Trump’s Rollback of US Water Protections Nears Completion

The Trump administration was expected to announce completion as soon as Thursday of one of its most momentous environmental rollbacks, removing federal protections for millions of miles of the country’s streams, arroyos and wetlands.
The changes, launched by President Donald Trump when he took office, sharply scale back the government’s interpretation of which waterways qualify for protection against pollution and development under the half-century-old Clean Water Act.
A draft version of the rule released earlier would end federal oversight for up to half of the nation’s wetlands and one-fifth of the country’s streams, environmental groups warned. That includes some waterways that have been federally protected for decades under the Clean Water Act.
Trump has portrayed farmers — a highly valued constituency of the Republican Party and one popular with the public — as the main beneficiaries of the rollback. He has claimed farmers gathered around him wept with gratitude when he signed an order for the rollback in February 2017.
The administration says the changes will allow farmers to plow their fields without fear of unintentionally straying over the banks of a federally protected dry creek, bog or ditch.
However, the government’s own figures show it is real estate developers and those in other nonfarm business sectors who take out the most permits for impinging on wetlands and waterways — and stand to reap the biggest regulatory and financial relief.Environmental groups and many former environmental regulators say the change will allow industry and developers to dump more contaminants in waterways or simply fill them in, damaging habitat for wildlife and making it more difficult and expensive for downstream communities to treat drinking water to make it safe.
“This administration’s eliminating clean water protections to protect polluters instead of protecting people,” said Blan Holman, a senior attorney with the Southern Environmental Law Center.The Trump administration has targeted a range of environmental protections for rollbacks. Trump says his aim is to ease regulatory burdens on businesses.  

Pakistan Begins Screening Travelers From China for Coronavirus

Pakistan announced Thursday airport authorities have begun screening travelers from neighboring China for signs of the coronavirus.China’s recent billions of dollars of investments in infrastructure development projects in Pakistan has led to a spike in the number of people traveling between the two countries, including thousands of Chinese workers.Pakistani officials said more than 40 direct or indirect flights from China land every week at three main airports, including Karachi, the country’s largest city, Lahore and the national capital of Islamabad.“These points of entry are being closely monitored in line with international health regulations,” Pakistani State Minister of Health Zafar Mirza said in a statement.No cases reported yetHowever, he noted, Pakistan has so far not reported any case of the coronavirus, which seems to have originated in the Chinese city of Wuhan.“Major hospitals in Lahore, Karachi and Islamabad are also being linked with surveillance systems on airports, seaports and ground crossings,” Mirza told the state-run broadcaster. He said emergency measures are being put in place in coordination with the Chinese embassy in Islamabad to make sure that a large number of Chinese workers, who recently went to their homeland in connection with their New Year’s celebrations, are strictly screened when they return back.WHO has confirmed nearly 500 cases, including nearly 20 deaths, all are said to be in or from China.The Pakistani government, Mirza said, was in constant touch with Chinese counterparts and the World Health Organization (WHO) to ensure strengthened national surveillance and quarantine systems.Passengers arriving Thursday from China to the Lahore airport were being screened for the coronavirus responsible for nearly 20 deaths in China. (Courtesy Pakistan Health Ministry)Wuhan quarantineChinese officials cordoned off Wuhan starting Thursday in their bid to limit the spread of the disease nationally and internationally. Public transport in the city of 11 million people has been suspended, airports and train stations temporarily shut, and residents instructed not to exit Wuhan unless there are “special reasons.”International health experts are scrambling to contain the disease, but the virus is new and not much is known about it.The disease is mainly transmitted from animals to humans, but scientists have ascertained that there is limited human-to-human transmission. Health experts are warning people to avoid coming in close contact with people suspected of carrying the virus.

