Met Opera Cancels 2020-21 Season

The Metropolitan Opera has canceled all performances for its 2020-21 season, saying the coronavirus pandemic remains too great an ongoing health concern.

In a release, the New York City company said Wednesday that, based on the advice of health officials, it could not safely begin operations “until a vaccine is widely in use, herd immunity is established and the wearing of masks and social distancing is no longer a medical requirement.”

The company, one of the most august cultural institutions in the world, previously announced the cancellation of performances through Dec. 30 because of the pandemic. The Met shut down in mid-March, as did other theaters and arts-presenting organizations in the city, though the company initially anticipated a much shorter stoppage of just a few weeks.

The Met added that it plans to resume performances in the fall of next year. Officials announced several productions they are planning for the 2021-22 calendar, including the company premiere of “Fire Shut Up in My Bones,” an opera by jazz trumpeter and composer Terence Blanchard that will open the season on Sept. 27, 2021.

Nevertheless, officials made it clear that the loss of an entire season is no small matter.

“The inability to perform is taking a tremendous toll on our company,” General Manager Peter Gelb said in a statement.

Two people look into the closed Metropolitan Opera House at Lincoln Center in New York City. The opera closed its doors after officials in March banned large gatherings of people due to the coronavirus.


Photo:

Kathy Willens/Associated Press

The Met, with a pre-pandemic annual budget of around $300 million, has already furloughed its orchestra and chorus in an effort to keep its finances in check during the health crisis.

Mr. Gelb said even when the company resumes performances, it could be some time before attendance reaches pre-pandemic levels in its 3,800-seat theater. The Met plans certain initiatives to make audiences feel more comfortable about returning to the venue, he said, including starting productions earlier in the evening and reducing the running times of operas, which can often easily exceed three hours.

It remains to be seen if other theaters and arts groups will follow the Met’s lead and extend cancellations through the spring, if not later. New York state and city officials haven’t indicated when they plan to allow theaters to welcome back patrons. Last month, they permitted museums in the city to reopen for limited visitation.

In addition to “Fire Shut Up in My Bones,” the Met’s 2021-22 season is scheduled to include two other new operas, Matthew Aucoin’s “Eurydice” and Brett Dean’s “Hamlet.” The season will also feature new productions of such classic works as Verdi’s “Rigoletto” and Donizetti’s “Lucia di Lammermoor.”

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U.S. CDC says coronavirus could spread through air

Sept 21 (Reuters) – The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has warned that COVID-19 could spread through airborne particles that can remain suspended in the air and travel beyond six feet.

The agency previously said the virus mainly spreads from person to person through respiratory droplets when a sick person coughs, sneezes or talks.

The updated guidance, posted on the agency’s website on Friday, also recommended that people use air purifiers to reduce airborne germs indoors to avoid the disease from spreading. (bit.ly/2EknVZc)

Airborne viruses are among the most contagious, and the CDC warned that poorly-ventilated places increase the risk of spreading.

Studies have shown that the new coronavirus could spread through aerosols in the air, and the World Health Organization has said it is monitoring “emerging evidence” of possible airborne transmission.

Reporting by Manas Mishra in Bengaluru; Editing by Ramakrishnan M.

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Moderna sees 20 million doses of COVID-19 vaccine candidate by year end

FILE PHOTO: A sign marks the headquarters of Moderna Therapeutics, which is developing a vaccine against the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Cambridge, Massachusetts, U.S., May 18, 2020. REUTERS/Brian Snyder/File Photo

(Reuters) – Moderna Inc said on Friday it was on track to produce 20 million doses of its experimental coronavirus vaccine by the end of the year, while maintaining its goal of readying 500 million to 1 billion doses in 2021.

Vaccines and treatments are seen as essential in controlling the COVID-19 pandemic that has shown no signs of slowing and killed over 944,000 people worldwide.

A handful of vaccines, including those from Pfizer Inc and AstraZeneca, are also being tested in large studies.

