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Covid Variants Getting Better At Travelling Through Air, Study Shows
[Washington] --- The variants of S-CoV-2 are getting better at travelling through the air, and people must wear tight-fitting masks and ensure better ventilation, in addition to getting vaccinated, to help stop spread of the virus that causes COVID-19, according to a study.



The team led by researchers at the University of Maryland in the US found that people infected withS-CoV-2 exhale infectious virus in their breath, and those infected with the Alpha variant put 43 to 100 times more virus into the air than people infected with the original strains of the virus.

The study, published in the journal Clinical Infectious Diseases, also found that loose-fitting cloth and surgical masks reduced the amount of virus that gets into the air around infected people by about half.

"Our latest study provides further evidence of the importance of airborne transmission," said Don Milton, professor at the University of Maryland School of Public Health.

"We know that the Delta variant circulating now is even more contagious than the Alpha variant. Our research indicates that the variants just keep getting better at travelling through the air, so we must provide better ventilation and wear tight-fitting masks, in addition to vaccination, to help stop spread of the virus," Mr Milton said. The researchers noted that the amount of virus in the air coming from Alpha variant infections was much more -- 18-times more -- than could be explained by the increased amounts of virus in nasal swabs and saliva.

"We already knew that virus in saliva and nasal swabs was increased in Alpha variant infections," said doctoral student Jianyu Lai, one of the lead authors of the study.

"Virus from the nose and mouth might be transmitted by sprays of large droplets up close to an infected person. But, our study shows that the virus in exhaled aerosols is increasing even more," Lai said. The researchers said these major increases in airborne virus from Alpha infections occurred before the Delta variant arrived and indicate that the virus is evolving to be better at travelling through the air.

To test whether face masks work in blocking the virus from being transmitted among people, the study measured how much S-CoV-2 is breathed into the air and tested how much less virus people sick with COVID-19 exhaled into the air after putting on a cloth or surgical mask.

Face coverings significantly reduced virus-laden particles in the air around the person with COVID-19, cutting the amount by about 50 per cent, the researchers found.

However, the loose-fitting cloth and surgical masks didn't stop infectious virus from getting into the air, they said.

"The take-home messages from this paper are that the coronavirus can be in your exhaled breath, is getting better at being in your exhaled breath, and using a mask reduces the chance of you breathing it on others," Jennifer German, a co-author of the study said.

"This means that a layered approach to control measures -- including improved ventilation, increased filtration, UV air sanitation, and tight-fitting masks, in addition to vaccination -- is critical to protect people in public-facing jobs and indoor spaces," Jennifer German added.
Pfizer Covid Vaccine Safe For Children Aged 5-11: Clinical Trial Results
[Frankfurt, Germany] --- Pfizer and BioNTech on Monday said trial results showed their coronavirus vaccine was safe and produced a robust immune response in children aged five to 11, adding that they would seek regulatory approval shortly.



The vaccine would be administered at a lower dosage than for people over 12, they said.

"In participants five to 11 years of age, the vaccine was safe, well tolerated and showed robust neutralising antibody responses," US giant Pfizer and its German partner said in a joint statement.

They plan to submit their data to regulatory bodies in the European Union, the United States and around the world "as soon as possible".

The trial results are the first of their kind for children under 12, with a Moderna trial for six-11 year olds still ongoing.

Both the Pfizer and Moderna jabs are already being administered to adolescents over 12 and adults in countries around the globe.

Although children are considered less at risk of severe Covid, there are concerns that the highly contagious Delta variant could lead to more serious cases.

Innoculating children is also seen as key to keeping schools open and helping end the pandemic.

"We are eager to extend the protection afforded by the vaccine to this younger population," said Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla, noting that "since July, paediatric cases of COVID-19 have risen by about 240 percent in the US".

Kids in the 5-11 age trial group received a two-dose regimen of 10 microgrammes in the trial, compared with 30 microgrammes for older age groups, the companies said. The shots were given 21 days apart.

The 10 microgramme dose was "carefully selected as the preferred dose for safety, tolerability and immunogenicity" for that age group, the statement said.


Under-5s before year-end

The side effects were "generally comparable to those observed in participants 16 to 25 years of age", it added.

Among the most commonly reported side effects in the past have been pain and swelling at the injection site as well as headache, chills and fever.

Israel has already given special authorisation to vaccinate children aged 5-11 who are "at significant risk of serious illness or death" from Covid, using the Pfizer jab at the lower dosage.

Pfizer and BioNTech are also trialling their vaccine on infants aged six months to two years, and on children aged two to five.

The topline results for those trials are expected "as soon as" the fourth quarter of this year, the companies said.

All together, up to 4,500 children aged six months to 11 years have enrolled in the Pfizer-BioNTech trials in the US, Finland, Poland and Spain.

