There are over 50 million confirmed coronavirus cases worldwide, according to the latest data compiled by Johns Hopkins University.
With about 10 million cases, the United States is the country with the most confirmed coronavirus cases, followed immediately by India and Brazil. At least 230,000 people have died from the disease in the United States.
For nearly nine months, people have been learning to live under once unfamiliar laws and recommendations from health officials. Quarantining, practicing social distancing, and wearing masks have become the relative norm in most countries.
“If you asked me to go and live downwind [of fracking sites], I would not go,” public health scientist Petros Koutrakis from Harvard University told The Guardian.
“People should not go crazy, but I think it’s a significant risk that needs to be addressed.”
Gathering over 320,000 measurements of particle radioactivity in the air from across the United States, the analysis found communities between 20 and 50 kilometres downwind of operational fracking sites experienced worse radioactive pollution. The closer these communities got to the wells, the greater the levels of radioactivity.
“With adjustment for environmental factors regarding the natural emission and movement of particle radioactivity, an additional 100 upwind [fracking] wells within 20 kilometres was associated with a 0.024 mBq/m3 increase in the level of particle radioactivity,” the team writes in the study.
Such radiation levels translate to roughly 7 percent above the nationwide background levels of 0.35 mBq/m3.
But the most affected place in the country appears to be Fort Worth, Texas, which had nearly 600 wells 20 kilometres upwind in 2017. Based on the team’s calculations, this could result in a 40 percent increase of radiation levels above normal.
The association is too great to ignore, and while more research needs to dig into possible causes, the authors suspect several factors, including accidental spills and the sneaky release of natural gas, as well as the management, storage, and disposal of radioactive waste water, mud, and radioactive drill cuttings.
Another recent review of the potential risks faced from fracking found radioactive pollutants might even be present in natural gas pumped into people’s houses if it’s not stored away for long enough.
That sounds really scary, but the authors say with appropriate regulation of “exploratory drilling, gas capture and the use and storage of fracking fluid” the risk to the environment and public health can be minimised.
While some states in the US and other countries around the world have banned fracking until further research is done, the current analysis suggests there are still many communities in the United States where invisible pollutants in the air are putting people’s health at risk.
“Our hope is that once we understand the source more clearly, there will be engineering methods to control this,” Koutrakis told Reuters.
Of course, stopping the drilling is another option, too.
In October 1961, the Soviet Union dropped the most powerful nuclear bomb in history over a remote island north of the Arctic Circle.
Though the bomb detonated nearly 2.5 miles (4 kilometers) above ground, the resulting shockwave stripped the island as bare and flat as a skating rink.
Onlookers saw the flash more than 600 miles (965 km) away, and felt its incredible heat within 160 miles (250 km) of Ground Zero. The bomb’s gargantuan mushroom cloud climbed to just below the edge of space.
This was RDS-220 – also known as the Tsar Bomba. Nearly 60 years after the bomb’s record-shattering detonation, no single explosive device has come close to matching its destructive power.
Last week, Rosatom State Atomic Energy Corporation (Russia’s state atomic agency) released 40 minutes of previously classified footage, showing the bomb’s journey from manufacture to mushroom cloud. Now, you can watch it all on YouTube. (The countdown to detonation begins at 22:20).
Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev personally commissioned the construction of the Tsar Bomba in July 1961, Popular Mechanics reported. While Krushchev wanted a 100-megaton nuclear weapon, engineers ultimately presented him with a 50-megaton version — equivalent to 50 million tons (45 million metric tons) of TNT detonated at once.
Even with half of the premier’s requested payload, the bomb was unfathomably powerful. The bomb was thousands of times stronger than the nukes detonated by the United States over Hiroshima and Nagasaki during World War II, and dwarfed the detonation of Castle Bravo — the most powerful nuclear weapon ever tested by the United States — which yielded just 15 megatons (13 million metric tons).
As the new footage shows, the Tsar Bomba was enormous, weighing 27 tons (24 metric tons) and measuring about as long as a double-decker bus. An aerial bomber carried the massive weapon high over the Novaya Zemlya islands in the Russian Arctic, then dropped it via parachute before clearing the area.
The explosion was so powerful that it actually knocked the aircraft out of the sky, causing the plane to plummet 3,000 feet (900 meters) before the pilot could right it, according to Popular Mechanics.
