JOHANNESBURG — The World Health Organization says Congo’s deadly Ebola outbreak is now the second largest in history, behind the devastating West Africa outbreak that killed thousands a few years ago.
WHO emergencies chief Dr. Peter Salama late Thursday called it “a sad toll” as Congo’s health ministry announced the number of cases has reached 426. That includes 379 confirmed and 47 probable cases, with 242 deaths.
Attacks by rebel groups and open hostility by some wary locals have posed serious challenges that Ebola workers say they have never faced before. Many venture out on critical virus containment work only with the accompaniment of U.N. peacekeepers while gunfire echoes daily.
Salama predicted this month that the outbreak in northeastern Congo will last at least another six months before it can be contained.
The West Africa Ebola outbreak killed more than 11,000 people from 2014 to 2016. An outbreak in 2000 in Uganda sickened 425 people and killed 224 of them and it was, until now, the second-worst outbreak.
Day by day, reports by health organizations note one new difficulty after another for the Ebola outbreak in Congo, even as their work sets milestones that have given new hope in the fight against one of the world’s most notorious diseases.
More than 37,000 people have received Ebola vaccinations, and Congo has begun the first-ever trial to test the effectiveness and safety of four experimental Ebola drugs. And yet the risk of Ebola spreading in so-called “red zones” — areas that are virtually inaccessible because of the threat of rebel groups — is a major concern in containing this outbreak.
“This tragic milestone clearly demonstrates the complexity and severity of the outbreak. While the numbers are far from those from West Africa in 2014, we’re witnessing how the dynamics of conflict pose a different kind of threat,” said Michelle Gayer, senior director of emergency health at the International Rescue Committee.
The alarmingly high number of infected newborns in Congo is another concern, and so far a mystery. In a separate statement on Thursday, WHO said so far in this outbreak, 36 Ebola cases have been reported among newborn babies and children under 2.
This is the first time this turbulent part of northeastern Congo has had an Ebola outbreak. Congo’s health ministry has carried vivid accounts of residents, spurred by rumors, who have been trying to stop safe burial practices that halt the spread of Ebola from victims to relatives and friends.
On Thursday, the ministry said a group of youths broke into a morgue, stole the body of an Ebola victim and returned it to their family.
Shenzhen, China – China has suspended He Jiankui – the scientist who claims to have produced the world’s first gene-edited babies. He now looks set to face punishment after publicly revealing research many in the scientific community condemned as irresponsible.
His work was “extremely abominable in nature”, Xi Nanping, vice minister of the Ministry of Science and Technology, told state news agency Xinhua late on Thursday.
Xi said genetically engineering the DNA of twin girls so they would not develop HIV, breached scientific ethics, adding that gene-editing of human embryos for reproduction purposes was “explicitly banned” in China.
He admitted at a gene-editing conference in Hong Kong on Wednesday that he had already initiated another pregnancy, although it was too soon to tell if it would go to full term.
An embryo receives a small dose of Cas9 protein and PCSK9 sgRNA in a sperm injection microscope in a laboratory in Shenzhen [Mark Schiefelbein/AP]
A source confirmed to Al Jazeera that He had returned to Shenzhen, although repeated calls to his mobile went unanswered and several messages sent to the phone were read with no response.
David Cyranoski of the journal Nature posted on social media that He was in the southern city and ready to “cooperate fully with all inquiries” about his work.
‘Resolutely dealt with’
The scientist is likely to face a barrage of questions from institutions in Shenzhen, as well as from the Ministry of Science and Technology. China’s National Health Commission said He’s activities would be investigated and any wrongdoing “resolutely dealt with”, according to Xinhua.
It is uncertain what punishment He may face since the law in China is vague on enforcement, according to Qiu Renzong, professor emeritus of the Institute of Philosophy and director of the Centre for Applied Ethics at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.
His research has sent shockwaves through the international scientific community, with many raising concerns over the lack of verified data and the risks of exposing healthy embryos to gene-editing. Scientists have long worried about the implications for humanity of such genetic engineering.
R Alta Charo, a professor of law and bioethics at the University of Wisconsin, said if He had done the trial in the United States it “would have been in violation of public law” and involve “penalties [that] are both civil and criminal”. Approvals are needed through the Food and Drug Administration for human cells and therapy studies where cells are brought to gestation.
Qiu noted in Hunan province in 2012, three researchers were arrested and then sacked along with three officials who approved trials of vitamin A-enriched genetically modified rice on schoolchildren without their consent.
“Three scientists were disciplined, they were dismissed from their positions, and they could not apply for grants over a certain period of time, so [He’s case] may be similar to this,” Qiu told Al Jazeera. “I don’t think the police will be involved, but the ministries will discipline him.”
