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California Firefighters Race to Subdue Flames Before Heat, Winds Return

Five weeks after California erupted in deadly wildfires supercharged by record heat and howling winds, crews battling flames pushed Monday to consolidate their gains before the return of the blistering, gusty weather. California has lost far more landscape to wildfires this summer than during any previous entire year, with scores of conflagrations, many sparked by catastrophic lightning storms, scorching about 3.4 million acres since mid-August. The previous record was just less than 2 million acres burned in 2018. As of Monday, more than 19,000 firefighters continued to wage war on 27 major blazes across the state, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CalFire). FILE – A firefighter with the San Bernardino County Fire Department hoses down hot spots from the Bobcat Fire in Valyermo, Calif., Sept. 19, 2020.The fires, stoked by extreme weather conditions that scientists have pointed to as signs of climate change, have destroyed an estimated 6,100 homes and other structures and killed 26 people, three of them firefighters, CalFire reported. Another 2 million acres have gone up in flames in Oregon and Washington state during an overlapping outbreak of wildfires that started earlier this month, destroying more than 4,400 structures in all and claiming 10 lives. But a weekend of intermittently heavy showers across the western Cascade mountain range helped fire crews in the Pacific Northwest tamp down blazes in those two states. FILE – A sign advertising new homes stands in a neighborhood severely damaged by wildfire in Medford, Oregon, Sept. 20, 2020.Although California has seen little or no rain in recent days, bouts of extreme heat and gale-force winds that had produced incendiary conditions for weeks have given way to lower temperatures and lighter breezes, enabling firefighters to gain ground around most fires. “They’re going to take advantage of this cool weather while they can,” CalFire spokeswoman Lynne Tolmachoff told Reuters. The break in the weather is not expected to last much longer. Tolmachoff said forecasts call for rising temperatures, lower humidity and a return of strong, erratic winds around midweek in Southern California and by the weekend across the state’s northern half. Bobcat Fire proves stubborn  Some fires have proved more stubborn than others. One in particular, dubbed the Bobcat Fire, grew to more than 100,000 acres Monday in the San Gabriel Mountains north of Los Angeles, with containment levels achieved by firefighters holding steady at just 15%, CalFire said. The Bobcat last week spread perilously close to a famed astronomical observatory and complex of vital communications towers at the summit of Mount Wilson, while forcing evacuations of communities in the foothills below. FILE – Winds blow flying embers from a burning tree at the Bobcat Fire in Juniper Hills, California, Sept. 19, 2020.Several more areas, including Pasadena, a city of 140,000 people, remained under an evacuation warning, advising residents to be ready to flee at a moment’s notice. At the opposite end of the sprawling mountain range to the north, the fire was reported to have destroyed some homes and other structures in the high desert of the Antelope Valley. Across the Bobcat Fire zone and others, ground crews with axes, shovels and bulldozers clambered through rugged canyons and mountain slopes, hacking away tinder-dry brush and scrub before it could burn, creating containment lines around the perimeter of advancing flames. They were assisted by squadrons of water-dropping helicopters and airplane tankers dumping flame retardant on the blazes. Regardless of the progress they make this week, California’s record fire season remains far from over. The height of wildfire activity historically has run through October. Five of the state’s 20 largest blazes on record have occurred this year. 
 

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US Challenges Injunction Against WeChat App Store Bans

The U.S. Commerce Department said Monday it is challenging a federal judge’s injunction against its order that Apple and Google remove WeChat from their U.S. app stores due to data privacy and national security concerns.The department’s original order, issued Friday, also included another Chinese-owned app, TikTok, and expressed the Trump administration’s concerns about the way the apps collect user data and the potential for that information to be shared with Chinese government agencies.China has rejected the U.S. allegations of a security threat, and on Saturday condemned what it called “bullying” that violated international trade standards.U.S. Magistrate Judge Laurel Beeler responded Sunday to a request for an injunction from WeChat users by putting the Commerce Department’s order on hold, ruling that the Trump administration’s actions would restrict users’ free speech rights under the First Amendment.WeChat has about 19 million active daily users in the United States. The service, owned by Chinese tech company Tencent, is popular with Americans who use it to communicate with family and friends in China.Video-sharing service TikTok earned a short reprieve from its part of the Commerce Department order after announcing an agreement to form a new company with U.S. tech giant Oracle and retailer WalMart together holding up to a 20% share.The U.S. head office of TikTok is seen in Culver City, California, Sept. 15, 2020.Speaking to Fox News on Monday, Trump said his administration would not approve the agreement if ByteDance, TikTok’s Chinese owner, has any control.“If we find that they don’t have total control, then we’re not going to approve the deal,” Trump said of Oracle and WalMart.  “We will be watching it very closely.”Those comments are in contrast to those Trump gave Saturday when he said he approved of the agreement “in concept” and had “given the deal my blessing.” The Commerce Department has delayed the app store ban for TikTok until September 27, and given the company until November 12 to resolve national security concerns before facing a wider range of restrictions. 

