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Militants Attacked a Key Town in Mozambique. Where Was the Government?

It’s late March in a coastal town in Mozambique, and a group of militants is on the attack. Thousands of civilians flee as their town is left burning behind them. This isn’t the first time scenes like this have played out here, but it’s the first time we’ve seen them captured in such detail. A crisis has been unfolding as local insurgents who’ve pledged allegiance to the Islamic State, execute the largest land grab by an ISIS-linked group in years. And this has created one of the world’s most severe humanitarian crises. Hundreds of thousands of people have been displaced. And now, over the course of about a week, the insurgents are attacking Palma, a strategic port town with massive global investment. In one scene, hundreds shelter in a hotel while a battle rages outside. The question they’re asking … … is the Mozambique government going to save them? It isn’t. The government exaggerated its response in the days after the attack. But we found that government forces weren’t able to defend Palma, leaving its citizens to mostly fend for themselves against the insurgents. Evacuations that did happen had to be hastily organized by private companies. For years, the government has heavily censored media coverage of the conflict, obscuring much of what’s happening. But we can still discover clues about the situation by examining what is aired by local media … … like state-run broadcaster, TVM, and by Sky News, which went to Palma after the attack. Combining this footage with visual evidence from survivors, satellite analysis and ship-tracking data allows us to build a fuller picture of an attack which many felt was not a question of if it would happen, but when. The insurgency is known locally as Al-Shabaab, and it first emerged in the province of Cabo Delgado in 2017. Al-Shabaab’s recruitment is mostly local, and draws on grievances over extreme poverty and corruption. The group has pledged allegiance to the Islamic State … … but how close these ties really are is hotly debated. The government, however, tries to maintain the illusion of safety and calm for international investors. But insurgent activity and control have escalated over time, overwhelming Mozambique’s severely under-resourced government forces. Now in March 2021, those forces are tested again. The insurgents’ target, the town of Palma, lies here. Just South of Palma is the site of Africa’s largest foreign direct investment, a liquefied natural gas project where the primary investor is French oil and gas company Total. The project is hailed as a massive new revenue source that could transform the country, but it’s also controversial, in part, because its construction displaced many local villages. In the months before the attack, insurgents were getting closer to Palma, prompting Total to strike a deal with the Mozambican government for better security at the multibillion dollar gas site. We analyzed satellite imagery which shows at least nine recently constructed military outposts at key positions around the site. It’s clear that the natural gas project, and not the town, is the most secure place when insurgents move in. Now we come to March 24, the day Al-Shabaab advances on Palma. They quickly take control of parts of the coast and all key roads leading into the town — to the southwest, cutting off a key crossroads for military reinforcements. West on this road, and to the north on this road alongside the town’s airstrip. Video obtained and verified by The Times shows a plane trying to land there coming under fire. In it we get a rare glimpse of the insurgents. Multiple eyewitnesses told us that the government forces inside Palma retreated quickly after some pockets tried and failed to fight off the insurgents. We were also told that around 750 soldiers stationed at the gas site stay inside the facility instead of rushing to the city as backup. There’s little footage of the insurgents from during the attack. But Islamic State media did release this footage claiming to show the fighters preparing, along with claims that they targeted a good deal of the town’s infrastructure. The Times confirmed damage to two banks, government offices, the town’s business park, and military and police buildings. The roads are cut off, and the only ways help can now arrive are by sea and air. Three government helicopters are moved from at least 85 miles away to the airstrip of the natural gas site. But multiple eyewitnesses told us that the helicopters only attempt to fly into Palma once and quickly retreat under fire. Other helicopters do come to the rescue, but they’re not government helicopters. They belong to the Dyck Advisory Group, or DAG, a South African military contractor hired by Mozambique to help fight the insurgency. Their presence is controversial. Recently, Amnesty International accused them of war crimes, claims which they deny. DAG is one of the only actors capable of conducting rescues. Its executives told The Times that they intervened on their own without any clear instruction from the government. DAG heads here to the Amarula Hotel. Its guests are mostly foreign. Now they’re joined by over 100 others from around Palma trying to flee. “We’re going to Amarula, bro.” But who should be rescued first and why? With no government oversight, there’s no plan. It falls to people like the hotel’s manager to come up with one. He’s speaking publicly here for the first time. DAG ultimately makes four rescue flights, but their helicopters can’t hold much. And just a little over 20 people make it out. Those left wonder if the military will send in the larger helicopters we showed you before, one of which can carry upwards of 30 people. With no help coming, they developed their own evacuation plan using vehicles from the hotel’s parking lot to drive outside the town. Some take this route to a quarry, where they believe they’ll be rescued. As people are loading into the cars, the hotel’s owner arranges a last-ditch helicopter rescue. It carries members of her staff and her two dogs. She denies the dogs took up space that could have been used by people. The flight is made by a private company that the hotel often chartered for tourist excursions. As for the DAG helicopters, because they have weapons, they provide air cover for this final helicopter rescue. As the ground convoy prepares to make the risky escape over land, there’s still confusion over whether they will receive air support too. But the aerial resources are stretched too thin, and the cars won’t all make it. Photographs showed that several of the vehicles were ambushed and forced off the road. Only a few safely reached this quarry and spend the night hiding. DAG rescues them the next day and dozens more civilians from elsewhere. The government help never comes. With limited air evacuations, thousands of people throughout the area are forced to flee on their own. The man who shot this video told us what happened. Tens of thousands go on foot or by bus across the province toward other cities and towns. Many more people line up at the natural gas site run by Total, where at least some government security is present. Sources tell us that civilians were often denied entrance. As the crowd at the site grows, Total decides to organize a rescue, mostly for its own staff. It charters this ferry, seen here docked at the natural gas site. The Total employees appear to be protected by this ship, known as an Ocean Eagle 43, a patrol and surveillance vessel run by the Mozambican government. It’s one of the few signs of government intervention during the attack on Palma. Ship-tracking data shows they flee south alongside this convoy of mostly private boats. The ferry arrives in the provincial capital of Pemba with over 1,300 passengers, most of them employees. And it makes a second rescue out of Palma a few days later, this time with more locals on board. After the weeklong attack, repercussions were immediately felt — because of the violence, Total has suspended its natural gas operations indefinitely, raising serious concerns about Mozambique’s economic future and the people it left behind. Dozens of Total’s contractors and subcontractors still remain in Palma. Some told The Times that the company hasn’t checked on their safety. Total didn’t respond to our request for comment. Based on our tally of evacuations, only a small number of Palma’s population were rescued during the attack. Roughly 95 percent of the population was left behind. Mozambique’s defense ministry didn’t respond to our questions about their operations in Palma. But after the attack, the country’s president downplayed the severity of violence in the city. His forces have since re-entered the town, assuring people that it’s safe to return. It’s not. A month after the attack, this thermal image reveals large fires burning in Palma, and satellite imagery confirms at least 50 buildings, some of which are seen here, have burn damage. There are near-daily reports of gunfire here. Civilians hoping to escape this threat are forced to rely on a volunteer group working with private companies to organize flights and barges. The cycle of violence plaguing Mozambique for three years continues. Even now, residents must flee on their own, unable to trust in their government to save them.

