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Doomsday Clock Moves Closest to Midnight in 73-Year History

The keepers of the Doomsday Clock on Thursday moved the symbolic countdown to global disaster to the closest point to midnight in its 73-year history, citing “existential danger” from nuclear war and climate change.The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, which was founded after the creation of the atomic bomb in World War II and focuses on the greatest threats to human survival, said it moved the clock from two minutes to midnight to 100 seconds to midnight — a 20-second advance.The decision was made by the group’s science and security board, in consultations with its board of sponsors, which includes 13 Nobel laureates.In a statement accompanying the clock’s advance, the organization said the nuclear and climate dangers “are compounded by a threat multiplier, cyber-enabled information warfare that undercuts society’s ability to respond.””The international security situation is dire, not just because these threats exist, but because world leaders have allowed the international political infrastructure for managing them to erode,” it said.Rachel Bronson, president and CEO of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, said: “We are now expressing how close the world is to catastrophe in seconds — not hours, or even minutes.””We now face a true emergency — an absolutely unacceptable state of world affairs that has eliminated any margin for error or further delay,” she said.Former California Gov. Jerry Brown, the Bulletin’s executive chairman, warned that “dangerous rivalry and hostility among the superpowers increases the likelihood of nuclear blunder.””Climate change just compounds the crisis,” he said. “If there’s ever a time to wake up, it’s now.”Former California Gov. Jerry Brown speaks after unveiling the Doomsday Clock during The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists news conference in Washington, Jan. 23, 2019.The Doomsday Clock didn’t move in 2019 but in 2018 it advanced by 30 seconds from 2-1/2 minutes before midnight to two minutes to midnight.As the symbolic clock was moved on Thursday, the Bulletin’s experts were joined by former Irish President Mary Robinson who now leads The Elders, a group of prominent former world leaders founded by Nelson Mandela, and ex-U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, now deputy chairman of The Elders.Ban said that from the U.S. withdrawal from the 2015 Paris climate agreement and the Iran nuclear deal to deadlock at nuclear disarmament talks and divisions in the U.N. Security Council, “our mechanisms for collaboration are being undermined when we need them most.”Robinson called on world leaders to join in working “to pull humanity back from the brink.”
 

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Annabella Sciorra Confronts Weinstein From the Witness Stand

Actress Annabella Sciorra confronted Harvey Weinstein in court Thursday after keeping her rape accusation against the former Hollywood honcho largely hidden for decades.
    
For more than a quarter-century, she told only few friends that the once-revered producer had pinned her to a bed and violated her, until she came forward publicly in 2017.
    
Now, Sciorra has become the first of Weinstein’s accusers to testify at his New York City rape trial.
    
Sciorra, best known for her work in “The Sopranos,” stands to be a key witness in a watershed trial for the (hash)MeToo movement.
    
Sciorra, 59, started acting in the late 1980s and soon drew acclaim for her leading part in Spike Lee’s 1991 film “Jungle Fever” and her role as a pregnant woman molested by her doctor in 1992’s “The Hand That Rocks The Cradle” the next year.
    
The New York trial involves just a pair of the dozens of allegations that surfaced against Weinstein in recent years. He is charged with forcibly performing oral sex on former “Project Runway” production assistant Mimi Haleyi in his apartment in 2006 and raping an aspiring actress in a Manhattan hotel room in 2013.
    
Weinstein has insisted any sexual encounters were consensual. As he left court on Wednesday, he told reporters he felt “very confident” about the case.
    
A guilty verdict could put the 67-year-old disgraced movie mogul in prison for the rest of his life.
    
Sciorra’s allegations date back too long to be prosecuted on their own, but her testimony could be a factor as prosecutors look to show that Weinstein has engaged in a pattern of predatory behavior.
    
Her testimony about events in the mid-to-late 1990s could give the  jury of seven men and five women a sense of the breadth of Weinstein’s alleged wrongdoing and insight into the power dynamics at play in his interactions with young actresses.
    
Prosecutors previewed Sciorra’s testimony in a lengthy, at-times graphic opening statement Wednesday that painted Weinstein as a sexual predator who used his film industry clout to abuse women for decades.
    
