In 2016, Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg visited Nigeria in what was his first trip to sub-Saharan Africa.
While the attraction to the budding tech ecosystem which was already producing some of Africa’s best known startups was obvious, there was also the underlying influence of Facebook’s pool of high-ranking Nigerian-American executives.
Four years later, that influence may be yielding more results as Facebook is set to open its second Africa office in Lagos in the second half of 2021. The office will house a cross-section of Facebook teams from sales, policy, and communications to engineering. It is the company’s latest commitment to Nigeria—Africa’s largest internet market, after it opened a hub space in partnership with Co-Creation Hub, a leading Nigerian startup accelerator, in 2018.
But to be clear, the driving factors for this move extend well beyond a team of Nigerians at Facebook pulling strings.
It is essentially a major play for talent and proximity to an important, fast-growing market—and it is not happening in isolation: Google and Microsoft have grown their local presence in Nigeria over the past decade. In fact, Microsoft’s moves have included a $100 million commitment to build software development centers on the continent and employ 500 African developers by 2023.
With more Nigerians using Facebook than anywhere else on the continent and the suite of high-ranking executives at Facebook’s global being a ringing endorsement, Facebook is moving closer to where the talent is. Nigeria ranked among the fastest growing developer communities in Africa last year.
Yet, it’s not just about talent.
A more hands-on operation in Nigeria, and across Africa, means global tech giants like Facebook and Google are in the business of serving and monetizing eyeballs, so being closer to the world’s fastest-growing population of young people is a shrewd move. Africa’s population, already the youngest in the world, is expected to triple by 2100 while the rest of the world shrinks. And Nigeria will play a key role in that growth spurt by becoming the second most populous country in the world, ahead of China.
There are other key trends that support the deepening interest of global tech giants. The continent’s adoption of digital innovations and solutions, including mobile money, has been boosted by the increasing availability of smartphones. With companies like Chinese-owned Transsion making billion-dollar bets by exclusively focusing on African users, the average costs of smartphones are being driven down and are, in turn, more affordable for a broader demographic. In fact, more than half of all smartphones sold in Africa in the fourth quarter of 2019 cost the owner less than $100.
While there’s the possibility of internet access and speeds being mitigating factors, there are signs of progress on those fronts too. With public policy starting to slowly catch up, the odds of internet costs dropping while speed levels increase are high.
But, as it turns out, Facebook and Google are not leaving that to chance: the company’s plans include developing 2Africa, the world’s largest sub-sea cable project, which will circle the continent and deliver internet connectivity with landings on multiple coasts.
Former President Barack Obama announced Thursday he plans to release his first presidential memoir. In it, he recounts his experiences during his years in the White House and addresses what he thinks must be done to "heal our divisions."
"A Promised Land," scheduled for release Nov. 17, will cover his "improbable odyssey from young man searching for his identity to leader of the free world" and "landmark moments of the first term of his historic presidency," according to the book's official website.
"There’s no feeling like finishing a book, and I’m proud of this one," Obama tweeted Thursday morning. "In A Promised Land, I try to provide an honest accounting of my presidency, the forces we grapple with as a nation, and how we can heal our divisions and make democracy work for everybody."
The new memoir will also cover Obama assembling his cabinet, dealing with a global financial crisis, and share his thoughts on Vladimir Putin, passing the Affordable Care Act and authorizing the mission that led to the death of Osama bin Laden.
"Obama is candid about the balancing act of running for office as a Black American, bearing the expectations of a generation buoyed by messages of 'hope and change,' and meeting the moral challenges of high-stakes decision-making," the description reads. "He is frank about the forces that opposed him at home and abroad, open about how living in the White House affected his wife and daughters, and unafraid to reveal self-doubt and disappointment. Yet he never wavers from his belief that inside the great, ongoing American experiment, progress is always possible."
This is Obama's fourth book and first since leaving the White House. His previous titles are 1995's "Dreams from My Father," 2006's "The Audacity of Hope" and 2010 children's book "Of Thee I Sing: A Letter to My Daughters."
Source: USA Today
An American dentist who extracted a tooth from a sedated patient while balancing on a hoverboard has been sentenced to 12 years in jail for crimes including illegal dentistry, fraud and reckless endangerment.
Seth Lookhart, 35, sent phone footage to friends that showed him taking a patient's tooth out while standing on the two-wheeled hoverboard before riding away as he stripped off his gloves and held his hands up in triumph.
The Alaska State Department of Law said that Anchorage Superior Court Judge Michael Wolverton stressed that the hoverboard incident was not the most serious aspect of the case.
"Lookhart almost killed many patients by performing anesthesia thousands of times without training or consent, on patients outside his scope of training and expertise, while stealing money from Medicaid and embezzling from his bosses," the state said in a statement.
CNN in a report published Friday quoted Lookhart as saying "looking back, I can't say exactly when I began to go off course.
