‘Pandora Papers’ bring renewed calls for tax haven scrutiny

By PAUL WISEMAN and MARCY GORDON

WASHINGTON (AP) — Calls grew Monday for an end to the financial secrecy that has allowed many of the world’s richest and most powerful people to hide their wealth from tax collectors.

The outcry came after a report revealed the way that world leaders, billionaires and others have used shell companies and offshore accounts to keep trillions of dollars out of government treasuries over the past quarter-century, limiting the resources for helping the poor or combating climate change.

The report by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists brought promises of tax reform and demands for resignations and investigations, as well as explanations and denials from those targeted.

The investigation, dubbed the Pandora Papers, was published Sunday and involved 600 journalists from 150 media outlets in 117 countries.

Hundreds of politicians, celebrities, religious leaders and drug dealers have used shell companies or other tactics to hide their wealth and investments in mansions, exclusive beachfront property, yachts and other assets, according to a review of nearly 12 million files obtained from 14 firms located around the world.

“The Pandora Papers is all about individuals using secrecy jurisdictions, which we would call tax havens, when the goal is to evade taxes,” said Steve Wamhoff, director of federal tax policy at the left-leaning Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy in Washington.

The tax dodges can be legal.

Gabriel Zucman, a University of California, Berkeley, economist who studies income inequality and taxes, said in a statement one solution is “obvious’: Ban “shell companies — corporations with no economic substance, whose sole purpose is to avoid taxes or other laws.’

“The legality is the true scandal,” activist and science-fiction author Cory Doctorow wrote on Twitter. “Each of these arrangements represents a risible fiction: a shell company is a business, a business is a person, that person resides in a file-drawer in the desk of a bank official on some distant treasure island.”

The more than 330 current and former politicians identified as beneficiaries of the secret accounts include Jordan’s King Abdullah II, former U.K. Prime Minister Tony Blair, Czech Republic Prime Minister Andrej Babis, Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta, Ecuador’s President Guillermo Lasso, and associates of both Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan and Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Some of those targeted strongly denied the claims.

Oxfam International, a British consortium of charities, applauded the Pandora Papers for exposing brazen examples of greed that deprived countries of tax revenue that could be used to finance programs and projects for the greater good.

“This is where our missing hospitals are,” Oxfam said in a statement. “This is where the pay-packets sit of all the extra teachers and firefighters and public servants we need.”

The European Commission, the 27-nation European Union’s executive arm, said in response to the revelations that it is preparing new legislative proposals to enhance tax transparency and reinforce the fight against tax evasion.

The Pandora Papers are a follow-up to a similar project released in 2016 called the “Panama Papers” compiled by the same journalistic group.

The latest bombshell is even more expansive, relying on data leaked from 14 different service providers doing business in 38 different jurisdictions. The records date back to the 1970s, but most are from 1996 to 2020.

The investigation dug into accounts registered in familiar offshore havens, including the British Virgin Islands, Seychelles, Hong Kong and Belize. But some were also in trusts set up in the U.S., including 81 in South Dakota and 37 in Florida.

The document trove reveals how powerful people are able to deploy anonymous shell companies, trusts and other artifices to conceal the true owners of corrupt or illicit assets. Legally sanctioned trusts, for example, can be subject to abuse by tax evaders and fraudsters who crave the privacy and autonomy they offer compared with traditional business entities.

Shell companies, a favored tax evasion vehicle, are often layered in complex networks that conceal the identity of the beneficial owners of assets — those who ultimately control an offshore company or other asset, or benefit from it financially, while other people’s names are listed on registration documents. The report said, for example, that an offshore company was used to buy a $4 million Monaco apartment for a woman who reportedly carried on a secret relationship with Putin.

While a beneficial owner may be required to pay taxes in the home country, it’s often difficult for authorities to discover that an offshore account exists, especially if offshore governments don’t cooperate.

A Treasury Department agency working on new regulations for a U.S. beneficial ownership directory has been debating whether partnerships, trusts and other business entities should be included. Transparency advocates say they must or else criminals will devise new types of paper companies for slipping through the cracks.

International bodies like the G7 group of wealthiest nations and the Financial Action Task Force have begun initiatives in recent years to improve ownership transparency, but the efforts have moved at a modest pace.

Pointing to the secrecy behind many of the tax dodges, some critics are calling for a global wealth registry that would make sham investments in shell companies public, embarrassing politicians or celebrities worried about their reputations.

In the U.S., the House passed legislation this summer that would require multinational corporations to publicly disclose their tax payments and other key financial information on a country-by-country basis. Anti-money laundering and corporate transparency measures were tucked into legislation funding the Defense Department; it has yet to be implemented by the Treasury Department.