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WHO: Since WWII, No Crisis Demonstrates Need for UN More Than COVID-19

The World Health Organization’s director-general said Monday no crisis since World War II demonstrates more clearly the need for the United Nations than the COVID-19 pandemic. COVID-19 is the illness caused by the coronavirus.Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus acknowledged the 75th anniversary of the United Nations as well as the start of the U.N. General Assembly this week, as he opened his regular briefing from WHO headquarters in Geneva.Tedros said WHO, as “a proud member of the U.N. family,” had three key messages for the U.N. members.”First, the pandemic must motivate us to redouble our efforts to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals, not become an excuse for missing them; Second, we must prepare for the next pandemic now. And third, we must move heaven and Earth to ensure equitable access to diagnostics, therapeutics and vaccines,” said WHO’s director-general.Tedros said from the very beginning, the WHO has been committed to global efforts to develop a COVID-19 vaccine and other treatments. Central to that effort, he said, was the partnership with the global vaccine alliance, GAVI, to establish the cooperative COVID-19 Vaccine Global Access (COVAX) facility, designed to ensure equitable access to any COVID-19 vaccine or treatments that maybe developed.According to the Johns Hopkins University, which is tracking the global coronavirus pandemic, more than 31 million people are infected, and more than 961,000 people have died. The United States leads the world with more than 6.8 million infections and close to 200,000 deaths.Meanwhile, nearly half of Americans, or 49%, said they definitely or probably would not get an inoculation if a coronavirus vaccine were available today, while 51% said they would, according to a Pew Research Center poll conducted earlier this month. Those who lean toward rejecting the inoculation have cited concerns about side effects.FILE – A lab technician sorts blood samples for a COVID-19 vaccination study at the Research Centers of America in Hollywood, Florida, Aug.13, 2020.President Donald Trump said last month the U.S. will have a vaccination for the coronavirus “before the end of the year or maybe even sooner.” Experts say it can take decades to develop, test, and prove vaccines safe before they are administered to patients. Hope has been high, however, that a concerted international effort will produce an effective vaccine sometime next year.Tedros said almost 200 potential COVID-19 vaccines are currently in clinical and pre-clinical testing through the cooperative effort.”Our aim is to have 2 billion doses of vaccine available by the end of 2021,” he said.The director-general noted $3 billion has been invested so far, but $15 billion was needed immediately to maintain momentum and stay on track.He said investing in COVAX only makes sense, saying it “will help to bring the pandemic under control, save lives, accelerate the economic recovery and ensure that the race for vaccines is a collaboration, not a contest. This is not charity, it’s in every country’s best interest. We sink or we swim together.”The WHO announced Monday 64 of the world’s top economies have now joined COVAX, with 38 other major economies indicating they will be joining in the coming days.

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US Withdraws Advice on Airborne Coronavirus Transmission

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Monday withdrew its statement from three days ago on how COVID-19 can spread through aerosolized droplets, saying it was posted “in error.” On Friday, the CDC posted an update to its website saying the virus can be transmitted through tiny, aerosolized droplets that are “produced when an infected person coughs, sneezes, sings, talks, or breathes.”  Such passage of the virus would entail a distance greater than the 2-meter space generally accepted as medically proper social distancing between people to avoid transmitting the disease. It is a view that outside health experts have been advancing. CDC Adds Breathing to Ways Coronavirus SpreadsThe CDC has updated its website to add another way to protect yourselfBut on Monday the CDC dropped any mention of airborne transmission, saying that “a draft version of proposed changes to these recommendations was posted in error to the agency’s official website.” Instead, it said the possibility of recommendations on dealing with airborne transmission of the virus are under review. The agency reverted to its previous message, saying that the virus is thought to spread “between people who are in close contact with one another,” a distance of about 2 meters. An agency official said the Friday guidelines were removed because they did “not reflect our current state of knowledge.” The website mistake was the agency’s latest in dealing with the coronavirus pandemic and came on the same day as the United States neared 200,000 deaths from the virus, the most of any country in the world.  The CDC recently had reversed its guidance on whether asymptomatic people should be tested for the coronavirus to now say anyone should be tested if they have come in contact with someone known to have been infected. 
 