She’s one of four other accusers that prosecutors plan to call as witnesses during the monthlong trial.
    
The Associated Press does not typically identify people who say they have been victims of sexual assault, unless they come forward publicly.
    
Sciorra alleges Weinstein showed up at her Manhattan apartment after dropping her off from a dinner, forced himself inside and raped her sometime in late 1993 or early 1994.
    
“The evidence will show that despite her protests, despite her fight, despite her body revolting, Harvey Weinstein felt he was entitled to take what he wanted from Annabella ,forcing her to live in terror of him for decades,” prosecutor Meghan Hast told jurors in her opening statement.
    
That touched off several years of Weinstein tormenting Sciorra, Hast said, culminating in an incident at the Cannes Film Festival in 1997 in which he arrived at her hotel door in his underwear, with a bottle of baby oil in hand.
    
A petrified Sciorra ran to the back of the room and started hitting call buttons, at which point Weinstein left,  Hast said.
    
Sciorra did not go to authorities because she feared reprisal from Weinstein, prosecutors said. She went public in The New Yorker in October 2017, telling the magazine that for years she had been “so ashamed of what happened.”
   
 “I fought. I fought. But still I was like, `Why did I open that door? Who opens the door at that time of night?”  Sciorra said. “I was definitely embarrassed by it. I felt disgusting.”
    
Weinstein lawyer Damon Cheronis, in his opening statement, made clear the defense intends to go on the offensive.
    
He questioned the validity of Sciorra’s account, saying she once told a friend that she “did a crazy thing and had sex with Harvey Weinstein” and that she had a consensual encounter with him.
    
“She didn’t describe it as rape because it wasn’t,” Cheronis said.
 

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Money Worries May Have Outsized Mental Health Impact on Women, Latinos, Less-Educated Whites

Most U.S. adults report worrying about at least two financial issues, such as being able to afford medical bills, retirement or a child’s college education, new research finds.Individuals with two or more financial worries were far more likely to suffer from serious psychological distress than those who reported fewer money concerns, Dr. Judith Weissman, a mental health researcher at the New York State Psychiatric Institute in New York City, and her colleagues found.Financial distress had a relatively greater effect on mental health in women and Latinos, while less-educated whites reported the most psychological distress.The findings show that “people are feeling very disturbed about financial matters,” Weissman told Reuters Health in a phone interview. “These financial matters are a proxy for our life stability.”Death rates among middle-aged white men and women in the U.S. have been on the rise since about 1999, largely driven by increases in deaths from drug overdoses, alcohol poisoning, alcoholic liver disease and suicide, the study team notes in the Community Mental Health Journal. While unemployment and other objective economic measures have been linked to mental and physical health, the role of subjective measurements — how people feel about their financial situation — is not as clear, they write.The researchers looked at serious psychological distress, which isn’t a diagnosis but a measurement of a person’s overall mental health and social functioning, in a sample of 24,126 U.S. adults who represented more than 245 million people nationwide.Study participants, who were surveyed in 2016, also reported whether they were worried about paying their bills, paying costs due to serious medical events, paying costs due to unexpected medical events, paying for retirement, paying for children’s college, or being able to maintain their standard of living.Tuition tops concernsCollege tuition was the top worry, reported by about 56% of participants, followed by paying for retirement, by about 49%.Fifty-nine percent reported at least two financial worries, while about 28% reported having no worries and 13% had just one financial concern.Women were more likely to report each of the financial worries than men, and the worries were also more common among Hispanic people compared to other groups. More-educated individuals reported fewer financial worries, while people with multiple chronic illnesses reported more.Weissman and her colleagues are now planning to investigate whether the financial worries they studied are associated with suicide risk.People suffering from distress should understand that care and treatment is available, Weissman said. “A lot of times feeling depressed or feeling distressed shapes the way we perceive our options,” she said. “Persevere, depression is treatable, even suicidal ideation is treatable.”

