Asteroid Samples Escaping From Jammed NASA Spacecraft 

A NASA spacecraft is stuffed with so much asteroid rubble from this week’s grab that it’s jammed open and precious particles are drifting away in space, scientists said Friday.Scientists announced the news three days after the spacecraft named Osiris-Rex briefly touched asteroid Bennu 321 million kilometers (200 million miles) away.The mission’s lead scientist, Dante Lauretta, said Tuesday’s operation collected far more material than expected for return to Earth — in the hundreds of grams. The sample container on the end of the robot arm penetrated so deeply into the asteroid and with such force, however, that rocks got sucked in and became wedged around the rim of the lid.The team was scrambling to put the sample container into the return capsule as early as Tuesday — much sooner than originally planned — for the long trip home. Particles are continuing to escape, and scientists want to minimize the loss.“Time is of the essence,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, chief of NASA’s science missions.A cloud of asteroid particles could be seen swirling around the spacecraft as it backed away from Bennu — at least 5 to 10 grams (half an ounce) at any one time. The situation appeared to stabilize, according to Lauretta, once the robot arm stopped moving and was locked into place.The requirement for Orisis-Rex — NASA’s first asteroid sample return mission, totaling more than $800 million — was at least 60 grams (2 ounces) of samples for return. The carbon-rich material holds the preserved building blocks of our solar system and could help scientists better understand how the planets were formed and how life originated on Earth.Launched in 2016, the spacecraft arrived at Bennu in 2018. Regardless of what’s on board, it will still leave the vicinity of the asteroid in March. The samples won’t reach Earth until 2023.Japan is awaiting its second batch of samples taken from a different asteroid, due back in December.

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US Judge Denies New Government Bid to Remove China’s WeChat From App Stores

A U.S. judge in San Francisco on Friday rejected a Justice Department request to reverse a decision that allowed Apple Inc. and Alphabet Inc.’s Google to continue to offer Chinese-owned WeChat for download in U.S. app stores.U.S. Magistrate Judge Laurel Beeler said the government’s new evidence did not change her opinion about the Tencent app. As it has with Chinese video app TikTok, the Justice Department has argued WeChat threatens national security.WeChat has an average of 19 million daily active users in the United States. It is popular among Chinese students, Americans living in China and Americans who have personal or business relationships in China.WeChat is an all-in-one mobile app that combines services similar to Facebook, WhatsApp, Instagram and Venmo. The app is an essential part of daily life for many in China and boasts more than 1 billion users.The Justice Department has appealed Beeler’s decision permitting the continued use of the Chinese mobile app to the Ninth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals, but no ruling is likely before December.In a suit brought by WeChat users, Beeler last month blocked a U.S. Commerce Department order set to take effect September 20 that would have required the app to be removed from U.S. app stores.The Commerce Department order would also bar other U.S. transactions with WeChat, potentially making the app unusable in the United States.”The record does not support the conclusion that the government has ‘narrowly tailored’ the prohibited transactions to protect its national-security interests,” Beeler wrote on Friday.She said the evidence “supports the conclusion that the restrictions ‘burden substantially more speech than is necessary to further the government’s legitimate interests.'”WeChat users argued the government sought “an unprecedented ban of an entire medium of communication” and offered only “speculation” of harm from Americans’ use of WeChat.In a similar case, a U.S. appeals court agreed to fast-track a government appeal of a ruling blocking the government from banning new downloads from U.S. app stores of Chinese-owned short video-sharing app TikTok.

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US Sets New Daily Record for Coronavirus Infections

