Brazil asks women to delay pregnancy over new coronavirus variant fears


Outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Sao Carlos
A medical worker administers medication to an intubated coronavirus disease (COVID-19) patient at a UPA (Emergency Service Unit) in Sao Carlos, Brazil April 16, 2021. REUTERS/Amanda Perobelli

April 16, 2021

By Eduardo Simões

SAO PAULO (Reuters) – Brazil asked women on Friday to delay getting pregnant until the worst of the pandemic passes, saying the virus variant that is devastating the South American country appears to affect expectant mothers more than earlier versions of the coronavirus.

The recommendation comes as Brazil continues to be one of the global epicenters of the pandemic, with more Brazilians dying of the virus each day than anywhere else in the world.

Hospitals are buckling under the strain and stocks of drugs needed for intubating severely ill patients are running perilously low, with Brazil turning to international partners for help with emergency supplies.

“If it’s possible, delay pregnancy a little until a better moment,” Health Ministry official Raphael Parente said during a news conference on Friday.

He said the recommendation was partly due to the stress on the health system but also due to the more easily transmissible Brazilian variant known as P.1.

“The clinical experience of specialists shows that this new variant acts more aggressively in pregnant women,” Parente said.

Previously, COVID-19 cases during pregnancy were focused on the final trimester and birth, whereas lately there have been more serious cases in the second and occasionally first trimester, he said.

Parente did not give any more details.

The P.1 variant, first discovered in the Amazon city of Manaus, has quickly become dominant in Brazil. It is thought to be a major factor behind a massive second wave of infections that has brought the country’s death toll to over 350,000 – the second highest in the world behind the United States.

Brazil’s outbreak is increasingly affecting younger people, with hospital data showing that in March more than half of all patients in intensive care were aged 40 or younger.

President Jair Bolsonaro has opposed lockdowns and held large events in which he often does not wear a mask. He has only recently embraced vaccines as a possible solution, but the inoculation rollout has been plagued by delays and missed targets for getting people inoculated.

This week, vaccinations were stopped in several cities due to a shortage of vaccine supply, according to local media.

The surge in COID-19 cases has also left hospitals short of sedatives needed for patients who require mechanical ventilation.

An emergency shipment of the drugs arrived in Brazil late on Thursday from China, while donations from Spain are expected to arrive next week.

Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo have both sounded the alarm over shortages, with Sao Paulo’s health secretary saying this week that the city’s ability to care for seriously ill COVID-19 patients is on the verge of collapse.

Despite the shortage of drugs and 85% of intensive care beds occupied, Sao Paulo announced on Friday it would begin reopening stores and restaurants, saying the number of new hospitalizations had fallen sufficiently to do so safely.

(Reporting by Eduardo Simoes, writing by Stephen Eisenhammer; Editing by Bill Berkrot)

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China’s vice premier, U.S. climate envoy Kerry discuss climate cooperation: Xinhua


Chinese Vice Premier Han Zheng attends the closing session of CPPCC in Beijing
FILE PHOTO: Chinese Vice Premier Han Zheng attends the closing session of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, China May 27, 2020. REUTERS/Thomas Peter/Pool

April 16, 2021

(Reuters) – Chinese Vice Premier Han Zheng and U.S. climate envoy John Kerry met via video link on Friday, with both sides expressing willingness to cooperate on climate change, Chinese state news agency Xinhua reported.

Han said China welcomed the U.S. return to the 2015 Paris Agreement, according to Xinhua. Kerry was in Shanghai for talks with his Chinese counterpart, Xie Zhenhua.

China was willing to strengthen cooperation with France and Germany to cope with climate change, President Xi Jinping told French counterpart Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Chinese state media reported earlier on Friday.

Xi last year announced that China, the world’s biggest emitter of greenhouse gases, would achieve a peak in carbon dioxide emissions before 2030 and carbon neutrality by 2060.

(Reporting by Kanishka Singh in Bengaluru; Editing by Leslie Adler)

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Iran nuclear: State TV names suspect in Natanz attack



Iran’s state TV has named a man that intelligence authorities allege was responsible for an attack at the Natanz nuclear site last weekend.