Moderna had enrolled 25,296 participants out of a planned 30,000 in its late-stage study as of Wednesday. (bit.ly/35PkSnc)

The company is working with Switzerland’s Lonza Group AG and Spain’s Laboratorios Farmacéuticos Rovi to make the vaccine outside the United States.

Moderna has a vaccine supply deal in place with the U.S. for 100 million doses, and has finished advanced talks with the European Union for the vaccine.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention anticipates that 35 million to 45 million doses of vaccines from the first two companies to receive authorization will be available in the United States by the end of this year.

Moderna plans to seek emergency authorization for its vaccine’s use in high-risk groups if it proves to be at least 70% effective, its chief executive officer told Reuters earlier this week.

Reporting by Manas Mishra in Bengaluru; Editing by Shounak Dasgupta

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Taiwan scrambles jets as 18 Chinese planes buzz during U.S. visit

TAIPEI/BEIJING (Reuters) – Taiwan scrambled fighter jets on Friday as 18 Chinese aircraft buzzed the island, crossing the sensitive midline of the Taiwan Strait, in response to a senior U.S. official holding talks in Taipei.

China had earlier announced combat drills and denounced what it called collusion between the island, which it claims as part of its territory, and the United States.

U.S. Undersecretary for Economic Affairs Keith Krach arrived in Taipei on Thursday for a three-day visit, the most senior State Department official to come to Taiwan in four decades – to which China had promised a “necessary response.”

The U.S. State Department has said Krach, who arrived in Taipei on Thursday afternoon, is in Taiwan for a memorial service on Saturday for former President Lee Teng-hui, who was revered by many on the island and internationally as the father of Taiwan’s democracy.

But Beijing has watched with growing alarm the ever-closer relationship between Taipei and Washington, and has stepped up military exercises near the island, including two days of large-scale air and sea drills last week.

With a U.S. presidential election looming in November, Sino-U.S. relations are already under huge strain from a trade war, U.S. digital security concerns and the coronavirus pandemic.

Taiwan said 18 Chinese aircraft were involved on Friday, far more than in previous such encounters and entered its southwest air defense identification zone (ADIZ).

“Sep. 18, two H-6 bombers, eight J-16 fighters, four J-10 fighters and four J-11 fighters crossed the midline of the TaiwanStrait and entered Taiwan’s southwest ADIZ,” the defence ministry said in an English-language tweet.

Combat aircraft from both sides normally avoid passing through the Taiwan Strait midline.

“ROCAF scrambled fighters, and deployed air defence missile system to monitor the activities.” The ROCAF, Taiwan’s air force, has scrambled frequently in recent months in response to Chinese intrusions.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who has led the Trump administration’s rhetorical offensive against China, accused Beijing of bluster when asked about the Chinese activity.

“We sent the delegation to a funeral, and the Chinese have apparently responded by military blustering. I’ll leave it at that,” he told a news conference on a visit to Guyana.

In a statement, the Pentagon said it was another example of China using its military as a tool of coercion.

“The PLA’s aggressive and destabilizing reactions reflect a continued attempt to alter the status quo and rewrite history,” a Pentagon spokesman said, using an acronym for China’s People’s Liberation Army.

The ministry showed a map of the flight paths of Chinese jets crossing the midline.

Taiwan’s Liberty Times newspaper said Taiwanese jets had scrambled 17 times over four hours, warning China’s air force to stay away. It also showed a picture of missiles being loaded onto an F-16 fighter at the Hualien air base on Taiwan’s east coast.

‘REASONABLE, NECESSARY ACTION’

In Beijing, Chinese Defense Ministry spokesman Ren Guoqiang said Friday’s maneuvers, about which he gave no details, involved the People’s Liberation Army’s eastern theater command.

“They are a reasonable, necessary action aimed at the current situation in the Taiwan Strait and protecting national sovereignty and territorial integrity,” Ren said.

