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EU Leader Urges US to Join Digital ‘Rule Book”’

The European Union (EU) Tuesday called upon the United States to join the alliance in creating a common rule book to rein in the power of internet companies like Facebook and Twitter to combat the spread of fake news as well as protect data.
In a wide-ranging virtual speech to the Davos World Economic Forum in Switzerland, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen noted how much the world has changed by referencing last year’s EU concerns over the possibility of U.S. tariffs on European automobiles.
   
“Today, a year later, we are worrying about whether democracy itself might have been permanently damaged in the last four years,” said Von der Leyen. He also referenced the storming of the U.S. Capitol, calling it “beyond my imagination” and said it served as a reminder of the “dangers that social media poses to our democracy.”
The European Commission president called on U.S. President Joe Biden to join the 27-nation bloc’s efforts to better regulate tech platforms. She added there needs to be a “framework” for “far-reaching decisions” such as Twitter’s move to cut off former U.S. President Donald Trump’s account.
She said it needs to be clearly laid out how internet companies make decisions about disseminating, promoting or removing content.  
“No matter how tempting it may have been for Twitter to switch off President Trump’s account, such serious interference with freedom of expression should not be based on company rules alone,” said Von der Leyen. “There needs to be a framework of laws for such far-reaching decision.”
During Tuesday’s speech, Von der Leyen also urged pharmaceutical companies to “honor their obligations” on the supply of COVID-19 vaccines, saying the EU had invested billions in their development “for the common good.”
The bloc on Monday criticized pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca, accusing it of failing to guarantee the delivery of coronavirus vaccines without a valid explanation.
The EU also expressed displeasure over vaccine delivery delays from Pfizer-BioNTech last week.

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Argentina Set to Receive More Russian COVID-19 Vaccine

Argentina is set to receive another batch of a Russian vaccine against COVID-19 on Tuesday, just days after Vice-President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner became the country’s latest leader vaccinated with the Sputnik V vaccine.    
 
The vice president was given the shot three days after President Alberto Fernández was given his first dose.
 
Argentina is one of the largest countries to begin vaccinating its citizens with Sputnik V vaccine, which its developers claim is more than 90 percent effective against COVID-19.
 
Argentina approved the use of Sputnik V for people 60 years of age and older last week, as it expands the vaccination program to a larger segment of the population.  
 
Argentina is also awaiting the first batch of vaccine created AstraZeneca and Oxford University.
 
The South American country is working on obtaining the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine while still having access to the Covax equitable distribution of vaccine, which is run by the World Health Organization.
 
So far, Argentina has recorded more than 1.8 million confirmed cases and 47,034 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University Covid Resource Center.

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South African President Urges Wealthy Nations Not to Hoard COVID-19 Vaccines 