"I could have and should have maintained better discipline and focus."
Prosecutors asked the court to order Lookhart to pay back more than $2 million embezzled from state health funds.
China sent more warplanes toward Taiwan for the second day Saturday as the island's leader, senior government officials and a high-level U.S. envoy paid tribute to the man who led Taiwan's transition to democracy, former President Lee Teng-hui.
Keith Krach, the U.S. undersecretary for state, kept a low profile at the service. His presence at the event and on the island has drawn a strong rebuke from China, which sent 18 warplanes across the midline of the Taiwan Strait Friday in an unusually large display of force.
On Saturday, Beijing dispatched 19 more warplanes, two of which were bombers, according to Taiwan's Defense Ministry. The island's air force scrambled their own and deployed an air defense missile system to monitor China's activities, according to a statement.
The service was held at the Aletheia University in Taipei on a balmy Saturday morning, with President Tsai Ing-wen honoring Lee for bringing a peaceful political transition to the island democracy.
Lee had built a separate Taiwanese political identity, distinct from mainland China, which claims Taiwan as part of its own territory to be reunited by force if necessary. Lee’s carving out of a non-Chinese identity and insistence that the island be treated as an equal country brought him into direct conflict with Beijing.
“We have a responsibility to continue his endeavors, allowing the will of the people to reshape Taiwan, further defining Taiwan’s identity and deepening and bolstering democracy and freedom,” Tsai said.
Former Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and the Dalai Lama also paid tribute from afar.
“We Buddhists believe in life after life, so most probably he will be reborn in Taiwan,” the Dalai Lama said in a video message. “His rebirth will carry his spirit continuously.”
The guests included another former Japanese prime minister, Yoshiro Mori. They wore masks and sat spaced out in pews.
Lee, an agricultural economist and politician, devoted his career toward building democracy on the island through direct elections and other changes.
He was the first government official to speak out and formally apologize for the so-called 228 incident, named after Feb. 28, 1947, when soldiers under the Kuomingtang, or the sole ruling Nationalist Party, shot and killed thousands of civilians in an anti-government uprising. The bloodshed marked the beginning of a decades-long period known as the White Terror in which the island was ruled by martial law.
In 1990, Lee signaled his support for student demands for direct elections of Taiwan’s president and vice president and the end of reserving legislative seats to represent districts on the Chinese mainland. The following year he oversaw the dismantling of emergency laws put into effect by Chiang Kai-shek’s government, effectively reversing the Nationalists’ long-standing goal of returning to the mainland and removing the Communists from power.
China launched a series of threatening military maneuvers off the coast of mainland Fujian province that included the firing of missiles just off Taiwan’s coast. More missiles were fired immediately before the March 1996 presidential elections, and the U.S. response was to send aircraft carrier battle groups to Taiwan’s east coast in a show of support.
The Trump administration has taken multiple steps in recent months to strengthen its engagement with Taiwan, angering China.
Krach is the second high-level official to visit Taiwan in two months, following U.S. Health Secretary Alex Azar in August.
Unlike Azar's visit, Krach's was held mostly behind closed doors. On Friday, he held talks with Taiwan's minister of economic affairs and the vice premier, in addition to local business leaders. He also dined with Tsai.
China has condemned the visit multiple times. On Friday, fighter jets from the People's Liberation Army flew into the island's air defense identification zone, at least the second round of war games this month aimed at intimidating supporters of the island’s independent political identity.
“Every time a high-ranking U.S. official visits Taiwan, the fighter jets of the PLA should be one step closer to the island," said an editorial in the Chinese Communist Party newspaper Global Times on Friday. “The U.S. and Taiwan must not misjudge the situation, or believe the exercise is a bluff. Should they continue to make provocations, a war will inevitably break out.”
Source: Associated Press
The United Nations will mark its 75th anniversary Monday, celebrating the mantra that "multilateralism is not an option but a necessity," even as the coronavirus underscores the fragility of international cooperation.
The anniversary will kick off the global body's annual General Assembly, when normally the leaders and representatives of nearly 200 countries gather en masse to sound off about the world's problems and offer myriad solutions.
But this year, a part of Manhattan will not be sealed off for the "UNGA"; there will be no endless limousine convoys, and no busy beehive of diplomats, journalists and translators in the halls of the UN.
Instead, with Covid-19 still limiting global movement, just one representative from each of the 193 UN members will be allowed, and only someone already in the United States.
Everyone else will have to appear by videoconference, including some 160-170 heads of state and government planning addresses.
Appearing by video on Tuesday will be Russia's Vladimir Putin and China's Xi Jinping, who in the past have let their top diplomats speak for them; and US leader Donald Trump.
On Wednesday, Venezuela's president Nicolas Maduro, who much of the world sees as illegitimate, will address the assembly by video. Missing as speakers are the leaders of Syria and North Korea.
