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Chinese Premier Visits Wuhan as Virus Death Toll Hits 80

Chinese Premier Li Keqiang visited the city of Wuhan on Monday to meet with health officials and examine the response to the outbreak of a coronavirus that has killed 80 people.Wuhan is the center of the outbreak and people there and in several other cities face strict restrictions on movement as the government tries to prevent the virus from spreading.Officials took an extra step Sunday to extend the Lunar New Year holiday three extra days to cut down on group gatherings.The latest figures reported by Chinese health officials include more than 2,700 cases of people being sickened by the virus.Cases have also been reported in Australia, Canada, France, Hong Kong, Japan, Macao, Malaysia, Nepal, Portugal, Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan, Thailand, the United States and Vietnam.  The World Health Organization says most of those are people who had a travel history in Wuhan, with several others having contact with someone who traveled there.There have been no reported deaths linked to the virus outside of China.The head of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention respiratory disease office, Nancy Messonnier, said Sunday there were five confirmed cases in the United States, and that all five people had direct contact with others in Wuhan.The patients are isolated in hospitals as doctors and health officials try to find out more about the virus. The CDC says it is investigating about 100 suspected cases in 26 states.Chinese National Health Commission Minister Ma Xiaowei said Sunday little is known about the virus. But doctors do know it has an incubation period that can range from one to 14 days. Ma said the virus is infectious during the incubation period, when no signs or symptoms of the disease are present..President Xi Jinping said China is facing a “grave situation” and experts and other resources would be concentrated at specific hospitals to treat severe cases of the illness.The virus is believed to have emerged late last year in Wuhan, the capital of Hubei province, at a seafood market illegally selling wildlife. Chinese authorities have imposed a temporary ban on the selling of wildlife.  The virus hit China just as it was beginning the celebrations of the Lunar New Year, resulting in the canceling or the scaling back of festivities for tens of millions of Chinese. Tourist destinations are closed and school closings have been extended, in an effort to stop the spread of the virus.  Public transportation has been severely restricted. Many businesses have closed or asked employees to work from home.The WHO recommends several steps to help protect people against acute respiratory infections. They include avoiding close contact with those already infected, frequent hand-washing and avoiding unprotected contact with farm animals and wild animals.

Workers Criticize Amazon on Climate Despite Risk to Jobs

Hundreds of employees are openly criticizing Amazon’s record on climate change despite what they say is a company policy that puts their jobs at risk for speaking out.On Sunday, more than 300 employees of the online retail giant signed their names and job titles to statements on blog post on Medium. The online protest was organized by a group called Amazon Employees For Climate Justice, an advocacy group founded by Amazon workers that earlier this month said the company had sent letters to its members threatening to fire them if they continued to speak to the press.   “It’s our moral responsibility to speak up, and the changes to the communications policy are censoring us from exercising that responsibility,” said Sarah Tracy, a software development engineer at Amazon, in a statement.   Amazon said that its policy on external communications is not new and is in keeping with other large companies. It said the policy applies to all Amazon employees and is not directed at any specific group.”While all employees are welcome to engage constructively with any of the many teams inside Amazon that work on sustainability and other topics, we do enforce our external communications policy and will not allow employees to publicly disparage or misrepresent the company or the hard work of their colleagues who are developing solutions to these hard problems,” according to an Amazon spokesperson.   Amazon, which relies on fossil fuels to power the planes, trucks and vans that ship packages all over the world, has an enormous carbon footprint. And its workers have been vocal in criticizing some of the company’s practices.Last year, more than 8,000 staffers signed an open letter to CEO and founder Jeff Bezos demanding that Amazon cut its carbon emissions, end its use of fossil fuels and stop its work with oil companies that use Amazon’s technology to locate fossil fuel deposits.Amazon said in a statement that it is passionate about climate change issues and has already pledged to become net zero carbon by 2040 and use 100% renewable energy by 2030. 

