Iran Warns US Not to Interfere With Shipment of Oil to Venezuela

Iran’s president has warned the United States not to interfere with a shipment of oil bound for Venezuela after the South American nation said it would provide an armed escort for the tankers.In a statement posted on his website, Hassan Rouhani said the United States had created unacceptable conditions'' in different parts of the world, but that Iran wouldby no means” be the one to initiate conflict.If our tankers in the Caribbean or anywhere in the world face any problems caused by the Americans, they will face problems as well,” he added.We hope the Americans will not make a mistake.”Rouhani made the remarks in a call with Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, the ruling emir of Qatar, which has close relations with both Iran and the United States.FILE – A view of a vessel, the Clavel, sailing on international waters crossing the Gibraltar stretch, May 20, 2020. Five Iranian tankers likely carrying gasoline and similar products are now sailing to Venezuela from Iran.The five Iranian tankers now on the high seas are expected to start arriving in Venezuela in the coming days. They are carrying gasoline to alleviate severe fuel shortages in the country that have caused days-long lines at service stations, even in the capital, Caracas.Venezuela said Wednesday that planes and ships from the nation’s armed forces would escort the tankers in case of any U.S. aggression.U.S. President Donald Trump imposed heavy sanctions on Iran after he withdrew the U.S. from Tehran’s 2015 nuclear deal with world powers. The administration has ramped up sanctions on Venezuela to try to force President Nicolas Maduro from power.A force of U.S. vessels, including Navy destroyers and other combat ships, patrol the Caribbean on what U.S. officials call a drug interdiction mission. Venezuelan officials paint them as a threat, but U.S. officials have not announced any plans to intercept the Iranian tankers.

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‘Superspreader’ Events May Be Responsible for 80% of COVID Infections

Some scientists now say “superspreader” events may be responsible for at least 80 percent of coronavirus infections.A report on the website of The Telegraph, a British newspaper, details some findings that “closely packed markets, vigorous dance classes, loud bars and choirs” may be the primary culprits in the spreading of the virus.The public is already aware that established superspreaders of the virus can include “hospitals, nursing homes, large dormitories, food processing plants and food markets.”One of the largest spreaders, however, according to the article, came from a bar in the Tyrolean Alps. The Telegraph said hundreds of infections in Britain, Germany, Iceland, Norway and Denmark have been traced back to the Kitzloch bar, “known for its après-ski parties.”A South Korean study found that “Intense physical exercise in densely populated sports facilities could increase risk for infection” of the coronavirus. It found that 112 people were infected with the virus within 24 days after participating in “dance classes set to Latin rhythms” at 12 indoor locations.In other studies, choir members were found to be susceptible to contracting the virus, but scientists believe singing was not the only pathway of the spread during the early days of the contagion before social distancing was observed. The coronavirus was likely spread when choir members greeted each other, shared drinks and “talked closely with each other.”The newspaper account said the virus swept through an Amsterdam choir, infecting 102 of its 130 members.
 

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Coronavirus Spread Feared Where Water Is Scarce Around the World