"Diplomacy, to be effective, requires personal contacts, and I am very sorry that we are not going to have the opportunity to bring together leaders of countries," said UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres.
Even so, he said, there would be "many virtual meetings" on the sidelines of the assembly, convening by teleconference on subjects such as climate change, biodiversity and the conflicts in Libya and Lebanon.
- Missed opportunity -
The event kicks off with a joint declaration full of good intentions and a call to combat unilateralism.
But that belies the reality of what has happened since Covid-19 erupted early this year, with borders closed, cooperation limited and countries forced to go it alone.
Bertrand Badie, professor at the Paris Institute of Political Studies, said the great powers missed a chance with the coronavirus to strengthen global cooperation.
Instead, cooperation broke apart amid allegations that China and the World Health Organization moved slowly on the initial outbreak, and the US declared it would act alone and pulled out of the WHO.
The superpowers' behavior has "caused the failure, even the collapse, of the UN Security Council," which was set up to lead on such world-shaking challenges as a pandemic, Badie said.
The powers have clung to a "very conservative vision of security, that humanity is only threatened by rivalries between countries," Badie told AFP, calling it "a very bad sign for the future."
- 'Moments of disappointment' -
The declaration admits that, over seven and a half decades, the UN "has had its moments of disappointment."
"Our world is not yet the world our founders envisaged 75 years ago," it says, citing growing inequality and the persistence of poverty, hunger, armed conflicts, terrorism and climate change.
However, the declaration also notes the United Nations has helped bring about decolonization, promote freedom, set standards for development and eradicate disease.
"The United Nations has helped mitigate dozens of conflicts, saved hundreds of thousands of lives through humanitarian action and provided millions of children with the education that every child deserves," the declaration says.
In the wake of coronavirus, it says, "we have a historic opportunity to build back better and greener."
- Paralysis -
Yet the coronavirus has placed a spotlight on the paralyzing rivalry of the superpowers, especially between the United States and China, rapidly eroding Washington's global leadership.
"Everyone has been too focused on the domestic impact of the pandemic to really look at the global picture," said Richard Gowan of the International Crisis Group.
"I am frankly deeply pessimistic about the chances for real UN reform or innovations in global governance. I cannot see China and the US agreeing on big reforms now," Gowan said.
Badie said the organization was immobilized by a power rivalry that dates back to the UN's creation.
To embark on reforms, he said, it is necessary for the five permanent members of the UN Security Council -- the United States, Britain, Russia, France and China -- to change their Cold War mentality.
The five, though, "will always refuse, because that would lead to an overhaul of the 'international community' and the loss of the privileges of the nuclear oligarchy," Badie said.
Participants who drank larger amounts of coffee – more than four cups a day – had an even greater benefit. These benefits held for both
caffeinated and decaffeinated coffee.
Coffee drinkers may have an edge against colon cancer, new research suggests.
A study published Thursday in the peer-reviewed journal JAMA Oncology found a few cups of coffee a day was associated with longer survival and a lower risk of cancer progression in patients with colorectal cancer, according to researchers at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute.
Investigators found that in 1,171 patients treated for metastatic colorectal cancer, those who reported drinking two to three cups of coffee a day were likely to live longer overall and had a longer time before their disease worsened than those who didn’t drink coffee.
Participants who drank larger amounts of coffee – more than four cups a day – had an even greater benefit. These benefits held for both caffeinated and decaffeinated coffee.
“It’s known that several compounds in coffee have antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and other properties that may be active against cancer,” says Yuan Chen, study co-author and research fellow at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute.
Dr. Scott Kopetz, professor of gastrointestinal medical oncology at MD Anderson Cancer Center, said more is known about the role of antioxidants and its properties in early cancer development as opposed to established and metastatic disease.
Study authors emphasize the report was only able to find an association, not a cause-and-effect relationship. Experts say the study doesn’t provide sufficient evidence to recommend drinking coffee on a daily basis for people who have cancer.
“Although it is premature to recommend a high intake of coffee as a potential treatment for colorectal cancer, our study suggests that drinking coffee is not harmful and may potentially be beneficial,” said Dr. Kimmie Ng, study senior author and oncologist at Dana-Farber.
Kopetz said there may be a number of confounding factors that weren’t measured by the study. For example, a patient is less likely to drink coffee if they have severe gastrointestinal symptoms that may suggests a more advanced disease.
Marji McCullough, senior scientific director of epidemiology research for The American Cancer Society, said another limitation may be coffee drinking habits before cancer diagnosis.
“Coffee was only measured at one point in time,” she said “It would be helpful to know if coffee consumption had changed when they were diagnosed and ... to have repeated measures of coffee consumption.”
The study adds to a large body of literature on coffee with both positive and negative associations.
