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Twitter hack alarms experts already concerned about platform’s security – National


The extraordinary hacking spree that hit Twitter on Wednesday, leading it to briefly muzzle some of its most widely followed accounts, is drawing questions about the platform’s security and resilience in the run-up to the U.S. presidential election.

Twitter said late Wednesday hackers obtained control of employee credentials to hijack accounts including those of Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden, former president Barack Obama, reality television star Kim Kardashian, and tech billionaire and Tesla founder Elon Musk.

Read more:
Twitter says ‘coordinated social engineering attack’ targeted politicians, tech leaders

In a series of tweets, the company said: “We detected what we believe to be a coordinated social engineering attack by people who successfully targeted some of our employees with access to internal systems and tools.”

The hackers then “used this access to take control of many highly-visible (including verified) accounts and Tweet on their behalf.”

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The company statements confirmed the fears of security experts that the service itself — rather than users — had been compromised.

Twitter’s role as a critical communications platform for political candidates and public officials, including President Donald Trump, has led to fears that hackers could wreak havoc with the Nov. 3 U.S. presidential election or otherwise compromise national security.






Facebook and Google suspend China’s data requests, TikTok to pull out of Hong Kong


Facebook and Google suspend China’s data requests, TikTok to pull out of Hong Kong

Adam Conner, vice president for technology policy at the Center for American Progress, a liberal think-tank, said on Twitter: “This is bad on July 15 but would be infinitely worse on November 3rd.”

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Bitcoin bounty

Posing as celebrities and the wealthy, the hackers asked followers to send the digital currency bitcoin to a series of addresses. By evening, 400 bitcoin transfers were made worth a combined $120,000. Half of the victims had funds in U.S. bitcoin exchanges, a quarter in Europe and a quarter in Asia, according to forensics company Elliptic.

Those transfers left history that could help investigators identify the perpetrators of the hack. The financial damage may be limited because multiple exchanges blocked other payments after their own Twitter accounts were targeted.

Read more:
Twitter CEO’s hacked account sends racist tweets targeting black people and Jews

The damage to Twitter’s reputation may be more serious. Most troubling to some was how long the company took to stop the bad tweets.

“Twitter’s response to this hack was astonishing. It’s the middle of the day in San Francisco, and it takes them five hours to get a handle on the incident,” said Dan Guido, CEO of security company Trail of Bits.

An even worse scenario was that the bitcoin fraud was a distraction for more serious hacking, such as harvesting the direct messages of the account holders.






Donald Trump signs executive order on social media


Donald Trump signs executive order on social media

Twitter said it was not yet certain what the hackers may have done beyond sending the bitcoin messages.

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“We’re looking into what other malicious activity they may have conducted or information they may have accessed and will share more here as we have it,” the company said.

Mass compromises of Twitter accounts via theft of employee credentials or problems with third-party applications that many users employ have occured before.

Wednesday’s hack was the worst to date. Several users with two-factor authentication — a security procedure that helps prevent break-in attempts — said they were powerless to stop it.

Read more:
Twitter tests new feature prompting Android users to open articles before sharing

“If the hackers do have access to the backend of Twitter, or direct database access, there is nothing potentially stopping them from pilfering data in addition to using this tweet-scam as a distraction,” said Michael Borohovski, director of software engineering at security company Synopsys.

In 2010, Twitter reached a settlement with the U.S. Federal Trade Commission after it was found the company had lied about efforts to protect users’ information during an extended hack the year before.

Under the terms of the settlement, Twitter was barred for 20 years from misleading users about how it protects the security and confidentiality of private information.

U.S. Rep. Josh Hawley wrote to Twitter and its CEO Jack Dorsey during the hack calling for the company to work with the FBI and Department of Justice to secure its platform, and then answer questions publicly about the effects of the hack.

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One of his questions is how the hack may have affected the account of President Donald Trump.

(Reporting by Joseph Menn in San Francisco and Raphael Satter in Washington; Additional reporting by Anna Irrera in New York; Editing by Jonathan Weber and Lincoln Feast.)

With files from Global News’ Sean Boynton








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Should I wipe down my shoes? Experts explain where COVID-19 may or may not be lurking


TORONTO —
As the novel coronavirus continues to spread, much is still being discovered about how it behaves. This includes the different types of surfaces it is able to live on.

Most of what we know so far stems from a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine back in March. The experiment measured how long the virus that causes COVID-19 is able to live on a number of common household surfaces, such as stainless steel, cardboard and plastic. Under ideal conditions, the virus can be detected on these surfaces for up to several days after application.

The same study discovered that the virus is also able to live as fine partices in the air for up to three hours.

But aside from these more frequently used surfaces, it is also worth examining how the virus behaves on less conventional ones. Have you ever wondered whether COVID-19 can be found on your hair? What about your shoes? Or even on pets?

CTVNews.ca spoke with a couple of experts on infectious diseases about some of the more unusual surfaces COVID-19 may or may not be lurking on.

