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Spotlight: Concerns arise over mental health issues triggered by pandemic aftermath

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Callum Mitchell, a Londoner who works in the travel industry, has found that the coronavirus lockdown has allowed him to take a step back and work on self-improvement, but he is anxious about the future of the British economy and his particular industry.

Mitchell hasn’t been furloughed, but cannot see how the travel industry can continue in the same manner, and what opportunities there will be for him after it changes. It’s this level of uncertainty that he believes is affecting him mentally – and his friends.

WORRIES FOR FUTURE

Peter Kinderman, a professor of clinical psychology at the University of Liverpool and a former chair and president of the British Psychological Society, has been researching into mental health and suffering. He believes that most people in Britain will be more concerned about their future, and the economy, opposed to the current pandemic.

“I think that the pandemic itself, the virus, is a significant challenge for people. But I think we understand that collectively and we’re okay with that,” Kinderman told Xinhua.

He stresses that his main concern is how people will react to the future issues that arise – the knock-on effects of the pandemic: potential higher taxation, unemployment, and recession. These have all been factors in psychology studies on mental health after major world crises.

According to Kinderman, in previous pandemics like Black Death that ravaged Europe between 1347 and 1351, the social and psychological structures were challenged by the aftermath of that particular disease event.

The 1918 influenza pandemic also seemed to have major impacts on mental health across Europe, albeit findings have been tied in with the consequences of the World War I.

“My real fear is that as we come out of this with significant numbers of people unemployed, very significant changes to working practices, a lot of people in financial difficulties, massive investments by the government using taxpayers’ money that people will have to pay back … the consequences for the economy and the social disruption that that causes will be where the major mental health, emotional, behavioural consequences form,” Kinderman said.

The professor believes that this could give rise to fear and anxiety in people across Britain, possibly giving way to depression.

“One of the primary reasons people become depressed is that they have very little reinforcing in their life, and if there’s nothing reinforcing about your life during lockdown then it will be very depressing,” he said.

“Following the 2007-08 banking crisis, we saw in the UK somewhere around 700 suicides in a year than statistically would be predicted. So the best estimate is that the banking crisis and consequent unemployment lead to an increase in suicide – especially in men.”

WELLBEING UNDER PRESSURE

Many people across Britain, like Mitchell, are appearing to adapt to lockdown relatively well.

Mitchell has stuck to a routine of making sure to exercise everyday, stay in touch with friends and family, and have all of his chores done by the end of each day. He believes this has been key to keeping him relatively positive.

“Lots of my colleagues are doing research into the question: What is it about the current situation that you find difficult, or indeed uplifting and positive?” Kinderman said.

He said in broad terms the three strongest predictors of wellbeing are physical health, relationships and the sense of meaning and purpose.

“The physical health is under threat at the moment – not only from the virus, but by lack of physical exercise,” he said, adding that there is a strain on relationships as “we in lockdown are not seeing people nor can we talk about things in quite the same way”.

“And the sense of meaning and purpose, and I think one of the things that is worrying about this period is a lot of people seem to be waiting.”

Kinderman believes that many people across Britain are waiting to see what happens when lockdown is lifted – what it means for them and their children. This waiting period is not good for a sense of meaning and purpose, according to Kinderman.

EXITING LOCKDOWN

Like many others, Mitchell said that he is conflicted in what he wants to happen next. He wants the lockdown to end, but also wants to make sure that it is safe to go out.

“As lockdown eases I think we’re going to see a lot of very complicated but essentially normal human reactions to a really unusual situation,” Kinderman said.

He believes that being in this conflicting state is emotionally difficult to process.

“When the lockdown does lift, I think those of us who’ve been paying attention will be worried about a second wave of infection. So we’ll be keen to get out there and do things but we’ll also be worried. We’ll probably be making adjustments, so we’ll probably be outdoors and interacting with people but wearing face masks,” he said.

“That will require adjustment and adjustment is challenging,” he added.

Currently there are a number of studies being undertaken by psychologists to try and better understand how people are being mentally affected by the coronavirus pandemic.

Recently, a study led by Professor Richard Bentall at the University of Sheffield and a team of experts found that mental health impacts of the lockdown posed “more stress” to parents with young children.

