Google turns Android phones into earthquake sensors; California to get alerts

By Paresh Dave

OAKLAND, Calif. (Reuters) – Alphabet Inc’s Google’s Android phones on Tuesday started detecting earthquakes around the world to provide data that could eventually give billions of users precious seconds of warning of a tremor nearby, with an alerting feature first rolling out in California.

Japan, Mexico and California already use land-based sensors to generate warnings, aiming to cut injuries and property damage by giving people further away from the epicenter of an earthquake seconds to protect themselves before the shaking starts.

If Google’s approaches for detecting and alerting prove effective, warnings would reach more people, including for the first time Indonesia and other developing countries with few traditional sensors.

Seismology experts consulted by Google said turning smartphones into mini-seismographs marked a major advancement, despite the inevitably of erroneous alerts from a work in progress, and the reliance on a private company’s algorithms for public safety. More than 2.5 billion devices, including some tablets, run Google’s Android operating system.

“We are on a path to delivering earthquake alerts wherever there are smartphones,” said Richard Allen, director of University of California Berkeley’s seismological lab and visiting faculty at Google over the last year.

Google’s program emerged from a week-long session 4-1/2 years ago to test whether the accelerometers in phones could detect car crashes, earthquakes and tornadoes, said principal software engineer Marc Stogaitis.

Accelerometers – sensors that measure direction and force of motion – are mainly used to determine whether a user is holding a phone in landscape or portrait mode.

The company studied historical accelerometer readings during earthquakes and found they could give some users up to a minute of notice.

Android phones can currently separate earthquakes from vibrations caused by thunder or the device dropping only when the device is charging, stationary and has user permission to share data with Google.

If phones detect an earthquake, they send their city-level location to Google, which can triangulate the epicenter and estimate the magnitude with as few as several hundred reports, Stogaitis said.

The system will not work in regions including China where Google’s Play Services software is blocked.

Google expects to issue its first alerts based on accelerometer readings next year. It also plans to feed alerts for free to businesses that want to automatically shut off elevators, gas lines and other systems before the shaking starts.

To test its alerting abilities, Google is drawing in California from traditional government seismograph readings to alert Android users about earthquakes, similar to notifications about kidnappings or flooding.

People expected to experience strong shaking would hear a loud dinging and see a full-screen advisement to drop, cover and hold on, Stogaitis said. Those further away would get a smaller notification designed not to stir them from their sleep, while people too close to be warned will get information about post-quake safety, such as checking gas valves.

Alerts will trigger for earthquakes magnitude 4.5 or greater, and no app download is necessary.

MyShake, an app launched by Allen’s Berkeley lab last year to provide Californians warnings and let them report damage, has drawn 1 million downloads.

Stogaitis also said Google has not discussed its plans with Apple Inc, whose competitor to Android comprises half the market in countries including the United States.

Apple was not immediately available for comment.

(Reporting by Paresh Dave; Additional reporting by Nathan Frandino; Editing by Sonya Hepinstall)

Miami medical teams feel helpless as COVID-19 devastates South Florida

By Zachary Fagenson

MIAMI (Reuters) – As the coronavirus ravages Florida, healthcare workers in Miami hospitals are struggling to cope with the emotional and physical impact of treating a crushing wave of COVID-19 patients.

After seeing 10,000 new cases a day become the norm across the state in July, many of those on the front lines are frustrated with the apparent inability of local, state, and federal governments to coordinate an adequate response. They are equally aghast with what appears to be the reluctance or refusal of many Floridians to honor safety precautions to stop the spread of coronavirus.

“I know, and my colleagues know, that we’re putting a Band-Aid on a problem, we’re supporting people as best we can to get them through, but the real fight happens outside,” said Dr. Eric Knott, a pulmonary and critical care fellow working in three of Miami’s largest hospitals. “If you can’t stop the spread, all of my work is for nothing.”

For Miami doctors, concerns about the virus far surpass those stirred up by even the largest hurricanes.