The United States has set a daily record for coronavirus cases as a new surge of the virus raises fears of a further increase during the cold fall and winter months.According to The New York Times, more than 82,000 cases were reported across the United States by Friday evening, breaking a single-day record set July 16 by more than 6,000 cases.The Times also reported that around 41,000 Americans are currently in the hospital, which represents a 41% increase from the past month. The northern Rocky Mountain states and the upper Midwest are currently seeing spikes in reported cases.A new estimate by the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation on Friday said the U.S. death toll from COVID-19 could surpass 500,000 by February unless nearly all Americans wear face masks. It said the number of possible deaths could drop by 130,000 if 95% of Americans would wear face coverings.In Europe, France surpassed 1 million confirmed coronavirus cases, registering a record 42,032 cases in 24 hours.France becomes the seventh country to pass the milestone, after the United States, India, Brazil, Russia, Argentina and Spain.Epidemiologist Arnaud Fontanet, a member of the scientific council advising the French government, said, “The virus is circulating more quickly than in the spring.”President Emmanuel Macron said a curfew that took effect Friday night for two-thirds of France could be tightened if the restrictions do not lead to a lowering of coronavirus cases.Residents in many European countries, including parts of Germany, Spain, Italy, Britain, and Slovakia, are facing more restrictions in their daily lives as officials impose curfews and limits on social interaction.Countries are scrambling to look for ways to slow the spread but also to avoid the blanket lockdowns imposed earlier this year that have taken a massive economic toll and have little public support.Hundreds of protesters in Naples, Italy, protested Friday night over a new regional curfew. Demonstrators threw smoke bombs, and police responded with tear gas. Italy reached a new daily high Friday of nearly 20,000 coronavirus cases.Wales began a shutdown of nonessential businesses Friday night that will last until Nov. 9. Shops restaurants and bars will be under a severe two-week lockdown.”A firebreak period is our best chance of regaining control of the virus and avoiding a much longer and much more damaging national lockdown,” First Minister Mark Drakeford said earlier this week.Poland announced the entire country will become a “red zone” of strict restrictions starting Saturday, just short of a lockdown. The country is closing restaurants and bars, limiting public gatherings to five people, and requiring masks at all times outdoors.Other countries are taking less severe measures.Belgium, one of the hardest-hit countries, restricted social contacts and banned spectators from sporting events. Denmark said it would lower the limit on public gatherings from 50 people to 10 and would ban the sale of alcohol after 10 p.m.The New York Times reported data from the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control show that despite the jump in cases, hospitalizations in Europe are “still less than half of the peak in March and April,” but are rising steadily each week.Researchers around the world are racing to develop a safe and effective vaccine against COVID-19, which has killed more than 1.1 million globally and sickened more than 42 million.

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WHO Urges World’s Leaders to Act as COVID-19 Cases Surge

Noting the world is at a critical juncture in the COVID-19 pandemic, the World Health Organization is urging nations to take immediate action to prevent unnecessary deaths, the collapse of essential health systems and the shutdown of economies. Speaking at the agency’s headquarters in Geneva, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said too many countries, particularly in the northern hemisphere, are seeing an exponential increase in COVID-19 cases forcing hospitals and intensive care units to run near or above capacity. He called on governments to take key actions immediately to prevent the crisis from spinning out of control. First, the WHO chief said leaders need to make an honest assessment of the COVID-19 outbreak in their countries. For those nations who have successfully brought it under control, he suggested they “double down” to keep transmissions low, identify cases and clusters, and be ready to act. Traffic passes a COVID-19 sign informing drivers of the upcoming lockdown which closes non-food retailers, cafes, restaurants, pubs and hotels for two weeks in a bid to reduce soaring coronavirus cases, in Cardiff, Wales, Oct. 23, 2020. (AFP)Second, Tedros said nations who see a rising number of cases, hospitalizations and intensive care unit admissions should do whatever they can to address the upward trend as quickly as possible. Third, the director-general urged leaders to be clear and honest with their constituents about the status of the pandemic in their country and outline the steps required to fight the spread. He said this action requires putting systems in place to make it easy for citizens to comply with the COVID-19-related measures. Finally, Tedros said governments need to reach out to people and their families who are infected with the virus to give them specific instructions on their next steps. The WHO director said if leaders follow the steps and fine tune their contact tracing and isolating programs, then future shutdowns and stay-at-home orders can be avoided. 
 

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Millions of Sudan Flood Victims at Risk of Mosquito-Borne Diseases

The United Nations warns of a looming health crisis in Sudan following historic floods which have created conditions for deadly insect-transmitted diseases to thrive.
   
Some 875,000 people across the country are affected by torrential rains and floods, which have caused widespread damage to homes, crops and livelihoods.   
 
The floods have left behind stagnant water pools which are perfect breeding grounds for mosquitoes, and the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs warns that more than 4.5 million people are at risk of mosquito-transmitted diseases such as malaria, chikungunya and viral hemorrhagic fevers, or VHF.  
 
Sudan’s Federal Ministry of Health has already reported increasing numbers of suspected VHF cases, which include dengue, yellow fever and Rift Valley fever.  The agency reports 2,226 cases, most in Northern state, including 56 deaths.
 
