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World Monthly Headline News February 2020 Page 1

By Doug Stanglin and Grace Hauck USA TODAY

A person has died from the new coronavirus in Washington state, the first death from the virus in the U.S., health officials confirmed Saturday. The person died in King County, Washington, the state's Department of Health said. More information was expected at a press conference at 1 p.m. PT. "It is a sad day in our state as we learn that a Washingtonian has died from COVID-19. Our hearts go out to his family and friends. We will continue to work toward a day where no one dies from this virus," Gov. Jay Inslee said in a statement Saturday. "In partnership with the Washington State Department of Health, the Washington State Department of Emergency Management and local and community health partners, we are strengthening our preparedness and response efforts. I am committed to keeping Washingtonians healthy, safe and informed," he said. Meanwhile, President Donald Trump will speak at a press conference at 1:30 p.m. ET at the White House about the latest developments in the outbreak. The Washington state death comes a day after health officials in California, Oregon and Washington state reported four new apparent cases of the novel coronavirus, named COVID-19, raising concerns that it is spreading through West Coast communities. Authorities said three of the cases – an older Northern California woman with chronic health conditions, a high school student in Everett, Washington, and an employee at a Portland, Oregon-area school – had not recently traveled overseas or had any known close contact with a traveler or an infected person.

By Brendan Cole

Greek authorities say that they have deterred thousands of refugees and migrants trying to enter the European Union following clashes on its border with Turkey on Saturday. A Deutsche Welle reporter at the Pazarkule border crossing in the Turkish state of Edirna said that tear gas and pepper spray were used by police on the migrants who had gathered there. Agence France-Presse reported that migrants then hurled stones at the police in response. The migrant push for the border followed a message by Turkey that, in the wake of the killing of at least 33 Turkish troops in Idlib, northern Syria, following bombardment by Syrian and Russian forces, it would no longer stop refugees trying to enter the EU. Turkey's communications director Fahrettin Altun said Turkey had "no choice" but to ease border controls because it had not got enough support in hosting Syrian refugees, which number more than 3.4 million, the BBC reported. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is worried that the continued attacks on Idlib will draw hundreds of thousands of more refugees to Turkey, a state inundated by those fleeing regional conflicts. The move to set migrants into the EU may be a ploy to pressure the west and NATO into helping stop the Syrian advance, Sky News reported.

By David Welna

The U.S. and the Taliban have struck a deal that paves the way for eventual peace in Afghanistan. U.S. Special Representative Zalmay Khalilzad and the head of the militant Islamist group, Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, signed the potentially historic agreement Saturday in Doha, Qatar, where the two sides spent months hashing out the agreement. Under the terms of the deal, the U.S. commits to withdrawing all of its military forces and supporting civilian personnel, as well as those of its allies, within 14 months. The drawdown process will begin with the U.S. reducing its troop levels to 8,600 in the first 135 days and pulling its forces from five bases. The rest of its forces, according to the agreement, will leave "within the remaining nine and a half months." The Afghan government also will release up to 5,000 Taliban prisoners as a gesture of goodwill, in exchange for 1,000 Afghan security forces held by the Taliban. "We owe a debt of gratitude to America's sons and daughters who paid the ultimate sacrifice in Afghanistan, and to the many thousands who served over the past nearly 19 years," Gen. Mark A. Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said in a statement celebrating the deal, which comes on the heels of a seven-day "Reduction in Violence" agreement in Afghanistan.

By Isabel Togoh Forbes Staff

Global stock markets have plummeted to their worst week since the 2008 financial crash, with $5 trillion wiped off global stocks as the coronavirus takes hold in new territories and sparks fresh concerns about a global pandemic. In Asia, Japan’s Nikkei dropped 3.67% on Friday, while Hong Kong’s Hang Seng Index fell 2.4% and mainland China’s Shanghai composite index was down 3.71%. European markets followed suit, with London’s FTSE 100 opening 3.3% down, while Germany’s DAX fell 3.6% and in France, the CAC 40 was down 3.1%. Italy’s FTSE MIB was down 2.3% on Friday. The Stoxx 600, the pan-European index, is on course for its biggest weekly drop since the 2008 financial crisis. Economists are now warning that the impact of the illness could trigger a global recession as Covid-19, which just weeks ago appeared to have little international spread, could now become a global pandemic. It follows a dramatic plummet on Wall Street on Thursday, where shares plunged 4.4%—the biggest fall since August 2011, while the Dow Jones recorded its biggest daily points drop. Brent crude oil benchmark dropped to below $50.31, marking its lowest level since December 2018.

By Bill Chappell

The World Health Organization says the risk that COVID-19 will spread and have a global impact is now "very high," raising its assessment for the coronavirus disease that's now been found in more than 50 countries. As of Monday, cases of COVID-19 had been found in just 29 countries. But thousands more diagnoses were confirmed this week, including two spikes that were tied to Italy and Iran. "Outside China, there are now 4,351 cases in 49 countries, and 67 deaths," WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said in a briefing Friday morning. "Since yesterday, Denmark, Estonia, Lithuania, Netherlands and Nigeria have all reported their first cases." Tedros said, "We have now increased our assessment of the risk of spread and the risk of impact of COVID-19 to very high at a global level." Many of the latest cases have links to Italy, which is now believed to have exported two dozen COVID-19 cases to 14 other countries, Tedros said. The tally of cases there has grown at an alarming rate this week. Italy had 229 cases as of midday Monday. In an update late Friday, the country's Ministry of Health said 888 people have been infected with the respiratory virus, including 531 in the Lombardy region. New cases have also been confirmed in countries in the Middle East and Northern Africa, several of them linked to people who had traveled to Iran. Tedros says 97 COVID-19 cases have been exported from Iran to 11 other countries. South Korea has also seen a dramatic rise, with 2,337 cases now confirmed — an increase of more than 570 cases in just 24 hours. On Monday, South Korea's Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had reported 977 cases. The country says 13 people have died. Even as he raised a new alarm over COVID-19, Tedros also said he's still hopeful that the novel coronavirus that emerged in Wuhan, China, months ago can be contained. Epidemiologists and health agencies, he noted, have been able to trace most cases to known clusters or contacts who were infected.

by Noah Higgins-Dunn

A dog in Hong Kong has tested positive for the COVID-19 virus that’s killed at least 2,859 humans across the world over the last two months, World Health Organization officials said Friday. Dr. Maria Van Kerkhove, the technical lead of WHO’s emergencies program, said the canine tested “weakly positive,” meaning low levels of the virus were found. Hong Kong scientists aren’t sure if the dog is actually infected or if it picked up the virus from a contaminated surface, she said. “We’re working with them to understand the results, to understand what further testing they are doing and to understand how they are going to care for these animals,” Kerkhove said during a press conference at WHO’s headquarters in Geneva. The dog reportedly belongs to a 60-year-old woman who developed symptoms on Feb. 12 and later tested positive, according to The Wall Street Journal. As a precaution, the Hong Kong government declared cats, dogs and other domesticated mammals whose owners test positive and are quarantined for COVID-19 would be collected and delivered to a “designated animal keeping” facility for quarantine and veterinary surveillance. Hong Kong’s Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department said the dog doesn’t have any symptoms. Swabs of its nasal and oral cavities revealed tested “weak positive,” it said in a statement Friday. The dog is under quarantine at a facility at a port in Hong Kong and will be returned to the owner once it tests negative for the virus, according to the agency.

