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Asteroid Samples Escaping From Jammed NASA Spacecraft 

A NASA spacecraft is stuffed with so much asteroid rubble from this week’s grab that it’s jammed open and precious particles are drifting away in space, scientists said Friday.Scientists announced the news three days after the spacecraft named Osiris-Rex briefly touched asteroid Bennu 321 million kilometers (200 million miles) away.The mission’s lead scientist, Dante Lauretta, said Tuesday’s operation collected far more material than expected for return to Earth — in the hundreds of grams. The sample container on the end of the robot arm penetrated so deeply into the asteroid and with such force, however, that rocks got sucked in and became wedged around the rim of the lid.The team was scrambling to put the sample container into the return capsule as early as Tuesday — much sooner than originally planned — for the long trip home. Particles are continuing to escape, and scientists want to minimize the loss.“Time is of the essence,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, chief of NASA’s science missions.A cloud of asteroid particles could be seen swirling around the spacecraft as it backed away from Bennu — at least 5 to 10 grams (half an ounce) at any one time. The situation appeared to stabilize, according to Lauretta, once the robot arm stopped moving and was locked into place.The requirement for Orisis-Rex — NASA’s first asteroid sample return mission, totaling more than $800 million — was at least 60 grams (2 ounces) of samples for return. The carbon-rich material holds the preserved building blocks of our solar system and could help scientists better understand how the planets were formed and how life originated on Earth.Launched in 2016, the spacecraft arrived at Bennu in 2018. Regardless of what’s on board, it will still leave the vicinity of the asteroid in March. The samples won’t reach Earth until 2023.Japan is awaiting its second batch of samples taken from a different asteroid, due back in December.

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Two Drugmakers Resume US Tests of COVID-19 Vaccines

Two drugmakers announced Friday the resumption of U.S. testing of their COVID-19 vaccine candidates. Testing of AstraZeneca’s vaccine candidate had been halted since early September, while Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine study was paused at the beginning of last week. Each company had a study volunteer develop a serious health issue, requiring a review of safety data. The two coronavirus vaccines are among several candidates in final-stage testing, the last step before seeking regulatory approval. The drugmakers said they got the go-ahead Friday from the Food and Drug Administration to restart tests in the United States. FILE – AstraZeneca offices and its corporate logo are seen on a building in Cambridge, Britain, July 18, 2020.Such temporary halts of drug and vaccine testing are relatively common: In research involving thousands of participants, some are likely to fall ill. Pausing a study allows researchers to investigate whether an illness is a side effect or a coincidence. Testing of the AstraZeneca vaccine, developed with Oxford University, has already resumed in the United Kingdom, Brazil, South Africa and Japan. “The restart of clinical trials across the world is great news as it allows us to continue our efforts to develop this vaccine to help defeat this terrible pandemic,” Pascal Soriot, AstraZeneca’s CEO, said in a statement. AstraZeneca’s study involves 30,000 people in the U.S., with some getting the vaccine and others a dummy shot. Testing was stopped after one British participant developed severe neurological symptoms consistent with a rare inflammation of the spinal cord called transverse myelitis. AstraZeneca testing had also been paused earlier in the summer. FILE – A lab technician researches COVID-19 at Johnson & Johnson subsidiary Janssen Pharmaceutical in Beerse, Belgium, June 17, 2020.Johnson & Johnson said it’s preparing to resume recruitment soon for its U.S. vaccine study. In a statement, the company didn’t disclose the nature of the volunteer’s illness but said a thorough evaluation “found no evidence that the vaccine candidate caused the event.” The company added that it’s in talks with other regulators around the world to resume testing in their countries. 
 

