Reuters

Australia aims to 'live with virus' instead of eliminating it

By Renju Jose and Jonathan Barrett

SYDNEY (Reuters) -Australian authorities on Wednesday extended the COVID-19 lockdown in Melbourne for another three weeks, as they shift their focus to rapid vaccination drives and move away from a suppression strategy to bring cases down to zero.

Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews flagged a staggered easing of the tough restrictions once 70% of the state's adult residents receive at least one dose, a milestone he hopes to reach at least by Sept. 23, based on current vaccination rates.

"We have thrown everything at this, but it is now clear to us that we are not going to drive these numbers down, they are instead going to increase," Andrews told reporters in Melbourne, the state capital, after a lockdown for nearly a month failed to quell the outbreak. The lockdown was due to end on Thursday.

"We got to buy time to allow vaccinations to be undertaken all the while doing this very hard work, this very painful and difficult work, to keep a lid as much as we can on cases."

New local cases jumped to 120 in Victoria from 76 a day earlier. Of the new cases, 100 have spent time in the community while infectious.

Neighbouring New South Wales state, home to Sydney, on Wednesday brought forward its target date to fully vaccinate 70% of people above 16 to the middle of next month from the initial target of the end of October, as outbreaks spurred a surge in inoculation.

"No matter where you live, life will be much, much better, much freer, as long as you're vaccinated at 70%," Berejiklian told reporters. So far 37% are fully vaccinated in the state, while 67% have had at least one dose, slightly higher than the national numbers but well below most comparable nations.

A total of 1,116 new cases were detected in New South Wales, down from 1,164 a day earlier. NSW reported four new deaths, taking the total number of deaths in the latest outbreak to 100.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison told parliament on Wednesday Australians ultimately needed to be released from lockdowns.

"Australia can live with this virus," he said in Canberra.

LIVING WITH COVID

Australia is trying to get a handle on the third wave of infections that has locked down more than half of its 25 million population. Sydney and Melbourne, its largest cities, and capital Canberra are in weeks-long strict stay-at-home orders.

Despite the recent flare-ups, it has managed to keep its coronavirus numbers relatively low, with just over 55,000 cases and 1,012 deaths.

Among the Group of 20 big economies, Australia was the last to record https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/weary-australia-plans-reopening-covid-19-death-toll-hits-1000-2021-08-30 1,000 COVID-19 deaths, a grim but modest marker by global standards reached this week.

Several major Asia-Pacific economies have fewer COVID-19 deaths, with New Zealand recording just 26.

While Australian authorities had been able to douse past outbreaks through lockdowns, the highly infectious Delta variant has forced the country's two biggest states to plan for a reopening even as infections rise.

Australian Medical Association vice president Chris Moy told Reuters that Delta's high infectivity, short incubation and asymptomatic spread had meant the "old playbook did not work".

"Your window of opportunity at the start to eliminate it is so much smaller and basically once you're passed that, Delta decides its destiny," Moy said.

The federal government is pressing the states and territories to stick to a national reopening plan once vaccination rates reach 70%-80% although some virus-free states said they may delay given the rapidly rising Sydney cases.

Federal Treasurer Josh Frydenberg urged the state leaders to follow the national reopening plans.

"Stick to the plan ... a plan that allows businesses to reopen and plan for their own future ... a plan that takes Australia forward to living safely with the virus," Frydenberg said.

(Reporting by Renju Jose and Jonathan Barrett; Additional reporting by Colin Packham; Editing by Stephen Coates, Michael Perry and Gerry Doyle)

Theranos founder claims abuse by ex-boyfriend in fraud trial

(Reuters) - Theranos Inc founder Elizabeth Holmes has accused her former boyfriend, who was president of the blood-testing startup, of abusing her, court documents unsealed on Saturday showed, hinting at a possible defense strategy with jury selection in her fraud trial set to start next week.

In court filings submitted more than 18 months ago, Holmes' lawyers said they planned to present evidence that Ramesh "Sunny" Balwani abused her emotionally and psychologically in a relationship that spanned more than a decade. That includes the period when the company claimed its technology could enable a wide array of medical tests with a few drops of blood.

Theranos, which Holmes founded in 2003 at the age of 19, collapsed in March 2018 when she, Balwani and the $9 billion company were charged with fraud by U.S. regulators. Theranos had made Holmes, a Stanford University dropout, a Silicon Valley star.

