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Macao to Extend City Lockdown, Casino Closure

Macao’s government will extend a lockdown of casinos and other businesses until Friday, as authorities work to stop the spread of COVID-19 in the world’s biggest gambling hub, according to a statement on its website.

The lockdown in the Chinese special administrative region had been set to end  Monday.

Macao imposed the shutdown last Monday, shuttering the city’s economic engine — its casinos — and forbidding residents from leaving their apartments, except for essential activities such as grocery shopping.

Macao has recorded around 1,700 coronavirus infections since mid-June. More than 20,000 people are in mandatory quarantine as the government adheres to China’s zero-COVID policy, which aims to stamp out all outbreaks, running counter to a global trend of trying to coexist with the virus.

More than 90% of Macao’s 600,000 residents are fully vaccinated against COVID but this is the first time the city has had to grapple with the fast-spreading omicron variant.

The former Portuguese colony has only one public hospital for its more than 600,000 residents, and its medical system was stretched before the coronavirus outbreak.

Authorities have set up a makeshift hospital in a sports dome near the city’s Las Vegas-style Cotai strip and have about 600 medical workers from the mainland assisting them.

In neighboring Hong Kong, authorities are starting to loosen draconian coronavirus restrictions even as daily cases top 3,000, in a push to reboot the financial hub and its economy.

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China’s Hopes High as Space Station Nears Completion

Chinese astronauts, known as taikonauts, and a ground crew are working to finish their country’s first permanent orbiting space station and the world’s second by year’s end, official media outlets say.

That milestone will boost China’s national pride and provide it with new channels for economic development and a possible new tool for military use on the ground, analysts say.

The space program advances China’s goal of being “strong and prosperous” by 2049, said Dexter Roberts, a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council’s Asia Security Initiative and author of “The Myth of Chinese Capitalism.” That year marks the 100th anniversary of Communist Party rule in China.

“Developing the economy, becoming wealthier and raising national prestige globally and becoming stronger geopolitically are all very, very clear goals of the party,” he said. 

A crew aboard the Shenzhou-14 spacecraft last month kicked off six months of work on the Tiangong space station, the official Xinhua News Agency reported. 

Personnel in space and on the ground will finish building the space station, expanding it from a single-module structure to triple-module national space laboratory, Xinhua said. 

The U.S. space agency, NASA, bars China from using the International Space Station on military security grounds, prompting China to embark on its own 10 years ago. China launched its broader space program in the 1960s. 

Pride and power projection 

China’s space station has been designed to be a “versatile space lab” that can hold 25 “cabinets” for experiments such as comparing the biological growth mechanism in varying at different gravitational levels, Xinhua said.

As conducted at the space station and on other space platforms, research into biology, life systems, medicine and materials is expected “to expand humanity’s understanding of basic science,” the State Council Information Office said in a January outlook for the program.

Other countries have already used China’s satellite services, including the BeiDou satellite navigation system, which was made available two years ago to Pakistan. Those systems can survey the aftermath of disasters and help launch satellites. 

Officials in Beijing have not said whether the space station will help the People’s Liberation Army. 

Space programs, including BeiDou, have a military and security side, said Yun Sun, director of the China program at the Stimson Center in Washington.  

“The Chinese will argue that while using (the) BeiDou system, you can navigate the weather, you can forecast the natural disasters, and you can also use the satellites to investigate and explore the terrains,” she said.  

“I think that’s one example of how Chinese space technology is having a real impact over countries on Earth,” Yun said. But, she said, “we all know that’s just one narrative.”

The People’s Liberation Army could technically dock military equipment systems in space or use satellites to survey the ground, experts have told VOA. China has the world’s third-strongest armed forces, a source of alarm for the West and smaller Asian countries.

Chinese President Xi Jinping will probably note the space station as an achievement during the national party congress expected before year’s end, Yun said. Experts say Xi is likely to seek appointment at the congress to a third five-year term as party general secretary.

 

“National prestige and security” are top concerns for Chinese leaders as they finish their space station, said the Roberts, of the Atlantic Council. 

The Chinese government is probably pushing the commercial side of its space program because it wants to catch up to the scale of NASA, he said. 

Chinese leaders may hope to develop their own aerospace technology through the space station, said Yan Liang, professor and chair of economics at Willamette University in the U.S. state of Oregon. Some of today’s components could be imports, she said.

“Definitely I do think that with the communication aspect that is about big data and all these other high-tech industries, it’s definitely in the interest for China to be able to do that and maybe later to export to other countries,” Liang said. 

Tiangong’s first module was christened last year. It operates 340 miles above the Earth’s surface, farther away than the International Space Station. 

After a Chinese Shenzhou-14 crew reaches gets to the space station, it will begin research projects and perform spacewalks from the lab module, Xinhua reported.