Another study, which Kinderman is lending his expertise to, is surveying over 90,000 people across Britain to see how they can identify which groups are more at risk and understand the effects of any potentially protective activities people could be engaging in – this will help to inform the advice people are given about how to stay well at home.

But throughout his research on mental health and lockdown, Kinderman is keen to emphasise that humans always find a way to work together when under threat.

“Human beings are absolutely fantastic at, and have probably evolved specifically in order to, work collectively in times of external threat. What we’re seeing now, and what we’ve seen in huge crises before – plagues and wars – is humans coming together. That’s what we do,” he said.

(XINHUA)

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Spotlight: Aussie police call on public to help fight racist abuse

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Australia is a country which prides itself on welcoming many people from many different backgrounds. However, as fear and anger over the COVID-19 crisis spread, some Australians have encountered physical and psychological abuse simply because of the way they look.

Realizing the alarming trend, last week police in the State of New South Wales (NSW) launched a campaign called “Stop Public Threats” to help the public understand their legal rights and come forward to report racist crimes when they see them.

It comes after several shocking instances of racial abuse in Australia since the start of the pandemic.

They include a woman in Queensland who was allegedly accused of having COVID-19 and punched several times in the face while in public, and a family household was spray painted with a racist slogan.

The message delivered in the campaign was that according to the law in NSW, anyone who incites violence against others on the grounds of their race or religion may face criminal investigation and up to 3 years in jail, regardless of whether such behavior was a direct physical attack, or if it occurred in private, public, or even on social media.

“Racial abuse and racial vilification in all their ugly forms are never acceptable and go against everything we stand for in NSW,” NSW acting minister for multiculturalism Geoff Lee said last week.

“No member of our community should ever feel attacked due to their cultural or religious background.”

Most people who Xinhua spoke to said that Australians were by and large friendly and accepting, and in no way blamed any group for COVID-19. However, some did report feeling concerned that their race could make them a target for hatred.

Min Jung Pi, who emigrated from South Korea to Australia told Xinhua that particularly early on during the COVID-19 pandemic, she felt that the mood towards Asian people had become more suspicious, bordering on hostile.

“I felt like when there was a spare seat on the bus next to me, people didn’t sit down. It’s not direct discrimination, because they didn’t say or do anything to me, but it made me feel like I was being bullied,” Pi said.

“I felt like I was targeted because I am Asian, it made me feel very uncomfortable.”

Although the police stand for victims, but when they are absent at the time and places of racial incidents there is really not much they can do, she added.

Justin Chan, who has owned a business in Sydney’s Chinatown for 25 years, said that he too had noticed a difference in how he and his family were treated during the pandemic, but that reporting any kind of racial prejudice was too time-consuming and would yield no real result.

Victorian Multicultural Commission chair Vivienne Nguyen told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) that the broader community’s lack of understanding regarding racial vilification laws in Australia made them more difficult to enforce, and she feared that some crimes were going unreported.

“The lack of understanding and lack of awareness of the legislation means that we find ourselves in a situation … now with under-reporting,” she said.

A spokesperson from NSW Department of Communities and Justice told Xinhua that to date there had been no prosecutions made under Section 93Z of the Crimes Act, which deals specifically with race based incidents.

State authorities have been upfront in acknowledging a lack of understanding about the legal options available to victims of racism and a widely held belief that the process of reporting is considered daunting and unclear.

NSW‘s Minister for counter terrorism Anthony Roberts said the campaign reinforces the need to stand firm as a community, particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Our response to the pandemic and the worst bushfire season on record in NSW earlier this year demonstrates our community’s incredible resilience,” Roberts said.

“There is a small number of individuals with extreme and violent views who want to divide us. We need to reject this behaviour and protect the rights of all NSW residents.”

(XINHUA)

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Spotlight: How would United States exit from WHO harm global fight against COVID-19?

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The U.S. exit from the World Health Organization (WHO) would undermine international efforts to fight against the COVID-19 pandemic that guarantee public health and save lives, officials and experts across the world have warned.

United States President Donald Trump said on Friday that his country is “terminating” its relationship with the WHO. The announcement came days after the White House, in a letter to WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, threatened to make the temporary freeze of United States funding “permanent” and reconsider its membership in the organization.