Cases in the U.S. rose to 63, including a possible instance of community spread.
By Morgan Winsor and Erin Schumaker

Countries around the world are scrambling to respond to the influx of new coronavirus cases outside of China. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is continuing to investigate the case of COVID-19 in a patient in Northern California that does not appear to be connected to travel or contact with anyone known to be infected with the novel coronavirus. "It's possible that this could be the first instance of community spread," Dr. Nancy Messonnier, director of the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, said during a Friday news conference. The case marks the third instance of human-to-human transmission in the United States. Further investigation may show that the patient had an interaction with a traveler who was infected, or it may mark the first transmission of the disease in a community in the U.S. Messonnier said that the CDC expects that there will be additional cases of COVID-19 diagnosed among people who had contact with the sickened individual, such as family members and health care workers. In addition to the case in California, two new COVID-19 cases were diagnosed in people who were aboard the Diamond Princess cruise ship, bringing the total number of cases in the United States to 63. Of those 63 cases, 16 were diagnosed by the U.S. health care system and 47 were among people who were repatriated to the U.S. on charter flights from Wuhan, China and the Diamond Princess. Messonnier acknowledged that testing for COVID-19 in local health departments "has not gone as smoothly as we would’ve liked." Problems with the testing kits that were rolled out to states several weeks ago has meant that the CDC continues to do the bulk of COVID-19 testing in Atlanta. "Our goal is to have every state and local health department online and doing their own testing by next week,” Messonnier said.

ByDavid Stanway, Kate Kelland

SHANGHAI/LONDON (Reuters) - A growing number of discharged coronavirus patients in China and elsewhere are testing positive after recovering, sometimes weeks after being allowed to leave the hospital, which could make the epidemic harder to eradicate. On Wednesday, the Osaka prefectural government in Japan said a woman working as a tour-bus guide had tested positive for the coronavirus for a second time. This followed reports in China that discharged patients throughout the country were testing positive after their release from the hospital. An official at China’s National Health Commission said on Friday that such patients have not been found to be infectious. Experts say there are several ways discharged patients could fall ill with the virus again. Convalescing patients might not build up enough antibodies to develop immunity to SARS-CoV-2, and are being infected again. The virus also could be “biphasic”, meaning it lies dormant before creating new symptoms. But some of the first cases of “reinfection” in China have been attributed to testing discrepancies. On Feb. 21, a discharged patient in the southwestern Chinese city of Chengdu was readmitted 10 days after being discharged when a follow-up test came back positive. Lei Xuezhong, the deputy director of the infectious diseases center at the West China Hospital, told People’s Daily that hospitals were testing nose and throat samples when deciding whether patients should be discharged, but new tests were finding the virus in the lower respiratory tract.

By Bill Chappell

NATO is condemning "indiscriminate air strikes by the Syrian regime and Russia," Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said, after 33 Turkish soldiers died in an attack near Idlib on Thursday. The bombing caused Turkey to request an urgent NATO security meeting that was held Friday. The NATO meeting was held in solidarity with Turkey, which says the troops were killed in an area where Russian-backed Syrian forces are fighting anti-regime militants. Russia denies playing a role in the strike, which came after weeks of heightened violence in Idlib province. "I call on them to stop their offensive, to respect international law and to back U.N. efforts for a peaceful solution," Stoltenberg said. "This dangerous situation must be de-escalated." Stoltenberg did not lay out any changes NATO might make to its current security arrangement in the area. But Turkey says its military struck 200 Syrian regime targets Friday in retaliation for the strikes. "This attack occurred even though the locations of our troops had been coordinated with Russian officials in the field," said Defense Minister Hulusi Akar, according to Turkey's state-run Anadolu Agency. Listing the damage of the retaliatory attacks, Akar said, "Turkish forces destroyed five Syrian regime choppers, 23 tanks, 10 armored vehicles, 23 howitzers, five ammunition trucks, a SA-17, a SA-22 air defense system as well as three ammunition depots, two equipment depots, a headquarter and 309 regime troops."

by Dominic Evans, Orhan Coskun

OUTSIDE SARAQEB, Syria/ANKARA (Reuters) - Refugees in Turkey headed toward European frontiers on Friday after an official declared that borders had been thrown open, a response to the escalating war in Syria where 33 Turkish soldiers were killed by Russian-backed Syrian government troops. Moscow and Ankara traded blame over the strike in northwest Syria, the deadliest attack suffered by Turkey’s army in nearly 30 years. The U.N. Security Council called an emergency meeting to avert open conflict between Russia and NATO member Turkey. Donald Trump, in a telephone conversation with Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan, condemned Thursday’s attack on Turkish troops and reaffirmed U.S. support for Ankara’s efforts to avert a humanitarian disaster in Syria, a White House spokesman said. The two leaders also said Syria and Russia must halt their offences in northwest Syria, spokesman Judd Deere said. U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said the escalation of fighting was “one of the most alarming moments” of the Syrian war and called for an immediate ceasefire. Turkey’s neighbors Greece and Bulgaria reinforced their borders in response to Ankara’s threat to reopen the frontier, shut under an accord that halted the 2015-16 migration crisis when more than a million people crossed into Europe by foot.

Masoumeh Ebtekar, President Hassan Rouhani’s deputy for women’s affairs and the highest-ranking woman in the government, was at least the seventh Iranian official to test positive.
By Farnaz Fassihi and Rick Gladstone

A senior figure in Iran’s government, who sits just a few seats away from President Hassan Rouhani at cabinet meetings, has fallen ill with coronavirus, making her Iran’s seventh official to test positive, including one prominent cleric who has died. Vice President Masoumeh Ebtekar, Mr. Rouhani’s deputy for women’s affairs and the highest-ranking woman in the government, has a confirmed coronavirus infection and is quarantined at home, her deputy said Thursday. The disclosure came a day after a cabinet meeting in which she was in close contact with other government leaders, including Mr. Rouhani. A photo posted by a BBC Persia reporter on Twitter showed she had been sitting a few yards from the president. Ms. Ebtekar, one of four vice presidents, was known to Americans as “Mary” during the Tehran hostage crisis four decades ago, when, as a young revolutionary, she was a spokeswoman for the captors of the 52 Americans held at the United States Embassy. Iran now appears to have the highest number of government officials infected by the coronavirus, which was first officially reported in the holy Iranian city of Qom on Feb. 19. The disease is believed to have spread to the country from China, which has maintained close economic relations with the Tehran government despite American sanctions. A regional crossroads, Iran also appears to be a primary source of the infections that have spread to neighbors.

A Chinese Navy ship fired a laser at a U.S. surveillance aircraft flying over the Philippine Sea west of Guam, the Navy said Thursday. Officials acknowledged the incident more than a week after it happened. The Navy said the People's Republic of China naval destroyer lased the American P-8A Poseidon aircraft in an act the U.S. deemed unsafe and a violation of international codes and agreements. The statement from U.S. Pacific Fleet said the laser was detected by sensors on the aircraft, but was not visible to the naked eye. "Weapons-grade lasers could potentially cause serious harm to aircrew and mariners, as well as ship and aircraft systems," the Navy said. The incident took place about 380 miles west of Guam.

By Ryan Browne and Paula Hancocks, CNN

(CNN) The US and South Korean militaries announced Thursday that they will postpone a command post training exercise due to growing concerns about the spread of the coronavirus in South Korea, which has infected 25 members of the South Korean military and one US servicemember. "The Republic of Korea-U.S. alliance has decided to postpone the joint combined command post training planned for the first half of this year until further notice, as the South Korean government has raised the alert level to the highest level due to COVID-19," Kim Joon-Rak, a spokesman for the South Korean military's Joint Chief of Staff said at a news conference Thursday, using the official name for the virus. "The containment efforts of COVID-19 and the safety of (Republic of Korea) and U.S. service members were prioritized in making this decision," US Army Col. Lee Peters, a spokesman for US Forces Korea, said Thursday. South Korea has recently confirmed 334 additional cases of novel coronavirus across the country, bringing the national total of confirmed cases to 1,595, according to the South Korean Center for Disease Control and Prevention (KCDC).

