LOS ANGELES - Firefighters notched a victory in their battle to beat back a massive blaze raging outside Los Angeles, more than doubling containment in the past 24 hours, the US Forest Service said on Wednesday (Sept 23).
The Bobcat Fire, which has been burning in the San Gabriel Mountains north of Los Angeles since Sept 6, was 38 per cent contained as of Wednesday morning, Mr John Clearwater, USFS spokesperson for Angeles National Forest, said in an e-mail update.
The fire has so far burned more than 45,700 hectares, but remained relatively stable overnight. The flames were 17 per cent contained on Tuesday.
The Bobcat Fire, one of the largest and most dangerous fires in recorded Los Angeles history, is just one element stoking the worst fire season California has seen to date.
For more than a week, it has threatened to overtake the Mount Wilson Observatory, a California landmark and beloved historical site that was home to major astronomical advancements in the early 20th century.
Some 1,556 firefighters are currently deployed to combat it, the Forest Service said.
Wildfires have ravaged the West Coast this summer and pushed firefighters to their limits.
At least 26 people have died in fires across California since Aug 15, including three firefighters, according to the state agency CAL FIRE.
One of those firefighters died as a result of a fire sparked by a botched gender reveal party.
Roughly 1.37 million hectares have burned across California during the same period.
Another 10 people have died and approximately 80,370 hectares have burned in fires in Washington and Oregon.
California has seen five of its largest fires on record in this wildfire season alone.
Outside Los Angeles, the momentary reprieve could dissipate by the weekend, when weather was expected to grow warmer and drier, and forecasts showed the possibility of gusty winds, the Forest Service said.
PHILADELPHIA, PENNSYLVANIA - Shelter-in-place orders by US state and local governments did more to combat the spread of the coronavirus than business closures while destroying fewer jobs, researchers at the University of Pennsylvania said in a new study released Wednesday (Sept 23).
Interventions "that target individual behaviour (such as stay-at-home orders) were more effective at reducing transmission at lower economic cost than those that target businesses," economist Kent Smetters and analysts Alexander Arnon and John Ricco wrote.
The paper is one of several being presented Thursday at a conference hosted by the Brookings Institution in Washington studying the impact of Covid-19 on the US economy.
The trio said government efforts to close schools and businesses and urge individuals to social distance saved an estimated 33,000 lives in the US through May 31.
Of those, they concluded stay-at-home measures did the most, accounting for half of the resulting drop in contact rates.
School closures explained 28 per cent of the reduction while closures of non-essential businesses accounted for 22 per cent.
Meanwhile, the actions put an estimated 3 million people out of work, or 15 per cent of total job losses from the start of the pandemic through May.
Almost half of that damage was caused by businesses closures, 30 per cent by stay-at-home orders and 22 per cent by school closures.
"Notably, business closures account for a much larger share of the decline in employment than of the fall in contact rates (48 per cent vs. 22 per cent), while the opposite is true of stay-at-home orders (30 per cent vs. 50 per cent)," they wrote.
In another paper released Wednesday, four economists - including Fabian Lange at McGill University - said the outsized role of temporary furloughs in the Covid-19 recession will result in a more rapid job-market recovery.
They forecast the unemployment rate would drop to 7.1 per cent on average in the fourth quarter. Economists surveyed by Bloomberg predict it will be 8.5 per cent.
Economists Kenneth Rogoff, Carmen Reinhart and Ethan Ilzetzki warned the current stability of exchange rates achieved through massive liquidity injections from central banks "might mask fragilities, not strengths."
"It is an open question whether, as the economy heals, this higher liquidity will eventually bleed over into inflation, particularly if central banks remain concerned with low growth and high public- and private-sector debts," they said.
Northeasterly winds are expected to strengthen Thursday, bringing rain and slightly lower temperatures to northern Taiwan, the Central Weather Bureau (CWB) said Wednesday.
Due to the stronger winds, Taiwan's northern and northeastern regions can expect brief showers, while areas in the east may experience afternoon thunderstorms, the CWB said.
Temperatures in those parts of the country will drop slightly to nighttime lows of 23 to 25 degrees Celsius, the CWB said.
In central and southern Taiwan, cloudy to sunny skies can be expected, with highs of 32 to 34 degrees, the CWB forecast.