South African President Cyril Ramaphosa said Tuesday wealthy countries should not hold onto excess stockpiles of COVID-19 vaccines, and that the world needs to work together to fight the pandemic. FILE – South African President Cyril Ramaphosa visits the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) treatment facilities in Johannesburg, April 24, 2020.Ramaphosa told a virtual meeting of the World Economic Forum that those who have hoarded vaccines need to release them “so that other countries can have them.” “The rich countries of the world went out and acquired large doses of vaccines,” Ramaphosa said.  “Some countries even acquired up to four times what their population needs … to the exclusion of other countries.” The South African leader said the world is not safe if some countries are vaccinating their people, but others are not. Fighting emerging strainsU.S. pharmaceutical company Moderna said Monday its COVID-19 vaccine appears to produce virus-neutralizing antibodies against new variants of the coronavirus found in Britain and South Africa.      In a statement, the company said it conducted studies to ensure the two-dose regimen of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine is protective against emerging strains of the virus detected to date.       The company says it will continue a clinical strategy “to proactively address the pandemic as the virus continues to evolve,” including testing the effectiveness of an additional booster dose of its COVID-19 vaccine.      The recent emergence of several coronavirus variants, which have shown to be more transmissible — and in the case of a strain first identified in Britain, possibly more lethal — has made vaccinations a top issue for health officials.       Scientists said last week that while the British variant was associated with a higher level of mortality, it was believed that existing vaccines were still effective against it. However, a more contagious South African variant may reduce the effectiveness of current vaccines, scientists said.      The news from Moderna comes as the total number of confirmed coronavirus cases around the world approaches 100 million.   Indonesia’s Health Ministry announced Tuesday the country’s total number of infections had surpassed 1 million.  The milestone comes weeks after Indonesia launched an effort to vaccinate two-thirds of the country’s 270 million people. New US travel requirements In the United States, new rules go into effect Tuesday requiring all travelers aged two years or older, including U.S. citizens, to show a negative COVID-19 test or proof of recovery from the disease before they will be allowed to board a U.S.-bound flight. FILE – Travelers queue with their luggage in the departures hall at Terminal 2 of Heathrow Airport in west London on Dec. 21, 2020, as a string of countries around the world banned travelers arriving from the UK.President Joe Biden on Monday reimposed an entry ban on foreign travelers who have recently been in Brazil, Britain and much of Europe. White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki said Monday at a news briefing, “With the pandemic worsening and more contagious variants spreading, this isn’t the time to be lifting restrictions on international travel.”  Health officials in the state of Minnesota also said Monday they had detected the first known U.S. case of the Brazilian coronavirus variant in a patient who recently returned after traveling to the country. 

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NASA Astronauts Move to Repair, Upgrade Space Station Module

Two NASA astronauts are set to embark on two spacewalks in a week’s time outside the International Space Station. The first of the two spacewalks will be Wednesday and will focus on completing the installation of the Bartolomeo science payloads platform outside the European Space Agency’s Columbus module, according to a NASA media advisory.  The tasks will include the replacement of a nickel-hydrogen battery with a lithium-ion one. The pair will also upgrade cameras with high-definition ones. And adding antenna and cable rigging for power and data connections, including a high-bandwidth link for European ground stations. The Bartolomeo platform, named for the younger brother of Italian explorer Christopher Columbus, was delivered to the space station last March. NASA flight engineers Michael Hopkins, a veteran of two previous spacewalks, and Victor Glover will be outside the space station for about 6½ hours beginning at 7 a.m. EST.  The second spacewalk, on February 1, will wrap up the battery replacement work, in addition to replacing older cameras with high-definition ones on the Destiny laboratory and upgrading cameras and lights on a robotic arm’s camera system outside the Kibo module. Both spacewalks will be broadcast on the NASA website, beginning at 5:30 a.m. EST. Since 2017, the station has been replacing batteries on the module but one of them failed, necessitating the need for replacement now, according to deputy manager of the Space Station, Kenny Todd. The second spacewalk is expected to “make sure we are good for the long term” after the first walk has installed communication antenna and completed some outfitting work, Todd said. The astronauts have been preparing for about a year for the mission, he said. For the past 20 years, 242 people from 19 countries have visited the unique microgravity laboratory that has hosted more than 3,000 research investigations from researchers in 108 countries and areas. 

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Twitter to Crowdsource Content Policing

Twitter on Monday unveiled a new tool it is piloting to combat misinformation. Called Birdwatch, the crowdsourcing tool aims to enlist other Twitter users to vet tweets they think contain misinformation.Instead of deleting an offending tweet or having Twitter attach a warning label, users will be able to add annotations to the tweet to “provide informative context,” according to a Twitter blog post.For now, the added notes will not be visible to all users, as the program is a pilot project with only a limited number of U.S. volunteers. The company would eventually like to have the notes visible to all.”We believe this approach has the potential to respond quickly when misleading information spreads, adding contact that people trust and find valuable,” Twitter wrote.The move comes as social media companies face increasing pressure from those who say their platforms spread misinformation, and those who say they are too censorious.Twitter’s approach differs from Facebook, which uses a team of third-party fact-checkers.“We know there are a number of challenges toward building a community-driven system like this — from making it resistant to manipulation attempts to ensuring it isn’t dominated by a simple majority or biased based on its distribution of contributors. We’ll be focused on these things throughout the pilot,” Twitter said. 

