Chakwera made the urgent request to Malawi’s parliament on Wednesday, when he was presenting an assessment of the impact of the cyclone, which also hit Mozambique.

Though the country is receiving a lot of local and international assistance for the victims, he said, more aid is needed.

“So many have responded positively to our appeal, and I have personally committed to acknowledge every support, for the situation is so grave that we simply cannot take any contribution for granted,” he told lawmakers. “However, the supplies we are deploying are far from enough for the magnitude of the need.”

Malawi’s Disaster Management Affairs Department says there are more than 500,000 people who have been displaced living at 534 camps.

Chakwera told the lawmakers to bury their political differences and work together to address the devastation caused by the powerful storm.

“This is one of the darkest hours in the history of our nation,” he said. “And if we are to emerge in this dark hour and see the joy of a new dawn in the future, we must all roll up our sleeves and get to work. If we are going to see the light of a new dawn again, we must take the necessary steps now for safeguarding a brighter tomorrow for Malawians.”

Chakwera announced the government will soon introduce legislation aimed at helping to safeguard people from natural disasters.

Kondwani Nankhumwa, leader of opposition political parties in the Malawi Parliament, welcomed the plan to have legislation for disaster management and emphasized the government must deal with sanitation issues at evacuation camps to avoid the outbreak of diseases.

“Our water resources have been depleted, boreholes have been washed away, taps have been washed away,” said Nankhumwa. “Let me register a call that the government should look into this with other partners, because if we allow these people to continue drinking unprotected water from unprotected wells, then there will be an outbreak of other diseases in camp.”

Cyclone Freddy hit Malawi amid its deadliest cholera outbreak of the past two decades, which so far has killed at least 1,600 people.

The Malawi Health Ministry warned this week that the cyclone has increased the risk of the spread of other communicable diseases, such as typhoid and dysentery.

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What Made Beethoven Sick? DNA From His Hair Offers Clues

Nearly 200 years after Ludwig van Beethoven’s death, researchers pulled DNA from strands of his hair, searching for clues about the health problems and hearing loss that plagued him.

They weren’t able to crack the case of the German composer’s deafness or severe stomach ailments. But they did find a genetic risk for liver disease, plus a liver-damaging hepatitis B infection in the last months of his life.

These factors, along with his chronic drinking, were probably enough to cause the liver failure that is widely believed to have killed him, according to a study published Wednesday in the journal Current Biology.

This Sunday marks the 196th anniversary of Beethoven’s death in Vienna on March 26, 1827, at the age of 56. The composer himself wrote that he wanted doctors to study his health problems after he died.

“With Beethoven in particular, it is the case that illnesses sometimes very much limited his creative work,” said study author Axel Schmidt, a geneticist at University Hospital Bonn in Germany. “And for physicians, it has always been a mystery what was really behind it.”

Since his death, scientists have long tried to piece together Beethoven’s medical history and have offered a variety of possible explanations for his many maladies.

Now, with advances in ancient DNA technology, researchers have been able to pull genetic clues from locks of Beethoven’s hair that had been snipped off and preserved as keepsakes. They focused on five locks that are “almost certainly authentic,” coming from the same European male, according to the study.

They also looked at three other historical locks but weren’t able to confirm those were actually Beethoven’s. Previous tests on one of those locks suggested Beethoven had lead poisoning, but researchers concluded that sample was actually from a woman.

Scientists dissolved the pieces into a solution and fished out chunks of DNA, said study author Tristan James Alexander Begg, a biological anthropologist at the University of Cambridge.

Getting genes out was a challenge, since DNA in hair gets chopped up into tiny fragments, explained author Johannes Krause, a paleogeneticist at Germany’s Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology.

But eventually, after using up almost 3 meters of Beethoven’s hair, they were able to piece together a genome that they could study for signs of genetic disease, Krause said.

While researchers didn’t find any clear genetic signs of what caused Beethoven’s gastrointestinal issues, they found that celiac disease and lactose intolerance were unlikely causes. In the future, the genome may offer more clues as we learn more about how genes influence health, Begg said.

