France Suspends 3,000 Unvaccinated Health Care Workers

France has suspended 3,000 health care workers who were not inoculated with a COVID-19 vaccine by a government-mandated Sept. 15 deadline.

“Several dozens” of the country’s 2.7 million health workers, Health Minister Olivier Veran said Thursday, opted to resign rather than receive the inoculation against the coronavirus.

Tens of thousands health workers were unvaccinated in July when President Emmanuel Macron announced the Sept. 15 deadline to have at least one shot of a vaccine.

Veran said most suspended employees worked in support services, while few doctors and nurses were among the suspended.

Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center said early Friday that France has reported more than 7 million COVID cases and more than 116,000 COVID deaths.

In the U.S. state of Idaho, hospitals have begun rationing care “because the massive increase of COVID-19 patients requiring hospitalization in all areas of the state has exhausted existing resources,” the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare said in a statement Thursday.

“The situation is dire – we don’t have enough resources to adequately treat the patients in our hospitals, whether you are there for COVID-19 or a heart attack or because of a car accident,” DHW Director Dave Jeppesen said in a statement.

The best way to end the rationing “is for more people to get vaccinated,” Jeppesen said.“It dramatically reduces your chances of having to go to the hospital if you do get sick from COVID-19.”

The Intenational Monetary Fund, the World Bank, the World Health Organization, and the World Trade Organization have met with the major COVID vaccine manufacturers to devise strategies to improve vaccine access for low- and middle-income countries.

The goal of the coalition is to vaccinate at least 40% of people in every country by the end of this year and at least 60% by mid-2022.

WHO said the 2021 target is “a critical milestone to end the pandemic and for global economic recovery.” 

 

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Fighting Fire with Fire in US to Protect Sequoia Trees

With flames advancing toward the signature grove of ancient massive trees in Sequoia National Park, firefighters on Thursday fought fire with fire.

Using firing operations to burn out flammable vegetation and other matter before the wildfire arrives in the Giant Forest is one of several ways firefighters can use their nemesis as a tool to stop, slow or redirect fires.

The tactic comes with considerable risks if conditions change. But it is routinely used to protect communities, homes or valuable resources now under threat from fires, including the grove of about 2,000 massive sequoias, including the General Sherman Tree, the world’s largest by volume.

Here’s how it works:

It’s all about the fuel

Three things influence how hot and fast a fire burns: the landscape, with fire burning faster up steep slopes; weather, with winds and dry conditions fanning flames; and fuel, the amount of material that can burn.

The first two can’t be controlled, but there are ways to reduce fuels long before any fire breaks out — or even as one is approaching.

“Of all the things that affect fire behavior, the fuels is really where we can take action,” said Maureen Kennedy, a professor of wildfire ecology at the University of Washington.

Historically, low- to moderate-severity fires every five to 30 years burned out excess brush and timber before deadly fires in the early 20th century led to aggressive firefighting and a U.S. Forest Service policy to suppress all fires by 10 a.m. the day after they were reported.

That led to dense forests of dead trees, fallen logs and overgrown brush that accumulated over the past century, fueling more massive fires.

Slowing fire by creating fire

For centuries, Native Americans have used fire to thin out forests.

Prescribed burns set under favorable weather conditions can help mimic the lower-intensity fires of the past and burn off excess fuels when they are not at risk of getting out of control. If fire eventually burns the area, it will likely do so at lower intensity and with less damage.

 

The idea is the same during a wildfire. Fire chiefs try to take advantage of shifting winds or changing landscapes to burn out an area before the fire gets there, depriving it of the fuel it needs to keep going.

“They’re trying to achieve the same effect,” Kennedy said. “They’re trying to moderate the fire behavior. They’re trying to remove the fuels that make the fire burn so intensely.

Of course, their goal there is to better contain and control the fire and protect the more valuable resources.”

Safely setting mild fires

All wildland firefighters learn about burnout operations in basic training, but it takes a higher level of training to plan and carry out firing operations.

“You need to know how to fight fire before you light fire,” said Paul Broyles, a former chief of fire operations for the National Park Service.

Burning an area between the fire front and a projected point — such as a firebreak or the Giant Forest in Sequoia — requires the right conditions and enough time to complete the burnout before the fire can reach a fire line constructed by firefighters.

 

Often such operations are conducted at night when fires tend to die down or slow their advance as temperatures cool and humidity rises.

The convection of a fire pulls in winds from all direction, which can help. As fires climb steep terrain, burnouts are sometimes set on the other side of a ridge so any embers will land in an area where dry grasses and brush have already burned.

The firing operations require a crew making sure the fire does not spread in the wrong direction. It may also include bulldozers cutting fire lines or air tankers dropping retardant to further slow the flames.