The Biden administration is also pushing for U.S banks to be required to report customers’ account information to the IRS as part of the $3.5 trillion economic and social spending package before Congress. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen and other officials say it’s an important way to prevent tax dodging by wealthy individuals and companies, but it has raised fierce opposition from banking industry groups and Republican lawmakers, who maintain it would violate privacy and create unfair liability for banks.

Tax havens have already come under considerable scrutiny this year.

In July, negotiators from 130 countries agreed to a global minimum tax of at least 15% to prevent big multinational corporations from minimizing taxes by shifting profits from high- to low-tax jurisdictions such as Bermuda and the Cayman Islands. Details of the plan by the Paris-based Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, have yet to be worked out; it’s supposed to take effect in 2023.

And while the plan would cover huge multinational corporations, it would not include the shell companies and other entities behind the schemes described in the Pandora Papers.

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Associated Press writers Stan Choe in New York and John Rice in Mexico City contributed to this report.

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This story was first published on October 4, 2021. It was updated on October 5, 2021 to remove a photo with a caption that erroneously identified Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan as one of 330 current and former politicians who reportedly benefitted from secret accounts. The report identified Khan’s associates as beneficiaries, but not Khan himself.

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Shooting at Russian university leaves 6 dead, 28 hurt

By JIM HEINTZ

MOSCOW (AP) — A student opened fire Monday at a university in Russia, leaving six people dead and 28 hurt before being shot by police and detained, officials said. Other students and staff locked themselves in rooms during the attack and video on Russian news sites showed some students jumping out of second-story windows.

Beyond saying that he was a student, Russian authorities offered no further information on his identity or a possible motive.

In some footage, a black-clad helmeted figure could be seen striding on a sidewalk at Perm State University, cradling a long-barreled weapon. Russia’s Investigative Committee, the country’s top body for criminal probes, said the gunman fired a smoothbore hunting weapon. That could indicate he used a shotgun.

The university, which has 12,000 students, said about 3,000 people were on campus at the time. The school is in Perm, a city of 1 million residents located 1,100 kilometers (700 miles) east of Moscow.

The Investigative Committee said six people were killed, revising down its earlier figure of eight dead. No explanation was given for the change. It said 28 people were injured and some of them were hospitalized. The Health Ministry said 19 of them were shot; it was not clear how the others were injured.

In a video released by the Interior Ministry, a witness whose name was not given said he saw the man outside after shooting two people and that he appeared to be wearing a bulletproof vest.

A traffic police unit was the first to reach the scene and the suspect opened fire on them, according to the Interior Ministry. He was wounded when police returned fire and then was disarmed. The gunman also had a knife, the ministry said.

One traffic officer said people rushed out of the university building as gunshots were heard.

“I entered the building and saw an armed young man walking down the stairs. I shouted at him ‘Drop it!’” That’s when he pointed the gun at me and fired. At that point I used my gun,” officer Konstantin Kalinin said in the ministry video.

“I feel shock, disdain and anger,” university student Olga Kechatova said later at a makeshift memorial outside the university. “People who study with me at the university suffered and died for nothing.”

Although firearms laws are strict in Russia, many people obtain permits for hunting. News reports cited officials as saying the suspect had a permit for a pump-action shotgun, although it was not clear if that was for the weapon used.

School shootings are infrequent in Russia, but the Perm attack was the third such shooting in recent years. In May, a gunman opened fire at a school in the city of Kazan, killing seven students and two teachers with a registered weapon. A student at a college in Russia-annexed Crimea killed 20 students and himself in 2018.

After the Kazan shooting, President Vladimir Putin called on the national guard to tighten gun regulations. Russia then passed a law raising the minimum gun purchase age from 18 to 21.

The Russian leader offered his condolences on Monday.

“It is a tremendous tragedy, not only for the families who lost their children but for the entire country,” Putin said.

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Here are 5 countries that are opening up and living with Covid

By Laura Smith-Spark | CNN

More than 18 months into the coronavirus pandemic, a number of countries have decided it’s time to open up and adopt a “living with Covid” model.

Some have enviable vaccination rates; others have decided that the costs of continued economic and social restrictions outweigh the benefits.

Here are five nations to watch closely for how their new strategies play out.

Denmark: The country that declared precautions over

The Danish government lifted all remaining coronavirus restrictions in the country on September 10, saying Covid-19 was no longer “an illness which is a critical threat to society.”

Danes can now enter nightclubs and restaurants without showing a “Covid passport,” use public transport without wearing a face covering and meet in large numbers without restrictions — essentially returning to pre-pandemic life.