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Cable-Car Tragedy Shakes a Town Already Wounded by the Pandemic

STRESA, Italy — The sun shone brightly Sunday on Lago Maggiore, a spectacular alpine lake that traverses the Italian-Swiss border. Fabrizio Bertoletti, the owner of a small hotel with a restaurant perched atop Mottarone mountain, was feeling upbeat.

After months of off-and-on coronavirus restrictions, restaurants and hotels here were finally starting to open. Indoor dining is still banned but, he said, “it was a beautiful day and people weren’t going to complain even if they had to eat outside.”

On a terrace with breathtaking views of the lake and the mountains that cradle it, Mr. Bertoletti’s restaurant can seat about 70, and it was completely booked. The hotel and restaurant, aptly named “Eden,” sit just a few feet from the upper station of a cable car that links the summit to the lakeside town of Stresa, a popular vacation destination almost 5,000 feet below.

“We were feeling relieved, there was a sense of re-beginning. And then … ” Mr. Bertoletti’s voice trailed off.

a cable car carrying 15 passengers plunged to the ground. All but one died. The sole survivor, 5-year-old Eitan Biran, lost both of his parents, his 2-year-old brother and two great-grandparents.

“All the seasons of life were in that cabin,” said the Reverend Gian Luca Villa, Stresa’s parish priest.

It is an incomprehensible loss for the victims’ families, but people here cannot help noting that it is also another in a series of blows, stretching back more than a year, for a tourism-dependent area that has suffered greatly from the pandemic.

Borromeo family, and an annual music festival in the fall.

The lake, more than 30 miles long, lies on the boundary between the regions of Piedmont and Lombardy, making it a favorite getaway for people from Milan and Turin, and it also draws many foreigners. The tourist season normally begins at Easter and lasts well into autumn, luring visitors with mild temperatures and colors of leaf-turning brilliance.

But last year, in March and April, Lombardy became the first part of Europe to be hit in full force by the new virus, which killed tens of thousands of people here.

The pandemic put a halt to most vacation plans, and several hotels around the lake never opened their doors. Proximity to Switzerland, which had less stringent coronavirus rules, penalized towns on the Italian side, said Gian Maria Vincenzi, the president of the local hoteliers’ association.