Virus-Related Tourism Ban Could Hurt North Korea’s Economy

North Korea has temporarily banned foreign tourists in response to the outbreak of a dangerous new virus in neighboring China. Depending on how long the ban lasts, it could hurt North Korea’s economy, which though heavily sanctioned, has received a boost by a recent influx of Chinese tourists.Starting Wednesday, North Korea closed its borders to foreign tourists, according to Young Pioneer Tours, a China-based company that leads trips to North Korea. On its website, the company says it is not clear how long the suspension will last, but that authorities say they intend to reopen the border as soon as they institute precautionary measures.The pneumonialike respiratory illness, which can be transmitted among humans, originated in the central Chinese city of Wuhan. It has infected more than 500 people, 17 of whom have died. Cases have been reported in countries including South Korea, Japan, the United States, and Thailand.FILE – Foreigners and North Koreans, facing increased safety measures to prevent the possible spread of Ebola, board an Air Koryo flight bound for Beijing in Pyongyang, North Korea, Oct. 28, 2014.Willing to close borderIt is not the first time North Korea has banned visitors in response to international outbreaks of infectious diseases. In 2014, the country shut its borders for four months during the Ebola outbreak, even though the disease never reached Asia. North Korea also restricted some visitors during the SARS epidemic in 2003.“North Korea is probably more willing to shut down exit and entry than any other country,” said Andray Abrahamian, who specializes in North Korea at the George Mason University Korea.But the move may be especially painful this time, Abrahamian said, since tourism is one of the only legal ways for the North Korean government to make money.“(During previous outbreaks) they had a number of legal revenue streams that are now prohibited by sanctions. Tourism was small. Now, tourism is a much bigger industry and their last major nonsanctioned sector. So shutting down the border will have a relatively higher impact,” he said.North Korea has been under United Nations sanctions since 2006, and unilateral U.S. sanctions for even longer, as a result of its nuclear and missile programs.FILE – Tourists from China pose for photos before the Three Charters monument in Pyongyang, April 15, 2019. North Korea will ban foreign tourists to protect itself against a new SARS-like virus that has claimed at least 17 lives in China.Need for tourism money growsAs the sanctions have expanded, North Korea has increasingly relied on the money brought by foreign tourists, almost all of whom come from China.NK News, a North Korea-focused online publication, estimates that around 350,000 mainland Chinese tourists visited North Korea in 2019, providing about $175 million in extra revenue for Pyongyang.North Korea is now in the middle of winter, typically off-peak season for foreign tours. But as the weather gets warmer, it may feel pressure to resume tourism as soon as possible.“There will be a number of stakeholders hoping the Wuhan virus doesn’t spread in the coming weeks as the weather warms up and more tourists are expected,” Abrahamian said.Rowan Beard, North Korea tours manager for Young Pioneer Tours, tells VOA that his company has had to delay some tours, but says the move is understandable given North Korea’s proximity to the outbreak and its apparently limited capacity to deal with the disease.“North Korea is very vulnerable due to its shared border with China, its largest trading partner,” said Kee Park, a faculty member at Harvard Medical School who also specializes in North Korea public health.“They also understand that drastic action is needed to prevent the new virus from entering North Korea since their capacity to diagnose, treat and contain the virus is limited should an outbreak occur inside North Korea,” Park said.Park, who frequently participates in medical exchange trips to North Korea, says humanitarian organizations “should send medical and isolation supplies immediately and the (U.N.) sanctions committee should be proactive and issue a special exemption.”North Korea has not yet reported any cases of the coronavirus. The World Health Organization (WHO) is working with North Korean officials to prevent an outbreak, North Korea state media reported this week, according to NK News.