The key to Denmark’s success lies partly in its vaccination rollout: as of September 13, over 74% of Denmark’s population was fully vaccinated against Covid-19, according to Our World in Data.

The transmission rate, or R-rate, currently stands at 0.7, Health Minister Magnus Heunicke tweeted Wednesday, meaning that the epidemic is continuing to decline. If it’s above 1.0, Covid-19 cases will increase in the near future. If it’s below 1.0, cases will decrease in the near future.

“The vaccines and all citizens in Denmark’s great efforts over a long period of time are the basis for us to do so well,” Heunicke said.

Despite such optimism, Heunicke sounded a note of caution last month as the government announced the planned end date for restrictions. “Even though we are in a good place right now, we are not out of the epidemic. And the government will not hesitate to act quickly if the pandemic again threatens important functions in our society,” he said.

Singapore: Trying to live with Covid, but Delta isn’t helping

Singapore’s government announced in June that it was planning to move toward a living with Covid strategy — attempting to control outbreaks with vaccines and monitoring hospitalizations rather than restricting citizens’ lives.

“The bad news is that Covid-19 may never go away. The good news is that it is possible to live normally with it in our midst,” Singapore’s top Covid-19 officials wrote in an op-ed at the time.

Authorities began to ease some restrictions in August, allowing fully vaccinated people to dine in restaurants and to gather in groups of five, up from two.

But a surge in cases caused by the highly infectious Delta variant has put that strategy under strain, leading officials to pause further reopening. Officials warned last week that they might need to reimpose Covid-19 restrictions if the new outbreak was not contained.

Singapore’s Covid-19 taskforce said it would attempt to limit the outbreak through more aggressive contact tracing, “ring-fencing” cases and clusters, and more frequent mandatory testing for high-risk workers.

Despite such measures, Singapore reported its highest one-day Covid-19 case total in more than a year on Tuesday. So far, the number of people falling seriously ill remains low thanks to vaccination, authorities said.

Singapore pursued an aggressive “zero-Covid strategy” before shifting its approach, and has one of the highest Covid-19 vaccination rates in the world, with 81% of the population fully vaccinated.

Thailand: Slow vaccine takeup but it’s opening up anyway

Thailand plans to reopen Bangkok and other popular destinations to foreign visitors next month, officials said last week, as the southeast Asian nation tries to revive its crucial tourism industry despite rising infection numbers.

Under the expanded program, tourists who are fully vaccinated against Covid-19 and commit to a testing regime will be allowed to enter the capital, Hua Hin, Pattaya and Chiang Mai, according to Reuters.

The island of Phuket reopened to vaccinated foreign visitors on July 1 without quarantine requirements. On July 15, the country launched a similar program on the islands of Koh Samui, Koh Pha Ngan and Koh Tao, dubbed “Samui Plus.”

Although it kept infection numbers low in 2020 thanks to successful containment measures, Thailand has struggled to keep cases in check this year.

Vaccination rates are lagging behind those of some neighbors. Just under 18% of the Thai population were fully vaccinated against Covid-19 as of September 13, according to Our World in Data, with a further 21% partially vaccinated.

South Africa: Easing restrictions, but Delta’s still a threat

South Africa has started to ease several Covid-19 restrictions as infection rates decrease in the country.

Among other measures, the nationwide nighttime curfew has been shortened to 11 p.m. until 4 a.m., the size of gatherings allowed has increased to 250 people indoors and 500 outdoors, and restrictions on alcohol sales have been further reduced.

The easing of restrictions, announced by President Cyril Ramaphosa on Sunday, are notable in a country that passed much of the pandemic with extremely strict social distancing rules, even banning all gatherings except for funerals, at times — and where vaccination rates remain low.

Ramaphosa warned that a devastating third wave of infections driven by the more transmissible Delta variant was not over, but added that the country now has enough vaccine doses to cover the entire adult population, with more than a quarter of adults receiving at least one dose.

He encouraged everyone to get vaccinated and comply with remaining restrictions to allow the country to get back to normal.

“The third wave is not yet over, and it is only through our actions individually and collectively that we will be able to reduce the number of new infections,” he said.

Chile: High vaccination rates mean tourists can return

Chile has been internationally praised for its smooth and successful vaccination campaign. According to the health ministry’s latest reports, almost 87% of eligible Chileans are fully vaccinated.

The country has already started distributing booster shots to those who are fully vaccinated. Health authorities on Thursday approved the use of the Chinese vaccine Sinovac for children aged six and over; inoculations started on Monday.