He said Taiwan was a purely internal Chinese affair and accused its ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) of stepping up “collusion” with the United States.

Trying to “use Taiwan to control China” or “rely on foreigners to build oneself up” was wishful thinking and futile. “Those who play with fire will get burnt,” Ren said.

Taiwan’s presidential office urged China to exercise restraint, and urged the Taiwanese not to be alarmed, saying the military had a grasp on the situation.

Government officials in Taiwan, including President Tsai Ing-wen, have expressed concern in recent weeks that an accidental military encounter could spark a wider conflict.

Hu Xijin, editor of China’s widely read state-backed Global Times tabloid, wrote on his Weibo microblog that the drills were preparation for an attack on Taiwan should the need arise, and that they enabled intelligence-gathering about Taiwan’s defense systems.

“If the U.S. secretary of state or defence secretary visits Taiwan, People’s Liberation Army fighters should fly over Taiwan island, and directly exercise in the skies above it,” he added.

Chinese fighter jets briefly crossed the midline last month while U.S. Health Secretary Alex Azar was in Taipei, and last week China carried out two days of large-scale drills off Taiwan’s southwestern coast.

The United States, like most countries, has official ties only with China, not Taiwan, though Washington is the island’s main arms supplier and most important international backer.

This week, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations had lunch with Taiwan’s top envoy in New York. China’s U.N. mission said it had lodged “stern representations” over the meeting.

Reporting by Yew Lun Tian in Beijing and Ben Blanchard in Taipei; Additional reportnmg by David Brunnstrom and Idrees Ali in Washington; Editing by Kevin Liffey, Jonathan Oatis and Grant McCool

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Potential sign of alien life detected on inhospitable Venus

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Scientists said on Monday they have detected in the harshly acidic clouds of Venus a gas called phosphine that indicates microbes may inhabit Earth’s inhospitable neighbor, a tantalizing sign of potential life beyond Earth.

The researchers did not discover actual life forms, but noted that on Earth phosphine is produced by bacteria thriving in oxygen-starved environments. The international scientific team first spotted the phosphine using the James Clerk Maxwell Telescope in Hawaii and confirmed it using the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) radio telescope in Chile.

“I was very surprised – stunned, in fact,” said astronomer Jane Greaves of Cardiff University in Wales, lead author of the research published in the journal Nature Astronomy.

The existence of extraterrestrial life long has been one of the paramount questions of science. Scientists have used probes and telescopes to seek “biosignatures” – indirect signs of life – on other planets and moons in our solar system and beyond.

“With what we currently know of Venus, the most plausible explanation for phosphine, as fantastical as it might sound, is life,” said Massachusetts Institute of Technology molecular astrophysicist and study co-author Clara Sousa-Silva.

“I should emphasize that life, as an explanation for our discovery, should be, as always, the last resort,” Sousa-Silva added. “This is important because, if it is phosphine, and if it is life, it means that we are not alone. It also means that life itself must be very common, and there must be many other inhabited planets throughout our galaxy.”

Venus has not been the focus of the search for life elsewhere in the solar system, with Mars and other worlds getting more attention.

Phosphine – a phosphorus atom with three hydrogen atoms attached – is highly toxic to people.

Earth-based telescopes like those used in this research help scientists study the chemistry and other characteristics of celestial objects.

Phosphine was seen at 20 parts-per-billion in the Venusian atmosphere, a trace concentration. Greaves said the researchers examined potential non-biological sources such as volcanism, meteorites, lightning and various types of chemical reactions, but none appeared viable. The research continues to either confirm the presence of life or find an alternative explanation.

Venus is Earth’s closest planetary neighbor. Similar in structure but slightly smaller than Earth, it is the second planet from the sun. Earth is the third.

Venus is wrapped in a thick, toxic atmosphere that traps in heat. Surface temperatures reach a scorching 880 degrees Fahrenheit (471 degrees Celsius), hot enough to melt lead.