Experts have voiced concerns over the decision made by the United States government, saying the move is undermining the irreplaceable role of the WHO in coordinating global efforts in combating COVID-19 and delivering necessary aid to developing and particularly under-developed countries whose public health systems are very vulnerable.

For those countries which are still struggling with the rising COVID-19 cases and are highly dependent on the guidance, equipment and concrete life-saving services provided by the WHO, the U.S. funding freeze is no doubt a fatal shock, they said.

Dad Mohammad Annabi, an Afghan researcher and editor-in-chief of the Islah Daily, said: “Cutting more than 400 million United States dollars to the WHO definitely would undermine the global health agency’s performances including the war on COVID-19 and research on how to make a vaccine to cure the killing disease in the world.”

“Afghanistan is part of the international community and like other nations has been fighting COVID-19, and certainly a financial cut to the WHO would undermine the entity’s support to Afghanistan,” Annabi said.

Trump’s plan has also triggered widespread criticism from the international community, even from the traditional allies of the United States. The U.S. exit from the WHO is contrary to multilateralism and would disrupt global efforts to fight against the virus, especially those in vaccine development.

Ursula von der Leyen, president of the European Commission, and Josep Borrell, the EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, said in a statement that “the WHO needs to continue being able to lead the international response to pandemics, current and future.”

“For this, the participation and support of all is required and very much needed. In the face of this global threat, now is the time for enhanced cooperation and common solutions. Actions that weaken international results must be avoided,” they said in the statement.

“In this context, we urge the United States to reconsider its announced decision,” they said in the statement.

Irish Minister for Health Simon Harris described Trump’s plan to cut ties with the WHO as an “awful decision” on Twitter.

“Awful decision. Now more than ever the world needs multilateralism. A global pandemic requires the world to work together,” Harris tweeted.

Apart from criticism from the international community, Trump’s announcement also triggered disagreement across the United States. The country alone has reported more than 1.7 million COVID-19 cases with over 104,000 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University. Both figures are far higher than those in any other country or region.

Lawrence Gostin, a professor of global health law and director of the O’Neill Institute for National and Global Health Law at Georgetown University, described the move as “foolish and arrogant” on Twitter.

“Trump’s action is an enormous disruption and distraction during an unprecedented health crisis,” said Gostin, also the director of the WHO collaborating center on national and global health law. “The President has made us less safe.”

Democratic Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia said that “the United States cannot eliminate this virus on its own and to withdraw from the World Health Organization — the world‘s leading public health body — is nothing short of reckless.”

(XINHUA)

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Spotlight: More countries to ease COVID-19 restrictions as global cases rise with Latin America as new epicenter

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More countries in Europe and Asia began to ease restrictions and resume operations, but more than 1 million cases of COVID-19 have been recorded in Latin America and the Caribbean, now the new epicenter of the coronavirus pandemic.

Globally, confirmed COVID-19 cases have surpassed 6.16 million, according to data compiled by the Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins University.

NEW EPICENTER

Brazil on Sunday said its nationwide tally of confirmed COVID-19 cases reached 514,849 after 16,409 people tested positive in the past 24 hours, while the death toll neared 30,000.

Its death toll rose to 29,314, the fourth highest in the global pandemic after the United States, Britain and Italy, after 480 deaths had been reported since Saturday, while another 4,208 deaths are still being investigated for any linkage with COVID-19, the Ministry of Health said.

Also on Sunday, Mexico‘s Deputy Health Minister Hugo Lopez-Gatell said that the country reported 3,152 new coronavirus cases in the past 24 hours, bringing the total number of confirmed cases in the country to 90,664.

There were 151 new coronavirus deaths in Mexico, taking total fatalities to 9,930, Lopez-Gatell added.

Meanwhile, Chile‘s COVID-19 cases increased by 4,830 to reach 99,688 on Sunday.

In the past 24 hours, 57 more patients died, the highest number of fatalities in a single day so far, taking the death toll from the disease to 1,054.

A lockdown is in effect in the capital Santiago and the metropolitan area through June 5, as the region is the epicenter of the country’s outbreak.