SHOULD I WIPE DOWN MY SHOES WHEN I GET HOME?

While there is a possibility for COVID-19 to be found on the average person’s shoes, the chances of it leading to infection are slim to none, said Dr. Sumon Chakrabarti, an infectious diseases physician with Trillium Health Partners in Mississauga, Ont. As a result, he insists it is not necessary to wipe your shoes down whenever returning home from outside. 

“The likelihood of having an amount of virus on the shoes [that could infect you] if you touched it and then touched your nose, eyes or mouth would be…very low,” he told CTVNews.ca over the phone on Wednesday. “Even if you find evidence of virus on the shoes, that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s alive.”

As outlined by the World Health Organization, COVID-19 is primarily transmitted from person-to-person through respiratory droplets released from the mouth or nose. The infection spreads when a person with the virus coughs, sneezes, or exhales. While it is possible for someone to become infected by touching a surface contaminated with the virus, and then touching their eyes, nose or mouth, this is not believed to be the main source of transmission, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“Remember that the virus doesn’t jump – it has to get to your eyes, nose or mouth from touching [the shoes] first,” said Chakrabarti. “So the best way to protect yourself from this is that once you get home, take your shoes off and wash your hands.”

Be sure to clean your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, as recommended by the CDC, and avoid touching your face. Chakrabarti also suggests leaving your shoes in a designated area by the door; do not wear them inside the house.

Dr. Abdu Sharkawy, an infectious disease specialist with the University Health Network, agrees that the average person does not need to clean their shoes after going outside. But when it comes to health-care workers, he calls for more precaution, urging them to consistently wipe down their shoes with disinfecting wipes or a homemade bleach solution.

“That’s out of an abundance of caution, just knowing that the likelihood of coming across COVID-19 in a health-care institution is that much higher than walking down the sidewalk or being in front of Costco,” he told CTVNews.ca on Wednesday. “I think it just makes sense to take a little bit more caution with respect to protecting yourself and minimizing any sort of transmission from one environment to another.”

Experts recommend the same thing for clothing. While there are currently no studies on how COVID-19 behaves on fabric, the average Canadian should not be concerned about immediately changing out of their clothes once they get home. This may be a good idea, however, for frontline health-care workers.

IS THERE A CHANCE THE VIRUS COULD BE ON MY HAIR?

As long as you are practising physical distancing and keeping at least two metres away from those around you, experts say you do not need to be concerned about the virus getting on your hair. Even in situations where you may come into close contact with someone who has the virus, or an infected person coughs or sneezes on you, Chakrabarti said it is unlikely that droplets landing on your hair will lead to infection. 

“Once the virus leaves your nasal passages, it’s now out of its natural habitat,” explained Chakrabarti. “Even if it’s detectable, it’s not something that’s likely going to infect you unless you happen to touch your hair at the very moment that person sneezes, and then right after that, touch your nose, eyes or mouth.”

Sharkawy also insists there is no reason the average person should wash their hair any differently in this scenario than they normally would.

“If you’re concerned, wash your hair,” he said. “But you don’t need to panic and dunk your head in soap and water if that happens; you don’t need to get Purell and rub it through your hair.”

Instead, he recommends sticking to your usual routine for washing your hair, along with practising physical distancing and making sure to wash your hands after returning home from outside.

WHAT ABOUT PACKAGES I GET IN THE MAIL?

There are currently no known cases of anyone becoming infected with COVID-19 as a result of opening a package or mail of any kind.

While the Public Health Agency of Canada warns that products shipped within or from outside the country could be contaminated with COVID-19, their risk of spreading the virus remains low. According to the agency, this is due to the fact that packages usually take days or even weeks to be delivered. 

Under these conditions, Chakrabarti explains that the virus is prone to drying out, which makes it less infectious. As a result, he insists Canadians should not be particularly concerned about exposure to the virus though anything sent by mail. 

“I wouldn’t do anything special with your mail,” he said. “Open it up just as you normally would…[and] when you’re done, wash your hands – that eliminates the problem.” 

He also recommends quickly disposing of any packaging.

According to the study published in the New England Journal of Medicine, COVID-19 had a lifespan of about 24 hours. While some may believe this is good reason to wait a day before opening any packages received by mail, Sharkawy claims this is unnecessary.

“I think it’s just an arbitrary number that somebody is picking – how do you know that after 24 hours it’s gone?” he said. “The bottom line is you’re doing the harm by picking something up with contaminated hands, it’s not the duration of time that [the virus] may or may not be on an object.”

CAN MY PET CARRY THE VIRUS?

Despite reports of pet cats testing positive for COVID-19 in the state of New York, the PHAC claims “there is no evidence to suggest that pets or other animals play a role in transmitting the disease to humans.”

The agency assures it is OK for those without symptoms of the virus to continue interacting with their pets as usual. Those with symptoms or who are self-isolating, however, should apply physical distancing measures to their pets as well. This means avoiding close contact as well as coughing and sneezing away from your pet, and of course, washing your hands.