Analysts issue warning over Covid-19 as global financial markets continue to tumble
By Rob Davies , Richard Partington and Graeme Wearden

The coronavirus could wreak economic havoc on a scale not seen since the 2008 financial crisis, analysts have said, amid mounting concern over the spread of the disease. Financial markets plunged afresh on Thursday as countries stepped up efforts to contain the virus by banning travel, closing schools and postponing major sporting events and business conferences. The FTSE 100 slumped by 3.5%, extending a losing streak that puts the blue-chip share index on course for its worst week since the eurozone debt crisis in 2011. The sharp fall in markets came as British officials sought to prepare the public for all eventualities. The chief medical officer, Chris Whitty, said that in the event of a global pandemic public events may have to be cancelled and schools closed for more than two months. As three new cases were identified in the UK on Thursday, including the first in Northern Ireland, and Public Health England sent a specialist to Tenerife to help manage an outbreak there, the health secretary, Matt Hancock, said there was still “a good chance” of avoiding a pandemic but he acknowledged it was a “potential outcome”. The value of London-listed companies has fallen by more than £150bn since markets opened on Monday, a prolonged selloff widely attributed to Covid-19. On Wall Street on Thursday, the Dow Jones at one point shed more than 700 points. By mid-afternoon it was down 590. The Dow had already lost more than 2,000 points in the first three days of this week. A flurry of big names joined the lengthening list of companies reporting a serious impact on their finances and warning of further pain ahead if the outbreak’s progress cannot be halted soon.

BBC News

Japanese PM Shinzo Abe has called for all schools to close from 2 March for several weeks. Two more patients have tested positive for coronavirus in England, bringing the total number of UK cases to 15. Globally, more than 80,000 people in more than 40 countries have now been infected. Covid-19, the respiratory disease caused by the virus, has killed more than 2,700 people. Most of the deaths have been in China, where the virus originated in December. President Emmanuel Macron says that France is preparing for a jump in the number of cases. "We are facing a crisis, an epidemic, that is coming," he said while visiting a hospital in Paris where the first French national with coronavirus died on Tuesday. "We are going to have to deal with it as best we can," he added. France has 18 confirmed cases, with two deaths including a Chinese tourist who was visiting. On Wednesday some public events were cancelled, including the last day of a major carnival in Nice on Saturday.

By Sam Meredith

Saudi Arabia’s Foreign Ministry announced it will temporarily suspend the entry of foreigners for pilgrimage and tourism purposes, preventing travel to the country’s holiest sites over fears of the fast-spreading coronavirus. In a statement published Thursday, Riyadh’s government said it was temporarily “suspending entry to the kingdom for the purpose of umrah and visiting the Prophet’s Mosque.” The decision was taken “to support the efforts of countries and international organizations, especially the World Health Organization, to stop the spread of the virus, control it and eliminate it,” the ministry added. The extraordinary move will stop foreign nationals from reaching the holy city of Mecca and the Kaaba, as well as Prophet Muhammad’s mosque in the city of Medina. Saudi authorities stressed the measures were provisional and would be subject to “continuous evaluation.” The foreign ministry also called on its own citizens not to travel to countries where the deadly flu-like virus was spreading.

Iran at the epicenter of Middle East outbreak
The announcement comes less than 24 hours after the World Health Organization (WHO) confirmed that the number of new daily COVID-19 cases outside China had exceeded those inside the country for the first time. It follows a sudden increase of cases in Italy, Iran and South Korea, with the WHO’s director-general describing the uptick in infections as “deeply disturbing.” As of Wednesday, the WHO had not identified any confirmed cases of the coronavirus in Saudi Arabia. However, nine countries in the Eastern Mediterranean region have recorded cases of COVID-19, with Iran at the epicenter of the outbreak in the Middle East.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has admitted he was offered the chance to use a body double for security purposes, but rejected the idea. He said the plan was tabled in the early 2000s, when Russia was fighting a war against separatists in Chechnya. A 67-year-old former KGB agent, Mr Putin made several trips to the region during the conflict. For years he has been the subject of conspiracy theories online, including that he uses lookalikes for security. But Mr Putin, who has been in power since 2000, said he "declined these body doubles" on every occasion he was offered them. The question was brought up by Andrei Vandenko, a journalist who interviewed Mr Putin for Russia's Tass news agency. Mr Vandenko said "Putin's double" and "Putin body double evidence" were among the most popular internet searches associated with the Russian president's name. The interviewer asked Mr Putin: "Are you real?" In reply, Mr Putin confirmed he was real before denying he used body doubles for security reasons. He said the idea was mooted during the 1999-2009 war, "at the most difficult moment of fighting terrorism". Mr Putin is due to step down as president in 2024, when his fourth term of office comes to an end. But there is speculation he could seek a new role or hold on to power behind the scenes. He is already the longest serving Russian leader since Joseph Stalin, who ruled the Soviet Union for more than two decades in the last century.

Opposition politicians are vowing to make what they call Moon Jae-in’s incompetence the top election issue ​for April 15 parliamentary polls.
By Choe Sang-Hun

SEOUL, South Korea — There were 28 cases of the coronavirus in South Korea on Feb. 13. Four days had passed without a new confirmed infection. President Moon Jae-in predicted that the outbreak would “disappear before long,” while the prime minister assured people that it was OK not to wear surgical masks outdoors. As it turns out, the virus had been rapidly spreading at the time through a large, ​secretive ​church in Daegu, where it has since mushroomed into the largest epidemic of the coronavirus outside China, with 1,766 cases, including 13 deaths. Now the president is facing a political backlash over his response as the number of cases continues to climb — 505 new infections on Thursday alone.​ Opposition politicians are seizing on what they call ​Mr. Moon’s​ ​mishandling of the crisis, by not moving quickly to close the country’s borders to China and not supplying enough surgical masks for citizens. The virus is also intensifying existing pressure from the weak economy, which is being made worse by a sharp decline in trade with China, South Korea’s biggest trading partner. The opposition is vowing to make Mr. Moon’s “incompetence” the top election issue ​for the April 15 parliamentary polls. And more than one million South Koreans signed an online petition calling for his impeachment. “If the outbreak doesn’t let up soon, it could spell a disaster for the ruling camp in the coming elections,” said Ahn Byong-jin, an expert on presidential leadership at Kyung Hee University in Seoul. ​“The current political leadership remains woefully behind in what to do, how to do it and how to communicate with the people at a time of pandemic like this.”

As commander of all U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan, I fought America’s enemies abroad. Now we must fight violent, hateful ideologies at home.
By John R. Allen

I combatted the threat of foreign terrorism for much of my career, fighting organizations that are grounded in virulent, hateful ideologies, and in many cases operate in a network of independent, loosely connected cells. Violent white-supremacist organizations operate in a similar fashion. Our failure to address these domestic groups and their networks, or to take them as seriously as their foreign counterparts, is costing us lives, diminishing our shared and cherished values, and compromising our credibility and unity as a people. This is happening now, not in some bygone era, and we have to act immediately if we’re to safeguard our republic. Last month, I testified before the House Subcommittee on Intelligence and Counterterrorism about one element of the threat that white-supremacists pose: the risks of anti-Semitic violence and the ongoing threats facing our faith-based communities. Yet as we celebrate Black History Month and reflect on all that it represents, we should recognize the deep roots of racism and prejudice in America. Slavery is America’s original sin, and this “genetic birth defect,” as Representative Hakeem Jeffries recently called it, did not resolve itself with the end of the Civil War, nor with the heroic efforts of the civil-rights movement. The resurgence of white-nationalist ideologies and organizations is rooted in this legacy. For much of the past 50 years, white-supremacist groups were largely relegated to the fringes of American society, where they continued to survive, if not thrive, as a shameful artifact of history. Yet today they are finding a geopolitical landscape that has grown permissive, or even supportive, of their rhetoric and activities—and we need to do more to combat them. The recent decision of the FBI to elevate racially motivated violent extremism to a “national threat priority” is a strong start. These malign actors are terrorists, and that’s what we should call them. What’s more, we need a comprehensive domestic-terrorism law, one that would help bring the full weight of our laws and resources against the unaddressed and violent manifestations of racism that still persist in American culture today. Too many of today’s white-supremacist groups have taken unchecked strides to rebrand themselves as part of the contemporary political mainstream, emphasizing “heritage” or pseudoscience to mask their true, violent intentions. Identifying and prosecuting such organizations for the terrorist groups that they are—just as the international community rightly fought against the Islamic State’s attempts to brand itself as the true voice of Islam—denies these groups the credibility and narrative that they so desperately seek.