“A hurricane tends to be a sort of finite amount, and this is infinite,” said Dr. Mark Supino, an attending physician in Jackson Memorial Hospital’s emergency department.

Many healthcare workers and union leaders were critical of Miami’s reopening several weeks after the number of cases of the novel coronavirus first began rising in early March.

On Friday, state health officials reported a total of 402,312 cases across Florida, with 135 new deaths bringing the total to more than 5,600.

While the death toll in South Florida has not approached that of New York City, an early epicenter of the U.S. outbreak, hospital beds and intensive care units across the region have filled to capacity, and in some cases surpassed it.

At Jackson Memorial Hospital, the largest facility in the region, officials have called in hundreds of additional medical workers as employees have fallen sick and had to stay home or be hospitalized. An auditorium was sealed and prepared for COVID-positive patients with a negative pressure system to limit the air flow to prevent new infections.

“In 10 years of medicine I never had to put another nurse on life support, I never had to worry about my co-workers dying,” said Kevin Cho Tipton, a critical care nurse practitioner who works at one of Miami’s largest public hospitals. “It’s been emotionally very challenging, physically very challenging.”

Among the most difficult and stressful parts of the job are the sheer number of ICU patients.

Healthcare workers must constantly keep tabs on the vital organs of patients on ventilators, and many of the sick have to be flipped over and over again to stave off any complications from lying in one position for a prolonged period. To do so without risking detaching any of the life support systems can take up to six people.

The intensity has overwhelmed some.

Jude Derisme, vice president of Service Employees International Union 1199, which represents 25,000 medical workers across Florida, said the union had to help get one nurse, a 25-year veteran, off a hospital floor after a “break down.”

“My fear is that if we don’t find a way to bring these numbers down over the next two weeks, if they’re worse than these last two weeks, we’re going to be stretched too thin,” said Martha Baker, a registered nurse and president of Service Employees International Union 1991, which represents about 5,600 medical professionals within Miami’s Jackson Health System. “The sad news is that that’s when patients die.”

While her chapter of the union along with others across Florida have advocated for more personal protective equipment, better overtime pay, hazard pay, and worker’s compensation for those waylaid by the virus, they also acknowledged that medical workers can only do so much against the pandemic.

“This is war, and instead of bullets we’ve got viruses,” Baker said. “If we don’t find a way to dampen our curve we just keep chasing our tails.”

(Reporting by Zachary Fagenson in Miami; Editing by Frank McGurty and Tom Brown)

‘It’s not over’: COVID-19 cases rise in some nations easing lockdowns: WHO

WHO
GENEVA (Reuters) – Some countries have seen “upticks” in COVID-19 cases as lockdowns ease, and populations must protect themselves from the coronavirus while authorities continue testing, the World Health Organization (WHO) said on Friday.

The epicenter of the pandemic is currently in countries of Central, South and North America, particularly the United States, WHO spokeswoman Margaret Harris said.

“On upticks (in cases), yes we have seen in countries around the world – I’m not talking specifically about Europe – when the lockdowns ease, when the social distancing measures ease, people sometimes interpret this as ‘OK, it’s over’,” Harris told a U.N. briefing in Geneva.

“It’s not over. It’s not over until there is no virus anywhere in the world,” she said.

Harris, referring to U.S. demonstrations since the killing of George Floyd 10 days ago, she said that protesters must take precautions. “We have certainly seen a lot of passion this week, we’ve seen people who have felt the need to be out and to express their feelings,” she added. “”We ask them to remember still protect yourself and others.”

To avoid infection, the WHO advised people to maintain a distance of at least 1 metre (3 feet), frequently wash hands and avoid touching their mouth, nose and eyes, Harris said.

(Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay; Editing by Kevin Liffey and Pravin Char)

‘Here Comes the Sun’ gets U.S. hospitals through dark days of pandemic

By Barbara Goldberg

NEW YORK (Reuters) – The most powerful medicine being used to bolster the morale of New York area healthcare workers at the epicenter of the U.S. novel coronavirus crisis may well be music.

