Satellite Indicates ‘Mini-Hole’ in Arctic Ozone Layer

Scientists studying data from a European Space Agency (ESA) satellite say they have observed a strong reduction in ozone concentrations over the Arctic, creating what they are calling a “mini-hole” in the ozone layer.The ozone layer is a natural, protective layer of gas in the stratosphere that shields life from the sun’s harmful ultraviolet radiation, often associated with skin cancer and cataracts, as well as other environmental issues.The “ozone hole” most often referenced is over Antarctica, forming each year. But observations scientists made at the German Aerospace Center in the last week indicate ozone depletion over northern polar regions as well.The scientists refer to the Arctic depletion zone as a “mini-hole” because it has a maximum extension of less than a million square kilometers, which is tiny compared with the 20 million- to 25 million-square-kilometer hole that forms over the Antarctic.ESA released an animation using data from its satellite showing daily ozone levels over the Arctic from March 9 to April 1. Scientists say unusual atmospheric conditions, including freezing temperatures in the stratosphere, led ozone levels to drop in the region.



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Amid Coronavirus Outbreak, Trump Assails Push for Mail-In Voting

U.S. President Donald Trump is waging a new political fight against the adoption of mail-in voting rights throughout the U.S., claiming it is rife with possible fraud and would significantly benefit opposition Democrats.Trump himself recently requested an absentee ballot to vote in the Republican presidential primary in Florida, the Atlantic coastal state he now claims as his official home after spending his entire life as a New York resident.But he said on Twitter on Wednesday, “Republicans should fight very hard when it comes to state wide mail-in voting.”“Democrats are clamoring for it,” he said. “Tremendous potential for voter fraud, and for whatever reason, doesn’t work out well for Republicans.”Republicans should fight very hard when it comes to state wide mail-in voting. Democrats are clamoring for it. Tremendous potential for voter fraud, and for whatever reason, doesn’t work out well for Republicans. FILE – Democratic U.S. presidential candidate Joe Biden speaks during the 11th Democratic candidates debate, held in CNN’s Washington studios, March 15, 2020.Democrats have long voiced support for expansion of the electorate through mail-in voting, on the theory that given an easier option to vote other than showing up at polling stations on Election Day, more people would cast ballots.  It also would likely help more Democrats win office.  Some polling over the years has suggested Republican voters are more committed than Democrats to showing up at polling places and thus as a group do not necessarily need the added possibility of voting by mail.  Trump claims that if mail-in voting becomes the dominant way to vote, “You’d never have a Republican elected in this country again.”In fact, voting by mail already plays an important role in some U.S. elections, but not nationwide and not just in Democratic-leaning states. The National Vote at Home Institute says that in the western part of the country, 69 percent of ballots are already cast by mail, but only 27 percent nationwide.The western part of the country includes the deeply conservative state of Utah, which votes heavily for Republicans, and has moved almost entirely to vote-by-mail in recent years. The Republican secretary of state in the northwestern state of Washington also champions mail-in voting.Democrats failed in their efforts to include financial assistance for states to adopt mail-in voting as it recently approved a $2 trillion coronavirus rescue package.  Republicans in Washington remain adamantly opposed, citing security concerns and objecting to transforming election laws as part of the coronavirus aid measure.Sorry, but your browser cannot support embedded video of this type, you can
download this video to view it offline. Embed” />CopyNow, one Democratic activist, Neera Tanden, president of the Center for American Progress, said, “With the insanity of Wisconsin, Democrats have the proof they need to make this a mandate for November.”She urged Democrats to ensure vote-by-mail becomes a possibility throughout the country as a “fallback” in the event the virus limits people from voting in person.Trump pointedly expressed his opposition to mail-in voting at his Tuesday coronavirus news conference, particularly if some activists collect the votes of many people rather than people mailing in their ballots themselves.  “Mail ballots are a very dangerous thing for this country, cause they’re cheaters,” he said. “They go and collect them, they’re fraudulent in many cases. You gotta vote. And they should have voter ID, by the way, you want to really do it right, you have voter ID.” 



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India Considers Narrowing Lockdown to Coronavirus Hotspots

India is considering plans to seal off coronavirus hotspots in Delhi, Mumbai and parts of the south while easing restrictions elsewhere as a way out of a three-week lockdown that has caused deep economic distress, officials said on Wednesday.
 
The sweeping clampdown in the country of 1.3 billion people to prevent an epidemic of COVID-19, the respiratory disease caused by the virus, ends on April 14 and Prime Minister Narendra Modi is to decide this week whether to extend it.
 
He told a conference of political leaders on Wednesday that several state governments had asked for an extension of the lockdown to cope with the outbreak. But he also said that India was facing serious economic challenges, according to a statement issued by his office.
 