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Economy & business/Silicon Valley & Technology
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US Judge Denies New Government Bid to Remove China’s WeChat From App Stores

A U.S. judge in San Francisco on Friday rejected a Justice Department request to reverse a decision that allowed Apple Inc. and Alphabet Inc.’s Google to continue to offer Chinese-owned WeChat for download in U.S. app stores.U.S. Magistrate Judge Laurel Beeler said the government’s new evidence did not change her opinion about the Tencent app. As it has with Chinese video app TikTok, the Justice Department has argued WeChat threatens national security.WeChat has an average of 19 million daily active users in the United States. It is popular among Chinese students, Americans living in China and Americans who have personal or business relationships in China.WeChat is an all-in-one mobile app that combines services similar to Facebook, WhatsApp, Instagram and Venmo. The app is an essential part of daily life for many in China and boasts more than 1 billion users.The Justice Department has appealed Beeler’s decision permitting the continued use of the Chinese mobile app to the Ninth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals, but no ruling is likely before December.In a suit brought by WeChat users, Beeler last month blocked a U.S. Commerce Department order set to take effect September 20 that would have required the app to be removed from U.S. app stores.The Commerce Department order would also bar other U.S. transactions with WeChat, potentially making the app unusable in the United States.”The record does not support the conclusion that the government has ‘narrowly tailored’ the prohibited transactions to protect its national-security interests,” Beeler wrote on Friday.She said the evidence “supports the conclusion that the restrictions ‘burden substantially more speech than is necessary to further the government’s legitimate interests.'”WeChat users argued the government sought “an unprecedented ban of an entire medium of communication” and offered only “speculation” of harm from Americans’ use of WeChat.In a similar case, a U.S. appeals court agreed to fast-track a government appeal of a ruling blocking the government from banning new downloads from U.S. app stores of Chinese-owned short video-sharing app TikTok.

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WHO Urges World’s Leaders to Act as COVID-19 Cases Surge

Noting the world is at a critical juncture in the COVID-19 pandemic, the World Health Organization is urging nations to take immediate action to prevent unnecessary deaths, the collapse of essential health systems and the shutdown of economies. Speaking at the agency’s headquarters in Geneva, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said too many countries, particularly in the northern hemisphere, are seeing an exponential increase in COVID-19 cases forcing hospitals and intensive care units to run near or above capacity. He called on governments to take key actions immediately to prevent the crisis from spinning out of control. First, the WHO chief said leaders need to make an honest assessment of the COVID-19 outbreak in their countries. For those nations who have successfully brought it under control, he suggested they “double down” to keep transmissions low, identify cases and clusters, and be ready to act. Traffic passes a COVID-19 sign informing drivers of the upcoming lockdown which closes non-food retailers, cafes, restaurants, pubs and hotels for two weeks in a bid to reduce soaring coronavirus cases, in Cardiff, Wales, Oct. 23, 2020. (AFP)Second, Tedros said nations who see a rising number of cases, hospitalizations and intensive care unit admissions should do whatever they can to address the upward trend as quickly as possible. Third, the director-general urged leaders to be clear and honest with their constituents about the status of the pandemic in their country and outline the steps required to fight the spread. He said this action requires putting systems in place to make it easy for citizens to comply with the COVID-19-related measures. Finally, Tedros said governments need to reach out to people and their families who are infected with the virus to give them specific instructions on their next steps. The WHO director said if leaders follow the steps and fine tune their contact tracing and isolating programs, then future shutdowns and stay-at-home orders can be avoided. 
 

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Arts & Entertainment/Economy & business
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American Film Institute Adjusts to Virtual Reality During Pandemic

AFI FEST, one of Hollywood’s most prestigious film festivals and part of the American Film Institute, was held virtually this year because of the coronavirus pandemic.  VOA’s Penelope Poulou spoke to the festival’s organizers and filmmakers about the challenges and advantages of the online platform. 
Camera:  Penelope Poulou   Producer: Penelope Poulou

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White House Halloween Event Tweaked for Coronavirus