“Remember that you’re engaging in close contact with another living soul of some kind,” said Sharkawy. “If you’re going to be intimate in any way with your pet, go wash your hands when you’re done and don’t touch your face, and I think you should be just fine.”

When you are out walking your pet, it’s important to stay at least two metres away from those around you, and avoid crowded areas. Experts say that as long as you are practising physical distancing, it is not realistic for your pet to be carrying COVID-19 on its fur, for example.

“We should perceive our pets the same way we do ourselves,” said Sharkawy. “Continue to distance, don’t get into groups with other people [and] if you see somebody approaching you on one side [of the street], try and cross to the other side.

“Assume that your pet is an extension of yourself.” 

Additionally, Chakrabarti does not advise changing anything about the way you already wash your pet – giving them a good scrub with soap and water is more than enough to keep them clean.



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Mexican president claims rivals would take over if he self-isolated, as experts decry coronavirus response


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Mexico President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador has remained steadfast against sweeping restriction measures that could help the spread of the coronavirus in his country.

This weekend, he balked at the idea of self-isolating, claiming that his rivals would use that time to overpower him politically and take control of the government.

Mexico's President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador arrives at his daily news conference at the presidential palace in Mexico City, early, Tuesday, March 24, 2020.

Mexico’s President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador arrives at his daily news conference at the presidential palace in Mexico City, early, Tuesday, March 24, 2020.
(AP)

“Do you know what the conservatives want? For me to isolate myself (but) there would be no leadership (of the country) or there would be their leadership because in politics there are no power vacuums – the voids are filled and that’s what they want, for there to be a vacuum so that they can take control … in an irresponsible way,” he said Sunday, according to the Mexico Daily News.

CLICK HERE FOR FULL CORONAVIRUS COVERAGE

The 66-year-old president has sparked a furor in recent weeks for not imposing stricter measures against COVID-19 and hugging followers and saying religious medals would protect him.

He flew commercial to the western state of Sinaloa on Sunday, where he shook hands with residents, including the mother of convicted drug lord Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán Loera.

“Coronavirus isn’t the plague,’’ the president declared in a video message on social media.

“Those of us who have an important function, a basic one, can go out to the street and work. … You can’t close a tortilla shop, doctors and nurses have to keep working, the police [too] so that there are no robberies,” he said.

A bus commuter wears a face mask amid the spread of the new coronavirus in Mexico City, Tuesday, March 31, 2020. Mexico's government has broadened its shutdown of “non essential activities,” and prohibited gatherings of more than 50 people as a way to help slow down the spread of the coronavirus. The one-month emergency measures will be in effect from March 30 to April 30. 

A bus commuter wears a face mask amid the spread of the new coronavirus in Mexico City, Tuesday, March 31, 2020. Mexico’s government has broadened its shutdown of “non essential activities,” and prohibited gatherings of more than 50 people as a way to help slow down the spread of the coronavirus. The one-month emergency measures will be in effect from March 30 to April 30. 
(AP)

Mexico has only just started taking tougher measures, including late Monday night banning non-essential work in the public sector and gatherings of more than 50 people.

As of Wednesday morning, Mexico had reported more than 1,200 confirmed cases and at least 27 deaths.

MEXICO’S LÓPEZ OBRADOR SHAKES HANDS WITH MOTHER OF ‘EL CHAPO’ DESPITE CORONAVIRUS WARNINGS, VIDEO SHOWS

Some experts warn the sprawling country of 129 million is acting too late and that the government figures likely underestimate the true number of infections.

A woman walks past a sign that reads in Spanish "Stay home" in Mexico City, Tuesday, March 31, 2020. Mexico's government has broadened its shutdown of "non-essential activities," and prohibited gatherings of more than 50 people as a way to help slow down the spread of the new coronavirus. The one-month emergency measures will be in effect from March 30 to April 30. 

A woman walks past a sign that reads in Spanish “Stay home” in Mexico City, Tuesday, March 31, 2020. Mexico’s government has broadened its shutdown of “non-essential activities,” and prohibited gatherings of more than 50 people as a way to help slow down the spread of the new coronavirus. The one-month emergency measures will be in effect from March 30 to April 30. 
(AP)

Mexico has done far less testing than many other countries — around 10,000 tests. New York state alone had performed more than 205,000 tests by Tuesday. There were also signs the disease may be far more advanced in Mexico than the limited testing shows. Three state governors have already tested positive for coronavirus.

“Politics is very, very much involved in the decision-making going on right now,” said Janine Ramsey, an infectious disease expert who works for Mexico’s National Public Health Institute, a federal research agency, and has spent 35 years of her public health career in Mexico.

“Mexico, politically, does not value scientific evidence. Why? Because it takes decision-making away from the politicians,” Ramsey said.