All of it has to work in sync, Broyles said.

“Air tankers by themselves do not put fires out unless you follow up with personnel,” he said. “It’s like the military. You don’t just bomb the hell out of your enemy without ground troops.”

While burnouts are commonly used, they can backfire if winds shift or they aren’t lit early enough.

“When you put more fire on the ground, there is a risk,” said Rebecca Paterson, a spokesperson for Sequoia National Park. “It carries the potential to create more problems than it solves.”

Broyles said there were times he didn’t get a burnout started in time and firefighters had to be evacuated.

“Fortunately, in my case, we didn’t have any losses,” he said.

Small flames to protect giant sequoias

Firefighters on Thursday were conducting burnout operations in the Giant Forest at almost a micro level, moving from tree to tree, Paterson said. Ground cover and organic debris known as duff close to the trees was being set on fire, allowing the flames to creep away from the tree to create a buffer.

The General Sherman and other massive conifers were wrapped in aluminum blankets to protect them from the extreme heat.

The park was the first in the West to use prescribed fire more than 50 years ago and regularly burns some of its groves to remove fuels. Paterson said that was a reason for optimism.

“Hopefully, the Giant Forest will emerge from this unscathed,” she said. 

 

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All-Tourist Spaceflight, and Beauty Tips from the ISS

Another commercial spaceflight company launches into the space tourism business. Plus, more spacewalks outside the International Space Station, and beauty tips from astronauts on board. VOA’s Arash Arabasadi brings us the Week in Space.

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Biden Slams Opponents of Vaccine Mandate

A growing number of Republicans, including state governors, have vowed to mount legal challenges against President Joe Biden’s sweeping measures to compel workers and federal employees to get vaccinated against COVID-19. White House Bureau Chief Patsy Widakuswara has the story.

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SpaceX Crew of Amateurs Orbits Earth

The first all-civilian crew of astronauts is now orbiting the Earth after the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket launched them into space in spectacular fashion late Wednesday.

Video from the launch showed the initial fireball light up the night sky as the rocket lifted off from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida at 8:02 p.m. local time.

The capsule could be seen streaking across the sky as it gained altitude. About 12 minutes into the flight, a bright plume of light appeared as the Dragon capsule separated from the rocket’s second stage and the crew entered orbit, while the reusable first stage made its way back to Earth for a vertical landing on a sea barge. 

The team of four amateur astronauts is led by billionaire e-commerce executive Jared Isaacman, 38, who is paying for the entire trip. 

A SpaceX webcast of the launch showed Isaacman and his crewmates — Sian Proctor, 51, Hayley Arceneaux, 29, and Chris Sembroski, 42 — strapped into the pressurized cabin of the white SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule, dubbed Resilience, wearing their flight suits, complete with helmets. 

The spaceship’s trajectory will take it to an altitude of 575 kilometers — deeper into space than the International Space Station. 

After spending three days orbiting the Earth, the Dragon capsule will splash down off the Florida coast. 

In a statement on its website, the U.S. space agency NASA said it was providing some support to SpaceX and the flight of Inspiration4 “on a fully reimbursable, non-interference basis,” including communications, ground control and services through the Kennedy Space Center.

The flight marks the debut of SpaceX owner Elon Musk’s new orbital tourism business. 

Some information for this report came from The Associated Press, Reuters and Agence France-Presse.

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Nicholas’ Remnants Drench Southeastern US; More Storms Likely 

The remainder of what was Hurricane Nicholas continues to dump rain along the central U.S. Gulf Coast, while the U.S. National Hurricane Center is watching two areas that are likely to become named storms in the next few days. 

In Thursday reports, hurricane center forecasters said Nicholas, now a post-tropical depression, was moving through Louisiana to the north and east, where it was expected to drop heavy rain.

Flash flood watches

The system was expected to produce additional rainfall of 5 to 10 centimeters (2 to 4 inches) across the Gulf Coast Friday, with isolated amounts of 16 centimeters (6 inches) possible.

Flash flood watches were in effect from portions of southeast Louisiana, across southern Mississippi and Alabama, to the Florida panhandle, especially in urban areas. Widespread minor river flooding was expected, and scattered moderate flooding was possible. 

Meanwhile, forecasters were watching two areas of low pressure in the Atlantic that show a good chance of developing into storms over the next two to three days. One of them, roughly 300 kilometers (185 miles) south-southeast of the Southeastern state of North Carolina, was beginning to show some signs of organization.

High surf and gale warnings

The forecasters said the system was forecast to move north- and northeastward from the southeastern and mid-Atlantic U.S. coasts and could bring high surf and gale warnings to portions of the southeastern and mid-Atlantic coasts later this week.