The research also led to a surprising discovery: When they tested DNA from living members of the extended Beethoven family, scientists found a discrepancy in the Y chromosomes that get passed down on the father’s side. The Y chromosomes from the five men matched each other — but they didn’t match the composer’s.

This suggests there was an “extra-pair paternity event” somewhere in the generations before Beethoven was born, Begg said. In other words, a child born from an extramarital relationship in the composer’s family tree.

The key question of what caused Beethoven’s hearing loss is still unanswered, said Ohio State University’s Dr. Avraham Z. Cooper, who was not involved in the study. And it may be a difficult one to figure out, because genetics can only show us half of the “nature and nurture” equation that makes up our health.

But he added that the mystery is part of what makes Beethoven so captivating: “I think the fact that we can’t know is OK,” Cooper said.

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Report Finds 119,000 Hurt Worldwide by Riot-Control Weapons Since 2015

More than 119,000 people have been injured by tear gas and other chemical irritants around the world since 2015 and about 2,000 suffered injuries from less lethal impact projectiles, according to a report released Wednesday.

The study by Physicians for Human Rights and the International Network of Civil Liberties Organizations, in collaboration with the Omega Research Foundation, took 2½ years to research. It provides a rare, partial count of casualties, compiled from medical literature, from these devices used by police around the world, including in Colombia, Chile, Hong Kong, Turkey and at Black Lives Matter protests in the United States.

Most of the data comes from cases in which a person came to an emergency room with injuries from crowd control weapons and the attending doctor or hospital staff made the effort to document it, said the report’s lead author, Rohini Haar, an emergency room physician and researcher at the University of California School of Public Health in Berkeley.

Crowd control tools become more powerful

The report on casualties from a largely unregulated industry cites an alarming evolution of crowd control devices into more powerful and indiscriminate designs and deployment, including dropping tear gas from drones.

It calls for bans on rubber bullets and on multiprojectile devices in all crowd control settings and tighter restrictions on weapons that may be used indiscriminately, such as tear gas, acoustic weapons and water cannons, which in some cases have been loaded with dyes and chemical irritants. Governments also should ensure these weapons are subject to rigorous independent testing, with testing, evaluation and approval involving law enforcement, technical specialists and health professionals, among others, the report said.

U.S. Senator Ron Wyden, a Democrat from Oregon, said the report underscores serious issues.

“These troubling global numbers echo the concerns I raised locally when Donald Trump first dispatched armed troops to Portland in 2020 with no guidance on their use of chemical munitions near schools and against protesters when most were peacefully exercising their First Amendment rights,” Wyden said. “The report’s recommendations are very worthy of consideration by the Department of Homeland Security.”

Portland, Oregon, was an epicenter of racial justice protests after George Floyd was murdered by Minneapolis police in May 2020. Police and protesters clashed, with officers firing tear gas, pepper spray and other devices, turning parts of the city into battle grounds.

Then-President Trump sent militarized federal agents to protect federal property and the violence escalated, with agents dousing the crowds with tear gas and other irritants. Bystanders and nearby residents choked on the fumes, their eyes watering and burning. Some protesters launched fireworks at agents and shined lasers in their eyes.

Portland Police Bureau spokesperson Terri Wallo Strauss noted that the department’s updated policy emphasizes “the goal of avoiding the use of force, when feasible.”

Devices can help restore order, say police

Police say crowd control devices are, if used properly, an effective tool for dispersing rioters.

“Rallies basically spin out of control when they’ve been hijacked by individuals that have come in with a nefarious purpose to create the riots, the looting, those type of things. And then, obviously, law enforcement has to come in and try their best to create a safe resolution and try to restore order,” Park City, Utah, Police Chief Wade Carpenter said during the height of the Black Lives Matter protests.

Carpenter is also an official with the International Association of Chiefs of Police, which has more than 32,000 members in more than 170 countries. The group declined to comment on the new report. But in 2019, it recommended guidelines on crowd management.