Thankfully, no human casualties have been attributed to the Tsar Bomba detonation, and no bomb matching its power was ever tested again. In 1963, the United States, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) and the United Kingdom signed the Limited Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, which prohibited airborne nuclear weapons tests.
Since then, atomic tests have carried on underground as nations continue to stockpile nuclear weapons, occasionally changing the geography of the Earth around them.
One 2018 nuclear test conducted in North Korea caused an entire mountain to collapse over the test facility — a reminder, perhaps, that the world hardly needs another Tsar Bomba in order to wreak devastating nuclear damage.
Latin America and the Caribbean, the hardest-hit region with 5,601,470 cases and 221,281 deaths, continues to experience rapid spread with 576,583 new infections reported in the last seven days.
It is followed by Asia (495,663), Canada and the US (379,017), Europe (153,879), Africa (89,644), Middle East (74,588) and Oceania (3,372).
Canada and the United States make up the second hardest-hit region overall, having recorded 5,195,417 cases and 172,300 deaths, ahead of Asia (3,493,026 cases, 72,486 deaths), Europe (3,374,166 cases, 213,484 deaths) and the Middle East (1,257,417 cases, 30,363 deaths).
Africa (1,057,730 infections, 23,582 deaths), which is the least-affected continent after Oceania (23,351, 346), has recorded more than half of its cases in South Africa.
India is the country with the most new infections over the last week (402,287), ahead of the United States (376,471), which on Sunday passed the five million mark of officially reported cases. Brazil (301,745), Colombia (69,830) and Peru (49,174) are the next most affected nations.
The figure for the number of infections reflects only a fraction of the actual number of cases, as many countries use the tests only for tracing or do not have sufficient resources to carry out widespread testing.
“As a first try for China, I don’t expect it to do anything significant beyond what the US has already done,” said Jonathan McDowell, an astronomer at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics.
It is a crowded field. The United Arab Emirates launched a probe on Monday that will orbit Mars once it reaches the Red Planet.
But the race to watch is between the United States and China, which has worked furiously to try and match Washington’s supremacy in space.
NASA, the American space agency, has already sent four rovers to Mars since the late 1990s.
The next one, Perseverance, is an SUV-sized vehicle that will look for signs of ancient microbial life, and gather rock and soil samples with the goal of bringing them back to Earth on another mission in 2031.
Tianwen-1 is “broadly comparable to Viking in its scope and ambition”, said McDowell, referring to NASA’s Mars landing missions in 1975-1976.
After watching the United States and the Soviet Union lead the way during the Cold War, China has poured billions of dollars into its military-led space programme.
“China joining (the Mars race) will change the situation dominated by the US for half a century,” said Chen Lan, an independent analyst at GoTaikonauts.com, which specialises in China’s space programme.
China has made huge strides in the past decade, sending a human into space in 2003.
The Asian powerhouse has laid the groundwork to assemble a space station by 2022 and gain a permanent foothold in Earth orbit.
China has already sent two rovers to the Moon. With the second, China became the first country to make a successful soft landing on the far side.
The Moon missions gave China experience in operating spacecraft beyond Earth orbit, but Mars is another story.
The much greater distance means “a bigger light travel time, so you have to do things more slowly as the radio signal round trip time is large,” said McDowell.
It also means “you need a more sensitive ground station on Earth because the signals will be much fainter,” he added, noting that there is a greater risk of failure.
China has upgraded its monitoring stations in the far-western Xinjiang region and northeastern Heilongjiang province to meet the Mars mission requirements, state news agency Xinhua reported last week.
The majority of the dozens of missions sent by the US, Russia, Europe, Japan and India to Mars since 1960 ended in failure.
President Donald Trump on Tuesday formally started the withdrawal of the United States from the World Health Organization, making good on threats to deprive the UN body of its top funding source over its response to the coronavirus.
Public health advocates and Trump’s political opponents voiced outrage at the departure from the Geneva-based body, which leads the global fight on maladies from polio to measles to mental health – as well as COVID-19, at a time when cases have again been rising around the world.
After threatening to suspend the US$400 million in annual US contributions and then announcing a withdrawal, the Trump administration has formally sent a notice to UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, a State Department spokesperson said.
The withdrawal of the key WHO founding member is effective in one year – July 6, 2021. Joe Biden, Trump’s presumptive Democratic opponent in November elections, vowed he would immediately end the pullout if he won the White House.