The cable car accident “is a tragedy within the tragedy of Covid, which nearly wiped out work,” he said.

Antonio Zacchera, whose family owns four hotels on Lago Maggiore, said that last year, two remained shuttered.

“About a quarter of our clients are Americans, and the fact that we were dependent on foreigners used to be an advantage,” he said. But with pandemic-induced travel restrictions, “it was a disadvantage this round.”

Like other hoteliers in the area, Mr. Zacchera made rooms available to the families of the cable-car victims. “Our first thoughts are with them,” he said.

The cable car was popular with tourists, but also with locals, who would ride to the top to get to the ski schools in winter, or just for the view. “You never thought anything bad could happen, until it does, and it’s a disaster,” said Alberto De Martini, the owner of the Enoteca Da Giannino in Stresa’s central square, as he sanitized his restaurant’s tables and chairs.

On Monday, the city commemorated the dead, ringing bells and shuttering stores for 14 minutes, one for each victim. Massimo Colla, the owner of the wine bar and bistro Al Buscion, said he kept it closed for the entire day. “When tragedy happens close to home, you feel it intensely,” he said. “It’s going to take time for the city to get over this.”

Father Villa, the priest, said that he had gathered the faithful in prayer soon after the crash and held other services on Monday. With the city, he has planned a commemorative mass on Wednesday, for the emergency workers and others who combed the mountainside searching, mostly in vain, for survivors among the dead. He said that 14 candles would be lit during the service and the victims would be named and remembered, one by one.

Marcella Severino, Stresa’s mayor of just eight months, said she was looking for a permanent way to commemorate the victims. “May 23 will be our September 11,” she said in an emotional interview in her office.

“Though citizens were in shock,” she said that locals had stepped up as best they could. Civil protection volunteers immediately arrived on the scene, along with the emergency workers. Hotel owners took in victims’ families, taxi drivers transported people without charge and local health authorities had provided psychologists.

“People come to Stresa because they feel safe,” Ms. Severino said — the town is small and tight-knit, with little crime. “Obviously, for the families of the victims, Stresa will become a nefarious name,” she said. “But I hope that they will remember how the city tried to be close to them.”

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Italian Cable Car Tragedy Shakes a Town Already Wounded by the Pandemic

STRESA, Italy — The sun shone brightly Sunday on Lago Maggiore, a spectacular alpine lake that traverses the Italian-Swiss border. Fabrizio Bertoletti, the owner of a small hotel with a restaurant perched atop Mottarone mountain, was feeling upbeat.

After months of off-and-on coronavirus restrictions, restaurants and hotels here were finally starting to open. Indoor dining is still banned but, he said, “it was a beautiful day and people weren’t going to complain even if they had to eat outside.”

On a terrace with breathtaking views of the lake and the mountains that cradle it, Mr. Bertoletti’s restaurant can seat about 70, and it was completely booked. The hotel and restaurant, aptly named “Eden,” sit just a few feet from the upper station of a cable car that links the summit to the lakeside town of Stresa, a popular vacation destination almost 5,000 feet below.

“We were feeling relieved, there was a sense of re-beginning. And then … ” Mr. Bertoletti’s voice trailed off.

a cable car carrying 15 passengers plunged to the ground. All but one died. The sole survivor, 5-year-old Eitan Biran, lost both of his parents, his 2-year-old brother and two great-grandparents.

“All the seasons of life were in that cabin,” said the Reverend Gian Luca Villa, Stresa’s parish priest.

It is an incomprehensible loss for the victims’ families, but people here cannot help noting that it is also another in a series of blows, stretching back more than a year, for a tourism-dependent area that has suffered greatly from the pandemic.

Borromeo family, and an annual music festival in the fall.

The lake, more than 30 miles long, lies on the boundary between the regions of Piedmont and Lombardy, making it a favorite getaway for people from Milan and Turin, and it also draws many foreigners. The tourist season normally begins at Easter and lasts well into autumn, luring visitors with mild temperatures and colors of leaf-turning brilliance.

But last year, in March and April, Lombardy became the first part of Europe to be hit in full force by the new virus, which killed tens of thousands of people here.

The pandemic put a halt to most vacation plans, and several hotels around the lake never opened their doors. Proximity to Switzerland, which had less stringent coronavirus rules, penalized towns on the Italian side, said Gian Maria Vincenzi, the president of the local hoteliers’ association.

The cable car accident “is a tragedy within the tragedy of Covid, which nearly wiped out work,” he said.

Antonio Zacchera, whose family owns four hotels on Lago Maggiore, said that last year, two remained shuttered.

