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The Latest: Spain receives 1st batch of coronavirus vaccine

Inside Telecom Staff

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The Latest Spain receives 1st batch of coronavirus vaccine

MADRID — Spanish authorities say the first batch of the coronavirus vaccine to reach the country has arrived.

The government said Saturday morning that a truck transporting the vaccine produced by Pfizer arrived at a company warehouse in the central city of Guadalajara after making the trip from Belgium. It is the first part of what the government says will be weekly shipments of an average of 350,000 doses.

The first vaccines will be administered Sunday morning at a nursing home in Guadalajara.

Spain plans to receive more than 4.5 million doses of the Pfizer vaccine over the next 12 weeks, enough it says to immunize just over 2.2 million people. It will represent the first phase of a national vaccination plan.


THE VIRUS OUTBREAK:

— A pandemic Christmas: Services move online, people stay home

— After early success, S. Korea sleepwalks into virus crisis

— Black doctor dies of COVID after racist treatment complaints

— Around 1,000 British soldiers were spending Christmas Day trying to clear a huge backlog of truck drivers stranded in southeast England.

— South Africa’ s normally joyful and lively Christmas celebrations have been dampened by the spike in new cases and deaths driven by the country’s variant of COVID-19.

— U.S. factories have been cranking out goods at a rate that is remarkably close to normal, despite the ongoing spread of the coronavirus.


HERE’S WHAT ELSE IS HAPPENING:

LJUBLJANA, Slovenia — Initial shipments of Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines have arrived in Slovenia and neighboring Croatia ahead of the inoculation start in the European Union on Sunday.

Slovenia’s Prime Minister Janez Jansa on Saturday said on Twitter that 9,750 vaccines developed by the U.S. and German companies are in Slovenia. He said vaccination will start across the country on Sunday.

Authorities have said that care home residents and front-line medical staff will be the first to receive the vaccines. The official STA news agency says the next shipment of 6,825 doses is expected next week.

In Croatia, the first batch of 9,750 vaccines arrived early on Saturday. The state HRT TV says a care home resident in Zagreb, the capital, will be the first to receive the vaccine on Sunday morning.


TOKYO — Tokyo has confirmed 949 new cases of the coronavirus, a new high for the Japanese capital, as the country struggles with an upsurge that is spreading nationwide.

The Tokyo Metropolitan Government said Saturday that the additional cases bring the prefectural total to 55,851. Japan had 3,823 new cases Friday for a national total of 213,547, with 3,155 deaths, the health ministry said.

Japan has not been able to slow the infections despite government requests for the people to avoid going out for dinner and parties before and during the holiday season.

Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike has ordered bars to close early and urged residents to avoid nonessential outings. But many people have continued commuting on crowded trains and going out for dinner and drinks.


CAIRO — Egypt has reported over 1,000 new coronavirus cases, its highest total in months, as authorities appeal to people to stick to preventive measures to avoid a lockdown.

The Health Ministry on Saturday reported 1,113 new cases, as well as 49 deaths.

The new numbers have brought the county’s official tally to more than 130,126 cases, including at least 7,309 deaths.

However, the actual numbers of cases in Egypt, the Arab world’s most populous county with over 100 million people, are thought to be far higher, in part due to limited testing.

Authorities have been urging people to stick to preventive measures, particularly wearing face masks and practicing social distancing, to avoid a lockdown that would leave devastating economic consequences.


BEIJING — China’s capital has urged residents not to leave the city during the upcoming Lunar New Year holidays, implementing fresh restrictions after several coronavirus infections last week.

Two domestic cases were reported on Friday, a convenience store worker and a Hewlett Packard Enterprise employee. Another two asymptomatic cases were discovered in Beijing earlier in the week.

Beijing is conducting testing on a limited scale in the neighborhoods and workplaces where the cases were found.

To contain any new outbreaks, the Beijing government canceled big gatherings such as sports events and temple fairs. It says applications will be strictly reviewed for any major events. Venues such as cinemas, libraries and museums have to operate at 75% capacity.