Despite the threat posed by the Delta variant, the government on Wednesday announced moves to reopen the country to international tourism from October 1, just in time for the southern hemisphere nation’s summer season.

Foreign non-residents will be able to enter provided they meet certain requirements and isolate for five days on arrival.

“The fact that foreign tourists can come to Chile is an important step for the recovery of inbound tourism,” said Under-Secretary for Tourism José Luis Uriarte. “It’s important to point out that this is the first step, and we will be able to keep moving forward as long as we maintain the right health conditions.”

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CDC adds 7 destinations to ‘very high’ Covid-19 travel risk list, including Puerto Rico and Switzerland

Switzerland and Puerto Rico are now among the highest-risk destinations for travelers, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s regularly updated travel advisories list.

People should avoid traveling to locations designated with the “Level 4: Covid-19 Very High” notice, the CDC recommends. Anyone who must travel should be fully vaccinated first, the agency advises.

Seven destinations moved up on August 30 from the “Level 3: Covid-19 High” list to Level 4:

  • Azerbaijan
  • Estonia
  • Guam
  • North Macedonia
  • Puerto Rico
  • Saint Lucia
  • Switzerland

The CDC’s evolving list of travel notices ranges from Level 1 (“low”) to Level 4 (“very high”).

Destinations that fall into the “Covid-19 Very High” Level 4 category have had more than 500 cases per 100,000 residents in the past 28 days, according to CDC criteria. The Level 3 category applies to destinations that have had between 100 and 500 cases per 100,000 residents in the past 28 days.

Switzerland has had 659 laboratory-confirmed Covid-19 cases per 100,000 inhabitants in the past four weeks, according to the country’s Federal Office of Public Health. On August 29, nearly a third of Switzerland’s intensive care units were occupied by people with coronavirus. In North Macedonia, slightly less than a quarter of residents were fully vaccinated against Covid-19 as of August 30, while 9% were partially vaccinated. And of Saint Lucia’s population of around 185,000 people, it has fully vaccinated 15.1% and partially vaccinated 4.8%.

New ‘Level 3’ destinations

Ten other destinations moved to the “Level 3: Covid-19 High” category on Monday.Bermuda, Canada, Germany and Moldova moved up from Level 2. Bahrain, Indonesia, Namibia, Oman, Rwanda and Zimbabwe moved down from Level 4.

CDC guidance for Level 3 destinations urges unvaccinated travelers to avoid nonessential travel to those locations.In its broader travel guidance, the CDC has recommended avoiding all international travel until you are fully vaccinated.

“Fully vaccinated travelers are less likely to get and spread Covid-19. However, international travel poses additional risks, and even fully vaccinated travelers might be at increased risk for getting and possibly spreading some Covid-19 variants,” the agency said.

You can view the CDC risk level of any destination on the agency’s travel recommendations page.

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Nearly two dozen California students and their families are stuck in Afghanistan

By Cheri Mossburg | CNN

About 20 San Diego students and their families who traveled to Afghanistan this summer are stranded in the country and unable to get to Kabul’s airport, school and congressional spokespeople told CNN Wednesday.

Six families, including about 24 children, became stuck in Afghanistan after traveling there to visit relatives, said Howard Shen, spokesperson for the Cajon Valley Union School District.

At least one of the stranded families was able to make it safely back to the US, Shen said Wednesday evening. The family has five children, four of whom are students in the district.

“They are stateside, and they are safe,” Shen said, noting it is unclear if they are currently in California or elsewhere.

“The hope is that all 24 students will be in school sooner rather than later,” Shen said.

The school district, which serves between 16,000 and 17,000 students from preschool through eighth grade, is home to a large immigrant and refugee population, mostly from Afghanistan and Iraq. District officials have reached out to US Rep. Darrell Issa for help getting the affected families back to the United States.

Issa and his staff “are aware of the location of several American citizens,” and are in direct and consistent contact with them, said Jonathan Wilcox, a spokesperson for the representative.

“They are scared, stranded and trapped in the Kabul area,” Wilcox said in a statement. “So far, they’ve been unable to reach the airport. I know the President and his Press Secretary have previously said this isn’t happening, but that’s dead wrong.”

Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Wednesday there are about 1,500 people who may be Americans left in Afghanistan as evacuation operations continue. And while the pace of those evacuations has picked up significantly in recent days, Biden administration officials have voiced concern about security around Kabul’s airport.

The United States has evacuated at least 4,500 Americans since August 14 and more than 500 in the past day alone, Blinken said, adding that “over the past 24 hours we’ve been in direct contact with approximately 500 additional Americans and provided specific instructions on how to get to the airport safely.”