“About a quarter of our clients are Americans, and the fact that we were dependent on foreigners used to be an advantage,” he said. But with pandemic-induced travel restrictions, “it was a disadvantage this round.”

Like other hoteliers in the area, Mr. Zacchera made rooms available to the families of the cable-car victims. “Our first thoughts are with them,” he said.

The cable car was popular with tourists, but also with locals, who would ride to the top to get to the ski schools in winter, or just for the view. “You never thought anything bad could happen, until it does, and it’s a disaster,” said Alberto De Martini, the owner of the Enoteca Da Giannino in Stresa’s central square, as he sanitized his restaurant’s tables and chairs.

On Monday, the city commemorated the dead, ringing bells and shuttering stores for 14 minutes, one for each victim. Massimo Colla, the owner of the wine bar and bistro Al Buscion, said he kept it closed for the entire day. “When tragedy happens close to home, you feel it intensely,” he said. “It’s going to take time for the city to get over this.”

Father Villa, the priest, said that he had gathered the faithful in prayer soon after the crash and held other services on Monday. With the city, he has planned a commemorative mass on Wednesday, for the emergency workers and others who combed the mountainside searching, mostly in vain, for survivors among the dead. He said that 14 candles would be lit during the service and the victims would be named and remembered, one by one.

Marcella Severino, Stresa’s mayor of just eight months, said she was looking for a permanent way to commemorate the victims. “May 23 will be our September 11,” she said in an emotional interview in her office.

“Though citizens were in shock,” she said that locals had stepped up as best they could. Civil protection volunteers immediately arrived on the scene, along with the emergency workers. Hotel owners took in victims’ families, taxi drivers transported people without charge and local health authorities had provided psychologists.

“People come to Stresa because they feel safe,” Ms. Severino said — the town is small and tight-knit, with little crime. “Obviously, for the families of the victims, Stresa will become a nefarious name,” she said. “But I hope that they will remember how the city tried to be close to them.”

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A New C.D.C. Story

This morning, I am going to tell you another story about the C.D.C. and its approach to Covid-19 behavioral guidelines. It’s a story that highlights the costs of extreme caution.

When Dr. Rochelle Walensky, the C.D.C. director, appeared before a Senate committee this month and defended the agency’s description of how often Covid-19 is transmitted outdoors, she cited a single academic study.

She was responding to a question from Senator Susan Collins of Maine, who had asked why some C.D.C. guidelines seemed inconsistent with the available data. Collins quoted from that day’s edition of this newsletter and argued that the C.D.C. was exaggerating the risk of outdoor activities by claiming that “less than 10 percent” of Covid transmission occurred outside.

Anything close to 10 percent would mean that outdoor infections were a huge problem. Yet the true share appears to be closer to 0.1 percent.

a study published in The Journal of Infectious Diseases. The study was “a meta-analysis,” she explained, which means it synthesized data from other studies. “The topline result of all studies that were included in the systematic review said less than 10 percent of cases were transmitted outdoors,” she said.

Her answer made the study sound definitive. Walensky did not mention any other studies or offer any logical argument for why she believed outdoor transmission was a significant risk. She implied that the C.D.C. was simply listening to The Journal of Infectious Diseases, which, as she noted, is a top journal.

Later that day, one of the study’s authors posted several messages on Twitter, and the story got more complicated.

The tweets came from Dr. Nooshin Razani, an epidemiologist at the University of California, San Francisco. In them, she emphasized that the study’s results suggested that the share of Covid occurring outdoors was “much lower than 10 percent.” The central message of the paper, Razani wrote, was the relative safety of the outdoors:

in her testimony, had used the two terms interchangeably.)

Singapore construction workers who probably transmitted it in enclosed spaces.)

The actual share occurring outdoors is “probably substantially less than 1 percent,” Razani told me. “The outdoors is an amazing resource,” she added. “What we really should be focused on is how to transition more activities to be outdoors.”

Yet the C.D.C.’s guidance continues to treat outdoor activities as a major risk — as if the truth were closer to 10 percent than 0.1 percent.

The agency advises unvaccinated people to wear masks outdoors much of the time, and many communities still impose strict guidelines on outdoor activities. The C.D.C. has also directed virtually everyone attending summer camp this year — counselor or camper, vaccinated or not — to wear a mask at almost all times. The camp guidelines use the word “universal.”

It’s true that for many people, masks are a minor nuisance. For others, though, masks bring real costs. Some children find it harder to breathe while wearing one during, say, a game of soccer or tag. Many adults and children find it more difficult to communicate. That’s especially true for people without perfect hearing and for young children, both of whom rely heavily on facial movements to understand others.

has written, is often “like talking on your phone in a zone with weak cell service.”