The Central Epidemic Command Center (CECC) has decided to suspend the COVID-19 testing of all travelers arriving from the Philippines, except for those with symptoms, beginning Thursday, but said it will require all travelers from the Philippines be tested before their mandatory 14-day quarantine period ends.
The changes were agreed after considering epidemic hazard, the characteristic of the novel coronavirus disease, and testing efficiency, Health Minister and CECC commander Chen Shih-chung (陳時中) said at a press briefing on Wednesday.
On July 26, Taiwan began requiring all travelers from the Philippines -- with or without COVID-19 symptoms -- to be tested for COVID-19 upon arrival.
As of Sept. 20, a total of 1,238 travelers from the Southeast Asian country had been tested, the center said in a press release.
Based on the figures, 17.6 percent of those with COVID-19 symptoms tested positive, "clearly" higher than the 0.7 percent for those without symptoms whose tests came back positive, the center said.
After consulting with experts, the CECC decided to adjusted its screening measure targeting travelers from the Philippines, Chen said, noting that starting on Sept. 24, only those with symptoms will be required to receive a COVID-19 test upon arrival.
However, all travelers from the Philippines -- with or without COVID-19 symptoms -- still have to be isolated for 14 days at designated quarantine centers and be tested before the isolation period ends, Chen said.
Data from the Philippine Department of Health shows that as of Sept. 22, the number of confirmed cases of COVID-19 infection has reached 291,789, with 5,049 deaths.
TAIPEI (Taiwan News) — A man who later tested positive for alcohol drove his Mercedes on the wall of a tunnel in Taipei City over a distance of 200 meters before coming to a standstill, reports said Wednesday (Sept. 23).
The incident happened before 5 a.m. Wednesday in the Kangle tunnel in the capital’s Neihu District.
A 42-year-old man surnamed Chen (陳) had drove his Mercedes C300 into the tunnel but failed to veer right to stay in the lane. His car crashed through the barrier in the middle of the road and destroyed the guard rails on the other side, continuing its route on the wall, according to the police report.
After 200 meters of driving on the side of the tunnel and wrecking the guardrails, the luxury car finally came to a stop. Chen only suffered minor injuries, but a breathalyzer test showed a blood alcohol level of 0.69.
Police told reporters that the driver will likely be prosecuted for posing a danger to public safety.
LOS ANGELES - Deadly blazes raging across the western United States have again destroyed thousands of homes nestled in forested areas this year - with months of the fire season still to come in a region perilously exposed to climate change.
With many insurers now refusing or charging exorbitant rates to cover at-risk houses, some homeowners are questioning what the future holds for their exhausted communities.
Populations of settlements built on the forested margins of cities - officially known as the wildland-urban interface (WUI) - have exploded in recent decades, and now total some 50 million households.
One example is Paradise, a town bordering Northern California's national forests which was devastated by the state's deadliest modern-day fire in 2018.
Rebuilding from the inferno that claimed 86 lives had not even finished when it was threatened by another fire burning in a neighbouring town this month.
Despite the inherent risk of living in settlements like Paradise, the idea of evicting citizens "is the last solution residents want to resort to and policymakers want to resort to, because it's so dramatic and so costly", said Dr Gregory Pierce, of University of California Los Angeles.
"But for some communities, it's the only answer for survival," the urban planning professor told reporters.
'OUT IN THE WILDERNESS'
So far this year, some 6,500 structures have been destroyed in California alone, according to CalFire, with massive devastation extending far into Oregon and Washington states up the Pacific coastline.
But WUI housing has grown exponentially due to the region's "housing affordability crisis", said Dr Pierce.
California's real estate is among the nation's costliest, but it remains "cheaper to build new development in outlying areas than it is in core urban areas", he added.
WUI housing boomed nationwide from 1990 to 2010, both in number of new homes (41 per cent) and land area used (33 per cent), according to the US Forest Service.
"We have communities that are building around canyons that have brush, that are tough (to access)," said Mr Darrell Robert, a 20-year-old firefighter in Southern California.
"I mean, everybody wants that beautiful home with the trees over the top and out in the wilderness - we get that."
But the risks are high, he added.
There are many factors behind California's record fires. Besides overpopulation of the WUI, years of drought worsened by climate change have left endless acres of excess, dry vegetation.
For President Donald Trump, a climate change sceptic, poor forest management is the leading culprit.