Violet Manuel hastily abandoned her uncle’s funeral and grabbed two empty containers when she heard a boy running down the dirt road shouting, “Water, water, water!”The 72-year-old joined dozens of people seeking their daily ration in Zimbabwe’s densely populated town of Chitungwiza.“Social distancing here?” Manuel asked tartly. She sighed with relief after getting her allotment of 40 liters (10.5 gallons) but worried about the coronavirus.“I got the water, but chances are that I also got the disease,” she told The Associated Press. And yet her plans for the water did not include hand-washing but “more important” tasks such as cleaning dishes and flushing the toilet.Such choices underscore the challenges of preventing the spread of the coronavirus in slums, camps and other crowded settlements around the world where clean water is scarce and survival is a daily struggle.Some 3 billion people, from indigenous communities in Brazil to war-shattered villages in northern Yemen, have nowhere to wash their hands with soap and clean water at home, according to the charity group WaterAid. It fears that global funding is being rushed toward vaccines and treatments without “any real commitment to prevention.”Definitively linking COVID-19 cases to water access isn’t easy without deeper investigation, said Gregory Bulit with UNICEF’s water and sanitation team, “but what we know is, without water, the risk is increased.”In the Arab region alone, about 74 million people don’t have access to a basic hand-washing facility, the United Nations says.Nearly a decade of civil war has damaged much of Syria’s water infrastructure, and millions must resort to alternative measures. In the last rebel-held territory of Idlib, where the most recent military operations displaced nearly 1 million people, resources are badly strained.Yasser Aboud, a father of three in Idlib, said he has doubled the amount of water he buys to keep his family clean amid virus fears. He and his wife lost their jobs and must cut spending on clothes and food to afford it.In Yemen, five years of war left over 3 million people displaced with no secure source of water, and there are growing fears that primitive sources such as wells are contaminated.And in Manaus, Brazil, 300 families in one poor indigenous community have water only three days a week from a dirty well.“Water is like gold around here,” said Neinha Reis, a 27-year-old mother of two. To wash their hands, they depend on donations of hand sanitizer. Reis and most of the other residents have fallen ill with symptoms similar to those of COVID-19 in the past month.FILE – A woman wearing a face mask to protect against the coronavirus collects water on the side of a road to take home, in Caracas, Venezuela, April 22, 2020.Across Africa, where virus cases are closing in on 100,000, more than half of the continent’s 1.3 billion people must leave their homes to get water, according to the Afrobarometer research group.Where it is made available via trucks or wells, the long lines of people could become “potentially dangerous breeding grounds for the virus,” said Maxwell Samaila, program manager with the aid group Mercy Corps in Nigeria.In rural parts of sub-Saharan Africa, where most have to travel up to three hours for water, “you have 200 people touching the (well) handle one after the other,” said Bram Riems, an adviser on water, sanitation and hygiene with Action Against Hunger.At an open area surrounded by filthy apartment blocks in Zimbabwe’s capital, Harare, women in orange T-shirts ticked off names of people fetching water from a row of communal taps that Doctors Without Borders provided in poor suburbs. Many services in the country have collapsed, along with its economy.Kuda Sigobodhla, a hygiene promotion officer for the aid group, said training sessions had been organized before the outbreak arrived in Zimbabwe so that water distribution points did not become epicenters of contagion.“We had to do something,” Sigobodhla said.But while the empty buckets were neatly spaced 1 meter apart, their owners huddled in groups, chatting and occasionally exchanging cigarettes and high-fives while waiting their turn.One man shouted about social distancing but only a few seemed to listen. A hand-washing bucket was available, but most did not use it.To encourage hand-washing in some parts of Africa, aid groups are using measures such as placing mirrors and soap at makeshift taps.“We know people like to look at themselves when they wash their hands, so putting a mirror helps,” said Riems, of Action Against Hunger. His organization is piloting the project in Ethiopia, where only a third of the population has access to basic water services.Fear also could be a motivating factor, he said, citing a recent GeoPoll survey that found more than 70% of people in Africa are “very concerned” about the coronavirus. GeoPoll surveyed 5,000 people in 12 countries.Meanwhile, investment in water and hygiene has been precariously low.“Of 51 major announcements of financial support from donor agencies to developing countries, only six have included any mention of hygiene,” WaterAid has said of COVID-19?emergency funding from governments and aid groups in the past two months.Africa alone needs an annual investment of $22 billion, according to the Infrastructure Consortium for Africa, an initiative of the Group of 20 most-developed countries and international financial institutions. But the investment by African governments and external financiers currently hovers around $8 billion to $10 billion, it said.Some fear such woeful funding could now come with a huge human cost.“Funding for (water, sanitation and hygiene) has been going down,” Riems said. “Not enough people will have access to water, not enough people will be able to wash their hands and more people will get sick.”
 

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Greece Accuses Turkey of Occupying Small Piece of Greek Land

Greece has lodged a protest over Turkish troops’ occupation of a small patch of swampland along the land border between the two NATO member nations.  Nevertheless, dozens of Turkish soldiers and police remain planted there, defying demands that they retreat. The confrontation is the latest in escalating tension between the two age-old rivals.
 
For more than 100 miles, the Evros river rips down through Greece’s northeast frontiers, separating the country from Turkey.
 
About halfway down its course, the waterway swerves in and out of Turkey, creating a plain of small marsh. While officials call the area Melissokomeio, locals like Athanasios Pemousis commonly refer to it as “the horseshoe,” because of its shape.
 
He says the area is usually flooded in winter but it is used by smugglers during the summer to sneak refugees into Greece.
 