“I can only speculate on what life might survive on Venus, if indeed it is there. No life would be able to survive on the surface of Venus, because it is completely inhospitable, even for biochemistries completely different from ours,” Sousa-Silva said. “But a long time ago, Venus could have had life on its surface, before a runaway greenhouse effect left the majority of the planet completely uninhabitable.”

THE ACID TEST

Some scientists have suspected that the Venusian high clouds, with mild temperatures around 86 degrees Fahrenheit (30 degrees Celsius), could harbor aerial microbes that could endure extreme acidity. These clouds are around 90% sulphuric acid. Earth microbes could not survive that acidity.

“If it’s microorganisms, they would have access to some sunlight and water, and maybe live in liquid droplets to stop themselves dehydrating, but they would need some unknown mechanism to protect against corrosion by acid,” Greaves said.

On Earth, microorganisms in “anaerobic” environments – ecosystems that do not rely on oxygen – produce phosphine. These include sewage plants, swamps, rice fields, marshlands, lake sediments and the excrements and intestinal tracts of many animals. Phosphine also arises non-biologically in certain industrial settings.

To produce phosphine, Earth bacteria take up phosphate from minerals or biological material and add hydrogen.

“We have done our very best to explain this discovery without the need for a biological process. With our current knowledge of phosphine, and Venus, and geochemistry, we cannot explain the presence of phosphine in the clouds of Venus. That doesn’t mean it is life. It just means that some exotic process is producing phosphine, and our understanding of Venus needs work,” Sousa-Silva said.

Venus should be hostile to phosphine. Its surface and atmosphere are rich in oxygen compounds that would rapidly react with and destroy phosphine.

“Something must be creating the phosphine on Venus as fast as it is being destroyed,” said study co-author Anita Richards, an astrophysicist associated with the University of Manchester in England.

NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine on Twitter called the new findings “the most significant development yet in building the case for life off Earth.” Among missions that the U.S. space agency is currently considering is one that would send an atmospheric probe to Venus.

“It’s time to prioritize Venus,” Bridenstine wrote.

While previous robotic spacecraft have visited Venus, a new probe may be needed to confirm life.

“Fortunately, Venus is right next door,” Sousa-Silva said. “So we can literally go and check.”

Reporting by Will Dunham; Additional reporting by Joey Roulette; Editing by Daniel Wallis and Sandra Maler

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India pushes tonnes of supplies to disputed China border ahead of winter

LEH, India (Reuters) – From deploying mules to large transport aircraft, India’s military has activated its entire logistics network to transport supplies to thousands of troops for a harsh winter along a bitterly disputed Himalayan border with China.

Indian soldiers disembark from a military transport plane at a forward airbase in Leh, in the Ladakh region, September 15, 2020. REUTERS/Danish Siddiqui

In recent months, one of India’s biggest military logistics exercises in years has brought vast quantities of ammunition, equipment, fuel, winter supplies and food into Ladakh, a region bordering Tibet that India administers as a union territory, officials said.

The move was triggered by a border stand-off with China in the snow deserts of Ladakh that began in May and escalated in June into hand-to-hand combat. Twenty Indian soldiers were killed while China suffered an undisclosed number of casualties.

Both countries are negotiating to resolve the confrontation, but neither side has backed down. The Indian military is now set to keep troops deployed along the treacherous, high-altitude border through the winter.

Eastern Ladakh, where the flare-up occurred, is typically manned by 20,000-30,000 soldiers. But the deployment has more than doubled with the tensions, a military official said, declining to provide exact numbers.

“We have mirrored the increase in Chinese troops,” the official said, adding the Indian military was well-prepared but did not want further escalation or a prolonged conflict.

Temperatures in Ladakh can fall well below freezing, and troops are often deployed at altitudes of over 15,000 feet, where oxygen is scarce, officials said.

Since snow blocks mountain passes into Ladakh at least four months every winter, Indian military planners have already moved more than 150,000 tonnes of materials into the region.