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Kerry Says US ‘Proud to Be Back’ in Paris Climate Agreement

World leaders gathered virtually Monday for the Climate Adaption Summit, an online meeting hosted by the Netherlands with hopes of developing practical solutions and funding for dealing with climate change between now and 2030.The online program featured leaders from around the world, including China’s Deputy Prime Minister Han Zheng, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, French President Emmanuel Macron, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and other leaders. Representing the United States was former Secretary of State John Kerry, who has been appointed by President Joe Biden to be Washington’s new special climate envoy. Kerry told the group the Biden administration has made fighting climate change a top priority and said the U.S. is proud to be back as a leader on the issue.“We have a president now, thank God, who leads, tells the truth and is seized by this issue,” Kerry said. “And President Biden knows that we have to mobilize in unprecedented ways to meet a challenge that is fast accelerating. And he knows we have limited time to get it under control.”Kerry said that is the reason Biden immediately rejoined the Paris climate agreement that former U.S. President Donald Trump withdrew from formally last November. Trump originally announced the U.S. was pulling out of the agreement in 2017, but United Nations regulations prevented it from being official until November. Biden rejoined the agreement on his first day in office. As secretary of state under former President Barack Obama in 2015, Kerry helped negotiate the original agreement, bringing China to the table at the U.N. climate conference in Paris.

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Malawi Recruits Healthcare Workers to Combat Surge in COVID-19 

Malawi says it is recruiting hundreds of healthcare workers to address a shortage as the country deals with a surge in COVID-19 cases. Healthcare workers welcome the move but say the government needs to do more than just hire more nurses.Government statistics show that about 900 Malawian health workers are currently in quarantine after exposure to COVID-19. Ten of them have died.Dr. Charles Mwansambo is secretary for the Ministry of Health.Speaking during a televised presidential address on Sunday evening, he said to address the shortage, the government is attempting to recruit 1,380 new healthcare workers from various schools this week.“So there are 219 workers for central hospitals, 150 workers for CHAM [Christian Health Association of Malawi] facilities and 377 for district hospitals. And we are also recruiting 634 interns,” he said.Malawi is experiencing a lot of challenges under COVID-19, including a shortage of personal protective equipment or PPEs.Mwansambo said Malawi has set aside about $1.2 million for the procurement of the PPEs.“Districts where the pandemic is severe have been furnished with emergency treatment units. And our next step is to set up emergency treatment units in each of the remaining district with a bed capacity between 30 and 60,” he said.In an address Sunday night, Malawi President Lazarus Chakwera said he was concerned with an unprecedented rise in coronavirus cases.“In the past seven days, we have confirmed a total of 6,675 new infections, which is an average of 953 confirmed infections per day. This means that the average daily number of new infections from this past week is double what it was the previous week,” he said.Chakwera also said in the past seven days, the daily average number of COVID-19 deaths was more than double what it was the previous week.“Covid-19 deaths in the seven days between January 10th and 16th were 80, but in the seven days between January 17th and yesterday, the total was 170. The continued rise in new infections and new deaths over the past week means that the urgent directives I gave a week ago must continue to be implemented with uncommon speed,” he said.The directives included a nighttime curfew, suspension of schools and a recommendation that Malawians wear face masks.

