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US push to include ‘Wuhan virus’ language in G7 joint statement fractures alliance

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“What the State Department has suggested is a red line,” a European diplomat said. “You cannot agree with this branding of this virus and trying to communicate this.”

The proposed draft statement by the United States also blamed China for the pandemic’s spread, the diplomat told CNN.

Although the World Health Organization officially has dubbed the illness Covid-19 or coronavirus, a 12-paragraph draft statement circulated by the US among the G7 ministers referred to it as the “Wuhan virus.” Because the US holds the presidency for the international coalition — which also includes the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and Canada — it was responsible for penning the draft joint statement.

As a result, several of the member nations released their own statements following the foreign ministers’ meeting, which was held virtually due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Blame game escalates between US and China over coronavirus disinformation

A French statement about the meeting referred to the “COVID-19 pandemic.” And in a sign that the loaded term isn’t a priority for all members of the Trump administration, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin signed on to a G7 finance ministers’ statement that they were enhancing coordination “to respond to the global health, economic, and financial impacts associated with the spread of the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19).”

A joint statement by President Donald Trump and the other G7 leaders after a March 16 videoconference made no mention of China at all.

In public remarks, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has consistently targeted China for an alleged lack of transparency at the outset of the pandemic. CNN has learned that the administration has implemented a coordinated messaging campaign, which includes talking points sent out by the National Security Council pushing US officials to highlight China’s alleged “coverup” and subsequent disinformation campaign.
Der Spiegel was first to report on the inclusion of the phrase in the draft. Asked about the German outlet’s report on Wednesday, Pompeo did not deny it.

“With respect to the statement, I always think about these meetings the right answer is to make sure we have the same message coming out of it,” he said during a press availability at the State Department.

Pompeo said that the pandemic was “the most pressing agenda item” at Wednesday’s meeting.

“There was a lot of discussion today amongst the G7 about the intentional disinformation campaign that China has been and continues to be engaged in,” he said.

China reported a cluster of cases of pneumonia of unknown cause to the World Health Organization on December 31, while Chinese officials say they began regular contact with the US about the virus on January 3. The first US case was confirmed January 20.

State Department officials have said that the use of the phrase “Wuhan virus” is meant to counter such disinformation. However, critics say the phrase is inflammatory, particularly as Asians and Asian Americans in the US report heightened incidents of racism and xenophobia.

When the virus was officially named, WHO Director General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus noted that “having a name matters to prevent the use of other names that can be inaccurate or stigmatizing.”

President Donald Trump said Tuesday that he has decided to pull back from associating the coronavirus with China, which he had previously done by calling it the “China virus” or the “Chinese virus.”



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Roblox is seeing a surge during coronavirus shelter-in-place

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Welcome to Bloxburg

Roblox

Erin Sowerby’s nine-year-old daughter, Catherine, would typically spend two hours a day at swim practice and the rest of her day at school and with friends.

Now, with social distancing in order, there’s no school or swimming, and Catherine only gets to spend time with her family in Fort Myers, Florida.

To stay in touch with friends, she’s using the gaming platform Roblox. Launched 14 years ago to create immersive experiences for kids, Roblox has become the second-highest grossing iOS app, according to the latest data from AppAnnie, by putting out millions of games that let kids build digital houses, adopt pets and run around theme parks together.

The technology wasn’t designed with a pandemic in mind, but usage has spiked since COVID-19 forced kids like Catherine to stay indoors.

“It’s not just mindless entertainment, which makes me feel a little better about it,” said Erin Sowerby, a consultant, who’s now working from her home in southwest Florida. “It’s replacing a lot of the socializing that she doesn’t get in person because she’s here with me or with her grandparents.”

Millions of parents across the country are suddenly being force to juggle full-time work, parenting and homeschooling, all while keeping their kids inside, away from their friends and hopefully sane. Extensive screen time is inevitable in many households, but Roblox has emerged as an alternative to the undesirable experience of letting kids watch endless YouTube videos and cartoons.

Roblox Chief Business Officer Craig Donato said usage surged 40% in March from February, and the app trails only YouTube in terms of the biggest money makers on iOS, according to AppAnnie. It’s the opposite story from what’s facing most of corporate America, including once high-flying start-ups like Airbnb, Toast, ClassPass and Bird, which are slashing costs and, in many cases, cutting jobs. 