The Mexican government has defended its policies, saying that its robust health surveillance system gives it a good idea of how the epidemic is evolving and that health experts are charting the country’s fight against the virus. Its focus now, it says, is keeping people at home to avoid a rapid spread that would quickly overwhelm the health care system.

“For most of us, especially those of us who work with infectious pathogens, there is absolutely no excuse not to test because you cannot predict a) the response, b) the velocity of transmission, or c) the vulnerability of people” to becoming infected or to infecting others, she said.

“February and March is when we should have been testing everybody.”

CLICK HERE FOR THE FOX NEWS APP

But many are taking their cues from the president himself, who had this to say at a news conference Tuesday: “Soon, very soon there’s going to be the day of hugs and kisses in all the public plazas.”

“We’re going to hug because we’re going to overcome this coronavirus crisis and the economic crisis and the social welfare crisis,” he said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.



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Person under 18 dies of coronavirus in Los Angeles, health experts report



Los Angeles County on Tuesday confirmed four more deaths linked to the coronavirus, including the first of a person under the age of 18.

The number of deaths in the county from the virus is now 11. Tuesday’s update also included a previously reported death in Long Beach. The young person who died was from Lancaster. No further details were immediately available.

“This is a devastating reminder that COVID-19 affects people of all ages,” L.A. County Public Health Department director Barbara Ferrer said.

Two of the people who died were between the ages of 50 and 70. One had underlying health issues and resided in the West Adams neighborhood, health officials said.

Officials also confirmed an additional 128 cases of coronavirus infections, bringing the county’s total to 662. Of those positive cases, 42% occurred in individuals between the ages of 18 and 40, and 39% were in people ages 41 to 65.

At least 119 residents, or 18% of all positive cases in the county, have been hospitalized for the virus.

In Orange County, officials announced 27 new coronavirus cases, bringing the total to 152. There have not been any deaths linked to COVID-19.

San Mateo County saw a jump of 19 new cases and its second fatality, pushing the county’s overall total to 161 positive tests. The number of cases increased by more than 10% in one day, according to Preston Merchant, a public information officer working in the county’s joint information center.

The county’s second death occurred Monday at the Atria Senior Living facility in Burlingame. The facility received news of confirmed COVID-19 cases in their community on March 15. A number of residents tested positive for the virus, and Monday’s fatality was the senior facility’s first coronavirus-related death at its Burlingame location.

“Our thoughts are with their family during this difficult time,” Atria said in a statement. “We remain in close communication with all our residents and their families and continue to provide our support as we navigate this unprecedented situation together.”

Atria said it is working closely with the San Mateo County Health Department, and officials have been on site to confirm proper health and safety measures are in place.

The number of coronavirus cases in California surged to nearly 2,500 Tuesday afternoon and the death toll climbed to 50 as officials issued urgent warnings about the need for more hospital beds and equipment as medical facilities begin to fill up.

Gov. Gavin Newsom says he believes California will need 50,000 hospital beds for patients suffering from the illness caused by the coronavirus. That marks a significant increase from the 20,000 beds his administration forecast last week. The Democratic governor said the state’s 416 hospitals were doubling their “surge plans,” a move that will result in 30,000 new beds across the system.

San Francisco officials warned that a surge in coronavirus infections was expected to come within a week or two, and voiced dismay over images of the public crowding beaches and parks across California.

“The worst is yet to come,” said Dr. Grant Colfax, San Francisco’s director of public health, at a news conference Monday.

San Francisco has already taken steps to decompress the healthcare system — banning almost all visitors to hospitals and long-term-care facilities, canceling elective surgeries and routine medical visits, ordering that appointments be done by phone or video if possible, and opening up tents to care for patients who have mild symptoms in order to keep hospital beds free for those more seriously ill.

A steep rise in people being hospitalized with COVID-19 in Los Angeles County likely signals the approach of a wave of extremely sick patients that could overwhelm hospitals in the coming weeks, experts say.

As of March 6, five people in the county had been hospitalized at some point with COVID-19. Two weeks later, on Friday, that figure had jumped to 48. By Monday, the total had climbed to 90.

Though the raw numbers remain relatively low, the rate of increase has set many doctors and nurses on edge after watching the disease’s alarming trajectory in China, Italy and, most recently, New York City.

Two Cal State Long Beach students tested positive for the virus and were in self-isolation off campus, the university announced in an email to students Tuesday morning.

One student had not been on campus for two weeks, the university said. In the second case, public health officials determined there was no opportunity for on-campus exposure. Students who might have come into close contact with the patients were being notified by health officials, according to the email.

As the number of cases continues to rise, officials throughout the state kept up their call for an increase in testing capacity and reporting.

Frustrated public health directors in six Bay Area counties have ordered an assortment of commercial, university and pop-up testing sites that are screening residents for COVID-19 to begin reporting not just the positive cases, but the negative results too.

Dr. Sara Cody said testing remains woefully inadequate as Santa Clara County wrestles with mounting deaths. As of Tuesday, 16 people had died in the county, more than half of the virus fatalities in California.