Reza Karimi fled Iran shortly before the blast, Network One said, showing a man’s photo on what it said was an Interpol wanted poster.

Interpol said it could not confirm that Mr Karimi was on its red list of wanted fugitives.

Iran has blamed Israel for the attack and stepped up its nuclear activities.

Israel has neither confirmed nor denied involvement, but Israel public radio cited intelligence sources as saying it was a Mossad cyber-operation.

The attack came shortly before Iran was due to take part in talks aimed at reviving the 2015 nuclear deal with the US, UK, France, China, Russia and Germany.

The agreement is designed to prevent Iran developing a nuclear weapon, something it denies wanting to do. Israel opposes the deal, saying it will not prevent Iran becoming a nuclear power.

The agreement, which saw Iran limit its nuclear activities in return for sanctions relief, was in danger of collapse after former US President Donald Trump abandoned it in 2018.

Iran’s announcement it would produce 60%-enriched uranium following last Sunday’s attack was a further breach of the nuclear agreement, under which it is permitted to enrich uranium only to 3.67% purity to make reactor fuel.

It is not entirely clear how the attack unfolded. However, Alireza Zakani, head of the Iranian parliament’s research centre, said thousands of machines used to refine nuclear material were destroyed or damaged at Natanz.

The attack took place in a facility up to 50m (165ft) underground, another official said.

On Saturday, Iranian state television announced that the intelligence ministry had identified “Reza Karimi, the perpetrator of this sabotage”.

“Necessary steps are under way for his arrest and return to the country through legal channels,” it added.

The channel also showed footage of the damaged centrifuges.

But asked if Mr Karimi was on its red notice, Interpol declined to comment “on specific cases or individuals”.

Interpol’s website shows no red notice for anyone named Reza Karimi.

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US Tops Global Lists for Gun-Related Violence, Mass Shootings



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During the first three months of this year alone, the US witnessed over 100 mass shooting incidents, according to the Gun Violence Archive. These numbers, despite slowly becoming the “norm” in the US, sound bizarre to people in other countries.

Thursday evening in the US was marred by reports of a new mass shooting that left eight people dead at a FedEx Ground building in Indianapolis, Indiana after a gunman armed with an automatic weapon fired bullets at the facility for reasons that remain unclear. The shooting became one of 100 other similar violent incidents that have taken place since the beginning of the year, according to the Gun Violence Archive non-profit organisation.

Deadly mass shootings in the US have in the last decade started to no longer come as a surprise. And an analysis of the statistics from recent years reveals why – there has been a rise in the number of such incidents, and even more so in their lethality.

Something that makes the mass shooting phenomenon in the US more remarkable is the fact that they occur far less often in other countries. A 2016 study by the Violence and Victims journal reviewed mass shootings across the world between 1966 and 2012 and concluded that the United States held a solid “first place” in the number of such incidents by a large margin compared to other countries.

The Violence and Victims study found records of 90 mass shootings in the US during the 45-year period that was examined, compared to 10 in France, 15 in Russia, and 18 in the Philippines in the same timeframe.

Despite differences in how to define an event as a mass shooting, the study also indicates how they have become more common in the US following the studied period.

How Can This Discrepancy Be Explained?

Many theories exist that try to explain how the US has become the leader when it comes to the number of mass shooting events and holds a top position in terms of their lethality. Some experts have hinted at the vast amount of guns owned by Americans. A 2018 study by the Small Arms Survey found that for every 100 US citizens, at least 120 guns existed (and that only takes into account those that are officially registered). In addition to this, a Gallup poll showed a couple of years ago that only 42% of Americans have a gun, meaning that the average US gun owner may be holding at least two guns in their safe.