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China Locking Down Cities With 18 Million Inhabitants to Stop Virus

Chinese authorities Thursday moved to lock down three cities with a combined population of more than 18 million in an unprecedented effort to contain the deadly new virus that has sickened hundreds of people and spread to other parts of the world during the busy Lunar New Year travel period.
The open-ended lockdowns are unmatched in size, embracing more people than New York City, Los Angeles and Chicago put together.
The train station and airport in Wuhan, the epicenter of the outbreak, were shut down, and ferry, subway and bus service was halted. Normally bustling streets, shopping malls, restaurants and other public spaces in the city of 11 million were eerily quiet. Police checked all incoming vehicles but did not close off the roads.
Authorities announced similar measures would take effect Friday in the nearby cities of Huanggang and Ezhou. In Huanggang, theaters, internet cafes and other entertainment centers were also ordered closed.
In the capital, Beijing, officials canceled major events indefinitely, including traditional temple fairs that are a staple of holiday celebrations, in order to “execute epidemic prevention and control.” The Forbidden City, the palace complex in Beijing that is now a museum, announced it will close indefinitely on Saturday.
Seventeen people have died in the outbreak, all of them in and around Wuhan. Close to 600 have been infected, the vast majority of them in Wuhan, and many countries have begun screening travelers from China for symptoms of the virus, which can cause fever, coughing, trouble breathing and pneumonia.
Chinese officials have not said how long the shutdowns will last. While sweeping measures are typical of China’s communist government, large-scale quarantines are rare around the world, even in deadly epidemics, because of concerns about infringing on people’s liberties. And the effectiveness of such measures is unclear.
“To my knowledge, trying to contain a city of 11 million people is new to science,” Gauden Galea, the World Health Organization’s representative in China, said in an interview. “It has not been tried before as a public health measure. We cannot at this stage say it will or it will not work.”
Jonathan Ball, a professor of virology at molecular virology at the University of Nottingham in Britain, said the lockdowns appear to be justified scientifically.
“Until there’s a better understanding of what the situation is, I think it’s not an unreasonable thing to do,” he said. “Anything that limits people’s travels during an outbreak would obviously work.”
But Ball cautioned that any such quarantine should be strictly time-limited. He added: “You have to make sure you communicate effectively about why this is being done. Otherwise you will lose the goodwill of the people.”People queue for receiving treatment at the fever outpatient department at the Wuhan Tongji Hospital in Wuhan, Hubei province, China, Jan. 22, 2020.During the devastating West Africa Ebola outbreak in 2014, Sierra Leone imposed a national three-day quarantine as health teams went door-to-door searching for hidden cases. Frustrated residents complained of food shortages amid deserted streets. Burial teams collecting Ebola corpses and people transporting the sick to Ebola centers were the only ones allowed to move freely.
In China, the illnesses from the newly identified coronavirus first appeared last month in Wuhan, an industrial and transportation hub in central China’s Hubei province. Other cases have been reported in the U.S., Japan, South Korea and Thailand. Singapore, Vietnam and Hong Kong reported their first cases Thursday.
Most of the illnesses outside China involve people who were from Wuhan or had recently traveled there.
Images from Wuhan showed long lines and empty shelves at supermarkets, as residents stocked up for what could be weeks of isolation. That appeared to be an over-reaction, since no restrictions were placed on trucks carrying supplies into the city, although many Chinese have strong memories of shortages in the years before the country’s recent economic boom.
Local authorities in Wuhan demanded all residents wear masks in public places. Police, SWAT teams and paramilitary troops guarded Wuhan’s train station.
Liu Haihan left Wuhan last Friday after visiting her boyfriend there. She said everything was normal then, before human-to-human transmission of the virus was confirmed. But things had changed rapidly.
Her boyfriend “didn’t sleep much yesterday. He disinfected his house and stocked up on instant noodles,”  Liu said. “He’s not really going out. If he does, he wears a mask.”
The sharp rise in illnesses comes as millions of Chinese travel for the Lunar New Year, one of the world’s largest annual migrations of people. Chinese are expected to take an estimated 3 billion trips during the 40-day spike in travel.
Analysts predicted cases will continue to multiply, although the jump in numbers is also attributable in part to increased monitoring.
“Even if (cases) are in the thousands, this would not surprise us,” the WHO’s Galea said, adding, however, that the number of those infected is not an indicator of the outbreak’s severity, so long as the mortality rate remains low.
The coronavirus family includes the common cold as well as viruses that cause more serious illnesses, such as the SARS outbreak that spread from China to more than a dozen countries in 2002-03 and killed about 800 people, and Middle Eastern respiratory syndrome, or MERS, which is thought to have originated from camels.
China is keen to avoid repeating mistakes with its handling of SARS. For months, even after the illness had spread around the world, China parked patients in hotels and drove them around in ambulances to conceal the true number of cases and avoid WHO experts.
In the current outbreak, China has been credited with sharing information rapidly, and President Xi Jinping has emphasized that as a priority.
“Party committees, governments and relevant departments at all levels must put people’s lives and health first,” Xi said Monday. “It is necessary to release epidemic information in a timely manner and deepen international cooperation.”A picture released by the Central Hospital of Wuhan shows medical staff attending to patient at the The Central Hospital Of Wuhan Via Weibo in Wuhan, China on an unknown date.Health authorities were taking extraordinary measures to prevent additional person-to-person transmissions, placing those believed infected in plastic tubes and wheeled boxes, with air passed through filters.
The first cases in the Wuhan outbreak were connected to people who worked at or visited a seafood market, which has since been closed for an investigation. Experts suspect that the virus was first transmitted from wild animals but that it may also be mutating. Mutations can make it deadlier or more contagious.
WHO convened its emergency committee of independent experts on Thursday to consider whether the outbreak should be declared a global health emergency, after the group failed to come to a consensus on Wednesday.
The U.N. health agency defines a global emergency as an “extraordinary event” that constitutes a risk to other countries and requires a coordinated international response.
A declaration of a global emergency typically brings greater money and resources, but may also prompt nervous governments to restrict travel to and trade with affected countries. The announcement also imposes more disease-reporting requirements on countries.
Declaring an international emergency can also be politically fraught. Countries typically resist the notion that they have a crisis within their borders and may argue strenuously for other control measures. 

