Arts & Entertainment/Economy & business

Iditarod Ends as Last Musher Crosses the Finish Line in Nome

The last musher has arrived in Nome, ending the 50th running of the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog race across Alaska.

Musher Apayauq Reitan of Kaktovik, Alaska, crossed the finish late Saturday night, winning the Red Lantern award and $1,000 for being the final sled dog team to reach the Bering Sea coastal community on Alaska’s western coast.

Reitan also extinguished the widow’s lamp on the burled arch that towers over the finish line, a tradition that means there are no other mushers on the trail.

The world’s most famous sled dog race started for 49 mushers March 6 north of Anchorage. The nearly 1,000-mile (1,609-kilometer) trail took them over two mountain ranges, along the frozen Yukon River and then along the Bering Sea ice on Alaska’s western coast.

Twelve mushers scratched, half of them on Friday during a vicious storm that hammered mushers with high winds as they attempted to make the final 77 miles (124 kilometers) to Nome.

Brent Sass, a Minnesota native now living in Eureka, Alaska, won the race Tuesday.

Arts & Entertainment/Economy & business

‘CODA’ Gains Oscar Momentum With Top Prize at PGA Awards

“CODA” won the top prize at Saturday night’s Producers Guild Awards, giving momentum to the possibility that the small film could have a big night at next week’s Oscars.

The story of three adult family members who are deaf and a fourth who is not and seeks a singing career beat out bigger contenders including “The Power of the Dog,” “Dune” and “West Side Story” to take an award that — more often than not — goes on to win the Academy Award for best picture.

“This movie has been an amazing ride, it was such a special one to make, there was so much love and so much heart put into it,” said Fabrice Gianfermi as he accepted the award with his “CODA” co-producers Philippe Rousselet and Patrick Wachsberger at the 33rd PGA Awards.

An American Sign Language translator, who had been off to one side of the stage throughout the night’s speeches, stood front and center during the “CODA” acceptance and another stood in front of the stage to translate for the three actors from the film who are deaf: Troy Kotsur, Marlee Matlin and Daniel Durant.

“CODA,” an acronym for “children of deaf adults,” is nominated for three Oscars at the March 27 ceremony, including best adapted screenplay for writer-director Sian Heder and best supporting actor for Kotsur, who is expected by most to become the first actor who is deaf since Matlin in 1987 to win an Oscar.

After it won best ensemble at last month’s Screen Actors Guild Awards it began to appear “CODA” could get real consideration for best picture. The odds may be getting better. The top PGA award winner has gone on to win the top Oscar in three of the past four years and 10 of the past 13. Academy Award voting closes Tuesday.

The PGA Awards, an untelevised show from the Fairmont Century Plaza in Los Angeles honoring producers of film and television, is as much like a company awards banquet as a typical awards show, with no speeches cut short for time or curses bleeped out.

Issa Rae, producer of “Insecure” and “A Black Lady Sketch Show,” accepted the guild’s Visionary Award.

Ninety-year-old Rita Moreno, star of the both the 1961 and 2021 versions of “West Side Story,” accepted the guild’s Stanley Kramer Award, which honors someone who has combined a career of artistry and activism.

“This business has taken tenacity and hard work,” Moreno said. “Advocating for issues of social justice for the last 60 years, it’s been exhausting, exhilarating and life-giving.”

Moreno said the night itself was both joyful and exhausting after taking the stage at 11 p.m. local time, nearly three hours into the show.

“I was really getting tired,” she said. “My buttocks are a bit sore.”

George Lucas and Kathleen Kennedy, stewards of the “Star Wars” universe and producers of many other notable motion pictures, were honored for their careers with the PGA’s Milestone Award.

Presenter Steven Spielberg, whose films have been produced by both Lucas and Kennedy, called them “two titans” who are “still just like kids playing in a sandbox.”

Lucas acknowledged that his favorite achievement may not be the most popular among his peers, including the one who introduced him Saturday.

“The thing I’m the most proud of is digital cinema. That was something that I worked on for 20 years. Spent many many millions of dollars to make it happen,” Lucas said. “Some still don’t believe in it. Where’s Steven?”

Spielberg, standing in the wings, acted out the operation of a traditional film camera, to laughs from the crowd.

“But we’re all friends,” Lucas said.

“Summer of Soul” won the PGA’s documentary film category and “Encanto” won the award for animated movies. Both are also nominated for Oscars.

In the PGA’s television categories, awards went to the producers of “Succession,” “Mare of Easttown” and “Ted Lasso.”