Scenes of poor migrant workers and their families walking long distances on empty highways to their homes in the countryside after losing their jobs have increased pressure on Modi to reopen parts of Asia’s third largest economy.
 
More than 80% of confirmed COVID-19 cases in India, the world’s second most populous country, have been traced to 62 districts representing less than 10% of India’s landmass, according to government data.
 
These are concentrated in the western state of Maharashtra, home to financial capital Mumbai, the capital Delhi and the southern states of Tamil Nadu, Telangana and Kerala.
 
Many parts of the country have not reported a single case.
 
Such a skewed geographical spread strengthens the case for a more targeted approach under which the affected area and its neighboring district would be cordoned off, health officials said.
 
“To manage coronavirus, we are working on a cluster containment strategy,” said Health Ministry joint secretary Lav Agarwal, leading the effort to tackle the outbreak.
 
 “Bhilwara Model”
 
He said such measures were already in place in east Delhi, in Agra, site of the famed Taj Mahal monument, and in the textile town of Bhilwara in the western state of Rajasthan which has become a test case for a more targeted fight against COVID-19.
 
Under the “Bhilwara model,” which was adopted last month soon after about 30 people tested positive in the first big wave of infections, the town and its surrounding villages were sealed off with a virtual curfew in place.
 
People were not allowed even to step out of their homes to get essential stocks or medicines, instead they were asked to call helpline numbers for delivery of staples to their homes.
 
“It is a lockdown, within a lockdown,” said district information officer Gouri Kant.
 
The government of Uttar Pradesh, India’s most populous state, said 15 districts which had each recorded six or more cases of COVID-19 would be cordoned off beginning Wednesday night as it steps up the fight to stem the infections.
 
“There will be no movement in these areas and government will ensure the supply of essentials,” additional chief secretary Awanish Awasthy said.
 
The Delhi state government said late on Wednesday it was making it compulsory for people to wear masks if they step out of their homes, and 20 areas in the city would be cordoned off.
 
So far, India has registered 5,274 COVID-19 infections of whom 149 have died, government data showed on Wednesday.
 
The small numbers, in comparison to large countries such as the United States, Italy and China, have prompted questions from Modi’s critics about whether India has gone too far in shutting down its economy, throwing millions of those who depend on pay by the day out of work and onto the brink of poverty.
 
However, health experts say India needs to ramp up testing for infections to help ensure it has a grasp on how widespread the coronavirus is, and that a lockdown alone is no solution.
 
India’s Supreme Court said on Wednesday COVID-19 tests should be conducted free at all government and private laboratories. So far, only government labs were conducting free tests, while the private labs had been allowed to charge a fixed rate of 4,500 Indian rupees.
 
“The private hospitals including laboratories have an important role to play … by extending philanthropic services in the hour of national crisis,” the court said, ruling on a public interest litigation.
 
It was not immediately clear how and if the government would reimburse private sector’s costs.
 
A senior government official, aware of internal discussions on the lockdown, said parts of the country that had not reported a single case of the coronavirus and where people were not in quarantine could lift the curbs.
 
“There are proposals that are on the table, if there is a partial lifting it will be done on the basis of safety assessment,” the official said.
 
But it was unlikely that schools, colleges, rail travel and religious gatherings would be allowed anywhere in the country, the official said. Following are government figures on the spread of the coronavirus in South Asia:
 
  South Asia:
* India has 5,274 cases, including 149 deaths
 
* Pakistan has 4,072 cases, including 58 deaths
 
* Afghanistan has 444 cases, including 14 deaths
 
* Sri Lanka has 189 cases, including 7 deaths
 
* Bangladesh has 218 cases, including 20 deaths
 
* Maldives has 19 cases and no deaths
 
* Nepal has nine cases and no deaths
 
* Bhutan has five cases and no deaths 



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Lawmakers Race to Approve Additional Coronavirus Funding for Struggling Americans