The Small Arms Survey also compares the US’ result with that of other countries – civil war-torn Yemen follows after the United States, but with its roughly 0.5 guns per capita, or 50 guns per 100 people, it comes nowhere near the US. The other countries included in the top 20, such as Uruguay, Serbia, Lebanon, Austria, Norway, and Switzerland, have fewer than 40 guns per 100 people. The remaining countries included in the study have less than 0.2 guns per capita. Some studies have found a certain correlation between the amount of guns per capita and the number of mass shooters, although a causal link does not appear to fit in every case.

Other experts, and notably the US Democrats, believe that the problem of frequent mass shootings can be resolved, at least partially, with gun control laws and that their lethality can be reduced with a ban on assault weapons in the country.

Some of the countries that ranked behind the US in the number of mass shooting incidents do indeed have stricter gun laws. A hunting license in France, where it is relatively easy to get one, will just let you use single-shot firearms – and even then only after undergoing physical and mental evaluation. A handgun or semi-automatic rifle would require not just an evaluation, but also firearms training and passing background checks, with the license expiring after five years if it is not renewed.


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REUTERS / BING GUAN

FILE PHOTO: Glock semi-automatic pistols are displayed for sale at Firearms Unknown, a gun store in Oceanside, California, U.S., April 12, 2021. REUTERS/Bing Guan/File Photo

While Russia has more liberal gun laws than some other countries, even there a hunting license (which can be obtained after undergoing firearms training and passing rigorous tests) will only allow you to own smooth-bore firearms and pneumatic weapons with limited magazine capacity. The right to own a rifle can be earned after five years (assuming you have not had any firearms-related incidents or been convicted of a crime), but even then a Russian citizen can only own a handgun if they store it at the shooting club where they use it. The country also forbids citizens from owning automatic or burst-fire weapons, as well as those with suppressors installed. Most shooting accidents in Russia do not occur in public spaces, but on the territory of military facilities.

Will Democrats’ New Gun Control Legislation Solve US Mass Shooting Problem?

However, it is unclear whether the Democrats’ latest proposal to ban “assault weapons” will have an effect in the United States. The country previously had such a ban in place between 1994 and 2004, and it was passed with the help of none other than then-Senator Joe Biden. But the number of deaths in mass shootings barely changed compared to the period preceding the ban – and even spiked in 1999, the year of the notorious Columbine High School massacre, in which 13 people were killed by shooters using semi-automatic pistols, a carbine, and shotguns. Notably, the attackers had bought the carbine and the shotguns in circumvention of the existing checks, when they were both still underage.

A law proposed by the Democrats in 2021 seeks to ban AR-15-style rifles and various modifications to other weapons that could make them potentially more deadly. However, the proposed legislation stops short of limiting the ability to acquire handguns, which are used in around half of the gun-related murders in the US. But even then, the bill is expected to face fierce opposition in Congress: both Republicans and the National Rifle Association insist that such a ban would violate law-abiding citizens’ Second Amendment rights.



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Moscow prosecutor moves to outlaw Kremlin critic Navalny’s activist network


FILE PHOTO: Russian opposition politician Alexei Navalny attends a court hearing in Moscow
FILE PHOTO: Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny attends a court hearing in Moscow, Russia February 20, 2021. REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov

April 16, 2021

MOSCOW (Reuters) – State prosecutors in Moscow asked a court on Friday to label jailed Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny’s anti-corruption group and regional headquarters “extremist” organisations, a move that would ban them and open up activists to long jail terms.

    The move, if approved, would mark one of the most serious steps taken by authorities yet to target the network of groups set up by the staunch critic of President Vladimir Putin who is on hunger-strike as he serves a two-and-half-year jail term.

    Activists caught organising the activity of such groups can be jailed for up to 10 years, people taking part in them can be held criminally liable and the groups themselves are prohibited from any kind of banking activity.

    The Moscow state prosecutor said it had decided to appeal to the court after studying Navalny’s Anti-corruption Foundation and campaign groups that he has built up in regions across the country.

    “Under the guise of liberal slogans, these organisations are engaged in forming the conditions to destabilise the social and social-political situation,” the prosecutor said in a statement on its website.