Daily infusions of upbeat songs from The Beatles’ classic “Here Comes the Sun” to the theme from the hang-tough movie “Rocky” are being pumped through hospital public address systems to boost the spirits of nurses, doctors and support staff.

About 545,000 people were diagnosed with COVID-19 in the United States as of Sunday, and roughly 21,600 have died of the highly contagious illness.

A 4:30 p.m. daily dose of Australian pop singer Starley’s “Call On Me” has given strength to staff at one of Mount Sinai’s hospitals in New York City, who clap as a growing number of patients are discharged from the overwhelmed facility across the street from Columbia University.

“Some people would say to accept their fate. Well if this is fate then we’ll find a way to cheat,” Starley sings. “You know you can call on me, if you can’t stop the tears from falling down.”

In New Jersey, the “Rocky” theme song filled the air at St. Joseph Regional Medical Center in Paterson when Dr. James Pruden, the hospital’s director of emergency preparedness, was discharged last week as he recovered from the virus, rolling in his wheelchair past cheering staff.

On New York’s Long Island, the joyful “Here Comes the Sun” blasts overhead on the public address system at Mount Sinai South Nassau in Oceanside every time a COVID-19 patient is discharged.

In Detroit, one of the newest U.S. hot spots for the fast-spreading disease, a Beaumont Health nurse said the 1969 Beatles hit was played not just when patients are discharged but each time they are taken off a ventilator to breath on their own.

“The smiles returning to the faces. Little darling, it seems like years since it’s been here,” rings out the song that George Harrison wrote about renewal after a long, dark winter.

(Additional reporting by Herbert Lash and Jonathan Allen in New York; Editing by Tom Brown)

U.S. coronavirus death projection lowered but official warns of ‘second wave’

By Peter Szekely and Maria Caspani

NEW YORK (Reuters) – An influential university model on the U.S. coronavirus pandemic on Wednesday scaled back its projected death toll by 26% to 60,000 but a federal health official warned of a second wave of infections if Americans relax “social distancing” practices.

The downward revision in the death toll in the University of Washington model – often cited by U.S. and state policymakers – coincides with comments by some political leaders that caseloads may have reached a plateau in certain areas.

Those assessments in recent days, including an apparent leveling out in hospitalizations in New York state – the U.S. epicenter of the pandemic – are tempered by a persistent climb in the U.S. death toll, which rose by more than 1,900 on Tuesday as some 30,000 new infections were reported.

New York Mayor Bill De Blasio told a briefing on Wednesday that coronavirus-related hospitalizations in the most populous U.S. city had stabilized and that the need for ventilators was lower than projected.

“In the last few days we’ve actually seen fewer ventilators needed that were projected,” the mayor said.

Even that revised forecast suggested months of pain ahead for the United States. All told, about 400,000 U.S. infections have been reported, along with roughly 13,000 deaths.

“What’s really important is that people don’t turn these early signs of hope into releasing from the 30 days to stop the spread – it’s really critical,” said Deborah Birx, the coordinator of the White House coronavirus task force, referring to guidelines aimed at reducing the spread of the virus.

“If people start going out again and socially interacting, we could see a really acute second wave,” Birx added.

The pandemic has upended American life, with 94% of the population ordered to stay at home and nearly 10 million people losing their jobs in the past two weeks.

Hospitals have been inundated with cases of COVID-19, the respiratory disease caused by the virus, resulting in shortages of medical equipment and protective garments.

The University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation model is one of several that the White House task force has cited. It now projects U.S. deaths at more than 60,000 by Aug. 4, down from the nearly 82,000 fatalities it had forecast on Tuesday.

The White House coronavirus task force has previously projected 100,000 to 240,000 Americans could die.