Greg Berlanti, producer of shows including “Dawson’s Creek” and several series from the D.C. comic universe, was given the guild’s Norman Lear Award and was praised for advancing LGBTQ characters and storylines.

Outgoing co-presidents of the guild Gail Berman and Lucy Fisher were tearful as they expressed joy that they could finally see their gathered peers in person after two years during which the pandemic forced the show to go virtual.

They praised their fellow producers for keeping the industry alive during their tough tenure.

“Hollywood loves a comeback story,” Fisher said, “and boy, yours is one for the ages.” 

Science & Health

Malawi Launches Polio Vaccine for East and Southern Africa Countries  



Malawi Sunday launched a polio vaccination campaign after the country in February confirmed its first case, 30 years after it eradicated the disease.

UNICEF, the World Health Organization and other partners of the Global Polio Eradication Initiative are leading the campaign, which targets over 20 million children in Malawi, Zambia, Mozambique and Tanzania by July. 

The vaccine rollout comes after it was confirmed last month that a 3-year-old girl was paralyzed by wild poliovirus in Malawi’s capital, Lilongwe.



Until February, Malawi had last reported a polio case in 1992. The southern African country was declared polio-free in 2005 — 15 years before the whole continent achieved the same status.

UNICEF says over 9 million children are to be vaccinated in the first round of the mass campaign in Tanzania, Zambia, Mozambique and Malawi.

UNICEF said the mass immunization will also target children previously vaccinated.

“We need to vaccinate children who have been vaccinated before because it takes multiple doses of the polio doses to get fully immunized as regards to polio and every additional dose gives children extra protection,” says Rudolf Schwenk, UNICEF’s representative in Malawi. 

Schwenk says if some children are not immunized during the campaign, starting Monday the risk of polio will remain not only in Malawi but in neighboring countries as well.

So far, UNICEF has procured over 36 million doses of polio vaccine for the first two rounds of immunizations of children in Malawi, Mozambique, Tanzania and Zambia.

In Malawi, the U.N. children’s agency is set to administer 6.8 million doses of the polio vaccine to be used in the first two rounds of vaccination in March and April, targeting 2.9 million children.

Three more rounds of vaccination will follow in the coming months, covering a total of more than 20 million children from the targeted four African countries.

However, in Malawi some health experts fear the immunization campaign would meet with vaccine resistance, as has been the case with COVID-19 vaccine in Malawi.

But UNICEF says efforts were made already to increase acceptance and demand for the polio vaccine among parents and communities.

“So we have worked with faith leaders, with high-level government officials, we have spoken to community leaders and with our partners we have done sensitization discussion to help the understand the importance of vaccinating the children,” said Schwenk.

He also says they have distributed information, education and communication materials across Malawi and aired radio messages about the advantages of the polio vaccine.

Dr. Mike Chisema, the manager for the Expanded Program on Immunization in the Ministry of Health in Malawi, told journalists Thursday that the government was ready for the polio vaccination campaign despite shortage of health care workers.

“Issue of human resource remains a challenge,” he said. “It’s not just about this particular program of outbreak response alone. But what is most important to note is that we have the teams that are available; our health surveillance assistants who do this work all the time. But it’s a question of adding the numbers over time. But we will work to manage with available human resource on the ground.”

In a statement released Sunday, UNICEF said in partnership with the World Health Organization they have trained health care workers in all the countries where they are administering the polio vaccine.

In Malawi they have trained 13,500 health workers and volunteers, 34 district health promotion officers. While in Tanzania, Mozambique and Zambia they have trained a combined total of about 3,000 health care workers.

Science & Health

Botswana Drops Vaccine Mandate for Travelers

Botswana will allow unvaccinated travelers into the country, provided they produce a negative COVID-19 test result. That’s a reversal from last month, when the nation started denying entry to travelers who were partially vaccinated or unvaccinated and not willing to get a free shot.

Botswana Ministry of Health spokesperson Christopher Nyanga said in a statement the decision to allow the unvaccinated into the country was meant to ensure smooth entry for travelers.

“I wish to indicate that these changes now allow partially vaccinated or unvaccinated people to enter the country, if they comply with the required testing requirements,” he said. “It is only when one is not fully vaccinated and is also not willing to undergo COVID-19 testing at the port of entry, that they will be charged and fined or taken to a court of law.”

There was confusion over what determined a fully vaccinated person. In Botswana, the vaccine validity period is 180 days, while Europe gives the same vaccines a 270-day validity period.

Nyanga says the vaccine validity discord was taken into consideration when dropping the vaccine mandate.