Santa Clara County’s Sheriff’s Office confirmed four cases among staff, including a deputy who is self-isolating at home.

California requires labs and hospitals to report known cases of COVID-19, but not the number of negative tests. Cody said that information is critical to tracking the spread of the virus. She warned that Santa Clara County’s current critical situation is a window into what will be seen in San Francisco and other Bay Area communities in the next one to two weeks.

Contra Costa County is one of the six counties that ordered new requirements. On Friday, health officer Chris Farnitano said the county would issue an order for negative tests to be reported as well.

Meanwhile, California remains largely shut down under state and local orders. L.A. County officials have cracked down on nonessential businesses, which Sheriff Alex Villanueva declared Tuesday includes gun stores. If gun sellers don’t close their doors, he said, they will be cited and face penalty, including the loss of their business licenses.

Officials previously closed beach parking lots, parks and hiking trials amid concerns some people were not staying at least six feet apart while in public. Laguna Beach took the restrictions a step further and closed its beaches entirely on Monday.

On Tuesday, Los Angeles City Councilman David Ryu called for the closure of Runyon Canyon Park and Lake Hollywood Park on weekends.

“Making this request pains me greatly. I grew up in a two-bedroom apartment off the 101 Freeway, and our city’s parks were my only access to outdoor space,” Ryu said of his recommendation to Michael Shull, the general manager of the city’s Department of Recreation and Parks. “I don’t make this recommendation easily, but closing Runyon Canyon Park on weekends, when we have seen the highest volume of visitors, should follow to keep everyone safe.”

In Sonoma County, all parks and open spaces were closed indefinitely, public health officials announced this week.

The closure includes city, county, state and federal parklands and recreational lands operated by private groups and nonprofits, according to a news release.

“Closing parks is a difficult decision, but it is the right decision at this time,” Sundari Mase, the county’s interim health officer, said in a statement. “Allowing crowded conditions in parks is not in our best interest during this health crisis. The best action we can take is to stay close to home and limit our outdoor time to our yards and neighborhoods.”

Mase announced the closure Monday after too many visitors flocked to outdoor spaces over the weekend.

Criminal and civil trials were discontinued in California for at least two months after a sweeping order was issued late Monday by the state’s chief justice that aimed to sharply reduce public traffic in state courthouses.

Chief Justice Tani G. Cantil-Sakauye said in her order that court facilities were “ill-equipped to effectively allow the social distancing and other public health requirements” that had been imposed across California to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus.

“Even if court facilities could allow for sufficient social distancing, the closure of schools means that many court employees, litigants, witnesses, and potential jurors cannot leave their homes to attend court proceedings because they must stay home to supervise their children,” Cantil-Sakauye said in the order.

The 60-day delay — which puts the courts in California’s 58 counties on a uniform trial delay schedule — came the same day that the presiding judge of Los Angeles County Superior Court, Kevin C. Brazile, blocked public access to county courthouses except for attorneys, staff, defendants and “authorized persons,” a vague category that includes news reporters. The clerk’s office will still be available to accept filings and assist people by phone or electronically.

The California National Guard on Monday provided details about how personnel would be deployed across the state to assist in coronavirus aid. Officials said the guard was being used purely for humanitarian purposes, such as distributing food and medical supplies as well as helping at food banks and working with officials on the Grand Princess cruise ship, which docked in California after an outbreak of the virus on board.

With the coronavirus pandemic further stifling the efforts of California and other states to issue Real ID licenses, President Trump on Monday said he would extend the Oct. 1 deadline for people to apply for the identification cards to board domestic flights in the United States.

Times staff writers Priscella Vega, Paige St. John and Luke Money contributed to this report.





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Anxious about the coronavirus? Here are 5 tips from mental health experts


TORONTO —
Between the worrisome headlines and the drastic measures meant to limit the spread of COVID-19, the virus can be an added stressor for anyone.

Mark Henick, a mental health advocate and public speaker, said major public health events can be especially troublesome for someone with mental illnesses such as anxiety, depression or obsessive compulsive disorder.

“The problem when you have a mental illness like anxiety is that it interferes with their life, that you overcompensate in many ways, so they might be self-isolating, which is not good for your mental health at all,” he said in a recent phone interview with CTVNews.ca.

There have been 153 cases of COVID-19 in Canada, primarily in Ontario and British Columbia. One person has died thus far.

Keith Dobson, a researcher with the Mental Health Commission of Canada and a professor at the University of Calgary, said the COVID-19 outbreak has shown itself to be particularly anxiety inducing because of its unpredictability, uncontrollability and salience.

“This condition is a triple threat from a psychological perspective,” he said. “It’s not surprising there’s a lot of anxiety and lots of perceived threat.”

There are, however, several strategies that can be effective to help cope with the stresses associated with an outbreak, regardless of whether you have a mental illness.