By Berkeley Lovelace Jr., William Feuer, Dawn Kopecki

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention confirmed 59 cases in the U.S., a majority of which came from passengers repatriated from the Diamond Princess cruise ship that was quarantined off the coast of Japan. The CDC updated its case count on its website late Tuesday. The data shows that 42 of the cases are attributed to the cruise ship, three patients were infected in Wuhan and later evacuated to the U.S. and the rest were largely infected while traveling overseas. Just two cases were contracted through person-to-person contact in the U.S., the CDC said. —Kopecki

Delta Air Lines slashes its service to South Korea from the U.S. to 15 flights a week from 28 as the coronavirus continues to spread rapidly outside of China. More than 1,100 people have been infected with COVID-19 in South Korea, the largest outbreak outside of China. Delta said it is temporarily cutting its service from Minneapolis/St. Paul to Seoul from Feb. 29 through April 30 and cut service to five times a week from Atlanta, Detroit and Seattle until May 1. “The health and safety of customers and employees is Delta’s top priority and the airline has put in place a number of processes and mitigation strategies to respond to the growing concern,” Delta said. Other airlines may follow suit due to a decline in demand. —Josephs

Trump had a great time being hosted by Hindu nationalist Narendra Modi: Just another strongman yanking his chain
By Heather Digby Parton

There has been a lot of discussion over the past few days about Bernie Sanders' comment on "60 Minutes" that the authoritarian Cuban leader Fidel Castro had boosted literacy among his people. Sanders is a self-described democratic socialist so I suppose it's not surprising that this would attract some attention, but his comment really wasn't anything a standard-issue liberal wouldn't have made. In fact, the most revered Democrat in America, Barack Obama, said pretty much exactly the same thing when he moved to normalize relations with Cuba in his final years in office. Nonetheless, the subject was raised again at the presidential debate on Tuesday night when the moderators asked Sanders whether Americans could trust that a socialist would give authoritarians a free pass. I don't know whether anyone's noticed this, but Fidel Castro is dead. It's interesting that such a dull observation about literacy programs in communist countries would cause such hand-wringing when you consider that our current president's favorite global leaders are all authoritarian strongmen who are very much alive. In fact, Donald Trump was being fêted and fluffed by one of those at the very moment the press was calling for the smelling salts over Sanders' mundane comments. Trump was on a state visit to India, which he's been very excited about ever since Hindu nationalist Prime Minister Narendra Modi came to America and filled a stadium in Texas with 50,000 people, promising Trump he would deliver something even better when the president visited India. Last week, even as our entire country was riveted by the prospect of the Department of Justice and the office of the director of national intelligence being corrupted by Trump cronies and character assassins, Trump himself couldn't stop talking and tweeting about his upcoming state visit, telling the press corps on the airport tarmac that while India "treats us very badly," he likes Modi a lot. Why?

By Natasha Turak

Iran’s Deputy Health Minister Iraj Harirchi looked visibly feverish as he spoke on state television Monday, downplaying the spread of the new coronavirus in Iran. Without a face mask on, wiping sweat off his forehead and speaking to local press, he coughed into a tissue several times. One day later, he tested positive for the coronavirus. Iran’s health ministry has rejected claims from some local officials that the number of dead and infected is far higher than reported. Iran’s government confirmed 139 cases and 19 deaths from the fast-spreading virus as of Wednesday, the highest number of fatalities outside China, where the disease has taken more than 2,600 lives and sickened more than 80,000. “The high number of deaths in Iran suggests that the number of infections in the country is much higher than declared by the authorities,” Hasnain Malik, Dubai-based managing director for frontier markets equity strategy at Tellimer, told CNBC. U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo expressed concern on Tuesday that Tehran may be withholding “vital details” and urged all countries to “tell the truth about the coronavirus.” It’s still unclear where the first cases of the virus in Iran came from; Iranian Health Minister Saeed Namaki said the first patients had previously done business in China. Another health official said it stemmed from a group of 700 Chinese clerical students studying in the religious city of Qom, where most of the cases are concentrated.

By Joshua Bote USA TODAY

Researchers have discovered the only known animal that does not need oxygen to survive, a common parasite that largely preys on salmon. The study, published Tuesday in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, found that the parasite Henneguya salminicola does not require aerobic respiration in order to survive — a revelation that may change how we understand life on Earth and beyond. The multicellular organism, which is part of a group of animals closely related to jellyfish known as the Myxozoa, does not breathe at all and does not have mitochondrial DNA. It's the first multicellular animal found in the wild to not have the DNA, which contains the genes responsible for respiration, and has lost "the ability to perform aerobic cellular respiration," per the study. Some single-celled organisms do not need respiration to survive. A study published in 2010 speculated that a species of loriciferans, another microscopic animal, can survive without oxygen, though, this finding has not been fully confirmed, according to the BBC. H. salminicola is a fairly common parasite, causing "milky flesh" or "tapioca" disease in salmon, according to a guide published by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. "Milky flesh" disease results in unsightly cysts on the salmon's flesh but is generally harmless to humans and the fish itself. Because H. salminicola resides inside the fish, the tiny creature has evolved to survive with inadequate oxygen supply. Researchers found that over the course of its evolutionary process, the animal has been able to survive by eliminating so many of the traits associated with multicellular species.

By Scottie Andrew, CNN

(CNN) A nine-day heat wave scorched Antarctica's northern tip earlier this month. New NASA images reveal that nearly a quarter of an Antarctic island's snow cover melted in that time -- an increasingly common symptom of the climate crisis. The images show Eagle Island on the northeastern peninsula of the icy continent at the start and end of this month's Antarctic heat wave. By the end of the nine-day heat event, much of the land beneath the island's ice cap was exposed, and pools of meltwater opened up on its surface. Antarctica experienced its hottest day on record earlier this month, peaking at 64.9 degrees Fahrenheit. Los Angeles measured the same temperature that day, NASA said. In just over a week, 4 inches of Eagle Island's snowpack melted -- that's about 20% of the island's total seasonal snow accumulation, NASA's Earth Observatory said. "I haven't seen melt ponds develop this quickly in Antarctica," Mauri Pelto, a geologist at Nichols College in Massachusetts, told NASA's Earth Observatory. "You see these kinds of melt events in Alaska and Greenland, but not usually in Antarctica."
Climate scientist Xavier Fettweis plotted the amount of meltwater that reached the ocean from the Antarctic peninsula. The heat wave was the highest contributor to sea level rise this summer, he said.

By University of Rochester

Methane is a powerful greenhouse gas and large contributor to global warming. Methane emissions to the atmosphere have increased by approximately 150 percent over the past three centuries, but it has been difficult for researchers to determine exactly where these emissions originate; heat-trapping gases like methane can be emitted naturally, as well as from human activity. University of Rochester researchers Benjamin Hmiel, a postdoctoral associate in the lab of Vasilii Petrenko, a professor of earth and environmental sciences, and their collaborators, measured methane levels in ancient air samples and found that scientists have been vastly underestimating the amount of methane humans are emitting into the atmosphere via fossil fuels. In a paper published in Nature, the researchers indicate that reducing fossil fuel use is a key target in curbing climate change. “Placing stricter methane emission regulations on the fossil fuel industry will have the potential to reduce future global warming to a larger extent than previously thought,” Hmiel says.

