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Pakistan to Resume Anti-Polio Drive as COVID-19 Infections Decline  

Pakistan said Tuesday it would relaunch door to door vaccinations of children against polio next week after a four-month suspension due to the coronavirus outbreak.  
 
The announcement comes amid a substantial decline in daily COVID-19 infections across Pakistan, one of the two polio-endemic countries in the world along with its war-torn neighbor Afghanistan.  
 
Pakistani officials have so far recorded 58 new polio cases this year from across the country amid warnings by the World Health Organization that “transmission continues to be widespread.” 
 
The anti-polio drive, starting July 20, initially aims to vaccinate about 800,000 children under the age of five in high-risk Pakistani districts, including Karachi and Quetta, to protect them against the crippling disease.  
 
The special assistant to the prime minister on health, Zafar Mirza, acknowledged the outbreak of coronavirus pandemic and ensuing lockdowns to prevent its spread have had a significant impact on Pakistan’s already under-resourced and deteriorating public health care systems.   
 
“With the disruption of essential immunization services due to the COVID-19 pandemic, children are continuously at a higher risk of contracting polio and other vaccine-preventable diseases,” an official statement quoted Mirza as saying.   FILE – Health workers arrive to collect at a drive-through testing and screening facility for the coronavirus, in Islamabad, Pakistan, June 6, 2020.The coronavirus reached Pakistan in late February, prompting the government to redirect all health program strengths and capacities to support COVID-19 surveillance and response efforts. Mirza announced last week he had tested positive for the virus. 
 
The national tally of coronavirus infections has hit at least 254,000, including more than 5,300 deaths.  Officials reported less than 2,000 new cases on Tuesday, showing a consistent and substantial decrease in daily infections.  
 
“The door to door campaigns will also be utilized to raise awareness on COVID preventive measures and referring mothers and children for other essential vaccinations as well as the antenatal care services,” said Rana Mohammad Safdar, who oversees Pakistan’s polio eradication program. 
 
Pakistan’s efforts to rid the country of polio have lately suffered setbacks due to attacks on vaccinators and police personnel guarding them. The deadly violence is also cited a factor for the upsurge in new cases that had dropped to only 12 cases in 2018. 
 
In traditionally conservative parts of majority-Muslim Pakistan, religious fanatics see the vaccine as a Western-led conspiracy to sterilize children. Militant groups operating in these areas also condemn the drive against polio as an effort to collect intelligence on their activities.  
 FILE – Pakistani police officers attend the funeral for their colleagues in Lower Dir, Dec. 18, 2019. Gunmen shot and killed the two policemen who were part of an anti-polio drive in the volatile northwest.Officials say attacks on polio teams have particularly increased since 2011 when the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency organized a fake vaccination campaign with the help of a local doctor, enabling U.S. forces to locate and kill fugitive al-Qaida chief Osama bin Laden in the Pakistani city of Abbottabad. 

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Rising Temperatures, New Species Threaten World’s Waters

Growing threats imperil life in the world’s oceans and seas. Scientists say warming waters endanger young and unborn fish more than previously thought while a newly discovered species of seaweed suffocates life in Pacific waters. VOA’s Arash Arabasadi reports on threats to waters both local and global.Produced by: Arash Arabasadi 

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Trump Official Says Manufacturing Process for COVID Vaccine Already Under Way

