Irish Health Service Hit by ‘Very Sophisticated’ Ransomware Attack 

Ireland’s health service operator shut down all its IT systems Friday to protect them from a ransomware attack, which crippled diagnostic services and disrupted COVID-19 testing.An international cybercrime gang was behind the attack, said Ossian Smyth, Ireland’s minister responsible for e-government. Smyth described it as possibly the most significant cybercrime attempt against the Irish state.Ireland’s COVID-19 vaccination program was not directly affected, but the attack was affecting IT systems serving all other local and national health provisions, the head of the Health Service Executive (HSE) said.Ransomware attacks typically involve the infection of computers with malicious software, often downloaded by clicking on seemingly innocuous links in emails or other website pop-ups. Users are left locked out of their systems, with the demand that a ransom be paid to restore computer functions.No payment”We are very clear we will not be paying any ransom,” Prime Minister Micheál Martin told reporters.The HSE’s chief described the attack as “very sophisticated.” Officials said the gang exploited a previously unknown vulnerability. Authorities shut down the system as a precaution after discovering the attack early Friday morning and will seek to gradually reopen the network, although that will take “some days,” Martin said.The attack was largely affecting information stored on central servers, and officials said they were not aware that any patient data had been compromised. Hospital equipment was not impacted, with the exception of radiography services.”More services are working than not today,” HSE Chief Operations Officer Anne O’Connor told national broadcaster RTE.”However, if this continues to Monday, we will be in a very serious situation and will be canceling many services. At this moment, we can’t access lists of people scheduled for appointments on Monday so we don’t even know who to cancel.”

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Facebook Faces Prospect of ‘Devastating’ Data Transfer Ban After Irish Ruling

Ireland’s data regulator can resume a probe that may trigger a ban on Facebook’s transatlantic data transfers, the High Court ruled Friday, raising the prospect of a stoppage the company warns would have a devastating impact on its business.
 
The case stems from EU concerns that U.S. government surveillance may not respect the privacy rights of EU citizens when their personal data is sent to the United States for commercial use.
 
Ireland’s Data Protection Commissioner (DPC), Facebook’s lead regulator in the European Union, launched an inquiry in August and issued a provisional order that the main mechanism Facebook uses to transfer EU user data to the United States “cannot in practice be used.”
 
Facebook had challenged both the inquiry and the Preliminary Draft Decision (PDD), saying they threatened “devastating” and “irreversible” consequences for its business, which relies on processing user data to serve targeted online ads.
 
The High Court rejected the challenge Friday. “I refuse all of the reliefs sought by FBI [Facebook Ireland] and dismiss the claims made by it in the proceedings,” Justice David Barniville said in a judgment that ran to nearly 200 pages.
 
“FBI has not established any basis for impugning the DPC decision or the PDD or the procedures for the inquiry adopted by the DPC,” the judgment said.
 
While the decision does not trigger an immediate halt to data flows, Austrian privacy activist Max Schrems, who forced the Irish data regulator to act in a series of legal actions over the past eight years, said he believed the decision made it Inevitable.
 
“After eight years, the DPC is now required to stop Facebook’s EU-U.S. data transfers, likely before summer,” he said.
 
A Facebook spokesman said the company looked forward to defending its compliance with EU data rules as the Irish regulator’s provisional order “could be damaging not only to Facebook, but also to users and other businesses.”
 Privileged access
 
If the Irish data regulator enforces the provisional order, it would effectively end the privileged access companies in the United States have to personal data from Europe and put them on the same footing as companies in other nations outside the bloc.
 
The mechanism being questioned by the Irish regulator, the Standard Contractual Clause (SCC), was deemed valid by the European Court of Justice in a July decision.
 
But the Court of Justice also ruled that, under SCCs, privacy watchdogs must suspend or prohibit transfers outside the EU if data protection in other countries cannot be assured.
 
A lawyer for Facebook in December told the High Court that the Irish regulator’s draft decision, if implemented, “would have devastating consequences” for Facebook’s business, affecting Facebook’s 410 million active users in Europe, hitting political groups and undermining freedom of speech.
 