McCullough said coffee was once largely linked with an increased risk of cancer, but that has been largely debunked as researchers began controlling for smoking and tobacco use. While many experts agree that coffee is not harmful, some are still skeptical about its benefits.
“There were a number of studies that looked at the impact of coffee and the development of colorectal cancer,” Kopetz said. “An analysis of 26 studies recently ... suggested no overall benefit for coffee and risk of colorectal cancer development.”
Another Harvard study found in 2017 people with colorectal cancer who drank at least four cups of coffee a day after their diagnosis had a significantly lower risk of early death than those who didn’t drink coffee.
Other recent studies also found coffee drinkers are less likely to die from some of the leading causes of death including coronary heart disease, stroke, diabetes and kidney disease, according to Johns Hopkins Medicine. McCullough said coffee also has been associated with a reduced risk of liver cancer.
Colon cancer is one of the leading causes of cancer-related deaths in the U.S. and one that is increasingly affecting young Americans, and took the life of 43-year-old actor Chadwick Boseman, star of the hit movie from the Marvel Cinematic Universe, “Black Panther.”
Colorectal cancer – colon and rectal cancer – is expected to cause more than 50,000 deaths in 2020, including 3,640 deaths in people younger than 50. Symptoms of colorectal cancer include a change in bowel movements, rectal bleeding, blood in stool and abdominal pain.
China's government says it may have a coronavirus vaccine available publicly by November. Hundreds of thousands of Chinese have already been injected with experimental vaccines, with at least three companies there in the final stages of clinical trials. But some people are accusing the government of using a potential vaccine to expand its influence globally.
Source: Al Jazeera English
Boris Johnson is considering imposing short-term nationwide restrictions across England, which could include closing pubs and restaurants, to create a “breathing space” in the battle against coronavirus.
Government sources confirmed that “active discussions” were under way in No 10 about how best to respond to a sharp increase in cases, which have been doubling every seven to eight days.
One option under consideration, which was among those discussed by the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage), is a short period, perhaps a fortnight, of England-wide rules.
Government sources denied this would amount to a second national lockdown, which the prime minister has repeatedly said he is keen to avoid, describing it as the “nuclear” option.
However, it would mark a dramatic escalation in the government’s fight against the virus, which ministers hoped could be kept under control using “whack-a-mole” local measures alone.
Johnson’s spokesman said: “We’ve always been clear that our strategy is to keep the virus down as much as possible while protecting education and the economy. We are prepared to take action that is necessary, but we obviously want to avoid any extended lockdown
Schools would be expected to remain open, after Johnson declared keeping children in the classroom a “national priority”, but hospitality venues could be asked to close, or to restrict opening hours.
Some reports had suggested this “circuit-breaker” which would fall short of a full lockdown, could coincide with autumn half-term in late October, to minimise disruption, but government sources said if it did take place, it would be likely to happen sooner. An announcement could come as early as next week.
The notion of a “circuit breaker” – or partial lockdown – was introduced in April in Singapore by the prime minister, Lee Hsien Loong. It saw schools and all but essential workplaces closed, as well as restrictions on restaurants and other public places.
The health secretary, Matt Hancock, told Sky News: “A national lockdown is the last line of defence and we want to use local action, and we want people to follow the rule of six, in order to avoid it.” But he said the government would “take the action necessary” to keep the public safe.
Ministers hope the “rule of six” limiting the size of social gatherings across England, will begin to have an impact on the rate of increase in cases – but have declined to rule out acting earlier.
Nicola Sturgeon tweeted on Thursday that the Scottish government “will be considering carefully if further measures are needed to stem the increase”.
Anxiety in Whitehall has been exacerbated by the shaky state of the testing system. The head of the NHS test-and-trace programme, Dido Harding, told MPs on Thursday demand for tests was outstripping supply by three to four times – and conceded the sharp increase as children returned to schools had not been anticipated.
Official figures showed 90% of tests were failing to hit the 24-hour turnaround target.
Hancock said: “This is a big moment for the country. We are seeing an acceleration in the number of cases. And we are also seeing that the number of people hospitalised with coronavirus is doubling every eight days. We are now starting to see the effects in hospital.
“The strategy is to keep the virus down as much as is possible whilst protecting education and the economy.
“And doing everything we possibly can for the cavalry that’s on the horizon of the vaccine and mass testing, and the treatments that, frankly, this country has done more than any other around the world to develop.”
The health secretary gave a robust defence of the testing system, promising to increase coronavirus testing to half a million a day, up from a quarter of a million currently, by the end of October.
And he insisted the surge in demand was understandable because the tests were free.
He said he was supporting the system “by getting more machines into the labs, we’re installing those as we speak. We’re hiring more people to run them because it is a logistical exercise as well as the scientific parts of it, just to get the samples into the right slots.”
Source: The Guardian
Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro on Thursday said it would be "impossible" to delay parliamentary elections planned for Dec. 6, after the European Union suggested pushing back the vote to meet conditions for the bloc to send an observer mission.