In the filings Holmes' lawyers argued that the alleged "intimate partner abuse" was relevant to the question of whether she knew that financial information provided to investors and others was false. Holmes intends to blame Balwani, alleging he exerted controlled over her through the abusive relationship, the filings indicate.

Balwani, whose case is being handled separately, has denied the allegations.

"Mr. Balwani unequivocally denies that he engaged in any abuse at any time," his lawyers wrote in a December 2019 filing.

Holmes and Balwani have both pleaded not guilty to charges that they defrauded investors, doctors and patients by falsely claiming Theranos could revolutionize medical lab testing with its technology.

Lawyers at Williams & Connolly for Holmes and attorneys for Balwani at Orrick Herrington & Sutcliffe could not immediately be reached for comment.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Jeff Schenk, the lead prosecutor on the case, did not respond to an email seeking comment.

Holmes' lawyers had previously flagged they would make her mental health an issue in the case. Last year they said Mindy Mechanic, a California State University at Fullerton professor specializing in psychosocial consequences of violence, trauma and victimization, would offer expert testimony at trial.

The case is United States v. Holmes, U.S. District Court, Northern District of California, No. 18-cr-00258.

(Reporting by Nathan Layne in Wilton, Connecticut; Editing by Richard Chang)

Pandemic summer school meal program has served millions, but its future uncertain

By Christopher Walljasper and Brendan O'Brien

BENTON HARBOR, Mich. (Reuters) - On a warm July morning, James Terry stepped out of his home garage, where he manages his Benton Harbor, Michigan-based auto detailing business, and paused work to pick up groceries, with his 7-year-old son in tow.

Instead of a grocery store, they headed to a nearby park, where the school district offered free bags of individually wrapped milk, cereal, applesauce and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.

The food was available due to a dramatic change in government policy on school meal programs during the COVID-19 pandemic. Federal agencies have waived requirements for kids to eat summer meals on site. The government no longer limits subsidized school meals to families that can prove they need them.

Millions of families who lost jobs or fell behind on rent and mortgage payments have come to rely on it to stave off the historically high rates of hunger among children, even as the U.S. economy strengthens more than a year after pandemic imposed shutdowns.

But the additional meals could go away next summer, when relaxed rules around distribution and income requirements are set to expire.

Terry's wife is a home healthcare worker, so while she has been working in the homes of other, he has juggled caring for four kids learning from home, while also working.

"If the rules change, it's going to be a little struggle," he said.

Loosened summer restrictions have allowed parents like Terry to quickly pick up food and return to work, and grandparents or neighbors to pick up food for kids who can't leave the house.

Last December, 15.3 million households with children lacked enough food to feed their families – more than 18% of the United States, according the U.S. Census Bureau's weekly Household Pulse Survey. With the help of school meals and other expanded nutrition assistance programs, that number dropped to 10.7 million as of July 5, still well above the percentage of households facing hunger pre-pandemic.

Chicago Public Schools (CPS) officials handed out about 745,000 summer meals on average during the three years before the pandemic. This year they expect to distribute about 4.5 million free meals in the district's expanded summer grab-and-go meal program, illustrating the financial need across the third-largest U.S. school system.

For Mando Martinez, 69, who helps support his daughter, a single mother, and his 12-year-old grandson, the couple of bags of food he picks up weekly from the CPS program at Lane Tech College Prep High School on Chicago's North Side saves the family on a tight budget more than $100 each month.

"She doesn't get help from anyone," said the retired sign painter on a fixed income as he was walking home with the food. "It means a lot. It helps because everything being so expensive now."

UNCERTAIN FUTURE

The expansion of school meals is just one of the social safety net experiments implemented during the pandemic that face an uncertain future.

In late March 2020, the Trump administration began waiving income requirements and other restrictions on who could pick up meals and when meals could be served.

Continuing under the Biden administration, the U.S. Department of Agriculture reimburses states as much as $4.31 for every lunch served, regardless of a family’s income level.

Those waivers are set to expire in June 2022, potentially jolting communities that have come to rely on them.

From May 2020 to April 2021, the Agriculture Department spent $10.8 billion on expanded summer food service, extending the summer program through the school year while schools remained closed. Before the pandemic the program averaged less than $500 million a year on summer meals since 2016.

California recently included universal school meals in its latest budget, permanently eliminating financial tests for meal eligibility. Two bills were introduced in the U.S. Senate this May, one bipartisan measure aiming to permanently expand summer meal access and another proposal, co-sponsored by Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders and Minnesota Representative Ilhan Omar, making universal school meals accessible for all.