Irish Data Protection Commissioner Helen Dixon in February said companies more broadly may face massive disruption to transatlantic data flows as a result of the European Court of Justice decision.
 
Dixon’s office welcomed the decision on Friday but declined further comment. 

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Fully Vaccinated Americans Can Go Maskless, CDC Says

U.S. health officials said Thursday that people who are fully vaccinated against the coronavirus can go maskless and stop maintaining social distancing in most social settings. Folks, if you’re fully vaccinated — you no longer need to wear a mask.If you’re not vaccinated yet — go to Taisei Kikuchi performs in the park competition during a test event set in preparation at the venue for the Olympic Games, which has been rescheduled to start in July, in Tokyo, May 14, 2021.Calls to cancel Tokyo Olympics
In Japan, a petition with more than 350,000 signatures, calling for the cancellation of the Tokyo Olympics, was submitted Friday to the Olympic and Paralympic committee chiefs, as well as Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike.Japan is experiencing a surge in cases in various locations, including Tokyo where the Olympics are scheduled to start on July 23.  “Precious medical resources would need to be diverted to the Olympics if it’s held,” said “Stop Tokyo Olympics” campaign organizer Kenji Utsunomiya.Japanese officials seem determined to push ahead with plans to open the games which were cancelled last year because of the COVID outbreak.  “Though there is a global pandemic, it is important to hold safe and secure Tokyo 2020 Games,” Governor Koike said recently.Multiple funeral pyres of people who died of COVID-19 burn at the Ghazipur crematorium in New Delhi, India, May 13, 2021.India cases mount
“We are facing invisible enemy, fighting it on war-footing mode,” Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi said Friday about the COVID contagion in India.  On Friday, India reported 343,144 new cases in the last 24 –hour period.  Last week, daily cases sometimes totaled more than 400,000. Only the U.S. has more COVID-19 cases than India, but public health officials say India’s coronavirus numbers are likely undercounted.  According to Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center, India has 24 million COVID cases while the U.S. has 32.9 million.  Brazil is in third place, according to Johns Hopkins, with 15.4 million infections. 

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Misinformation Surges Amid India’s COVID-19 Calamity

