Australian wildlife officials began disposing of hundreds of dead whales on Saturday following one of the largest-ever mass stranding events globally. They have officially ended rescue efforts, believing there are no more survivors.
Conservation experts and trained volunteers were able to save 108 of the approximately 470 long-finned pilot whales spotted on a remote sandbank in Tasmania’s Macquarie Harbour on Monday. Rescuers have spent the last five days performing dangerous rescue missions amid unpredictable conditions to save as many animals as they could.
Marine Conservation Program wildlife biologist Dr. Kris Carlyon said in a statement that rescuers did a terrific job saving the whales. “We only had one whale restrand overnight, which is a good result given 20 whales were released yesterday,” Carlyon said.
“Every whale saved is an incredible outcome given the complicated conditions and is testament to the tireless and skilful work that the response team are undertaking,” Peter Gutwein, Tasmania’s premier, said in a statement. “At times like these, Tasmanians come together to respond as quickly and compassionately as possible.”
Rob Buck, Incident Controller and Parks and Wildlife Service manager, said officials have so far disposed of 15 whales at sea in order to test the disposal method. He expects it to take several days to complete the task depending on the wind, tide and other conditions.
The bodies of the whales are being separated into pods and enclosed with water booms, in an attempt to keep them in one place, isolated from sharks and other marine life.
“Collection and disposal is being undertaken with the assistance of aquaculture companies whose equipment and expertise on the harbour is essential for a timely and effective outcome,” Buck said.
“We know it’s hard for people to watch from afar and thank the community for allowing our teams to focus on the critical work required for the response,” Buck said.
Officials expect the highly social whales that were rescued to eventually “regroup” and recover from the traumatic event.
While mass whale strandings occur relatively often in Tasmania, such a large group has not been seen in the area for more than a decade. The causes remain unknown — however, some researchers have suggested the whales may have gone off track after feeding close to the shoreline or by following one or two whales that strayed.
Officials said it’s possible that whales will be found in surrounding areas in the coming days, and asked locals to report sightings.
Hong Kong began a voluntary mass-testing programme for coronavirus on Tuesday, amid calls for its boycott by some pro-democracy activists, as part of a strategy to break the chain of transmission in the city’s third outbreak of the disease.
The testing programme has become the latest political flashpoint in China’s self-governing territory, with many distrustful over resources and staff coming from Beijing, and fears that residents’ DNA could be collected during the exercise.
The Hong Kong government has dismissed such concerns, saying that no personal data will be attached to the specimen bottles and that samples will be destroyed in Hong Kong after the exercise.
Testing began at 8am (00:00 GMT), with residents heading to more than 100 testing centres staffed by some 5,000 volunteers.
According to the South China Morning Post, at least 10,000 people were tested in the first two hours of the programme, including many middle-aged and elderly people.
Hong Kong began a voluntary mass-testing programme for coronavirus as part of a strategy to break the chain of transmission in the city’s third outbreak [Kin Cheung/AP Photo]
The Hong Kong government said that as, of Monday evening, about 553,000 people had registered for the test.
The government expects 5 million of the city’s 7.5 million residents to take part in the week-long programme, which could be extended to another week if there is demand.
It is aimed at identifying silent carriers of the virus – those without symptoms who could be spreading the disease.
Calls for boycott
Hong Kong was hit by a sudden surge in cases in early July with the outbreak blamed in part on an exemption from quarantine requirements for airline staff, truck drivers from mainland China and sailors on cargo ships.
At its peak, Hong Kong recorded more than 100 locally transmitted cases a day, after going weeks without any in June.
The outbreak has slowed, with the territory reporting just nine cases on Monday, the first time in two weeks daily infections had fallen to single digits.
However, the government and some experts say community testing will help detect asymptomatic carriers and further slow the spread of the virus.
Respiratory medicine expert David Hui told AP news agency that even though infections have dwindled, the proportion of cases with untraceable sources of infection remain between 30 and 40 percent.
According to Hui, the programme is more effective if most of the population takes part.
“If only 1 or 2 million people take part, then we may not be able to achieve that objective,” he said.
Pro-democracy activist Joshua Wong was among those who urged people to boycott the testing and questioned the accuracy of the tests conducted, citing Swedish reports claiming that the test being used had returned “high rates” of false-positive results.
I called on boycott the tests after cited Swedish reports of high rates of 3700 false-positive results returned by test kits from @TheBgiGroup Genomics, a firm involved in the program, and questioned the accuracy of the testing. https://t.co/9xaCb86yGy
In an interview with Al Jazeera, Jessica Leung of the Civic Party also raised concerns about how data from the tests would be stored, and for how long.