In recent weeks, Chile has seen an exponential rise in the number of cases and deaths, leading the government to set up field hospitals to deal with the growing number of patients.

EASING RESTRICTIONS

Italy has now recorded fewer than 600 new cases per day for eight consecutive days, a dramatic drop from peaks of more than 6,000 new infections a day, when Italy was the epicenter of the pandemic in late March.

Recent trends show that the spread of the virus has slowed dramatically despite a gradual easing of Italy’s national lockdown at a two-week interval, first on May 4 and again on May 18.

The next step toward easing will come on June 3, when Italians will be allowed to move freely between regions even if for non-essential reasons. It will be the first time such travels will be allowed since March 9, the day before the national lockdown entered into force.

Many businesses across Turkey on Sunday also prepared to resume operation for the first time after over two months of closure amid a slowdown in the spread of COVID-19.

Restaurants, cafes, parks, beaches, daycare centers, kindergartens, libraries, sports facilities, swimming pools, and museums will be operational as of June 1 as part of the new normalization process announced on May 28.

Following the announcement, the Health Ministry prepared a guide in particular for the eating and drinking industry, explaining the new rules in a detailed way.

Likewise, the Egyptian government on Sunday announced a decision to reduce its curfew from 10 hours to nine, following a meeting led by Prime Minister Mostafa Madbouly.

The government has already started gradual reopening of services and offices suspended since mid-March amid a “coexistence plan” to maintain anti-coronavirus precautionary measures while resuming services, businesses and economic activities.

Chairing Saturday‘s Downing Street daily briefing, British Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden said Britons will be able to exercise outside with up to five others from different households from Monday, provided that strict social distancing guidelines are followed.

He also announced that from Monday, competitive sport will be allowed behind closed doors in England, paving the way for the return of live sports on TV screens in almost three months.

The move came as some experts warned that lifting restrictions before cases come down is too “risky.” Professor Jonathan Van-Tam, England‘s deputy chief medical officer, said that Britons need to “actually follow the guidance.”

(XINHUA)

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Spotlight: SpaceX Crew Dragon successfully docks with ISS in historic mission

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SpaceX has completed the first part of its historic crewed flight to the International Space Station (ISS) Sunday morning, when its Crew Dragon spacecraft successfully docked with the orbiting laboratory.

In a first for a commercial spacecraft, Crew Dragon docked with the ISS at 10: 16 a.m. Eastern Time Sunday, a few minutes earlier than planned, carrying astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley. The two astronauts entered the ISS at 1:22 p.m. Eastern Time, after hatch opened.

The docking was a delicate and dangerous part of the mission. The spacecraft performed a series of phasing maneuvers to position itself for rendezvous and docking with the ISS.

The two astronauts onboard worked with SpaceX mission control to verify that the spacecraft was performing as intended by testing the environmental control system, the displays and control system, and maneuvering the thrusters, among other things.

“It’s been a real honor to be a small part of this nine-year endeavor since the last time a United States spaceship docked with the International Space Station,” Hurley said after docking completed.

“We have to congratulate the men and women of SpaceX, at Hawthorne McGregor and at Kennedy Space Center. Their incredible efforts over the last several years to make this possible can not go overstated,” the astronaut added.

The mission went smoothly, ground officials said.

A screengrab from Spaceflight Now‘s Twitter account on May 31, 2020, shows a frame of the replay of “the Crew Dragon‘s automated docking with the International Space Station at 10:16 a.m. EDT (1416 GMT)” on Sunday. (Xinhua)

A screengrab from Spaceflight Now‘s Twitter account on May 31, 2020, shows a frame of the replay of “the Crew Dragon‘s automated docking with the International Space Station at 10:16 a.m. EDT (1416 GMT)” on Sunday. (Xinhua)

Before opening the hatch and entering the station, Behnken and Hurley conducted a series of pressure and leak checks to ensure their safety. The hatch opened at 1:02 p.m. Eastern Time.

“They made it. After launching from @NASAKennedy on the @SpaceX Dragon Endeavour spacecraft yesterday, @AstroBehnken and @Astro_Doug have officially joined the @Space_Station crew today at 1:02pm ET – making history in the process.” NASA tweeted.