Like its Moderna rival, the Pfizer jab is based on novel mRNA technology that delivers genetic instructions to cells to build the coronavirus spike protein, in order to evoke antibodies when bodies encounter the real virus.
Google Doodle pays tribute to Japanese chemist and green tea researcher
Michiyo Tsujimura, the Japanese chemist who did in-depth research on green tea, was honoured with a Google Doodle on Friday on the occasion of her 133rd birth anniversary.



The Google Doodle celebrating Michiyo Tsujimura's 133rd birthday shows her studying and extracting the chemical components of green tea.

A variety of research components, such as a tea shrub, a cup of green tea, a pen, a flask, and a notepad, were used to form the letters of 'Google'.
Blood Plasma Therapy Doesn't Help Seriously Ill COVID-19 Patients: Study
[Toronto] --- Convalescent plasma does not reduce the risk of intubation or death in COVID-19 patients, according to a study which found that people receiving the therapy experienced more serious adverse events than those getting standard care.



Intubation is a procedure where a tube is inserted into the windpipe to make it easier to breath.

The research, published in the journal Nature Medicine, also found that the antibody profile in the blood of people who have had the virus is extremely variable and this may modify the response to the treatment.

Convalescent plasma therapy uses blood from people who have recovered from an illness to help others recover.

"It has been thought that the blood plasma of COVID-19 survivors would help those seriously ill from the virus but, unfortunately, it does not," said co-principal investigator of the study, Donald Arnold, a professor at McMaster University in Canada.

"We are cautioning against using convalescent plasma to treat COVID-19 hospitalised patients, unless they are in a closely-monitored clinical trial," Arnold said.

The research team also found that patients receiving convalescent plasma experienced significantly more serious adverse events than those receiving standard care.

The majority of those events were an increased need for oxygen and worsening respiratory failure, they said.

However, the rate of fatal incidents was not significantly different from the control group of patients who did not receive the blood.

The clinical trial, called CONCOR-1, included 940 patients at 72 hospitals in Canada, the US, and Brazil.

The trial found that convalescent plasma had highly variable donor antibody content due to the highly variable immune response to the virus.

Different antibody profiles in the convalescent plasma were observed to significantly impact whether or not patients experienced intubation or death.

Unfavourable antibody profiles, meaning low antibody titres, non-functional antibodies or both, was associated with a higher risk of intubation or death.

“These findings may explain the apparent conflicting results between randomised trials showing no benefit, and observational studies showing better outcomes with higher titre products relative to low titre products," said study co-principal investigator Jeannie Callum, an associate scientist at the Sunnybrook Research Institute in Canada.

"It appears that it may not be that high-titre convalescent plasma is helpful, but rather that low-titre convalescent plasma is harmful," Callum said.

The researchers noted that the harm may come from the transfusion of convalescent plasma containing poorly functioning antibodies.

"One hypothesis is that those dysfunctional antibodies could compete with the patient's own antibodies and could disrupt the mounting immune response,” said study co-principal investigator Philippe Begin, an associate professor at the University of Montreal in Canada.

"This phenomenon has been observed previously in animal models and in human studies of HIV vaccines," Begin said.

He added that the CONCOR-1 investigators are expecting to collaborate with other international study investigators to understand potential risks and benefits of convalescent plasma.

"This information from Canada's largest clinical trial on convalescent plasma and COVID-19 may be analysed together with the results of several similar studies going on in the world to provide more robust information and insight that will guide clinical practice and health policy globally," Begin added.
Woman Boxer Forced To Leave Afghanistan Amid Taliban Death Threats
[Doha] --- In order to continue her passion for sports, female Afghan lightweight boxing champion Seema Rezai was forced to leave Afghanistan after the Taliban issued death threats to her.



The member of the national female boxing team Ms Rezai told Sputnik that she decided to leave the homeland alone, without her family, as she wanted to continue her boxing training.

"When the Taliban seized Kabul in mid-August, I was at boxing training with my coach. But then some people told the Taliban that there is a girl who trains with a male coach, and they sent me to home a written warning about the need to stop training or continue boxing in the United States, promising to kill if I do not agree to do so," Ms Rezai said.

Ms Rezai departed for Qatar on an evacuation flight and is currently awaiting a visa to the US, where she hopes to pursue her sports career, reported Sputnik.

Ms Rezai began to do boxing professionally at the age of 16. Because of the family's negative attitude towards her hobby, it was her coach that bought her training equipment.

Meanwhile, the Taliban has announced that only women wearing hijab and following Sharia law will have access to education and work.
First Moment Of Silence Observed At New York Service For 9/11 Dead
[New York] --- A commemoration in New York on the 20th anniversary of 9/11 held a moment's silence on Saturday for the almost 3,000 people killed in the attacks.