“All the supplies that we need have already been pushed to wherever they are required,” said Major General Arvind Kapoor, chief of staff of the Indian army’s 14 Corps.

FERRYING TO THE FRONTLINE

On Tuesday morning, a succession of the Indian air force’s large transport aircraft landed at a forward base in Ladakh, carrying men and materials, as fighter jets roared overhead.

Soldiers with backpacks streamed out and were checked for COVID-19 symptoms at a transit facility, where they awaited further transport.

The materials are stored across a network of logistics hubs.

At a fuel, oil and lubricant depot near Leh, Ladakh’s main city, a hillside was covered with clusters of green drums.

At storage facilities at a nearby supply depot, boxes and sacks of ration – including pistachios, instant noodles and Indian curries – stood in tall piles. At another base near Leh, tents, heaters, winter clothing and high-altitude equipment lay stacked.

From these depots, the materials are pushed to logistics nodes by trucks, helicopters and, in some particularly difficult parts, mules, officials said.

“In a place like Ladakh, operations logistics is of huge importance,” said Kapoor. “In the last 20 years, we have mastered it.”

Reporting by Devjyot Ghoshal; Editing by Sanjeev Miglani and Richard Chang

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‘Shocking’: Blair, Major chide UK plan to breach international law

LONDON (Reuters) – Former prime ministers Tony Blair and John Major said on Sunday Britain must drop a “shocking” plan to pass legislation that breaks its divorce treaty with the European Union, in a breach of international law.

FILE PHOTO: Former British prime ministers John Major (L) and Tony Blair speak as they walk across the Peace Bridge, before a news conference on the EU referendum, in Londonderry, Northern Ireland June 9, 2016. REUTERS/Jeff J Mitchell/Pool

The British government said explicitly last week that it plans to break international law by breaching parts of the Withdrawal Agreement treaty that it signed in January, when it formally left the EU.

“What is being proposed now is shocking,” Major and Blair, who were adversaries in the 1990s as Conservative and Labour leaders, wrote in a joint letter published by the Sunday Times newspaper.

“How can it be compatible with the codes of conduct that bind ministers, law officers and civil servants deliberately to break treaty obligations?”

Theresa May, the predecessor of current Prime Minister Boris Johnson, has also questioned whether international partners would be able to trust Britain in future.

Johnson’s Internal Market Bill is aimed at ensuring Britain’s four constituent nations can trade freely with one another after leaving the EU, but the government says that requires overriding part of the withdrawal treaty it signed with Brussels.

British ministers say the bill is a “safety net” in the event there is no trade deal reached with the bloc, but top EU officials say it undermines both the withdrawal treaty and trust in future talks.

KEEPING THE PEACE

EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier said on Sunday that the Withdrawal Agreement on Northern Ireland “is not a threat to the integrity of the UK”, and had been agreed by the two sides to protect peace on the island of Ireland.

“We could not have been clearer about the consequences of Brexit,” Barnier said on Twitter.

His British counterpart David Frost responded by saying London had to reserve powers in the new bill in order to keep the peace in Ireland.

Keir Starmer, leader of the opposition Labour Party, described the legislation as wrong on Sunday.

“We have broken the trust of our international partners,” Starmer wrote in the Sunday Telegraph newspaper, adding that his party would oppose the bill in parliament unless changes were made.

European lawmakers have warned they would not approve any new trade deal unless the withdrawal agreement was fully implemented, while there is also talk of possible legal action.

“The reputation of the UK … as a trusted negotiating partner on important issues like this is being damaged in a very serious way,” Irish foreign minister Simon Coveney told the BBC on Sunday.

Reporting by Andy Bruce, additional reporting by Kate Abnett in Brussels; editing by Emelia Sithole-Matarise

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TikTok sale deadline won’t be extended, says Trump

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Donald Trump has said no further time will be given to ByteDance, the parent company of TikTok, to divest the US business of the video-sharing app.