For unvaccinated adults indoors or in close conversation outdoors, the costs of a mask are vastly lower than the risks from Covid. But the trade-offs are different in most outdoor settings, and they are different for children. The Covid risks for children are similar to those from a normal flu (as these charts show).

There does not appear to be much scientific reason that campers and counselors, or most other people, should wear a mask outdoors all summer. Telling them to do so is an example of extreme caution — like staying out of the ocean to avoid sharks — that seems to have a greater cost than benefit.

The C.D.C., as I’ve written before, is an agency full of dedicated people trying their best to keep Americans healthy. Walensky, a widely admired infectious-diseases expert, is one of them. Yet more than once during this pandemic, C.D.C. officials have acted as if extreme caution has no downsides.

Everything has downsides. And it is the job of scientific experts and public-health officials to help the rest of us think clearly about the benefits and costs of our choices.

They’re on the menu.

Like a boss: Meet Beyoncé’s go-to stylist.

Not who she says: A scholar faked her Cherokee ancestry. Her career has thrived.

A Times classic: See how climate change is weakening the Gulf Stream.

Lives Lived: As a performer, writer and director, Robbie McCauley often put race at the center of her works. “Our nation is starving for the kinds of courageous conversation that Robbie and her work engendered,” a fellow artist said. McCauley died at 78.

baked feta pasta and dalgona coffee — as well as a new generation of cooking stars who are largely self-taught, preparing meals in their home kitchens.

Within 24 hours of posting his first TikTok in 2019, Eitan Bernath, now 19, had tens of thousands of followers. His upbeat and approachable food videos have since earned him over a million more, and he has three full-time employees, as well as a gig as a resident culinary expert on “The Drew Barrymore Show.”

Other up-and-coming food creators are making six figures through the app and sponsorships, often using TikTok fame to launch cookware lines, cookbooks and more.

Read Taylor Lorenz’s full story. — Sanam Yar, a Morning writer

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6 Things You Should Know About Traveling to Europe This Summer

By now, most of the large American-run chains have reverted to their pre-Covid cancellation policies for reservations made before a certain date (that has come and gone), and for travel through a certain date (that has come and gone). But some companies are still being flexible: Hilton has always had generous cancellation policies, and Four Seasons has been consistently easy about changes and cancellations during the pandemic.

Travel-industry insiders also have noticed flexibility among independent hoteliers.

“We’ve felt that small, family-run luxury properties are actually more nimble than some of the big hotel chains,” said Louisa Gehring, the owner of Gehring Travel, an affiliate of Brownell, a Virtuoso luxury travel agency. “Rather than lay off all their employees or point to an overarching corporate cancellation policy, they’ve had flexibility to keep the teams on, work with clients on a case-by-case basis and really step up to the plate.”

Policies vary by property, she added, but even some of the more rigid ones now include exceptions for Covid.

One thing to watch for is the credits-versus-refunds flash point: Even in cases when a hotel won’t swallow a deposit or prepayment outright, will you get a cash refund or will you be asked to rebook? Last year, Greece and Italy both passed laws allowing hotels and other travel companies to issue credits, rather than cash refunds, for canceled bookings. Although vaccines, the eagerness to travel and pandemic fatigue may make the idea of a credit less odious than it seemed last spring, always ask about policy specifics, including blackout and expiration dates.

The Palace of Versailles is open and President Emmanuel Macron is sipping espresso outside Parisian cafes, but nightclubs will remain closed even after France’s countrywide curfew ends in June. At restaurants and bars in Madrid, groups are capped at four people inside and six people outside. Germany and the Netherlands remain closed to American tourists.

“Clearly, we will not come back to ‘normal’ straight away, and travelers will have to be conscious of health measures and respect rules at the destination,” said Eduardo Santander, the executive director of the European Travel Commission, a Brussels-based nonprofit that represents the national tourism boards across the continent. “We all — destinations, businesses and guests — cannot let the guard down too soon both for our own health and for the safety of people around.”

In short, any trip to Europe this summer will come down to managing expectations.

“Save the ‘must check all the boxes’ trip to Europe for a bit later, once all new protocol kinks have smoothed out,” Ms. Gehring said. But you may still have an unforgettable experience regardless.

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Mount Sinai Seeks to Expand School Virus Testing Program

Every week, students at KIPP Infinity Middle School, in West Harlem, file into a large auditorium and take their places on the designated floor markings, making sure to stand six feet apart. Then they pull down their masks and fill sterile tubes with their spit.

The school’s teachers try to make the experience fun, running competitions to see who can fill their tube fastest and holding dance contests while students wait for their classmates to finish.

“It’s kind of enjoyable,” said Bradley Ramirez, a seventh grader at the school who likes math and Minecraft. “It’s way better than just sticking a stick up your nose.”

