Early data show two doses of Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine caused good immune response

Oxford University’s COVID-19 vaccine candidate has a better immune response when a two full-dose plan is followed rather than a full-dose followed by a half-dose booster, the university said on Thursday, citing data from early trials.

The developers of the vaccine candidate, which has been licensed to pharmaceuticals company AstraZeneca, have already published later stage trial results showing higher effect when a half dose is followed by a full dose, compared to a two full-dose regime. However, more work needs to be done to establish the result.

The latest details from the Phase I and 2 clinical trials revealed on Thursday made no reference to the half-dose/full-dose program, which Oxford has said had been “unplanned” but approved by regulators.

Once seen as the frontrunner in the development of a coronavirus vaccine, the British team has been overtaken by U.S. drugmaker Pfizer, whose shots have been administered in Britain and the United States this month.

Data published earlier from the later Phase 3 trials showed efficacy was 62% for trial participants given two full doses, but a more stronger 90% for a smaller sub-group given first a half, then a full dose.

In its statement on Thursday, the university said it had started two dosing regimes in early stage trials, a full-dose/full-dose regime and a full-dose/half-dose regime, investigated as a possible “dose sparing” strategy.

“The booster doses of the vaccine are both shown to induce stronger antibody responses than a single dose, the standard dose/standard dose inducing the best response,” the university said in a statement.

The vaccine “stimulates broad antibody and T cell functions,” it said.


Denmark strengthens rape laws, outlawing sex without explicit consent

Denmark has toughen its rape laws by criminalising sex without explicit consent.

The new law approved by parliament on Thursday also spreaded the circumstances that could constitute rape – as per the old legislation, prosecutors had to prove the rapist had used violence or attacked someone who was unable to resist.

“Now it will be clear, that if both parties do no consent to sex, then it’s rape,” the justice minister, Nick Haekkerup, said in a statement.

A similar law introduced in neighbouring Sweden in 2018 contributed in a 75% surge in rape convictions, to 333.

About 11,400 women a year are raped or to attempted rape in Denmark, according to the ministry’s figures.

Amnesty International said Denmark had become the 12th country in Europe to accept non-consensual sex as rape.

Anna Blus, a women’s rights researcher at Amnesty, said. “This is a great day for women in Denmark as it consigns outdated and dangerous rape laws to the dustbin of history and helps to end pervasive stigma and endemic impunity for this crime.”

The law will be effective from January 1st.


A nationwide curfew in Fiji due to Yasa

Tropical Cyclone Yasa caused landfall in Fiji Thursday afternoon, local time, slamming into the island of Vanua Levu packing winds of 240 kph equivalent to a category 4 hurricane on the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Scale. This is the second time this year the Fiji archipelago has had a direct landfall from a major tropical cyclone.

Local officials have warned the potential effect of the storm could be devastating.

The country ordered a 14-hour nationwide curfew from 4 p.m. (10 p.m. ET Wednesday) with people living in low-lying areas requested to move to higher ground before nightfall, Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama said in a video posted to Facebook.

“The impact for this super storm is more or less the entire country,” Bainimarama said in the video.

The United States National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration warns that even well built homes could face “severe damage” as a result of winds more than 200 kph (124 mph), while trees and power poles could be downed, bringing more destruction and disruption.

Yasa would “easily surpass” the strength of 2016’s Cyclone Winston, Bainimarama said, referring to the Southern Hemisphere’s most intense tropical storm on record, which killed more than 40 Fijians and left tens of thousands of people homeless.

More than 850,000 Fijians, or 95% of the population, live in the direct path of Yasa, Bainimarama said, adding that weather forecasts anticipated flash flooding and “severe coastal inundation” that included waves up to 10 meters (33 feet) high.

Police would enforce a ban on public transport, said the country’s National Disaster Management Office, which added that the country had declared a “state of natural disaster” that gives law enforcement authorities increased powers.

By 8 p.m. (2 a.m. ET) Thursday, the center of Yasa was forecast to be 100 km (62 miles) east of the village of Yasawa-i-Rara and potentially over Fiji’s fifth-most populous province of Bua, home to 15,000 people, the office said.