“Americans are safer when America is engaged in strengthening global health. On my first day as President, I will rejoin the WHO and restore our leadership on the world stage,” Biden wrote on Twitter.
WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus responded to the news with a one-word tweet – “Together!” – as he linked to a discussion by US health experts on how leaving the global body could impede efforts to prevent future pandemics.
In line with conditions set when the WHO was set up in 1948, the United States can leave within one year but must meet its remaining assessed financial obligations, UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric said.
In late May, Trump said that China exerted “total control” over the WHO and accused the UN body led by Tedros, an Ethiopian doctor and diplomat, of failing to implement reforms.
Blaming China for the coronavirus, Trump, a frequent critic of the UN, said the United States would redirect funding “to other worldwide and deserving, urgent, global public health needs.”
Democratic lawmakers have accused Trump of seeking to deflect criticism from his handling of the pandemic in the United States, which has suffered by far the highest death toll of any nation despite the president’s stated hope that the virus will disappear.
“To call Trump’s response to COVID chaotic and incoherent doesn’t do it justice,” said Senator Robert Menendez, the top Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee.
“This won’t protect American lives or interests – it leaves Americans sick and America alone,” he said.
Representative Ami Bera, himself a physician, said that the United States and World Health Organization had worked “hand in hand” to eradicate smallpox and nearly defeat polio.
“Our cases are increasing,” Bera said of COVID-19. “If the WHO is to blame: why has the US been left behind while many countries from South Korea to New Zealand to Vietnam to Germany return to normal?”
Even some of Trump’s Republican allies had voiced hope that he was exerting pressure rather than making a final decision to abandon the World Health Organization.
The investigative news outlet ProPublica reported last month that most of Trump’s aides were blindsided by the WHO withdrawal announcement, which he made during an appearance about China.
The Trump administration has said that the WHO ignored early signs of human-to-human transmission in China, including warnings from Taiwan – which, due to Beijing’s pressure, is not part of the UN body.
While many public health advocates share some criticism of the WHO, they question what other options the world body had other than to work with China, where COVID-19 was first detected late last year in the city of Wuhan.
The anti-poverty campaign ONE said the United States should work to reform, not abandon, the WHO.
“Withdrawing from the World Health Organization amidst an unprecedented global pandemic is an astounding action that puts the safety of all Americans the world at risk,” it said.
New daily coronavirus cases in the United States soared past 50,000 for the first time Wednesday, as the World Health Organization delivered a grave warning that the global pandemic is accelerating.
Restaurants, bars and beaches in the world’s worst-hit nation closed from California to Florida, as states reeling from yet another surge in the deadly virus braced for Independence Day festivities.
Global infections have hit their highest level in the past week, WHO data showed, with chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus saying new cases topped “160,000 on every single day.”
The grim milestone came as the European Union left the United States, Brazil and Russia off its final list of nations safe enough to allow residents to enter its borders.
With more than 52,000 new COVID-19 cases in the United States alone in the past 24 hours, according to a Johns Hopkins University tally, several US states imposed 14-day quarantines on visitors in the buildup to the long weekend’s July 4 celebrations.
California suspended indoor dining at restaurants in Los Angeles and several counties, while New York scrapped plans to allow restaurants to seat customers inside from next week.
President Donald Trump reiterated his belief that the contagion will “at some point… sort of just disappear, I hope.”
But the US leader who has yet to be seen in public wearing a face mask during the pandemic added he would have “no problem” doing so.
EU travel ban eased
The rollbacks came as the European Union reopened its borders to visitors from 15 countries.
The bloc hopes relaxing restrictions on countries from Algeria to Uruguay will breathe life into its tourism sector, choked by a ban on non-essential travel since mid-March.
Travelers from China, where the virus first emerged late last year, will be allowed to enter the EU only if Beijing reciprocates.
And Brazil – which has suffered the most deaths globally for the last week, and is the second-worst affected country overall – was excluded entirely.
It topped 60,000 total fatalities Wednesday, after suffering 1,000 deaths in just 24 hours.
However, with over 10 million known infections worldwide and more than 500,000 deaths, the pandemic is “not even close to being over”, the WHO warned.
Data provided by the UN health agency for the seven days from June 25-July 1 showed the highest number of new daily cases ever recorded came on June 28, when over 189,500 new cases were registered worldwide.
Dutch brothels reopen
According to the United Nations, the coronavirus crisis could cost global tourism and related sectors from $1.2 to $3.3 trillion in lost revenue.
