WHO hopes to use Ebola vaccine to stem outbreak in remote area of Congo

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The World Health Organization said on Friday it hopes to deploy an experimental Ebola vaccine to tackle an outbreak in a remote area of Congo to prevent it spreading, particularly to the provincial capital of 1 million people.

Congo reported the outbreak on Tuesday, with 32 suspected, probable or confirmed cases of the disease since April 4, including 18 deaths. A new suspected case was reported on Friday.

The WHO is moving quickly, having been criticised for bungling its response to a 2014-2016 outbreak that killed more than 11 300 people in Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia.

“We are very concerned and planning for all scenarios,including the worst case scenario,” Peter Salama, WHO’s Deputy Director-General of Emergency Preparedness and Response, told a regular UN briefing in Geneva.

The outbreak area is 15 hours by motorbike from the closest town and has “absolutely dire” infrastructure, Salama said, so the WHO wants to send in 20-40 experts by helicopter this weekend and then clear an airstrip for more supplies.

“This is going to be tough and it’s going to be costly to stamp out this outbreak,” he said.

The immediate risk was to the provincial capital Mbandaka,with about 1 million inhabitants, but Congo’s nine neighbours have also been put on high alert in case the disease crosses a border, especially by river to the Republic of Congo or Central African Republic.

Gambia, Guinea and Nigeria have already said they are taking steps to ensure the virus does not spread, and Kenya’s Health Ministry said on Friday it would bolster screening of travellers with thermo scanners at airports.

Normally a remote setting would reduce the chance of the disease spreading. But already there are three separate locations covering 60 km or more, and some of the victims were healthcare workers, potentially “an amplification factor” for outbreaks, Salama said.

The local culture, with traditional healers and communal burials where there was close contact with the deceased, could cause “super-spreading” of Ebola, which kills up to 90% of sufferers, he said.

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Found: lone asteroid expelled from early Solar System

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An asteroid ejected from our infant Solar System found refuge billions of kilometres away, beyond the orbit of Neptune, where it has now been spotted, astronomers said Wednesday.

The curious loner is the first carbon-rich asteroid ever observed in the far-flung region called the Kuiper belt, which is filled with frozen objects, a team reported in The Astrophysical Journal Letters.

Its composition suggests the asteroid must have been formed in the inner Solar System, likely in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, before migrating to its outer reaches, said the team.

This makes it “a relic of the primordial Solar System”, they added.

Theoretical models of our early Solar System describe a tempestuous time with gas giant planets on the rampage, ejecting small rocky bodies from its the system’s centre to far-flung orbits.

Such models suggest the Kuiper Belt should contain a small number of rocky bodies, perhaps also carbon-rich asteroids.

The new observation, using telescopes of the European Southern Observatory in Chile, provides “strong support for these theoretical models of our Solar System’s troubled youth,” said an ESO statement.

The asteroid was spotted partly because it reflects light differently than other objects in the Kuiper Belt, which are icy while asteroids are rocky.

“It looked enough of a weirdo for us to take a closer look,” said study lead author Tom Seccull of Queen’s University Belfast.

It is, nevertheless, very difficult to study.

The 300 kilometre-wide (186 mile) space rock is four billion kilometres from Earth, and dark.

“It’s like observing a giant mountain of coal against the pitch-black canvas of the night sky,” said co-author Thomas Puzia of the Pontifical Catholic University of Chile.

Dubbed 2004 EW95, the asteroid is moving, and feint.

“We had to use a pretty advanced data processing technique to get as much out of the data as possible,” said Seccull.

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Children miss school because of drought in parts of Kenya

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Several school going children in some of Kenya’s arid areas have not resumed classes following a long dry spell in most parts of the country.

Children are said to have followed their parents for long treks away from their villages in search of water and pastures for their animals. Most of the affected are Masai who are traditionally herders.

The previous day we met Henry Matiyan, a guardian who had come to collect a transfer letter for his brother.l The drought has forced his family to move several kilometres away from here – he will now continue schooling elsewhere.

“If it continues, it means there will be no school; all these children will go away with their parents,” says Kinuthia.

Kajiado like many parts of Kenya has not received adequate rainfall since 2016.  It is an arid area – meaning it lacks adequate water.