He said in a video released on Sunday – the same day the world learned of the births – that he used the CRISPR-cas9 tool for editing the embryos in order to remove the possibility that the babies would get HIV from their father, who is infected with the virus.
Anthropologist Eben Kirksey remarked that CRISPR has become a magic word related to HIV because of the promise that “you only need to take the treatment once”. But, he added, there were many other promising therapies for treating HIV, and he didn’t think many in the HIV research community were “putting a lot of hope” in genetic editing.
He gave a partial apology in front of a packed auditorium at the Second International Summit on Human Genome Editing in Hong Kong. The contrition, however, seemed to be more for the information about the births coming out before his research had been vetted by the scientific community, rather than for having carried it out.
The scientist told delegates he was “proud of” his work, adding that if the same situation occurred and it was his child he would “try it first”.
Most other researchers believed it was far too early to progress to that point given the vast ethical questions that arise from having “edited” – like Lulu and Nana, the names He gave the twin baby girls – and “non-edited” humans living side by side.
“Wouldn’t it be useful to try to define a global ethical code of conduct, at least a minimum of consent and what is research is and what is the standard?” asked Barbel Friedrich, director of the Alfried Krupp Institute for Advanced Studies in Greifswald. “What we heard this morning was a violation of law, which he admitted to, but what we need is a global rule.”
Institutions deny knowledge
Across the border in Shenzhen, institutions are distancing themselves from He.
Shenzhen’s Health and Family Planning Commission has directed the city’s medical expert committee to investigate He’s activities.
Southern University of Science and Technology, where He is an associate professor and is said to have conducted the research without the full knowledge of the university, has sealed off his lab and suspended him pending an investigation. The website on genome research related to He’s work now appears to be inaccessible.
When Al Jazeera visited the researcher’s lab, situated on a sprawling campus in a hub of universities in the northern part of Shenzhen, security officers refused entry, complaining about media trying to visit the site. Communications department officials at the school did not respond to requests to discuss the investigation into He’s research activities.
At the main gate, a police van was parked across the road, its blue and red lights flashing.
Shenzhen Harmonicare Women and Children’s Hospital, where the fertilisation allegedly took place, now denies involvement in He’s work and has said it believes a signature on papers approving the experiment were falsified. Attempts to reach officials at the hospital for further explanation were not successful.
“We don’t know yet whether that was fabricated,” Qiu said of the papers. “Some scientists, out of other motivations, these young scientists, they want to make a lot of money.”
A project claiming to have produced the world’s first gene-edited babies has been stopped by the Chinese government, which is declaring the work of scientist He Jiankui as being both unlawful and unethical, according to the Associated Press.
The world learned of He’s experiment earlier this week, though we’re still waiting to see outside scientific confirmation of his assertions. In Hong Kong yesterday, the scientist claimed that he used the CRISPR/cas9 gene-editing tool to modify human embryos, but he made no apologies, saying he was “proud” of the work. The resulting twins, born earlier this month to an unknown couple, are now supposedly immune to HIV.
On Tuesday, China ordered a “thorough investigation” into the project, but as the Associated Press is reporting today, the government has now taken the added step of shutting down the work until further notice. Speaking to CCTV state television, China’s vice minister of science and technology, Xu Nanping, said the government is strongly opposed to the project. Xu said the experiment “crossed the line of morality and ethics adhered to by the academic community and was shocking and unacceptable,” as reported by AP.
No further details were given, nor did the minister explain what might happen to He and his associates in the days and weeks ahead.
China’s response to this incident could set an important precedent for a country accused of being the Wild West of biomedical research. No doubt, China has been at the forefront of gene-editing research for a few years now. Scientists there created the world’s first gene-edited human embryo and the first cloned monkeys, as two examples. Critics have complained that these achievements are the product of China’s lax regulatory structure, as compared to the situation in the U.S. or Europe.
Those accusations aside, He’s project appears to be the work of an unsupervised lab that took great pains to avoid proper channels, such as failing to file the clinical trial to the country’s registry until early November, which was around the same time the twin girls were born. Furthermore, Chinese scientists have rushed to condemn He’s work. In a joint statement published earlier this week, the Genetics Society of China and the Chinese Society for Stem Cell Research said they “strongly condemn” the project for its “extreme irresponsibility, both scientifically and ethically.” And as VOA reports, over 300 scientists, both from China and abroad, have signed a petition questioning the necessity of the work.
This incident is certainly a teachable moment—though hopefully not at the expense of these twin girls, whose future health remains unknown.
Former Oppo sub-brand Realme has today launched its latest smartphone in the Indian market — Realme U1. This is the first smartphone in the company’s new U-series of phones, focused on the selfie-centric users.