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Bogota Artists Rediscover Value of Almost Worthless Venezuelan Bolivars

Venezuela’s national currency, the Bolivar, has lost almost all its value over the past 10 years. That has prompted artists in neighboring Colombia to use the almost worthless bills as a canvas. For VOA News, Jair Diaz has the story from Bogota.

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Why People Worldwide Are Unhappier, More Stressed Than Ever

The world was sadder and more stressed out in 2021 than ever before, according to a recent Gallup poll, which found that four in 10 adults worldwide said they experienced a lot of worry or stress.

Experts say the most obvious culprit, the pandemic — and the isolation and uncertainty that came with it — is a factor but not entirely to blame.

Carol Graham, a Gallup senior scientist, says the culprit for declining mental health includes the economic uncertainty faced by low-skilled workers.

“There are some structural negative changes that make some people in particular more vulnerable. And in the end, mental health just reflects that,” says Graham, who is also a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution and a professor of public policy at the University of Maryland.

“For young people who do not have good higher levels of education, what they’re going to do in the future is very unknown. What their stability will be like, what their workforce participation will be like. … Rising levels of inequality between skilled and unskilled workers is another part of it, having to do with technology-driven growth.”

Gallup spoke to adults in 122 countries and areas for its latest Global Emotions Report. Afghanistan is the unhappiest country, with Afghans leading the world when it comes to negative experiences.

Overall, the survey results were not surprising to psychologist Josh Briley, a fellow at The American Institute of Stress.

“Things are moving faster. There’s so much information being thrown at us all the time,” he says. “And of course, media thrives on the bad stuff. So, we are constantly being bombarded with crisis after crisis in the news, on social media, on the radio and on our podcasts. And all that is drowning out the good things that are happening.”

Psychologist Mary Karapetian Alvord says being more connected online means people in one country can feel profoundly affected by what happens in another country, which wasn’t always the case in the past. For her U.S. clients, uncertainty is the biggest stressor.

“Uncertainty of life and how it’s going to impact them on a daily basis. Prices going up and gas going up. And then the supply chain issues that are impacting people in their daily lives,” Alvord says. “But I think the bigger issue is that uncertainty and so much suffering. Of course, the shootings have come up. A lot of people are really stressed out and feeling like, ‘Where is it safe?’”

There have been more than 300 shootings involving multiple victims in the United States so far in 2022.

Happiness worldwide has been trending downward for a decade, according to Gallup. All three psychologists who spoke with VOA point to social media and the flood of unfiltered information as contributors to declining mental health and happiness.

“We’ve seen this explosion worldwide, and I think that’s a big sort of tectonic shift in how humans interact and experience emotions and all sorts of things. And we’re seeing that there’s some real downsides to it,” Graham says.

Briley says part of the problem is that although people are more connected online, they’re often less connected in real life.

“The connection that we have with people, the physical connection has changed. We’re more connected than ever before with people all the way around the world, but we may not know our neighbors’ names anymore,” he says. “So, we don’t necessarily have that person where if my car breaks down, who do I call for a ride to work?”

More optimism, despite frowns

On the upside, the survey found that the percentage of people who reported laughing or smiling a lot was up two points in 2021, while the number of people who say they learned something interesting increased one point. Alvord says looking beyond the negative is critical to maintaining mental health.

“It’s important for people to also find moments of, if not joy, at least satisfaction in life,” she says. “I think sometimes we reach for happiness and that’s just not attainable … and so, our expectations need to be realistic.”

Minorities in the United States might already be doing that. The survey found that people from marginalized groups are among the most resilient.

“Their anxiety may have increased but their optimism, particularly for low-income African Americans, remains very high,” Graham says. “It was a finding I’ve seen for many years, but it surprised me that even during COVID, it held. I think that’s more due to the kind of community ties and other ties that minority communities have built, almost informal safety nets, that have been very protective many, many times in history.”

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US Officials: States Getting More Monkeypox Vaccine Soon 

More than 100,000 monkeypox vaccine doses are being sent to states in the next few days, and several million more are on order in the months ahead, U.S. health officials said Friday.

They also acknowledged that the vaccine supply hasn’t kept up with the demand seen in New York, California and other places.

Officials predicted that cases would keep rising for at least a few more weeks as the government tries to keep up with a surprising international outbreak accounting for hundreds of newly reported cases every day.

Some public health experts have begun to wonder if the outbreak is becoming widespread enough that monkeypox will become an entrenched sexually transmitted disease.

“All of our work right now is to prevent that from happening,” said Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Monkeypox is endemic in parts of Africa, where people have been infected through bites from rodents or small animals. It does not usually spread easily among people.

But this year more than 12,000 cases have been reported in countries that historically don’t see the disease. The infections emerged in men who had sex with men at gatherings in Europe, though health officials have stressed that anyone can catch the virus.