Arab citizens have slammed the measure as “racist” and part of a long-term Israeli strategy to expand its territory while maintaining a Jewish majority.
By Lawahez Jabari and Saphora Smith

UMM AL-FAHM, Israel — There is a Jewish saying that a fool can throw a stone into a pond that 100 wise men cannot get out. That’s how one analyst described a proposal in President Donald Trump’s divisive Mideast peace plan to incorporate a densely populated Arab area of Israel into a future Palestinian state if both sides agree. The reaction to the suggestion — which was outlined in one brief bullet point in the lengthy proposal — has been fierce, prompting thousands of Arab Israelis across the country to take to the streets. Arab citizens have slammed the measure as “racist” and part of a long-term Israeli strategy to expand its territory while maintaining a Jewish majority. Peace Now, an Israeli anti-settlement group, said it calls into question residents’ citizenship and “reeks of ethnic cleansing.” And now even Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu — who in Washington last month heralded the peace proposal as a “historic breakthrough” — appears to have distanced himself from that section of the plan. “It’s an empty balloon,” he told Israeli Arabic-language channel Hala TV this week when asked to address the proposal. “It requires the agreement of all sides, it will not happen.” Netanyahu’s chief political rival in the March 2 election, Benny Gantz, has said no Israeli, Jewish or Arab, would be “coerced” into another country, according to the Times of Israel. With so many inside Israel and the Palestinian territories against the idea, it begs the question why it was included in the Trump administration's Mideast peace plan in the first place. The White House did not respond to requests for comment. The plan, dubbed the “deal of the century,” says it “contemplates the possibility” that 10 Arab Israeli communities — known collectively as the Arab Triangle — could become part of a future Palestinian state, if both sides agree. Under the plan, the border would be redrawn so that people would not be displaced from their homes.

Analysis by Nathan Hodge, CNN

Moscow (CNN) It's a familiar plot line: Top intelligence officials deliver a warning to lawmakers that Russia wants to interfere in the upcoming presidential election -- and that the Kremlin's preferred outcome is a win by President Donald Trump. But Russiagate 2 may not be a straightforward sequel for Russian President Vladimir Putin. Why would Putin want to put his finger on the scales of American democracy again? For starters, it's not clear that the Trump presidency has been a consistent foreign-policy win for Russia. The Trump administration delivered lethal aid to Ukraine, which is locked in a proxy war with Russian-backed separatists. Washington is at odds with Moscow in a range of foreign-policy crises, from the conflict in Syria to political turmoil in Venezuela. And Trump withdrew the US from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, a move that drew condemnation from the Kremlin. Russia continues to bear the costs of confronting Washington. The Treasury Department under Trump has continued to aggressively sanction Russia for its election meddling in 2016 and the occupation of Crimea in 2014. And the US joined with its allies in booting out dozens of Russian diplomats in the wake of the poisoning of a former Russian spy living in the United Kingdom. It's worth remembering two things, however. In 2016, Russia had to contend with the prospect that Hillary Clinton would win the White House, not Donald Trump -- something of major concern for the Kremlin. And regardless of how frosty relations between Moscow and Washington may be, Trump still appears to have a warm spot in his heart for Putin. Putin's animus toward Clinton was a matter of public record. In 2011, then-Prime Minister Putin blamed the United States -- and then-Secretary of State Clinton -- for stirring up anti-government protests that followed allegations of widespread fraud in parliamentary elections. Clinton's general hawkishness on Russia also riled the Kremlin. Candidate Trump, by contrast, was an open admirer of Putin, even publicly expressing the hope on Twitter that the Kremlin leader would become his "new best friend." That pattern has not changed during Trump's presidency. Most famously, Trump suggested at the Helsinki summit in 2018 that he valued Putin's statements about election interference above that of his own intelligence officials. "I have great confidence in my intelligence people, but I will tell you that President Putin was extremely strong and powerful in his denial today," Trump said during a joint news conference with Putin.

A classified briefing to House members is said to have angered the president, who complained that Democrats would “weaponize” the disclosure.
By Adam Goldman, Julian E. Barnes, Maggie Haberman and Nicholas Fandos

WASHINGTON — Intelligence officials warned House lawmakers last week that Russia was interfering in the 2020 campaign to try to get President Trump re-elected, five people familiar with the matter said, a disclosure to Congress that angered Mr. Trump, who complained that Democrats would use it against him. The day after the Feb. 13 briefing to lawmakers, the president berated Joseph Maguire, the outgoing acting director of national intelligence, for allowing it to take place, people familiar with the exchange said. Mr. Trump was particularly irritated that Representative Adam B. Schiff, Democrat of California and the leader of the impeachment proceedings, was at the briefing. During the briefing to the House Intelligence Committee, Mr. Trump’s allies challenged the conclusions, arguing that he had been tough on Russia and that he had strengthened European security. Some intelligence officials viewed the briefing as a tactical error, saying the conclusions could have been delivered in a less pointed manner or left out entirely to avoid angering Republicans. The intelligence official who delivered the briefing, Shelby Pierson, is an aide to Mr. Maguire and has a reputation for speaking bluntly. Though intelligence officials have previously told lawmakers that Russia’s interference campaign was continuing, last week’s briefing included what appeared to be new information: that Russia intended to interfere with the 2020 Democratic primaries as well as the general election. On Wednesday, the president announced that he was replacing Mr. Maguire with Richard Grenell, the ambassador to Germany and an aggressively vocal Trump supporter. And though some current and former officials speculated that the briefing might have played a role in that move, two administration officials said the timing was coincidental. Mr. Grenell had been in discussions with the administration about taking on new roles, they said, and Mr. Trump had never felt a kinship with Mr. Maguire.

By Owen Jones

This is how racism and rightwing extremism is normalised. Thursday night’s Question Time featured a lengthy racist rant by an audience member: “Close the borders, completely close the borders,” she frothed with hateful rage, adding in lies about foreigners being showered with never-ending freebies while destroying the education system and the NHS. It took the commentator Ash Sarkar to challenge her unabashed bigotry with truth, pointing to research that migrants pay in more to the state than they get back. In a cheeky recycling of a quote popularised by the rightwing US pundit Ben Shapiro, Sarkar silenced the bigot: “Facts don’t care about your feelings.” Yet Question Time then saw fit to clip the 82 seconds of hate, accompanied by a succinct summary of the audience member’s rant. Lies and hatred, uncorrected and unchallenged, rippled across social media from the account of the BBC’s self-described “flagship political debate programme”. At the time of writing, the video had been viewed more than 2 million times. By sharing the video, the BBC seemed to imply that this wasn’t racism – it was simply someone’s opinion for us to agree or disagree with, in much the same way that we might debate the top rate of tax, or whether the railways should be renationalised. Who’s to say who is right and who is wrong? This was just another valid perspective to roam free in the marketplace of ideas – or such was the implication. Much responsibility lies with a press that systematically incites bigotry against migrants, refugees, Muslims, benefit claimants and trans people: indeed, mainstream newspapers print bile that is not strikingly dissimilar from the Question Time rant. This includes “respectable” broadsheets such as the Times, which was belatedly forced to correct misleading coverage claiming a Christian child was “forced into Muslim foster care”. By the time the corrections were made, the damage had already been done.

