Protests Mount Over 2022 Winter Olympics in China

There has been controversy leading up to the 2022 Winter Olympics scheduled to begin in China in February. The latest protest is in Greece. VOA’s Elizabeth Lee has the details.

Camera: Laurent Laughlin Produced by: Elizabeth Lee

CDC Director OK’s Booster Shot Recommendation for All Three COVID-19 Vaccines in U.S.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Thursday recommended booster shots for millions who received the Moderna or Johnson & Johnson coronavirus vaccines, and said the booster does not necessarily have to match the original shot.

Rochelle Walensky, the head of the government agency, OK’d the recommendations by an advisory panel Thursday, putting the CDC on the same page as the Food and Drug Administration.

The booster shot for Pfizer vaccine was approved in September.

The CDC committee has recommended that people age 18 and older and who were vaccinated two months or more ago with the single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine are eligible for a booster shot.

Those 65 or older inoculated with two-dose Pfizer or Moderna vaccines are recommended for a booster six months or more after the second dose.

The CDC also recommended a booster for those 18 or older in long-term care facilities, have pre-existing medical conditions, as well as those who live or work in high-risk settings.

The United States on Thursday marked the successful distribution of 200 million COVID-19 vaccines to more than 100 countries, a move the White House said fulfills President Joe Biden’s promise to become “the world’s arsenal of vaccines.”

“Today, Americans have 200 million reasons to be proud,” read a statement from U.S. Agency for International Development Administrator Samantha Power.

“USAID is honored to be at the forefront of this global vaccination effort unprecedented in scale, speed, and complexity, to counter the worst pandemic in modern history,” Power said.

Those donations have come rapid-fire, in a matter of months, with large tranches going out recently to lower-income nations. Last week, the White House announced it was donating 17 million doses of the one-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine to the African Union, bringing the total donation to the 55-state body to 50 million doses.

However, an analysis by the People’s Vaccine Alliance, a coalition of nongovernmental organizations, including Oxfam and Amnesty International, shows that of the 1.8 billion doses pledged by the world’s richest nations, 261 million, or 14%, have arrived in low-income nations.  The report also says that out of 994 million doses promised by vaccine developers AstraZeneca, Johnson & Johnson, Moderna and Pfizer/BioNTech to COVAX, only 120 million, or 12%, have been delivered.

The shortage has resulted in only 1.3% of people living in the world’s poorest nations being fully vaccinated against the disease caused by the coronavirus.

Meanwhile, researchers around the world are keeping a close eye on a mutation of the highly contagious delta variant of the coronavirus.

The AY.4.2 subvariant, which has been dubbed “delta plus,” has already been detected in Britain, Russia and the United States, but scientists have not determined if it poses a significant risk of being more contagious than the original version, which triggered a wave of new infections and deaths around the world during this year’s third quarter, or whether it is more resistant to vaccines.

The AY.4.2 variant has not been categorized as either a “variant of interest” or “variant of concern” by the World Health Organization.

In Britain, Prime Minister Boris Johnson is resisting calls by some public health officials to implement new COVID-19 restrictions, despite a surge of new infections hitting the nation.

The Health Ministry reported 52,000 new infections on Thursday, with a daily average the past week of more than 44,000 — a 16% increase from the previous week.

The World Health Organization reported this week that Britain has among the highest number of daily new infections in Europe, the only part of the world that saw an increase in new cases last week.

New Zealand Scientists Investigate Microplastics’ Impact on Climate Change

New Zealand scientists have found that microplastics have a direct impact on global warming. They published the first study linking airborne plastic fragments and fibers to climate change Wednesday. They also found that microplastics, which have been widely detected on land and in rivers and oceans, are detrimental to health.

This is the first study to investigate the effects of airborne microplastics on climate. The plastic fragments and fibers are carried by the wind. Microplastics are created by the breakdown of carpets, clothing and paint, as well as tires and larger plastics that degrade over time.

Researchers in New Zealand have found that for now, their influence on climate change is small. But if the global average concentration of microplastics increases to levels already seen in some cities, the impact “will be significant,” they say. 

Laura Revell, an atmospheric chemist at the University of Canterbury in New Zealand, said the airborne particles do affect the environment.

“They are good at scattering solar radiation, or sunlight, back to space, which causes a minor cooling influence on Earth’s climate, and they also are quite good at absorbing the infrared radiation that is emitted by the Earth, which means they also contribute to the greenhouse effect,” she said. “But overall, it is that interaction with sunlight that plays out. So, overall, they have a very, very small cooling influence on Earth’s climate.”

