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World News

Italy in nationwide lockdown to prevent spread of coronavirus

Al Jazeera – Italy has imposed unprecedented travel restrictions on its 60 million people to control the deadly coronavirus outbreak in the country.

“I am going to sign a decree that can be summarised as follows: I stay at home,” Conte said on television, announcing that the entire country would effectively be placed on lockdown from Tuesday.

Health expert: ‘Coronavirus lethality in Italy higher than China’

Al Jazeera – Rome, Italy – A few minutes after Italy announced unprecedented travel restrictions on its 60 million people on Monday to control the deadly coronavirus outbreak in the country, Al Jazeera talked to Nino Cartabellotta, a leading Italian public health expert, professor and president of Gruppo Italiano per la Medicina Basata sulle Evidenze or GIMBE – Italy’s Group for Evidence-based Medicine.

“Finally, the decision has been taken,” Cartabellotta said in an interview by phone, welcoming the extension of the quarantine zone to all of the country.

“It was about time. This is the only way we can tackle the spread of the virus effectively.”

His research institute has been gathering data and following the coronavirus outbreak since its onset in China and belongs to a taskforce recently set up to advise Italy’s Ministry of Health.

Cartabellotta has been vocal throughout the epidemic, calling for strict containment measures to be implemented since late February.

Payments on mortgages suspended across Italy

Reuters – Payments on mortgages will be suspended across the whole of Italy after the coronavirus outbreak, Italy’s deputy economy minister said on Tuesday.

“Yes, that will be the case, for individuals and households,” Laura Castelli said in an interview with Radio Anch’io, when asked about the possibility.

Italy’s banking lobby ABI said on Monday lenders representing 90% of total banking assets would offer debt moratoriums to small firms and households grappling with the economic fallout from Italy’s coronavirus outbreak.

‘EVERY school will close’: Australian state plans ‘extreme measures’ if the coronavirus crisis deepens

Daily Mail – Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews has warned the state will take ‘extreme measures’ if coronavirus reaches a pandemic phase.

Mr Andrews said all schools would close and entire sectors would be forced to work from home if the COVID-19 crisis further deepens.

He released the plan on Tuesday after three more cases were confirmed in Victoria, including the first locally transmitted.

Putin backs amendment allowing him to remain in power

AP – Russian President Vladimir Putin on Tuesday backed a proposed constitutional amendment that would allow him to seek re-election after his current term ends in 2024, ending uncertainty about his future.

A lawmaker who is revered in Russia as the first woman to fly in space proposed either scrapping Russia’s two-term limit for presidents or resetting the clock so Putin’s four terms wouldn’t count. Putin and the Kremlin-controlled State Duma quickly endorsed the proposal put forward by former Soviet cosmonaut Valentina Tereshkova.

Kremlin critics denounced the move as cynical manipulation and called for protests. Lawmakers also passed a sweeping set of constitutional changes Putin proposed in January that Kremlin foes saw as intended to keep him in power.

In a speech to lawmakers Tuesday, Putin spoke against scrapping presidential term limits altogether but backed the idea that if the constitution is revised, the two-term limit only would apply from 2024 on. The president’s current six-year term expires in 2024.

A vote on the constitutional amendments is scheduled for next month.

U.S. News, Politics & Government

HARVARD Tells Students Not To Return From Spring Break

CBS – Harvard University is telling students to move out of their dorms by Sunday at 5 p.m. due to the spread of coronavirus. The school plans to move classes online starting March 23.

“The goal of these changes is to minimize the need to gather in large groups and spend prolonged time in close proximity with each other in spaces such as classrooms, dining halls, and residential buildings,” Harvard President Lawrence Bacow said in a message to students.

Students were set to begin their spring break on Saturday; now they’re being told not to come back.

Harvard’s campus will remain open with “appropriate measures to protect the health of the community.”

“To our students, especially those of you graduating this year, I know that this is not how you expected your time at Harvard to end,” Bacow wrote. “We are doing this not just to protect you but also to protect other members of or community who may be more vulnerable to this disease than you are.”

Harvard said it is “still working on the details” concerning possible room and board refunds for the remainder of the semester.

Amherst College announced on Monday that it would be holding all classes online after spring break, citing concerns about how many students travel during their time off. Other area colleges have canceled study abroad programs, added hand sanitizing stations around campus and asked students to report any travel plans.

Forty-one people have tested positive for coronavirus in Massachusetts.

Pelosi says Dem coronavirus package could be released this week, as Schumer attacks Trump

Fox – In a press conference with Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer Monday evening, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi told reporters that the House version of a new coronavirus bill could be released this week, although it is unlikely it will be able to pass until after the upcoming congressional recess.

“Well, we are putting it together,” Pelosi told reporters, according to a transcript released by her office. “It’s not like we just woke up and started thinking about this… I don’t know that we can be ready this week, but we can introduce this week, we can introduce it and we may be ready this week, depending on CBO, depending on Leg. Counsel and how quickly they can get something back to us.”