Realme launched Realme U1 as the most powerful selfie-centric phone, in the capital. Realme U1 is the first ever smartphone powered by the AI master MediaTeK Helio P70 processor globally. The device comes in two variants; 3 GB RAM + 32 GB ROM at INR 11,999/- and 4GB RAM + 64GB ROM at INR 14,499/- in three exquisite colours, Fiery Gold, Ambitious Black and Brave Blue.
Specifically created for the Indian selfie lovers, the smartphone comes with an AI 25 MP front camera with Sony IMX 576 flagship sensor and 6.3-inch FHD+ Dewdrop Full Screen. The device with Ambitious Black and Brave Blue colours will be exclusively available on Amazon.in from December 5, at 12:00 noon. The Fiery Gold version will be available from around New Year, 2019.
Strength from the heart: Realme U1 is the world’s first phone equipped with the Helio P70 AI Processor
The Realme U1 demonstrates how the brand is committed to its product philosophy “Power meets Style”. The hardware configuration of the U1 reaches new heights, further upgrading user experience by becoming the world’s first smartphone to be equipped with the MediaTek Helio P70 chip.
The P70 chip uses TSMC’s latest 12nm FinFET production process, which reduces power consumption by 15% compared to other 14nm class processor. At the same time, the P70 features an octa-core architecture with four Cortex-A53 high-efficiency cores and four Cortex-A73 high-performance cores, for a maximum clock speed of 2.1GHz. In terms of graphics processing, the P70 is equipped with a 900MHz ARM Mali-G72 MP3 GPU, resulting in overall computing performance that is 13% higher than the P60.
SelfiePro front camera with Dual Rear Camera
Born as “Indian’s Selfie Pro”, Realme U1 is equipped with an AI 25 MP SelfiePro front camera powered by SONY’s IMX576 light sensor with its strong bottom imaging capacity. With more powerful fundamental computing capacity and image processing, it fully supports users to take selfies, due to Realme U1’s Helio P70 processing platform.
The Realme U1 SelfiePro cameras have been specifically developed to showcase Indian people’s skin tones, and precisely capturing details of eyes and hair, through 296 facial identification points. The device also offers a group selfie beauty mode featuring algorithms that automatically identify genders in the same photo and apply the most suitable beautification solutions without tempering, slimming and whitening.
Compared with its predecessor P60, P70 has much stronger performance in taking photos. The brand new HD depth-of-field engine improves the in-depth mapping performance by 3 times and supports 24fps smooth preview of bokeh effect, with less power consumption.
Furthermore, the enhanced AI performance ensures better exposure, focusing, and white balance in the face recognition and scenario recognition modes. P70’s powerful image processing capacity, coupled with Realme’s optimization at the software level, gives U1 an HDR function capable of real-time preview. The HDR effect can show in the frame in real time.
Realme U1 comes with a 13MP+2MP duel rear camera. The 13MP master camera clearly recover objects and precisely present all details; The 2 MP secondary camera shows the depth-of-field and bokeh effects and adds more fun. The smart camera phone also supports 90fps/720P slow-mo video capture to slow down the wonderful moments in life for more fun.
Light pillar design captures the essence of texture and look
To satisfy young people’s tastes, the Realme U1 adopts a more fashionable and bold design style, replacing plain, solid design with a unique light pillar effect. In different lighting, rotating the mobile phone shows off a unique textured look from different angles.
To achieve this, the back panel of the mobile phone is constructed using a 13-layer micron-level coating that has been baked and polished at very high temperature, with layers finely joined to achieve atomic-level bonding between the laminates. The result is a back cover that combines transparency and rugged durability.
In terms of design, the U1 uses Realme’s new upgraded VI in its packaging. The box casing utilizes the brand’s secondary color grey with logo and text in Realme Yellow. Inside, the packaging features an all-Realme Yellow design, to convey a young, positive and optimistic brand image that will continue to bring more surprises to its users.
Dewdrop Full Screen is stunning yet practical
The 6.3’’ Dewdrop Full Screen is highly integrated with the front camera, light sensor and distance sensor, and a receiver adopting a new channel sound transmission design, all integrated into the “dewdrop” and embedded in the top of the screen. Together, these maximize performance and the phone’s visual impact.
The U1 has a screen-to-body ratio of 90.8% and a screen ratio of 19.5:9, for ultra-wide field of view that greatly enhances the efficiency of information presentation. Users will achieve more immersive visual feedback while browsing images and watching videos.
In terms of resolution, the U1 is equipped with a 2340*1080, 409PPI screen that takes picture clarity to the next level. Its 1500:1 high contrast and 450nit brightness screen allows users to choose 1080P HD mode while watching videos on YouTube, greatly improving their viewing experience.