Coronavirus Deaths Rise as Health Agencies Try to Curb Its Spread

A new virus spreads within and outside China, and the World Health Organization has confirmed nearly 500 cases, including nearly 20 deaths. Health officials are scrambling to contain the disease, but the virus is new and not much is known about it.People from China are being screened at airports, both in their own country and abroad. They’re being checked for fever and other symptoms of a new respiratory virus.The virus is a coronavirus. It’s called that because under a microscope, the virus appears to be surrounded by a crown.The common cold is an example of a coronavirus and so are SARS — severe acute respiratory syndrome — and MERS — Middle East respiratory syndrome. SARS originated 17 years ago at a food market in China. Scientists traced the virus to civets, catlike animals that were sold for food.MERS emerged in 2012.FILE – A man looks at caged civet cats in a wildlife market in Guangzhou, capital of south China’s Guangdong Province, China, Jan. 5, 2204.Intermediate hostsMatthew Frieman is an expert on coronaviruses. He spoke by Skype from the University of Maryland School of Medicine.“MERS probably was from bats, but now is endemic in camels all over the Middle East, and spreading from camels to humans,” he said. “For all of these emerging coronaviruses, they have an intermediate host that allows the virus to jump from animals to people.”This latest coronavirus is associated with a market in Wuhan, a city in central China with a population of 11 million. Respiratory viruses are airborne. They’re transmitted by coughing or sneezing, touching an infected surface and then touching your mouth, nose or eyes. Frieman says it’s easier to catch a coronavirus than it is to catch Ebola because Ebola spreads by contact with infected bodily fluids and not from droplets in the air.So far, this new virus doesn’t seem to target any one group, but age has its disadvantages. Dr. Anthony Fauci, from the National Institutes of Health, spoke by Skype.“If you’re elderly, 65 or older, you have a greater chance of complications, but there’s no age restriction on this,” he said.Complications can include pneumonia, kidney failure, fluid in the lungs and death. Fauci says doctors can treat the symptoms of this disease.China Eastern Airlines flight crew wear protective masks on arrival at Sydney International Airport in Sydney, Australia, Jan. 23, 2020.No effective treatment“If you wind up getting a secondary bacterial infection, you can get put on an antibiotic. If you have respiratory distress and you need help breathing, you could be put on a respirator. But there is no proven, specific, effective treatment for the novel coronavirus,” he said.Scientists around the world are studying this virus. Frieman says scientists need to find out where the virus is coming from.“And then, the next steps are really looking at what this virus does, how it causes disease,” he said. “Can we develop diagnostics so we can better know how it spreads in the community?”The CDC recommends preventative measures such as washing your hands frequently, coughing into your elbow or a tissue, and immediately contacting a doctor if you suspect you have the virus.