With the number of confirmed coronavirus infections around the world topping 13 million, including more than 570,000 deaths, the United States says it expects to start producing potential vaccine doses by the end of the summer, even as more and more governments are imposing, or re-imposing, strict quarantine and social distancing guidelines to blunt the spread of the disease.  The U.S.-based cable financial news channel CNBC reported Monday that a senior Trump administration official told reporters the manufacturing process is already underway even though they aren’t sure which vaccine – if any – will work.  The official is quoted as saying they are already buying equipment, securing manufacturing sites, and acquiring raw materials.CNBC says two companies involved in the development of a potential new vaccine, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson, are expected to begin late-stage human trials for potential vaccines by the end of the month.  Social distancing
A set of new social distancing measures that took effect Tuesday in Hong Kong includes mandatory face masks for people using public transportation, with violators subject to fines up to $645 ($5,000 in Hong Kong currency).  Restaurants are banned from offering indoor dining after 6 p.m., and gyms, movie theaters and karaoke bars are once again ordered to shut down, in response to a new order announced by Chief Executive Carrie Lam that limits group gatherings from 50 people to four.The new guidelines have forced the closure of Hong Kong Disneyland, which had just reopened last month.  The Asian financial hub reported 52 new confirmed COVID-19 cases on Monday, including 41 that were locally transmitted, prompting authorities to issue a warning of a potential large-scale outbreak.  The city has reported more than 1,500 total coronavirus cases since the start of the pandemic.Women hold signs outside housing commission apartments under lockdown in Melbourne, Australia, July 6, 2020.New spikes
Over in Australia, the southern state of Victoria recorded 270 new COVID-19 cases Tuesday, including two deaths, pushing the total number of cases nationwide to 10,251 and 110 deaths.  Victoria’s capital city, Melbourne, is in the first week of a six-week lockdown imposed due to an alarming spike of new COVID-19 cases. Residents have been ordered to stay home unless going to work, school, medical appointments or shopping for food. The neighboring state of New South Wales has imposed a strict new set of restrictions on bars in response to a cluster of 21 new COVID-19 cases traced to a popular bar in Sydney. The new restrictions limit group bookings to just 10 people and cap the number of patrons in large venues to 300.  Wearing face masks in supermarkets and stores in Britain will be mandatory starting next week, Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s office announced Monday. Face coverings are already required on buses and subways in London and other English cities. Other European countries, including Germany, Greece, Italy and Spain already require face coverings in stores. Visitors crowd the beach July 12, 2020, in Santa Monica, Calif., amid the coronavirus pandemic.Surge in multiple US states
In the United States, which posted well over 60,000 new infections on Monday, more than three dozen states are seeing a dramatic rise in new coronavirus cases on a daily basis, forcing many of them to reverse plans to reopen their economies after shutting them down during the initial phase of the outbreak. California Governor Gavin Newsom extended Monday the closure of bars, restaurants, gyms, churches, and amusement centers from 19 counties to the entire state. The neighboring northwestern state of Oregon has banned gatherings of more than 10 people and mandated face masks for all Oregonians.  Across the Pacific Ocean, Hawaii Governor David Ige announced Monday the state is postponing plans to relax its quarantine requirements for some tourists from the U.S. mainland. The popular tourist destination has subjected all visitors to a mandatory 14-day quarantine since the start of the outbreak. The government had planned to make an exception for anyone who tested negative for COVID-19 in the 72 hours leading up to their departure, beginning August 1.Gov. Ige delayed the revised rules until September 1 because of the dramatic uptick of new cases in many states, which he said has also caused serious delays in testing.    

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Organic Food Grows More Popular in Ghana During Pandemic

In Ghana and West Africa, organic food is growing in popularity as people try to stay healthy during the COVID-19 pandemic. But organic produce is not easily regulated, and some consumers are paying extra for unverified claims. Farmers across the region are creating their own system, with support from international bodies, to certify organic produce. Stacey Knott reports from Accra.Camera: Stacey Knott  Produced by: Stacey Knott 
 

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Britain Bans China’s Huawei from New 5G Network

The British government has banned China’s Huawei telecommunications equipment company from playing a limited role in Britain’s new high-speed mobile phone network.Britain’s Culture Secretary, Oliver Dowden, said the country’s telecommunications operators have until 2027 to remove Huawei’s equipment that is currently used in Britain’s 5G network.Britain’s decision could have wide-ranging implications for relations between the two countries and signals that Huawei may be losing support in the West. Dowden said the ban was imposed after the U.S. threatened to cancel an information-sharing deal due to concerns Huawei’s equipment could allow the Chinese government to penetrate British networks.British Prime Minister Boris Johnson agreed in January to give Huawei a limited role in Britain’s high-speed network, but the decision sparked a diplomatic disagreement with the U.S. 