Revell said laboratory studies have shown that microplastics can damage lung tissue. Aquatic organisms such as zooplankton can also mistake the plastic for food, which can interfere with the ocean’s carbon cycle, where carbon is recycled naturally by the environment.

“I wouldn’t want anyone to get the idea that this is actually a good thing in terms of climate change and that they are offsetting the effects of greenhouse gas warming because, for a start, the effect is very small in the present day and then there are also these other damaging effects to humans and to other ecosystems.” 

Researchers have estimated that globally, 5 billion tons of plastic waste have accumulated in landfills and the natural environment to date. They have warned that amount could double over the next 30 years if current trends in plastic production and waste management continue. 

The research is a collaboration between New Zealand’s University of Canterbury and Victoria University of Wellington.

It is published in the leading scientific journal Nature.

Police: Prop Gun Fired by Alec Baldwin Kills Woman on Film Set

US actor Alec Baldwin fired a prop gun that killed a cinematographer and wounded the director on a film set in New Mexico, US law enforcement officers said Thursday.

The incident happened on the set of “Rust” in the southwestern US state, where Baldwin is playing the lead in a 19th-century western.

Halyna Hutchins and Joel Souza “were shot when a prop firearm was discharged by Alec Baldwin,” the sheriff in Santa Fe said in a statement.

Hutchins, 42, was transported to hospital by helicopter but died of her wounds, while Souza, 48, was taken by ambulance and is receiving treatment.

No charges have been filed over the incident, which is being investigated, with witness interviews ongoing.

 

A spokesperson from the production told The Hollywood Reporter the “accident” involved the misfire of a prop gun with blanks.

A sheriff’s spokesman told the publication that the director was in “critical condition.”

The incident took place at the Bonanza Creek Ranch, a production location near Santa Fe which is popular with Hollywood filmmakers.

Movie sets usually have stringent rules over the use of prop weapons, but accidents have happened.

Most famously, Brandon Lee, the son of martial arts legend Bruce Lee, died during filming of “The Crow” after being shot by a gun that was supposed to fire blanks.

Baldwin co-produces the film and stars as Harland Rust, an outlaw whose grandson is convicted of murder, and who goes on the run with him when the boy is sentenced to hang for the crime.

The 63-year-old posted a photograph earlier Thursday on Instagram showing him apparently on set, dressed in a period costume and with fake blood on his shirt.

“Back to in-person at the office. Blimey… it’s exhausting,” he captioned the picture, which went online several hours before the incident.

Baldwin has been on television and in films since the 1980s.

Having starred in a number of high profile movies, including in “The Hunt for Red October” and two iterations of the “Mission: Impossible” franchise, Baldwin has voiced animated characters in hits like “The Boss Baby”.

He garnered new fans with his long-running portrayal of Donald Trump on “Saturday Night Live”, a character that irritated the former president, but won Baldwin a Primetime Emmy.

“Rust” also stars Jensen Ackles (“Supernaturals”) and Travis Fimmel, best known for playing Ragnar Lothbrok in “Vikings”.

The Bonanza Creek Ranch where Thursday’s incident took place has hosted productions including “Hostiles,” “Cowboys & Aliens,” “3:10 to Yuma,” “Appaloosa” and “Longmire.”

In Colombia, Blinken Announces Deal to Curb Amazon Deforestation

After a day of high-level talks in Colombia, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced on Thursday a regional partnership to address deforestation in the Amazon rainforest.

“We’ll give much-needed financial assistance to help manage protected areas and Indigenous territories, and we’ll help scale up low-carbon agricultural practices to farmers throughout the Amazon,” he said in the capital, Bogota, after touring its botanical gardens.

“This new regional partnership will help prevent up to 19 million metric tons of carbon dioxide from entering the atmosphere while capturing another 52,000 metric tons of carbon, and we estimate it will save — save — more than 45,000 hectares of forest,” Blinken added.

The Amazon spans eight countries in South America, including Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador and Peru. The Amazon and other rainforests are crucial because they take in carbon dioxide and produce about one-fifth of the world’s oxygen. About a third of Colombia is in the Amazon.

Colombian President Ivan Duque has ambitious climate goals, including zero deforestation by 2030. Blinken observed in his remarks that Duque won an International Conservation Award this year from the International Conservation Caucus Foundation.

