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President Joe Biden urges Americans to wear masks – and says it could save 50,000 lives | US News

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Joe Biden has warned that the fight to bring coronavirus under control in the US is a “wartime undertaking” – devoting much of his first full day in office to tackling the pandemic.

The new president signed 10 executive orders on Thursday that are designed to ramp up testing, tackle vaccine shortages, and increase mask wearing nationwide.

More than 406,000 people have died as a result of COVID-19 in the US, and more than 24.5 million cases have been confirmed – with 4,367 fatalities confirmed in the past 24 hours.

Joe Biden signs an executive order as part of his administration's plans to fight the coronavirus disease
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Mr Biden signed 10 executive orders concerning the coronavirus pandemic

Mr Biden has described the rollout of vaccines in the US as a “dismal failure so far”, and vowed to expand vaccine manufacturing in the coming weeks.

He also made a personal plea to the American people – telling them that experts believe more than 50,000 lives could be saved if the public wear masks for the next 99 days.

In other developments on Thursday:
• Dr Anthony Fauci, America’s top infectious diseases expert, suggested that coronavirus cases may be about to hit a plateau in the country
• New figures showed that a variant of COVID-19 first detected in the UK has now spread to at least 20 states
• Mr Biden said the US will back a global plan to get vaccines to poorer countries
• The new administration announced it will reinstate entry bans on most non-American citizens who have recently been in Brazil, the UK, Ireland and most of Europe
• The president’s top adviser on the pandemic said the US will once again contribute funding to the World Health Organisation – reversing Donald Trump’s plans to pull out
• Authorities in California, Ohio, West Virginia, Florida and Hawaii warned COVID vaccine supplies were running out – with New York City starting to cancel appointments

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Dr Fauci: It was ‘uncomfortable’ working for Trump

Mr Biden has pledged to provide 100 million doses of the coronavirus vaccine during his first 100 days in office – and intends to open up eligibility to new groups including teachers and supermarket workers.

After being sidelined by Mr Trump, Dr Fauci returned to the White House briefing room on Thursday – adding that it was “liberating” to serve under a science-friendly administration.

He told reporters: “One of the new things in this administration is, if you don’t know the answer, don’t guess. Just say you don’t know the answer.”

Later today, Mr Biden will begin calls with foreign leaders – starting with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

But Downing Street has said it is unable to confirm when Boris Johnson will be in contact with the US president for the first time since he entered the Oval Office.

President Joe Biden has wasted little time in unveiling a plan to tackle the coronavirus crisis.
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President Joe Biden has wasted little time in unveiling a plan to tackle the coronavirus crisis.

Analysis: What a difference a day makes
By Dominic Waghorn, diplomatic editor

What a change in tone – just one day into Joe Biden’s new administration.

War on science under Donald Trump has been replaced with an all-out war on the virus.

Cue the return of Dr Fauci – Dr Doom and Gloom, according to the former president’s team. To everyone else, he is the man best qualified to tackle the pandemic.

Dr Fauci’s insistence on scientific fact was so infuriating to Donald Trump that he was banished from giving briefings in the end.

He’s now centre stage as the Biden administration battles to bring the runaway virus to heel.

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How Biden’s inauguration day went

At the White House, he told reporters it felt “liberating” to “get up here and talk about what you know, what the evidence and science is, and know that’s it – let the science speak”.

Dr Fauci smiled as he downplayed his frustrations with Mr Trump. It had been “uncomfortable” to watch the president recommend miracle drugs like hydroxychloroquine, he said.

It must have been excruciating.

Donald Trump seemed to resent Dr Fauci’s star status back in the spring.

The Trump administration’s Cnutian denial of scientific fact in the face of such a devastating pandemic will surely be one of its most shameful records.

Dr Fauci has three decades’ experience dealing with infectious disease outbreaks.

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Bidens watch fireworks from White House

Instead of drawing on this expertise, Mr Trump fulminated that the doctor was probably a Democrat and allowed his staff to issue a dossier smearing his record – sidelining him and his unique expertise.

The doctor’s relationship with the new president seems a lot healthier.

“Everything we do will be based on science and evidence,” he’s been promised. What an idea.

We won’t see a president spouting quack remedies like disinfectant injections and night after night digging himself deeper and deeper into a pit of medical ignorance.

Instead, we will have clinical factual briefings with a man who knows more than any other about one of the gravest-ever threats to the US.

Dry and boring? In contrast with the antics of the outgoing president most probably. But most Americans will probably take boring right now if it starts saving more lives.

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Domestic abuse is the world’s hidden pandemic – but victims are being left with nowhere to go | UK News

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As COVID-19 spread throughout the world, another pandemic was growing – hidden in the homes where we have been ordered to stay.

International Women’s Day, on Monday 8 March, is a day to celebrate the achievements of women and call for more action on gender equality.

But this year it feels there is little to celebrate. Whether you look at women in the workplace or maternity rights, the pandemic has exacerbated existing inequalities in almost all walks of life.

The pandemic’s impact on domestic abuse is particularly bleak.

Across the world, there has been a marked rise in reports of domestic violence. In France, reports increased by 32% during the first week of lockdown. Ireland saw a five-fold increase in domestic violence and reports were up 8.1% in the United States after lockdown orders. In the UK, police have seen a 10% increase in reported cases of domestic abuse and calls to helplines have also risen sharply.

Domestic abuse is a vastly under-reported crime and the true picture is likely to be far worse than the official statistics show.

But the emergence of what the UN is calling a “shadow pandemic” is clear.

While for most of us, the stay at home directive has meant grappling with the stress of home schooling or hurling well-meaning articles about baking banana bread into the rubbish bin, for a significant number of people it has been altogether more sinister.