Jens Laerke, a spokesman for the U.N. humanitarian affairs office, says there also is an outbreak of chikungunya in West Darfur, where nearly 250 people have been diagnosed with this viral disease.
 
“The worst disease and the most lethal disease is in fact malaria. There [are] over 1.1 million malaria cases as of the end of September this year across the country, and malaria has reached epidemic levels in 15 out of the 18 states in Sudan,” he said.     
 
Laerke said U.N. aid agencies have procured hundreds of emergency health kits to support malaria treatment and other health needs.  He said the kits can serve up to 2.7 million people for three months.  However, he told VOA aid workers are having difficulty getting the supplies out into the field.
 
“One of the things that the partners on the ground are actually mentioning trying to get these emergency health kits out in the communities and particularly among the many internally displaced—there are almost two million internally displaced people in Sudan–is that the floods and stagnant water is still hampering access to those people,” he said.   
 
Laerke said there is a shortage of medical supplies and needs will increase as insect-driven diseases continue to spread throughout the country. He said the U.N.’s operation is in financial difficulty as it only has received 19% of needed funding.   
 
He said aid agencies urgently need to raise an estimated $25 million to procure essential medicines and to support measures for vaccine-preventable vector and water-borne diseases.
 

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German Health Minister Predicts Vaccine by Early 2021

German Health Minister Jens Spahn says he expects a viable vaccine to be available to Germans by early next year and enough for “a large number of those want to be vaccinated” within six or seven months. In an interview published Friday in Germany’s Der Spiegel, Spahn — who tested positive for COVID-19 this week — said he expects there would be more than enough vaccine for the German population, and he would like to pass on any surplus to other nations that might need it. FILE – German Health Minister Jens Spahn receives an influenza injection at Charite hospital, during the coronavirus pandemic, in Berlin, Germany, Oct. 14, 2020. (Reuters)Spahn told the German media outlet that health care workers would be prioritized to be vaccinated first. But he said he would refer to the Standing Vaccinations Commission at Germany’s Robert Koch Institute for Health and Infectious Diseases for guidance. In another sign the German government is preparing for vaccine distribution, Germany’s Daily Bild also reported Friday the health ministry has asked the nation’s 16 state governors to identify potential vaccination centers by November 10. The report says the government is seeking to establish at total of 60 vaccination centers nationwide in order to effectively vaccinate the population. On Thursday, the Koch Institute chief Lothar Wieler warned the COVID-19 situation in Germany was “very serious,” as the nation set a record for daily infections with more than 11,000. 
 

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UN Chief Calls for More Coordinated Global Efforts to Fight COVID

United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres said it was very unfortunate that the 20 major industrialized nations did not come together in March, as he suggested then, to establish a coordinated response to suppress COVID-19 worldwide.In an interview with the Associated Press, Guterres said he hopes that as the G-20 summit is coming next month, the international community understand “they need to be much more coordinated in fighting the virus.”Guterres said the U.N. will be “strongly advocating” for a coordinated response to the disease, in addition to seeking a “guarantee” that any developed vaccine be treated as “a global public good” and be made “available and affordable for everyone, everywhere.”Scores of researchers around the world are racing to develop a safe and effective vaccine against COVID-19, which has killed more than 1.1 million people worldwide and sickened more than 41 million.Meanwhile, the number of countries with more than 1 million confirmed coronavirus cases has risen to seven, with France and Spain the latest nations to reach the mark.On Thursday, France extended curfews to about 65% of its population and Belgium’s foreign minister was hospitalized with COVID-19 and treated in the intensive care unit, as a second wave of the pandemic surged across Europe.However, according to data compiled by the Johns Hopkins University Coronavirus Resource Center, the United States remains the country with highest number of infections, more than 8.4 million total cases, followed by India, with 7.76 million; Brazil, with 5.32 million; Russia, with 1.45 million; and Argentina, which has 1,053,650. France is in sixth place with 1,041,991 cases, followed by Spain with 1,026,281.The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has revised its definition of close contact with a person infected with COVID-19.The agency had previously determined that close contact was spending 15 consecutive minutes within 2 meters of an infected individual. The revised changes announced Wednesday now defines a close contact as someone who spent a total of 15 minutes accumulated over a 24-hour period.The change by the CDC was prompted by a report of a prison officer in the northeastern U.S. state of Vermont who became infected with COVID-19 after more than 20 brief interactions with inmates who later tested positive for the virus. The brief visits added up to about 17 total minutes of exposure.

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