“For the remaining roughly 1,000 contacts that we had who may be Americans seeking to leave Afghanistan, we’re aggressively reaching out to them multiple times a day through multiple channels of communication,” he added.

Asked about the group of Southern California students at a White House briefing Wednesday afternoon, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said, “I certainly don’t have additional information on that.”

Wilcox said Issa and his staff are “in consistent contact” with the State Department and the Pentagon and others on the ground in Afghanistan.

“We have reason to believe that other California residents are very much in the same situation,” Wilcox said. “This is real.”

Shen, the district spokesperson, could not provide details on whether anyone from the group has been hurt amid the crowds of people who are hoping to flee the country, or whether the families are together.

“The situation is fluid, but we are expecting them to be back,” Shen said. “That is the hope.”

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Should you cancel travel plans? A medical expert weighs in

By Katia Hetter | CNN

As Covid-19 cases are surging across the United States again, daily infection rates are at their highest levels since February, due in large part to the very contagious Delta variant.

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has once again urged a return to indoor mask-wearing, citing that even vaccinated people can get infected and pass Covid-19 to others.

Meanwhile, many people have travel plans for the rest of the summer and the upcoming Labor Day holiday weekend. Should they cancel their vacations? Is air travel safe? What if they are getting together with extended family or friends over the holiday — what precautions need to be taken? And what about families with children too young to be vaccinated?

To help answer our many questions about travel and Covid-19 safety, we turned to CNN Medical Analyst Dr. Leana Wen. Wen is an emergency physician and visiting professor of health policy and management at the George Washington University Milken Institute School of Public Health. She’s also author of a new book, “Lifelines: A Doctor’s Journey in the Fight for Public Health,” and the mother of two young children.

CNN: What should people consider when deciding whether to continue, change or cancel their travel plans?

Dr. Leana Wen: The most important factor to consider is the medical risk of your household. Specifically, is everyone in your house vaccinated? If everyone is vaccinated and generally healthy, you are very well-protected from getting severely ill from Covid-19. Many people in this circumstance might decide that they could take the risk of mild symptoms if they were to contract coronavirus and proceed with all their original travel plans.

If someone in your home is unvaccinated or immunocompromised, you may decide differently. A very low risk trip may still be fine — for example, driving and then going camping and hiking with just your immediate family. But if the trip is going to involve spending a lot of time indoors with unmasked, unvaccinated people, I’d encourage the vulnerable individuals not to go on the trip. If some family members are still going to go, they could quarantine for at least three days upon return and then get tested before they get together indoors with vulnerable members of their household.

CNN: Would your advice depend on the location of the travel?

Wen: Yes, but in the US about 95% of the population lives in areas deemed by the CDC to have substantial or high levels of coronavirus transmission. I’d look at the specific area that you are thinking of traveling to and what you’d be doing there.

If you’re driving to a national park, and the plan is to spend all your time hiking outdoors, that’s very low risk. It doesn’t really matter if the community around the park has high Covid-19 transmission, if you don’t plan to interact with anyone there indoors.

That’s very different from if you’re planning a week of visiting museums, attending concerts, going to the theater and dining indoors. If those activities are taking place in a part of the country with a lot of virus transmission, you are being exposed constantly to Covid-19. The vaccines protect you well, but they are not 100%.

Risk is cumulative, and the more high-risk settings you are in, surrounded by people potentially carrying the virus, the more likely you are to experience a breakthrough infection even if you are vaccinated.

CNN: What’s your advice for people who have booked international travel? Should they go?

Wen: It depends. Again, make sure to look at your own medical risk and the risk of those in your family. Consider the location you’re going to. The CDC has updated information about Covid-19 by country divided into four levels of risk.

In addition, the US State Department has helpful information including the protocols that you need to follow in order to enter the country. Make sure to know the requirements. Some countries require proof of recent negative tests, for example, and some are beginning to require vaccination. Keep in mind that rules are constantly changing and stay flexible.

CNN: What about getting together for a wedding — would that be safe?

Wen: Once again, it depends. Many weddings involve people converging from different parts of the country or the world. That adds risk, especially since there are so many places with high levels of Covid-19 infection. It would certainly help if the hosts required that everyone attending is vaccinated.

Vaccinated people have an eight-fold reduced chance of contracting Covid-19 compared to unvaccinated people, according to estimates based on CDC data. If the ceremony and reception are both held outdoors, that would also reduce the risk. The opposite, of course, would be true of indoor gatherings of people of unknown vaccination status, who are eating and drinking and therefore not wearing masks. That would be a high-risk event.