Strong cyclones have become increasingly common in the Pacific in recent years, something Bainimarama has put down to climate change. Earlier this year, he said that global warming was the cause of worsening wildfires in Australia as well as heavier storms in the Pacific.

“My fellow Fijians, as the world is getting warmer these storms are getting stronger. Every one of us must treat these climate-fuelled catastrophes with deadly seriousness,” Bainimarama wrote in a Facebook post Thursday.


California purchases thousands of body bags as death toll grows due to Covid

California has purchased thousands of body bags and has dozens of refrigerated storage units ready as it prepares to tackle with rising death toll from Covid-19.

The orders for 5,000 body bags and 60 53-foot-long refrigerated units to have ready for counties and hospitals should be a sobering statistic, Gov. Gavin Newsom said.

Although vaccines have arrived, the crisis is not over, Newsom said.

“There is light at the end of the tunnel, but we’re still in the tunnel,” he said at a news conference Tuesday. “And that means we’re going through perhaps the most intense and urgent moment since the beginning of this pandemic.”

Newsom, a Democrat, said there is a ray of optimism: Vaccines began being administered Monday, and the state expects to have 2.1 million doses by the end of December.

He requested people across the state to wear masks, keep distance from others and take other steps to curb the spread of the coronavirus.

“I want to remind folks: It’s not the flu. This is not something to trifle with,” Newsom said. “This is a deadly disease, a deadly pandemic, and we’re in the middle of it right now.” Large parts of the state are under stay-at-home orders.

Roughly 32,300 new Covid-19 cases are reported across the state each day, a number Newsom said was historic, and the positivity rate had risen from 6.9 percent at the beginning of the month to more than 10 percent Monday.

The number of people hospitalized for Covid-19 in California rose from around 8,500 on Dec. 1 to around 14,200 on Monday, he said.

And the state’s intensive care unit capacity averages around 5.7 percent statewide, Newsom said. The lowest capacities are in Southern California and the San Joaquin Valley.

There are more than 21,000 deaths from Covid-19 in California, as per the state health department.

The average number of deaths from the disease in the state was 163 a day as of Monday, Newsom said, using a seven-day average. On Nov. 14, the average daily number was 41.

A national ensemble forecast to the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention predicts that the Covid-19 death toll could be 362,000 by Jan. 2.

More than 16.7 million cases had been reported in the United States by Tuesday evening, and more than 304,000 people have died, as per the reports.


Amazon’s Luna cloud gaming service is now available on Android

Amazon’s cloud gaming service, Luna, is now available on Android. Like the iOS version of Luna, there’s no separate Luna app to download, one can access the service through the Chrome web browser.

Amazon launched Luna in October, where it was available on PC, Mac, Fire TV, and on iPhone and iPad via web apps. The service works on a channels-based model, where one pays a monthly fee for each channel of games wants access to.

Currently, there are two channels available. Amazon’s $5.99-per-month Luna Plus channel has games from many different publishers, and Ubisoft’s $14.99-per-month Ubisoft Plus channel offers Ubisoft games.

Presently, Luna’s Android version works on some Pixel, Samsung, and OnePlus devices, but Amazon says Luna will extend support for more Android devices during Luna’s early access period. An Amazon spokesperson shared a list of currently-supported devices:

  • Pixel 4XL, 4A, 4A 5G, 5
  • Samsung Galaxy S10, S10 Plus, Note 10, Note 10 Plus, S20, S20 Plus, S20 Ultra, Note 20, Note 20 Ultra
  • OnePlus 7, 7 Pro, 7 Pro 5G, 8, 8 Pro, Nord, 7T, 7T Pro, 7T Pro 5G

One needs to be using Android 9 or higher and Chrome version 86 or newer. He will be able to play games using Amazon’s own Luna controller as well as the PlayStation 4 or Xbox One controller.