Pepper spray, or oleoresin capsicum, may be used against “specific individuals engaged in unlawful conduct or actively resisting arrest, or as necessary in a defensive capacity,” the guidelines state. It “shall not be used indiscriminately against groups of people where bystanders would be unreasonably affected, or against passively resistant individuals.”

But the internet is full of instances in which pepper spray was used against non-resisting people, including against Tyre Nichols, who was beaten to death by Memphis police in January.

Tear gas “may be deployed defensively to prevent injury when lesser force options are either not available or would likely be ineffective,” the IACP guidance states. Projectiles that are supposed to hit a surface like a street before impacting a person “may be used in civil disturbances where life is in immediate jeopardy or the need to use the devices outweighs the potential risks involved.”

Direct-fired impact munitions, including beanbag rounds, “may be used during civil disturbances against specific individuals who are engaged in conduct that poses an immediate threat of death or serious injury,” the guidance says. Protesters have been blinded and suffered brain damage from beanbag rounds.

Claims against police

Numerous lawsuits have been filed over the use of force by police during protests.

In November, the city of Portland reached a $250,000 settlement with five demonstrators in a federal lawsuit over police use of tear gas and other crowd control devices during racial justice protests.

But last month, a federal judge threw out an excessive force claim against an unnamed federal agent who fired an impact munition at the forehead of protester Donavan La Bella, fracturing his skull, as he held up a music speaker during a racial justice demonstration in Portland in 2020. La Bella continues to struggle with a severe head injury.

Haar, who is a medical adviser for Physicians for Human Rights, said the number of injured is far greater than what she compiled from medical reports.

“Basically, we knew we’re capturing sort of the tip of the iceberg,” she said. “This is just a tiny fraction of what the world is experiencing on a daily basis. The vast majority of injuries — even significant severe injuries — go unreported.”

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UN Seeks Game Changers to Address Global Water Crisis

The U.N. secretary-general called for significant commitments and investment Wednesday to avert a growing global water crisis at the start of a major conference on the issue.  

“Water is a human right — and a common development denominator to shape a better future,” Antonio Guterres told a packed General Assembly hall. “But water is in deep trouble.”  

The three-day conference, which kicked off on World Water Day, is the first of its kind in 46 years. Activists and experts say the ongoing water crisis is a threat to the entire planet.   

According to the United Nations, a quarter of the planet — 2 billion people — does not have access to safe drinking water. It will only worsen. By 2030, the demand for fresh water is expected to exceed supply by 40% globally.  

Meanwhile, half the world — 3.6 billion people — live without safely managed sanitation. This is deadly. The World Health Organization and the U.N. children’s agency (UNICEF) say at least 1.4 million people — many of them children — die each year from preventable causes linked to dirty water and poor sanitation. Cholera and other water-related diseases are once again on the rise.   

Guterres urged massive investment in water and sanitation systems, saying the international community cannot manage an emergency with outdated infrastructure.   

Climate change is accelerating the water problem, contributing to both severe drought and floods.  

“Climate action and a sustainable water future are two sides of the same coin,” the secretary-general said. “We must spare no effort to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius and deliver climate justice to developing countries.”  

Conference organizers say game changing action is needed now to manage water better and achieve international water goals and targets to prevent a more severe crisis.

The United States announced Wednesday that it is committing more than $49 billion to advance access to climate-resilient water and sanitation infrastructure both domestically and abroad.

“These investments will help create jobs, prevent conflicts, safeguard public health, reduce the risk of famine and hunger, and enable us to respond to climate change and natural disasters,” U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Linda Thomas-Greenfield told reporters.   

The Netherlands and Tajikistan are co-hosting the conference, which aims to get hundreds more commitments from governments, the private sector and civil society by the end of this week for its Water Action Agenda.  