New Rules Could Bump Emotional-Support Animals From Planes

The days of passengers bringing rabbits, turtles and birds on planes as emotional-support animals could be ending.The U.S. Department of Transportation on Wednesday proposed that only specially trained dogs qualify as service animals, which must be allowed in the cabin at no charge. Airlines could let passengers bring other animals on board, but hefty fees would apply.Airlines say the number of support animals has been growing dramatically in recent years, and they have lobbied to tighten the rules. They also imposed their own restrictions in response to passengers who show up at the airport with pigs, pheasants, turkeys, snakes and other unusual pets.”This is a wonderful step in the right direction for people like myself who are dependent on and reliant on legitimate service animals that perform a task to mitigate our disability,” said Albert Rizzi, founder of My Blind Spot, which advocates for accessibility for people of different ability levels.Tighter rules praisedThe U.S. airline industry trade group praised the tighter rules. Industry officials believe that hundreds of thousands of passengers scam the system each year by claiming they need their pet for emotional support. Those people avoid airline pet fees, which are generally more than $100 each way.”Airlines want all passengers and crew to have a safe and comfortable flying experience, and we are confident the proposed rule will go a long way in ensuring a safer and healthier experience for everyone,” said Nicholas Calio, president of Airlines for America.Flight attendants had pushed to rein in support animals, too, and were pleased with Wednesday’s proposed changes.”The days of Noah’s Ark in the air are hopefully coming to an end,” said Sara Nelson, president of the Association of Flight Attendants. The union chief said untrained pets had hurt some of her members.Veterans groups pleasedVeterans groups have sided with the airlines, arguing that a boom in untrained dogs and other animals threatens their ability to fly with properly trained service dogs. Last year, more than 80 veterans and disability groups endorsed banning untrained emotional-support animals in airline cabins.”It’s just interesting how people want to have the benefits of having a disability without actually losing the use of their limbs or senses just so they can take their pet with them,” Rizzi said.Southwest Airlines handles more than 190,000 emotional support animals per year. American Airlines carried 155,790 emotional support animals in 2017, up 48% from 2016, while the number of checked pets dropped 17%. United Airlines carried 76,000 comfort animals in 2017.Department officials said in a briefing with reporters that they are proposing the changes to ensure safety on flights. They also said some passengers have abused the current rules.The public will have 60 days to comment on the proposed changes, and they could take effect any time after that.The Transportation Department proposes a narrow definition of a service animal — it would be a dog that is trained to help a person with a physical or other disability. Passengers who want to travel with a service dog will have to fill out a federal form on which they swear that the dog is trained to help them with their disability. A dog that is trained to help a passenger with psychiatric needs would continue to qualify as a service animal.Note from medical professionalCurrently, passengers have been allowed to bring many other animals if they have a medical professional’s note saying they need the animal for emotional support.The proposal would prohibit airlines from banning particular types of dog breeds — Delta Air Lines bans pit bulls, for example — but airline employees could refuse to board any animal that they consider a threat to other people.The president of the Humane Society of the United States said airlines had “maligned” pit bulls by banning them. Kitty Block said the Transportation Department’s rule against breed-specific prohibitions “sends a clear message to airlines that their discriminatory practices are not only unsound, but against the law.”The new rules would also bar the current practice by many airlines of requiring animal owners to fill out paperwork 48 hours in advance. A department official said that practice can harm disabled people by preventing them from bringing their service dog on last-minute trips. But airlines could still require forms attesting to an animal’s good behavior and health, which could present challenges if the form has to be completed by a specific institution, Rizzi said.The proposal also says people with service animals must check in earlier than the general public, and would end the rarely seen use of miniature horses as service animals, although a Transportation Department official indicated the agency is open to reconsidering that provision.Airlines could require that service animals be on a leash or harness and fit in its handler’s foot space. They could limit passengers to two service animals each, although it is unclear how often that happens under the current rules.

Bringing Broadband to Rural America an Ongoing Quest

The U.S. Federal Communications Commission estimates that about 19 million Americans still don’t have access to broadband internet. Most of those people live in rural parts of the country. But little by little, individuals, companies and the government are changing that. VOA’s Calla Yu reports.