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US Retail Giant Walmart Aims for Zero Global Emissions by 2040   

U.S.-based retail giant Walmart has unveiled new initiatives to reduce its global carbon footprint while preserving the world’s natural land and sea habitats. The company announced Monday that it is aiming for zero carbon emissions by 2040 in all of its global operations by utilizing 100% renewable energy in all of its facilities, switching to an all-electric vehicle fleet, and transitioning to low-impact refrigerants for cooling and electrified equipment for heating in all of its stores and other facilities. The so-called “big box” retailer is also pledging to preserve at least 20 million hectares of land and 171 million square kilometers of ocean by 2030, including the preservation of at least one acre of natural habitat for every acre of land it develops in the United States, and adopt natural preservation techniques such as regenerative agricultural practices, sustainable fisheries management and forest protection and restoration. Doug McMillon, Walmart’s president and chief executive officer, said in a statement the company aims to become one “that works to restore, renew and replenish in addition to preserving our planet, and encourages others to do the same” through its new environmental commitments. FILE – Customers shop at a Walmart store.According to the Fortune Global 500 list of 2019, Walmart is the world’s largest company by revenue.  It is also the largest private employer in the world with 2.2 million employees. 

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What Fight Over TikTok Portends for Tech

The battle between China and the U.S. over the fate of video sharing app TikTok raises questions for the tech industry worldwide. What might the struggle over TikTok portend for global companies? Michelle Quinn reports.Producer: Matt Dibble 

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US Coronavirus Death Toll Inches Toward 200,000 Deaths

The United States is approaching the milestone of 200,000 deaths from the coronavirus, say experts monitoring the outbreak.The U.S. has more than 6.8 million infections, according to the Johns Hopkins University Coronavirus Resource Center, with 199,513 deaths, the most of any nation in either category. Recent growth in U.S. cases in the Southwest and Midwest is being attributed to the reopening of schools and colleges.The race to produce a safe and effective coronavirus vaccine has sustained another setback. Britain’s Telegraph newspaper reported Sunday that late-stage human trials of an experimental vaccine in the United States have been paused due to concerns over a possible adverse side effect.AZD1222, developed through a joint initiative by AstraZeneca and Britain’s University of Oxford, has been undergoing large-scale Phase 2 and Phase 3 trials in several nations, including the U.S., Britain, Brazil, South Africa and India.FILE – Laboratory technicians work at the mAbxience biopharmaceutical company on an experimental coronavirus vaccine developed by Oxford University and the laboratory AstraZeneca in Garin, Argentina, Aug. 14, 2020.But the Telegraph says testing was delayed twice in Britain after two volunteer participants were subsequently diagnosed with transverse myelitis, an inflammation of  the spinal cord.With the number of COVID-19 cases now over the 31 million mark, many places are also experiencing an increase in new infections, such as in Britain, which is nearing 400,000, including 3,899 new cases on Sunday. Chris Whitty, the chief medical officer, and chief scientific advisor Patrick Vallance, announced Monday during a nationally televised address that Britain is “heading in the wrong direction” and has reached “a critical response” in its response.Health Secretary Matt Hancock said Sunday that the country could face another round of strict restrictions if the public does not observe the new “rule of six” order issued earlier this month by Prime Minister Boris Johnson, which limits the number of people taking part in most social gatherings to six.The pandemic is also having an effect on the world’s refugees. A new survey released Monday by the Norwegian Refugee Council shows nearly 80% of people displaced by conflicts have lost a job or revenue since the beginning of the outbreak.In a survey of more than 1,400 respondents across 14 countries, including Afghanistan, Columbia, Iraq and Venezuela, the NRC found that some 70% of those asked said they had to cut the number of meals for their households, while 73% were less likely to send their children to school because of economic problems.FILE – People search for food at a garbage container during the closing hour at the Coche wholesale market amid COVID-19 outbreak in Caracas, Venezuela, July 31, 2020.But some countries are reporting progress in the fight to contain the spread of COVID-19. New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern Monday lifted restrictions for all of the country except Auckland, after authorities posted no new cases.  New Zealand had gone over 100 days without any new COVID-19 cases until last month, when a new cluster broke out in the northern city, prompting Prime Minister Ardern to reimpose the strict nationwide restrictions first enacted back in March.People wearing face masks prepare to board a bus on the first day of New Zealand’s new coronavirus disease safety measure that mandates wearing of a mask on public transport, in Auckland, Aug. 31, 2020.Auckland will continue to remain under some restrictions for the next two weeks, but officials have increased the number of people in gatherings from 10 to 100.In Australia, Victoria state reported just 11 new cases on Monday, its smallest one-day jump since June 16. Victoria had been placed under a state of disaster last month due to a dramatic surge in new cases, especially in its capital, Melbourne, with the average number of cases topping 700 as recently as last month. Residents were placed under a strict curfew, and were restricted to their homes except for work, shopping or medical care.“This is a great day,” state Premier Daniel Andrews told reporters Monday, but he said he will not move up the timeline to begin easing the state of emergency.  Authorities have said it will lift some of the restrictions, including reopening child care facilities and resuming manufacturing and construction, on September 27, but only if the average number of cases over a two-week period is under 50.Despite more than 5.4 million COVID-19 cases, including about 100,000 new infections and more than 1,000 deaths daily, India reopened the Taj Mahal to visitors Monday.A man gets his photograph taken in front of Taj Mahal after authorities reopened the monument to visitors, amidst the COVID-19 outbreak, in Agra, India, Sept. 21, 2020.India has 1.3 billion people and some of the world’s most crowded cities, but a strict lockdown in March devastated the economy and the lives of tens of millions of people.The government has since eased restrictions, including on many train routes, domestic flights, markets and restaurants.Schools resumed Monday on a voluntary basis for students ages 14 to 17, but many Indian states have said it is too soon to have children in the classroom.India has also reported 87,882 deaths. 