    “Effectively the goal of their activity is to create the conditions to change the basis of the constitutional order, including by using a ‘colour revolution’ scenario,” it said.

    An outspoken Putin critic for years, Navalny has organised nationwide anti-Kremlin street protests and carved out a following online with investigations alleging corruption by senior Russian officials.

    The opposition politician, who was barred from standing for election against Putin in 2018, was jailed in February for parole violations he said were trumped up. He was arrested at the border as he returned to Russia from Germany where he had been recovering from poisoning by a nerve agent.

    Most of his most prominent allies are either abroad or in Russia facing charges for violations relating to a series of nationwide demonstrations that were staged to protest against his jailing.

Separately on Friday, a court sentenced a cameraman who worked for Navalny’s team of activists to two years in jail for inciting extremism.

The charge related to an anti-government tweet he wrote after the self-immolation of a Russian journalist.

(Reporting by Tom Balmforth; Editing by Kirsten Donovan)

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Brazil ‘needs $10bn to reach zero emissions’ says minister



Brazil’s environment minister says the country needs $10bn (£7.2bn) a year in foreign aid in order to reach zero emissions by 2050.

The move would mean that Brazil could achieve the symbolic figure 10 years earlier than currently planned.

It comes ahead of US President Joe Biden’s climate summit next week.

Brazil’s environmental policies have brought international condemnation since President Jair Bolsonaro took office two years ago.

He has encouraged agriculture and mining activities in the Amazon, the world’s largest rainforest.

Environment Minister Ricardo Salles said $1bn would be used to reach zero illegal deforestation in the Amazon by 2030.

He added that a third of the money would be used to recruit more environmental agents, potentially from the national military police. The remainder would be used to invest in sustainable development of the Amazon, he told Reuters news agency.

Mr Salles said he does not expect a deal to be made before next week’s virtual summit.

His call for foreign aid comes as Mr Bolsonaro’s government is attempting to negotiate a deal with the US in which it would receive financial aid in return for protecting the Amazon.

The move has been criticised by environmentalists and indigenous groups who say they haven’t been consulted on the plans.

A report by Brazil’s space agency (Inpe) released in 2020, said that deforestation of the Amazon had surged to its highest level in 12 years. The Amazon is home to about three million species of plants and animals, and one million indigenous people.

Mr Bolsonaro has previously clashed with Inpe over its deforestation data, accusing it of smearing Brazil’s reputation.

Vice-President Hamílton Mourão said Brazil has a set goal to reduce illegal deforestation by 15-20% per year in order to eliminate it by 2030. He said that the target was mentioned in a letter sent by Mr Bolsonaro to Mr Biden earlier this week.

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Sun Pharma slashes Tasmanian poppy production following slump in global demand for pain relief


The reduced need for surgical pain relief during the pandemic has forced Tasmanian poppy processor Sun Pharma to cut its growing area for the coming season.

The multinational, which contracts growers across the state to produce poppies for its factory at Latrobe, has also made two field officers redundant as part of the cuts.

Worldwide demand for opium-based pain relief dropped to an all-time low last year as COVID cancelled most elective surgeries.

The pandemic also shut some pharmaceutical manufacturing plants in the United States and Europe for several months.

This added more pressure to inventories of raw narcotic material from the previous season that was used to make painkilling drugs.

“Elective surgeries take up a big part of the inventory,” said Tasmanian Poppy Growers Association chief executive Keith Rice.

Mr Rice said 20 growers in the south would not grow poppies this year and 150 others will have their contracts reduced.

“At the moment, everything south of Woodbury, that is the Southern Midlands, the Yorke Plains, the Central Highlands and the Derwent Valley will not be offered contracts for the coming season.

“I say ‘up to’ because it’s not quite determined at the present time.

“It’s a very severe and substantial cut right across the growing area.”

The push to slash contracts has hit as growers prepare paddocks for the coming season.

Tom Edgell grows poppies on his mixed cropping property at Bothwell in the central Highlands of Tasmania.

He said the announcement had blindsided the local industry.