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Residents Cope, Flee as Coronavirus Locks Down China’s Wuhan

China’s efforts to contain the spread of the deadly coronavirus with a transportation lockdown are sparking confusion among residents who are unsure of what steps to take.Some 20 million people living in four cities are impacted by the lockdown, with authorities in Hubei province’s Wuhan, canceling flights and trains, and closing roads to prevent people from entering or leaving the metropolitan area, where hundreds have been infected with the pneumonia-like virus.   Paramilitary police stand guard at an entrance to the closed Hankou Railway Station in Wuhan in central China’s Hubei Province, Jan. 23, 2020.But with few independent journalists operating in Wuhan, and Beijing maintaining a tight control over information, many Chinese are relying on anecdotal reports from inside the quarantined city for information about how severe the situation has become.A resident, who scrambled to flee before the lockdown, said that he was surprised to find the city’s airport screening measures at the last minute were looser than expected.“Upon my arrival [in another Chinese city], I had to go through stricter screening measures, which were not available before I flew out of Wuhan. This is so ridiculous that a stronger action is taken in a city, which isn’t hit as hard as Wuhan,” the resident told VOA on the condition of anonymity.      Sorry, but your player cannot support embedded video of this type, you can
In this image made from video, security officials turn away a traveler at an entrance to the Hankou Railway Station in Wuhan in central China’s Hubei Province, Jan. 23, 2020.According to local media reports, lawyer Shang Manqing’ aunt and lawyer Gan Weidong’s uncle in Wuhan respectively died of pneumonia-like symptoms on Tuesday night and Wednesday morning.  Both families accused health authorities of rushing to cremate their loved ones before the actual cause of their death was pronounced.  Rising Death TollWuhan’s lockdown comes as China braces for New Year celebrations, when hundreds of millions of Chinese travel to gather with family.In Wuhan, there remained uncertainty about the impact of the quarantine, even among hoteliers bracing for a busy week.
 