Attendees, including President Joe Biden, stood still at 8:46 am (1246 GMT), the moment the first plane struck the World Trade Center, before relatives started reading the names of the dead.

Six moments of silence will be held throughout the service.
Taliban Kills Pregnant Afghan Policewoman In Front Of Her Family: Report
[Kabul] --- An Afghan policewoman was shot dead by the Taliban in front of her family in Ghor province, an Afghan journalist informed in a tweet.



Nigara was 6 months pregnant and was shot in front of her husband and children, the journalist informed.

On Sunday, a Sputnik correspondent reported, Women started buying head and body coverings out of fear that the Taliban would hunt down and beat them up if they were seen without hijabs or burqas, something similar to what used to happen in the country in the 1990s.
Afghan Woman Activist Thrashed By Taliban During Kabul Protest: Report
[Kabul] --- A woman activist who participated in a protest in Kabul seeking political rights under Taliban rule was seen in a video with a head injury, blood streaming down her face.



Activist Nargis Saddat alleged that she was beaten by the Taliban during a protest on Saturday led by women's rights activists. Tolo News reported that the Taliban prevented the marchers from continuing towards the presidential palace and lobbed tear gas on them.
Israel is now the world's Covid hotspot: Cases soar despite country's trail-blazing vaccine roll-out - sparking fears other highly-vaccinated countries will be hit by another wave due to jabs' waning immunity




Researchers Spot World's 'Northernmost' Island But It Can Disappear Soon
[Copenhagen] --- Scientists have discovered what is believed to be the world's northernmost landmass -- a yet-to-be-named island north of Greenland that could soon be swallowed up by seawaters.


An aerial view of a tiny island off the coast of Greenland revealed by shifting pack ice.

Researchers came upon the landmass on an expedition in July, and initially thought they had reached Oodaaq, up until now the northernmost island on the planet.

"We were informed that there had been an error on my GPS which had led us to believe that we were standing on Oodaaq Island," said the head of the mission, Morten Rasch from Copenhagen University's department of geosciences and natural resource management.

"In reality, we had discovered a new island further north, a discovery that just slightly expands the kingdom" of Denmark, he added.

Oodaaq is some 700 kilometres (435 miles) south of the North Pole, while the new island is 780 metres (2,560 feet) north of Oodaaq.

Copenhagen University said in a statement late Friday the "yet-to-be-named island is... the northernmost point of Greenland and one of the most northerly points of land on Earth."

But it is only 30 to 60 metres above sea level, and Rasch said it could be a "short-lived islet".

"No one knows how long it will remain. In principle, it could disappear as soon as a powerful new storm hits."

The autonomous Danish territory of Greenland has grabbed headlines in recent years, most notably in 2019 when former US president Donald Trump said he wanted to buy the Arctic territory.

The proposal, described as "absurd" by the Danish government, caused a diplomatic kerfuffle, but also signalled renewed American interest in the region.

It has also been hard hit by climate change as warmer temperatures have melted its glaciers, causing alarming sea level rise.
Canada Reopens Border For Fully Vaccinated US Citizens
[Lacolle] --- American visitors trickled across the Canada-US border on Monday, cheering the reopening of the world's longest land boundary 17 months after all non-essential travel was halted to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus.


Travellers must also be asymptomatic on arrival. (File)

Ottawa lifted quarantine requirements for US citizens and permanent residents arriving with proof of vaccination.

"It's absolutely wonderful," Vicki Poulin said of the border reopening. "We're just so happy to be here."

The Canadian-born resident of Queensbury, New York, her American husband and their dog Sully used to make the trip to see her extended family in Montreal every month, but have not visited since the border was shuttered in March 2020.

"I was so happy that they opened (the border) because I have a lot of friends in Canada," echoed Richard Antaki, who drove nonstop from New York City to be among the first in line at the Lacolle, Quebec border crossing.

He said he was so eager to reconnect with friends in Montreal that he hasn't seen in more than a year and a half that he "didn't touch the brakes" of his car the entire ride up.

Most travellers interviewed by AFP said their crossings went smoothly, with lineups much shorter than expected.

The changes come, however, as Covid-19 cases are starting to surge once again across North America, led by the Delta variant after a steep drop in infections in early summer.

Ottawa and Washington had faced increasing pressure from travel and tourism groups to ease travel and border restrictions.

A strike by Canadian border agents last week risked throwing border reopening plans into turmoil, but quick negotiations led to a new collective agreement and in the end there were no major disruptions.

US citizens and permanent residents who have had their full course of doses of a vaccine approved by Canadian authorities at least 14 days before arrival will be allowed to cross.

Travellers must also be asymptomatic on arrival.

Washington, however, according to White House press secretary Jen Psaki, was "continuing to review" its border restrictions for Canadians wishing to head south for a vacation.