The two astronauts entered the ISS at 1:22 p.m. Eastern Time. They joined fellow NASA astronaut Chris Cassidy and two Russian cosmonauts aboard the station, becoming members of the Expedition 63 crew.

Behnken and Hurley will perform tests on Crew Dragon in addition to conducting research and other tasks with the space station crew.

Their docking came after the astronauts spent about 19 hours inside Crew Dragon orbiting around Earth, following Saturday‘s launch.

A screengrab from ISS National Lab‘s Twitter account on May 31, 2020, shows a photo of the Crew Dragon‘s “docking to the ISS (International Space Station)” on Sunday. (Xinhua)

A screengrab from ISS National Lab‘s Twitter account on May 31, 2020, shows a photo of the Crew Dragon‘s “docking to the ISS (International Space Station)” on Sunday. (Xinhua)

 

The Crew Dragon spacecraft lifted off on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket on Saturday from Launch Complex 39A at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

The launch marks the first time since 2011 that American astronauts have launched from an American rocket on American soil to the ISS. It is also for the first time in history, NASA astronauts have launched in a commercially built and operated American crew spacecraft into orbit.

After reaching orbit, Behnken and Hurley announced that they had named their capsule Endeavour.

This is SpaceX‘s final test flight for NASA‘s Commercial Crew Program and will provide critical data on the performance of the Falcon 9 rocket, Crew Dragon spacecraft, and ground systems, as well as in-orbit, docking and landing operations.

The mission’s duration has not been announced. NASA said it will be determined based on the readiness of the next commercial crew launch. ■

(XINHUA)

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Spotlight: Protest over death of George Floyd continues in Colorado despite curfew

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A protest over the death of African American George Floyd in police custody continued for the third day despite a curfew in Colorado’s state capital on Saturday.

Several thousand people began the peaceful protest at noon, marching through downtown Denver, chanting “hands up, don’t shoot,” as both National Guard and Denver police officers were dispatched to cope with the situation.

As protests in the last two days led to violence such as vandalizing vehicles, more police were recruited Saturday by the Denver authorities for help.

Demonstrations and riots have spread to more than 30 cities in the United States after a video went viral of Floyd being suffocated to death by a white police officer in the mid-western state of Minnesota on Monday.

Denver’s African American Mayor Michael Hancock criticized local protesters who resorted to vandalism and violence in a speech earlier on Saturday and issued in the afternoon an emergency curfew citywide from 8:00 p.m. to 5:00 a.m. local time for Saturday going into Sunday.

Colorado Governor Jared Polis has authorized the use of the Colorado National Guard to help restore order in Denver.

However, two hours after the curfew started, protesters were congregating at intersections around the city, defying the curfew and police crackdown.

Hancock then said on Channel 4 News: “We have seen enough.”

The Denver mayor also told the media that axes, knives and explosives were confiscated and that an extreme minority of protesters were involved in destructive activities.

Policemen fired tear gas, pepper balls and flashbangs at protesters in a bid to clear them off the Capitol area in the afternoon. Only three arrests had been reported by 9 p.m.(0300 GMT Sunday), but later the police responded more aggressively to make many more arrests.

Some political pundits said they believe that the widespread protest had more to do with Americans’ frustration over the Trump administration’s politically divisive tactics than the actual murder of Floyd by a white police officer.

“This has nothing to do with Floyd’s death,” Hancock told the media Saturday night.

Many said the policies of the Trump administration’s strategy to divide the United States were on display throughout the country this weekend.

They accused Trump of repeatedly and openly condoning or supporting hate groups during his presidency, which was unprecedented for a U.S. president. For example, in 2017, Trump said there were “very fine people on both sides” of clashes at a white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia.

(XINHUA)

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Spotlight: Washington faces blast at home, abroad for “terminating” ties with WHO

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The U.S. government has been slammed at home and abroad after announcing on Friday “terminating” its relationship with the World Health Organization (WHO).

U.S. health experts and lawmakers have expressed concern over the decision announced by President Donald Trump amid the COVID-19 outbreak.

Patrice Harris, president of the American Medical Association, described Trump’s move as a “senseless” action with “significant, harmful repercussions.”