It also called on companies not to arrange business trips outside the city and abroad.

Lunar New Year is Feb. 12.

Separately, officials in the northeastern port city of Dalian said Friday that they had tested over 4.75 million people for the coronavirus after 24 confirmed infections this month.

Authorities have shut schools and all public spaces in five neighborhood divisions in Dalian, and only essential workers can leave their compounds.


SEOUL, South Korea — South Korea has reported another 1,132 coronavirus cases as the resurgence worsened over the Christmas week, putting pressure on the government to enforce stricter distancing controls.

The figures released by the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency on Saturday brought the country’s caseload to 55,902. The country added 1,241 cases on Christmas Day, its largest daily increase. Total fatalities stood at 793 after more than 220 COVID-19 patients died in the past 15 days alone as the surge left hospital capacities and medical staff stretched thin.

Around 780 of the new cases were from the greater Seoul area, home to 26 million people. Health workers discovered a large virus cluster in a huge prison with more than 500 inmates and workers. Transmissions in recent weeks have also been tied to hospitals, nursing homes, churches, restaurants and army units.

Government officials restored some social distancing restrictions in recent weeks after easing them to the lowest tier in October and are now clamping down on private social gatherings, shutting down ski resorts, restricting hotel occupancy and setting fines for restaurants if they accept large groups.

Officials plan to meet Sunday to determine whether to possibly shutter hundreds of thousands of nonessential businesses. They have resisted such action for weeks, saying it could unleash further shock on an already weak economy.


PARIS — French health authorities have confirmed the country’s first case of the virus variant that prompted strict new lockdown measures in Britain and global travel restrictions.

A French man living in England arrived in France on Dec. 19 and tested positive for the new variant Friday, the French public health agency said in a statement. He had no symptoms and was isolating in his home in the central city of Tours.

Authorities were tracing the person’s contacts and laboratories were analyzing tests from several other people who may have the new variant, the statement said.

Some other European countries have also reported cases of the new variant, which British authorities said appears more contagious and was spreading fast. The British announcement Dec. 19 prompted countries around the world to suspend flights from the U.K., and France banned all passengers and cargo from Britain for two days, causing massive traffic problems around the British port of Dover.

France reopened the border but now requires anyone entering from Britain to have a test showing they do not have the new variant.

A second partial lockdown sharply curbed France’s infections, but they have been again on the rise over the past two weeks. France has among the world’s highest virus death tolls.


DALLAS — Coronavirus hospitalizations in Texas on Friday approached a peak equaling the summer’s surge even as health officials warned that holiday gatherings and travel are likely to further spread the virus and pressure health care services.

The state health department reported 10,868 patients hospitalized with confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the state on Christmas, less than 30 behind the record high set in July. Intensive care units in several parts of Texas were full or nearly full, according to the Texas Department of State Health Services.

Texas on Friday reported 200 more death from COVID-19. There were 3,123 newly confirmed cases of the virus and another 973 probable cases, according to the health department.


ATHENS — The first vaccines against the coronavirus have arrived in Greece.

The first 9,750 doses arrived overland, crossing from the Bulgarian border in the north Friday evening, with the van carrying them escorted by six police cars, a video taken at the border shows.

Vaccinations will begin at five Athens hospitals Sunday, with health personnel and elderly residents of nursing homes.

Greece’s president, prime minister and a total of 42 government, military and police officials deemed essential to the functioning of the state, as well as opposition leaders, will also be vaccinated in the first days.

Health authorities announced Friday 617 new infections over the past 24 hours, alongside 50 deaths.

The numbers are lower than recent trends, but authorities are still vigilant against a possible spread during the holiday season.

Five subway stations in central Athens were closed Friday afternoon to keep people from congregating in the capital’s festively decorated central squares and avenues. A nightly curfew at 10 p.m. is still in effect across the country.


ROME — For a fourth straight day, Italy’s daily new caseload of confirmed coronavirus infections has climbed higher.

Adding 19,037 COVID-19 cases on Friday, the nation raised its overall tally of confirmed infections in the pandemic to 2,028,354.