In recent days though, he says, he and others have seen some 35 Turkish soldiers occupying the land, setting up a tent and flying a tiny Turkish flag from a tree.
 
It may be swampland, he says. But it is Greek territory.
 
The Foreign Affairs Ministry in Athens has lodged a stiff protest with Ankara demanding the Turkish soldiers pull back from the region. Turkey is refusing to comply, though, and that has Greece’s defense minister, Nikos Panagiotopoulos, extremely concerned.
 
Rising tensions especially in small areas, he says, heighten the risk of an accident occurring, a spark that could inflame already uneasy ties between Greece and Turkey.
 
Struggling to revive its devastating tourism industry, Greece has opted to keep the matter quiet, refusing to disclose whether it plans to evict the Turkish soldiers.
 
While both NATO allies, Greece and Turkey have been at odds with each other for decades, contesting each other’s claims to air, land and sea rights.  
 
Twenty-five years ago, the two sides came to the brink of war over competing claims to a barren outcrop inhabited only by goats, rabbits and sheep.
 
U.S. diplomacy helped pull back both allies from the brink.
 
Defense experts tell VOA Turkey’s decision to send troops to the region was probably sparked by Greek plans and ongoing technical surveys to extend its border fence with Turkey.
 
Turkey refuses to acknowledge that some of the land on the eastern side of the Evros river still belongs to Greece.
 
In recent weeks alone, Greek soldiers have been shot at four times from over the border and Turkish fighter jets are routinely chased out of Greek airspace.
 
The latest border incident comes weeks after tens of thousands of migrants tried to push their way into Greece from Turkey after President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said in February that he would no longer prevent them from doing so.
 
He has since then rescinded his decision in order to contain the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic but he has vowed to allow refugees to enter Europe anew once the coronavirus pandemic subsides.
 

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‘Superspreader’ Events May Be Responsible For 80% of COVID-19 Infections

Some scientists now say “superspreader” events may be responsible for at least 80 percent of coronavirus infections.A report on the website of The Telegraph, a British newspaper, details some findings that “closely packed markets, vigorous dance classes, loud bars and choirs” may be the primary culprits in the spreading of the virus.The public is already aware that established superspreaders of the virus can include “hospitals, nursing homes, large dormitories, food processing plants and food markets.”One of the largest spreaders, however, according to the article, came from a bar in the Tyrolean Alps. The Telegraph said hundreds of infections in Britain, Germany, Iceland, Norway and Denmark have been traced back to the Kitzloch bar, “known for its après-ski parties.”A South Korean study found that “Intense physical exercise in densely populated sports facilities could increase risk for infection” of the coronavirus. It found that 112 people were infected with the virus within 24 days after participating in “dance classes set to Latin rhythms” at 12 indoor locations.In other studies, choir members were found to be susceptible to contracting the virus, but scientists believe singing was not the only pathway of the spread during the early days of the contagion before social distancing was observed. The coronavirus was likely spread when choir members greeted each other, shared drinks and “talked closely with each other.”The newspaper account said the virus swept through an Amsterdam choir, infecting 102 of its 130 members.

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Report: UK Plans Cut in Huawei’s 5G Network Involvement

Prime Minister Boris Johnson is planning to reduce Chinese telecoms equipment maker Huawei Technologies Co Ltd’s involvement in Britain’s 5G network in the wake of the coronavirus crisis, The Daily Telegraph newspaper reported.Johnson has asked officials to make plans to reduce China’s involvement in British infrastructure to zero by 2023, the newspaper reported late on Friday.Johnson is expected to use less reliance on China as a means to boost trade talks with U.S. President Donald Trump in the aftermath of Britain’s departure from the European Union, according to the newspaper.Downing Street declined to comment. Huawei did not immediately respond to a request for comment.Earlier on Friday, The Times reported that Johnson has instructed civil servants to make plans to end Britain’s reliance on China for vital medical supplies and other strategic imports.Beijing is being criticized for its handling of the coronavirus outbreak, which began in China. Beijing denies U.S. allegations it has not been transparent about the outbreak.”He (Johnson) still wants a relationship with China but the Huawei deal is going to be significantly scaled back. Officials have been instructed to come up with a plan to reduce Huawei’s involvement as quickly as possible,” a source was quoted by the Telegraph as saying.The development would be a change of direction for Britain, which in late April confirmed it would allow Huawei to have a role in building its 5G phone network.Britain decided in January to allow Huawei into what the government said were non-sensitive parts of the network, capping its involvement at 35 percent.The United States has raised security concerns about Huawei equipment, and warned that allies that use it in their networks risked being cut off from valuable intelligence sharing feeds. 