Half of the US population is fully vaccinated against Covid-19, while 81 percent of Canadians have received a single dose and 68 percent are fully immunized.
'Indiscriminate' Afghan Fighting Hurting Civilians The Most, Says UN
[Kandahar, Afghanistan] --- Afghan forces battled the Taliban for control of a key provincial capital Tuesday, as the United Nations warned "indiscriminate" gunfire and air strikes were hurting civilians the most.


"Taliban ground offensive & ANA air strikes causing most harm," UNAMA tweeted.

Officials said insurgents had seized more than a dozen local radio and TV stations in Lashkar Gah -- capital of Helmand province and the scene of days of fierce fighting -- leaving only one pro-Taliban channel broadcasting Islamic programming.

In Herat, another city under siege, hundreds of residents chanted "Allahu akbar" (God is greatest) from their rooftops after government forces repulsed the latest Taliban assault.

The hardline Islamist group has seized control of much of rural Afghanistan since foreign forces began the last stage of their withdrawal in early May, but are meeting resistance as they try to take provincial capitals.

That urban fighting, however, is taking its toll on civilians.

"Taliban ground offensive & ANA air strikes causing most harm," the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) tweeted Tuesday, referring to the Afghan national army.

"Deep concerns about indiscriminate shooting & damage to/occupation of health facilities & civilian homes."

"Fighting was intense this morning," said Sefatullah, director of Sukon radio in Helmand's capital, whose station was captured by the Taliban.

"We stopped broadcasting two days ago because the Taliban captured the building of our station."

Afghan officials said Tuesday that 11 radio and four television stations in the city had been seized by the Taliban.

"Terrorists do not want the media to publish the facts and expose their injustices," the Ministry of Information and Culture said.

The loss of Lashkar Gah would be a massive strategic and psychological blow for the government, which has pledged to defend cities at all costs after losing much of the rural countryside to the Taliban over the summer.

In Herat, Afghan officials said government forces had managed to push back the insurgents from several areas of the city -- including near the airport, which is vital for resupplies.

"Afghan security forces plus resistance forces launched a big operation in west of the city," Jailani Farhad, spokesman for Herat's governor, told AFP.
Greece Suffering Worst Heatwave In More Than 30 Years
[Athens] --- Firefighters were battling two large wildfires in Greece on Monday, as the prime minister said the country was suffering its worst heatwave in more than three decades.


Tourists walk through water sprayed by a mister at a cafe during a heatwave in Athens, Greece.

Fires have also raged across Turkey, Spain and Italy over the weekend with experts warning climate change was increasing both the frequency and intensity of such blazes.

More than 3,000 hectares (7,400 acres) of pine and olive groves have been torched by a fire that broke out on Saturday near the city of Patras, 200 kilometres (125 miles) west of Athens, according to the National Observatory of Athens citing EU satellite images.

And the authorities were rushing to bolster crews fighting a blaze on the island of Rhodes near Turkey.

"We are facing the worst heatwave since 1987," Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said, adding that the authorities were doing "everything possible" to deal with the situation.

After meeting electricity providers, he warned that the brutal heat was putting a strain on the power network and asked for Greeks to limit their consumption in the early afternoon and during the night.

Deputy Civil Protection Minister Nikos Hardalias said that there had been 1,584 fires across Greece in July compared to 953 in 2019, and that there had been 116 new blazes in just the last 24 hours.

"We are no longer talking about climate change but about a climate threat," he told Star TV.

The fire near Patras was not fully under control on Monday, the country's weather service told the ANA news agency.

And temperatures of up to 45 degrees Celsius (113 degrees Fahrenheit) have been forecast for nearby areas, posing new risks for land already parched by the heatwave.

Officials have evacuated five villages and a seaside town and eight people have been hospitalised with burns and respiratory problems.


Help sent to Rhodes

However, officials were optimistic that a fire on the island of Rhodes, near the Turkish coast, was on the back foot after more firefighters and resources were deployed overnight.

"Dawn finds Rhodes much better than the day before," South Aegean Governor George Hatzimarkos said in a statement.

He added that the fronts of the fire were receding and "almost under control".

More than 100 firefighters, helped by 20 vehicles, three planes and six helicopters, were sent to Rhodes on Monday morning, officials said.

Dozens more firefighters and 14 vehicles were due to arrive from Athens later in the day.

Firefighters evacuated a central area on the island known as "the Valley of the Butterflies" popular with hikers and tourists on Sunday.

Temperatures of between 40 and 42 degrees Celsius have been forecast for the island in the coming days, with the heatwave expected to peak on Monday and Tuesday.

Nearby Turkey is suffering its worst fires in at least a decade, claiming the lives of eight people and forcing hundreds to evacuate in southern areas popular with tourists.
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