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China’s latest COVID outbreak worst since March 2020

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SHANGHAI/BEIJING — China is battling the worst outbreak of COVID-19 since March 2020, with one province posting a record daily rise in cases, as an independent panel reviewing the global pandemic said China could have acted more forcefully to curb the initial outbreak.

State-backed tabloid the Global Times on Tuesday defended China’s early handling of COVID-19, saying no country had any experience in dealing with the completely new virus.

“Looking back, no country could perform perfectly in facing a novel virus…no country can guarantee they won’t make mistakes if a similar epidemic occurs again,” it said.

China reported more than 100 new COVID-19 cases for a seventh day on Tuesday.

Mainland China posted 118 new cases on Jan. 18, up from 109 a day earlier, the national health authority said in a statement.

Of those, 106 were local infections, with 43 reported in Jilin, a new daily record for the northeastern province, and 35 in Hebei province, which surrounds Beijing, the National Health Commission said.

The Chinese capital itself reported one new case, while Heilongjiang in the north reported 27 new infections.

Tens of millions of people have been in lockdown as some northern cities undergo mass testing for coronavirus amid worries that undetected infections could spread quickly during the Lunar New Year holiday, which is just weeks away.

Hundreds of millions of people travel during the holiday, due to kick off in mid-February this year, as migrant workers return home to see family.

Authorities have appealed to people to avoid travel in the run-up to the holiday and stay away from mass gatherings such as weddings.

The current outbreak in Jilin was caused by an infected salesman travelling to and from the neighbouring province of Heilongjiang, the site of a previous cluster of infections.

The overall number of new asymptomatic cases, which China does not classify as confirmed infections, fell to 91 from 115 a day earlier.

The total number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in mainland China is 89,454, while the death toll remained unchanged at 4,635.

An independent panel of experts reviewing the pandemic, led by former New Zealand prime minister Helen Clark and former Liberian president Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, said on Monday that Chinese officials could have applied more forceful public health measures in January last year to curb the initial outbreak.

It also criticised the World Health Organization (WHO) for not declaring an international emergency until Jan. 30.

A WHO team is currently in Wuhan, the central Chinese city where the disease was first detected in late 2019, to investigate the origins of the pandemic that has killed millions worldwide.

Source: https://tuoitrenews.vn/news/international/20210119/china-s-latest-covid-outbreak-worst-since-march-2020/58876.html

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Australian media reforms pass parliament after last-ditch changes

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CANBERRA — The Australian parliament on Thursday passed a new law designed to force Alphabet Inc’s Google and Facebook Inc to pay media companies for content used on their platforms in reforms that could be replicated in other countries.

Australia will be the first country where a government arbitrator will decide the price to be paid by the tech giants if commercial negotiations with local news outlets fail.

The legislation was watered down, however, at the last minute after a standoff between the government and Facebook culminated in the social media company blocking all news for Australian users.

Subsequent amendments to the bill included giving the government the discretion to release Facebook or Google from the arbitration process if they prove they have made a “significant contribution” to the Australian news industry.

Some lawmakers and publishers have warned that could unfairly leave smaller media companies out in the cold, but both the government and Facebook have claimed the revised legislation as a win.

“The code will ensure that news media businesses are fairly remunerated for the content they generate, helping to sustain public-interest journalism in Australia,” Treasurer Josh Frydenberg and Communications Minister Paul Fletcher said in a joint statement on Thursday.

The progress of the legislation has been closely watched around the world as countries including Canada and Britain consider similar steps to rein in the dominant tech platforms.

The revised code, which also includes a longer period for the tech companies to strike deals with media companies before the state intervenes, will be reviewed within one year of its commencement, the statement said. It did not provide a start date.

The legislation does not specifically name Facebook or Google. Frydenberg said earlier this week he will wait for the tech giants to strike commercial deals with media companies before deciding whether to compel both to do so under the new law.

Google has struck a series of deals with publishers, including a global content arrangement with News Corp, after earlier threatening to withdraw its search engine from Australia over the laws.

Several media companies, including Seven West Media, Nine Entertainment and the Australian Broadcasting Corp have said they are in talks with Facebook.

Representatives for both Google and Facebook did not immediately respond to requests from Reuters for comment on Thursday.

Source: https://tuoitrenews.vn/news/international/20210225/australian-media-reforms-pass-parliament-after-lastditch-changes/59472.html

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Aussie sheep sheds huge coat after years on the lam

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A wild sheep found wandering the wilderness of the Australian bush has been sheared of a huge 35-kilogram (77-pound) coat after an estimated five years of unchecked growth.

Struggling under a filthy fleece caked with years of mud and tangled debris, Baarack was spotted in a Victorian state forest and taken to an animal rescue sanctuary north of Melbourne, the group said on Facebook earlier this month.

“I couldn’t believe there was actually a sheep alive under all of that wool,” Pam Ahern, founder of Edgar’s Mission Farm Sanctuary, told Nine News.

The sheep’s matted coat had been growing uncut for close to five years, Ahern estimated.

“I think he has been a cheeky little rascal of a young lamb who’s just wandered off and never came back.”

Unshorn sheep struggle to walk under the immense weight of their wool, and without a haircut at least once a year most will not last long in the wild, particularly in Australia’s often harsh and dry summers.

Despite Baarack’s hefty locks, he falls short of the world record held by a late compatriot, Chris, who made headlines when he was shorn of a 41-kilogram mane in 2015.

Baarack’s transformation from hulking mass to fresh faced has nevertheless given him a new fleece of life, with his overhaul racking up millions of views on TikTok.

Source: https://tuoitrenews.vn/news/international/20210225/aussie-sheep-sheds-huge-coat-after-years-on-the-lam/59468.html

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New coronavirus variant identified in New York: researchers

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A new coronavirus variant that shares some similarities with a more transmissible and intractable variant discovered in South Africa is on the rise in New York City, researchers said on Wednesday.

The new variant, known as B.1.526, was first identified in samples collected in New York in November, and by mid-February represented about 12% of cases, researchers at Columbia University Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons, said on Wednesday.

The variant was also described in research published online this week by the California Institute of Technology.

Neither study has been reviewed by outside experts.

The Columbia researchers said an analysis of publicly available databases did not show a high prevalence of coronavirus variants recently identified in South Africa and Brazil in case samples from New York City and surrounding areas.

“Instead we found high numbers of this home-grown lineage,” Dr. Anne-Catrin Uhlemann, assistant professor in the division of infectious diseases at Columbia University’s College of Physicians and Surgeons, said in a statement.

The Columbia study found that B.1.526 shares some worrying characteristics with B.1.351, the variant first identified in South Africa, and P.1., which was first identified in Brazil. Several studies have suggested that those new variants are more resistant to some existing vaccines than earlier versions of the coronavirus.

The researchers said the main concern is a change in one area of the virus’ spike protein, called E484K, that is present in all three variants. The E484K mutation is believed to weaken the body’s immune response to the virus.

Studies have shown that recently launched coronavirus vaccines are still likely to neutralize the virus and protect against severe illness, even for infections with new variants.

Vaccine makers are also working to develop booster shots to combat mutated versions of the virus.

Source: https://tuoitrenews.vn/news/international/20210225/new-coronavirus-variant-identified-in-new-york-researchers/59462.html

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