The EU last week said there was not enough time left for it to send observers, at Venezuela's invitation. Maduro is eager to win international recognition for the poll, which the domestic opposition and the United States have said will likely be rigged in favor of the ruling socialist party.
"It is impossible because there is a very clear constitutional mandate," Maduro said in a state television address. "We want to have a good relationship with the European Union, but Washington does not let them."
Relations between Caracas and Washington have deteriorated in recent years. The U.S. government has sanctioned Venezuela's state oil company to pressure Maduro - who it said is a dictator usurping power that rigged his 2018 re-election - to resign.
Maduro has said the administration of U.S. President Donald Trump is seeking to oust him in a coup to seize control of the OPEC member's large crude oil reserves.
Maduro's government has systematically ignored the legislature's rulings since an opposition coalition won control of the body in late 2015.
Venezuela's constitution requires a new vote to be held every five years. Most mainstream opposition parties have vowed to boycott the election, arguing the Maduro-friendly Supreme Court has appointed loyalists to the electoral regulator and installed shadow allies to lead top opposition parties.
Archaeologists in Mexico said Tuesday they have identified a ship that carried Mayan people into virtual slavery in the 1850s, the first time such a ship has been found.
The wreck of the Cuban-based paddle-wheel steamboat was found in 2017, but wasn’t identified until researchers from the National Institute of Anthropology and History checked contemporary documents and found evidence it was the ship “La Unión.”
The ship had been used to take Mayas captured during an 1847-1901 rebellion known as “The War of the Castes” to work in sugarcane fields in Cuba.
Slavery was illegal in Mexico at the time, but operators of similar ships had reportedly bought seized captured combatants, or deceived Mayas left landless by the conflict to “sign on” as contract workers, often in Cuba, where they were treated like slaves.
The La Unión was on a trip to Havana in September 1861 when its boilers exploded and it sank off the once-important Yucatan port of Sisal.
Institute archaeologist Helena Barba Meinecke said the inhabitants of Sisal had passed down through generations the account of the slave ship, and one of them led researchers to it.
“The grandparents and great-grandparents of the inhabitants of Sisal told them about a steam ship that took away Mayas during the War of the Castes," Barba Meinecke said. “And one of the people in Sisal who saw how they led the Mayas away as slaves, told his son and then he told his grandson, and it was that person who led us to the general area of the shipwreck."
The identification was based on the physical remains of the wooden-hulled side-wheeler, whose timbers bore signs of fire and whose boilers had exploded. The location of the wreck also coincides with contemporary accounts of the accident, which killed half of the 80 crew members and 60 passengers aboard.
The team also found silverware with the emblem of the company that operated the ship.
In October 1860, a ship had been caught in neighboring Campeche state taking aboard 29 Mayas, including children as young as 7. Authorities prevented the ship from leaving, but clearly that didn't keep the trade from continuing. Mayas were often transported on ships which were taking sisal fiber and paying passengers to Cuba.
Sisal and henequen were fibers used in making rope, and were usually harvested by Mayas working in serf-like conditions on large plantations in the Yucatan.
It was unclear if there were any Maya aboard on the ship's last voyage. The records are unclear because the Mayas would probably have been listed as cargo, not as passengers, or the ship may have tried to conceal their presence.
Barba Meinecke noted that captured Mayan combatants were frequently sent to Cuba, from where many never returned. “Each slave was sold to a middleman for 25 pesos, and they resold them in Havana for as much as 160 pesos, for men, and 120 pesos for women,” she said.
But she said the next stage of research would involve trying to find their descendants. Researchers plan to travel to Havana, where there is a neighborhood called “Campeche,”
“These people, or some of them, could be descendants of the Mayas who were taken by force or deception," she said. “Research has to be done so these (Mayan) people can know where their grandparents or great-grandparents are.”
The Maya launched one of North America’s last Indigenous revolts in the lower Yucatan Peninsula in 1847, fighting against domination by white and mixed-race Mexicans who exploited them. The Mexican government fought the bloody rebellion with brutal repression, but couldn’t wipe out the last resistance until 1901.
The ship was found about 2 miles (3.7 kilometers) off the port of Sisal in about 22 feet (7 meters) of water, after a local fisherman led archaeologists to the wreck.
A few wrecks of African slave ships have been found in waters in the United States and elsewhere, but no Maya slaving ship had been identified.
Source: Associated Press
For much of the coronavirus pandemic, people have been fixated on the prospect of a COVID vaccine that might contain the outbreak and finally bring about a return to normalcy. And with many health experts speculating that a vaccine could arrive by the end of the year, it's hard not to feel optimistic about things getting better in the near future. At a Senate hearing on Sept. 16, however, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Director Robert R. Redfield, MD, offered a somewhat less rosy prediction: It could take up to nine months for the American public to get vaccinated.