US to Evacuate ‘Limited’ Number of Americans from Wuhan

Private American citizens living and working in Wuhan are being warned there will not be room for many of them on an evacuation flight being prepared for U.S. consular staff in the epicenter of the Coronavirus epidemic.”The Department of State is making arrangements to relocate its personnel stationed at the U.S. Consulate General in Wuhan to the United States,” the U.S. Embassy in Beijing wrote on Sunday, adding that the flight will travel directly from Wuhan to San Francisco.”This capacity is extremely limited and if there is insufficient ability to transport everyone who expresses interest, priority will be given to individuals at greater risk from coronavirus,” a statement said.An American citizen teaching at a university in Wuhan, who asked that her name not be used for fear of Chinese retribution, told VOA that neither the consulate nor the U.S. Embassy in Beijing has yet contacted most American citizens in the city.”Maybe they have reached out to a few privileged individuals, but on the whole, they are not reaching out to average American citizens. We have received almost no support and no help,” the woman told VOA’s Mandarin Service.An announcement on the U.S. Embassy’s website directs citizens to apply for a seat on the plane by contacting American Citizen Services with their passport information.”There are thousands of us Americans in Wuhan,” the American citizen said. “A 747 seats like 250 people, they’re not going to take everyone out. Even if every single person wanted to leave, they would not take all of us,” she said, referring to the Boeing 747 jet that will likely be chartered for the flight.The announcement comes amid travel restrictions around the wider region, but especially in the city of Wuhan. The streets have been largely quiet amid ambiguous regulations on which vehicles can and cannot be on the road, even in urban areas.Some Wuhan residents have reported that early in the outbreak, individuals were arrested and accused of spreading “rumors” about the disease on social media. The American teacher said that in addition to the restrictions on her travel, the disinformation and fear of authority in Wuhan have added to the stress produced by the outbreak.”This is the craziest experience I’ve ever lived through in my entire life. I wish it weren’t happening. It’s it’s a nightmare,” she said.The disease, which has killed 56 people and sickened almost 2,000 around the world, has spread to about 15 countries, including France, Canada and the United States, where a third confirmed case was reported in southern California late Saturday.The World Health Organization said Thursday the potentially deadly virus has not yet developed into a worldwide health emergency.

UNHCR Welcomes Human Rights Committee’s Ruling on Climate Refugee

The U.N. refugee agency welcomes a ruling by the U.N. Human Rights Committee this past week that people fleeing climate-related and natural disasters have a valid claim for international protection.The case in question concerns Ioane Teitiota, a man from the Pacific island of Kiribati, whose claim for protection as a climate refugee was denied by New Zealand.  The U.N. Human Rights Committee, which reviewed this case, agrees with that decision on the grounds that he was not at imminent risk.  Nevertheless, the committee says people should not be returned to their place of origin if it is shown that climate change is a threat to their right to life. The U.N. refugee agency hails this a landmark decision.  UNHCR spokesman Andrej Mahecic says the decision has potentially far-reaching implications for the international protection of displaced people affected by climate change and natural disasters.”It underscores the importance of countries taking action to prevent or mitigate against harms associated with climate change, which in future could otherwise force people to leave, triggering then international obligations.  And, secondly, that this ruling recognizes that the international refugee law is applicable in the context of climate change and disaster displacement,” he said. FILE – Flames from a controlled fire burn up tree trunks as firefighters work at building a containment line at a wildfire near Bodalla, Australia, Jan. 12, 2020.UNHCR Special Advisor on Climate Action Andrew Harper says the fires in Australia, melting glaciers, flooding, drought and other devastating climate-related disasters should be a wake-up call to action.”I think the ruling can be, or the decision can be summarized by saying if we do not do more to prevent, then we will inevitably have an obligation to protect,” he said. “If we do not succeed in providing the resilience, the capacity for communities to survive this climatic catastrophe, then we will have to be doing much more on the protection front.”  Harper says it is impossible to anticipate how many people could be displaced by climate change.   He notes those most vulnerable are people in small island developing states, Asia and Africa — most of whom are too poor to leave.The UNHCR is calling for urgent action to help vulnerable communities mitigate and adapt to the changing climate so individuals do not feel forced to leave their homes.  