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Israel to Shut Down International Airport to Keep out Coronavirus Variants 

Israel says it plans to shut down its international airport by the end of the week to keep out highly contagious coronavirus variants.   Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Sunday, “We are closing the skies hermetically, except for really rare exceptions, to prevent the entry of virus mutations, and also to ensure that we progress quickly with our vaccination campaign.” The new measure is set to begin Tuesday and last until the end of the month, pending parliamentary approval.   Meanwhile, the White House said Sunday it is ready to restrict entry of non-U.S. citizens traveling to the U.S. from South Africa because of concerns about the highly contagious coronavirus variant that has emerged there.Vehicles line up at a self-swabbing coronavirus disease (COVID-19) test at a Rite Aid drive-thru during the outbreak of COVID-19, in Pasadena, California, Jan. 22, 2021.The U.S. is increasing efforts to track several coronavirus variants emerging as the virus continues to spread throughout the world, a health official said Sunday. The plan is to monitor “the impact of these variants on vaccines, as well as on our therapeutics,” as the virus continues to mutate while it spreads, said Dr. Rochelle Walensky, head of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “We are now scaling up both our surveillance of these and our study of these,” Walensky said during a Fox News Sunday interview. She said the CDC was collaborating with the National Institutes of Health, the Food and Drug Administration, as well as the Pentagon, in tracking the coronavirus mutations. A worker digs a grave in a cemetery amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak in Manchester, Britain, Jan. 25, 2021. Picture taken with a drone.The news comes as the world is on the verge of reaching 100 million COVID-19 infections, according to the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center. More than 2 million people have died from the virus.   “We’re in a race against these variants,” said Vivek Murthy, who has been nominated by President Joe Biden to become the next U.S. surgeon general, on ABC’s “This Week” program Sunday. Walensky took the helm at the CDC last Wednesday, as Biden was inaugurated. The recent emergence of several coronavirus variants, which have shown to be more transmissible — and in the case of a strain first identified in Britain, possibly more lethal — has made vaccinations a top issue for health officials.    People are processed at the entrance to an empty department store being used as a vaccination center during the outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Chula Vista, California, Jan. 21, 2021.Walensky said that until enough people have been vaccinated, providing “herd” immunity, mask-wearing and social distancing will need to remain in place to “decrease the amount of virus that is circulating, and therefore, decrease the amount of variants that are out there,” the CDC chief said.   Scientists said last week that while the British variant was associated with a higher level of mortality, it was believed that existing vaccines were still effective against it. However, a more contagious South African variant may reduce the efficacy of current vaccines, scientists said. Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador has become the most recent world leader to announce that he had tested positive for COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus. “I regret to inform you that I am infected with COVID-19. The symptoms are mild, but I am already undergoing medical treatment,” the 67-year-old wrote on Twitter Sunday. Lamento informarles que estoy contagiado de COVID-19. Los síntomas son leves pero ya estoy en tratamiento médico. Como siempre, soy optimista. Saldremos adelante todos. Me representará la Dra. Olga Sánchez Cordero en las mañaneras para informar como lo hacemos todos los días.— Andrés Manuel (@lopezobrador_) January 25, 2021Mexico has confirmed more than 1.7 million cases of COVID-19 and recorded more than 149,000 deaths — the fourth-highest death toll in the world after the United States, Brazil and India, according to Johns Hopkins. India follows the U.S. caseload with 10.6 million infections and more than 153,000 deaths. Brazil has nearly 9 million cases and more than 217,000 deaths.  On Monday, Australia approved use of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine against the coronavirus, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said. The country expects to begin vaccinating priority groups in late February. New Zealand health officials confirmed Monday that they are investigating its first domestic case of COVID-19 since mid-November. The positive case is a 56-year-old woman who has become infected with the South African variant. She returned to New Zealand December 30 and probably became infected by a fellow returnee in a quarantine facility, an official said.  COVID-19 response minister Chris Hipkins said officials are looking at whether the coronavirus could have spread through the quarantine facilities’ ventilation and air conditioning systems. Authorities said the woman’s husband has tested negative. With a tough lockdown, New Zealand had nearly eliminated the coronavirus, with new cases found among travelers returning home and quarantining. As of Sunday, there were 79 such cases. The new variants from Britain and South Africa, however, have been found among those cases, raising concerns of community spread returning. New Zealand does not expect to have most of its population vaccinated against the coronavirus until the second half of the year.  

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