They'll be moved to US jurisdiction with notably weaker data protection rights
By Scott Scrivens

Just when you think the post-Brexit situation can't get any worse for us poor sods in the UK, another depressing tidbit rears its ugly head. This time, it's news that Google users in England, Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland will no longer be protected by GDPR and will instead be at the mercy of the privacy regulations of the United States. According to Reuters, multiple sources familiar with Google's plans said that Brits will be asked to accept new terms of service as their accounts are transferred to US jurisdiction. The move comes amid confusion over whether the UK will still follow GDPR now that it's left the EU, with US regulation the preferred solution in the short term rather than setting up a British subsidiary. Since US data privacy laws are far less strict than those governed by GDPR in Europe, the UK authorities will now have easier access to the Google data of its citizens. Sure enough, I've already received an email from Google that reads as follows:

By Hyonhee Shin, Ryan Woo

SEOUL/BEIJING (Reuters) - The streets of South Korea’s fourth-largest city were abandoned on Thursday, with residents holed up indoors after dozens of people caught the coronavirus in what the authorities described as a “super-spreading event” at a church. The deserted shopping malls and cinemas of Daegu, a city of 2.5 million people, became one of the most striking images outside China of an outbreak that international authorities are trying to prevent from spreading into a global pandemic. New research suggesting the virus was more contagious than previously thought added to the alarm. And in China, where the virus has killed more than 2,100 people, officials changed their methodology for reporting infections, creating new doubt about data they have been citing as evidence of success in fighting its spread. Deagu Mayor Kwon Young-jin told residents to stay indoors after 90 people who worshipped at the Church of Jesus the Temple of the Tabernacle of the Testimony showed symptoms of infection and dozens of new cases were confirmed. The church had been attended by a 61-year-old woman who tested positive, known as “Patient 31”. Korea’s Centers for Disease Control and Prevention described the outbreak there as a “super-spreading event”. “We are in an unprecedented crisis,” Kwon told reporters, adding that all members of the church would be tested. “We’ve asked them to stay at home isolated from their families.” Describing the abandoned streets, resident Kim Geun-woo, 28, told Reuters by telephone: “It’s like someone dropped a bomb in the middle of the city. It looks like a zombie apocalypse.” South Korea now has 104 confirmed cases of the flu-like virus, and reported its first death.

During a meeting in Munich, Graham warned Defense Secretary Mike Esper there would be consequences if the Trump administration pulled U.S. troops from Africa.
By Courtney Kube and Carol E. Lee

MUNICH — Sen. Lindsey Graham and a bipartisan group of lawmakers, uniting against a Trump administration idea to withdraw U.S. troops from part of Africa, pushed back during a fiery exchange with Defense Secretary Mark Esper here over the weekend, according to four people present at or familiar with the meeting. Senators and members of the House met with Esper on the margins of the Munich Security Conference. Graham, R-S.C., and Sen. Chris Coons, D-Del., who are members of the Foreign Relations Committee, led the charge, said the four people, telling Esper that Congress would not support a U.S. troop withdrawal from the Sahel region in Africa and laying out the reasons to keep the troop presence there. At one point, Graham warned Esper that there would be consequences if the Pentagon withdrew all troops from the region. Graham told Esper that he could "make your life hell," according to the four people. One member present said Graham, Coons and several other lawmakers laid out their case "forcefully." Pentagon press secretary Alyssa Farah said the quote attributed to Graham was false. "I was in the room and that was never said," said Farah. "The secretary had a productive conversation with bipartisan, bicameral members of Congress on the future of U.S. force presence in West Africa."

Analysis by Nic Robertson, International Diplomatic Editor, CNN

Munich, Germany (CNN) What will a second Donald Trump presidential term look like -- if it happens? That was the thought in many delegates' minds as they gathered over the weekend in the southern German city of Munich for a security conference. The official theme at the conference was "Westlessness," an intentional gripe at the impact of Trump's isolationist, America First policies. But what emerged at the event, attended by hundreds of world leaders and their top officials, was a soft-focus vision of the next four years if Trump wins reelection. Defense Secretary Mark Esper was a key speaker in Munich. Leaving Washington for Europe at the beginning of the week, one of his senior officials framed his mission to the MSC as, "China, China, China, Russia, China." He wasn't the only American official bringing that message. Attacking Trump has become something of a hobby at this annual Bavarian gathering. It is symptomatic of how many in Europe feel that America, and Trump in particular, is withdrawing from the post-World War II world order it built, leaving more than half a billion people this side of the Atlantic, and countless more around the planet without the deep pockets and security backing they have come to rely on. Germany in particular has drawn Trump's ire. Since his presidency began, the MSC has become a diplomatic skirmish and precursor to tougher battles to come. Only last year, host Chancellor Angela Merkel clashed with US Vice President Mike Pence over NATO, Iran and gas from Russia. This year's premise -- the West is weakening -- is an extension of those festering transatlantic differences. The working assumption here is that Trump is to blame for the loss of core values. Not for the first time in his two-year tenure as Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo defended his boss. During his speech, which came shortly before Esper's on Saturday morning, Pompeo told the MSC audience of ministers and policy experts, "those statements don't reflect reality," he said. "I'm happy to report that the death of the transatlantic alliance is grossly exaggerated. The West is winning, and we're winning together." Doing it together emerged as another one of America's messages in Munich, but what has needed little communicating and where there was almost no argument is that Trump's world vision has traction and will continue. Few Westlessness believers doubt he will win a second term.

Guardian News

Storm Dennis has hit England and Wales creating severe flooding, especially in south Wales where officials have warned conditions are 'life-threatening'. Streets have been evacuated by lifeboat in some of the worst-hit areas and people moved to emergency rescue centres after their properties and businesses were devastated by water from overflowing rivers.

By Laurel Wamsley

The U.S. says it has reached a deal with the Taliban in Afghanistan that lays out what could be the first steps toward ending America's longest-running war. Administration officials, speaking on the condition of anonymity at the Munich Security Conference, say there will be a seven-day "reduction in violence," but did not specify when it would start. The seven days are meant as an initial confidence-building measure. The next step would involve the signing of an agreement between the U.S and the Taliban. That would pave the way for intra-Afghan talks to determine the future of Afghanistan and the role the Taliban could play in it. The U.S. military will monitor the reduction in violence, according to a senior administration official. A weeklong decline in violence would be an abrupt shift from one of the most violent years of the 18-year conflict. An overall deal with the Taliban would lay-out a four-and-a-half month timetable to 8,600 from around 12,000. This initial agreement was worked out by U.S. Special Representative Zalmay Khalilzad and the Taliban over months of negotiations in Doha, Qatar. The U.S. and Taliban had reached an agreement last summer, but President Trump walked away from that near-deal in September after a U.S. service member was killed in a car bombing in Kabul, Afghanistan.

MOSCOW/OSLO (Reuters) - Russia said on Thursday it was alarmed by a trip to a Norwegian outpost in the Arctic by a U.S. Air Force unit and urged Oslo to refrain from what it said were de-stabilizing moves in the strategic region. A squadron of U.S. Air Force staff visited Norway's air base on the island of Jan Mayen in the North Atlantic in November to test the airfield and to see whether U.S. C-130J Super Hercules military transport planes can land there. Tensions have been rising in the energy-producing Arctic as climate change has opened up the region, and Russia has built up its own military presence there and touted the potential of the Northern Sea Route across its northern flank. Moscow has repeatedly raised concerns over NATO-member Norway's military spending, its moves to develop its military infrastructure and the deployment of foreign military personnel in the country. Commenting on the U.S. visit to the island, the Russian Foreign Ministry told Reuters Moscow believed Norway's recent military activity was ultimately aimed at Russia and that such actions destabilize the region. "...the sheer fact of the possible presence of the U.S. Air Force on the island, albeit occasional, is alarming," it said.

WHO is seeking information after country announced six health professionals had died
By  Sarah Boseley Health editor

The World Health Organization is seeking more information from China about the large numbers of health workers falling sick because of the coronavirus after it was revealed 1,760 of them have tested positive and six have died. This is the first time China has included the specific numbers for healthcare professionals in the data it has provided on the spread of the epidemic. “This is a critical piece of information because health workers are the glue that holds the health system and the outbreak response together,” said the WHO’s director general, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus. “We need to know more about these figures, including the time period and circumstances in which the health workers became sick.” On the same day, Egypt reported a case, making it the first country in Africa to do so. The country’s health ministry said the affected person was a foreigner who had been put into isolation at hospital, adding that the WHO had been immediately informed and that all necessary preventative measures had been taken. It did not give the nationality of the affected person or any other details. Earlier this month the WHO said it was particularly concerned about high-risk nations with weaker health systems that may lack the facilities to identify cases.