Dr Arisina Ma, from the Hong Kong Public Doctors’ Association, also told Al Jazeera that while she is not against testing, the programme should be focused to make it cost-effective.
“Testing should be targeted to those with symptoms and those with close contact with confirmed cases,” she said.
Meanwhile, Hong Kong is expected to resume face-to-face school classes from September 23 as authorities wind back strict coronavirus restrictions, which have kept about 900,000 students working at home for more than four months.
The city’s government had said at the start of August that face-to-face classes would be suspended indefinitely.
But more than two-thirds of parents, regardless of income level, believe their children have difficulty learning at home, according to a February survey by the Education University of Hong Kong.
A survey by The Society for Community Organisation (SoCO) of nearly 600 low-income students showed more than 70 percent did not have computers and 28 percent had no broadband internet at home.
Who gets to be first in line for a COVID-19 vaccine? U.S. health authorities hope by late next month to have some draft guidance on how to ration initial doses, but it’s a vexing decision.
“Not everybody’s going to like the answer,” Dr. Francis Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health, recently told one of the advisory groups the government asked to help decide. “There will be many people who feel that they should have been at the top of the list.”
Traditionally, first in line for a scarce vaccine are health workers and the people most vulnerable to the targeted infection.
But Collins tossed new ideas into the mix: Consider geography and give priority to people where an outbreak is hitting hardest.
And don’t forget volunteers in the final stage of vaccine testing who get dummy shots, the comparison group needed to tell if the real shots truly work.
“We owe them … some special priority,” Collins said.
Huge studies this summer aim to prove which of several experimental COVID-19 vaccines are safe and effective. Moderna Inc. and Pfizer Inc. began tests last week that eventually will include 30,000 volunteers each; in the next few months, equally large calls for volunteers will go out to test shots made by AstraZeneca, Johnson & Johnson and Novavax. And some vaccines made in China are in smaller late-stage studies in other countries.
For all the promises of the U.S. stockpiling millions of doses, the hard truth: Even if a vaccine is declared safe and effective by year’s end, there won’t be enough for everyone who wants it right away — especially as most potential vaccines require two doses.
It’s a global dilemma. The World Health Organization is grappling with the same who-goes-first question as it tries to ensure vaccines are fairly distributed to poor countries — decisions made even harder as wealthy nations corner the market for the first doses.
In the U.S., the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices, a group established by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, is supposed to recommend who to vaccinate and when — advice that the government almost always follows.
But a COVID-19 vaccine decision is so tricky that this time around, ethicists and vaccine experts from the National Academy of Medicine, chartered by Congress to advise the government, are being asked to weigh in, too.
Setting priorities will require “creative, moral common sense,” said Bill Foege, who devised the vaccination strategy that led to global eradication of smallpox. Foege is co-leading the academy’s deliberations, calling it “both this opportunity and this burden.”
With vaccine misinformation abounding and fears that politics might intrude, CDC Director Robert Redfield said the public must see vaccine allocation as “equitable, fair and transparent.”
How to decide? The CDC’s opening suggestion: First vaccinate 12 million of the most critical health, national security and other essential workers. Next would be 110 million people at high risk from the coronavirus — those over 65 who live in long-term care facilities, or those of any age who are in poor health — or who also are deemed essential workers. The general population would come later.
CDC’s vaccine advisers wanted to know who’s really essential. “I wouldn’t consider myself a critical health care worker,” admitted Dr. Peter Szilagyi, a pediatrician at the University of California, Los Angeles.
Indeed, the risks for health workers today are far different than in the pandemic’s early days. Now, health workers in COVID-19 treatment units often are the best protected; others may be more at risk, committee members noted.
Beyond the health and security fields, does “essential” mean poultry plant workers or schoolteachers? And what if the vaccine doesn’t work as well among vulnerable populations as among younger, healthier people? It’s a real worry, given that older people’s immune systems don’t rev up as well to flu vaccine.
With Black, Latino and Native American populations disproportionately hit by the coronavirus, failing to address that diversity means “whatever comes out of our group will be looked at very suspiciously,” said ACIP chairman Dr. Jose Romero, Arkansas’ interim health secretary.
Consider the urban poor who live in crowded conditions, have less access to health care and can’t work from home like more privileged Americans, added Dr. Sharon Frey of St. Louis University.
And it may be worth vaccinating entire families rather than trying to single out just one high-risk person in a household, said Dr. Henry Bernstein of Northwell Health.
Whoever gets to go first, a mass vaccination campaign while people are supposed to be keeping their distance is a tall order. During the 2009 swine flu pandemic, families waited in long lines in parking lots and at health departments when their turn came up, crowding that authorities know they must avoid this time around.