UNDERSTAND THIS WILL PASS

While the situation might seem increasingly dire, Henick said it’s important to understand the outbreak will inevitably pass and there are some already simple ways to mitigate your risk, such as washing your hands and avoiding close contact.

“If people are dwelling on this, if it’s making them extremely anxious and that anxiety is impacting their health, I think it’s an important reminder that they’re probably going to be fine,” he said.

“Like all challenging public health events, we will get through this and we’ll learn from it.”

UNDERTAND EVERYONE’S BEING AFFECTED

With so much flux, someone with a mental illness might find it hard to deal with changes to their routine, but Mark Ferdinand, co-chair of the Canadian Alliance on Mental Illness and Mental Health, suggests it’s important for the people to understand that everyone is dealing with these same challenges.

“It’s important for people to know that this unprecedented situation that we’re experiencing right now with regards to how COVID-19 is affecting everyone in terms of what their daily lives are looking like,” he said.

When it comes to anxiety, Dobson argued those with an anxiety disorder might even be better off than the general public.

“Putting this on top of other issues in some ways might even be less severe than people with lower levels of anxiety, because the relative difference isn’t so much,” he said. “I actually think that for people with anxiety, it may not be too bad.”

AVOID SELF-ISOLATING IF NOT SICK

Henick suggests the biggest issue people with a mental illness might face during a pandemic is they might self-isolate out of fear, which can be particularly troublesome.

“It’s important to maintain contact with people in whatever way makes sense to do that, whether it’s online, by phone or by other means,” Henick said.

Henick added that mass cancellations of social gatherings such as concerts, sporting events and religious gatherings can only add to this feeling of isolation among people with mental health issues.

“While those are smart preventative measures from a public health perspective, it limits the opportunity for people who are already isolated to reach out and connect with others,” he said.

Family and friends of someone with a mental illness also play a part in making sure they don’t feel alone. Henick said something as simple as phone call can go a long way toward helping someone.

“One of the great parts of living in such a highly connected world now is that we have many ways of connecting with people and I think that we need to make the effort to do that,” he said.

FOLLOW THE NEWS IN MODERATION

As COVID-19 dominates the international headlines, the concerning news can lead to increased anxiety among some people, while others might fixate on the latest developments.

“Something that people do when they’re anxious, especially in times like this, is to overconsume media about it,” Henick said. “That’s just the way our brain works. We’re looking for answers, we’re looking for reassurance.”

Henick suggests it’s important for people to keep abreast about what’s going on in the world, but to do so responsibly.

Dobson agreed that it might be a good idea to stay away from the headlines, though it might not be entirely possible.

“This is a public health concern,” he said. “It’s appropriate, I think, that everybody has some degree of appropriate anxiety here about the issues.”

FIND A ‘COPING STRATEGY’

Ferdinand suggests “coping strategies” can be effective when it comes to keeping someone’s mind off a stressful and potentially problematic situation.

These activities can include anything that makes the person happy, such as reading, listening to music, chatting with a friend or playing an instrument.

“I think the idea is to find the coping strategy that either works for you, that makes you happy or to keep the connection alive with someone that you like talking to,” he said.



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Experts say Med Sea altered by Suez Canal’s invasive species


TEL AVIV, Israel (AP) — As Egypt marks the 150th anniversary of the opening of the Suez Canal, marine biologists are bemoaning one of the famed waterway’s lesser known legacies — the invasion of hundreds of non-native species, including toxic jellyfish and aggressive lionfish.

The canal, which connects the Red Sea to the Mediterranean Sea, revolutionized maritime travel by creating a direct shipping route between the East and the West. But over the years, the invasive species have driven native marine life toward extinction and altered the delicate Mediterranean ecosystem with potentially devastating consequences, scientists say.

The influx has increased significantly since Egypt doubled its capacity in 2015 with the opening of the “The New Suez Canal,” raising alarm in Europe and sparking criticism from various countries along the Mediterranean basin. The sharpest criticism comes from neighboring Israel, which once battled Egypt in war alongside the 193-kilometer (120-mile)-long canal.

Bella Galil, an Israeli marine biologist who has studied the Mediterranean for over three decades, said much of the ecological damage is irreversible.

But with the invasive fish and crustaceans buoyed by warming water temperatures and rapidly spreading toward European shores, she argued that urgent action is needed to minimize its long-term impact. Galil, of Tel Aviv University’s Steinhardt Museum of Natural History, said the continued widening and deepening of the canal had created a “moving aquarium” of species that, if unchecked, could make coastal waters inhospitable for humans.

Galil said the number of invasive species, currently about 400, has more than doubled over the past 30 years, a phenomenon she called a “historic example of the dangers of unintended consequences.”

Already, Israel is coping with an unprecedented wave of toxic jellyfish that has damaged coastal power plants and scared off beach-goers and tourists. Several other venomous species, including the aggressive lionfish, have established permanent colonies, creating a potential health hazard when they end up on plates of beach-side restaurants. Most worrisome has been the arrival of the Lagocephalus Sceleratus, an extremely poisonous bony fish commonly known as the silver-cheeked toadfish.