"I think we have to assume that if we had a vaccine, say, released today, that it's going to take us probably in the order of nine months, six to nine months to get the American public vaccinated," Redfield told a Senate committee. "In order to have enough of us immunized so we have immunity, I think it's going to take us six to nine months."
Redfield is not the first expert to caution that vaccine production and distribution could take longer than many of us might like to believe. Adar Poonawalla, CEO of Serum Institute of India, the world's largest vaccine manufacturer, recently said it would take four or five years for everyone to get vaccinated globally.
Vaccinating Americans is, of course, a narrower prospect, but Redfield's prediction falls in line with what others have warned. As an August Washington Post article put it, "Deploying the vaccine to people in the United States and around the world will test and strain distribution networks, the supply chain, public trust and global cooperation."
The vaccine timeline the CDC director gave wasn't the only deflating reality check he offered. Redfield also said that face masks may offer more protection than a COVID vaccine, echoing the concerns health experts have shared about how effective the first vaccine will actually be. While scientists are aiming for a vaccine that's at least 75 percent effective, the Food and Drug Administration will approve one that is only 50 percent effective.
Beyond that, there are questions surrounding how many people will be willing to get the vaccine. While Redfield spoke about the need to get enough Americans vaccinated to achieve herd immunity, that may be impossible with a vaccine that's only 50 percent effective, and a third of Americans refusing to get vaccinated, as some recent polls suggest.
At this point, health officials and infectious disease experts can only offer predictions and not a concrete timeline for the future of the pandemic. There's no question that the development of a vaccine would change the course of the outbreak in the U.S.—but anyone imaging an imminent return to normal life may have to temper their expectations. And for more insight from the CDC, 40 Percent of COVID Patients Went Here Before Getting Sick, CDC Says.
Saudi Arabia likely has enough mineable uranium ore reserves to pave the way for the domestic production of nuclear fuel, according to confidential documents seen by the Guardian.
Details of the stocks are contained in reports prepared for the kingdom by Chinese geologists, who have been scrambling to help Riyadh map its uranium reserves at breakneck speed as part of their nuclear energy cooperation agreement.
The disclosure will intensify concerns about Riyadh’s interest in an atomic weapons programme.
The survey report describes how geologists worked all year round despite blistering summer heat to identify reserves that could produce over 90,000 tonnes of uranium from three major deposits in the centre and northwest of the country.
These are “inferred deposits”, estimated from initial surveys. Further exploration would be needed to confirm uranium reserves and calculate the cost of extraction.
Saudi Arabia has been open about its ambition to extract uranium domestically, with a senior official describing it in 2017 as a step towards “self-sufficiency” in producing nuclear fuel for an energy programme.
The 2019 survey suggests that the reserves could potentially provide Saudi Arabia with both fuel for the reactors it wants to build, and surplus for export.
The Guardian could not independently verify the authenticity of the report, compiled by the Beijing Research Institute of Uranium Geology (BRIUG) and China National Nuclear Corporation (CNNC), working with the Saudi Geological Survey.
“If some of these became actually viable deposits – and there’s no way of knowing whether that’s possible or not – the actual amounts are probably going to be well in excess of what a power plant, or a few power plants would need,” said Prof Kip Jeffrey, head of Camborne school of mines at the University of Exeter.
If Saudi Arabia is able to mine sufficient uranium domestically, rather than relying on foreign providers, it could give the kingdom a boost toward creating its own weapons programme, experts say.
“If you are considering nuclear weapons development, the more indigenous your nuclear program is, the better. In some cases, foreign suppliers of uranium will require peaceful-use commitments from end users, so if your uranium is indigenous, you don’t have to be concerned about that constraint,” said Mark Hibbs, senior fellow in the nuclear policy program at the Carnegie Endowment for Peace.
Another expert, Bruce Riedel at the Brookings Institution, said the information showed that the Saudis were “aggressively pursuing the prerequisites” for either an energy or weapons programme and that securing a domestic source of uranium would boost their effort.
The kingdom’s nuclear ambitions have become a source of heightened concern in the US Congress and among allies, particularly since Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman declared in 2018 that if regional rival Iran develops a nuclear bomb, “we will follow suit as soon as possible”.
The greatest international concern is over the kingdom’s lack of transparency. Under a 2005 agreement with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Saudi Arabia avoided inspections through a small quantities protocol (SQP), which waives IAEA monitoring up to the point where fissile fuel is introduced into a reactor. The nuclear watchdog has been trying to convince the Saudi monarchy to now accept a full monitoring programme, but the Saudis have so far fended off that request.
“We are in conversation with them. They are interested in developing nuclear energy, for peaceful purposes of course,” IAEA chief Rafael Grossi said on Monday when asked about verification in Saudi Arabia.