Bradley and his classmates are participants in a coronavirus testing pilot program created by the Mount Sinai Health System, the nonprofit Pershing Square Foundation and KIPP NYC, a network of 15 local charter schools. Since early March, the program has conducted more than 13,000 saliva-based tests of KIPP students, teachers and staff members, identifying several dozen cases of the virus.

planned to fully reopen schools, eliminating remote learning, in the fall.

“The way you keep a school safe, the way you make teachers feel comfortable with the reopening of schools, the way you make parents feel comfortable sending their kid, is you have a testing program,” said William A. Ackman, a hedge fund manager who founded the Pershing Square Foundation.

The testing program originated in December, when Mr. Ackman decided that he wanted to find a way to get New York City children back to school and approached Mount Sinai with a proposal: What if he provided funding for the hospital to build a laboratory that could process 100,000 coronavirus tests a day? The hope was that the lab could devote some of that capacity to corporate clients, such as businesses that wanted to test their employees, and use the revenue to fund wide-scale testing for New York City schoolchildren.

Mount Sinai quickly agreed. “We began on a concerted effort that people at Mount Sinai have really rallied around,” said Dr. David Reich, president and chief operating officer of Mount Sinai Hospital. “It’s just one of those projects where you never have to worry about people wanting to show up for your Zoom meeting — they’re all there, and they’re all smiling.”

saliva-based coronavirus tests. The gold standard diagnostic tests are known as P.C.R. tests, which can detect even minute amounts of the virus in biological specimens. During the early months of the pandemic, these tests generally required medical professionals to stick a swab deep into a patient’s nasopharynx, a procedure that can be deeply uncomfortable and put clinicians at risk.

Saliva-based P.C.R. tests, many scientists came to believe, would be safer and less invasive. They would also be much more suitable for young children than the deep, nasopharyngeal swabs. “A brain scoop, for a kid? Really? That’s a no-no,” said Dr. Alberto Paniz-Mondolfi, a pathologist at Mount Sinai who led development of the new saliva test.

As the partnership between Mount Sinai and Pershing Square began to take shape, Dr. Paniz-Mondolfi and his colleagues accelerated their work, validating their saliva test in 60 adult patients. But they knew that in the real world, children could not always be relied upon to follow clinical procedures to the letter.

“When we start getting this from the schools, we’re going to have pieces of pretzels, old gum floating in the saliva,” Dr. Paniz-Mondolfi said.

So Dr. Paniz-Mondolfi and his colleagues asked their own children to make a sacrifice for science: to snack on an array of junk food, including pizza and Oreos, and then spit into some testing tubes. Using these samples, the researchers confirmed that even if a student’s sample was contaminated with one of these foods, the tests should still work properly.

“This was practical science, designed by parents to get their kids back to school,” Dr. Paniz-Mondolfi said.

Then it was time to pilot the tests in a real school environment. In January, Mount Sinai connected with KIPP NYC, which had been offering remote instruction since last spring. But it was hoping to reopen its schools in March, and administrators knew they would need to do some kind of in-school virus testing.

“One of the biggest fears that we had was around what it would mean to keep students safe,” said Glenn Davis, the principal of KIPP Infinity Middle School.

Mount Sinai and KIPP NYC agreed to begin a pilot saliva-testing project at five schools. The testing program, which eventually grew to include nine KIPP schools, was free for the schools and mandatory for all students who opted to return to in-person learning. (Some families chose to continue with remote education.)

Students, teachers and staff members are tested once a week. Medical assistants from Mount Sinai supervise the saliva collection and pack the bar-coded tubes into coolers for transportation back to the laboratory. (The samples are currently being processed at an existing Mount Sinai lab, but will be sent to the new lab when it opens next month.)

During the pilot project, 99.2 percent test results were returned within 24 hours, Mount Sinai says. Students or staff members who test positive typically have to quarantine for 10 days.

If a student tests positive, Mount Sinai also offers to send a team of “swabbers” to his or her home to administer free coronavirus tests to their family members and close contacts.

“We’ve detected a few mini outbreaks in that fashion, and hopefully prevented them from spreading by virtue of this screening program in the schoolkids,” Dr. Reich said.

Between March 10, when the pilot project began, and May 9, Mount Sinai conducted 13,067 tests and identified 46 coronavirus cases, a positivity rate of 0.4 percent. There have been no false positives and no known false negatives, Mount Sinai says.

The Mount Sinai team has submitted the data to the Food and Drug Administration, hoping to receive an emergency use authorization for the test.

Later this week, Mount Sinai will submit a formal proposal to New York City to take its testing program to the city’s public schools when they reopen in the fall. Mount Sinai declined to disclose the terms of the proposal, including what it plans to charge schools for the tests, but says it hopes to attract commercial clients to help defray, or possibly even eliminate, costs for schools.