Pelosi went on to say that she would consider shortening the House’s recess scheduled for next week if needed to pass the bill, but that she did not expect to have to do so and is tentatively planning for passage after the recess.

US begins withdrawing troops from Afghanistan

Fox – American troops began withdrawing from Afghanistan on Tuesday as part of the peace deal signed in late February with the Taliban, marking what could be the beginning of the end of the United States’ longest foreign military campaign.

Sonny Leggett, the U.S. military’s spokesman in the Middle Eastern country, said in a statement that the military had begun its “conditions-based reduction of forces to 8,600 over 135 days.”

New York introduces prisoner-made hand sanitizer to fight coronavirus

Fox – New York is battling the coronavirus – and price gouging – with a germ-killing hand sanitizer produced by maximum-security prison inmates who work for less than 65 cents an hour.

“As the number of confirmed cases of the coronavirus continues to rise, unscrupulous retailers are exploiting New Yorkers’ anxieties about the virus, and charging exorbitant prices for hand sanitizer and other similar products,” Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Monday at a news conference where he unveiled the new product.

He said the inmate-produced “NYS Clean Hand Sanitizer” will be available to New York residents free of charge as well as to the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, which operates New York’s subways and commuter railroads, to other state agencies and to New Rochelle, the Westchester County city that’s been the epicenter of the state’s coronavirus outbreak.

Harvard suspends in-person classes, moves online in wake of coronavirus

Fox – New York is battling the coronavirus – and price gouging – with a germ-killing hand sanitizer produced by maximum-security prison inmates who work for less than 65 cents an hour.

“As the number of confirmed cases of the coronavirus continues to rise, unscrupulous retailers are exploiting New Yorkers’ anxieties about the virus, and charging exorbitant prices for hand sanitizer and other similar products,” Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Monday at a news conference where he unveiled the new product.

He said the inmate-produced “NYS Clean Hand Sanitizer” will be available to New York residents free of charge as well as to the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, which operates New York’s subways and commuter railroads, to other state agencies and to New Rochelle, the Westchester County city that’s been the epicenter of the state’s coronavirus outbreak.

In coronavirus fight, California restaurant is taking customers’ temperatures

Fox – Can we please take your temperature?

A Chinese restaurant with three locations in California is taking no chances amid the ongoing COVID-19 outbreak, and has started taking every customer’s temperature in hopes of screening for the virus.

Sichuan Impression, a restaurant serving traditional Chinese fare at restaurants in Tustin, Alhambra and West Los Angeles, is officially screening diners for the coronavirus in what’s reportedly a first for the area.

On Friday, manager Summer Guo checked temperatures at the Tustin location, ready to politely turn away any would-be diners with temperatures of 99.8 F or higher, The Orange County Register reports.

Since implementing the temperature screening, Sichuan Impression co-owner Kelly Xiao believes that the Tustin location alone has scanned thousands of foreheads since adopting the measure in late January.

“We have family in China, so we understand the importance of doing everything we can to protect both our customers and our workers,” Xiao said.

Economy & Business

As coronavirus recession threatens, economists recommend cash for people

CBS – The White House is preparing to meet with Wall Street executives to discuss measures to protect the economy from the coronavirus outbreak. But Wall Street is low on the list of responses economists say the government should be considering.

High on that list: Giving money directly to people — fast.

“Cash giveaways,” suggested Paul Ashworth, chief U.S. economist at independent research firm Capital Economics as a way to boost consumer spending and spark growth.

“[R]apid direct payments to individuals,” recommended Josh Bivens, director of research at the liberal Economic Policy Institute.

“Stimulus payments to households,” said Jay Shambaugh, director at the centrist Hamilton Project, founded by former Clinton Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin.

Why might funneling cash to Americans be the best way to cushion the economy? Because any prolonged downturn fueled by the coronavirus is likely to be caused by something more basic than the financial bubble that led to the post-housing crash slump and recessions: A sharp decline in consumer spending, which accounts for roughly two-thirds of economic activity.

Science & Technology

Second patient cured of HIV, say doctors

BBC – A man from London has become the second person in the world to be cured of HIV, doctors say.

Adam Castillejo is still free of the virus more than 30 months after stopping anti-retroviral therapy.

He was not cured by the HIV drugs, however, but by a stem-cell treatment he received for a cancer he also had, the Lancet HIV journal reports.

The donors of those stem cells have an uncommon gene that gives them, and now Mr Castillejo, protection against HIV.

In 2011, Timothy Brown, the “Berlin Patient” became the first person reported as cured of HIV, three and half years after having similar treatment.

What is the treatment?

Stem-cell transplants appear to stop the virus being able to replicate inside the body by replacing the patient’s own immune cells with donor ones that resist HIV infection.