Along with the SelfiePro, Realme also launched Realme Iconic Case mobile phone case; and the pro-grade, high-end Realme Buds headphones with a bold and trendy design that combines practicality and durability and will be on sale around New Year, 2019. Like Realme smartphones, these companion products are an extension of the brand’s ‘Power Meets Style’ product philosophy.
A worker loads a tray of green rubber to be molded into golfball cores at the Acushnet Holdings Corp. Titleist Ball Plant III facility in New Bedford, Massachusetts.
The U.S. economy slowed in the third quarter as previously reported, but the pace was likely strong enough to keep growth on track to hit the Trump administration’s 3 percent target this year.
Gross domestic product increased at a 3.5 percent annualized rate, the Commerce Department said on Wednesday in its second estimate of third-quarter GDP growth. That was unchanged from its estimate in October and well above the economy’s growth potential, which economists estimate to be about 2 percent.
The economy grew at a 4.2 percent pace in the second quarter. While businesses accumulated inventory at a faster pace and spent more on equipment than initially thought in the third quarter, that was offset by downward revisions to consumer spending and exports.
Economists polled by Reuters had forecast third-quarter GDP growth unrevised at 3.5 percent.
Growth is being driven by the White House’s $1.5 trillion tax cut package, which has given consumer spending a jolt and bolstered business investment. The fiscal stimulus is part of measures adopted by President Donald Trump’s administration to boost annual growth to 3 percent on a sustainable basis.
The government also reported on Wednesday that after-tax corporate profits increased at a 3.3 percent rate last quarter after rising at a 2.1 percent pace in the second quarter.
An alternative measure of economic growth, gross domestic income (GDI), increased at a rate of 4.0 percent in the third quarter, quickening from the second quarter’s 0.9 percent pace.
The average of GDP and GDI, also referred to as gross domestic output and considered a better measure of economic activity, increased at a 3.8 percent rate in the July-September period, up from a 2.5 percent growth pace in the second quarter.
But dark clouds are gathering over the economic expansion that is now in its ninth year and the second longest on record. Business spending on equipment appears to have weakened early in the fourth quarter and higher interest rates are slowing demand for housing.
With oil prices rapidly falling, business spending on equipment is likely to moderate significantly. Lower oil prices tend to hurt investment in the energy sector because of reduced profits. Brent crude oil prices have slumped by more than 30 percent from a four-year high above $86 in early October, pressured by concerns of oversupply amid slowing global economic growth.
General Motors announced on Monday that it would cut thousands from its North American workforce, slash production and eliminate some slow-selling car models, which could have ripple effects on the domestic economy.
Solid third-quarter growth is expected to keep the Federal Reserve on course to raise interest rates in December for the fourth time this year, despite an escalation of criticism from Trump that tighter monetary policy is starting to slow down the economy.
Consumer spending revised lower
Growth estimates for the fourth-quarter are currently around a 2.5 percent pace. Economists expect GDP growth to slow further in 2019 as the fiscal stimulus fades and the effects of a bitter trade war with China as well as trade disputes with other trade partners take their toll.
The third-quarter growth slowdown mostly reflected the impact of Beijing’s retaliatory tariffs on U.S. exports, including soybeans. Farmers front-loaded shipments to China before the tariffs took effect in early July, boosting second-quarter growth. Since then, soybean exports have declined every month, increasing the trade deficit.
Growth in consumer spending, which accounts for more than two-thirds of U.S. economic activity, increased at a 3.6 percent rate in the third quarter. That was down from the 4.0 percent rate estimated in October.
Imports increased a little bit faster in the third quarter than previously estimated while the drop in exports was much sharper, leading to an even wider trade gap, which sliced off 1.91 percentage points from GDP growth in the third quarter, instead of the 1.78 percentage points reported last month. That was the most since the second quarter of 1985.
The rebound in imports was partially driven by strong domestic demand and also reflected a rush by businesses to stockpile before U.S. import duties, mostly on Chinese goods, came into effect late in the third quarter.
Imports subtract from GDP growth. But some of the imports likely ended up in warehouses, adding to the stockpile of inventory, which contributed to GDP. Inventories increased at an $86.6 billion rate, instead of the $76.3 billion rate estimated in October.
As a result, inventory investment added 2.27 percentage points to GDP growth. That was more than the 2.07 percentage points reported last month and was the biggest contribution since the fourth quarter of 2011.
Business spending on equipment increased at a 3.5 percent rate, instead of the previously reported 0.4 percent rate. That was still the slowest pace in two years. The moderation in business spending has been blamed on the import tariffs, which are increasing manufacturing costs for companies, such as Caterpillar, 3M and Ford Motor.
Some companies including Apple used their tax windfall to buy back shares on a massive scale.