“Everything we need to live a decent life is related to water — our health, food, safety, habitat, economy, infrastructure and climate,” Dutch King Willem-Alexander said at the conference. “Water security is one of the defining concerns of our time and will determine our collective sustainable future.”

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Marburg Virus Spreads in Tanzania, Health Officials on High Alert

Tanzania’s Ministry of Health has confirmed five people died in a first-ever Marburg virus outbreak near the border with Uganda. The virus causes a severe hemorrhagic fever and is deadlier than the related Ebola virus, which was first suspected in the deaths. Tanzanian health officials say they are working to contain the Marburg outbreak.

Tanzania’s health minister, Ummy Mwalimu, said the mysterious and deadly outbreak in its northwest Kagera region was caused by the Marburg virus.

Mwalimu announced at a Tuesday evening press briefing the government was intensifying efforts to contain the virus, including with contact tracing.

She said among the five people who died from the virus last week were four from the same family. The additional death was a health worker.

Mwalimu said the government has successfully managed to control the rate of new infections of the disease and the disease remains confined to the same area.

Tanzania has never before recorded a case of Marburg, a virus that the World Health Organization says has a fatality rate as high as 88%.

The deaths last week were initially suspected to be Ebola, a virus related to Marburg that the WHO says has an average fatality rate of 50% but is slightly more infectious.

Marburg and Ebola have similar symptoms, such as high fever, severe headaches, and bleeding.

Last week’s outbreak occurred near the border with Uganda, which recovered from a months-long Ebola outbreak in January that caused 77 deaths.

WHO Regional Director for Africa Matshidiso Moeti said Tuesday officials were working with Tanzania to halt the Marburg virus’s spread.

WHO Tanzania representative Zabulon Yoti told the Tuesday briefing the public should remain calm as it deals with the disease.

“This is not the first time Marburg has occurred in Africa. It has happened several times in our neighboring country, Uganda, and they have typically managed to contain it through strong community involvement,” said Yoti. “I am calling upon community members to join hands with the government to ensure that contacts are identified and those who require care receive it promptly.”

The WHO says Marburg has also been found in Angola, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Kenya, and South Africa and is spread by bats to people, who then spread it through body fluids.

It was first recognized as a disease after simultaneous laboratory-related outbreaks in 1967 in the cities of Marburg and Frankfurt, Germany, and in Belgrade.

A WHO report last year said Tanzania is at high risk for infectious disease outbreaks.

Peter Bujari, who heads Health Promotion Tanzania, an activist group that raises awareness on health issues and disease control, said Marburg kills quickly and Tanzania’s health facilities often suffer from a shortage of medicine and medical supplies. Bujari said the government must aid healthcare workers who are on the front line in treating patients and receiving them, so they are not infected.

Tanzania’s Ministry of Health is providing leaflets about the Marburg virus, including how to protect oneself, and phone numbers for reporting any suspected cases.

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Superbug Fungus Cases Rose Dramatically During Pandemic

U.S. cases of a dangerous fungus tripled over just three years, and more than half of the country’s 50 states have now reported it, according to a new study. 

The COVID-19 pandemic likely drove part of the increase, researchers at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention wrote in the paper published Monday by Annals of Internal Medicine. Hospital workers were strained by coronavirus patients and that likely shifted their focus away from disinfecting some other kinds of germs, they said. 

The fungus, Candida auris, is a form of yeast that is usually not harmful to healthy people but can be a deadly risk to fragile hospital and nursing home patients. It spreads easily and can infect wounds, ears and the bloodstream. Some strains are so-called superbugs that are resistant to all three classes of antibiotic drugs used to treat fungal infections. 

It was first identified in Japan in 2009 and has been seen in more and more countries. The first U.S. case occurred in 2013, but it was not reported until 2016. That year, U.S. health officials reported 53 cases. 

The new study found cases have continued to shoot up, rising to 476 in 2019, to 756 in 2020, and then to 1,471 in 2021. Doctors have also detected the fungus on the skin of thousands of other patients, making them a transmission risk to others. 