Dr. William G. Rothstein, longtime UMBC faculty member dies

Dr. William G. Rothstein, a founding faculty member of the University of Maryland, Baltimore County who served for nearly five-decade the department of sociology, anthropology and public health, and was an author and expert in the history of medicine in the United States, died at Madonna Heritage Assisted Living Home in Jarrettsville of complications from a stroke. He was 83.

“It’s so easy to talk about Bill Rothstein,” said Freeman A. Hrabowski III, who is president of UMBC since 1992.

“He was one of the founding faculty members of UMBC, and came here when the doors opened in 1966, and was a man who had superb qualifications,” Dr. Hrabowski said. “He was the consummate educator.”

William Gene Rothstein, son of Meyer Rothstein, owner of a scrap metal business, and his wife, Bertha Ann Rothstein, a homemaker, was born and raised in Waterbury, Connecticut, where he graduated in 1955 from Crosby High School.

Professor Rothstein earned a bachelor’s degree in 1959 from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, a master’s degree from the University of Minnesota in 1961, and his Ph.D. in philosophy in 1965 from Cornell University.

He served from 1964 to 1966 as a research analyst for Prudential Financial Inc. in Newark, New Jersey, then joined the UMBC faculty.

Professor Rothstein was promoted to associate professor in 1969 and to full professor in 1988. In addition to his classroom work, as director of the master’s program in applied sociology, he worked on a one-to-one basis helping them select courses, develop research interests and plan for careers.

“His support and encouragement of these students made him a beloved part of their UMBC experience,” according to a biographical profile submitted by his family.

Described as being a thoughtful and compassionate mentor, he remained connected to his students long after their graduation and closely followed their careers. He shared dinners, lunches, trips to the symphony, emails and phone calls with them.


Australia worried by reports of Chinese restrictions on its coal

Australia seems to be troubled with Beijing placing new restrictions on imports of Australian coal.

Australian Trade Minister Simon Birmingham on Tuesday said he was “deeply troubled” by new reports in Chinese state media that the country’s top economic planner has banned certain coal imports from Australia. According to a report the country’s National Development and Reform Commission has given power plants approval to buy overseas coal without restrictions except from Australia.

If true, the reports “would indicate discriminatory trade practices being deployed by Chinese authorities,” Birmingham told Australia’s Radio National. China has already banned or imposed tariffs on a range of other Australian exports.

Spokesman Wang Wenbin acknowledged that “Chinese authorities have recently taken relevant measures against certain Australian products exported to China in accordance with the law and regulations.”

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison, said that the government is “seeking clarification” on the reports, adding that the country has yet to hear from the Chinese government. He called reports that China is blocking Australian coal a “bad outcome for the trading relationship” between the two nations.

Relations started worsening since April, when Morrison asked for an international inquiry into the origins of the coronavirus pandemic. Beijing at the time called that move “political manipulation.”

Since then, China has imposed Australian winemakers with heavy tariffs, and banned or taxed exports of other products, including beef and barley.

Morrison said Tuesday that Australia sends 4 billion Australian dollars ($3 billion) worth of thermal coal to China each year, adding that Japan is a bigger market than China for those exports. Thermal coal is primarily used to generate power. In total, Australia exported some 14 billion Australian dollars ($10.5 billion) worth of coal to China in the 2018-2019 fiscal year.

But the impact on trade of any move against Australian coal is tough to measure. Australian media pointed out weeks ago that hundreds of millions of dollars worth of coal was already being held off the coast of China, an indication that Beijing was at least informally putting pressure on Australia’s vital mining industry.

“This opacity makes it hard to say how much of an escalation this news is,” said Sean Langcake, senior economist at Oxford Economics, noting the existing disturbance in thermal coal trade. “These have clearly not been resolved, and it’s hard not to see this news as a further deterioration.”

Investors in Australia’s major coal producers are apprehensive. Shares in Coronado Global and Yancoal Australia each plunged more than 8% in Sydney on Tuesday. Whitehaven Coal dropped nearly 6% on Tuesday, and is down 10% so far this week.

