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New US Guidelines Will Allow Faster Coronavirus Testing

Federal regulators are allowing hospitals and other laboratories to develop their own tests for the coronavirus in an effort to relieve what critics say is a shortage of testing for the virus.  The urgency for testing is growing as health officials report several new coronavirus cases in the United States and the country’s first death — a man in his 50s from Washington state.The new policy unveiled on Saturday by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), follows criticism that a lack of testing has allowed the virus to spread undetected.”It’s going to be really useful for greatly expanding the number of places that can do the tests,” said Jennifer Nuzzo, a senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security.  Hospitals have been sending samples to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in Atlanta for testing. Getting results takes 48 hours.Problems with CDC testThe CDC had produced a test for health departments across the country to use. But many reported problems with the tests giving inconclusive results. The problem was traced to an improperly manufactured ingredient. The CDC said the test could be used with the other components. In addition, it plans to send out new test kits to public health labs.  In the meantime, however, the problems limited the ability of health care workers to test patients for coronavirus.  “If we had the ability to test earlier, I’m sure we would have identified patients earlier,” said Jeff Duchin, an official of Seattle & King County Public Health, during a conference call with reporters.  Washington state identified two new cases on Friday, including one with no known connection to other cases, which raises concerns that the virus is spreading undetected.  The New York State health department, some hospital labs and others had developed their own tests. But since they had not been approved by the FDA, their results were not considered valid.  Hospital labs had criticized the approval process in a letter to Congress Friday, FILE – Personnel at the the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention work at the Emergency Operations Center in response to the 2019 novel coronavirus, Feb. 13, 2020, in Atlanta.New FDA policy
On Saturday, the FDA issued a new policy allowing these labs to develop their own assays, and issued instructions for how to validate the tests.”This approval will expedite wait time and improve New York’s ability to more effectively manage the coronavirus situation as it unfolds,” New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said in a statement.Rather than needing to send tests to Atlanta, or even to a state health lab, tests will be available at local hospitals or commercial labs.”The closer we can put it towards patients, the better it’ll be for clinicians,” Nuzzo, of Johns Hopkins, said.

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Ecuador Reports 1st Coronavirus Case; Mexico Reports 2 More

Officials in Ecuador on Saturday confirmed the first case of the new coronavirus in the South American nation, while Mexico reported two more cases and Brazil one more.
Ecuador’s Health Minister Catalina Andramuno Zeballos said a more-than-70-year-old Ecuadoran woman who lives in Spain arrived in the country on Feb. 14 showing no symptoms of illness.
“In the following days she began to feel badly with a fever,” Andramuno said at a news conference, adding that she was taken to a medical center. The National Institute of Public Health and Investigation in Ecuador confirmed the virus.
The deputy minister of health, Julio Lopez said that the patient’s condition was “critical.”
It was the second case in South America, following a Brazilian case reported on Wednesday. The Sao Paulo state health department reported another Brazilian case later on Saturday _ a person who had recently visited Italy.
Ecuadoran President Lenin Moreno sent out a tweet urging people to stay calm, and the Interior Ministry announced it was barring mass gatherings in the cities of Guayaquil – where the infected woman was located – and Babahoyo.People wearing face masks wearing masks wait for the arrival of their relatives at the Mariscal Sucre International Airport, in Quito, Ecuador, Feb. 29, 2020.Mexico’s Health Department said late Friday that a new case had been confirmed in Mexico City, adding to the first two confirmed cases announced earlier that day. One of those was also in the capital, and the other in the northwestern state of Sinaloa.
Miguel Riquelme Solis, the governor of the northern border state of Coahuila, said Saturday that federal health officials had confirmed a fourth case, in the city of Torreon: a 20-year-old woman who traveled to Europe, including Milan, Italy, in January and February and returned to Mexico in recent days.
“Two days later she began to have symptoms,” Riquelme told Milenio television.
State Health Secretary Roberto Bernal said the woman was in good health. She and family members were under a 14-day quarantine, and two other young people who traveled with her had been in contact with authorities.
Mexican health officials said the country is not currently facing a national emergency over the virus.
Assistant Health Secretary Hugo Lopez-Gatell said that as long as the country is seeing only isolated cases there’s no need to take “extreme measures such as canceling mass events.”
Mexico was ground zero for the 2009 outbreak of the H1N1 virus, also called swine flu, and many in the country have vivid memories of that time.
Back then many stayed home as much as possible and avoided gatherings out of fear. Shops, restaurants and other businesses closed. In the capital, streets were eerily quiet compared with the usual chaotic traffic.
So far there has been no repeat of that sort of fear.
There were reports of increased purchases of items like face masks and hand sanitizer, and the National Alliance of Small Businesses said shortages of those items would likely cause prices to rise.
The Roman Catholic Bishops Conference in Mexico said parishioners should avoid physical contact during the ritual exchange of wishes for peace and said communion wafers should be placed in Mass-goers’ hands instead of their mouths.    