The institute also moved up its projected peak in the number to U.S. deaths to this Sunday, when it predicted 2,212 people will succumb to the disease. The revision moves forward the projected peak by four days, suggesting the strain on the country’s healthcare system will begin to abate a little sooner than previously expected.

AT-HOME DEATHS UNTRACKED

New York’s de Blasio estimated an undercount in the death toll of 100 to 200 people per day who are dying at home but excluded from the city’s rapidly growing coronavirus count. So far the city’s announced death toll has reflected only COVID-19 diagnoses confirmed in a laboratory.

But after a spike in the number of people dying at home, the city will now try to quantify how many of those died from coronavirus-related causes and add that to the its official death toll, New York’s health department said.

“Every single measure of this pandemic is an undercount. Every. Single. One,” Mark Levine, chairman of the City Council’s health committee, wrote on Twitter. “Confirmed cases? Skewed by lack of testing. Hospitalizations? Skewed by huge # of sick people we are sending home because there’s no room in ERs. Deaths? Massive undercount because of dying at home.”

The state of New York accounts for more than a third of U.S. confirmed coronavirus cases, and nearly half the cumulative death toll.

Authorities in various states in recent days have disclosed data showing that the pandemic was having a disproportionate impact on African Americans, reflecting longstanding racial inequities in health outcomes in the United States.

De Blasio said there were “clear inequalities” in how the coronavirus is affecting his city’s population.

In New York, long weeks of fighting the pandemic were taking a toll on hospital staff, some of whom are coming down with the disease they have been fighting.

One resident doctor at New York-Presbyterian Hospital said he had been surprised by the number of hospital workers infected.

“There are people around the hospital who are sick and now they’re showing up on our patient list. … It’s hard not to see yourself in them,” the resident said. “A lot of us feel like we are being put in harm’s way.”

(Reporting by Peter Szekely, Doina Chiacu, Susan Heavey and Gabriella Borter; Writing by Daniel Trotta and Will Dunham; Editing by Scott Malone and Alistair Bell)

Coronavirus could kill 81,000 in U.S., subside in June – Washington University analysis

By Carl O’Donnell

(Reuters) – The coronavirus pandemic could kill more than 81,000 people in the United States in the next four months and may not subside until June, according to a data analysis done by University of Washington School of Medicine.

The number of hospitalized patients is expected to peak nationally by the second week of April, though the peak may come later in some states. Some people could continue to die of the virus as late as July, although deaths should be below epidemic levels of 10 per day by June at the latest, according to the analysis.

The analysis, using data from governments, hospitals and other sources, predicts that the number of U.S. deaths could vary widely, ranging from as low as around 38,000 to as high as around 162,000.

The variance is due in part to disparate rates of the spread of the virus in different regions, which experts are still struggling to explain, said Dr. Christopher Murray, director of the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington, who led the study.

The duration of the virus means there may be a need for social distancing measures for longer than initially expected, although the country may eventually be able relax restrictions if it can more effectively test and quarantine the sick, Murray said.

The analysis also highlights the strain that will be placed on hospitals. At the epidemic’s peak, sick patients could exceed the number of available hospital beds by 64,000 and could require the use of around 20,000 ventilators. Ventilators are already running short in hard-hit places like New York City.

The virus is spreading more slowly in California, which could mean that peak cases there will come later in April and social distancing measures will need to be extended in the state for longer, Murray said.

Louisiana and Georgia are predicted to see high rates of contagion and could see a particularly high burden on their local healthcare systems, he added.

The analysis assumes close adherence to infection prevention measures imposed by federal, state and local governments.

“The trajectory of the pandemic will change – and dramatically for the worse – if people ease up on social distancing or relax with other precautions,” Murray said in a statement.

The analysis comes as confirmed coronavirus cases in the United States continue to mount, with the World Health Organization saying the country has the potential to become the world’s new epicenter of the virus.

The coronavirus causes a respiratory illness that in a minority of severe cases ravages the lungs and can lead to death.