The richest seam of reserves appear in maps to be at or very close to a site chosen for the planned new city of Neom, centrepiece of crown prince Mohammed bin Salman’s Vision 2030 project to wean the economy off oil.
China began prospecting work in 2017 across nine different areas identified as having prospective uranium deposits, and finished at the end of last year.
Beijing’’s interests are diplomatic and commercial. Helping Saudi Arabia with its nuclear programme strengthens ties with a key US ally, and China is always looking for fresh supplies of ore and buyers for its nuclear plants, said Hibbs.
The project report boasted of the extreme speed of the project, achieved in part by working through summer temperatures of over 50C (122F), leaving several on the team with heatstroke.
“According to international common practice, it takes five to eight years to discover and estimate inferred resources of a uranium-thorium deposit; this project only lasted two years,” the report said, referring to another radioactive element often found alongside uranium.
The exploration covered nine blocks over 30,000 square kilometres; there was often no road access to sites or network coverage.
“[Chinese] specialists stayed in the field for eight straight months with Saudi colleagues, working through weekends, holidays, and even spring festival break [the biggest holiday in the Chinese calendar].”
A string of other setbacks are detailed in the report. Near the border with Yemen, where a civil war is raging, armed men regularly disrupted drilling, and locals declared certain areas off limits to the exploration teams.
Flooding stranded vehicles and made drilling a challenge. In another area, soft terrain with complex strata – rock layers – meant that drilling was hard, holes often collapsed and work fell behind schedule.
The Geological Survey of Finland (GTK), internationally respected for their work in challenging terrain, supervised some of the exploration, bolstering the credibility of the findings.
Saudi authorities, CNNC, BRIUG and GTK did not respond to requests for comment.
The next step will likely be more intensive investigation in three areas identified as high priority, to confirm reserve levels, and the economics of extracting them. All sit inside an ancient geological formation called the Saudi Arabian shield, with rich reserves that match similar “shields” in Canada and Australia.
Analysts at the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies (CNS) said there was no sign in satellite images that mining had yet begun in the areas identified as the most promising by the Chinese and Saudi scientists, but said that was unsurprising only a few months after the completion of the prospecting project.
“It’s obviously important to monitor those sites, as that would give us a clear indication that Saudi Arabia was moving forward with uranium mining,” said Ian Stewart, head of the CNS Washington office.
Recent US press reports, citing US officials, claimed that the Saudis have built a mill to process uranium ore into more refined “yellowcake”, the next step in the long cycle required to make fuel for reactors or for nuclear weapons, but Stewart said there was so far no evidence in the satellite imagery of such a facility.
“Given that the candidate sites are quite far from the location of the alleged uranium mill, we are forced to question reports that a mill exists at all,” he said. “We consider it unlikely that a mill would be built without a domestic source of ore. And we have to assume that the only sources of ore are the ones identified in these documents. If governments have evidence of a facility, they need to provide more details for us to conclude the reports are accurate.”
The global economic recovery from the crisis originated by the coronavirus pandemic may take as much as five years, the World Bank's chief economist Carmen Reinhart said on Thursday.
"There will probably be a quick rebound as all the restriction measures linked to lockdowns are lifted, but a full recovery will take as much as five years," Reinhart said in a remote intervention during a conference held in Madrid.
Reinhart said the pandemic-caused recession will last longer in some countries than in others and will exacerbate inequalities as the poorest will be harder hit by the crisis in rich countries and the poorest countries will be harder hit than richer countries.
For the first time in twenty years, global poverty rates will rise following the crisis, she added.
Hong Kong announced HK$24 billion ($3.1 billion) in virus relief stimulus and will lift some social distancing restrictions, including temporarily re-opening bars, as the city’s economy suffers from a recession prompted by protests and Covid-19.
The government will spend HK$4.5 billion to help affected industries, HK$13 billion on virus prevention measures and HK$6 billion on rent concessions, Chief Executive Carrie Lam and senior officials announced at a press conference on Tuesday.
The city will also extend dine-in services at restaurants by two hours until midnight and reopen bars, pools, karaoke parlors and theme parks for a week starting Friday, Food and Health Secretary Sophia Chan said.
Bars and karaoke facilities will be allowed to open until midnight. A public gathering limit of four people will remain in place.
Hong Kong’s economy has been battered by repeated setbacks over the past year from the U.S.-China trade war and anti-government protests. The virus has further devastated the city’s tourism, retail, food and beverage and hospitality sectors. In mid-August, the government revised its 2020 economic growth forecast to a record low range of -6% to -8%.
The latest measures will push Hong Kong’s projected budget deficit for the 2020-2021 fiscal year to a record of more than HK$300 billion, Financial Secretary Paul Chan said. The fiscal reserve is also forecast to decline to about HK$800 billion, equal to 12 to 13 months of government expenditure, he said.