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Trump Seeks to Reassure Nation After 1st US Coronavirus Death

U.S. President Donald Trump, flanked by Vice President Mike Pence and members of the administration’s coronavirus task force, on Saturday sought to reassure the country as the first domestic death from the new disease was reported.Trump called for the media and politicians “not do anything to incite a panic because there’s no reason to panic at all.””Whatever the circumstance, we’re prepared,” he said.Trump’s administration is imposing further travel restrictions related to Iran due to a significant coronavirus outbreak there and issuing “do not travel” warnings for the regions of Italy and South Korea that have been hardest hit by COVID-19.Trump has authorized a ban on foreign nationals who have traveled to Iran in the past 14 days, announced by Pence, who added that the State Department is working with the Italian and South Korean governments to enhance screenings in those countries of individuals traveling to the United States.  Additional travel restrictions could be imposed, including along the border with Mexico. “We’re thinking about all borders,” Trump said.The president took to the podium in the Brady Briefing Room in the White House West wing shortly after officials in the state of Washington, in the northwest United States, announced the country’s first COVID-19 death.Trump, at his second news conference in four days about the virus, said, “If you’re healthy, you’ll probably go through a process and you’ll be fine.”Other health officials stressed that they expect most of the of COVID-19 fatalities will be older people with existing serious health problems.Worldwide, 15% to 20% of those who have contracted the virus have needed advanced medical care, Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said.Trump announced he will meet Monday with executives of pharmaceutical companies to discuss the development of a coronavirus vaccine.A large monitor displaying a map of Asia and a tally of total coronavirus cases, deaths, and recovered, is visible as Vice President Mike Pence and Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar tour the Secretary’s Operations CenterAsked by VOA what powers he could invoke to expedite the drug approval process so a coronavirus vaccine could be deployed quicker, Trump said, “Democrat, Republican, liberal, conservative, this process will go very quickly.””The process will go very quickly” to approve a #coronavirus vaccine, says @POTUS in response to my question and he adds that the Monday meeting with pharmaceutical executives was set up before the #coronavirus crisis to discuss drug prices.— Steve Herman (@W7VOA) February 29, 2020The head of the Food and Drug Administration, Stephen Hahn, added: “We’re using our authorities in an expedited fashion to help with the development of therapeutics, particularly around the coronavirus.”Hahn said a policy was issued Saturday morning “that allows us to have a lot of flexibility around the development of diagnostic test” and that is expected to also have a significant impact in expediting approvals of a vaccine.The timing of the unusual Saturday afternoon briefing underscored the seriousness of the crisis for the administration, which has faced criticism for a tardy and disorganized response to the spread of the disease, especially from Democratic Party leaders in Congress.Asked about his remarks the previous evening at a political rally referring to the coronavirus crisis as the latest hoax of the Democrats, Trump said he was not intending to minimize the coronavirus threat.“Again, the hoax was used in respect to Democrats and what they were saying,” Trump said.Democratic and Republican lawmakers also have said his request for an additional $2.5 billion to defend against the virus was not enough. Trump has said he is willing to accept billions more from Congress to fight the disease.Amid the coronavirus fears, U.S. stock indexes suffered their largest drops the past week since the 2008 global financial crisis.“The markets will all come back,” Trump said, again encouraging the Federal Reserve, the country’s central bank, to cut interest rates.“I think the Fed has a very important role, especially psychological,” he said. “If you look at it, the Fed has a massive impact.”

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French Film Awards Held Amid Calls for More Diversity