The United States has reported around 70,000 cases of the virus and more than 900 deaths since January. Globally, it has infected more than half a million people, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.

The University of Washington has been at the center of the outbreak in United States, which first was detected in the state of Washington and has so far killed 100 people in that state, according to date from Johns Hopkins University.

(Reporting by Carl O’Donnell; Editing by Aurora Ellis)

New York takes new steps against coronavirus as impact spreads across U.S.

New York takes new steps against coronavirus as impact spreads across U.S.
By Maria Caspani and Susan Heavey

NEW YORK/WASHINGTON (Reuters) – While the burdens of the coronavirus intensified across the United States, New York City on Wednesday took aggressive new steps to battle the crisis, closing streets and asking people to stop playing basketball and other contact sports in public parks.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said more than 30,800 people had tested positive for the virus in his state, the epicenter of the U.S. outbreak, and more than 17,800 in New York City alone. The state has reported 285 deaths and roughly half the country’s reported infections.

State measures to control the coronavirus appear to be working as the rate of hospitalizations has slowed in recent days, Cuomo said. “Now that is almost too good to be true,…” he said. “This is a very good sign and a positive sign, again not 100% sure it holds, or it’s accurate but the arrows are headed in the right direction.”

He described street closures in New York City, where more than 8 million people live, as a pilot program and said sports like basketball would be banned in city parks, first on a voluntary basis as long as people comply.

With closures to vehicles, the intention is to allow pedestrians to walk in the streets to enable greater “social distancing” to avoid infections.

“Our closeness makes us vulnerable,” said Cuomo, who has emerged as a leading national voice on the coronavirus.

“We will overcome. And we will show the other communities across this country how to do it.”

Even as city officials struggled to contain the health crisis, the impact was increasingly being felt beyond the hot spots of New York, California and Washington state as Louisiana and others faced a severe crush on their healthcare systems.

U.S. President Donald Trump issued the latest major federal disaster declarations for Louisiana and Iowa late on Tuesday, freeing up federal funds to help states cope with the increasing number of cases of the dangerous respiratory disease caused by the virus that threaten to overwhelm state and local resources.

That brings to five the number of states receiving major disaster declarations from the Republican president. New York – the state with by far the most infections and deaths – was given such status last weekend as well as California and Washington state.

Louisiana, where large crowds last month celebrated Mardi Gras in New Orleans and other locations, reported a spike in infections with 1,388 total confirmed cases and 46 deaths as of mid-Tuesday, according to the Louisiana Department of Health.

Dr. Rebekah Gee, who until January was Louisiana’s health secretary and now heads up Louisiana State University’s healthcare services division, said that it was the Mardi Gras, when 1.4 million tourists descended on New Orleans, that fueled the city’s outbreak.

“It’s a highly infectious virus and Mardi Gras happened when the virus was in the United States but before the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) and national leaders had really educated the public or even acknowledged the extent to which it was in the U.S.,” Gee said. “We had the president saying, ‘It’s just a few people, don’t worry about it.'”

‘FREAKING OUT’

New Orleans restaurant owner Ronnie Evans said everyone in New Orleans was “freaking out.”

“People don’t know what to expect or how long this will last. Everyone is worried about their jobs,” said Evans, 32, whose restaurant Blue Oak BBQ is just few steps from the city’s renowned Bourbon Street. The restaurant is offering takeout orders only.

“People are still coming out, but they’re scared. This is as bad as Katrina or worse,” referring to the hurricane that devastated the city in 2005.

The governors of at least 18 states have issued stay-at-home directives affecting about half the U.S. population of roughly 330 million people. The sweeping orders are aimed at slowing the spread of the pathogen but have upended daily life as schools and businesses shutter indefinitely.

A number of other U.S. states have also applied for major disaster relief status in recent days including Florida, Texas, New Jersey, North Carolina, Missouri, Maryland and South Carolina, as well as Northern Mariana Islands U.S. territory.