A five-star hotel, that is a 30-minute drive from the seafood market, was still accepting tourists at around the noon time Thursday.“If you have developed no symptoms, you can still enter Wuhan via taxi. Ma’am, it’s very safe. I assure you,” a hotel staff said.Meanwhile, another hotel, close to the hardest-hit market area, advised outsiders not to travel into the city, adding that no one is staying with the hotel except long-term guests.Weighing Economic ImpactThe province’s four other cities – Huangang, Ezhou, Xiantao and Chibi – have  shut down their partial public transportation systems.  With many cities having canceled New Year celebrations, the nation’s tourism sector will see an immediate impact, economists say. Quarantine measures could have broader impacts on the economy if they continue. “This first quarter’s numbers with respect to retail sales and restaurants and hospitality industries and the transportation industries will be affected as well,” said Raymond Yeung, senior economist of Greater China at the Australia and New Zealand Banking Group.“But fortunately, if you look at the Chinese economy on the back of this phase 1 deal and the overall improvement of the trade sectors whereas the tech cycles seem to be very supportive ahead of the 5G rollout this year. That seems to boost the trade numbers in the first quarter. That can offset the impact of this new SARS epidemic,” the Hong Kong-based economist added.          When the stock markets reopen in a week, investors will be keeping a close eye on any news, that may fluctuate shares prices, he said.If the outbreak is quickly contained, the impact will be limited. However, if it protracts and quickly spreads, the regional economy will take a hit as it had during the 2003 SARS outbreak, Yeung said.You Shibing, an economics professor at Wuhan University, said he agreed, noting the city’s tourism sector will suffer a big loss at least during the week-long New Year vacation.In recent years, Wuhan has been one of the most popular cities among domestic travelers with annual tourism income reaching $43.25 billion (300 billion yuan). In the previous National Day vacation last October, Wuhan attracted a record-high of 22.6 million travelers.Professor You said that the city’s manufacturing sectors may face a various degree of workforce challenges.“The high-tech industries such as the manufacturing of electronic and opto-electronics products mostly hire local people. But the service sector including the agricultural reprocessing industry mostly hire migrant workers, who have left the city and may not be able to return,” the professor said.Any worker shortages could force local businesses to shut down future production, he added. 
 

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WHO Welcomes China’s Coronavirus Quarantine

The World Health Organization is welcoming China’s decision to temporarily suspend all transportation in and out of the city of Wuhan, the epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak.WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said Wednesday placing the Chinese city of 11 million under virtual quarantine was a strong measure but appropriate measure based on the threats posed by the new coronavirus.”We stressed to them (China) that by having a strong action, not only they will control the outbreak in their country, but they will also minimize the chances of this outbreak spreading internationally,” he said.More than 500 cases of coronavirus have been confirmed, with at least 17 deaths.  Most of the cases and deaths have occurred within China, but the disease has spread internationally to other countries; namely Thailand, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan and the United States.  The spread has increased pressure upon the Chinese authorities to take more vigorous action to curb the outbreak.  Travelers wear face masks as they stand in the arrivals area at Beijing Capital International Airport in Beijing, Jan. 23, 2020.In response, China’s government has temporarily suspended air and train travel in and out of Wuhan and closed the city’s internal bus and subway system.  Residents have been advised to wear masks and to avoid crowds.  Two other cities, Huanggang and Ezhou have instituted similar measures.Ghebreyesus said that there was nothing unusual about these actions, which were similar to other extreme measures that have been taken during previous health crises.“Public transport and other mass gatherings should be avoided.  So, they are taking measures based on that,” he said.  “They know what measures to take in order to prevent transmission — especially mass gathering is one of the risks.”Fears of the coronavirus spreading widely during the current Lunar holidays, when millions of people travel to join their families have prompted several airlines, including carriers from Malaysia and Singapore, to temporarily stop flights to and from Wuhan.While these de facto travel bans have been put in place, a WHO expert emergency committee, which remains split on a decision to declare the coronavirus outbreak a Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC), has gone into a second day of deliberations.WATCH: Carol Pearson’s video report on the deadly illness Sorry, but your player cannot support embedded video of this type, you can
Dr. Satish Pillai, at podium, a medical officer with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, speaks along with other officials, Jan. 22, 2020, during a news conference in Shoreline, Wash.Older men at higher risk
The committee found that older men, approximately 72% of the cases, were at higher risk of getting ill and that some 40% of these patients “had underlying diseases like diabetes, high blood pressure, and cardiovascular disease.”Coronavirus is mainly transmitted from animals to humans, but scientists have ascertained that there is limited human-to-human transmission.  The health experts meeting in emergency session have warned against people coming in close contact with anyone suspected of carrying the virus.”The primary issue is to limit human-to-human transmission, to reduce secondary infections, especially among close contacts, and particularly in health care environments,” said Michael Ryan, executive Director of WHO Health Emergencies Program. “We need to prevent transmission through amplification events and super-spreading events, and obviously prevent further international spread. 