CNN: Can we talk about modes of transportation — specifically plane travel. Is that still safe for vaccinated people? What about unvaccinated children?

Wen: Plane travel is still relatively safe for vaccinated people. Make sure to wear a high-quality mask at all times — ideally an N95 or KN95 mask. If you have to eat and drink, do so quickly, so as to minimize the amount of time you’re not wearing a mask.

Children too young to be vaccinated should also mask, if possible, with at least a 3-ply surgical mask. If they cannot keep on the mask for the duration of the trip, I would consider not bringing the child unless it’s an essential trip, such as moving across the country.

In my family, my husband and I will travel by plane and wear N95 or KN95 masks the entire time. Our son, who is almost four, is generally good about wearing masks, and if we had a short trip of a few hours’ flight, he’d be fine. But we have a 16-month-old daughter who is too young to mask. We would not feel comfortable bringing her on a flight right now.

Other families may make different decisions based on their level of risk tolerance as well as the value of the travel to them. For where we are in the pandemic, the risk is not worth the benefit to us.

CNN: Driving, going to rest stops, staying in a hotel en route — that’s all pretty safe from a Covid-19 standpoint, right?

Wen: Yes. Of course, use common sense — wear masks when going to the restroom in rest stops. Order carryout instead of eating indoors. Go directly to your room in the hotel, and don’t hang out in crowded hotel lobbies and bars.

CNN: What’s your advice for families who want to rent a house together?

Wen: The safest scenario is if everyone is fully vaccinated. If there are people who are unvaccinated, or if the people gathering want to reduce their risk further, everyone who wants to get together can essentially quarantine for three to five days and then get tested. By quarantine, I mean to reduce your risk by not getting together with other people indoors and not participating in higher-risk activities like indoor dining.

I know that this advice feels like we have taken a step backwards. It’s true — we have. Covid-19 cases are on the rise again, and we have the more contagious Delta variant to contend with.

Vaccination is the single most important step to protect us. In addition, depending on our individual circumstances, we should consider additional precautions to reduce risk and keep our families safe, while still enjoying travel.

The-CNN-Wire™ & © 2021 Cable News Network, Inc., a WarnerMedia Company. All rights reserved.

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‘Nowhere to run’: UN report says global warming nears limits

By SETH BORENSTEIN | The Associated Press

Earth’s climate is getting so hot that temperatures in about a decade will probably blow past a level of warming that world leaders have sought to prevent, according to a report released Monday that the United Nations called a “code red for humanity.”

“It’s just guaranteed that it’s going to get worse,” said report co-author Linda Mearns, a senior climate scientist at the U.S. National Center for Atmospheric Research. “Nowhere to run, nowhere to hide.”

But scientists also eased back a bit on the likelihood of the absolute worst climate catastrophes.

The authoritative Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report, which calls climate change clearly human-caused and “unequivocal,” makes more precise and warmer forecasts for the 21st century than it did last time it was issued in 2013.

Each of five scenarios for the future, based on how much carbon emissions are cut, passes the more stringent of two thresholds set in the 2015 Paris climate agreement. World leaders agreed then to try to limit warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) above levels in the late 19th century because problems mount quickly after that. The world has already warmed nearly 1.1 degrees Celsius (2 degrees Fahrenheit) in the past century and a half.

Under each scenario, the report said, the world will cross the 1.5 degrees Celsius warming mark in the 2030s, earlier than some past predictions. Warming has ramped up in recent years, data shows.

“Our report shows that we need to be prepared for going into that level of warming in the coming decades. But we can avoid further levels of warming by acting on greenhouse gas emissions,” said report co-chair Valerie Masson-Delmotte, a climate scientist at France’s Laboratory of Climate and Environment Sciences at the University of Paris-Saclay.

In three scenarios, the world will also likely exceed 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) over pre-industrial times — the other, less stringent Paris goal — with far worse heat waves, droughts and flood-inducing downpours “unless deep reductions in carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions occur in the coming decades,” the report said.

“This report tells us that recent changes in the climate are widespread, rapid and intensifying, unprecedented in thousands of years,” said IPCC Vice Chair Ko Barrett, senior climate adviser for the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

The 3,000-plus-page report from 234 scientists said warming is already accelerating sea level rise and worsening extremes such as heat waves, droughts, floods and storms. Tropical cyclones are getting stronger and wetter, while Arctic sea ice is dwindling in the summer and permafrost is thawing. All of these trends will get worse, the report said.