Greece, which has suffered fewer than 200 virus deaths, has seen its economy hit hard by lockdowns and travel restrictions – all but ending its lucrative tourism season before it began.
Romanian Cojan Dragos was “the first tourist” in one Corfu hotel after driving there with his wife and daughter.
“We have the whole hotel just for us,” he told AFP.
Separately, Spain and Portugal held a ceremony as they reopened their land border.
The Netherlands also confirmed the reopening Wednesday of another tourist draw – its brothels and red-light districts.
“I’m totally booked,” said sex worker Foxxy, adding that she had held a “little party” when she heard restrictions would be lifted.
Clusters spur new lockdowns
Russia did not make the EU’s list of approved countries so its citizens will be absent from the bloc’s tourist hot-spots.
The country, however, enjoyed a public holiday Wednesday as it voted in a referendum to approve constitutional changes allowing President Vladimir Putin to stay in power for another 16 years.
Putin was forced to postpone the vote in April as his government tackled an outbreak that has infected almost 650,000 people – the third-highest in the world.
In other countries, clusters are still causing problems.
Parts of the Australian city of Melbourne suffered sharp rises in infections, spurring new stay-at-home measures.
The Palestinian Authority announced a five-day lockdown across the West Bank after a surge in confirmed cases.
And textile factories in the central British city of Leicester were suggested as the reason for a spike in infections that has prompted the reimposition of local restrictions.
In the United States, spikes across southern and western states are driving a surge in national infections.
Texas, which again smashed its daily COVID-19 record with over 8,000 new cases, joined Florida and California in closing some beaches for the upcoming holiday weekend.
Apple announced it would close another 30 US stores on Thursday, half of them in California.
A further 700 deaths nationwide took the US past 128,000 deaths in total.
The Pan American Health Organization warned that the death toll in Latin America and the Caribbean could quadruple to more than 400,000 by October without stricter public health measures.
The US government announced this week it had bought 92 percent of all remdesivir production – the first drug to be shown to be relatively effective in treating COVID-19.
Britain and Germany, however, said Wednesday they had sufficient stocks of the drug.
In Britain, some 1,500 acts from Ed Sheeran and Coldplay to Paul McCartney and The Rolling Stones urged the county’s government to save the live music industry, which has been collapsing because of the coronavirus.
But while lockdown measures have been a disaster for many, some have welcomed the chance to spend more quality time with hard-working partners.
The COVID-19 global pandemic has drawn new attention to how people think about wild animals, consume them and interact with them, and how those interactions can affect public health.
Any activity that puts people in close proximity to disease-prone animals is risky, including wildlife trade and the destruction of natural habitats. In response to the current pandemic, China and Vietnam have instituted bans on wildlife consumption.
We study global environmental governance and human security. As we see it, banning the wildlife trade without action to reduce consumer demand would likely drive it underground. And curbing that demand requires recognizing that much of it comes from wealthy nations.
Discussions about wildlife consumerism often ascribe consumption to a false, all-encompassing archetype of an “Asian super consumer” with “weird” appetites for exotic animals. This perspective focuses on newly wealthy Asians who want to buy ivory, rhino horn or, more recently, pangolin.
These false stories can result in blinkered policy decisions that ignore the real motivations driving both consumption and poaching. In particular, consumer demand in the United States and Europe is a significant driver of wildlife trade.
And wildlife products appeal to Western consumers for many of the same reasons that drive demand in other parts of the world.
The number of shipments declared each year more than doubled between 2000 and 2015.
Consumption reflects social values, and consumer preferences vary by culture, class and gender. What do a 150-ounce steak in the United States and tiger penis wine in China have in common?
The culturally symbolic belief that they exemplify and promote male virility. Similarly, luxury wear items – such as exotic giraffe leather boots in Texas, python skin jackets in Milan and fur coats in Florida – are a way of dressing to impress others.
For example, products like fish swim bladder – also known as aquatic cocaine – and cosmetics containing shark liver oil appeal to perceptions of female beauty, targeting aging women with false promises of eternal youth.
In Asia, ground pangolin scales are marketed as a treatment for lactation problems. Trophy hunters’ photographs and showrooms with taxidermied lions or elephant tusks appeal to perceptions of masculinity.
Performing a quick online search, we identified more than 30 retailers selling elephant leather products in the United States, mainly exotic boots.