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Trump’s Rollback of US Water Protections Nears Completion

The Trump administration was expected to announce completion as soon as Thursday of one of its most momentous environmental rollbacks, removing federal protections for millions of miles of the country’s streams, arroyos and wetlands.
The changes, launched by President Donald Trump when he took office, sharply scale back the government’s interpretation of which waterways qualify for protection against pollution and development under the half-century-old Clean Water Act.
A draft version of the rule released earlier would end federal oversight for up to half of the nation’s wetlands and one-fifth of the country’s streams, environmental groups warned. That includes some waterways that have been federally protected for decades under the Clean Water Act.
Trump has portrayed farmers — a highly valued constituency of the Republican Party and one popular with the public — as the main beneficiaries of the rollback. He has claimed farmers gathered around him wept with gratitude when he signed an order for the rollback in February 2017.
The administration says the changes will allow farmers to plow their fields without fear of unintentionally straying over the banks of a federally protected dry creek, bog or ditch.
However, the government’s own figures show it is real estate developers and those in other nonfarm business sectors who take out the most permits for impinging on wetlands and waterways — and stand to reap the biggest regulatory and financial relief.Environmental groups and many former environmental regulators say the change will allow industry and developers to dump more contaminants in waterways or simply fill them in, damaging habitat for wildlife and making it more difficult and expensive for downstream communities to treat drinking water to make it safe.
“This administration’s eliminating clean water protections to protect polluters instead of protecting people,” said Blan Holman, a senior attorney with the Southern Environmental Law Center.The Trump administration has targeted a range of environmental protections for rollbacks. Trump says his aim is to ease regulatory burdens on businesses.  

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Pakistan Begins Screening Travelers From China for Coronavirus

Pakistan announced Thursday airport authorities have begun screening travelers from neighboring China for signs of the coronavirus.China’s recent billions of dollars of investments in infrastructure development projects in Pakistan has led to a spike in the number of people traveling between the two countries, including thousands of Chinese workers.Pakistani officials said more than 40 direct or indirect flights from China land every week at three main airports, including Karachi, the country’s largest city, Lahore and the national capital of Islamabad.“These points of entry are being closely monitored in line with international health regulations,” Pakistani State Minister of Health Zafar Mirza said in a statement.No cases reported yetHowever, he noted, Pakistan has so far not reported any case of the coronavirus, which seems to have originated in the Chinese city of Wuhan.“Major hospitals in Lahore, Karachi and Islamabad are also being linked with surveillance systems on airports, seaports and ground crossings,” Mirza told the state-run broadcaster. He said emergency measures are being put in place in coordination with the Chinese embassy in Islamabad to make sure that a large number of Chinese workers, who recently went to their homeland in connection with their New Year’s celebrations, are strictly screened when they return back.WHO has confirmed nearly 500 cases, including nearly 20 deaths, all are said to be in or from China.The Pakistani government, Mirza said, was in constant touch with Chinese counterparts and the World Health Organization (WHO) to ensure strengthened national surveillance and quarantine systems.Passengers arriving Thursday from China to the Lahore airport were being screened for the coronavirus responsible for nearly 20 deaths in China. (Courtesy Pakistan Health Ministry)Wuhan quarantineChinese officials cordoned off Wuhan starting Thursday in their bid to limit the spread of the disease nationally and internationally. Public transport in the city of 11 million people has been suspended, airports and train stations temporarily shut, and residents instructed not to exit Wuhan unless there are “special reasons.”International health experts are scrambling to contain the disease, but the virus is new and not much is known about it.The disease is mainly transmitted from animals to humans, but scientists have ascertained that there is limited human-to-human transmission. Health experts are warning people to avoid coming in close contact with people suspected of carrying the virus.

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