Galil said half of all the Israeli fish intake — and all the crustaceans — are now of the invasive variety.

With the “rolling invasion” now reaching as far as Spain, European countries are increasingly taking note. The issue is set to feature prominently at a United Nations ocean sustainability workshop this month in Venice.

“These non-indigenous organisms present serious threats to the local biodiversity, at the very least comparable to those exerted by climate change, pollution and over-fishing,” Galil said.

She said the new species have caused “a dramatic restructuring” of the ecosystem, endangering various local species and wiping out native mussels, prawns and red mullet.

Israel’s Environmental Protection Ministry said it was monitoring the process with concern since its coasts were the new species’ “first stop” in the Mediterranean. It stressed that Israel could not stop the phenomenon alone but is promoting regulation to protect the most vulnerable marine habitats. With Israel increasingly reliant on the Mediterranean Sea for drinking water, the ministry said protecting the country’s marine environment was “now more important than ever.”

Lebanese scientists at the American University of Beirut recently wrote that failing to mitigate the ecological risks associated with the expansion of the Suez Canal would place a large part of the Mediterranean ecosystem in jeopardy, an opinion shared by marine scientists across the eastern Mediterranean, from Turkey to Tunisia.

A relatively simple option for damage control seems to be available in the form of the Qatari-funded desalination plants the Egyptians are building along the canal, the first of which is expected to be opened later this year.

If carried out properly, Galil said the brine output of the plants could be funneled into the canal to recreate a “salinity barrier” that could stem the flow of species from south to north. The Great Bitter Lakes, about 45 kilometers (30 miles) north of Suez, once created such an obstacle. But as the canal widened and Egyptian cities and farms flushed agricultural wastewater into the lakes, that bulwark disappeared.

Egypt, which signed a peace accord with Israel in 1979 and recently signed a massive deal with it to import natural gas, has largely rejected the dire warnings of the Israeli scientists as politically motivated.

“Invasive species is a huge and nonspecific category,” said Moustafa Fouda, an adviser to Egypt’s environment minister. “They can even be productive, replacing species that are overfished, bringing economic benefits or simply adapting to the new environment.”

He estimated that less than 5% of invaders could be regarded as “disruptive” and that most of the shrimp, mollusks, puffer fish and crabs caused no harm. He said even toxic invaders, such as lionfish, were edible if their venomous spines were removed.

Egyptian experts also denied the invasions resulted directly from the Suez expansion. They argue that rising water temperatures brought on by global warming and untreated ballast water discharged by cargo ships spurred the exotic arrivals.

“Invasions are a global trend due to pollution and climate change, the natural result of which is every species struggling to survive and searching for its optimal environment,” said Tarek Temraz, a marine biology professor at Suez Canal University, and author of the environmental ministry’s impact assessment of the canal expansion.

The Suez Canal Authority, the government agency that operates the canal, claimed environmental concerns over its enlargement have been overstated. It said water volume flowing into the Mediterranean increased by 4%, creating “little impact on water flow and plankton movement.

Canal officials say they are closely monitoring species migration, imposing regulations on ships that unwittingly ferry invasive creatures and curtailing water contamination in hopes of restoring salinity to the lakes.

The canal authority said a recent drive to divert agricultural wastewater away from the Bitter Lakes has successfully raised salinity there by 3% over the past years.

Galil says that’s not enough, insisting that salinity must increase significantly to serve as an effective barrier against newcomers.

“One day we will wake up to a compete and irreversible change and know that there was something we could have done about it if only it had been done on time,” she said.

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DeBre reported from Cairo.

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Follow Aron Heller at www.twitter.com/aronhellerap and Isabel Debre at www.twitter.com/isabeldebre





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Lockheed Martin’s experts details laser weapon program – Defence Blog


Lockheed Martin’s experts have revealed details of directed energy and laser weapon system programs.

Directed energy and laser weapon systems are a proven solution that effectively addresses tech-driven threats with more accurate, flexible and affordable performance than offered by traditional ballistics.

“They’re designed to be precise, to yield minimal collateral damage and, in essence, offer an endless magazine,” said Dr. Rob Afzal, Lockheed Martin senior fellow, Laser and Sensor Systems. “As long as you have power, you can shoot—that’s a critical capability when you have to take on a large number of low-cost distributed threats such as a swarm of drones, each carrying a small explosive.”

Today’s directed energy weapon systems have decades of research behind them. Industry leader Lockheed Martin has spent 40 years designing and developing electromagnetic energy systems and elevating their power to create directed energy defense systems.

Powered by batteries, generators or pre-existing power sources, Lockheed Martin’s technology is a Spectrally Beam Combined fiber laser—small, powerful and extremely accurate. It uses beam-control optics and software algorithms to focus a stream of multiple kilowatt fiber lasers into a single high-quality beam.