The man in the WhatsApp video says he has seen it work himself: A few drops of lemon juice in the nose will cure COVID-19.”If you practice what I am about to say with faith, you will be free of corona in five seconds,” says the man, dressed in traditional religious clothing. “This one lemon will protect you from the virus like a vaccine.”False cures. Terrifying stories of vaccine side effects. Baseless claims that Muslims spread the virus. Fueled by anguish, desperation and distrust of the government, rumors and hoaxes are spreading by word of mouth and on social media in India, compounding the country’s humanitarian crisis.”Widespread panic has led to a plethora of misinformation,” said Rahul Namboori, co-founder of Fact Crescendo, an independent fact-checking organization in India.While treatments such as lemon juice may sound innocuous, such claims can have deadly consequences if they lead people to skip vaccinations or ignore other guidelines.In January, Prime Minister Narendra Modi declared that India had “saved humanity from a big disaster by containing corona effectively.” Life began to resume, and so did attendance at cricket matches, religious pilgrimages and political rallies for Modi’s Hindu nationalist party.Four months later, cases and deaths have exploded, the country’s vaccine rollout has faltered and public anger and mistrust have grown.”All of the propaganda, misinformation and conspiracy theories that I’ve seen in the past few weeks has been very, very political,” said Sumitra Badrinathan, a University of Pennsylvania political scientist who studies misinformation in India. “Some people are using it to criticize the government, while others are using it to support it.”Distrust of Western vaccines and health care is also driving misinformation about sham treatments as well as claims about traditional remedies.The caretaker of a crematorium, center, tries to console a man who lost his 5-month-old child to COVID-19 as they perform a post-burial ritual at the Seemapuri crematorium in New Delhi, India, May 13, 2021.Satyanarayan Prasad saw the video about lemon juice and believed it. The 51-year-old resident of the state of Uttar Pradesh distrusts modern medicine and has a theory as to why his country’s health experts are urging vaccines.”If the government approves lemon drops as a remedy, the … rupees that they have spent on vaccines will be wasted,” Prasad said.Vijay Sankeshwar, a prominent businessman and former politician, repeated the claim about lemon juice, saying two drops in the nostrils will increase oxygen levels in the body.While Vitamin C is essential to human health and immunity, there is no evidence that consuming lemons will fight off the coronavirus.The claim is spreading through the Indian diaspora, too.”They have this thing that if you drink lemon water every day that you’re not going to be affected by the virus,” said Emma Sachdev, a Clinton, New Jersey, resident whose extended family lives in India.Sachdev said several relatives have been infected, yet continue to flout social distancing rules, thinking a visit to the temple will keep them safe.India has also experienced the same types of misinformation about vaccines and vaccine side effects seen around the world.Last month, the popular Tamil actor Vivek died two days after receiving his COVID-19 vaccination. The hospital where he died said Vivek had advanced heart disease, but his death has been seized on by vaccine opponents as evidence that the government is hiding side effects.Much of the misinformation travels on WhatsApp, which has more than 400 million users in India. Unlike more open sites like Facebook or Twitter, WhatsApp — which is owned by Facebook — is an encrypted platform that allows users to exchange messages privately.A sign is displayed at a closed market during a lockdown imposed to curb the spread of the coronavirus in Hyderabad, India, May 13, 2021.The bad information online “may have come from an unsuspecting neighbor who is not trying to cause harm,” said Badrinathan, the University of Pennsylvania researcher. “New internet users may not even realize that the information is false. The whole concept of misinformation is new to them.”Hoaxes spread online had deadly results in 2018, when at least 20 people were killed by mobs inflamed by posts about supposed gangs of child kidnappers.WhatsApp said in a statement that it works hard to limit misleading or dangerous content by working with public health bodies like the World Health Organization and fact-checking organizations. The platform has also added safeguards restricting the spread of chain messages and directing users to accurate online information.The service is also making it easier for users in India and other nations to use its service to find information about vaccinations.”False claims can discourage people from getting vaccines, seeking the doctor’s help, or taking the virus seriously,” Fact Crescendo’s Namboori said. “The stakes have never been so high.”

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Beset by Virus, Gaza’s Hospitals Now Struggle with Wounded