COVID-19 affects us all and does not respect borders; defeating it requires the entire world working together,” Harris was quoted by CNN as saying, urging Trump to reverse the course.

Lawrence Gostin, a professor of global health law and director of the O’Neill Institute for National and Global Health Law at Georgetown University, described the move as “foolish and arrogant” in his Twitter account.

“Trump’s action is an enormous disruption and distraction during an unprecedented health crisis,” said Gostin, also the director of the WHO collaborating center on national and global health law. “The President has made us less safe.”

Democratic Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia said that “the United States cannot eliminate this virus on its own and to withdraw from the World Health Organization — the world‘s leading public health body — is nothing short of reckless,” according to a CNN report.

Even within the Republican party, some Republicans also expressed their disagreement. Senate Health Committee Chairman Lamar Alexander reportedly said he disagreed with Trump’s decision, because, without U.S. funding, clinical trials to develop a COVID-19 vaccine might be hampered.

In addition, the European Union (EU) has urged the United States to reconsider its termination of ties with the WHO, warning that Trump’s move would erode global efforts to curb the spread of the virus.

The WHO needs to continue being able to lead the international response to pandemics, current and future. For this, the participation and support of all is required and very much needed. In the face of this global threat, now is the time for enhanced cooperation and common solutions. Actions that weaken international results must be avoided,” Ursula von der Leyen, president of the European Commission, and Josep Borrell, the EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, said in the statement on Saturday.

“In this context, we urge the U.S. to reconsider its announced decision,” the statement said.

German Health Minister Jens Spahn tweeted that Trump’s move was “a disappointing backlash for International Health.”

The EU must take a leading role and engage more financially,” Spahn said, noting that this would be one of Germany’s priorities when it becomes the bloc’s rotating presidency on July 1.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson‘s spokesperson said earlier that Britian “has no plans to stop funding the WHO, which has an important role to play in leading the global health response.”

“Coronavirus is a global challenge and it is essential that countries work together to tackle this shared threat,” the spokesperson was quoted by The Guardian as saying.

Irish Minister for Health Simon Harris on Friday described Trump’s move as an “awful decision.”

“A global pandemic requires the world working together … We should unite in our fight against it (COVID-19) & not fight each other,” Harris tweeted.

Russian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova told TASS news agency that Washington “dealt a blow” to the international framework for cooperation in healthcare at the moment when the world needed to join forces.

(XINHUA)

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Spotlight: NASA, SpaceX launch first crewed mission from U.S. soil since 2011

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Two NASA astronauts took off from U.S. soil on Saturday, riding aboard SpaceX‘s Crew Dragon spacecraft in a historic test flight to the International Space Station (ISS).

The mission, dubbed Demo-2, is the first crewed launch to orbit from U.S. soil since NASA‘s shuttle program ended in 2011, and also the first-ever manned space launch by a private company, ushering in a new era of U.S. space exploration.

The Crew Dragon spacecraft lifted off on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket at 3:22 p.m. Eastern Time, from historic Launch Complex 39A at the Kennedy Space Center. Veteran NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley are co-commanders on the mission.

Launch Complex 39A has served as backdrops for America’s most significant manned space flight endeavors, including Apollo 8, Apollo 11 and Space Shuttle Columbia.

U.S. President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence watched the launch at the center.

“It’s incredible, the technology, the power. I’m so proud of the people at NASA, all the people that worked together, public and private. When you see a sight like that it’s incredible,” Trump said after the launch at the space center.

Pence said none of this would have been possible without the personal courage and the unflinching skill of the two American astronauts.

NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine tweeted, “For the first time in 9 years, we have now launched American astronauts on American rockets from American soil. I’m so proud of the NASA and SpaceX team for making this moment possible.”

NASA confirmed main engine cutoff and separation of the rocket’s first and second stages minutes after the lift-off.

Falcon 9‘s reusable first stage booster has successfully landed on the “Of Course I Still Love You” drone ship off the Florida coast.

The Crew Dragon reached Earth orbit about 12 minutes after takeoff, and is making its way to the ISS, according to NASA.

The spacecraft is scheduled to dock to the space station on Sunday at 10:27 a.m. Eastern Time. The spacecraft is designed to do this autonomously, but the two astronauts and the station will be monitoring approach and docking, and can take control of the spacecraft if necessary.