Most Efficient Source of Fuel May Be Tiniest Organism

Algae often gets a bad rap — for creating dead zones in the ocean and toxic pond scum when the “wrong” algae blooms. But algae has a talent people need: as a crop it can provide carbon-neutral fuels, foods and products, even in salty water, even in the desert. To make algae products a reality, scientists at “NREL,” the National Renewable Energy Lab in Golden, Colorado, are unlocking algae’s secrets. Shelley Schlender in Boulder, Colorado, has more.

Spacewalking Astronauts Plug Leak in Cosmic Ray Detector 

Spacewalking astronauts plugged a leak in a cosmic ray detector outside the International Space Station on Saturday, bringing it another step closer to new life. It was the fourth spacewalk since November for NASA’s Andrew Morgan and Italy’s Luca Parmitano to fix the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer. They installed new coolant pumps last month to revive the instrument’s crippled cooling system and needed to check for any leaks in the plumbing. Parmitano quickly discovered a leak in one of the eight coolant lines — the first one he tested — and tightened the fitting. Our day just got a little more challenging,'' Mission Control observed. The line still leaked after a mandatory one-hour wait, and Parmitano tightened it again. Finally, success — the leak was gone.Let us all take a breath,” Mission Control urged. By then, the astronauts were already halfway into their planned six-hour spacewalk. Mission Control acknowledged the leak added some unwanted drama'' to the spacewalk.Everybody’s hearts stopped,” Mission Control told the astronauts. Parmitano wondered aloud what the flight surgeon in Houston saw when the leak erupted — he said his heart rate either flat-lined or spiked, one of the two.'' Back to work soonBarring further trouble, the $2 billion spectrometer — launched to the space station in 2011 — could resume its hunt for elusive antimatter and dark matter next week, according to NASA. NASA has described the spectrometer spacewalks as the most complicated since the Hubble Space Telescope repair missions a few decades ago. Unlike Hubble, this spectrometer was never intended for astronaut handling in orbit, and it took NASA years to devise a repair plan. Despite their complexity, the first three spacewalks went well. Morgan and Parmitano had to cut into stainless steel pipes to bypass the spectrometer's old, degraded coolant pumps, and then splice the tubes into the four new pumps — no easy job when working in bulky gloves. The system uses carbon dioxide as the coolant. Besides checking for leaks Saturday, the astronauts had to cover the spectrometer with thermal insulation. We are very excited for you to be finishing off all of the amazing work that you’ve already put into this AMS repair,” astronaut Jessica Meir radioed from inside as the spacewalk got underway, “and I think everyone’s excited to the prospects of what AMS has to offer once you guys finish off the work today.” The 7½-ton (6,800-kilogram) spectrometer was launched to the space station on NASA’s next-to-last shuttle flight. Until it was shut down late last year for the repair work, it had studied more than 148 billion charged cosmic rays. The project is led by Samuel Ting, a Nobel laureate at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Good for as much as 10 yearsThe repairs should allow the spectrometer to continue working for the rest of the life of the space station, or another five to 10 years. It was designed to operate for three years and so already has surpassed its expected lifetime. NASA’s two other astronauts on board, Meir and Christina Koch, performed two spacewalks over the past 1½ weeks to upgrade the space station’s solar power system. Altogether, this station crew has gone out on nine spacewalks. 