One management tactic is to deliberately light "prescribed fires" that remove the fuel that feeds wildfires in a controlled way.
"Plans and practices like that can be very successful, but it's very, very difficult to do today because of the fact that there is a lot of people living out there," said Mr David Shew, a retired California fire chief.
"Can you guarantee that it's not going to escape its control and burn down somebody's house?"
Mr Shew agreed that evicting inhabitants would be a radical solution.
And simply banning construction - as is done in flood-prone parts of the Mississippi Delta - is also problematic, because it is "much harder to predict" precisely which areas will burn.
Another alternative would be to shift new housing stock to less flammable materials, said Mr Shew.
Reinforced walls, windows and roofs built from highly fire-resistant products, and covered fireplaces, could even be applied to existing homes.
The remodelling would be expensive, but could make the vital difference in surviving the next inferno, he added - and besides, there is no other easy option.
"We'll never have enough fire engines to park in every driveway," said Mr Shew.
Insurance companies - who have lost millions of dollars underwriting homes in fire zones, but are obliged to extend policies for 800,000 at-risk homes by California state law - could financially incentivise customers to make modifications to their properties.
"For people who are already living in harm's way, there aren't many options to get out without losing a big chunk of the value of your assets," said Ms Amy Bach of NGO United Policyholders, which looks after the rights of insured homeowners.
WASHINGTON - The United States recorded 200,000 coronavirus deaths on Tuesday (Sept 22), an almost unthinkable milestone once, whose arrival underscored the failure of American leadership to contain the virus through spring and summer, said experts.
They also warned that with schools reopening and outdoor gatherings soon to be driven indoors by the coming cold, there could be more surges on the way.
Clinical trials for three vaccine candidates are underway but it will take some time before vaccines will be widely distributed, they added, despite President Donald Trump's suggestion that a vaccine could be ready by Election Day on Nov 3.
"Every one of the 200,000 Americans killed by Covid is a tragedy, and most of these deaths did not have to happen," said former Centres for Disease Control and Prevention director Tom Frieden.
"There is no fairy tale ending to this pandemic - not even a vaccine," he added on Twitter.
Instead, he and others advocated wearing a mask, continued social distancing, and more strategic testing, rapid isolation, complete contact tracing, and supportive quarantine to save lives and livelihoods.
The US has made some progress, but slipped in other areas, Dr Frieden argued.
He said that while the national positivity rate has dropped - from a high of 20 per cent to 5 per cent now - America is also losing the ability to track the virus, with less testing overall and no reliable information on who is being tested.
"Most of the US is still failing to contain Covid. There are too many cases to test, trace, isolate. Even in places with fewer cases, there's very little tracking of actual outcomes of testing and contact tracing," he wrote in a commentary last week.
Mr Trump defended his administration's handling of the virus on Tuesday, blaming China for not stopping the virus at its borders and saying that the death toll could have been as high as 2.5 million without his leadership.
"If we didn't do it properly and didn't do it right, you'd have two and a half million deaths," he told reporters on the South Lawn. "You could have had a number that was substantially more."
"With all that being said, we shouldn't have had anybody," he added.
Mr Trump appeared to be referring to an Imperial College London model in March that predicted 2.2 million deaths in a worst-case scenario of an uncontrolled spread due to total government inaction - a low bar to clear.
"The US represents less than 5 per cent of the world's population, but more than 20 per cent of Covid-19 deaths. It didn't have to be this way.
"Other countries used their resources to keep cases and deaths from accelerating. The US had these resources and more, but did not make use of them," said Johns Hopkins University epidemiologist Dr Jennifer Nuzzo.
America's nearly 7 million coronavirus cases and 200,000 deaths account for more than a fifth of the world's total.
"It didn't have to be this bad," Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden wrote on Twitter.
Slamming comments by Mr Trump at a rally in Ohio on Monday that the virus affected "virtually nobody", Mr Biden said: "We lost 200,000 mums and dads, sons and daughters, friends and co-workers. And not a single one of them was a nobody."
Between 700 and 800 Americans are dying from Covid-19 daily, according to the Covid Tracking Project, down from the mid-August peak of around 1,200 daily deaths and all-time high of over 2,000 in April.
But the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) at the University of Washington projects a most likely scenario of 380,000 total deaths by Jan 1 next year, a number that can be lowered to 262,000 deaths if almost everyone wears masks. If social distancing rules ease, the deaths could shoot up to 428,000, it predicts.