Students from Wuhan Traveling Globally for Holidays

International students remaining in Wuhan, China — where the government has issued a lockdown to avoid the spread of the deadly coronavirus — report being provided surgical masks and being asked to stay indoors.“As I write this message, the school is on lockdown as the school authorities are putting in place measures to protect the remaining foreign students on campus,” emailed an international student who identified himself as @Vince Vela Nova from Ghana who is doing a post-graduate degree program in land resource management.“There are just a handful of Chinese students around as most of them have gone back home to celebrate the Chinese New Year,” he wrote. “This morning the international office provided the students with surgical masks and entreated every one of us to stay indoors.”Medical students from India training in Wuhan have been advised to stay home and away from their hospital workplace, according to the Hindustan Times. While about 600-700 medical students from India study in Wuhan, most have returned home for the winter-New Year’s break from school.A 45-year-old teacher from India working at an international school has been admitted to the hospital with flu-like symptoms, reported the Telegraph. The outflow of international students to points around the globe for winter break has caused rapid anxiety.”My niece is stuck in Wuhan China, with airport closed she can’t travel to India,” tweeted @harinatha with a video showing a van blocking a roadway. “Please get Indian citizens safely back to India till this virus crisis is over? Few more Indian students, not knowing what to do! University Roads blocked, Please help!!”@DrSJaishankarMy niece is stuck in wuhan China, with airport closed she can’t travel to India. Please get indian citizens safely back to India till this virus crisis is over? Few more Indian students, not knowing what to do! University Roads blocked, Please help !!— harinatha (@harinatharasu) January 22, 2020″There are Maldivian students in Wuhan [who] need immediate attention as the virus is spreading so fast,” tweeted @Anjumaa on Monday, Jan. 20, imploring the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Maldives to “take an action.”Wuhan of China is in danger of outbreak of coronavirus-related pneumonia. There are Maldivian Students in Wuhan need immediate attention as the virus is spreading so fast. ⁦@MoFAmv⁩ need to take an action ⁦⁩ ⁦⁦⁦⁦@abdulla_shahid⁩— Anjum Dark Stone (@Anjumaa) January 20, 2020Friends in Wuhan “are scared of how fast the virus has spread & they also fear it will mutate & affect students when they get back from the school break,” tweeted Yarella Espinoza, an English professor in Osorno, Chile.I’ve got a friend living in Wuhan. He’ll stay at home for 10 days; he already bought groceries & supplies & many ppl are doing the same. They’re scared of how fast the virus has spread & they also fear it will mutate & affect students when they get back from the school break.— Yarella Espinoza (@yarellacraft) January 21, 2020Wuhan is a university center in China, with more than 30 universities, and international students from around the world. In the U.S., Chinese students comprise more than 33% of the 1,095,299 international students studying there. At the University of Illinois, which has more than 6,000 Chinese students among its nearly 14,000 international students, the health center has begun screening students who “come for care presenting with respiratory illness, with and without a travel history to areas with confirmed cases of coronavirus infections.””All appropriate students will be masked and those of particular concern will be masked and then seen in an isolation room,” according to Chanelle Thompson, the university’s chief communications officer.Neighboring University of Indiana hosts more than 10,000 international students, according to the Institute for International Education. Amber Denney, assistant direction of strategic communications at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis (IUPUI), said the school is following Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and WHO guidelines.”We are evaluating the situation,” Denney said. “No students are scheduled to travel to that area but we have no clear assessment of students who have traveled and been to that region.” Health officials are at the ready, she said, to respond to anyone with flu-like respiratory symptoms.Columbia University in New York City hosts nearly 16,000 international students — the fourth-largest population of international students in the U.S. — and issued an advisory to its community and says it is monitoring the situation. Jennifer Stevens, Ph.D., and interim Associate Dean for the College of Visual and Performing Arts at James Madison University, said her school has postponed an exchange program.”We just can’t send them abroad in good faith at the moment,” she told VOA. Emails and calls to other universities with large international and Chinese student populations were not returned.Panic over the potential spread of the virus reached suburban Washington, as residents and parents took issue with the Fairfax County Public School system’s hosting a group of Chinese middle-school students.”Allowing 20-ish Chinese’s exchange students of Yichang, 214 miles from Wuhan-epic center or coronavirus outbreak to come to Longfellow MS this afternoon completely irresponsible! If anyone got the virus, it’ll be on you!” tweeted @FairfaxNova to the superintendent of schools in the [email protected]@fcpsnews Allowing 20ish Chinese’s exchange students of Yichang, 214 miles from Wuhan-epic center or coronavirus outbreak to come to Longfellow Ms this afternoon completely irresponsible! If anyone got the virus, it’ll be on you!— FairfaxNova (@FairfaxNova) January 22, 2020Writing on Saturday, Jan. 18, Weijia Cai (@cai_weijia) compared China’s response to the coronavirus to the outbreak of the severe-acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) virus there in 2003.”Comparing with the outbreak of SARS in 2003, when I was a graduate student for medical virology program in Wuhan University, China obtained great achievements in many fields of dealing with a novel virus. I believe my hometown will defeat this outbreak. Bless Wuhan!”The CDC started a “public health entry screening” on Friday, Jan. 17, at San Francisco (SFO), New York (JFK), and Los Angeles (LAX) airports and said it will expand that to Atlanta (ATL) and Chicago (ORD) airports. “This is a rapidly evolving situation,” they wrote on their website.The CDC has reported that cases of the virus have spread to Taiwan, Thailand, Japan and South Korea.CDC has updated information about an outbreak of novel #coronavirus in China with cases exported to Thailand and Japan. See new information for healthcare providers and laboratorians on who to test and what specimens to take to detect #2019-nCoV.— CDC (@CDCgov) January 18, 2020 