“Due to discordant periods for taking booster shots between Botswana and other countries, and for purposes of smoothening international travel, the definition of being fully vaccinated in Botswana will no longer include a booster shot,” he said. “Having completed the primary vaccine series will be considered sufficient for one to be allowed entry, without the need to present a negative PCR test result.”

Cindy Kelemi , director of the human rights organization Botswana Network on Ethics, Law and HIV-AIDS, welcomed the government’s move.

“We have always maintained that the response to COVID-19 does not necessarily require for criminalization to be used as a strategy,” she said. “And not allowing entry to those who are not vaccinated is actually a violation of people’s rights. Therefore, it was only reasonable for the government to retract its previous guidelines and remove the barring of people who are not vaccinated, into Botswana.”

Since the introduction of vaccine mandates on Feb. 14, Botswana’s tourism industry says, it has suffered huge losses, with canceled bookings worth $10 million.

A tour guide in the Okavango Delta, Keletso Sedume, said he expects the situation to improve now that COVID-19 entry requirements have been eased.

“It is good news as there was a drop of tourists coming to the delta in the last few weeks,” he said. “We heard it is because some were reluctant to vaccinate and had canceled their bookings. We hope to see them come in now.”

Botswana authorities say they have vaccinated more than 71% of the adult population, which is one of the highest vaccination rates on the continent. 

Science & Health

Hong Kong Leader Says Plans to Review COVID Restrictions on Monday

Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam said on Sunday she plans to review COVID-19 restrictions on Monday, just days after acknowledging that many financial institutions were “losing patience” with coronavirus policies in the financial hub.

The Chinese-ruled city has some of the most stringent COVID-19 rules in the world, with a ban on flights from nine countries including Australia and Britain, and hotel quarantine of up to two weeks for incoming travelers.

The city has also imposed a ban on gatherings of more than two people, while most public venues are closed, including beaches and playgrounds, face masks are compulsory and there is no face-to-face learning for students.

Saturday, authorities reported a three-week low of 16,597 new COVID-19 cases, down from more than 20,000 a day earlier.

The coronavirus outbreak has swept through elderly care homes and paralyzed many parts of the city.

In recent weeks, streets in the heart of Hong Kong’s financial center have been eerily quiet, restaurants and bars shuttered or empty, and supermarket shelves bare as people snapped up groceries amid fears of a city-wide lockdown.

Many businesses across the city have been forced to shut, including gyms, restaurants, and bars, while others say they are living on borrowed time and need restrictions to ease immediately in order to survive.

Hong Kong has seen a net outflow of around 50,000 people so far this month, compared with more than 71,000 in February and nearly 17,000 in December before the fifth wave hit.

While Hong Kong is officially clinging to a “zero-COVD” strategy that aims to curb all outbreaks, recent actions and policy tweaks suggest it is pivoting away from that at a time when most other major global cities are learning to live with the virus.

The official policy mirrors that of mainland China which is also facing a huge challenge as a jump in cases restricts the movement of millions of people and affects some of the country’s industrial hubs.

Economy & business/Silicon Valley & Technology

Microsoft Faces Anti-Competition Complaint in Europe

Three companies have lodged a complaint with the European Commission against Microsoft, accusing the U.S. technology giant of anti-competitive practices in its cloud services, sources told AFP on Saturday, confirming media reports.

Microsoft is “undermining fair competition and limiting the choice of consumers” in the computing cloud services market, said one of the three, French company OVHcloud, in a statement to AFP.

The companies complain that under certain clauses in Microsoft’s licensing contracts for Office 365 services, tariffs are higher when the software is not run on Azure cloud infrastructure, which is owned by the U.S. group.

They also say the user experience is worse and that there are incompatibilities with certain other Microsoft products when not running on Azure. 

In a statement to AFP, Microsoft said, “European cloud service providers have built successful business models on Microsoft software and services” and had many options on how to use that software.

“We continually evaluate how best to support all of our partners and make Microsoft software available to all customers in all environments, including those with other cloud service providers,” it continued.

The complaint, first reported this week by The Wall Street Journal, was lodged last summer with the EU Commission’s competition authority.

Microsoft is also the subject of an earlier 2021 complaint to the European Commission by a different set of companies led by the German Nextcloud.

It denounced the “ever-stronger integration” of Microsoft’s cloud services, which it said complicated the development of competing offers.

Microsoft has already been heavily fined multiple times by Brussels for anti-competitive practices regarding its Internet Explorer browser, Windows operating system and software licensing rules.