For example, the kind of heat wave that used to happen only once every 50 years now happens once a decade, and if the world warms another degree Celsius (1.8 degrees Fahrenheit), it will happen twice every seven years, the report said.

As the planet warms, places will get hit more not just by extreme weather but by multiple climate disasters at once, the report said. That’s like what’s now happening in the Western U.S., where heat waves, drought and wildfires compound the damage, Mearns said. Extreme heat is also driving massive fires in Greece and Turkey.

Some harm from climate change — dwindling ice sheets, rising sea levels and changes in the oceans as they lose oxygen and become more acidic — is “irreversible for centuries to millennia,” the report said.

The world is “locked in” to 15 to 30 centimeters (6 to 12 inches) of sea level rise by mid-century, said report co-author Bob Kopp of Rutgers University.

Scientists have issued this message for more than three decades, but the world hasn’t listened, said United Nations Environment Program Executive Director Inger Andersen.

Nearly all of the warming that has happened on Earth can be blamed on emissions of heat-trapping gases such as carbon dioxide and methane. At most, natural forces or simple randomness can explain one- or two-tenths of a degree of warming, the report said.

The report described five different future scenarios based on how much the world reduces carbon emissions. They are: a future with incredibly large and quick pollution cuts; another with intense pollution cuts but not quite as massive; a scenario with moderate emission cuts; a fourth scenario where current plans to make small pollution reductions continue; and a fifth possible future involving continued increases in carbon pollution.

In five previous reports, the world was on that final hottest path, often nicknamed “business as usual.” But this time, the world is somewhere between the moderate path and the small pollution reductions scenario because of progress to curb climate change, said report co-author Claudia Tebaldi, a scientist at the U.S. Pacific Northwest National Lab.

While calling the report “a code red for humanity,” U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres kept a sliver of hope that world leaders could still somehow prevent 1.5 degrees of warming, which he said is “perilously close.”

There is also a way for the world to stay at the 1.5-degree threshold with extreme and quick emission cuts, but even then, temperatures would rise 1.5 degrees Celsius in a decade and even beyond, before coming back down, said co-author Maisia Rojas Corrada, director of the Center for Climate and Resilience Research in Chile.

“Anything we can do to limit, to slow down, is going to pay off,” Tebaldi said. “And if we cannot get to 1.5, it’s probably going to be painful, but it’s better not to give up.”

In the report’s worst-case scenario, the world could be around 3.3 degrees Celsius (5.9 degrees Fahrenheit) hotter than now by the end of the century. But that scenario looks increasingly unlikely, said report co-author and climate scientist Zeke Hausfather, climate change director of the Breakthrough Institute.

“We are a lot less likely to get lucky and end up with less warming than we thought,” Hausfather said. “At the same time, the odds of ending up in a much worse place than we expected if we do reduce our emissions are notably lower.”

A “major advance” in the understanding of how fast the world warms with each ton of carbon dioxide emitted allowed scientists to be far more precise in the scenarios in this report, Mason-Delmotte said.

The report said ultra-catastrophic disasters — commonly called “tipping points,” like ice sheet collapses and the abrupt slowdown of ocean currents — are “low likelihood” but cannot be ruled out. The much talked-about shutdown of Atlantic ocean currents, which would trigger massive weather shifts, is something that’s unlikely to happen in this century, Kopp said.

The report “provides a strong sense of urgency to do even more,” said Jane Lubchenco, the White House deputy science adviser.

In a new move, scientists emphasized how cutting airborne levels of methane — a powerful but short-lived gas that has soared to record levels — could help curb short-term warming. Lots of methane the atmosphere comes from leaks of natural gas, a major power source. Livestock also produces large amounts of the gas, a good chunk of it in cattle burps.

More than 100 countries have made informal pledges to achieve “net zero” human-caused carbon dioxide emissions sometime around mid-century, which will be a key part of climate negotiations this fall in Scotland. The report said those commitments are essential.

“It is still possible to forestall many of the most dire impacts,” Barrett said.

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Read more of AP’s climate coverage at http://www.apnews.com/Climate

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Follow Seth Borenstein on Twitter at @borenbears.

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The Associated Press Health and Science Department receives support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Department of Science Education. The AP is solely responsible for all content.

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US gymnast tests positive for Covid-19 ahead of Tokyo Olympics

By Chie Kobayashi for CNN

An unnamed US female gymnast has tested positive for Covid-19, Inzai city official Takamitsu Ooura told CNN.

The teenage gymnast is staying in Inzai City in Chiba Prefecture, Japan, for pre-camp ahead of the Tokyo Olympics which start on Friday.

She tested positive on Sunday and her doctor confirmed the test result after another test Monday.