When your abuser is your partner or family member, spending time at home is to be trapped. The usual escape routes are harder to access, and the critical support from friends and loved ones shut off.

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Chancellor Rishi Sunak announced in this week’s budget that domestic abuse schemes in England and Wales will receive an extra £19m from the government over the next two years.

Most of the money will be going towards work with abusers to reduce reoffending, and £4m will provide 132 new bed places – or “respite rooms” – for homeless and extremely vulnerable women who have suffered domestic abuse.

The extra money has been welcomed, but charities have warned it’s not enough.

Women’s Aid estimates that £393m is required to support refuges and community based services in England, so there is a shortfall of more than £200m.

The charity warns that “will mean that women and children will be turned away from the lifesaving support they need”.

“While funding for working with perpetrators is important, it must never come at the expense of funding lifesavings support for survivors. Women-only services deliver tried and tested support that survivors and their children continue to desperately need. They are likely to face even further pressure and demand once lockdown finally lifts,” it said.

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An MP’s story of domestic abuse

Domestic abuse survivors need extraordinary bravery. It means hiding your passport and squirreling away money in amounts small enough not to be noticed, but big enough to fund your escape. It means scrambling together clothes and quickly bundling up the children before the abuser gets back home (and who is out of the house for long these days?).

Some refuges have closed altogether, while others are struggling with a chronic shortage of beds. Local authority spending on refuges has been cut from £31.2m in 2010 to £23.9m in 2017.

What happens if, after that stomach churning rush of fear and determination, there is nowhere to go?

We’ll be exploring the issue with Claire Barnett, the executive director of UN Women UK, on Sophy Ridge on Sunday on 7 March. Other guests will include Education Secretary Gavin Williamson, the SNP’s Mhairi Black and the head of Ofsted Amanda Spielman.

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‘I’m on the move!’: NASA’s Perseverance rover takes its first test drive on Mars | Science & Tech News

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NASA’s Perseverance rover has taken its first drive on Mars, just weeks after landing on the Red Planet.

The one-tonne robot travelled 21.3ft (6.5m) in a mobility test that the space agency said will allow the checking and calibrating of the rover’s systems and instruments.

Once Perseverance really gets going, it is expected to undertake regular commutes of 656ft (200m) or more.

Anais Zarifian, Mars 2020 Perseverance rover mobility test bed engineer at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California, said: “When it comes to wheeled vehicles on other planets, there are few first-time events that measure up in significance to that of the first drive.

“This was our first chance to ‘kick the tyres’ and take Perseverance out for a spin.”

And the news was good: Ms Zarifian said the rover’s six-wheel drive “responded superbly”, adding: “We are now confident our drive system is good to go, capable of taking us wherever the science leads us over the next two years.”

Perseverance was moving for about 33 minutes, first driving 13ft before turning in place 150 degrees and reversing 8ft to find its new parking space.

The rover landed on Mars on 18 February to much celebration in the US and across the world, becoming the ninth spacecraft since the 1970s to achieve such a feat.

The landing came after a 300 million-mile journey over nearly seven months, as part of a mission to find out whether there was once life on the mysterious planet.

Scientists believe that if there ever was life on Mars, it would have been 3 billion to 4 billion years ago, when water still flowed there.

Two spacecraft from the UAE and China have also swung into orbit around Mars in recent weeks, a sign of the growing global interest.

Perseverance carries 19 cameras – more than any other interplanetary mission – and has sent 7,000 photos back to earth already.

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The rover is also kitted out with a navigation system to help it avoid dangerous boulders and ravines, a range of scientific instruments for performing experiments, and a miniature helicopter that will become the first rotorcraft to fly on another planet.

The samples of rock and soil it collects will be sealed in tubes and left in a well-identified place on the surface for a future mission to collect.

Next up on Perseverance’s diary are more tests, and the calibration of its scientific instruments and longer test drives, as well as the experimental flight test programme for the Ingenuity Mars Helicopter it is carrying.



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Outrage in India over latest ‘honour killing’ as father beheads daughter after finding her with man | World News

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Outrage over so-called honour killings in India has been reignited after a father who found his daughter in a “compromising position” with a man severed her head with an axe – and then took it to his local police station.

The man walked through the streets of Hardoi district in northern Uttar Pradesh state carrying his daughter’s head, confessed to what he had done upon his arrival at the station, and was arrested, police said.

Superintendent Anurag Vats told the Thomson Reuters Foundation: “The man said he saw his daughter in a compromising position with a man and he beheaded her in a fit of rage.”

Shocking images of him carrying the 17-year-old girl’s head through the streets of Uttar Pradesh were shared online, reigniting urgent calls for the introduction of laws specifically dealing with so-called honour killings.

Madhu Garg, vice president of the All India Democratic Women Association’s Uttar Pradesh branch, said: “The issue of the right to choice needs immediate attention and a separate law should be made for dealing with honour killing.”

Human rights groups say thousands of women and girls are killed across South Asia and the Middle East each year by family members angered at perceived damage to their “honour”.

Perceived offences can include eloping, fraternising with men, or any transgression of staunchly conservative values regarding women.

Last month, a woman was burnt alive by her family members over an inter-faith relationship in Uttar Pradesh, local media reported, quoting police officials.

India officially recorded 24 honour killings in 2019, but campaigners say government statistics on honour killing mask
the true scale of the crime, with women at greater risk than men.

Almost 70% of honour killings in India are women, according to Arockiya Samy Kathir, the founder of non-profit campaigning group Evidence, which has for years worked on honour killings in south India.

In 2018, the Indian government asked all states to set up special cells comprising of police and welfare officers, as well as a 24-hour helpline, to help couples facing harassment or those seeking protection.

But campaigners say compliance has been poor.

High-profile cases of violence against women in India have sparked mass protests in recent years, although many of them are not related to honour killings.

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