Just weeks ago, the Gaza Strip’s feeble health system was struggling with a runaway surge of coronavirus cases. Authorities cleared out hospital operating rooms, suspended nonessential care and redeployed doctors to patients having difficulty breathing.Then, the bombs began to fall.This week’s violence between Israel and Gaza’s Hamas rulers has killed 103 Palestinians, including 27 children, and wounded 530 people in the impoverished territory. Israeli airstrikes have pounded apartments, blown up cars and toppled buildings.Doctors across the crowded coastal enclave are now reallocating intensive care unit beds and scrambling to keep up with a very different health crisis: treating blast and shrapnel wounds, bandaging cuts and performing amputations.Distraught relatives didn’t wait for ambulances, rushing the wounded by car or on foot to Shifa Hospital, the territory’s largest. Exhausted doctors hurried from patient to patient, frantically bandaging shrapnel wounds to stop the bleeding. Others gathered at the hospital morgue, waiting with stretchers to remove the bodies for burial.At the Indonesia Hospital in the northern town of Jabaliya, the clinic overflowed after bombs fell nearby. Blood was everywhere, with victims lying on the floors of hallways. Relatives crowded the ER, crying out for loved ones and cursing Israel.”Before the military attacks, we had major shortages and could barely manage with the second (virus) wave,” said Gaza Health Ministry official Abdelatif al-Hajj by phone as bombs thundered in the background. “Now casualties are coming from all directions, really critical casualties. I fear a total collapse.”Gutted by years of conflict, the impoverished health care system in the territory of more than 2 million people has always been vulnerable. Bitter division between Hamas and the West Bank-based Palestinian Authority and a nearly 14-year blockade imposed by Israel with Egypt’s help also has strangled the infrastructure. There are shortages of equipment and supplies such as blood bags, surgical lamps, anesthesia and antibiotics. Personal protection gear, breathing machines and oxygen tanks remain even scarcer.Last month, Gaza’s daily coronavirus cases and deaths hit record highs, fueled by the spread of a variant that first appeared in Britain, relaxation of movement restrictions during Ramadan, and deepening public apathy and intransigence.In the bomb-scarred territory where the unemployment rate is 50%, the need for personal survival often trumps the pleas of public health experts. While virus testing remains limited, the outbreak has infected more than 105,700 people, according to health authorities, and killed 976.As cases climbed last year, stirring fears of a health care catastrophe, authorities set aside clinics just for COVID-19 patients. But that changed as airstrikes pummeled the territory.A medic treats a wounded girl in the intensive care unit of the Shifa hospital, May 13, 2021, in Gaza City. She was injured by a May 12 Israeli strike that hit her family’s home.Nurses at the European Hospital in the town of Khan Younis, frantically needing room for the wounded, moved dozens of virus patients in the middle of the night to a different building, said hospital director Yousef al-Akkad. Its surgeons and specialists, who had deployed elsewhere for the virus, rushed back to treat head injuries, fractures and abdominal wounds.If the conflict intensifies, the hospital won’t be able to care for the virus patients, al-Akkad said.”We have only 15 intensive care beds, and all I can do is pray,” he said, adding that because the hospital lacks surgical supplies and expertise, he’s already arranged to send one child to Egypt for reconstructive shoulder surgery. “I pray these airstrikes will stop soon.”At Shifa, authorities also moved the wounded into its 30 beds that had been set aside for virus patients. Thursday night was the quietest this week for the ICU, as bombs had largely fallen elsewhere in Gaza. Patients with broken bones and other wounds lay amid the din of beeping monitors, intercoms and occasional shouts by doctors. A few relatives huddled around them, recounting the chaotic barrage.”About 12 people down in one airstrike. It was 6 p.m. in the street. Some were killed, including my two cousins and young sister. It’s like this every day,” said 22-year-old Atallah al-Masri, sitting beside his wounded brother, Ghassan.Hospital director Mohammed Abu Selmia lamented the latest series of blows to Gaza’s health system.”The Gaza Strip is under siege for 14 years, and the health sector is exhausted. Then comes the coronavirus pandemic,” he said, adding that most of the equipment is as old as the blockade and can’t be sent out for repairs.Now, his teams already strained by virus cases are treating bombing victims, more than half of whom are critical cases needing surgery.”They work relentlessly,” he added.Ihsan Al-Masri, 24, left, rests at the Shifa hospital in Gaza City, May 13, 2021, as her son plays on a mobile phone on the bed next to her. She was injured in a May 10 Israeli strike that hit a near her home.To make matters worse, Israeli airstrikes hit two health clinics north of Gaza City on Tuesday. The strikes wreaked havoc on Hala al-Shawa Health Center, forcing employees to evacuate, and damaged the Indonesian Hospital, according to the World Health Organization. Israel, already under pressure from an International Criminal court investigation into possible war crimes during the 2014 war, reiterated this week that it warns people living in targeted areas to flee. The airstrikes nonetheless have killed civilians and inflicted damage on Gaza’s infrastructure.The violence also has closed a few dozen health centers conducting coronavirus tests, said Sacha Bootsma, director of WHO’s Gaza office. This week, authorities conducted some 300 tests a day, compared with 3,000 before the fighting began.The U.N. Relief and Works Agency, or UNRWA, ordered staff to stay home from its 22 clinics for their safety. Those now-closed centers had also administered coronavirus vaccines, a precious resource in a place that waited months to receive a limited shipment from the U.N.-backed COVAX program. Those doses will expire in just a few weeks and get thrown away, with “huge implications for authorities’ ability to mobilize additional vaccines in the future,” Bootsma said.For the newly wounded, however, the virus remains an afterthought.The last thing that Mohammad Nassar remembers before an airstrike hit was walking home with a friend on a street. When he came to, he said, “we found ourselves lying on the ground.”Now the 31-year-old is hooked up to a tangle of tubes and monitors in the Shifa Hospital surgical ward, with a broken right arm and a shrapnel wound in his stomach.