By John Bacon - USA TODAY

Confirmed coronavirus cases boomed this week as China altered its method for counting amid concerns over its handling of the crisis. Thursday, U.S. health officials confirmed a 15th U.S. case. The death toll from the coronavirus that surfaced in China late last year rose to 1,370 on Thursday. All but three of the deaths have been in mainland China. China previously counted cases only when a person tested positive for the virus. Chest imaging and other medical diagnoses are now included. "While this may be a sensitive technique to look for an infection with the new coronavirus, it may also identify patients with other, similar viral illnesses, including the flu, artificially inflating the actual number of cases," said Robert Glatter, an emergency physician at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York. Glatter said the coronavirus, dubbed COVID-19, is proving difficult to contain. "The lack of reliable information combined with a highly transmissible virus is problematic, to say the very least," Glatter said. "Relying on health care providers to report cases – using clinical suspicion along with CT scans with certain patterns of lung inflammation – as 'positive' is not an ideal approach." Melissa Nolan, a physician and professor of epidemiology at the University of South Carolina’s Arnold School of Public Health, told USA TODAY that China's effort to include people with clinical characteristics of disease without a confirmed diagnosis can help expedite public health measures by ensuring all potentially infectious people are isolated. Nolan agreed with Glatter that "there is a likely chance that a portion of those with clinical disease are caused by other etiologies, such as influenza, tuberculosis."

An iceberg the size of Paris broke off of an Antarctic glacier after temperatures in the region spiked to a record 65 degrees Fahrenheit. Scientists also captured the moment another block of ice estimated to weigh thousands of tons collapsed into the water. The iceberg they recorded falling was over 130 feet high.

By Emma Reynolds, CNN

(CNN) A mysterious population of ancient humans lived in West Africa about half a million years ago, and scientists believe their genes still live on in people today. This "archaic ghost population" appears to have diverged from modern humans before Neanderthals split off from the family tree, according to the research published by the "Science Advances" journal. The split appeared to have taken place between 360,000 and a million years ago, say the researchers from the University of California, Los Angeles. These ancient humans had babies with the ancestors of present-day Africans, much as Neanderthals reproduced with the ancestors of modern Europeans, wrote geneticists Arun Durvasula and Sriram Sankararaman. DNA from this archaic population makes up between 2% and 19% of modern West Africans' genetic ancestry, they said.  (CNN)A mysterious population of ancient humans lived in West Africa about half a million years ago, and scientists believe their genes still live on in people today. This "archaic ghost population" appears to have diverged from modern humans before Neanderthals split off from the family tree, according to the research published by the "Science Advances" journal. The split appeared to have taken place between 360,000 and a million years ago, say the researchers from the University of California, Los Angeles. These ancient humans had babies with the ancestors of present-day Africans, much as Neanderthals reproduced with the ancestors of modern Europeans, wrote geneticists Arun Durvasula and Sriram Sankararaman. DNA from this archaic population makes up between 2% and 19% of modern West Africans' genetic ancestry, they said.

By Ryan F. Mandelbaum

Nothing you encounter is truly “pristine.” Nearly every atom on our planet has been processed in some way, either by humans, the Sun, Earth’s core, or other influences. But on New Year’s Day 2019, the New Horizons mission flew past one of the most pristine objects in the solar system: Arrokoth, an object far beyond Pluto that has remained largely undisturbed since it first formed billions of years ago. Today, scientists are releasing a trio of papers (1, 2, 3) digging deep into Arrokoth’s properties, its geology, and how it formed. Not only do they shed light on the true nature of the icy Kuiper Belt Objects in the distant solar system, but they provide strong evidence for a theory on how planets form more generally. “We have made a major breakthrough in understanding the process of how planetary formation works,” Alan Stern, principal investigator of the New Horizons mission, told Gizmodo. Astronomer Marc Buie discovered Arrokoth, formerly called MU69, using the Hubble Space Telescope in 2014. The rock is a cold classical Kuiper Belt Object, an object in the distant Kuiper Belt with a circular, relatively unmodified orbit outside the influence of Neptune’s gravity. The New Horizons team targeted the object as the followup to their Pluto mission. As it zipped by the object, the space probe examined it with a suite of imagers, plasma and dust detectors, and radio receiver.

By Nicoletta Lanese - Staff Writer 5 hours ago

The water surrounding upside-down jellyfish often stings to the touch, and now scientists know why. Upside-down jellyfish pulse on the ocean floor, their frilly arms stretched skyward as they release venom-filled blobs of mucus into the surrounding water, where the slime "stings" passing swimmers, new research reveals. These jellyfish (Cassiopea xamachana) look like strange, squidgy plants stuck to the ocean floor, and they tend to assemble in groups that resemble bizarre flower beds. Upside-down jellies can be found living in the mangrove forests and lagoons of southern Florida, Hawaii, the Indo-Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean, according to the Monterey Bay Aquarium. Snorkelers who visit those areas sometimes develop a strange itching sensation on their skin, as if the water itself stung them.  "You start to feel this tingling … More than just itchiness, like when an itch turns into a painful discomfort," said Cheryl Ames, a museum research associate and an associate professor of applied marine biology at Tohoku University in Japan.  But until now, nobody knew the actual cause. In a new study published today (Feb. 13) in the journal Communications Biology, Ames and her colleagues finally cracked the case: From these upside-down jellyfish's spot on the seafloor, they deploy an arsenal of cellular bombs armed with stinging cells called nematocytes. When the bombs make contact with a passing swimmer, they release venom that irritates the skin. If a bomb bumps into a tiny brine shrimp, one of the upside-down jellies' favorite snacks, its venom kills the animal on contact.

By Laura Geggel - Associate Editor

The famous First Temple was not alone. The discovery of an Iron Age temple near Jerusalem has upended the idea that the ancient Kingdom of Judah, located in what is now southern Israel, had just one temple: the First Temple, also known as Solomon's Temple, a holy place of worship in Jerusalem that stood from the 10th century B.C. until its destruction, in 586 B.C. The newfound temple — whose roughly 150 congregants worshiped Yahweh but also used idols to communicate with the divine — was in use during the same period as the First Temple. Its discovery shows that, despite what the Jewish Bible says, there were other contemporary temples besides the First Temple in the kingdom.  "If a group of people living so close to Jerusalem had their own temple, maybe the rule of the Jerusalem elite was not so strong and the kingdom was not so well established as described in the Bible?" study co-researcher Shua Kisilevitz, a doctoral student of archaeology at Tel Aviv University in Israel and an archaeologist with the Israel Antiquities Authority, told Live Science. Archaeologists have known about the Iron Age site at Tel Motza, located less than 4 miles (6.4 kilometers) outside Jerusalem, since the early 1990s. However, it wasn't until 2012 that researchers discovered the remains of a temple there, and it wasn't until just last year that they excavated it further, ahead of a highway project.  This temple was likely built around 900 B.C. and operated for a few hundred years, until its demise in the early sixth century B.C., according to Kisilevitz and her co-researcher, who wrote about it in the January/February issue of the Biblical Archaeology Review magazine.

BBC News

Some 242 deaths from the new coronavirus were recorded in the Chinese province of Hubei on Wednesday - the deadliest day of the outbreak. There was also a huge increase in the number of cases, with 14,840 people diagnosed with Covid-19. Hubei has started using a broader definition to diagnose people - which accounts for most of the rise in cases. China sacked two top officials in Hubei province hours after the new figures were revealed. Until Wednesday's increases, the number of people with the virus in Hubei, where the outbreak emerged, was stabilising. But the new cases and deaths in the province have pushed the national death toll above 1,350 - with almost 60,000 infections in total.

By Jeanne Whalen

The U.S government on Thursday issued new charges against China’s Huawei, the world’s largest telecommunications equipment manufacturer, alleging that it violated the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act by, among other actions, offering its employees bonuses for obtaining confidential information from competitors.