Roblox expects $1 billion in billings this year, largely from in-app purchases. The company, based in San Mateo, California, sends 25% of that money to developers, who use software called Roblox Studio to make games for the app. Roblox doesn’t disclose revenue, but data site SensorTower estimated in November that sales in 2019, up to that point, had climbed 30% from all of 2018 to $435 million. Developers earned more than $110 million last year.

Virtual birthday parties

The games are free to play and gamers can purchase digital currency called Robux to buy premium features. For example, at a theme park, players can pay to build a customized jukebox or make taller rides, and in a ninja game, they can pay to improve their speed. There are also subscriptions for a certain amount of Robux a month. 

Some parents are hosting their kids’ birthday parties on the site, establishing virtual rooms that their friends and relatives can enter with their avatars. Sowerby said her daughter uses Roblox to adopt pets and construct buildings, adding that she’s “goaded me into buying some Robux a couple of times.”

In addition to highlighting the social functions of its games, Roblox has been rolling out features to help educators incorporate the gaming tools into their remote learning plans.

“It’s a space where kids can do unstructured play, which is super valuable,” said Donato, who joined the company in 2016 from Nextdoor. “Now everyone is locked at home, and this thing we’ve been focused on is even in more demand.”

Parents still want to know that their kids are safe and not being approached by creeps on the chat boards. Roblox includes numerous parental controls that adults can use to turn off socializing features or manage communications. Donato said the company also uses a combination of human moderators and software to monitor what people are saying and filter what’s appropriate based on the player’s age. 

Donato said the coronavirus wasn’t a topic of conversation when Andreessen Horowitz led a $150 million funding round in late February at a valuation of about $4 billion. Marc Andreessen and David George, a partner at the firm, wrote in a blog post at the time that over 2 million developers are building on Roblox “without the up-front costs, risks, and failures of the traditional top-down game publisher model.” 

Roblox CEO David Baszucki

Roblox

The developer platform is an important part of Roblox’s surging popularity. Roblox Studio, where kids can learn how to make games without having to know how to code, includes templates and instructional videos so kids can build their own worlds and even learn how to publish games.

Computer education company iD Tech is seeing the boom firsthand. The company, which has spent 21 years conducting in-person tech camps and added online courses a few years ago, has introduced a new slate of week-long virtual classes, teaching kids from 7 to 19 how to design on Minecraft, code games with JavaScript and learn Roblox. The discounted cost is $400 for the week and classes, which are taught over Zoom, have a max of five kids.

Ricky Bennett, a vice president at iD Tech, said the class on designing Roblox games is the top-selling virtual course. College students, who would normally teach at the summer camps, are eager for the work, Bennett said, and parents are looking for ways to keep their kids productively occupied while they’re trying to get work done.

“One of the things that makes it attractive for parents is that the kids can be entertained,” said Bennett, who lives in the Phoenix area and has four kids age 11 and under. During the class, “I know my kid is being supervised by an adult, having a social experience that’s contained in one place and won’t be running around in the background of my calls,” he said.

Developers have the time now

Buildbox, another game development platform that caters to non-coders, is seeing a similar trend. The company offers a free developer kit and charges monthly subscriptions for more advanced creators. Ad-tech start-up AppOnBoard acquired BuildBox in mid-2019, and it’s rapidly become the company’s core business.

Jonathan Zweig, AppOnBoard’s CEO, said Buildbox subscriber growth has climbed 2,850% since Feb. 26. Zweig says that BuildBox is particularly attractive to developers who have advanced beyond Roblox and want a broader set of tools. The 16 to 26 age range is its sweet spot, he said, which includes high school and college students who are now stuck indoors. Many of the games they make are for younger kids.

Ben Scriven, who lives just outside of London, is building for that audience. He’s 39 and has been working as a TV editor. But his passion is game development, which allows him to combine his skills in music, graphic design and filmmaking. He started making games using Buildbox several years ago on his hour-long commute to and from work.

Now that he’s home, Scriven has decided to concentrate on making his next game, a sequel to his previous title, Nite Fighter, which involves operating a fighter pilot and appeals to the Call of Duty crowd, he says. With the new game, Scriven has to not only make it fun but also focus on the monetization, working with a publisher and selling ads.