Many of the first U.S. cases were infections that had been imported from abroad, but now most infections are spread within the U.S., the authors noted. 

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Biden Signs Bill on COVID Origins Declassification

President Joe Biden signed a bipartisan bill Monday that directs the federal government to declassify as much intelligence as possible about the origins of COVID-19 more than three years after the start of the pandemic.

The legislation, which passed both the House and Senate without dissent, directs the Office of the Director of National Intelligence to declassify intelligence related to China’s Wuhan Institute of Virology. It cites “potential links” between the research that was done there and the outbreak of COVID-19, which the World Health Organization declared a pandemic March 11, 2020. The law allows for redactions to protect sensitive sources and methods.

U.S. intelligence agencies are divided over whether a lab leak or a spillover from animals is the likely source of the deadly virus.

Experts say the true origin of the coronavirus pandemic, which has killed more than 1.1 million in the U.S. and millions more around the globe, may not be known for many years — if ever.

Biden, in a statement, said he was pleased to sign the legislation.

“My Administration will continue to review all classified information relating to COVID-19’s origins, including potential links to the Wuhan Institute of Virology,” he said. “In implementing this legislation, my Administration will declassify and share as much of that information as possible, consistent with my constitutional authority to protect against the disclosure of information that would harm national security.”

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Astronomers Sound Alarm About Satellites’ Light Pollution

Astronomers on Monday warned that the light pollution created by the soaring number of satellites orbiting Earth poses an “unprecedented global threat to nature.”

The number of satellites in low Earth orbit has more than doubled since 2019, when U.S. company SpaceX launched the first “mega-constellation,” which comprise thousands of satellites.

An armada of new internet constellations are planned to launch soon, adding thousands more satellites to the already congested area fewer than 2,000 kilometers (1,250 miles) above Earth.

Each new satellite increases the risk that it will smash into another object orbiting Earth, creating yet more debris.

This can create a chain reaction in which cascading collisions create ever smaller fragments of debris, further adding to the cloud of “space junk” reflecting light back to Earth.

In a series of papers published in the journal Nature Astronomy, astronomers warned that this increasing light pollution threatens the future of their profession.

In one paper, researchers said that for the first time they had measured how much a brighter night sky would financially and scientifically affect the work of a major observatory.

Modeling suggested that for the Vera Rubin Observatory, a giant telescope currently under construction in Chile, the darkest part of the night sky will become 7.5 percent brighter over the next decade.

That would reduce the number of stars the observatory is able to see by around 7.5 percent, study co-author John Barentine told AFP.

That would add nearly a year to the observatory’s survey, costing around $21.8 million, said Barentine of Dark Sky Consulting, a firm based in the U.S. state of Arizona.

He added that there is another cost of a brighter sky that’s impossible to calculate: the celestial events that humanity will never get to observe.

And the increase in light pollution could be even worse than thought.

Another Nature study used extensive modeling to suggest that current measurements of light pollution are significantly underestimating the phenomenon.

A call to ‘stop this attack’ of light

The brightening of the night sky will not just affect professional astronomers and major observatories, the researchers warned.

Aparna Venkatesan, an astronomer at the University of San Francisco, said it also threatened “our ancient relationship with the night sky.”

“Space is our shared heritage and ancestor — connecting us through science, storytelling, art, origin stories and cultural traditions — and it is now at risk,” she said in a Nature comment piece.

A group of astronomers from Spain, Portugal and Italy called for scientists to “stop this attack” on the natural night.

“The loss of the natural aspect of a pristine night sky for all the world, even on the summit of K2 or on the shore of Lake Titicaca or on Easter Island is an unprecedented global threat to nature and cultural heritage,” the astronomers said in a Nature comment piece.

“If not stopped, this craziness will become worse and worse.”

The astronomers called for drastically limiting mega-constellations, adding that “we must not reject the possibility of banning them.”

They said that it was “naive to hope that the skyrocketing space economy will limit itself, if not forced to do so,” given the economic interests at stake.

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