“It was completely out of the blue,” Mr Edgell said.

“The first time we realised something was amiss was when our area field reps were made redundant.

“It’ll be a big hit for those farmers that were growing with Sun [Pharma].

Mr Edgell said he anticipated that Tasmanian botanical research and development company Extractus Bioscience would be contacted by growers with surplus product.

The company’s field operations manager Noel Beven admitted his phone had been running hot.

“There are a lot of Sun [Pharma] growers hoping that we will be able accommodate them,” he said.

Extractas Bioscience had also been affected by changes in demand, however, Mr Beven said the company had already done a lot to become “a much leaner, meaner machine” last year.

Mr Rice said Sun Pharma assured growers the reduction was not permanent.

“They [Sun Pharma] are committed to go back to the south,” he said.

“It was a very subdued and sombre meeting; you could tell that the Sun Pharma senior management hadn’t had a lot of sleep in recent days.

“They were very mindful of the impact this decision was going to have.” 

Sun Pharma declined to comment but said it would talk to all of its growers in the coming weeks.

It is not yet known how the drop in demand will affect Sun Pharma’s processing plant at Port Fairy in Victoria, with a review of that operation still underway.   

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U.S. imposes visa curbs on those who undermined Ugandan elections


U.S. Secretary of State Blinken meets NATO Secretary General Stoltenberg in Brussels
FILE PHOTO: U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken delivers a statement as he meets with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg in Brussels, Belgium, April 14, 2021. REUTERS/Johanna Geron/Pool

April 16, 2021

WASHINGTON/KAMPALA (Reuters) -The United States is imposing visa bans on Ugandan government officials accused of human rights violation and repressive acts that tainted the January election, putting pressure on longtime Western ally President Yoweri Museveni.

The visa restrictions will apply to “those believed to be responsible for, or complicit in, undermining the democratic process” during the Jan. 14 election and its preparations, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a statement.

“There are consequences for interfering in the democratic process,” Blinken wrote later on Twitter.

The statement did not name those targeted. The Ugandan government rejected the allegations and accused the United States of acting on “lack of information, lack of knowledge (and) ignorance”.

“We are not going to lose sleep over this,” Okello Oryem, state minister for foreign affairs, told Reuters.

Museveni,76, in power for 35 years, was declared winner of the election with 58 percent of the votes, potentially extending his rule to 40 years.

His main opponent, lawmaker and pop star Bobi Wine, rejected the results alleging widespread rigging that included ballot staffing, intimidation and falsification of vote tallies.

Wine, 39, whose real name is Robert Kyagulanyi, galvanized his support especially among young voters. He has frequently

criticised the government.

During campaigns police and the military unleashed a crackdown on his supporters included detentions and the breaking up of rallies with teargas and beatings.

In November, at least 54 people were killed as the military and police battled to quell a protest that erupted after Wine was detained as he campaigned, on allegations of violating anti-coronavirus measures.

Wine and his party, the National Unity Platform (NUP), have said security forces have continued to detain their supporters even after the election, with some released after being brutally tortured.

“This electoral process was neither free nor fair,” Blinken said.

(Reporting by Susan Heavey, Jan Wolfe and Elias Biryabrema; Editing by Duncan Miriri and Angus MacSwan)

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Adam Toledo: Chicago police release video of officer shooting boy


Chicago police have released graphic footage of an officer shooting dead a 13-year-old boy in a dark alley.

Bodycam video shows the policeman shouting “drop it” before shooting Adam Toledo once in the chest on 29 March.

The boy does not appear to be holding a weapon in the split second he is shot, but police video shows a handgun near the spot where he falls.

Small protests were held on Thursday evening around Chicago, hours after the city’s mayor appealed for calm.

The video’s release follows the fatal police shooting on 11 April of Daunte Wright by an officer in a Minneapolis suburb.

That shooting has sparked violent protests as the city awaits the outcome of the trial of Derek Chauvin, the officer accused in the death of George Floyd.

The clip shows the officer jumping out of his squad car and chasing the Latino boy on foot down a dark alley as another suspect disappears from view.