Less than two weeks after U.S. lawmakers passed the largest economic relief package in the country’s history, Congress is set to advance even more funding Thursday to help struggling American workers. The measure would provide additional funding for the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), a $350 billion program that is part of the broader Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security, or CARES, Act.That $2.2 trillion rescue package was quickly written and passed by Congress late last month, as businesses nationwide dealt with the economic fallout of coronavirus stay-at-home orders.The temporary closure of millions of businesses triggered historic levels of unemployment, with nearly 10 million Americans filing assistance claims in a two-week span in March. That marked the worst period for unemployment filings since 1982. Many analysts predict those numbers could soon reach levels last seen in the United States during the Great Depression in the 1930s.FILE – In this image from video, the final vote of 96-0 shows passage of the $2.2 trillion economic rescue package in response to coronavirus pandemic, passed by the Senate at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, March 25, 2020.The CARES Act gives federal unemployment benefits of $600 a week to laid-off and out-of-work Americans in addition to state unemployment benefits. The new bills also make benefits available for the first time to the self-employed and small-business owners. The PPP gives loans to small businesses to cover their payroll and expenses during the economic slowdown. According to the White House, the Small Business Administration has awarded over 220,000 loans totaling $66 billion as of April 7, just five days into availability of the program. In a request to Congress, the White House asked lawmakers for an increase of $251 billion for the program.”It is quickly becoming clear that Congress will need to provide more funding, or this crucial program may run dry,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said in a statement Tuesday. “That cannot happen. Nearly 10 million Americans filed for unemployment in just the last two weeks. This is already a record-shattering tragedy, and every day counts.”The program had a rocky rollout when it opened for applications last Friday. Many business owners were deemed ineligible to apply because their business banks were not on the list of lenders participating in the government program. Others reported long hold times to obtain information on applications that had been quickly written to encompass a rapidly changing situation.In a joint statement Wednesday, congressional Democrats appeared to support the increase, while calling for some of that new funding to be directed to women, minority and veteran-owned businesses.”As Democrats have said since day one, Congress must provide additional relief for small businesses and families, building on the strong down payment made in the bipartisan CARES Act,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said.FILE – House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of Calif., joined by Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of N.Y., speaks during a news conference, on Capitol Hill, Feb.11, 2020.The U.S. Senate is set to vote on the increase Thursday, using fast-track procedures that would pass the measure without requiring most senators to fly back to Washington. The legislation would then move to the House of Representatives for a likely vote on Friday.Republican Congressman Thomas Massie has already tweeted concerns about fast-tracking the legislation in the House. He voiced similar objections to the CARES Act vote last month, forcing many members to fly back to Washington to establish the necessary numbers to overcome his objection.But there appears to be bipartisan consensus to move quickly on the increases and get the legislation to President Donald Trump to be signed into law.”We have days, NOT weeks to address this,” Republican Sen. Marco Rubio, one of the co-sponsors of the PPP legislation, tweeted Tuesday.  The fear that #PPP will run out of money is creating tremendous anxiety among #SmallBusiness. We have days, NOT weeks to address this. We are working with @USTreasury to make a formal request for additional funds ASAP & with Senate leadership to get fast track vote ASAP.— Marco Rubio (@marcorubio) April 7, 2020 Negotiations on a second-round economic relief package are already under way, with lawmakers set to return to session on Capitol Hill on April 20.Pelosi initially proposed legislation heavy on infrastructure initiatives that would address broader problems exposed by the coronavirus outbreak — failures in broadband technology and the nation’s crumbling roads and bridges. But that approach did not gain sufficient traction.Democrats will likely ask for another round of direct payments to Americans, even as the first $1,200 payments to many lower- and middle-class Americans are set to be distributed through April. A proposal for vote-by-mail is also likely to receive a renewed push following criticism of Tuesday’s primary election in Wisconsin, the first state to hold in-person elections since coronavirus stay-at-home orders went into effect.In a press call with reporters Tuesday, Schumer also called for $25,000 pay increases for essential emergency and health care workers fighting the coronavirus.”No proposal will be complete without addressing the need for essential workers,” Schumer said. 
 



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Sanders Drops 2020 Presidential Bid, Leaving Biden as Likely Nominee