As of Friday, more than 1,800 U.S. cases had been reported, with hundreds of cases being added to the tally each day. Nearly all are men, and the vast majority had same-sex encounters, according to the CDC.

Experts believe the case numbers are undercounts.

Lag between infection, symptoms

Walensky said she expected cases to rise at least into August, in part because it can take three weeks from the time someone is infected until that person develops symptoms and is diagnosed.

The virus mainly spreads through skin-on-skin contact, but it can also be transmitted through touching linens used by someone with monkeypox.

People with monkeypox may experience fever, body aches, chills and fatigue. Many in the outbreak have developed pimple-like bumps on many parts of the body.

No one has died, and the illness has been relatively mild in many men. But for some, the lesions can be “exquisitely painful” and there is a risk of scarring, said Dr. Mary Foote, medical director of the New York City health department’s Office of Emergency Preparedness and Response.

When the outbreak was first identified in May, U.S. officials had only about 2,000 doses of a new two-dose monkeypox vaccine available.

Officials have recommended the shots be given to people who know or suspect they were exposed to monkeypox in the previous two weeks, and vaccination clinics in some cities have been overwhelmed by demand. The government distributed 156,000 doses nationally as of Thursday, including 100,000 this week. And it expects to start delivering 131,000 more doses by Monday, said Dawn O’Connell of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

There also are about 800,000 doses in Denmark that will come to the U.S. soon. And the government this month announced orders of 5 million more doses, though most of those are not expected to arrive until next year.

The vaccine, Jynneos, has never been widely used in response to an outbreak like this, and the government will track how well it’s working, Walensky said.

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Ukraine’s Cultural Heritage Under Attack, Official Says

Ukraine’s deputy minister of culture said Friday that her country’s heritage is under attack by Russia and must be protected.

“The president of Russia, Mr. Putin, announced that Ukrainian culture and identity is a target of this war,” Kateryna Chueva, deputy minister of Culture and Information Policy of Ukraine, reminded an informal meeting of the U.N. Security Council.

She said the Russian bombs and missiles that have damaged and destroyed Ukrainian cities also have hit scores of important cultural sites.

The U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) has verified damage to 163 cultural sites since Russia’s Feb. 24 invasion. They include religious sites, a dozen museums, 30 historic buildings, 17 monuments and seven libraries. More than half are in the Kharkiv and Donetsk regions. UNESCO says cultural sites in the capital, Kyiv, have also sustained considerable damage.

Chueva says the figure is much higher. She told the council her ministry has verified damage and destruction to at least 423 objects and institutions of cultural heritage.

Destruction of cultural heritage is a potential war crime and a violation of the 1954 Hague convention for the protection of cultural property in conflict, of which Russia is a signatory.

Chueva noted that destruction of cultural heritage is not limited to structures and objects.

“Every single person is a bearer of culture, of knowledge and traditions,” she said.

The director of UNESCO’s World Heritage Center, Lazare Eloundou Assomo, urged Russia to take precautions to protect cultural heritage sites. He said from Paris that the agency has also worked with Kyiv to take steps to clearly mark protected sites and is verifying reports of damage, including through satellite imagery.

“The verification on the ground will enable UNESCO to unveil the scale of damage to cultural sites, as well as to verify the impact of the war on movable cultural property and to prepare for future recovery,” he said.

UNESCO is also providing technical and financial support to the cultural sector and plans to help Ukraine train law enforcement officials in the prevention of trafficking of cultural heritage.

Russia’s representative at the meeting, Sergey Leonidchenko, denied that Moscow targets heritage sites and says coordinates are provided to their military in advance in order take precautions.

He accused Kyiv of targeting Russian culture and language even before the February invasion.

“Demolition of monuments to Russian writers, poets, musicians and World War II heroes, renaming streets devoted to them, confiscation of school textbooks, Russian language and Russian literature in general,” Leonidchenko said. He said the Kyiv regime wants to “rewire people” to forget who they are.

Several Ukrainian cities did rename some streets and squares associated with Russia following the invasion, and a Soviet-era monument symbolizing friendship between Russia and Ukraine was dismantled in Kyiv.

The U.S. representative said Moscow has been destroying parts of Ukraine’s heritage in an effort to rewrite history, dating back to its invasion of eastern Ukraine and the annexation of Crimea in 2014.

“This campaign has been in motion since 2014, when Russia began to remove artifacts, demolish grave sites, and shutter churches and other houses of worship in the Donbas region and Crimea,” Lisa Carty said. “Even before Russia’s 2022 full-scale invasion of Ukraine, Russia reportedly illegally exported artifacts from Crimea, conducted unauthorized archaeological expeditions, demolished Muslim burial sites, and damaged cultural heritage sites.”

Ireland’s deputy ambassador underscored the importance of accountability.

“When protection cannot be insured, it is necessary to build an evidence base so that accountability can be pursued when conditions allow,” Cait Moran said.

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