The figures from the Health Ministry on Christmas Day included 459 deaths registered since Thursday. That brings the number of known pandemic dead in Italy to 71,359.

As it has had most recently, the northeast Veneto region reported the highest daily caseload, with just over 5,000 confirmed infections registered on Friday.

That’s nearly double the day’s caseload in neighboring Lombardy, the populous region which has suffered the most deaths and has had the most COVID-19 cases since Italy’s first native case emerged in February.


TOKYO — Japan’s Health Ministry has confirmed the country’s first cases of infection with the new variant of the coronavirus that was identified in Britain.

The five people arrived between Dec. 18 and Dec. 21, before Japan stepped up border control on Friday for entrants from Britain. A man in his 60s developed fatigue, but the other four were without symptoms.

Health Minister Norihisa Tamura said the five were sent to quarantine straight from the airports.

After they tested positive for the virus, further analysis conducted at the National Institute of Infectious Diseases determined they had the British variant that is 70% more transmissible, the ministry said in a statement.

Shigeru Omi, head of the government task force, called for tighter border control to prevent new variants.


MOSCOW — Russian authorities have ordered those arriving from the U.K. to quarantine for two weeks.

Earlier this week, Russia suspended direct flights from the U.K. after a variant of the coronavirus that is 70% more transmissible has spread across London and parts of England.

The order from the Rospotrebnadzor sanitary safety agency posted Friday on the portal of official information obliges all those traveling from the U.K. to remain in isolation for 14 days after their arrival in Russia. The measure is effective starting Saturday.

Dozens of countries have barred flights from the U.K. or announced travel restrictions. The United States will require airline passengers from Britain to get a negative COVID-19 test before their flight starting Monday.

By The Associated Press undefined.

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Airline CEOs, Biden officials consider green-fuel breaks

Associated Press

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Airline CEOs, Biden officials consider green-fuel breaks

Chief executives of the nation’s largest passenger and cargo airlines met with key Biden administration officials Friday to talk about reducing emissions from airplanes and push incentives for lower-carbon aviation fuels.

The White House said the meeting with climate adviser Gina McCarthy and Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg also touched on economic policy and curbing the spread of COVID-19 — travel has been a vector for the virus. But industry officials said emissions dominated the discussion.

United Airlines said CEO Scott Kirby asked administration officials to support incentives for sustainable aviation fuel and technology to remove carbon from the atmosphere. In December, United said it invested an undisclosed amount in a carbon-capture company partly owned by Occidental Petroleum.

A United Nations aviation group has concluded that biofuels will remain a tiny source of aviation fuel for several years. Some environmentalists would prefer the Biden administration to impose tougher emissions standards on aircraft rather than create breaks for biofuels.

“Biofuels are false solutions that don’t decarbonize air travel,” said Clare Lakewood, a climate-law official with the Center for Biological Diversity. “Real action on aircraft emissions requires phasing out dirty, aging aircraft, maximizing operational efficiencies and funding the rapid development of electrification.”

Airplanes account for a small portion of emissions that cause climate change — about 2% to 3% — but their share has been growing rapidly and is expected to roughly triple by mid-century with the global growth in travel.

The airline trade group says U.S. carriers have more than doubled the fuel efficiency of their fleets since 1978 and plan further reductions in carbon emissions. But the independent International Council on Clean Transportation says passenger traffic is growing nearly four times faster than fuel efficiency, leading to a 33% increase in emissions between 2013 and 2019.

The U.S. accounts for about 23% of aircraft carbon-dioxide emissions, followed by Europe at 19% and China at 13%, the transportation group’s researchers estimated.

The White House said McCarthy, Buttigieg and economic adviser Brian Deese were “grateful and optimistic” to hear the airline CEOs talk about current and future efforts to combat climate change.

Nicholas Calio, president of the trade group Airlines for America, said the exchange was positive.

“Airlines are ready, willing and able partners, and we want to be part of the solution” to climate change, Calio said in a statement. “We stand ready to work in partnership with the Biden administration.”