Oils, snacks and drinks containing the cannabis extract cannabidiol (CBD) will be "taken off the shelves" next year if they do not gain regulatory approval. The Food Standards Agency (FSA) said products had to be registered by March 2021 or they would be pulled. Despite rising sales of CBD goods, not one product has been approved in the UK yet, raising safety concerns. The FSA has also issued new advice on CBD use, saying it should not be used alongside other medication. Cannabidiol is derived from cannabis but does not have any psychoactive properties. It is sold in some pharmacies and health food shops as a supplement and used to treat conditions such as pain or insomnia. However, the FSA only began regulating the market in January last year and some argue it has dragged its feet. Trials have found CBD products on sale that contain unlisted and potentially hazardous ingredients, or illegal levels of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the psychoactive ingredient in cannabis. Many may contain little or none of the extract itself, contrary to their marketing claims and despite their high prices. The FSA said producers had been slow to submit their products for approval, forcing it to impose the deadline. "The CBD industry must provide more information about the safety and contents of these products to the regulator by March 2021, or the products will be taken off the shelves," boss Emily Miles said.

"I thought I knew him well, and I didn't," Barclays boss Jes Staley said of his relationship with Jeffrey Epstein.
By Alexander Smith

LONDON — Regulators have launched an investigation into the relationship between the American boss of one of Britain's largest banks and the disgraced financier Jeffrey Epstein, the bank said Thursday. Jes Staley, the chief executive of Barclays, said he first met Epstein in 2000 but has had no contact with him since starting his current job in December 2015. Epstein, 66, died by suicide in August while awaiting trial on sex trafficking charges. Barclays says it is satisfied that Staley, 63, has been transparent about the nature of "the professional relationship," and in a statement filed with the London Stock Exchange on Thursday recommended he should be reelected at its annual general meeting in May. But the bank also revealed that an investigation was launched in December by two British financial regulators, the Financial Conduct Authority and the Prudential Regulation Authority, who are looking at Staley's description of his relationship with Epstein.

Sajid Javid has resigned as chancellor as Boris Johnson carries out a post-Brexit cabinet reshuffle. Mr Javid rejected an order to fire his team of aides, saying "no self-respecting minister" could accept such a condition. He has been replaced as chancellor by Chief Secretary to the Treasury Rishi Sunak - who just seven months ago was a junior housing minister. Mr Javid had been due to deliver his first Budget in four weeks' time. The former home secretary was appointed chancellor by Mr Johnson when he became prime minister in July. His resignation follows rumours of tensions between Mr Javid and the prime minister's senior adviser Dominic Cummings. "He has turned down the job of chancellor of the exchequer," a source close to Mr Javid, who had been expected to remain in place, said. "The prime minister said he had to fire all his special advisers and replace them with Number 10 special advisers to make it one team. The chancellor said no self-respecting minister would accept those terms."

By Dawn Kopecki, Berkeley Lovelace Jr., William Feuer

HSBC said it’s lowered its first-quarter forecast for mainland China’s economic growth to 4.1% year-on-year from 5.8% due to the fallout from coronavirus. The bank also cut its China full-year growth forecast to 5.3% from 5.8%, adding the impact was already starting to be felt in tourism, trade, supply chains and elsewhere. HSBC lowered its full-year estimate for global growth to 2.3% from 2.5%, adding it expected the brunt of the impact in the first quarter, with some improvement as the year progresses. — Reuters

Small businesses located in New York’s Chinatown are losing customers over unsubstantiated fears of coronavirus, the city’s small business chief told CNBC’s “Squawk Box.” “Business owners are telling us revenues are down 40% in Chinatown,” said Gregg Bishop, commissioner of the Department of Small Business Services. “And it’s unfounded.” The city on Wednesday confirmed that the seven people suspected of having the virus in the city tested negative. -Bursztynsky

apanese health officials are planning to move guests aboard a Princess Cruises ship to quarantine facilities in Japan as they confirm an additional 44 cases aboard the ship, the company said. Princess Cruises was told the “most medically vulnerable” guests will move in the first phase, including older adults with preexisting conditions. Japanese health officials will test guests before they disembark and transfer them to local hospitals if they are positive. Guests who are otherwise healthy will be transferred to a quarantine facility or can remain on board through the end of the quarantine period, the company said. The 44 new cases aboard the ship bring the total number of confirmed COVID-19 infections to almost 220, making it the single biggest concentration of cases outside of China. — Kopecki

The UN human rights office has issued a long-awaited report on companies linked to Jewish settlements in the Israeli-occupied West Bank. The report names 112 business entities the office says it has reasonable grounds to conclude have been involved in activities related to settlements. They include Airbnb, Booking.com, Expedia Group and Motorola Solutions. The Palestinians said the report was a "victory for international law", but Israel called it "shameful". About 600,000 Jews live in about 140 settlements built since Israel's occupation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem in 1967. The settlements are widely considered illegal under international law, though Israel has always disputed this. The Palestinians have long called for the removal of the settlements, arguing that their presence on land they claim for a future independent Palestinian state makes it almost impossible to make such a state a reality.

Opposition leader Juan Guaidó was met with protests at the airport after returning to Venezuela from an international support-building tour. Supporters of President Nicolás Maduro shouted "fascist!", grabbed Mr Guaidó's shirt and pushed him in the airport just outside the capital Caracas. Mr Guaidó, 36, defied a travel ban to go to Colombia, Europe, Canada and the US, and met US President Donald Trump. He is considered the legitimate leader of Venezuela by more than 50 countries. However President Maduro, the country's left-wing leader who enjoys the support of the Venezuelan military, has remained in power. One of the protesters, who shouted at Mr Guaidó and threw a liquid at him, was wearing the uniform of the state-owned airline Conviasa, which has been directly hit by US sanctions. There were also scuffles between the protesters and supporters of Mr Guaidó, who had gone to the airport to welcome him. Lawmakers loyal to Mr Guaidó had to walk to the airport after the bus they were travelling in was stopped by police. Journalists reported being attacked and having their kit stolen by those who had turned out to boo Mr Guaidó. Mr Guaidó's office later said that a relative who was travelling with him had been held by airport officials, and had not been seen since.

The World Health Organization on Tuesday proposed an official name for the illness caused by the new coronavirus: COVID-19. The acronym stands for coronavirus disease 2019, as the illness was first detected toward the end of last year. The director general of the World Health Organization, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, noted that the new name makes no reference to any of the people, places or animals associated with the coronavirus. The goal was to avoid stigma. Under international guidelines, the W.H.O. “had to find a name that did not refer to a geographical location, an animal, an individual or group of people, and which is also pronounceable and related to the disease,” he said on Twitter. The death toll from the coronavirus epidemic is continuing to climb, Chinese officials said on Wednesday. Nationwide, 97 new deaths and 2,015 new cases emerged in the previous 24 hours, the national health authorities said. The new figures brought the total number of deaths in China to at least 1,113. And the total number of confirmed cases rose to 44,653. Most of the newly reported deaths, 94, occurred in Hubei Province, the heart of the outbreak. There are 393 COVID-19 cases outside China, in 24 countries. “With 99 percent of cases in China, this remains very much an emergency for that country, but one that holds a very grave threat for the rest of the world,” Dr. Tedros said.

By Doyle Rice USA TODAY

For the first time, scientists have detected a radio signal from outer space that repeats at regular intervals. The series of "fast radio bursts" – short-lived pulses of radio waves that come from across the universe – were detected about once an hour for four days and then stopped, only to start up again 12 days later. This cycle repeated every 16.35 days for more than a year, according to a new paper about the research. The bursts originated from a galaxy about 500 million light-years away. "The discovery of a 16.35-day periodicity in a repeating FRB source is an important clue to the nature of this object," the scientists said in the paper.

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