Sen. Bernie Sanders, who saw his once strong lead in the Democratic primary evaporate as the party’s establishment lined swiftly up behind rival Joe Biden, ended his presidential bid on Wednesday, an acknowledgment that the former vice president is too far ahead for him to have any reasonable hope of catching up.The Vermont senator’s announcement makes Biden the presumptive Democratic nominee to challenge President Donald Trump in November.Sanders plans to talk to his supporters later Wednesday.Sanders initially exceeded sky-high expectations about his ability to recreate the magic of his 2016 presidential bid, and even overcame a heart attack last October on the campaign trail. But he found himself unable to convert unwavering support from progressives into a viable path to the nomination amid “electability” fears fueled by questions about whether his democratic socialist ideology would be palatable to general election voters.The 78-year-old senator began his latest White House bid facing questions about whether he could win back the supporters who chose him four years ago as an insurgent alternative to the party establishment’s choice, Hillary Clinton. Despite winning 22 states in 2016, there were no guarantees he’d be a major presidential contender this cycle, especially as the race’s oldest candidate.Sanders, though, used strong polling and solid fundraising — collected almost entirely from small donations made online — to more than quiet early doubters. Like the first time, he attracted widespread support from young voters and was able to make new inroads within the Hispanic community, even as his appeal with African Americans remained small.Sanders amassed the most votes in Iowa and New Hampshire, which opened primary voting, and cruised to an easy victory in Nevada — seemingly leaving him well positioned to sprint to the Democratic nomination while a deeply crowded and divided field of alternatives sunk around him.But a crucial endorsement of Biden by influential South Carolina Rep. Jim Clyburn, and a subsequent, larger-than-expected victory in South Carolina, propelled the former vice president into Super Tuesday, when he won 10 of 14 states.In a matter of days, his top former Democratic rivals lined up and announced their endorsement of Biden. The former vice president’s campaign had appeared on the brink of collapse after New Hampshire but found new life as the rest of the party’s more moderate establishment coalesced around him as an alternative to Sanders.Things only got worse the following week when Sanders lost Michigan, where he had campaigned hard and upset Clinton in 2016. He was also beaten in Missouri, Mississippi and Idaho the same night and the results were so decisive that Sanders headed to Vermont without speaking to the media.The coronavirus outbreak essentially froze the campaign, preventing Sanders from holding the large rallies that had become his trademark and shifting the primary calendar. It became increasingly unclear where he could notch a victory that would help him regain ground against Biden.Though he will not be the nominee, Sanders was a key architect of many of the social policies that dominated the Democratic primary, including a “Medicare for All” universal, government-funded health care plan, tuition-free public college, a $15 minimum wage and sweeping efforts to fight climate change under the “Green New Deal.”He relished the fact that his ideas — viewed as radical four years ago— had become part of the political mainstream by the next election cycle, as Democratic politics lurched to the left in the Trump era.Sanders began the 2020 race by arguing that he was the most electable Democrat against Trump. He said his working-class appeal could help Democrats win back Rust Belt states that Trump won in 2016, including Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania. But as the race wore on, the senator reverted to his 2016 roots, repeatedly stressing that he backs a “political revolution” from the bottom up under the slogan “Not me. Us.”Sanders also faced persistent questions about being the field’s oldest candidate. Those were pushed into the spotlight on Oct. 1, when he was at a rally in Las Vegas and asked for a chair to be brought on stage so he could sit down. Suffering from chest pains afterward, he underwent surgery to insert two stints because of a blocked artery, and his campaign revealed two days later that he had suffered a heart attack.But a serious health scare that might have derailed other campaigns seemed only to help Sanders as his already-strong fundraising got stronger and rising stars on the Democratic left, including Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, endorsed him. Many supporters said the heart attack only strengthened their resolve to back him.Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren outshone him throughout much of the summer, but Sanders worked his way back up in the polls. The two progressive candidates spent months refusing to attack each other, though Sanders offered a strong defense of Medicare for All after Warren offered a transition plan saying it would take the country years to transition to it.The two longtime allies finally clashed bitterly, if briefly, in January, when Warren said that Sanders had suggested during a 2018 private meeting that a woman couldn’t be elected president. Sanders denied saying that, but Warren refused to shake his outstretched hand after a debate in Iowa.Warren left the race after a dismal Super Tuesday showing in which she finished third in her own state.In 2016, Sanders kept campaigning long after the primaries had ended and endorsed Clinton less than two weeks before their party’s convention. This cycle, he promised to work better with the national and state parties. His dropping out of the race now could be a step toward unity.



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CDC Weighs Loosening Guidelines for Some Exposed to Virus

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is considering changing its guidelines for self-isolation to make it easier for those who have been exposed to someone with the coronavirus to return to work if they are asymptomatic.
The public health agency, in conjunction with the White House coronavirus task force, is considering an announcement as soon as Wednesday, Vice President Mike Pence said on Tuesday.  
Under the proposed guidance, people who are exposed to someone infected would be allowed back on the job if they are asymptomatic, test their temperature twice a day and wear a face mask, said a person familiar with the proposal under consideration. The person described the proposal on the condition of anonymity because the draft had not been finalized.  
The new policy is aimed in particular at workers in critical jobs. But it also comes as the Trump administration is eyeing what it calls a “stabilization” in infection rates and looks toward rolling back some of the restrictive social distancing guidelines and restarting the nation’s stalled economy.
The proposed guidance would follow recommendations made by the CDC that eased self-isolation requirements for front-line medical workers who were exposed to the virus. Under CDC guidance, medical workers who have been exposed to the virus without protective equipment but who have no symptoms can return to work with a mask and temperature checks after 14 days.
Pence on Tuesday said the White House is focusing on the “point of need” for the current situation but also is operating on another track to consider future recommendations for the public.
“Some of the best minds here at the White House are beginning to think about what recommendations will look like that we give to businesses, that we give to states, but it will all, I promise you, be informed on putting the health and well-being of the American people first,” Pence said.
For most people, the new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia, and death.
In fashioning the recommendations, the administration appeared to be trying to balance political concerns about wanting to preserve as much normalcy as possible with public health concerns that some infections are being spread by people who seem to be healthy.



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