The Masaai people who are the main inhabitants of the area are livestock keepers – the more one has the wealthier they are, now their livestock’s carcasses dot their land, their cattle bomas are empty and so are their pockets.

Kajaido Resident college student Henry Matiyan has been forced to drop out until the rains.

“Ideally the school fees would come have from, from cattle, I as a masaai that is our bank. We have no other place to look for money, the only way is to sell cattles and goats.”

“It’s a big, big loss, big loss. Cows have died, our goats have died, even donkeys,” adds another resident Amos Lau Lau

To save the remaining livestock, they have now moved hundreds of kilometres from here in search of pastures and water for their livestock together with their children.

Only old women, the pregnant and very little children have been left behind.

Food has kept Enosorua Primary school running at least for now. We witness the children receiving a meal of maize of beans – just a cup per child but that cup means the difference between keeping the school open or closed.

“Do you see? That this food makes children come to school?  Yes, that I really accept, because when it is not there, the children cannot come to school,” says Enosorua Primary School teacher, Maxwell Obaga.

The arid and semi-arid areas make at least 80% of Kenya.

Education officials from the county, who refused to speak to the SABC on camera say, although Kajiado is an arid area, it is not classified as a hard ship area and does not therefore receive food rations from the government.

“It breaks our hearts to see our kids go the whole day without food and they are expected to compete with others who have better facilities,” says Sankale.

We sought a comment from Kenya’s ministry of Education but we were yet to get a response by the time of filing this report.


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Computer chip ‘flaw’ sparks security debate amid scramble for fix

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A newly discovered vulnerability in computer chips on Wednesday raised concerns  that hackers could access sensitive data on most modern systems, as technology firms sought to play down the security risks.

Chip giant Intel issued a statement responding to a flurry of warnings surfacing after researchers discovered the security hole which could allow privately stored data in computers and networks to be leaked.

Intel labeled as incorrect reports describing a “bug” or “flaw” unique to its products.

Intel chief executive Brian Krzanich told CNBC that “basically all modern processors across all applications” use this process known as “access memory,” which was discovered by researchers at Google and kept confidential as companies work on remedies.

Google, meanwhile, released findings from its security researchers who sparked the concerns, saying it made the results public days ahead of schedule because much of the information had been in the media.

The security team found “serious security flaws” in devices powered by Intel, AMD and ARM chips and the operating systems running them and noted that, if exploited, “an unauthorized party may read sensitive information in the system’s memory such as passwords, encryption keys, or sensitive information open in applications”.

“As soon as we learned of this new class of attack, our security and product development teams mobilized to defend Google’s systems and our users’ data,” Google said in a security blog.

“We have updated our systems and affected products to protect against this new type of attack. We also collaborated with hardware and software manufacturers across the industry to help protect their users and the broader web.”

The Google team said the vulnerabilities, labeled “Spectre” and “Meltdown,” affected a number of chips from Intel as well as some from AMD and ARM, which specializes in processors for mobile devices.

Intel said it was working with AMD and ARM Holdings and with the makers of computer operating software “to develop an industry-wide approach to resolve this issue promptly and constructively.”

Jack Gold, an independent technology analyst, said he was briefed in a conference call with Intel, AMD and ARM on the issue and that the three companies suggested concerns were overblown.

“All the chips are designed that way,” Gold said.

The companies were working on remedies after “some researchers found a way to use existing architecture and get into protected areas of computer memory and read some of the data,” he added.

Microsoft said in a statement it had no information suggesting any compromised data but was “releasing security updates today to protect Windows customers against vulnerabilities.”

But an AMD spokesman said that because of the differences in AMD processor architecture, “we believe there is near zero risk to AMD products at this time.”

ARM meanwhile said it was “working together with Intel and AMD” to address potential issues “in certain high-end processors, including some of our Cortex-A processors.”

“We have informed our silicon partners and are encouraging them to implement the software mitigations developed if their chips are impacted,” the SoftBank-owned firm said.

Earlier this week, some researchers said any fix which would need to be handled by software could slow down computer systems, possibly by 30% or more.

Intel‘s statement said these concerns, too, were exaggerated.

“Contrary to some reports, any performance impacts are workload-dependent, and, for the average computer user, should not be significant and will be mitigated over time,” the company statement said.