By DAVID KOENIG.

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Internet disruption reported in southeast Iran amid unrest

Associated Press

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Iran Telecom

Iran’s impoverished southeast has been experiencing wide disruptions of internet services, experts said, as unrest gripped the remote province after fatal border shootings.

Several rights groups reported in a joint statement that authorities shut down the mobile data network in the restive province of Sistan and Baluchestan, calling the disruptions an apparent “tool to conceal” the government’s harsh crackdown on protests convulsing the area.

The reports of internet interference come as Iranian authorities and semiofficial news agencies increasingly acknowledge the turmoil challenging local authorities in the southeast — a highly sensitive matter in a country that seeks to repress all hints of political dissent.

Starting Wednesday, the government shut down the mobile data network across Sistan and Baluchestan, where 96% of the population accesses the internet only through their phones, rights groups said, crippling the key communication tool.

After four days of unverified “localized regional network disruptions” amid the protests, NetBlocks, which monitors worldwide internet access, confirmed a new disruption to internet connectivity in the province beginning late Saturday.

“This is Iran’s traditional response to any kind of protest,” Amir Rashidi from Miaan Group, a human rights organization that focuses on digital security in the Middle East, told The Associated Press on Saturday. “Shutting down the internet to block news and pictures getting out makes (authorities) feel more comfortable opening fire.”

The week saw a series of escalating confrontations between police and protesters. Crowds with light arms and grenade launchers descended on Kurin checkpoint near Iran’s border with Pakistan on Thursday, Abouzar Mehdi Nakhaie, the governor of Zahedan, the provincial capital, said in comments carried by Iran’s semiofficial ISNA news agency. The violence killed one policeman, he added.

Earlier this week, protesters attacked the district governor’s office and stormed two police stations in the city of Saravan, outraged over the shootings of fuel smugglers trying to cross back into Iran from Pakistan on Monday. The border shootings and ensuing clashes killed at least two people, the government said. Many rights activists in the area reported higher death tolls without offering evidence.

Iran’s Foreign Ministry spokesman, Saeed Khatibzadeh, vowed Friday to investigate the deaths. Officials insisted that calm had returned to the streets.

The Iranian government previously has cut off internet access and cellphone service in tense times. In the fall of 2019, for instance, Iran imposed a near nationwide internet blackout as anti-government protests sparked by an increase in fuel prices roiled the capital of Tehran and other cities. Hundreds were reportedly killed in the crackdown nationwide.

Given that authorities targeted the mobile network and not the landline in Sistan and Baluchestan, the disruption likely wouldn’t appear on regular network data, said Mahsa Alimardani, researcher at Article 19, an international organization that fights censorship. The area already suffered from unreliable internet connections.

“This targeted shutdown was very intentional because they knew the realities of this province,” where people are poor and use cheap phones as opposed to computers, Alimardani said.

Sistan and Baluchestan is one of most unstable and least developed parts of Iran. The relationship between its predominantly Sunni residents and Iran’s Shiite theocracy long has been fraught. A low-level violent insurgency in Sistan and Baluchestan involves several militant groups, including those demanding more autonomy for the region.

The area also lies on a major trafficking route for drugs and petrol, which is highly subsidized in Iran and a key source of income for smugglers.

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — By ISABEL DEBRE

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Nevada governor proposes giving tech firms power to govern

Associated Press

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Nevada governor proposes giving tech firms power to govern

Nevada’s governor on Friday unveiled a proposal that would allow technology companies to establish jurisdictions with powers similar to those of county governments, arguing the state needed to be bold to diversify its economy and pushing back against those who have likened the idea to company towns.

“This proposal is an exciting, unprecedented concept that has a potential to position Nevada as a global center of advanced technology and innovation, while helping to create immediate positive economic impact and shape the economy of the future,” Gov. Steve Sisolak said of his Innovation Zones idea. “As we’ve learned in the past, an emergency requires us to throw out the tried-and-true, discard the ‘How We’ve Always Done It’ manual and move on.”