Ben Scriven waiting for the train

Ben Scriven

Scriven has two young kids to support, and he’s counting on the game to pay the bills, though he’s still a couple months from being ready to publish it. In the meantime, his family is living off savings. 

“It’s always been a dream for me to make arcade games — ever since I was a kid I wanted to do it,” Scriven said. “Now I’ve got an opportunity to do this full-time, to buckle down and really make a go of it. I can’t go into London anymore.”

Back in the U.S., Lesley Stordahl is adjusting to a work-from-home schedule while her two kids, 12 and 9, adapt to remote learning. Jasper, who’s in sixth grade, has a group of friends that text and play Roblox together. Odessa, a fourth grader, isn’t as much of a gamer, but has recently gotten into Roblox and enjoys roaming around the digital amusement park. 

While their parents take Zoom calls and deal with their full slate of assignments, they’re looking for as many kid-friendly activities as possible. At the same time, they’re trying to be frugal, uncertain of what the future has in store.

“We’re doing our best not to spend a lot of money, and Roblox is great because there’s a variety without the cost,” Leslie Stordahl said, in a video call with her kids from their home in Brooklyn, New York. “I want to make sure they’re still having social experiences and not losing touch with friends.”

WATCH: How to get the most out of working from home



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Good news health stories – and glimmer of hope it gives coronavirus fight – World News

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As the world is gripped by coronavirus it is easy to get caught up in the doom and gloom of the crisis with seemingly no end in sight.

But the human race is a hardy bunch – and we have overcome a number of hardships in the past.

We have enjoyed monumental health success stories thanks to groundbreaking research breakthroughs and drug developments, to awareness campaigns that change millions of lives.

They may not always be as attention-grabbing and don’t rack up the same scale of response on Twitter, but ‘good news’ health stories do exist and are often the result of a lot of hard work going on in the background.

A medic gives thumbs up at a drive-thru Covid-19 testing site

We’d be here for weeks if we listed all of them, but here are four massive ‘good news’ health stories from recent times, that are worthy of celebrating over and over again…

1. The HIV/AIDS landscape has been radically transformed

“Since the discovery of HIV and AIDS in the early-1980s, treatment has progressed to the point where a person living with HIV on effective antiretroviral treatment can now lead a full and active life and live a normal lifespan,” says Natasha Dhumma, Head of Policy at NAT (National AIDS Trust).

“Treatment reduces the level of the virus in a person’s body to ‘undetectable’ levels, which means they cannot pass it on.

“This game-changing finding that undetectable = untransmittable (often referred to as U=U) became widely known only in 2016, and has since become an indispensable tool to tackle HIV stigma,” she adds.

A pill of the pre-exposure prophylaxis used to prevent HIV is pictured

“There have also been vast improvements in HIV prevention in recent years, in particular PrEP (pre-exposure prophylaxis), a pill that’s highly effective at preventing HIV taking hold in the body.

“In March 2020, the Government committed to making PrEP freely available to all who need it, and this will significantly reduce HIV transmissions.”

Despite these immense advancements, Dhumma notes there’s still a “long way” to go with eradicating HIV stigma and discrimination.

She said: “Knowledge and understanding of the virus among the general public has not kept up with the advancements in science, and this is something we must all work to rectify.”

2. Movember has funded vital prostate cancer research

“Around the world, 1.3 million men are diagnosed with prostate cancer every year,” says Dr Mark Buzza, global director of biomedical research at Movember.

“Movember is a major funder of prostate cancer biomedical research internationally, and we’ve worked hard to establish a strong alliance of researchers and clinicians to work collaboratively on a range of projects that address critical unmet needs for men living with this disease.

Movember has been a huge success

“A Movember-funded clinical study has recently provided evidence for the first time that a new imaging technique, PSMA PET/CT, is more accurate than conventional imaging at detecting cancer that’s spread to other parts of the body.

“This will allow clinicians to be more confident in determining the best course of treatment, which will lead to patients being treated more appropriately and ultimately, lives being saved.

“Another global initiative is examining how intensive exercise and psychosocial support can increase overall survival in patients with advanced prostate cancer – which means more time, in better health, with those they love.