What We Know So Far About New China Virus

A new SARS-like virus has killed 17 people in China, infected hundreds and reached as far as the United States, with fears mounting about its spread as hundreds of millions travel for Lunar New Year celebrations, which start Friday.Many countries have stepped up screening of passengers from Wuhan, the Chinese city identified as the epicenter, and the World Health Organization has called an emergency meeting.Here’s what we know so far about the virus:It’s entirely newThe pathogen appears to be a never-before-seen strain of coronavirus — a large family of viruses that can cause diseases ranging from the common cold to Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), which killed 349 people in mainland China and another 299 in Hong Kong between 2002 and 2003.Arnaud Fontanet, head of the department of epidemiology at the Institut Pasteur in Paris, told AFP the current virus strain was 80% genetically identical to SARS.China has already shared the genome sequencing of this novel coronavirus with the international scientific community.It has been named “2019-nCoV”.It’s being passed between humans The WHO said Monday it believed an animal source was the “primary source” of the outbreak, and Wuhan authorities identified a seafood market as the center  of the epidemic.But China has since confirmed that there was evidence the virus is now passing from person to person, without any contact with the now-closed market.The virus has infected more than 400 people across the country, with most cases in Wuhan, according to officials. Li Bin of China’s National Health Commission on Wednesday said 1,394 people were still under medical observation.Doctor Nathalie MacDermott of King’s College London said it seems likely that the virus is spread through droplets in the air from sneezing or coughing.Doctors at the University of Hong Kong published an initial paper on Tuesday modeling the spread of the virus which estimated that there have been some 1,343 cases in Wuhan — similar to a projection of 1,700 last week by scientists at Imperial College, London.Both are much higher than official figures.Health Officials in hazmat suits wait at the gate to check body temperatures of passengers arriving from the city of Wuhan, Jan. 22, 2020, at the airport in Beijing, China.It is milder than SARSCompared with SARS, the symptoms appear to be less aggressive, and experts say the death toll is still relatively low. However, the milder nature of the virus can also cause alarm.The outbreak comes as China prepares for the Lunar New Year holiday, with hundreds of millions traveling across the country to see family.Professor Antoine Flahault, director of the Institute of Global Health at the University of Geneva, told AFP that the fact that the virus seems milder in the majority of people is “paradoxically more worrying” as it allows people to travel further before their symptoms are detected.International public health emergency? The WHO will hold a meeting on Wednesday to determine whether the outbreak constitutes a “public health emergency of international concern” and if so, what should be done to manage it.Cases have so far been confirmed in Thailand, Japan, Taiwan, South Korea, Macau and the United States.The WHO has only used the rare label a handful of times, including during the H1N1 — or swine flu — pandemic of 2009 and the Ebola epidemic that devastated parts of West Africa from 2014 to 2016.The Chinese government announced Tuesday it was classifying the outbreak in the same category as the SARS outbreak, meaning compulsory isolation for those diagnosed with the disease and the potential to implement quarantine measures on travel.Global precautions As the number of confirmed deaths and infections has risen, so has concern worldwide about the disease spreading to other countries.In Thailand, authorities have introduced mandatory thermal scans of passengers arriving at airports in Bangkok, Chiang Mai, Phuket and Krabi from high-risk areas in China.In Hong Kong, where hundreds died during the SARS outbreak, authorities have said they are on high alert, carrying out scans at the city’s airport — one of the world’s busiest — and at other international land and sea crossing points.The United States also ordered the screening of passengers arriving on direct or connecting flights from Wuhan, including at airports in New York, San Francisco and Los Angeles.Taiwan has issued travel advisories, and went to its second-highest alert level for those traveling to or from Wuhan. Vietnam has also ordered more border checks on its border with China.In Europe, Britain and Italy have said they will introduce enhanced monitoring of flights from Wuhan, while Romania and Russia are also strengthening checks.