Operation Warp Speed, the Trump administration’s effort to speed vaccine manufacturing and distribution, is working out how to rapidly transport the right number of doses to wherever vaccinations are set to occur.
Drive-through vaccinations, pop-up clinics and other innovative ideas are all on the table, said CDC’s Dr. Nancy Messonnier.
As soon as a vaccine is declared effective, “we want to be able the next day, frankly, to start these programs,” Messonnier said. “It’s a long road.”
The Associated Press Health and Science Department receives support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Department of Science Education. The AP is solely responsible for all content.
After more than three months on lockdown, New York City began the biggest phase of its reopening on Monday, bringing a mixture of excitement and unease as some workers returned to their offices and retail businesses resumed in-store shopping.
At Pennsylvania Station in Manhattan, a thin but steady trickle of commuters exited their trains in the morning, many dressed in office attire for the first time in months.
The military has begun testing troops for COVID-19 antibodies, and might soon ask them to “stick your arm out” to draw blood for possible use as a novel coronavirus therapy, Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Mark Milley said Thursday.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has urged caution, warning that current antibody tests can yield false positives.
But the military is “doing some antibody testing right now, and we’re expanding that,” Milley said.
“We’ll be doing antibody testing for critical Tier One units, such as those who go into subs or the nuclear triad or some of our quick-reaction forces. So the short answer is, yes, for the antibody testing,” Milley said at a virtual town hall meeting from the Pentagon.
He added that testing within the military might contribute to the development of what the CDC calls “convalescent plasma,” made from blood drawn from people who have been exposed to COVID-19 and have developed antibodies to fight the virus.
“We may want to ask you to stick your arm out and donate blood,” he said. “What that can then do is help others who are severely ill. And if we can do that, then we’ll be on a good path toward getting some really powerful therapeutics.”
Milley was joined at the town hall by Defense Secretary Mark Esper, who said Wednesday he has been tested for COVID-19 antibodies but does not yet have the results, according to The Associated Press.
Research by the government and commercial labs on the use of antibodies or drugs as therapeutics for the virus has been inconclusive or pointed to potential side effects, such as with the use of the antimalarial drug hydroxychloroquine.
On April 22, a panel of the U.S. National Institutes of Health recommended against the use of hydroxychloroquine for treatment of COVID-19 patients, saying more research is needed.
In an update on antibody, or serological, testing posted Wednesday, the CDC said that the results from current coronavirus tests may still yield false positives and be too inaccurate to be used in making policy decisions on lifting restrictions aimed on preventing the spread of the virus.
“Serologic test results should not be used to make decisions about returning persons to the workplace,” it said.
However, more research on antibody testing could play an important role going forward, according to the CDC. “Serologic methods have been developed and will have important public health and clinical uses to monitor and respond to the COVID-19 pandemic,” it stated.
Apple today began selling certified refurbished iPhone XR models in select colors and capacities for the first time in the United States. Refurbished iPhone XR models are priced at a roughly 16 percent discount compared to current pricing on brand-new units, knocking $100–120 off of the regular price.
In addition to the 64GB and 128GB capacities matching current brand-new iPhone XR models, refurbished units are also available with 256GB of storage, although currently only in black. The iPhone XR was initially offered in all three capacities at its launch in 2018, but when the iPhone XR moved down the lineup as a lower-priced option in September 2019, the 256GB models were discontinued.
64GB: $499, down from current $599 price and $749 launch price
128GB: $539, down from current $649 price and $799 launch price
256GB: $629, down from former $749 clearance price and $899 launch price
All current refurbished iPhone XR models come carrier unlocked and without a SIM, so they can be activated with any carrier you choose.
Apple says all refurbished iPhone models are thoroughly inspected, tested, cleaned, and repackaged with a new white box and all manuals and accessories. Apple also installs a new battery and replaces the outer shell, making it nearly impossible to distinguish between a refurbished and brand new iPhone.
Apple will use a Lightning port instead of USB-C in the upcoming “iPhone 12,” but it will be the last major series of Apple’s flagship phones to do so, with models set to combine wireless charging and a port-less Smart Connector system for data transfer and syncing in the iPhone “13 series” next year.
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The first app that takes advantage of the Exposure Notification API developed by Apple and Google has launched in Switzerland, according to a report from the BBC.
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Anker, a brand normally known for its well-made, affordable accessories for Apple devices, has debuted a new $100 24K gold-plated USB-C to Lightning cable.
According to Anker, the cable, which is in the PowerLine+ III family, features a “Special Edition Gold Design” that’s “bold yet elegant” with the aforementioned gold-plated cable heads and matching braided gold and black cable.