Ghosts, goblins and other costumed kids are welcome to trick or treat at the White House on Sunday during a Halloween event that has been rejiggered to include coronavirus precautions.
The gates to the South Lawn will be opened to children from military families, frontline workers and others, from 3:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m., Melania Trump announced Friday.
Extra precautions have been added to the spooky celebration.
President Donald Trump and the first lady — both recently recovered from COVID-19, the disease brought on by the coronavirus — will welcome guests at some point during the event.
Guests older than 2 are required to wear face coverings and practice social distancing. The same goes for all White House personnel working the event, while any staff handing out candy will also wear gloves.
Hand sanitizer will be available along the route and social distancing measures will be in place.
Participating federal departments will use a “no-touch” approach.
NASA will display space-related items, including an inflatable rocket. Costumed-clad kids can wave to the Agriculture Department’s Smokey Bear and pick up Junior Ranger badges from the Interior Department’s station.
The Education and Labor departments will offer photo opportunities, and the Transportation department will provide paper airplanes for children to take home.
The South Portico of the White House will be decorated with bright-colored leaves in various shades of autumn, chrysanthemums and pumpkins.

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German Health Minister Predicts Vaccine by Early 2021

German Health Minister Jens Spahn says he expects a viable vaccine to be available to Germans by early next year and enough for “a large number of those want to be vaccinated” within six or seven months. In an interview published Friday in Germany’s Der Spiegel, Spahn — who tested positive for COVID-19 this week — said he expects there would be more than enough vaccine for the German population, and he would like to pass on any surplus to other nations that might need it. FILE – German Health Minister Jens Spahn receives an influenza injection at Charite hospital, during the coronavirus pandemic, in Berlin, Germany, Oct. 14, 2020. (Reuters)Spahn told the German media outlet that health care workers would be prioritized to be vaccinated first. But he said he would refer to the Standing Vaccinations Commission at Germany’s Robert Koch Institute for Health and Infectious Diseases for guidance. In another sign the German government is preparing for vaccine distribution, Germany’s Daily Bild also reported Friday the health ministry has asked the nation’s 16 state governors to identify potential vaccination centers by November 10. The report says the government is seeking to establish at total of 60 vaccination centers nationwide in order to effectively vaccinate the population. On Thursday, the Koch Institute chief Lothar Wieler warned the COVID-19 situation in Germany was “very serious,” as the nation set a record for daily infections with more than 11,000. 
 

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Millions of Sudan Flood Victims at Risk of Mosquito-Borne Diseases

The United Nations warns of a looming health crisis in Sudan following historic floods which have created conditions for deadly insect-transmitted diseases to thrive.
   
Some 875,000 people across the country are affected by torrential rains and floods, which have caused widespread damage to homes, crops and livelihoods.   
 
The floods have left behind stagnant water pools which are perfect breeding grounds for mosquitoes, and the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs warns that more than 4.5 million people are at risk of mosquito-transmitted diseases such as malaria, chikungunya and viral hemorrhagic fevers, or VHF.  
 
Sudan’s Federal Ministry of Health has already reported increasing numbers of suspected VHF cases, which include dengue, yellow fever and Rift Valley fever.  The agency reports 2,226 cases, most in Northern state, including 56 deaths.
 
Jens Laerke, a spokesman for the U.N. humanitarian affairs office, says there also is an outbreak of chikungunya in West Darfur, where nearly 250 people have been diagnosed with this viral disease.
 
“The worst disease and the most lethal disease is in fact malaria. There [are] over 1.1 million malaria cases as of the end of September this year across the country, and malaria has reached epidemic levels in 15 out of the 18 states in Sudan,” he said.     
 
Laerke said U.N. aid agencies have procured hundreds of emergency health kits to support malaria treatment and other health needs.  He said the kits can serve up to 2.7 million people for three months.  However, he told VOA aid workers are having difficulty getting the supplies out into the field.
 
“One of the things that the partners on the ground are actually mentioning trying to get these emergency health kits out in the communities and particularly among the many internally displaced—there are almost two million internally displaced people in Sudan–is that the floods and stagnant water is still hampering access to those people,” he said.   
 
Laerke said there is a shortage of medical supplies and needs will increase as insect-driven diseases continue to spread throughout the country. He said the U.N.’s operation is in financial difficulty as it only has received 19% of needed funding.   
 
He said aid agencies urgently need to raise an estimated $25 million to procure essential medicines and to support measures for vaccine-preventable vector and water-borne diseases.
 

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