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This Week in Space: NASA’s Ingenuity Helicopter Hums Above Mars’ Surface

NASA shares the sound of its Mars helicopter.  Plus, space debris triggers a verbal sparring match, and an asteroid sample is heading to Earth.  VOA’s Arash Arabasadi has This Week in Space.Producer: Arash Arabasadi.

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CDC: Fully Vaccinated People Can Largely Ditch Masks Indoors

In a move to send the country back toward pre-pandemic life, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Thursday eased indoor mask-wearing guidance for fully vaccinated people, allowing them to safely stop wearing masks inside in most places. The new guidance still calls for wearing masks in crowded indoor settings like buses, planes, hospitals, prisons and homeless shelters but will help clear the way for reopening workplaces, schools and other venues — even removing the need for masks or social distancing for those who are fully vaccinated. FILE – Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington, March 18, 2021.”We have all longed for this moment — when we can get back to some sense of normalcy,” said Dr. Rochelle Walensky, the director of the CDC. The CDC will also no longer recommend that fully vaccinated people wear masks outdoors in crowds. The announcement comes as the CDC and the Biden administration have faced pressure to ease restrictions on fully vaccinated people — people who are two weeks past their last required COVID-19 vaccine dose — in part to highlight the benefits of getting the shot. Walensky announced the new guidance Thursday afternoon at a White House briefing, saying the long-awaited change is thanks to millions of people getting vaccinated — and based on the latest science about how well those shots are working. “Anyone who is fully vaccinated can participate in indoor and outdoor activities — large or small — without wearing a mask or physically distancing,” Walensky said. “If you are fully vaccinated, you can start doing the things that you had stopped doing because of the pandemic.” The easing guidance is likely to open the door to confusion, since there is no surefire way for businesses or others to distinguish between those fully vaccinated and those who are not. President Joe Biden speaks on updated guidance on face mask mandates and COVID-19 response, in the Rose Garden of the White House, May 13, 2021.President Joe Biden highlighted the new guidance Thursday afternoon in a speech from the White House. The new guidance comes as the aggressive U.S. vaccination campaign begins to pay off. U.S. virus cases are at their lowest rate since September, deaths are at their lowest point since last April and the test positivity rate is at the lowest point since the pandemic began. To date about 154 million Americans, more than 46% of the population, have received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccines and more than 117 million are fully vaccinated. The rate of new vaccinations has slowed in recent weeks, but with the authorization Wednesday of the Pfizer vaccine for children ages 12 to 15, a new burst of doses is expected in the coming days. Motivation to vaccinateJust two weeks ago, the CDC recommended that fully vaccinated people continue to wear masks indoors in all settings and outdoors in large crowds. During a virtual meeting Tuesday on vaccinations with a bipartisan group of governors, Biden appeared to acknowledge that his administration had to do more to model the benefits of vaccination. Thomas Lo, 15, receives a dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine for the coronavirus disease at Northwell Health’s Cohen Children’s Medical Center in New Hyde Park, New York, May 13, 2021.”I would like to say that we have fully vaccinated people; we should start acting like it,” Utah Governor Spencer Cox, a Republican, told Biden. “And that’s a big motivation: Get the unvaccinated to want to get vaccinated.” “Good point,” Biden responded. He added, “We’re going to be moving on that in the next little bit.” VariantsWalensky said the evidence from the U.S. and Israel shows the vaccines are as strongly protective in real-world use as they were in earlier studies, and that so far they continue to work even though some worrying mutated versions of the virus are spreading. The more people continue to get vaccinated, the faster infections will drop — and the harder it will be for the virus to mutate enough to escape vaccines, she stressed, urging everyone 12 and older who’s not yet vaccinated to sign up. And while some people still get COVID-19 despite vaccination, Walensky said that’s rare and cited evidence that those infections tend to be milder, shorter and harder to spread to others. If someone who’s vaccinated does develop COVID-19 symptoms, they should immediately put their mask back on and get tested, she said. There are some caveats. Walensky encouraged people who have weak immune systems, such as from organ transplants or cancer treatment, to talk with their doctors before shedding their masks. That’s because of continued uncertainty about whether the vaccines can rev up a weakened immune system as well as they do normal, healthy ones. 