“We will carefully use public funds to support enterprises, individuals who are affected by Covid,” Paul Chan said. “At the same time we have to preserve our strength to prepare for the unknown. We have to preserve our fiscal strength to maintain confidence in our finances.”
Seeking ReliefThe fresh funding adds to nearly HK$290 billion ($37 billion) in direct Covid-19-related relief measures since the pandemic began, including cash handouts, tax relief, industry subsidies and funding for hospitals and other virus control policies. The government has now launched three separate rounds of relief funding, as well as targeted measures in its budget.
Earlier in the day, the financial hub reported zero local virus cases for the first time since early July -- following weeks of some of the strictest measures enacted since the coronavirus emerged.
“I hope that this marks the fact that the third outbreak is under control and people can resume their normal activities in their daily lives,” Lam said. “Schools and commercial activities can resume. However, we should not let our guard down. We should stick strictly to the anti-epidemic measures.”
Authorities said Hong Kong had spent HK$530 million on its Beijing-backed universal testing program, which tested nearly 1.8 million residents for the virus between Sept. 1 and Sept. 14. Sophia Chan said the campaign had found 32 cases and found so-called silent carriers of the virus.
The government will continue to test specific groups to minimize the risk of outbreak, she said.
The mass testing drive has been heavily criticized by local democracy activists and some health professionals as coming too late to be useful -- and amid worries it was a possible attempt to harvest residents’ DNA for surveillance purposes.
Lam has repeatedly denied those claims. Speaking to reporters earlier Tuesday before a meeting of her advisory Executive Council, she said the two-week mass testing blitz had been a success.
“Everything has gone very smoothly,” she said. “It’s not as scary as people said it would be.”
Facebook’s CEO, Mark Zuckerberg, has said he “hopes” his social network will not effectively destroy society as we know it.
In a new interview, Zuckerberg also said it was “just wrong” to think that Facebook is driven by conservatives.
“I don’t think that the service is a rightwing echo chamber,” Zuckerberg told Axios on HBO in an interview published on Wednesday. “Everyone can use their voice and find media they trust that reflects the opinions and life experiences they’re having.”
In the interview, Zuckerberg rejected the proposition that history will remember Facebook for hastening the destruction of society.
“I have a little more confidence in democracy than that. And I hope my confidence isn’t misplaced,” he said, adding: “What we do, and I think a lot of what the internet does overall, is give individuals more power.”
Critics of the tech CEO were quick to argue the platform does create an echo chamber for rightwing opinions. Parker Molloy, a writer and cultural critic at Media Matters for America, said Facebook had proved itself an echo chamber when it allowed hundreds of inaccurate ads funded by pro-Trump organizations.
The ability of rightwing content related to the QAnon conspiracy theory, misleading claims about voting, and anti-LGBTQ+ content to spread easily on the platform despite supposed bans showed that Facebook was indeed “highly partisan”, said Malloy.
“Zuckerberg may disagree with the characterization of Facebook as a rightwing echo chamber, but that doesn’t make it any less true,” she said. “Conservatives are thriving on Facebook, and they’re able to do this thanks to inconsistently applied policy enforcement, internal ideological advocacy, and general rightwing favoritism.”
Zuckerberg acknowledged that conservative voices and opinions ranked as Facebook’s most engaged content.
“It’s true that partisan content often has kind of a higher percent of people … engaging with it, commenting on it, liking it,” Zuckerberg said. “But I think it’s important to differentiate that from, broadly, what people are seeing and reading and learning about on our service.”
Also in the Axios interview, the Facebook chief said he would not remove anti-vaxxer posts, even as the leading virus experts express cautious optimism that a Covid-19 vaccination may become available late this year or early next year.
“If someone is pointing out a case where a vaccine caused harm or that they’re worried about it – you know, that’s a difficult thing to say from my perspective that you shouldn’t be allowed to express at all,” Zuckerberg said.
But he denied that Facebook’s algorithms are designed to push viewpoints “that are going to kind of enrage people somehow, and that’s what we try to show people”.
“That’s not actually how our systems work,” he added.
Zuckerberg reasoned instead that many people in the country “are very exercised and I think, frankly, for a lot of good reasons. And we have real issues. There is a fine line between an important level of high energy around an important issue and something that can kind of tilt over into causing harm.”
In an acknowledgment of Facebook’s power in promoting misinformation, the company last week said it would block political advertising on the platform for seven days ahead of November’s presidential election to help prevent the spread of misinformation.
But he rejected a 30-day hold on political ads, saying that would be different because “people want to be able to run get-out-the-vote campaigns”, as well as respond to attacks and make closing arguments.
Zuckerberg added that one red line he would decisively draw would be over threats to election officials – threats that “would obviously undermine the legitimacy of the election”.
Facebook, he said, would “very aggressively take down any threats against those people who are going to be involved in doing the counting and making sure that the election goes the way it’s supposed to”.
Source: The Guardian