In the meantime, it is approaching other charter school organizations in the city about using its tests during their summer sessions and programs.

“We can’t just sit there when this lab goes live in June and say, ‘OK, we’re waiting for September,’” Dr. Reich said. “Before the fall, we need to be doing a lot of tests.” The lab will initially have the capacity to run 25,000 tests a day, with the ability to scale up to 100,000 if there is sufficient interest.

For its part, KIPP NYC plans to expand the program to all of its schools in the fall, although the testing frequency may change, said Efrain Guerrero, managing director of operations for KIPP NYC. “I think parents see it and staff see it as just an additional safety measure that they appreciate,” he said. “For us it’s a no-brainer to continue to test at some frequency.”

Olga Ramirez, Bradley’s mother, had not initially wanted him to return to in-person learning. “I was very afraid at first,” she said. But Bradley, who desperately wanted to go back to school, managed to convince her, with the help of an informational video about the Mount Sinai testing program.

Ms. Ramirez now thinks that returning to school was the right decision. Bradley’s virus tests have all come back negative, and his grades are up since returning to in-person learning.

“I’ve seen his grades improve quite a lot, and I feel that my son is in good hands,” she said. She’s not alone, she added. “There’s so many mothers who are feeling the way I do.”

Elda Cantú contributed translation.

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Roman Protasevich: A Belarus Activist Who ‘Refused to Live in Fear’

WARSAW — Since his teenage years as a rebellious high school student in Belarus and continuing into his 20s while in exile abroad, Roman Protasevich faced so many threats from the country’s security apparatus — of violent beatings, jail, punishment against family members — that “we all sort of got used to them,” a fellow exiled dissident recalled.

So, despite his being branded a terrorist by Belarus late last year — a capital offense — Mr. Protasevich was not particularly worried when he set off for Greece from Lithuania, where he had been living, earlier this month to attend a conference and take a short vacation with his Russian girlfriend, Sofia Sapega.

But that sense of security was shattered on Sunday when they were snatched by Belarus security officials on the tarmac at Minsk National Airport after a MiG-29 fighter jet was scrambled to intercept his commercial flight home to Lithuania from Greece. Mr. Protasevich, 26, now faces the vengeance of President Aleksandr G. Lukashenko, the 66-year-old Belarusian leader from whom he once received a scholarship for gifted students but has since defied with unflinching zeal.

In a short video released on Monday by the authorities in Belarus, Mr. Protasevich confessed — under duress, his friends say — to taking part in the organization of “mass unrest” last year in Minsk, the Belarus capital. That is the government’s term for weeks of huge street protests after Mr. Lukashenko, in power since 1994, declared a landslide re-election victory in an August election widely dismissed as brazenly rigged.

Nexta, the opposition news organization where Mr. Protasevich established himself as one of Mr. Lukashenko’s most effective and unbending critics.

“By his character Roman has always been very resolute,” Mr. Putsila said. “He refused to live in fear.”

Since Mr. Lukashenko took power in Belarus in 1994, however, that has been a very perilous proposition.

Mr. Protasevich has been resisting his country’s tyranny since he was 16, when he first witnessed what he described as the “disgusting” brutality of Mr. Lukashenko’s rule. That began a personal journey that would turn a gifted student at a science high school in Minsk into an avowed enemy of a government that Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in 2005 called “the last remaining true dictatorship in the heart of Europe.”

video posted on YouTube . “Just as an example: Five huge OMON riot police officers beat women. A mother with her child was thrown into a police van. It was disgusting. After that everything changed fundamentally.”

A letter from the security services to his high school followed. He was expelled and home educated for six months, as no other school would take him, his mother said.

The family eventually negotiated a deal with the Ministry of Education. Mr. Protasevich could attend school, though only an ordinary one, not the elite lyceum he had been enrolled in before, but only if his mother resigned from her teaching job at the army academy.

“Imagine being a 16-year-old and being expelled from school,” Ms. Protasevich said. “It was this incident, this injustice, this insult,” that drove him into the political opposition, she said. “That is how he began his activism as a 16-year-old.”

Mr. Protasevich studied journalism at Belarusian State University but again ran into trouble with the authorities. Unable to finish his degree, he worked as a freelance reporter for a variety of opposition-leaning publications. Frequently detained and jailed for short periods, he decided to move to Poland, working for 10 months in Warsaw with Mr. Putsila and others on the Nexta team disseminating videos, leaked documents and news reports critical of Mr. Lukashenko.