Tatu Ylonen, security researcher at SSH Communications Security,  said the patches “will be effective” but it will be critical to get all networks and cloud services upgraded, Ylonen said.

British security researcher Graham Cluley also expressed concern “that attackers could exploit the flaw on vulnerable systems to gain access to parts of the computer’s memory which may be storing sensitive information. Think passwords, private keys, credit card data.”

But he said in a blog post that it was “good news” that the problem had been kept under wraps to allow operating systems such as those from Microsoft and Apple to make security updates before the flaw is maliciously exploited.

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More than 4 thousand houses damaged by storm in Mpumalanga

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The Bushbuckridge Local Municipality says preliminary investigations suggest that over 4 000 houses in Mkhuhlu and surrounding villages, outside Hazyview, in Mpumalanga, have been damaged by the storm that hit the area on New Year’s eve.

Residents of Mkhuhlu are picking up the pieces and trying to rebuild what has been destroyed. Hundreds of houses were damaged when the storm that was accompanied by hail hit the area just before sunset on New Year’s Eve.

The storm left a trail of destruction, causing damage to structures including a local hospital.

Some residents who do not have insurance face a daunting task of repairing their houses from their own pockets.

“It looks as if somebody was on top of the roof with a hummer, pulling all the roof tiles and also windows are broken and the cars are being damaged, the windscreen, the back windows and on top of the cars, there are lots of dents.”

The residents are calling on government to assist.

The Bushbuckridge Local Municipality says a task team has been established to assess the damage.

Spokesperson for the municipality Aubrey Mnisi says their task is far from over.

“We are meeting as a committee that was established to look into the disaster.”

The municipality has issued out tents to all affected families as a temporary relief measure. More relief aid is expected to arrive in the area.

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Facebook, Twitter face deadline in Brexit fake news probe

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Social media giants Facebook and Twitter are facing a deadline in Britain to cooperate with an inquiry into so-called fake news in the Brexit referendum campaign, a parliamentary committee chairman said Friday.

The companies have been given until January 18 to share information requested by British lawmakers probing suspected Russian interference around the vote, according to Damian Collins, chair of the Department of Culture, Media and Sport select committee.

He told AFP both his committee and the Government would review what action could be taken if the tech titans fail to comply.

“It’s been over a month since we made the request to Facebook for this information and we need to see some action,” Collins said.

“They have ignored our requests… for information on any activity relating to fake accounts and in fact only responded in relation to accounts set up in the USA but not set up here.”


He added: “We have had similar issues with Twitter and we have gone back to them and asked them for deeper investigations.”


The Conservative Party member of parliament said the committee had been clear in its requests to the companies, as it examines influence exerted during the 2016 referendum on Britain leaving the European Union.

“We want to know what links there are between fake accounts set up here and Russian agencies,” he said. “They have not answered our questions.”

Collins added it was “simply not credible” for Facebook to continue profiting from advertising while stonewalling his inquiry.


The company had shown itself capable of acting, such as during the French presidential election when it removed 35,000 accounts, he said.

“They are best placed to do their own investigating as they know the characteristics of their accounts holders and what payments have been made from Russian agencies and what acocunts they relate to,” Collins added.

Facebook and Twitter did not respond to requests for comment on Friday.

The EU is also looking into whether the social media companies have done enough to prevent misinformation peddling on their platforms.

It launched a public consultation on the phenomenon in November, the first step in a process that could see the promotion of bogus news stories made illegal in Europe.



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Alleged white lion poacher to appear in court

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A man charged with killing white lions at Alldays in the north of Limpopo, will appear in court soon in the New Year.

Police spokesperson, Moatshe Ngoepe says the suspect was arrested in the Bochum, or Sewabarwana, area on Saturday night.

Several white lions were killed and their heads and paws cut off in various parts of Limpopo in the past year.

Ngoepe says people have also been arrested for capturing another endangered species.

“There has been an arrest of a 28 year old man following the arrest of his accomplice earlier for unlawful hunting of special protected species that is a white lion in Alldays outside Makhado. Meanwhile, two suspects were arrested in Malamulele for possession of pangolin the arrested suspects will appear in court soon our investigations on both cases are continuing.”

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