After successfully docking, Behnken and Hurley will be welcomed aboard station and will become members of the Expedition 63 crew. They will perform tests on Crew Dragon in addition to conducting research and other tasks with the space station crew.

The mission will conclude with the Crew Dragon undocking from the station, deorbiting, and returning Behnken and Hurley to Earth with a safe splashdown in the Atlantic Ocean, according to NASA.

The mission duration has not been announced yet. NASA said it will be determined once on station based on the readiness of the next commercial crew launch.

Behnken and Hurley were among the first astronauts to begin working and training on SpaceX‘s next-generation human space vehicle, and were selected for their extensive test pilot and flight experience, including several missions on the space shuttle, according to NASA.

Behnken will be the joint operations commander for the mission, responsible for activities such as rendezvous, docking and undocking, as well as Demo-2 activities while the spacecraft is docked to the ISS.

Hurley will be the spacecraft commander for the mission, responsible for activities such as launch, landing and recovery.

It is the first-ever crewed mission for SpaceX since its founding 18 years ago, and the first time ever that a privately developed spacecraft launched humans into Earth’s orbit.

Since the final flight of NASA‘s space shuttle program in July 2011, the space agency has relied on Russian Soyuz rockets and spacecraft to get its astronauts to and from the ISS. Since then, NASA, SpaceX and Boeing have been working for years to end that dependence.

In 2014, the two companies signed multibillion-dollar contracts with NASA‘s Commercial Crew Program to finish development of their astronaut taxis and fly six operational crewed missions to and from the orbiting lab.

The Crew Dragon has reached the ISS once before, on the uncrewed Demo-1 mission in March 2019. Demo-2 is the first orbital human mission to launch from the United States.

This is SpaceX‘s final test flight for NASA‘s Commercial Crew Program and will provide critical data on the performance of the Falcon 9 rocket, Crew Dragon spacecraft, and ground systems, as well as in-orbit, docking and landing operations.

The test flight also will provide valuable data toward certification of SpaceX‘s crew transportation system for regular flights carrying astronauts to and from the space station.

SpaceX currently is readying the hardware for the first space station crew rotational mission, which would happen after data from this test flight is reviewed for certification, according to NASA.

(XINHUA)

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Spotlight: From waste into eco-friendly products, Gazan youths think big

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A group of seven Palestinian young women have launched a local initiative to recycle the residential waste into eco-friendly products as a step to reduce the environmental pollution.

Glass, plastic, cardboard, metal bottles and clothing are among the most common domestic waste in the Gaza Strip which suffers from the acute garbage issue.

According to a 2018 report of the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics, the average household waste in the Gaza Strip stands at 2,150 tons every day.

Burning garbage is a standard tool used by the residents in the impoverished coastal enclave to get rid of the accumulated trash in dozens of places across Gaza.

However, burning does more harm than good.

“It is no longer a secret that burning can cause long-term health problems,” said Etaf Hamad, an organizer of the initiative, adding that “living in an unhealthy environment is increasing the risk of viral infections including the coronavirus.”

Since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic in January and its quick spread across the globe, the World Health Organization has urged people to live in a healthy environment and maintain their hygiene to prevent the spread of the virus.

That, however, has proven to be difficult in Gaza, said Hamad, stressing that Gazans are suffering from the lack of medical staff, equipment and treatment, which prompted her and a group of other volunteers to come up with the recycling initiative that aimed at protecting the environment.

Moreover, they are also trying to involve their children in the initiative.

Encouraging mothers like themselves, the organizers had shared their videos on Facebook, calling on others to join in.

The videos went viral, with many other women deciding to participate, said Hamad.

“Women are the ones who are raising children and can thus bring about the much needed change,” Hamad explained.

Dania Abdul-Rahman from Nuseirat Refugee Camp in the central Gaza Strip was busy with her kids making soft puppets by using clothing and manufacturing flowerpots from plastic bottles.

The 42-year-old mother of five told Xinhua that she was worried about the spread of the virus in the most populated area, especially in light of medical equipment’s shortage.