Analysts at ANZ Research wrote in a research note that the Chinese reports confirm “what has been assumed ever since reports of import restrictions on coal from Australia emerged in October.” They noted that while China has been an important market for Australian thermal coal — it made up nearly a third of Australia’s total exports in 2018 — that market share has been falling ever since.

“Australian exporters have found additional buyers in South Korea, Vietnam and Japan,” the analysts wrote. “As such we see Australia’s thermal coal exports holding up relatively well, despite the Chinese ban.”

Economists have said that other mining materials, majorly iron ore and coking coal used in steelmaking, make up a particularly large share of Australian exports. Langcake told earlier this month that restrictions on such exports are unlikely, given how reliant China’s steel industry is on them.


Putin congratulates Biden on US election victory

Russian President Vladimir Putin congratulated Joe Biden on his victory in the US presidential election Tuesday, when the Electoral College officially affirmed Biden’s win.

While many world leaders already congratulated President-elect Biden, the Kremlin said at the time that it deemed it “correct” to wait for the official affirmation before Putin congratulated the winner.

“Vladimir Putin wished the President-elect every success and expressed confidence that Russia and the United States, which bear special responsibility for global security and stability, despite their differences can truly contribute to solving many problems and challenges that the world is currently facing,” a Kremlin readout said on Tuesday.

Putin said that “Russian-American cooperation based on the principles of equality and mutual respect would meet the interests of people in both countries as well as the entire international community.”

“For my part, I am ready for cooperation and contacts with you,” the Russian President said.

It’s contrast to 2016, when the Kremlin congratulated US President Donald Trump within hours of the race being called, Biden’s administration will have a very different thought towards Russia.

Biden had called Russia “the main threat” to US national security in an interview. Kremlin spokesman Peskov responded by saying that such rhetoric amplified “hatred towards the Russian Federation.”

Due to the election, the two countries did not reach a deal to extend a key arms reduction treaty signed by Presidents Obama and Dmitry Medvedev in 2010, which the Trump administration wanted ahead of election day.


Apple wishes to increase iPhone production for first half of 2021

Apple Inc intents to produce 96 million iPhones in the first half of 2021, a nearly 30% year-on-year increase as per a report.

It has requested suppliers to produce around 95 million to 96 million iPhones, including the latest iPhone 12 range as well as older iPhone 11 and SE, though shortage of key parts could be a problem, the report noted.

This would be a 20% rise from 2019 though the target will be regularly reviewed and revised in accordance to any changes in consumer demand, as per the report.

The probable full-year forecast that the iPhone maker shared with its suppliers suggests it plans to make up to 230 million iPhones in 2021, including both old and new models, the report said.

Apple did not respond to a request for comment.


Japanese ‘Twitter killer’ sentenced

A Japanese man known as “Twitter killer” who was found guilty of killing nine people in a high-profile mass murder case in 2017 was sentenced to death on Tuesday, the Tokyo District Court Tachikawa branch confirmed.

Takahiro Shiraishi, 30, was convicted of murdering, raping, dismembering, and storing the nine victims’ bodies in his apartment in Zama, Kanagawa prefecture, on the outskirts of Tokyo, the court said.

Shiraishi was arrested in October 2017 when police searched his home to investigate the disappearance of a 23-year-old woman who had posted suicidal notes on social media, including Twitter.

Three cooler boxes and five containers were found in Shiraishi’s room, containing human heads and bones with the flesh scraped off, according to the reports.

The nine victims, eight women and one man were aged between 15 and 26, were found.

The victims had posted online that they wanted to kill themselves, and were subsequently contacted by Shiraishi through social media platforms.

Using a handle which loosely translates as “hangman,” Shiraishi invited them to his apartment in Zama, promising to help them die.

Shiraishi pleaded guilty to murdering the victims, saying in court that he had killed them to satisfy his sexual desire.

Shiraishi does not intend to appeal the verdict and will be on death row until Japan’s justice minister signs the execution order as per reports.

In Japan the death penalty is executed by hanging, with execution dates not made public till the penalty is carried out.