UN conference

Blinken’s announcement came a little more than a week before the United Nations Climate Change Conference, known as COP26, opens in Glasgow, Scotland, where about 100 world leaders will discuss climate change and how to combat it.

In Glasgow, “the entire planet is hoping for important announcements — actions,” he said.

The secretary was wrapping up a trip to Ecuador and Colombia that focused on discussing migration policy and upholding democracy.

“The core focus of this trip for me, my first trip to South America as secretary of state, is how we make democracies deliver for our people,” Blinken said minutes before the talks began. “That is our common challenge. It’s our common responsibility. And that’s true in our countries and it’s true across the hemisphere.”

Blinken said many common issues would be discussed during the U.S.-Colombia High-Level Dialogue, including COVID-19, the climate crisis and migration.

“We know that one way we can deliver is by working closely with our partners and allies on the biggest challenges we face, and that’s exactly what the United States and Colombia are doing,” Blinken said.

Blinken told reporters Wednesday after meeting with Duque that the two countries have many areas of potential cooperation, including cloud computing, health technology and agriculture.

The United States is asking countries in the Western Hemisphere to step up pledges to tackle the immediate challenges of irregular migration as it expands eligibility for legal migration to the United States.

Migration ministerial

Blinken held talks Wednesday with more than a dozen officials from Latin America at a regional migration ministerial in Bogota. Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas joined the gathering virtually.

The United States discussed options, including assisting with voluntary returns to their home countries for migrants who do not have valid asylum claims.

Duque confirmed that his government had received resources from the U.S. to tackle what he called ”the most complicated migration crisis in the world”: the Venezuelan migration crisis.

In a speech earlier Wednesday in Ecuador, Blinken outlined several challenges that democracies face in the Western Hemisphere, including corruption, civilian security, and the economic and social well-being of the people.

He said he was optimistic they could be overcome and noted that the survival of a democracy driven by ordinary people was vital to the shared future of the region.​

VOA’s Nike Ching contributed to this report. Some information came from The Associated Press, Agence France-Presse and Reuters.

Warming Temperatures Could Spark Conflicts in Global Hot Spots, Reports Say 

More than just altering the environment, climate change is threatening to permanently and dangerously reshape the global security landscape, according to a series of new assessments by U.S. military, intelligence and security officials.

The reports, ordered earlier this year by U.S. President Joe Biden as part of an effort to better confront the impact of climate change, warn no country will be spared, and that some parts of the world already may be reaching a tipping point.

“As climate change converges with other drivers — especially geostrategic competition, emerging technology and global-demographic trends — it is reshaping the risk landscape,” the Department of Homeland Security said in its climate change strategic framework, released Thursday.

“The corrosive impact of these trends will make nations increasingly vulnerable to domestic instability, with sweeping implications for regional and border security and core national security interests,” it added.

Preparing for calamities

Defense officials said they are already being forced to prepare for worst-case scenarios, from mass migration events to shifts in the balance of power in key regions to the possibility some countries could collapse outright, spawning “instability across the globe.”

“Competitive advantage in the future will go to those who can fight and win in this rapidly changing strategic and physical environment,” Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said.

The Pentagon’s risk assessment warned climate change is likely to spark instability in at least four regions – the Middle East and South Asia, Africa, Europe, and Central and South America – with three of them likely to see increased demand for humanitarian aid.

The U.S. intelligence community’s National Intelligence Estimate on climate change is even more dire, pointing to looming disaster for key countries in South and East Asia, and in Central America.

And where existing governments are unable to meet the challenges of climate change, insurgents and terrorists appear poised to exploit the situation.

“We assess that most of the countries where al-Qaida or ISIS have a presence are highly vulnerable to climate change,” the intelligence estimate warned.

Countries in Central Africa, already confronting rising terror threats, also may find themselves overwhelmed.

“Under-resourced and ill-equipped militaries will face severe strains when they are called upon to respond to more natural disasters in their own and neighboring countries,” the assessment said.

In Central America, prolonged dry spells and excessive rains could force 30% of the working population to flee.

No country spared

U.S. intelligence officials also warn that even countries with the most resources could find themselves at odds, predicting intense competition between the U.S. and China over key mineral and clean energy technologies by 2040.

“The United States and others … are in a relatively better position than other countries to deal with the major costs and dislocation of forecasted change, in part because they have greater resources to adapt, but will nonetheless require difficult adjustments,” according to the estimate.

“Adjusting to such changes will often be wrenching, and populations will feel negative effects in their daily lives,” it said. “The impacts will be massive even if the worst human costs can be avoided.”