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Explainer: How COVID-19 Vaccines Will Work for Kids in US

Children ages 12 and older can now roll up their sleeves for COVID-19 vaccines in the U.S., offering parents and schools a chance to relax their pandemic precautions and bringing the country a step closer to controlling the virus.  
A government advisory committee recommended Pfizer’s vaccine for children 12 and older on Wednesday, after the Food and Drug Administration expanded authorization of the shots to the age group earlier in the week.Here’s what you need to know:Are The Shots The Same as Those for Adults?
Yes. The dose and the schedule are the same; the two shots are given three weeks apart.
 Where Can Kids Get The Shots?
Pharmacies, state sites and other places that are already vaccinating people 16 and older with the Pfizer vaccine should be able to give the shots to all authorized ages in most cases.  
“All those sites can simply extend down to the younger age group,” Dr. Janet Woodcock, the FDA’s acting commissioner, said in a call with reporters after the agency expanded authorization.  
School districts are also preparing to host vaccination clinics to speed up the campaign. And since parents might feel more comfortable with their pediatricians and primary care doctors, health officials are working to make the shots more widely available at private practices.Will Kids Need a Guardian?
Parental consent will be needed, but exactly how it’s obtained could vary.
For vaccinations at school-based clinics, for example, parents might be able to give consent by signing a form, said Dr. Nirav Shah, director of the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention and president of Association of State and Territorial Health Officials.
Walgreens said a parent or guardian will need to be present and sign a consent form, but noted guidelines on parental consent vary by jurisdiction.
In Pennsylvania’s Montgomery County, anyone under 18 needs to be accompanied by a parent or guardian. Proof of guardianship and the child’s age aren’t being checked, said Kelly Cofrancisco, a spokeswoman for the county, which began vaccinating younger teens Tuesday.How Was The Vaccine Vetted for Kids?
Pfizer’s late-stage vaccine study tested the safety and efficacy of the shots in about 44,000 people 16 and older. The study then enlisted about 2,200 children ages 12 to 15 to check for any differences in how the shots performed in that age group.
“This is just extending it down from 16 and 17 year olds, and getting further information,” Woodcock said.
None of the children who got the real shots in the study developed COVID-19, compared with 16 who got the dummy shots. That confirmed previous finding among adults that the shots are highly effective.
Children were also followed for two months after the second shot as part of the study.
Dr. Sharon Nachman, chief of pediatric infectious diseases at Stony Brook Children’s Hospital, said there’s no reason the shots would be less effective or have any unique safety issues in children compared with adults.  Why Only The Pfizer Vaccine?
Because only Pfizer, which developed the vaccine with its German partner BioNTech, has completed studies in younger teens. Moderna recently said preliminary results from its study in 12- to 17-year-olds show strong protection and no serious side effects, but regulators still need to review the results before it can be offered to younger people.  What Side Effects Are Expected?
Common side effects were similar to those experienced by adults, and included fatigue, headache, muscle pain and fever. Except for pain in the arm where the needle is injected, the effects were likelier after the second shot.
Dr. Michael Smith, medical director of the Duke Children’s Health Center Infectious Diseases Clinic, noted that younger people tend to have more robust immune systems that respond better to vaccines. That explains why side effects were more common in the 12 to 15 age group than among adults, he said.
It’s also why trials for children younger than 12 are testing different doses.  
“You need to find that dose that is enough to give a good immune response, without giving too many side effects,” Smith said.
Dosages for children and adults are the same for many other vaccines, he noted.
Can Kids Get Other Routine Vaccinations at The Same Time?
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said it’s updating its guidance to say other routine vaccinations can be given at the same time as the COVID-19 shots. It previously advised against other vaccinations within a two-week window so it could monitor people for potential side effects.  
The American Academy of Pediatrics said it agrees with the position.When will Younger Kids Be Eligible?
It’s unclear how long the ongoing trials or regulatory reviews will take. But Dr. Anthony Fauci, the top U.S. infectious disease expert, recently suggested it could happen this year.  
“We think by the time we get to the end of this year we will have enough information to vaccinate children of any age,” he said.Why Should Kids Get Vaccinated?
Even though children are far less likely to get severely ill if infected, health officials note the risk isn’t zero.  
Vaccinating children is also key to ending the pandemic, since children can get infected and spread the virus to others, even if they don’t get sick themselves.  
About 20% of the U.S. population is younger than 16, according to Census data. That included about 16.7 million children ages 12 to 15 in 2019.