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Spain to Begin Easing COVID-19 Restrictions in Madrid, Barcelona

The Spanish government Friday announced it will allow the cities of Madrid and Barcelona to ease their COVID-19-related lockdown measures beginning Monday.Most of Spain has begun to slowly reopen since May 11, but those two cities together account for close to half country’s roughly 233,000 officially recorded coronavirus cases.The loosening of limits is staggered over four stages, with a requirement that certain targets, including the number of cases and hospital capacity, are met before moving onto the next stage.Health Minister Salvador Illa told reporters the Madrid region and city of Barcelona are moving into Phase 1, permitting outdoor-only seating at restaurants and bars of 50 percent capacity, gatherings of families and friends of up to 10 people, and the reopening of small shops, museums, movie theaters and places of worship, all with restrictions on capacity.The health ministry said the lockdown is due to be eased one notch further in other regions. The sparsely populated Canary Islands of La Graciosa, El Hierro and La,” Gomera, as well as Formentera in the Balearics, were freed from most restrictions on Monday.Illa cautioned the process of reopening the country “is incredibly complex and difficultand the situation will be closely monitored. He called for residents to be prudent “on an individual basis” and continue following social distance guidelines.  Spain’s COVID-19 death toll of almost 28,000 is the world’s fifth highest.
 

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Virus Accelerates Across Latin America, India, Pakistan