Donald Trump has declared that no additional time will be given to ByteDance, the parent company of TikTok, to sell the activities in the United States of the video sharing application. / Photo taken on September 9, 2020 / REUTERS / Dado Ruvic

“TikTok will either be sold or closed,” the US president told reporters Thursday night, before a trip to Michigan. “The deadline will not be extended,” he added.

No immediate feedback could be obtained from TikTok.

Donald Trump ordered the Chinese group on August 15 to sell TikTok’s American activities within 90 days because of concerns about the management of private data. This period was initially 45 days.

ByteDance, while engaging in discussions with Microsoft to cede TikTok’s activities in the United States to it, on August 24 attacked Donald Trump in court to contest his ban.

The Chinese group is also in discussions with other potential buyers including Walmart and Oracle, according to sources familiar with the matter.

For the moment, ByteDance has not reached any agreement with these potential buyers as the deadline set by the US administration expires in mid-September.

According to the Bloomberg agency, ByteDance is unlikely to be able to sell TikTok’s U.S. assets by September 20.

Accused by the Trump administration of constituting a threat to the national security of the United States in view of the vast data it collects, ByteDance is seeking to strengthen itself in other countries.

The group plans to invest several billion dollars and recruit hundreds of employees in Singapore over the next three years, Reuters learned Friday from a source familiar with the matter.

Another source said ByteDance transferred engineers from China to Singapore this year.

As part of its global expansion, ByteDance plans to make Singapore the beachhead for its business in Asia, outside of China, according to Bloomberg.

With Aishwarya Nair in Bangalore and Yingzhi Yang in Beijing; French version Claude Chendjou, edited by Blandine Hénault

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Corona deaths in Argentina exceed ten thousand

A man with a muzzle walks through the center of Buenos Aires on August 4, 2020. Photo: Reuters / Agustin McCarrian

BUENOS AIRES (Reuters) – The Argentine government said the country’s total coronavirus deaths had exceeded 10,000 on Monday, as the South American country struggled to control its infection rate.

The country has recorded 10129 deaths out of 48,8007 confirmed cases of the virus, according to government data. Half of the coronavirus tests in Argentina are positive.

Argentina has been under lockdown since March 20, although cases have increased in recent weeks. Some areas of the country, including the capital, Buenos Aires, are still subject to varying levels of quarantine, although some activities such as exercise and dining in open-air restaurants have resumed recently.

Prepared by Hassan Ammar for the Arabic Bulletin – Edited by Abdel Fattah Sharif

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Fainting When Oration After Registering to the KPU, Candidate for Regent of the Incumbent Passed Away at the Hospital

TERNATE – The Regent of East Halmahera, who was also a candidate for regent Muhdin Ma’bud, died at Maba Hospital, East Halmahera Regency, Friday (4/9/2020), at around 16.00 WIT.

Quoted from Kompas.com, the Head of Public Relations of the East Halmahera Regency Government, Yusuf Thalib, said that Muhdin and his partner, Anjar Taher, registered with the General Election Commission (KPU) on Friday morning.

“The list was made this morning, but because there is still a lack of administration from the deputy, it is a bit late,” Yusuf said when contacted by Kompas.com, Friday.

“Because noon after Friday there were already other candidates on the list, because of the delay, so on Friday we continued the list,” added Yusuf.

After registering, Muhdin read out a political oration in front of his supporters. About 15 minutes of giving speeches, Muhdin fainted on the stage.

“ Earlier, I was still giving speeches and fainted. About 15 minutes earlier, the speech immediately fainted, ” said Yusuf again.

The applause of the supporters who had gathered around the stage suddenly stopped. They were surprised that the candidate in the East Halmahera Pilkada fell.

Anjar who was standing beside Muhdin immediately picked him up. The incumbent candidate was immediately rushed to the hospital.

Muhdin was treated for half an hour in the hospital.

” I myself was the one who immediately took it to the hospital. About half an hour at the hospital, the doctor immediately declared Regent Muhdin dead, ” explained Yusuf.

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