Adam Castillejo – the now 40-year-old “London Patient” who has decided to go public with his identity – has no detectable active HIV infection in his blood, semen or tissues, his doctors say.

It is now a year after they first announced he was clear of the virus and he still remains free of HIV.

BP To Turn Smart Cities Into 24/7 Real-Time Listening Devices Using Fiber Optic Cables

Activist Post – A recent article in Offshore-Technology revealed that British Petroleum (BP) bought a majority interest in a fiber optic innovation company called Fotech.

Why would anyone care about BP buying Fotech?

Because Fotech “uses artificial intelligence and edge computing in its products, covering areas such as surveillance, transport management, cable monitoring and rail management.”

Roughly translated, they use fiber optic cables to surveil vehicles, people, pipe lines, public transit, etc.

Fotech’s “products” page reveals how they plan to turn smart cities into real-rime listening devices using “Distributed Acoustic Sensing (DAS).”

Distributed Acoustic Technology converts thousands of kilometers of optical fibers already in place in our cities into millions of acoustic and vibration sensors. DAS converts cables into a network of state-of-the-art sensors. This allows cities to send and receive information with the benefit of providing anonymity to its citizens, but also to monitor city infrastructure continuously – in real-time and on a much more detailed level.

Two years ago, Fotech and Dr Robert Ferguson revealed how the city of Calgary could use DAS to track vehicles and people.

“We have installed what’s called a distributed acoustic sensing system along the entire route of the autonomous vehicle and we’ve repurposed an oilfield instrument…We can track, with high precision, the location of not only the autonomous vehicle but anything else that’s moving around close to the autonomous vehicle” Ferguson said.

Fotech’s “Smart City Solutions” boasts that they can use DAS to “recognize and detect the acoustic and seismic signatures of footsteps, vehicles, trams and trains.”

Cities can easily be converted into DAS public monitoring platforms

Fotech’s “Making smart transport networks a reality with DAS” report revealed that cities can easily be converted into DAS monitoring platforms because they can use pre-existing or 5G fiber optic networks.

Fotech’s story titled “Smart City Expo 2019” revealed how smart cities can use DAS to transform fiber optic cables into “highly sensitive acoustic sensors – innately listening to the activities around them.”

Unfixable flaw in nearly all Intel chips released in the last five years could allow cyber criminals to hijack computers and wreak ‘utter chaos’

Daily Mail – An unfixable flaw present in nearly all Intel chips released in the last five years could allow cyber criminals to hijack computers and wreak ‘utter chaos’, an expert warns.

The vulnerability arises because a security feature designed to protect malicious edits to the computer’s random-access memory does not launch quickly enough.

This creates a brief window of time in which hackers can run malicious code on start-up, with full system privileges, and bypass other security features.

Although Intel has released patches to make the weakness harder to exploit, the nature of the flaw means that it will likely not be possible to provide full protection

The reason that the security flaw cannot be corrected is that its origin lies in so-called mask ROM — editable, ‘read-only’ memory that is programmed by Intel at the time of each chip’s manufacturing.

It is this memory that boots the security and management firmware that protects various aspects of the computer (and, unlike the read-only memory, is able to be patched with security updates.)

Hackers who succeed in exploiting the flaw can use it to bypass on-chip encryption processes, digital rights management protections and even modify the chip’s firmware to facilitate a variety of malicious actions.

Health

‘Universal’ Flu Vaccine Being Developed

Newsmax – Work is proceeding apace on a “universal” flu vaccine capable of protecting humans from all forms of influenza, researchers report.

A single dose of a synthetic universal flu vaccine called FLU-v appears capable of providing safe long-term protection across a broad spectrum of influenza viruses, a new clinical trial has shown.

This Nut Is Now Considered A Complete Source Of Plant-Based Protein

Mindaybodygreen – Eating a plant-based diet produces a variety of health benefits, including improvements in gut health and heart health. Unfortunately, finding a diverse source of complete proteins, without eating meat and dairy, can be challenging. But according to FDA guidelines, U.S.-grown pistachios are now considered a complete source of protein for anyone over 5 years old.

Olive Oil Lowers Heart Disease Risk

Newsmax – If you love to drizzle a bit of olive oil on your salad, a new study suggests a side benefit to that tasty fat: a lower risk of heart disease.

The research, funded by the National Institutes of Health, found that people who had more than half a tablespoon of olive oil daily had a 21% lower risk of heart disease.

And, if you replace a teaspoon of butter, margarine or mayonnaise with the same amount of olive oil, your risk of heart disease and stroke may drop by 5%, the study found.

“The take-home message from our study is that our results provide recommendations to replace saturated animal fats (like butter) with unsaturated plant oils for the prevention of cardiovascular disease,” said the study’s lead author Marta Guasch-Ferre. She’s a research scientist at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, in Boston.

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