France’s annual Cesar Award film ceremony Friday is already clouded in controversy, with a shake-up of its board, sexual assault accusations against top director Roman Polanski, and now, fresh calls for more diversity on screen.After Hollywood, French cinema is having its own introspective moment. The latest hashtag trending this week is #BlackCesars, after some 30 leading members of France’s film industry denounced its lack of diversity.  In an open letter published in a French newspaper this week, they claimed actors, directors and producers of ethnic African and Asian origin, and those from France’s overseas territories, are essentially invisible. They mostly get insignificant roles, the group claimed, that would never allow them to be nominated for Cesars or other awards. Many of the signatories are from minority backgrounds.  Hermann Ebongue, secretary general of anti-discrimination group SOS Racisme, notes calls for more diversity in the industry are not new. Although this year’s Academy Awards faced similar criticism, he believes minority artists in the United States still have more opportunities to become stars than in France.  The #BlackCesars petition also points to what it calls a paradox of American film director Spike Lee becoming the first black head of the Cannes Film Festival’s jury in May.  The diversity criticism here comes amid a shake-up of the Cesar’s management. Its board resigned en masse earlier this month, after film industry members accused it of being undemocratic and dysfunctional.Women’s rights activists protest against multiple nominations for Roman Polanski at the Cesar Awards ceremony, in Paris, France, Feb. 28, 2020.Meanwhile, another crisis is part of the backdrop of the awards ceremony. Franco-Polish film director Roman Polanski, whose movie An Officer and a Spy tops the list of nominations, faces accusations of rape and sexual harassment. He denies the accusations and said he would not attend following a storm of protest.  Some minority actors and directors have broken the glass ceiling here. Among them: film star Omar Sy, and director Ladj Ly, whose movie Les Miserables — set in France’s rough, multi-ethnic banlieues, or suburbs, — is another leading Cesar contender. Ly was also France’s first black film director to be nominated for an Oscar this year.  But activists say these stars remain the exceptions. Their box-office success, they say, proves French audiences also want more diversity onscreen.  Ebongue, of SOS Racisme, says real change will come when the industry as a whole signs on to petitions like #BlackCesars — and not just a minority of members. 

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NASA Preps New Mars Rover for Special Mission

NASA is preparing to send a new rover to Mars for a human exploration mission of the Red Planet. Voice of America reporter Verónica Villafañe saw the space vehicle up close and spoke with members of the mission.
 

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Nigeria Confirms First Coronavirus Case as Africa Braces for Pandemic

Nigerian officials have confirmed a case of coronavirus in the country, the first confirmed case in sub-Saharan Africa. Africa is braced for a potential coronavirus pandemic as experts warn health systems on the continent could be overwhelmed.  However, experts say the apparent delay in the virus reaching Africa has given health officials precious time to prepare, as Henry Ridgwell reports.

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Nigeria Health Officials Prepare for Possible Outbreak After 1st Coronavirus Case Confirmed

Nigerian Health authorities  are preparing to handle any possible outbreak and urge citizens to remain calm.
“We have enough reagents to do the checking now, there are four laboratories in Nigeria that can test for this particular virus,” Health Minister Emmanuel Osagie said. “We also have a system for sample transport, so samples can be taken from somewhere and transported to a testing center within a few hours. So that is part of the network that we have prepared.”The effort comes as officials confirmed the country’s  first case of the coronavirus.  Nigerian health authorities say the patient is a man from Italy — a country hit hard by the virus — who works in Nigeria and returned from the Italian city of Milan to Nigeria’s economic hub, Lagos, days ago.This makes Nigeria the first country in sub-Saharan Africa to record a case of the virus, which is blamed for more than 2,800 deaths worldwide.Sorry, but your browser cannot support embedded video of this type, you can
download this video to view it offline. Embed” />CopyHealth minister Osagie says they’re working with airline officials to identify other passengers who may have had contact with the infected patient, in order to prevent further spread.
“We are going to get the manifest and then do a contact tracing and find all the people who were there.” Osagie said.  “Usually we get their numbers and addresses and monitor them. We are not going to assume that all of them are OK or will fall sick, but advise anyone who has any symptoms to report and be monitored.”The coronavirus was first reported in Wuhan, China, in December.A recent assessment by the World Health Organization named Nigeria as one of 12 countries in Africa at high risk of the coronavirus threat, because of the high level of travel and trade between the West African country and China.A man wearing face mask walks at the Yaba Mainland hospital where an Italian citizen who entered Nigeria on Tuesday from Milan on a business trip, the first case of the COVID-19 virus is being treated in Lagos Nigeria, Feb. 28, 2020.At an Abuja public briefing, WHO Health official  Dr. Clement Peter, admitted that the coronavirus issue is serious and challenging to contain.
“Indeed globally, the sounding from WHO is very clear,” he said. “We don’t know how this outbreak is going to go. While things should be stabilizing in China gradually, many countries are getting cases that have no link to China.”
The coronavirus has killed more than 2,800 people, and infected more than 83,000 in over 50 countries.Nigerian health officials are hoping that no other cases turn up in Lagos, one of the largest and most densely populated cities in the world. 

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A Narrow Alley’s Murals in San Francisco Attract Thousands

A narrow alley in San Francisco, California, is also an art exhibit, with walls covered by beautifully painted images and murals. It is called the Clarion Alley Mural Project, or CAMP, and it was established by a group of volunteers in 1992. VOA’s Ava Homa gives us a closer look at the magical alley and its history.

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