“The initiative has helped me to overcome my fears and take matters into my own hands, contributing to the creation of a healthy environment,” explained Abdul-Rahman, who also taught her kids on the basics of the recycling.

In addition to that, Abdul-Rahman uses her newly acquired talent to make some money by making small puppets used as accessories for wedding halls and birthday parties.

Earning about 150 U.S. dollars a month, she said that it is enough to support her family amid the current uncertainty.

Another volunteer, Lamees Ahmed, who is only 11 years old, showed her friends a small bag that she has just made by herself from her old blouse.

“My mother taught me how to use my old clothes to turn them into something completely different,” the young girl told Xinhua, adding that she will encourage her friends to adopt the recycling mechanism.

“Such initiatives will help the community to reduce their waste that could harm the environment,” Chairman of National Institute for Environment and Development Ahmed Hilles told Xinhua, adding that 80 percent of Gaza’s waste is made of organic constituents.

He noted that his institute had implemented dozens of initiatives to help the local families reduce their domestic waste and recycle most of the organic garbage.

The Palestinian government, as well as the area’s various environmental institutes have to support all youth initiatives that help the people to protect themselves from the disease,” Hilles added.

(XINHUA)

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Spotlight: Turkey’s automotive sector faces challenges amid dropping demand

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Turkey’s key automotive sector is trying to compensate losses due to the COVID-19 outbreak by fully restarting manufacturing after a long break, but the drop in domestic and international demand will be challenging, industry officials said.

Factory production in Bursa province, northwestern Turkey, where the bulk of the automotive industry is located, was not completely halted during lockdown as there was still demand from the Far East and South America.

Major plants started production in mid-May with some COVID-19 restrictions eased, hoping to reach pre-pandemic levels.

Tugrul Arikan, general manager of Turkish bus manufacturer Anadolu Isuzu, recently said their factories were running at 60-percent capacity, which could increase if foreign demand rises.

He added that the company had started production with only 50 percent of the workforce initially, and enhanced safety measures to protect workers from contracting the coronavirus.

The sector struggled with a major drop in exports as Europe came to a near standstill because of the pandemic. Around 75 percent of vehicles manufactured in the country are exported to the region.

Automotive Manufacturers’ Association (OSD) data showed that Turkey’s total automotive exports declined by 33 percent annually in January-April.

“Domestic demand in Turkey was not enough to offset the collapse in demand from Europe for the automakers,” Alper Kanca, head of the Automotive Supplier Industry (TAYSAD), said.

The official said they expected a revival of the sector in 2021, after a contraction this year.

Turkey’s automotive industry has developed from assembly-based production to an industry with research and development, and design capabilities, and high added values.

The sector has been of key value to local production input over the years, with the partnerships established between foreign companies, such as Ford, Fiat, Renault, Toyota and Hyundai, and Turkish entrepreneurs.

Turkey is now the largest light commercial vehicle manufacturer in Europe and ranks 14th in the world in terms of automotive production output.

The automotive industry is one of the main locomotives of the manufacturing sector in Turkey. It is also one of the main sources of employment in the country, providing more than 400,000 jobs.

It is also one of the largest sources of exports, accounting for 16 percent of total exports.

A source close to the government told Xinhua that the sector would be unlikely to reach the levels of 2018 or 2019 in short term, but it is expected to rebound at the end of the year in line with the economic recovery.

“We will continue to export, but it also depends on the foreign demand,” he stressed, indicating that 85 percent of vehicle production in Turkey sent to foreign markets in 2018.

More than 1.3 million vehicles were exported from Turkey to foreign markets in the same year. In addition, Turkey was the number one vehicle exporter to European markets with 1.1 million units in 2018, statistics show.

In a car dealer shop in capital Ankara, a sales representative told Xinhua that sales have plummeted during the outbreak because of the lockdown and the fact that customers didn’t know what to expect in the aftermath.

The Turkish customers definitively love cars and we expect a revival ahead in the stagnated domestic market,” Merdan Yasa said, adding that the government should also look into some tax advantages for consumers considering the declining national currency.

Last week, Turkey has increased the tax on the buying of foreign currency to curb fallout of the lira from the coronavirus pandemic.

The decision has increased car prices by up to one percent, according to experts.

(XINHUA)

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