The other system was much farther to the south and east, about 1,450 kilometers (900 miles) west-southwest of Cape Verde. Forecasters said a tropical depression would probably form over the weekend. The system was expected to move to the west and northwest across the tropical Atlantic.

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Radical Action Needed to Prevent Irreversible Climate Change, Scientists Say

Scientists from multiple organizations that monitor and assess the state of the Earth’s climate system warn the world is not on track to meet the target of the Paris Agreement to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius by 2050.

The United in Science 2021 report warns greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere are continuing at record levels, committing the planet to dangerous future warming. It notes the last five-year period has been the warmest since record-keeping began in 1850. 

Scientists say rising temperatures due to human activity are causing higher than average temperatures in the Arctic, Europe and Asia. That is increasing the frequency and intensity of floods, droughts, wildfires, storms, and other extreme weather events throughout the world. 

Secretary-General of the World Meteorological Organization Petteri Taalas says weather events that used to happen every 100 years now are happening every 20 years because of climate change. He warns they will occur with even greater frequency in the future if the world does not limit warming to well below two degrees Celsius by mid-century. 

“Now we are heading towards three degrees warming instead of 1.5 to two degrees,” he said.”And it has been shown clearly that it would be beneficial for the welfare of us human beings and the welfare of the biosphere and the planet to reach the lower limit of the Paris Agreement of 1.5 degrees.”

The report notes that COVID-19 has had no impact on climate change. It says pandemic lockdowns and economic slowdowns reduced air pollution for a time, but was only temporary. Now that societies are opening again, it says carbon dioxide emissions into the atmosphere are growing.

Taalas says mitigation measures can reduce the release of greenhouse gas emissions into the atmosphere and reduce climate change, but for this to happen, people must change their daily behavior. 

“If we fail with climate mitigation, we would have a permanent problem for at least hundreds or even thousands of years and both economic and human wellbeing events would be much more dramatic than this COVID pandemic, which has been hitting us all in a dramatic way,” he said.

In a forward to the United in Science report, U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres warns time is running out. He says all countries must commit to net-zero emissions by 2050, backed up by concrete long-term strategies to prevent further irreversible damage.

He says these pledges must be made now for November’s U.N. Climate Change Conference in Glasgow to be a turning point in the fight for the survival of the planet. 

 

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FDA Says Third Dose of Pfizer Vaccine Boosts Immunity

A review issued Wednesday by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration says a third dose of Pfizer’s two-dose COVID-19 vaccine boosts a person’s immunity against the virus, but said the current regimen still provides enough protection against severe illness.

The FDA is considering Pfizer’s request to offer a third shot of its vaccine, which the drugmaker says is needed as its effectiveness wears off between six to eight months after the second dose. Pfizer submitted a preliminary study to the FDA that suggested a third dose of the vaccine given to more than 300 people boosted their immunity levels three to five times higher than after the earlier shots.

Pfizer also cited a study from Israel, published Wednesday in the New England Journal of Medicine, that showed infection rates were 11 times lower among people age 60 and older who received a third dose of the vaccine. About 1 million people took part in the study.

Pfizer has applied for permission to offer a third dose as the highly contagious delta variant of COVID-19 has triggered a dramatic new surge of infections, hospitalizations and deaths around the world.

But the FDA said in its review that recent studies “indicate that currently US-licensed or authorized COVID-19 vaccines still afford protection against severe COVID-19 disease and death in the United States.”

The U.S. government drug regulator’s vaccine advisory committee will meet Friday to discuss whether the agency should approve Pfizer’s request. The committee’s recommendation is non-binding, meaning the FDA could approve the third Pfizer dose even if the committee recommends against it.

Both the FDA and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention last month recommended a third shot of the Pfizer or the Moderna vaccine for some people with weakened immune systems.

The FDA meeting will be held days after an international group of vaccine experts published an essay in The Lancet medical journal in opposition to providing booster shots of current vaccines to the general population.

Experts say recent studies show the current vaccines in use around the world continue to provide strong protection against the virus, including the delta variant, especially against severe illness and hospitalization.

The authors include two key officials in the FDA’s vaccine review office who are leaving their posts before the end of the year. The New York Times recently reported that Dr. Marian Gruber and Dr. Philip Krause are upset over the Biden administration’s recent announcement that booster shots would be offered for some Americans beginning next month, well before the FDA had time to properly review the data.

The authors suggest that modifying the vaccines to match the specific COVID-19 variants is a better approach than providing extra doses of the original vaccine.

Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the director-general of the World Health Organization, has called on wealthy nations to forgo COVID-19 vaccine booster shots for the rest of the year to ensure that low- and middle-income countries have more access to the vaccine.

Some information for this report came from the Associated Press and Reuters. 