The coronavirus pandemic accelerated across Latin America, Russia and the Indian subcontinent on Friday even as curves flattened and reopening was underway in much of Europe, Asia and the United States.
Many governments say they have to shift their focus to saving jobs that are vanishing as quickly as the virus can spread. In the United States and China, the world’s two largest economies, unemployment is soaring.  
The Federal Reserve chairman has estimated that up to one American in four could be jobless, while in China analysts estimate around a third of the urban workforce is unemployed.
But the virus is roaring through countries ill-equipped to handle the pandemic, which many scientists fear will seed the embers of a second global wave.
India saw its biggest single-day spike since the pandemic began, and Pakistan and Russia  recorded their highest death tolls. Most new Indian cases are in Bihar, where thousands returned home from jobs in the cities. For over a month, some walked among crowds for hundreds of miles.
Latin America’s two most populous nations — Mexico and Brazil — have reported record counts of new cases and deaths almost daily this week, fueling criticism of their presidents, who have slow-walked shutdowns in attempts to limit economic damage.  
Cases were rising and intensive-care units were also swamped in Peru, Chile and Ecuador — countries lauded for imposing early and aggressive business shutdowns and quarantines.  
Brazil reported more than 20,000 deaths and 300,000 confirmed cases Thursday night — the third worst-hit country in the world by official counts. Experts consider both numbers undercounts due to widespread lack of testing.
“It does not forgive, it does not choose race, or if you are rich or poor, black or white,” Bruno Almeida de Mello, a 24-year-old Uber driver, said at his 66-year-old grandmother’s burial in Rio de Janeiro. “It’s sad that in other countries people believe, but not here.”  
She had all the virus’s symptoms, but Vandelma Rosa’s death certificate reads “Suspected of COVID-19,” he said, because her hospital lacked tests. That means she didn’t figure in the death toll, which nevertheless on Thursday marked its biggest single-day increase: 1,181.
President Jair Bolsonaro has scoffed at the seriousness of the virus and actively campaigned against state governors’ attempts to limit movement and commerce.
Bolsonaro fired his first health minister for supporting governors. His second minister resigned after openly disagreeing with Bolsonaro about chloroquine, the predecessor of the anti-malarial often touted by U.S. President Donald Trump as a viable coronavirus treatment.
Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador downplayed the threat for weeks as he continued to travel the country after Mexico’s first confirmed case. He insisted that Mexico was different, that its strong family bonds and work ethic would pull it through.  
The country is now reporting more than 400 deaths a day, and new infections still haven’t peaked.
Armando Sepulveda, a mauseleum manager in the massive Mexico City suburb of Ecatepec, said his burial and cremation business has doubled in recent weeks.
“The crematoriums are saturated,” Sepulveda said. “All of the ovens don’t have that capacity.” Families scour the city looking for funeral services that can handle their dead, because the hospitals can’t keep the bodies, he said.
Meanwhile Mexico’s government has shifted its attention to reactivating the economy. Mining, construction and parts of the North American automotive supply chain were allowed to resume operations this week.  
Russian health officials registered 150 deaths in 24 hours, for a total of 3,249. Many outside Russia have suggested the country is manipulating its statistics to show a comparatively low death rate. The total confirmed number of cases exceeded 326,000 on Friday.
Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin, who himself recovered from coronavirus, said earlier this week that only 27 regions out of 85 are ready to gradually lift their lockdowns. At least three cabinet ministers also contracted the disease, as well as the Kremlin spokesman.
China announced it would give local governments 2 trillion yuan ($280 billion) to help undo the damage from shutdowns imposed to curb the spread of the virus that first appeared in the city of Wuhan in late 2019 and has now infected at least 5.1 million people worldwide, according to a tally by Johns Hopkins University.
The Bank of Japan said it would provide $280 billion in zero-interest, unsecured loans to banks for financing small and medium-size businesses.
European countries also have seen heavy job losses, but robust government safety-net programs in places like Germany and France are subsidizing the wages of millions of workers and keeping them on the payroll. Tourism, a major income generator for Europe, has become a flashpoint as countries debate whether to quarantine new arrivals this summer for the virus’s two-week maximum incubation period.
Spain’s National Statistics Institute published its tourism report Friday showing columns of zeros for overnight stays, average length of stays and occupancy rates in April. Spain is Europe’s second most popular tourist destination, after France, and an economic recovery without visitors is all but unthinkable.  
Nearly 39 million Americans have lost their jobs since the crisis accelerated  two months ago. States from coast to coast are gradually reopening their economies and letting people return to work, but more than 2.4 million people filed for unemployment last week alone.
Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell said over the weekend that U.S. unemployment could peak in May or June at 20% to 25%, a level last seen during the depths of the Great Depression almost 90 years ago. Unemployment in April stood at 14.7%, a figure also unmatched since the 1930s.
In an eerie echo of famous Depression-era images, U.S. cities are authorizing homeless tent encampments, including San Francisco, where about 80 tents are now neatly spaced out on a wide street near city hall as part of a “safe sleeping village” opened last week. The area between the city’s central library and its Asian Art Museum is fenced off to outsiders, monitored around the clock and provides meals, showers, clean water and trash pickup.
Nathan Rice, a 32-year-old who is camping there, said he’d much rather have a hotel room than a tent on a sidewalk.
“I hear it on the news, hear it from people here that they’re going to be getting us hotel rooms,” he said. “That’s what we want, you know, to be safe inside.”
Despite an often combative approach  to scientists who disagree with him, Trump’s approval ratings have remained steady, underscoring the way Americans seem to have made up their minds about him. A poll from The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research says 41% approve of his job performance, while 58% disapprove. That’s consistent with opinions of him throughout his three years in office.
The World Bank announced a $500 million program for countries in East Africa battling COVID-19 and deadly flooding along with historic swarms of ravenous desert locusts. The added threat of the pandemic has further imperiled a region where millions lack regular access to food.
While many African countries have been praised for their response to the coronavirus, Tanzania is the most dramatic exception, run by a president who questions — or fires — his own health experts and says prayer has solved the crisis.  
The East African country’s number of confirmed virus cases hasn’t changed for three weeks, and the international community is openly worrying that Tanzania’s government is hiding the true scale of the pandemic. Just over 500 cases have been reported in a country of nearly 60 million people.

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Mexico City Factory Begins Producing Medical-Grade N95 Face Masks

A factory in Mexico City is now producing the all-important medical-grade N95 face masks for health care workers treating a growing number of COVID-19 patients.A government spokesperson said the facility, which opened Thursday, is projected to make up to 40,000 masks daily, an amount that is expected to meet the need for masks in the Mexican capital, which has been hard hit by the coronavirus.Mexico City government development director José Bernardo Rosas Fernandez said Mexico had trouble finding enough N-95 face masks as some hospitals became overwhelmed with COVID-19 patients.The new factory is being run jointly by the Mexico City government and a company specializing in air-filtration technology.Mexico has confirmed more than 56,500 COVID-19 cases and more than 6,000 deaths. 

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