"Seasonality is the key driver, along with declined vigilance from individuals as we head into the winter," said IHME director Chris Murray, citing data from cities in the southern hemisphere and strong seasonal patterns in pneumonia trends.
"As we predicted many months ago, the fall-winter surge has begun in Europe. It hasn't yet kicked in in the US to the same degree... but everything that we see in the data tells us there will be that winter surge," he added in an interview with the Centre for Strategic and International Studies this week.
TAIPEI (Taiwan News) — Taiwanese data security provider Trend Micro said Tuesday (Sept. 22) it has detected more than 170,000 phishing sites in the country as of August, including many that are themed around the coronavirus and face masks.
The company pointed out that the number of phishing sites this year is fourfold that of the same period last year. It also warned that a higher proportion of phishing attacks had been "localized" to lure victims into falling for their schemes.
Trend Micro said the top three types of internet scams in Taiwan are fake sticker downloads, investment ads, and shipping services. Recently, fake "Teacher's Day" stickers have been circulating on the messaging app Line as the holiday approaches.
Trend Micro product marketing manager Chu Fang-wei (朱芳薇) stressed that localization and the fast-changing nature of cybercrimes make them difficult to detect. She said scammers often tailor their messages based on local holidays and upcoming events and even impersonate online personalities and government agencies.
The general manager of Trend Micro in Taiwan and Hong Kong, Bob Hung (洪偉淦), noted that the number of phishing scams has skyrocketed during the COVID-19 pandemic. He reminded Taiwanese to become more aware of cybersecurity to avoid falling prey to cybercrime.
TAIPEI (Taiwan News) — An ad published by Taiwan's Council of Agriculture (COA) on a Facebook page for the magazine Scientific American has sparked controversy for allegedly making unproven assertions to defend the Taiwanese government's lifting of restrictions on U.S. pork imports containing ractopamine.
On Saturday (Sept. 19), the Taiwan division of the popular American science magazine posted an ad on Facebook suggesting that ractopamine is eco-friendly and can help hog farmers increase their profits. The ad also claimed that the lean meat additive was banned in Taiwan because products that contain it taste worse than those that do not and that the ban had allowed the country's pork producers to remain competitive in the international market.
As soon as it was published, the ad drew strong criticism from Taiwanese netizens who questioned the scientific basis for the statements as well as the professionalism of the magazine. Many Taiwanese suspect the ad to be more political than scientific and that it was aimed at defending the Tsai administration's recent decision to import U.S. pork containing ractopamine.
On Monday (Sept. 21), Scientific American removed the ad and issued an apology for neglecting scientific principles and media ethics. It said the advertisement fee has been refunded to the COA and that it will not make similar mistakes in the future, according to Global Views Monthly.
Meanwhile, COA Minister Chen Chi-chung (陳吉仲) emphasized that the controversial statements had not been included in the information the COA had provided to Scientific American. He said the COA had been contacted by the magazine about an opportunity for cooperation but that the agency had only provided facts and government policies related to ractopamine.
This was not the only partisan post released by Scientific American lately. On Sept. 15, the American edition of the magazine published an ad supporting Democratic nominee Joe Biden for president, which was interpreted by some readers as an example of "politics interfering with science,".
TAIPEI (Taiwan News) — Tainan is launching multilingual menus this year in a bid to boost tourism and promote its culinary scene—a source of pride for the southern Taiwanese city.
Based on a bilingual menu program that highlights Mandarin and English, the new initiative will include Japanese, Korean, Thai, and Vietnamese languages in the introductions of food available for tourists. The previous bilingual project has seen the participation of 769 eateries, according to the Tainan City Government.
While the country’s borders are still closed to a large extent due to the coronavirus pandemic, Tainan is mounting the campaign to ensure improved service and a foreigner-friendly environment once travel restrictions are lifted.
The city government will assist businesses with translating dish names and compiling relevant information in an online database on the official Travel Tainan website. Restaurants and eateries are invited to access the information to spice up their menus.
Tainan boasts a rich diversity of cuisines which has earned it the title of “food capital of Taiwan.” Many famous snacks around the nation are believed to have come from the former capital, including milkfish dishes, eel noodles, savory rice pudding, shrimp rolls, and more.