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India Approves $3.5 Billion Plan to Boost Clean Fuel Vehicles

India’s Cabinet on Wednesday approved an incentive plan for the automobile sector aimed at boosting production of electric and hydrogen fuel-powered vehicles and promoting the manufacture of drones.

The government will give about $3.5 billion in incentives to auto companies and drone manufacturers over a five-year period, Anurag Thakur, minister of information and broadcasting, told reporters.

“The incentive scheme has been designed to help India become a global player in the automobile sector,” Thakur said, adding it would also boost local manufacturing.

The proposal comes at a time when annual car sales in India have fallen to their lowest in a decade due to the pandemic, which followed an economic slowdown in 2019. Sales of electric vehicles (EVs) make up a fraction of the total.

Several years ago, India was tipped to become the world’s third-largest car market by 2020, after China and the United States, with sales of 5 million a year. Instead, car sales stagnated at around 3 million a year even before the pandemic.

Ford Motor Co. last week joined General Motors and Harley Davidson in retreating from India, where it has accumulated losses of $2 billion. The U.S. automaker said it would stop making cars in India, taking a further $2 billion hit.

The government said in a statement the incentive plan was expected to help attract new investment of about $5.8 billion in the auto sector.

The incentives will range from 8% to 18% of the sales value of the vehicles or components and will be given to companies if they meet certain conditions such as a minimum investment over five years and 10% growth in sales each year.

Carmakers, for instance, would need to invest $272 million over the period, while auto parts companies must invest $34 million, the government said.

The original plan was to spend $8 billion to incentivize auto and auto part makers to build mainly gasoline vehicles and their components for domestic sale and export, with some added benefit for EVs.

However, the scheme’s focus was redrawn to incentivize clean fuel vehicles as Tesla Inc. gears up to enter India.

Auto parts makers will get incentives to produce components for clean cars as well as for investing in advanced technologies like sensors and radars used in connected cars, automatic transmission, cruise control and other electronics.

Sunjay Kapur, president of the Automotive Component Manufacturers Association of India (ACMA), said that with global economies de-risking their supply chains, the scheme will help develop the country into “an attractive alternative source of high-end auto components.”

India sees clean auto technology as central to its strategy to reduce oil dependence and cut debilitating air pollution in its major cities, while also meeting its emissions commitment under the Paris Climate Accord.

Domestic automaker Tata Motors is the largest seller of electric cars in India, with rival Mahindra & Mahindra and motor-bike maker TVS Motor firming up their EV plans. India’s biggest carmaker Maruti Suzuki, however, has no near-term plan to launch EVs.

Girish Wagh, executive director at Tata Motors, said in a statement the scheme would accelerate “the country’s progress toward green mobility” and help attract foreign investment. 

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China Imposes Local Lockdowns as COVID-19 Cases Surge  

China tightened lockdowns and increased orders for mass testing in cities along its coast Wednesday amid the latest surge in COVID-19 cases.

Checks have been set up in toll stations around the city of Putian in Fujian province, with a dozen of them closed entirely. The nearby cities of Xiamen and Quanzhou have also restricted travel as the delta variant spreads through the region.

The National Health Commission on Wednesday said an additional 50 cases had been diagnosed in various parts of Fujian, most of them in the Putian region.

Since the start of the pandemic, first detected in late 2019 in the central Chinese city of Wuhan, China has imposed strict testing, lockdowns, quarantines and mask-wearing requirements.

Fujian has seen at least 152 new cases in recent days, prompting stay-at-home orders and the closure of entertainment, dining and fitness venues, along with the cancellation of group activities, including those for the upcoming Mid-Autumn Festival holiday.

Long-distance bus service to other parts of the province has been suspended.

China has largely stopped the spread of COVID-19, but new outbreaks continue to occur in various parts of the country. A delta variant outbreak in July and August spread to several provinces, raising concern about new and more contagious variants.

The National Health Commission says it has administered more than 2 billion doses of vaccine, although the efficacy of domestically developed serums has been called into question, particularly in dealing with the delta variant.

While lockdowns and other stern measures have taken a toll on the economy and daily life, most of the country has overcome the impact of the initial outbreak.

Authorities are taking no chances, however. The discovery of a suspected case in Beijing’s eastern Chaoyang district prompted officials Wednesday to bar residents of a high-rise community from leaving their apartments, according to the newspaper Health Times, which is published by the ruling Communist Party.

Students and teachers have also been encouraged to avoid traveling during the upcoming three-day Mid-Autumn Festival, beginning Sunday, and the October 1-7 National Day vacation.

“Even with 91% of students and teachers vaccinated nationwide, it is still recommended students do not leave their home provinces and stay on guard,” Wang Dengfeng, head of the COVID-19 prevention office at the Ministry of Education, was quoted as saying by the official China Daily newspaper.

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