The gymnast has no symptoms and is quarantined in her hotel room as she waits for the public health center to decide on whether or not to hospitalize her.

One gymnast has been identified as a close contact of the gymnast who tested positive.

Tokyo 2020 reported Monday that there are 58 Covid-19 cases linked to the Olympic Games.

The-CNN-Wire™ & © 2021 Cable News Network, Inc., a WarnerMedia Company. All rights reserved.

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Prince William says royals are ‘very much not a racist family’

By Angela Dewan and Schams Elwazer | CNN

Prince William has denied the royal family is racist in his first public remarks since his brother Prince Harry, and his wife Meghan, made explosive claims in a TV interview.

Asked by a reporter during a visit to a school in east London if the royals were a “racist family,” the Duke of Cambridge said: “We’re very much not a racist family.”

Harry and Meghan, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, made a series of damning accusations against the royal family in an interview with Oprah Winfrey, which aired in the UK on Monday night.

In response to a question on whether he had spoken to his brother since the interview with Oprah Winfrey, Prince William said, “I haven’t spoken to him yet but I will do.”

Harry and Meghan’s interview has sent the Palace into a tailspin and triggered a nationwide debate on the royals, race and the role of the media in perpetuating xenophobia.

In the interview, the Duchess said that the skin tone of the couple’s child, Archie, was discussed as a potential issue before he was born. The couple would not reveal who had made the remarks.

In the interview, Meghan described having regular suicidal thoughts during her brief time as a working royal, and said the palace had offered her and her son inadequate security and protection.

Buckingham Palace broke its silence on Tuesday evening, saying in a statement on behalf of the Queen that the allegations of racism were concerning and were being “taken very seriously.”

“The whole family is saddened to learn the full extent of how challenging the last few years have been for Harry and Meghan,” the statement reads.

The-CNN-Wire™ & © 2021 Cable News Network, Inc., a WarnerMedia Company. All rights reserved.

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Indian village cheers for Kamal Harris before swearing-in as US Vice President

By RISHI LEKHI and AIJAZ RAHI | The Associated Press

THULASENDRAPURAM, India — People in a tiny Indian village surrounded by rice paddies flocked to a Hindu temple, burst crackers and uttered prayers Wednesday hours before its descendant, Kamala Harris, takes her oath of office to become the U.S. vice president.

Groups of women in bright saris and men wearing white dhotis thronged the temple with sweets and flowers, offering special prayers for Harris’ success.

“We are feeling very proud that an Indian is being elected as the vice president of America,” said Anukampa Madhavasimhan, a teacher.

The ceremony in Thulasendrapuram, where Harris’ maternal grandfather was born about 350 kilometers (215 miles) from the southern coastal city of Chennai, saw the idol of Hindu deity Ayyanar, a form of Lord Shiva, washed with milk and decked with flowers by the priest. Shortly after, the village reverberated with a boom of firecrackers as people held up posters of Harris and clapped their hands.

Harris is set to make history as the first woman, first Black woman and first person of South Asian descent to hold the vice presidency. What makes her achievement special in this village is her Indian heritage.

Harris’ grandfather was born in Thulasendrapuram more than 100 years ago. Many decades later, he moved to Chennai, the capital of Tamil Nadu state. Harris’ late mother was also born in India, before moving to the U.S. to study at the University of California. She married a Jamaican man, and they named their daughter Kamala, a Sanskrit word for “lotus flower.”

In several speeches, Harris has often spoken about her roots and how she was guided by the values of her Indian-born grandfather and mother.

So when Joe Biden and Harris triumphed in the U.S. election last November, Thulasendrapuram became the center of attention in entire India. Local politicians flocked to the village and young children carrying placards with photos of Harris ran along the dusty roads.

Then and now, villagers set off firecrackers and distributed sweets and flowers as a religious offering.

Posters and banners of Harris from November still adorn walls in the village and many hope she ascends to the presidency in 2024. Biden has skirted questions about whether he will seek reelection or retire.

“For the next four years, if she supports India, she will be the president,” said G Manikandan, who has followed Harris politically and whose shop proudly displays a wall calendar with pictures of Biden and Harris.

On Tuesday, an organization that promotes vegetarianism sent food packets for the village children as gifts to celebrate Harris’ success.

In the capital New Delhi, there has been both excitement — and some concern — over Harris’ ascend to the vice presidency.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi had invested in President Donald Trump, who visited India in February last year. Modi’s many Hindu nationalist supporters also were upset with Harris when she expressed concern about Kashmir, the disputed Muslim-majority region whose statehood India’s government revoked last year.

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