Their ads promote virility — “Just a hard-working, tough as nails, pair of American made cowboy boots” — and promise that others will be impressed, with messages like “No ignoring these elephants when they’re in the room.”
Targeting the fashion industry
Western countries mostly import wildlife goods, which can make the effects of this trade seem far removed. However, media exposés are making it hard for wealthy consumers and businesses to deny its impact.
Some companies have responded to campaigns by advocacy groups like People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, which has crashed runways and solicited celebrities. PETA has claimed victory for its 30-year campaign, “I’d Rather Go Naked Than Wear Fur.” “Nearly every top designer has shed fur, California has banned it, Queen Elizabeth II has renounced it, Macy’s is closing its fur salons, and now, the largest fur auction house in North America has filed for bankruptcy,” said PETA senior vice president Dan Mathews when the campaign ended in 2020.
Still, the industry has far to go. “Despite some modest progress, fashion hasn’t yet taken its environmental responsibilities seriously enough,” the consulting firm McKinsey observed in a recent report, noting that many younger consumers were demanding “transformational change.”
Now animal welfare advocates are focusing on leather and wool production. Fashion houses including Chanel, Nine West and Victoria Beckham are banning the use of exotic leathers. California has also banned them from being sold.
Better quality control of fashion materials could make it harder for companies to work with these suppliers. Learning from seafood industry systems that trace products from origin to consumption could ensure transparency and bring order to complex supply chains.
Changing consumer preferences
Ultimately, reducing demand for wildlife products will require regulation as well as educating consumers about the consequences of their choices.
Helping people understand the harmful impacts of products ranging from plastic bags and plastic straws to gasoline-powered cars is the first step in persuading them to consider alternatives. And when they do, and policies change, producers listen and shift supply.
We see targeted campaigns as an effective way to unearth consumption biases and mobilize action for public and planetary health. In our view, more brands and designers banning wildlife products, and greater peer pressure for behavior change, will promote more sustainable consumption patterns that benefit both humans and wildlife.
Due to global warming, the United States is today more than twice as likely to endure a devastating “dust bowl” scenario than during the Great Depression, researchers said Monday.
Nearly a decade of heatwaves and massive dust storms across the US Great Plains in the 1930s ruined agricultural land and drove tens of thousands of farming families far and wide in search for food and work.
“The 1930s Dust Bowl heatwaves were extremely rare events that we might expect to see occur once in a hundred years,” said Tim Cowan, a researcher at the University of Southern Queensland in Australia, and lead author of a study in Nature Climate Change.
“Under today’s levels of greenhouse gases, they are more than twice as likely to occur, with their period-of-return reduced to once in around 40 years.”
Even in the 1930s, the finger print of global warming was perceptible, although the impact on weather and climate was then extremely small.
Nearly a century later, the signature of human-induced climate change is unmistakable, and portends even more dire consequences, said senior author Friederike Otto, acting director of the Environment Change Institute at the University of Oxford.
“If extreme heatwaves and drought reduce the vegetation as they did in the 1930s, heatwaves could become even stronger,” threatening global food supplies, she said in a statement.
“This scenario is more likely than ever, and should urge us to develop and implement more ambitious adaptation and mitigation plans.”
Mitigation refers to reducing the source of greenhouse gases, which are produced overwhelmingly by the burning of fossil fuels.
US west in a ‘megadrought’
Otto is a world leader in the growing field of attribution science, which uses observational data and simulations based on computer modelling to tease out the impact of global warming from natural variations in weather and climate.
Her warning is backed up by research published in March which shows that a multi-year Dust Bowl-type drought in the US could deplete US grain stores and have a cascading effect through the world’s food system.
“A four-year decline in wheat production of the same proportional magnitude as occurred during the Dust Bowl greatly reduces both wheat supply and reserves in the United States and propagates through the global trade network,” a team led by Alison Heslin at Columbia University reported in Frontiers in Sustainable Food Systems.
By the fourth year of such an event, US wheat exports would fall by half, and the country would exhaust 94 percent of its reserves, they calculated.
The year 1936 still holds the record for the hottest year in the continental United States, but the country is tracking toward ever-warmer summers.
A study last month in the journal Science concluded that the western United States has likely entered a period of megadrought – the fourth in 1,200 years – that could last decades, even a century.
Globally, 19 out of 20 of the warmest years on record have occurred this century.