Under the proposal, companies developing cutting-edge technologies that have at least 50,000 acres (200 sq. kilometers) of land and promise to invest $1.25 billion could establish “Innovation Zones.” The zones would be governed by a board responsible for overseeing zoning, taxation, law enforcement and other government functions on their land. It would override local county regulations.

The governor’s office of economic development would initially appoint three members to govern the zone, including two required to be from the company.

While the legislation does not specifically mention the company, the proposal is geared toward Blockchains LLC, a cryptocurrency company that owns 67,000 acres of land (270 sq. kilometers) in rural Storey County. Blockchains LLC hopes to build a smart city 12 miles (19 kilometers) east of Reno that would include underground data storage bunkers, 15,000 homes and a research and development park where entrepreneurs could invent applications of blockchain technology.

Blockchain is a digital ledger known mostly for recording cryptocurrency transactions. Local governments have also taken advantage of its secure record-keeping capabilities to document marriage licenses and facilitate overseas voting.

The Innovation Zone proposal has sparked concerns about ceding excessive amounts of power to technology companies. But Blockchains CEO Jeffrey Berns insists that the company’s technology has the potential to empower people to control their digital footprint.

“What we’re trying to build is a place where you have power instead of companies,” he told The Associated Press earlier in February.

An economic impact study commissioned by Blockchains projects the company’s Innovation Zone will create jobs, economic activity and revenue from a tax imposed on transactions made on the blockchain. The study projects Blockchains’ proposal will eventually generate $2.2 billion in direct output annually, about 1.3% of Nevada’s overall economic activity.

But forecasting the economic impact of unproven technology is difficult, particularly because many of the potential applications of the company’s ledger technology have yet to be invented.

Applied Analysis’ Jeremy Aguero, who authored the study, said the projections were based on more than cryptocurrency transactions and encompassed any action on Blockchains’ database made in Nevada or elsewhere. Blockchains, he said, planned to pilot its cryptocurrency in Nevada on industries like cannabis sales or in the gig economy and then expand its applications to other sectors and locations. All of the transaction taxes would be collected by Nevada.

“When we think about it in terms of the revenue estimates that are being yielded, it’s not just related to cryptocurrency. It’s related to any of the transactions that will add a block to the chain,” Aguero said.

Blockchain technology is already used to record financial transactions, store medical records and coordinate supply chain logistics. Sisolak said the purpose of innovation zones is to attract developers to Nevada as they devise new ways to use the technology.

“The applications of the technology are limitless. We cannot even imagine what their technology could be,” he said.

The yet-to-be invented applications are a key reason that Blockchains wants to establish an Innovation Zone. The company and the proposal’s proponents say small jurisdictions are not the ideal governmental bodies to make decisions about new technologies and a massive development that, in Storey County’s case, could increase the population tenfold.

“The traditional forms and functions of local government … are inadequate alone to provide the flexibility and resources conducive to making the State a leader in attracting and retaining new forms and types of businesses,” according to draft legislation.

Some locals disagree. Storey County resident Eileen Gay said that the mechanisms in place for development and project approval protect local interests and the environment.

“Oversight is what makes for safe, well-considered, well-balanced development,” she told county commissioners at a Feb. 16 meeting. “What is to prevent this 800-pound gorilla of a neighbor from swallowing our small neighborhood up?”

Developers may indeed invent new ways to use the digital ledger, but at an August 2020 Storey County Commission meeting, Blockchains lobbyist Matthew Digesti described the company’s proposal as something local governments routinely encounter: a “high-tech business park integrated with a master planned residential community.”

Sisolak said he understood that the Innovation Zones was unconventional, but he said the pandemic had proven that Nevada needs to be bold to diversify its tourism-driven economy. He said government and the private sector needed to work together to induce economy recovery.

“What we’ve been doing has not worked,” he said. “We cannot wait for economic recovery to come to us. We must accelerate and pursue innovative ways to inject Nevada with new and organic economic growth, and more jobs.”

CARSON CITY, Nev. (AP)

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