Convinced that his work would have more impact if he were inside Belarus, Mr. Protasevich returned in 2019 to Minsk. But the political climate had only darkened there as Mr. Lukashenko geared up for a presidential election in 2020.

denounced as trumped up drug charges as he was trying to cross the border into Poland.

interview last year. “No one else is left. The opposition leaders are in prison.” Mr. Putsila said that Mr. Protasevich never advocated violence, only peaceful protests.

Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, the principal opposition candidate in the August election who had been forced to flee. With Mr. Lukashenko’s other main rivals in detention, Ms. Tikhanovskaya had become the main voice of the Belarus opposition.

In November, prosecutors in Belarus formally charged Mr. Protasevich under a law that bans the organization of protests that violate “social order.” The security services also put him on a list of accused terrorists.

Nashe Nive, a Belarusian news site.

Mr. Putsila said he was stunned that Mr. Lukashenko would force a commercial airliner to land just to arrest a youthful critic but, with the benefit of hindsight, thinks the operation should not have come as a big surprise. The autocrat, he said, wanted to show that “we will reach you not only in Belarus but wherever you are. He has always tried to terrify.”

A measure of that was that when the plane was forced to land in Minsk on Sunday, Belarus security agents arrested not only Mr. Protasevich but Ms. Sapega, 23. Ms. Sapega, a law student at the European Humanities University in Vilnius, in Lithuania’s capital, appeared to have been arrested over her association. She was not known to be a target in her own right. Her lawyer said Wednesday she would be jailed for at least two months and face a criminal trial.

Mr. Putsila noted that Nexta had received so many threatening letters and abusive phone calls that Polish police officers stand permanent guard on the stairwell leading to the office.

“The Lukashenko regime considers Roman one of its main enemies,” he said. “Maybe it is right.”

Another colleague, Ekaterina Yerusalimskaya, told the Tut.by news service that she and Mr. Protasevich once noticed a mysterious man tailing them in Poland, and reported it to the police. Still, Mr. Protasevich remained nonchalant. “He calmed himself by saying nobody would touch us, otherwise it would be an international scandal,” Ms. Yerusalimskaya said.

Mr. Protasevich’s mother said she worried about his safety but, breaking down in tears as she contemplated her son’s fate after his arrest in Minsk, added: “We believe justice will prevail. We believe all this terror will pass. We believe political prisoners will be freed. And we are very proud of our son.”

Ivan Nechepurenko contributed reporting from Moscow.

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A Mid-Air Wedding in India Violated Covid Rules, Airline Says

The authorities in southern India are investigating a couple who are reported to have chartered a plane and performed a marriage ritual in midair in front of scores of guests, a breach of Covid-19 guidelines in a country that is being devastated by a second wave of the coronavirus.

The couple had intended to tie the knot in front of family and friends at a hotel in the southern state of Tamil Nadu, but coronavirus restrictions capped the guest list at 50 people.

Instead, according to reports in the Indian news media, the couple chartered a commercial aircraft operated by SpiceJet, an Indian carrier, and boarded the plane on Sunday morning along with about 160 people. The flight traveled from Madurai in Tamil Nadu to the city of Bangalore, a journey of more than an hour.

Family members of the couple, whom the authorities have not named, told the airline that they had already gotten married and were taking their guests on a postnuptial joy ride.

the global highs of recent weeks. For the 12th consecutive day, the number of people recovering from the virus outnumbered new infections, according to national data, although experts believe that India’s tallies of infections and deaths are significantly lower than the true toll.

Tamil Nadu has India’s fourth-highest coronavirus caseload. The state is averaging 34,000 new cases daily, and recorded 422 deaths from the virus on Monday.

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A Mid-Air Wedding on SpiceJet in India Violated Covid-19 Rules

The authorities in southern India are investigating a couple who are reported to have chartered a plane and performed a marriage ritual in midair in front of scores of guests, a breach of Covid-19 guidelines in a country that is being devastated by a second wave of the coronavirus.

The couple had intended to tie the knot in front of family and friends at a hotel in the southern state of Tamil Nadu, but coronavirus restrictions capped the guest list at 50 people.

Instead, according to reports in the Indian news media, the couple chartered a commercial aircraft operated by SpiceJet, an Indian carrier, and boarded the plane on Sunday morning along with about 160 people. The flight traveled from Madurai in Tamil Nadu to the city of Bangalore, a journey of more than an hour.

Family members of the couple, whom the authorities have not named, told the airline that they had already gotten married and were taking their guests on a postnuptial joy ride.

the global highs of recent weeks. For the 12th consecutive day, the number of people recovering from the virus outnumbered new infections, according to national data, although experts believe that India’s tallies of infections and deaths are significantly lower than the true toll.

Tamil Nadu has India’s fourth-highest coronavirus caseload. The state is averaging 34,000 new cases daily, and recorded 422 deaths from the virus on Monday.

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