The energy travels via mirrors, lenses and windows and can be adjusted for any atmospheric distortions on the way to its target. Normal ballistic challenges such as wind and gravity aren’t a factor, and the beam can disable a truck engine, burn through a rubber boat or bring down a drone.

“You can’t actually see the laser light, it’s invisible. The enemy wouldn’t know where the laser is coming from, they wouldn’t be able to target back. Of course, lasers travel at the speed of light,” said Sarah Reeves, vice president, Missile Defense Programs at Lockheed Martin.

Directed energy weapons’ unique characteristics change the defense equation both tactically and financially. Troops in the field needn’t worry about transporting heavy ammunition. The “ammunition” is merely the power supply, and the magazine is limitless. Their stealthy operation makes them ideal for surprise engagements—the enemy never sees it coming—and they can track and eliminate targets at both short- and long-range.

And as the Patriot missile incident illustrates, directed energy weapons offer huge potential cost savings and value added in any tactical scenario. Traditional weapons cost thousands or millions of dollars per shot and are limited by availability. As long as they have power available, laser weapons are infinitely renewable.

“The upfront cost is offset by the fact that the energy source, be it fuel, oil or a nuclear reactor, is often already in place,” Afzal said.

But laser weapon technology is meant to complement existing defense platforms, not replace traditional kinetic ballistic systems.

“They’re designed to act as an additional layer of defense that provides an advantage as they protect troops and critical assets,” said Reeves.

Lockheed Martin is ready to deploy and integrate directed energy technology by 2021. It’s the first company to bring laser weapon systems out of the lab and put them into the hands of soldiers, sailors and warfighters across all branches.

“It’s time for these systems to start moving into the field,” said Steven Botwinik, director, Sensors & Global Sustainment Advanced Programs at Lockheed Martin. “They’re ready now.”

Lockheed Martin’s research and development experience provides the knowledge needed to integrate such weapons across every defense platform.

“There are obviously different priorities for each branch,” Reeves said. “All of the services have the same need to find a target and defeat it—and the fundamental technologies are the same—but there are differences in how they might apply them in terms of tactics and target sets.”

Lockheed Martin’s ATHENA system, which is a prototype transportable, ground-based system designed to defeat close-in, low-value threats, is helping transform other defense platforms. The company provides the laser weapon system for the U.S. Navy’s HELIOS program, which has been retrofitted for a DDG-51, and delivers key subsystems for the U.S. Air Force’s SHiELD program, an aircraft-mounted high-power laser.

“We can put our laser weapon system into any existing architecture. Our systems are being designed to plug and play into any military system,” said Reeves.

Once implemented, directed energy weapons will become a defensive norm.

“We excel not only at efficiently producing tactical electro-optical systems like these but also sustaining them over time,” Botwinik said. “We’re building laser systems that must be able to perform repeatedly in war-fighting environments. We have the logistics and sustainment experience to maintain these systems anytime and anywhere in the world, for years and decades to come.”

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Kim Jong Un rides white horse through historic battlefields, experts see symbolism


North Korea’s Kim Jong Un was photographed on Wednesday riding a white horse through historic battlefields in the country and an expert on the region called the photo-op an attempt by the leader to send a clear message: the opportunity for diplomacy is nearing an end.

John Delury, an East Asia scholar at Yonsei University in Seoul, told Reuters that Kim’s ride is a “message to buckle up, it’s going to be a big year for us next year.”

He continued, “And not a year of diplomacy and summitry, but rather of national strength.”

This undated photo provided on Wednesday by the North Korean government shows North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, center, with his wife Ri Sol Ju, right, riding on white horse during his visit to Mount Paektu, North Korea. (Korean Central News Agency/Korea News Service via AP)

This undated photo provided on Wednesday by the North Korean government shows North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, center, with his wife Ri Sol Ju, right, riding on white horse during his visit to Mount Paektu, North Korea. (Korean Central News Agency/Korea News Service via AP)

Photos of Kim on the horse were released a day after the country’s foreign ministry issued a thinly veiled threat to the U.S. over its “hostile policies” of denuclearization. The ministry criticized President Trump over his calls for more talks and called the overtures nothing more than a “foolish” trick.

This undated photo provided on Wednesday, Dec. 4, 2019, by the North Korean government shows North Korean leader Kim Jong Un visits Mount Paektu, North Korea. (Korean Central News Agency/Korea News Service via AP)

This undated photo provided on Wednesday, Dec. 4, 2019, by the North Korean government shows North Korean leader Kim Jong Un visits Mount Paektu, North Korea. (Korean Central News Agency/Korea News Service via AP)

“What is left to be done now is the U.S. option and it is entirely up to the U.S. what Christmas gift it will select to get,” the ministry said.

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Kim was joined by top military officials during his ride near Mount Paektu. Reuters reported that the leader often rides there during major developments. Reports said Kim said the country needs to get ready for its “revolution.”

Fox News’ Danielle Wallace and the Associated Press contributed to this report



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