The policeman shouts: “Police! Stop! Stop right [expletive] now! Hands! Hands! Show me your [expletive] hands!”

The boy turns and raises his hands. The officer shouts “Drop it” and fires his weapon – 19 seconds after exiting his squad car.

Separate CCTV footage appears to show the teenager throwing something through a gap in the fence as the officer runs up to him. Bodycam video shows officers shining a light on a handgun behind the wooden fence after the shooting.

The policeman calls for an ambulance while urging the fallen boy to “stay awake”. Other officers arrive at the scene in the Little Village neighbourhood on the city’s west side and CPR is performed.

According to prosecutors, the teenager was with a 21-year-old man, Ruben Roman, who had just fired a gun at a passing car. The gunfire drew police to the area, resulting in the deadly confrontation.

Mr Roman appeared in court on Saturday charged with aggravated unlawful use of a weapon, reckless discharge of a firearm and child endangerment, according to local media reports.

The Civilian Office of Police Accountability released the bodycam footage on Thursday along with CCTV video, arrest reports and audio recordings of the shots fired in the area that alerted police.

Shortly before the video was released, Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot held a press conference where she called the footage “excruciating” to watch.

“Simply put, we failed Adam,” she said. “And we cannot afford to fail one more young person in our city.”

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German CDU premier drops support for Laschet chancellery run


FILE PHOTO: News conference on coal phase-out laws in Berlin
FILE PHOTO: Saxony-Anhalt’s Prime Minister Reiner Haseloff attends a news conference on coal phase-out laws in Berlin, Germany July 3, 2020. John MacDougall/Pool via REUTERS/File Photo

April 15, 2021

BERLIN (Reuters) – A leading German Christian Democrat has called for the conservative bloc’s choice of chancellor candidate for September’s election to be dependent on popularity ratings, effectively shifting his support behind Bavarian Markus Soeder.

With CDU Chancellor Angela Merkel stepping down after the election, pressure is mounting on the bloc to agree on a candidate as its ratings wallow near a one-year low, hurt by the government’s chaotic handling of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The race between Armin Laschet, CDU chairman, and Soeder, head of the CDU’s Bavarian CSU sister party, has descended into a messy spat despite both men vowing on Sunday to make a quick and amicable decision.

Saxony-Anhalt state premier Reiner Haseloff, a member of the CDU executive committee that unanimously backed Laschet on Monday, told Der Spiegel magazine that popularity should be the decisive factor in settling the candidacy question.

“Unfortunately, it is now all about the hard question of power: with whom do we have the best chance?” Haseloff said in comments published on Thursday. “It’s not about personal affection, trust or character traits.”

Haseloff’s comments make him the first leading CDU politician to distance himself from his party chief, who has been found to be far less popular than Soeder in repeated opinion polls.

Soeder’s Bavarian swagger, confidence and directness has won him support even beyond his southern state during the pandemic. By contrast, Laschet has flip-flopped on lockdown measures, turning off voters.

Haseloff is one of seven conservative state premiers, including Laschet and Soeder.

Haseloff’s state of Saxony-Anhalt lies in eastern Germany, where CDU members tend to lean towards the right. Laschet, from North Rhine-Westphalia in the west, is a centrist. Haseloff also faces a regional election on June 6, ahead of the federal vote.

There is no formal procedure for choosing the CDU/CSU candidate as in the past the candidates have decided behind closed doors.

Laschet, 60, is widely seen as a candidate who would continue Merkel’s legacy, though he has clashed with her over coronavirus restrictions. Soeder, 54, is an astute political operator who has sided with Merkel during the pandemic.

No chancellor has ever come from Soeder’s Bavarian Christian Social Union (CSU), the smaller sister party to the CDU.

While the CDU is loathe to see the balance of power in the conservative alliance shift towards the smaller party, many in the CDU are nervous about their prospects at the Sept. 26 election without Merkel, who has led them to four victories.

(Writing by Paul Carrel; Editing by Alison Williams)

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