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Virus Stifles Muslims’ Eid al-Fitr Celebrations for 2nd Year

Muslims celebrated Eid al-Fitr in a subdued mood for a second year Thursday as the COVID-19 pandemic again forced mosque closings and family separations on the holiday marking the end of Islam’s holiest month of Ramadan.Worshippers wearing masks joined communal prayers in the streets of Indonesia’s capital, Jakarta. The world’s most populous Muslim-majority nation allowed mosque prayers in low-risk areas, but mosques in areas where there was more risk of the virus spreading closed their doors, including Jakarta’s Istiqlal Grand Mosque, the largest in Southeast Asia.Indonesians and Malaysians were banned for a second year from traveling to visit relatives in the traditional Eid homecoming.”I understand that we all miss our relatives at times like this, especially in the momentum of Eid,” Indonesian President Joko Widodo said in televised remarks. “But let’s prioritize safety together by not going back to our hometowns.”Despite the similar ban a year ago, the number of daily cases in Indonesia had picked up by 37% three weeks after the holiday. Similar patterns followed other holidays in the country that has counted 1.7 million infections and more than 47,600 fatalities from COVID-19.The Jakarta governor also ordered malls, restaurants and leisure destinations usually packed during the holiday period to shut.With no congregational prayers at mosques, no family reunions, no relatives bearing gifts and cookies for children, “Eid is not a grand event anymore,” Jakarta resident Maysa Andriana said. “The pandemic has changed everything… this is too sad!” she said.While police set up highway checkpoints and domestic flights and other modes of transportation were suspended, anxiety lingers that people will defy the prohibition. Television reports showed city dwellers hiding on disguised trucks or fishing boats and officers at roadblocks being overwhelmed by desperate motorists.Muslims pray spaced apart to help curb the spread of coronavirus outbreak during an Eid al-Fitr prayer marking the end of Ramadan at Al Akbar mosque in Surabaya, East Java, Indonesia, May 13, 2021.”We followed the government decision that banned us visiting my parents for Eid last year, it’s enough! Nothing can stop me now,” said factory worker Askari Anam, who used alleys and shortcuts to avoid being stopped from visiting his hometown.”Of course I’m worried,” he said when asked about possibly contracting the virus. “But I leave it to God.”Health Minister Budi Gunadi Sadikin expressed concern of a virus spike and feared people would travel despite the ban.In the southern Philippines, coronavirus outbreaks and new fighting between government forces and Muslim insurgents in one province prevented people from holding large public prayers. Instead, most hunkered down in their homes, while in Maguindanao province, many families displaced by recent fighting marked the holiday in evacuation camps.In Malaysia, Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin unexpectedly announced another nationwide lockdown from Wednesday until June 7 to curb a spike in cases. Inter-state travel and all social activities are banned, which means that like in Indonesia, Muslims cannot visit each other or family graves.Muhyiddin acknowledged that many are angry with the lockdown but defended the need for drastic measures, saying hospitals have almost reached their capacity.Malaysia reported 4,765 cases on Wednesday, pushing its tally to 453,222, nearly fourfold from the start of the year. Deaths also rose to 1,761.”Is this government tyrannical? But I am not a tyrant,” Muhyiddin said, “Imagine if you have guests over, then the virus will spread. … If the guest visits 10 homes, then 10 families will be infected with COVID-19 and in the end as soon as (Eid) ends, the number of positive cases in the country could jump to tens of thousands daily.”

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US-based Physicists Tout ‘Watershed Moment’ in Particle Research

The U.S. Department of Energy’s Fermilab near Chicago is probing the unseen forces that make up the basic building blocks of all matter – and life. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports the project could change scientists’ understanding of particle physics and the very fabric of the universe. 
Camera: Kane Farabaugh        Producer: Kane Farabaugh

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