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CDC Adds Breathing to Ways Coronavirus Spreads

As the United States nears 200,000 deaths from COVID-19, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention updated its guidelines to add breathing to the most common ways the coronavirus is spread by an infected person.The U.S. has nearly 6.8 million cases of COVID-19, according to Johns Hopkins University data late Sunday.An update Friday to the CDC website says there is growing evidence that small airborne coronavirus particles are produced when someone coughs, sneezes, sings, talks or breathes and can remain in the air to be breathed in by others, allowing an infection.“These particles can be inhaled into the nose, mouth, airways, and lungs and cause infection. This is thought to be the main way the virus spreads,” the CDC website says.They can also travel farther than 6 feet, for example when someone sings or exercises.There is also updated information from the CDC about how to protect yourself. The CDC’s advice has been to stay 2 meters away from someone, wash your hands and disinfect surfaces often, and wear a face mask.Now the CDC adds that people who are sick should stay home and isolate themselves and “use air purifiers to help reduce airborne germs in indoor spaces,” according to the CDC site.Taj Mahal to reopenDespite more than 5.4 million COVID-19 cases and about 100,000 new infections and more than 1,000 deaths daily, India will reopen the Taj Mahal to visitors Monday.India has 1.3 billion people and some of the world’s most crowded cities, but a strict lockdown in March devastated the economy and the lives of tens of millions of people. With that in mind, Prime Minister Narendra Modi doesn’t want to follow some other nations in tightening restrictions on daily activity again.Instead, his government has eased restrictions, including on many train routes, domestic flights, markets, restaurants — and now, the Taj Mahal.The world-famous white marble mausoleum in the city of Agra is India’s most popular tourist attraction, drawing 7 million visitors a year.It has been closed since March. Officials say that when it reopens, strict social distancing rules will be applied and daily visitor numbers will be capped at 5,000.Schools were also to resume Monday on a voluntary basis for students ages 14 to 17, but many Indian states have said it is too soon to have children in the classroom.WorldwideWorldwide the number of cases has surpassed 30.8 million, according to the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center.The U.S. remains the country with the most infections. Recent growth in U.S. cases in the Southwest and Midwest is being attributed to the reopening of schools and colleges.A four-day motorcycle rally has Missouri and other states bracing for an outbreak. Last year, over 100,000 people attended the Bikefest Lake of the Ozarks event. The annual event in Central Missouri began Wednesday and ends Sunday. A similar event was held last month in Sturgis, South Dakota. COVID-19 cases and one death in several states were traced back to Sturgis.The U.S. has nearly 6.8 million cases, Hopkins reported late Sunday. India follows the U.S. with 5.4 million cases and Brazil comes in third with 4.5 million infections, according to Hopkins.The U.S. has also recorded the highest number of COVID-19 deaths. The U.S. has more than 199,000 of the world’s more than 957,000 coronavirus deaths. Brazil follows the U.S. in coronavirus deaths with more than 136,000 deaths. India has reported nearly 87,000 deaths. 

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