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Ghana’s Organic Farming Growing in Popularity During Pandemic

In Ghana and West Africa, organic food is growing in popularity as people try to stay healthy during the COVID-19 pandemic. But organic produce is not easily regulated, and some consumers are paying extra for unverified claims. Farmers across the region are creating their own system, with support from international bodies, to certify organic produce. Stacey Knott reports from Accra.Camera: Stacey Knott  Produced by: Stacey Knott 
 

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UN: COVID-19 Worsening World Hunger   

The United Nations said Monday that 690 million people across the planet were undernourished last year, and an additional 83- to 132 million are at risk this year due to the effects of the coronavirus pandemic.  “World hunger is still increasing — up by 10 million people in one year and 60 million in five years,” said Maximo Torero Cullen, chief economist at the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), which is one of five U.N. agencies that compiled the report on world hunger.  “Over 2 billion people do not have regular access to safe, nutritious and sufficient food,” he added. Of that figure, about 746 million are severely food insecure and 1.25 billion are moderately food insecure.  With nearly 13 million confirmed cases worldwide of COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, infections are rising as food stocks in some parts of the world are already low.  David Beasley, the United Nations World Food Program (WFP) executive director, speaks during a press conference in Seoul on May 15, 2018 after his recent visit to North Korea.“This is a critical time,” said David Beasley, the head of the World Food Program. “Nations must step up and reach deep in their pockets or we are going to have mass starvation and other significant issues.”  The U.N. says the number of undernourished people rose by 10 million between 2018 and 2019.  The report found that conflict, climate-related shocks and economic slowdowns are largely responsible for the deterioration in food production and accessibility.  In Africa, some 250 million people are undernourished — the highest rate in the world at 19.1% — more than double the world average of 8.9%.  While more than half the undernourished people in the world live in Asia — some 381 million — the percentage of the population is below the world average at 8.3%. The U.N. says that Asia has shown progress in reducing the number of hungry people, down by 8 million since 2015.   Latin America and the Caribbean have seen a rise in hunger in the past few years, with the number of undernourished people increasing by 9 million between 2015 and 2019. While their rate of undernourishment is below the world average at 7.4%, there are still nearly 48 million people who are undernourished in the region. The report found that there has been some progress in tackling child stunting and low birth weight, but more needs to be done. If current trends continue, the U.N. says the world will not meet the goal of zero hunger by 2030, and could see the number of undernourished people surpass 840 million in the next decade.  “The world is not on track to defeat malnutrition,” Torero Cullen said. “While there is some progress in child stunting and breastfeeding, children who are overweight is not improving and adult obesity is rising.”  The report also found that 3 billion people cannot afford a healthy diet — which costs five times as much on average as a basic diet. “We must make healthy diets affordable and accessible for everyone,” U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said in a statement.   Guterres said he plans to convene a Food Systems Summit next year.  The U.N. says urgent action is needed to support a shift that makes healthy diets affordable to all and that is also sustainable for the planet. 
 

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Google Plans to Invest $10 Billion in India

Google announced it will invest $10 billion in India in an effort to make the internet more “affordable and useful” to the more than one billion people living there. “This is a reflection of our confidence in the future of India and its digital economy,” CEO Sundar Pichai said in a statement Monday. The money, to be spent through a new Google for India Digitization Fund over the next five to seven years, will invest in India’s technology sector.  FILE – Google CEO Sundar Pichai speaks during a visit to El Centro College in Dallas, Oct. 3, 2019.”We’ll do this through a mix of equity investments, partnerships, and operational, infrastructure and ecosystem investments,” said Pichai. This new investment represents Google’s biggest commitment to India yet. These investments focus on increasing access to the internet throughout India, as well as aiding businesses with the transition to online operations.  Much of this will be accomplished through a focus on using apps and new software platforms. Google aims to use this move to enlarge internet access beyond English and into more local languages throughout India. Google also hopes to use its investments for the public good, working to improve areas as broad as education, agriculture and health. “As we make these investments we look forward to working alongside Prime Minister (Narendra) Modi and the Indian government, as well as Indian businesses of all sizes to realize a shared vision for a Digital India,” Pichai said. “Our goal is to ensure that India not only benefits from the next wave of innovation but leads it.” 
 

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