Now that the program delivers food into the beleaguered working class community rather than requiring students go to cafeterias for summer meals, the Benton Harbor Area School District has fed hundreds more students, according to Ricardo Carter, general manager for the district's food service provider SodexoMAGIC.

Nationally, school meal participation overall increased by 85% during the pandemic, according to a 2021 survey by the School Nutrition Association.

"Before, it was 'you've got to be at the table, we feed you that way,'" said Carter, who reported serving far more students in need under the relaxed rules. "I think going back to congregate meals would be a ridiculous mistake."

Ginger Culp, an art teacher at Round Lake Area Schools, north of Chicago, picked up lunches for her daughter and a neighbor's child. She said she's seen hungry kids in her classroom and worries about free meals going away.

"I think it's going to be a challenge for people who have very heavily relied on it," Culp said.

After more than two years of federally funded meals, Colleen Pacatte, superintendent of Illinois School District 56 worries the middle-income, suburban Chicago district will have to fund school meals for everyone, or ask parents to pay for lunches themselves.

"How do I explain that to a family?" she said.

"It doesn't matter to them who took the money away," she said. "They just know the meals aren't there."

(Reporting by Christopher Walljasper and Brendan O'Brien; Editing by Caroline Stauffer and Aurora Ellis)

Huge emergency operation under way after building collapse in Miami

(Reuters) - More than 80 fire and rescue units were on the scene of a partial building collapse in Miami, the Miami-Dade county Fire Rescue Department said in a tweet early Thursday. While there were no official confirmations of death or injury so far, ABC News said eight people had been hospitalized and CBS reported that at least one person has died. An image posted on Miami Beach Police's Twitter account showed a tangle of rubble with debris spilling down from what was left of the balconies of the building in the darkness. Eyewitness video obtained by Reuters showed neighbours gathering acro...

Here's what's known and unknown about the hack at Colonial Pipeline

By Raphael Satter WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Ransom-seeking hackers have broken into Colonial Pipeline, prompting the company to shut one of America's major arteries for fuel delivery. Here is a look at what we know, and what we don't, about one of the most disruptive digital shakedown efforts to hit a U.S. company. WHO IS INVOLVED? Alpharetta, Georgia-based Colonial Pipeline and the U.S. government have both blamed ransomware for the massive outage, pointing the finger at cybercriminal gangs who routinely hold data and computer networks hostage in exchange for digital currency payments. There is ...

US Representative Tom Reed accused of sexual misconduct: Washington Post

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Republican U.S. Representative Tom Reed, who has been mulling a challenge to Democratic New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, has been accused of sexual misconduct by a former insurance company lobbyist, the Washington Post reported on Friday. Nicolette Davis, who now serves in the U.S. military, told the newspaper that in 2017 Reed inappropriately placed his hand on her during a "networking trip" in Minneapolis. "A drunk congressman is rubbing my back," the newspaper quoted Davis texting a co-worker at the time. "HELP HELP." "This account of my actions is not accurate," Reed ...

US television host Larry King dies at age 87: CNN

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. broadcaster Larry King, 87, has died, CNN reported on Saturday. (Reporting by Susan Heavey and Scott Malone)

China takes parting shot at 'lying and cheating' Pompeo

By Cate Cadell and Tony Munroe BEIJING (Reuters) - With hours left in Donald Trump's presidency, China's foreign ministry took aim at its chief U.S. antagonist, "lying and cheating" Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, and said it would seek cooperation with the incoming administration of Joe Biden. Pompeo, who has unleashed a barrage of measures against China in his final weeks in office, delivered his own parting shot on Tuesday when he announced that the Trump administration had determined that China has committed “genocide and crimes against humanity” by repressing Uighur Muslims in Xinjiang. "...

Pentagon to Lift Ban on Transgender Service Members

The Pentagon plans to announce the repeal of its ban on openly serving transgender service members next month, US defence officials have said. One of the US officials said on Saturday that parts of the repeal would come into effect immediately. But the plan would also direct each branch of the armed services to implement new…

Keep reading... Show less

Historic Black Florida Town Slated for Ultra-Rich Luxury Shopping Development

The oldest black town in America, Eatonville in central Florida, where a quarter of the residents live below the poverty line, voted Tuesday night on a plan to transform the community into a luxury shopping destination for the ultra-rich.

Keep reading... Show less
BRAND NEW STORIES

Don't Sit on the Sidelines of History. Join Alternet All Access and Go Ad-Free. Support Honest Journalism.