“In another clinical study, it was shown that a new class of drug, Olaparib, previously approved for breast, ovarian and pancreatic cancer, has huge potential for some men.”

3. Awareness and support campaigns have helped smokers quit

“We have seen incredible progress as a result of the UK’s combined approach to tackling smoking over the last few decades,” says Alison Cook, chair of the Taskforce for Lung Health.

“After the roll out of stop smoking services 20 years ago, an estimated one million smokers have quit for good, greatly cutting down their risk of suffering from smoking-related diseases.

Smoking has to be given the boot
Smoking has to be given the boot

“All of this has had a great impact on respiratory health in the UK, but as the Taskforce for Lung Health data tracker shows, smoking cessation services need to be maintained and prioritised if the government intends to meet its aim of becoming smoke free by 2030.”

Less smoking also means significantly lower risks of other major diseases too, like certain cancers, heart disease and stroke.

4. Smear tests have saved thousands of women’s lives

Since the NHS cervical screening programme was introduced back in 1988, it’s gone on to save an estimated 5,000 lives a year.

In fact, Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust, which is dedicated to eradicating the disease, says around 75% of cervical cancers are prevented entirely thanks to smear tests, which detect early warning signs of cell changes before cancer develops.

A cervical cancer smear test

Developments have continued to be made, with the introduction of HPV vaccines for certain age groups (the virus is a key risk factor – although it’s important to remember there are different types of HPV, and the vast majority of people with the virus will not get cancer), and last year seeing changes to the screening programme with the introduction of HPV testing, which is believed will help prevent deaths even further.

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Coronavirus outbreak

There’s still work to be done, though.

Cervical cancer still results in almost 900 deaths a year and many women still don’t attend their smear tests.

Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust is committed to keeping up awareness and hopes to see a further 10% drop in cases by 2022.





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Trump to Open More Wildlife Refuge Land to Hunting, Fishing – NBC Chicago

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The Trump administration plans to open 2.3 million acres of land for hunting and fishing at more than 100 national wildlife refuges and fish hatcheries under a proposal unveiled Wednesday that is aimed at giving Americans more recreational access on public lands.

The plan earned applause from several hunting and fishing groups, but criticism from one conservation organization that called it “tone deaf” to focus on this during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The proposal would allow fishing for the first time at several national wildlife refuges, including San Diego Bay in California, Alamosa in Colorado, Bombay Hook in Delaware and Umbagog in Maine and New Hampshire and Everglades Headwaters in Florida, according to a list posted online.

It would also allow alligator hunting at three national wildlife refuges: Banks Lake in Georgia, Laguna Atascosa in Texas and Savannah in Georgia and South Carolina.

In Arizona, hunters would be able to go after mountain lions and mule deer at Cabeza Prieta and bobcats, fox, and mountain lions at Buenos Aires, both national wildlife refuges. In Oregon, migratory bird hunting will be allowed for the first time at Wapato Lake and Hart Mountain national wildlife refuges.

“America’s hunters and anglers now have something significant to look forward to in the fall as we plan to open and expand hunting and fishing opportunities across more acreage nationwide than the entire state of Delaware,” Interior Secretary David Bernhardt said in a statement.

The plan was announced as part of the Interior Department’s annual review ahead of the upcoming hunting season, department spokesman Conner Swanson said.

Western Values Project director Jayson O’Neill criticized the timing of the announcement and other decisions the Trump administration has made that he contends damages public lands.

“Instead of responding to pleas by state and local officials for needed agency resources, assistance, and help during this generational pandemic, Secretary Bernhardt made a tone-deaf announcement that by no means could ever make up for the hunting opportunities and wildlife lost as a result of Trump’s deregulatory agenda decimating our public lands and environmental protections,” O’Neill said.

People will have 60 days to comment on the proposal.

Ducks Unlimited CEO Adam Putnam said in a statement the timing is perfect since Americans hunkered-down during the pandemic are looking for open spaces to recreate.

“As millions of people around the country feel trapped in their own homes due to the COVID-19 virus, having the opportunity to hunt and fish in the quiet of the wilderness or the tranquility of a lake is perhaps more important now than its ever been,” Putnam said. “There’s never been a better time to enjoy the solitude of our public lands and distance yourself from the crowds.”

___

Associated Press writer Ellen Knickmeyer contributed to this report from Washington.





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