Coronavirus Outbreak Raises Health, Economic Concerns in Asia

Southeast Asia’s proximity to China and dependence on that nation for a major share of its economy is raising concerns that the coronavirus outbreak  that started there will not only have health impacts but harm the region’s economies.The outbreak, which has so far caused 41 deaths in China, and caused the country to quarantine 16 cities, is causing comparisons to the 2003 spread of severe acute respiratory syndrome, or SARS, which decreased the value of the global economy by $40 billion.“Now that the Wuhan coronavirus has been found to be able to be transmitted from human to human, the economic consequences could be extremely concerning for the Asia-Pacific region,” Rajiv Biswas, IHS Markit Asia Pacific chief economist, said.“Sectors of the economy that are particularly vulnerable to a SARS-like virus epidemic that can be spread by human-to-human transmission are retail stores, restaurants, conferences, sporting events, tourism and commercial aviation,” he said.Observers agree that tourism could be one of the hardest-hit industries, in part because of the millions of Chinese who usually travel now, during the Lunar New Year, and in part because China has grown so much in the last two decades that many neighboring nations depend on it for tourism.That is only one of the economic differences between China today and the China of the SARS virus in 2003.China has since then become a member of the World Trade Organization and the second-biggest economy in the world. Its supply chain has become more integrated with the rest of the world than it has ever been, and it has become the biggest trading partner for many countries in the region.The 2003 virus decreased China’s economic growth rate, but its effect was the same for Malaysia, Singapore, and Vietnam, Biswas said.This time around Chinese tourism matters even more to Southeast Asia.After Hong Kong, nations for which Chinese visitors’ spending accounts for the biggest share of gross domestic product are, from most to least, Cambodia, Thailand, Singapore, Vietnam, and Malaysia, according to statistics released by Capital Economics, a London-based research company, Friday. In many of these nations, businesses catering to tourists display signs in Chinese, accept China’s yuan currency, and use that country’s WeChat for mobile payments.Major tourism events in the region add to the threat that the virus and its economic impact will spread, such as the Tokyo Summer Olympics, Biswas said. Vietnam will also host the Vietnam Grand Prix Formula One race this year, while Malaysia will host the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum.Singapore is an island nation that depends heavily on foreign trade, including to facilitate trade and investment in China. Selena Ling, head of treasury research and strategy at Singapore’s OCBC Bank, said Friday she was expecting Singapore’s economy to stage a modest recovery from 2019, but that may change.She said “the recent coronavirus outbreak originating from China to other countries including Singapore may impart some uncertainty to near-term business and consumer sentiments.”That could mean slower growth in the first quarter of 2020, she said.

Report: China’s Xi Holds Politburo Meeting to Address ‘Grave Situation’ With Coronavirus

Chinese President Xi Jinping called a politburo meeting Saturday to discuss ways to contain the deadly coronavirus, declaring the country is facing a “grave situation,” state television reported. The meeting took place as the new virus stopped all Lunar New Year celebrations for tens of millions of Chinese.According to the report, Xi told politburo members the coronavirus is “accelerating its spread” and that experts and other resources would be concentrated at specific hospitals to treat severe cases of the illness.This comes as the U.S. government is planning to evacuate American diplomats, their families, and other U.S. citizens from Wuhan on Sunday, the Wall Street Journal is reporting Saturday.The report, which cites a person familiar with the plans, said the U.S. consulate there is contacting the estimated 1,000 Americans it is aware of in the city of 11 million people. Americans who are evacuated will be responsible for the cost of the evacuation via a plane that seats about 230 people, the person said. Chinese state TV also says the government will treat all cases expeditiously, regardless of cost, and will guarantee that supplies are shipped to the Hubei province and its capital of Wuhan, the epicenter of the outbreak.Meanwhile, Russia is talking with the China about the possibility of evacuating Russian citizens from the Chinese city Wuhan and also Hubei province, according to the RIA news agency, which cited the Russian embassy.RIA is quoting the Russian embassy’s press person in China saying there are no Russians inffected with the coronavirus.China’s National Health Commission says the death toll from the new virus has jumped to 41, with more than 1,200 infections in 29 provinces across the country.Fifteen medical workers are among those who have been infected. One doctor has died.Hundreds of medical personnel have been deployed to Wuhan, where the virus emerged late last year.Wuhan, like 16 other Chinese cities, has been shuttered, in an effort to contain the coronavirus.   The local government of the virus-hit city said Saturday, “Motor vehicles shall be prohibited from driving in the central urban areas.”Beijing’s Forbidden City and Shanghai Disneyland have been closed indefinitely. Popular tourist destination Sanya city in Hainan province has closed all tourist sites to prevent the spread of the virus.Hong Kong, which has confirmed five cases of the virus in the territory, has declared a state of emergency, canceling the official Lunar New Year celebration and closing schools.The virus is making is slowly making its way around the world.Five cases have been reported in Thailand.Australia has reported four cases.France, Japan, Malaysia and Taiwan have each reported three cases.Both the United States and Vietnam have confirmed two cases.Nepal has reported one case.