Nationwide, more than 53,000 people have been diagnosed with COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus that is particularly perilous to the elderly and people with pre-existing medical conditions, with at least 730 deaths. World Health Organization officials have said the United States could become the global epicenter of the pandemic, which first emerged late last year in the Chinese city of Wuhan.

World Health Organization expert Dr. Bruce Aylward told MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” program: “The U.S. is a gigantic country so it is very difficult to say something is going to happen right across the whole country. You are going to see this evolve differently in each part of the country.”

Trump on Tuesday said he wanted to re-open the country by Easter Sunday – far sooner than public health officials have said is warranted – but later told reporters he would listen to recommendations from the nation’s top health officials.

Wall Street on Wednesday was unable to sustain strong gains from Tuesday’s session as fears about the pandemic’s economic toll overshadowed optimism about sweeping fiscal and monetary stimulus to aid businesses and households.

U.S. lawmakers and the Trump administration reached a deal for a bipartisan $2 trillion stimulus package to help businesses and millions of Americans hit by the economic fallout of the coronavirus pandemic.

The Senate was due to vote on the legislation on Wednesday. The House of Representatives was not expected to act before Thursday.

(Reporting by Susan Heavey, Brad Brooks, Maria Caspani, Stephanie Kelly, Richard Cowan, Doina Chiacu, Patricia Zengerle and Stephanie Nebehay; Writing by Will Dunham; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Howard Goller)

U.S. could become next coronavirus epicenter, WHO says

By Emma Farge

GENEVA/TOKYO (Reuters) – The World Health Organization said on Tuesday that the United States could become the global epicenter of the coronavirus pandemic, which finally forced reluctant organizers to postpone the Tokyo 2020 Summer Olympics.

Britain joined the ranks of countries in lockdown to try to hold back the virus, and data showed business activity collapsing from Australia and Japan and Western Europe at a record pace in March, with the United States showing expected to be just as dire.

“The coronavirus outbreak represents a major external shock to the macro outlook, akin to a large-scale natural disaster,” analysts at BlackRock Investment Institute said.

But amid the gathering gloom, the Chinese province of Hubei, where the virus was first identified in December, said it would lift travel restrictions on people leaving the region as the epidemic eases there.

Confirmed coronavirus cases around the world exceeded 377,000 across 194 countries and territories as of early Tuesday, according to a Reuters tally, more than 16,500 of them fatal.

In Geneva, WHO spokeswoman Margaret Harris told reporters there had been a “very large acceleration” in infections in the United States.

Over the previous 24 hours, 85 percent of new cases were in Europe and the United States, and of those, 40 percent were in the United States.

As of Monday, the virus had infected more than 42,000 people there, killing at least 559.

Asked whether the United States could become the new epicenter, Harris said: “We are now seeing a very large acceleration in cases in the U.S. So it does have that potential.”

Some U.S. state and local officials have decried a lack of coordinated federal action, saying that having localities act on their own has put them in competition for supplies.

President Donald Trump acknowledged the difficulty.

“The World market for face masks and ventilators is Crazy. We are helping the states to get equipment, but it is not easy,” he tweeted.

OLYMPIC ORGANIZERS GIVE IN

Olympic Games organizers and the Japanese government had clung to the hope that the world’s biggest sporting event could go ahead, but finally bowed to the inevitable to make Tokyo 2020 the latest and biggest victim of a ravaged sporting calendar.

After a call with International Olympic Committee (IOC) president Thomas Bach, Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said the July 24-Aug. 9 event would be rescheduled for the summer of 2021 at the latest – as proof of victory over the coronavirus.

“President Bach said he is in agreement, 100%.”

It was the first time in the Olympics’ 124-year history that they had been postponed, though they were canceled outright three times during the two 20th-century world wars.

Of the top 10 countries by case numbers, Italy has reported the highest fatality rate, at around 10%, which at least partly reflects its older population. The fatality rate globally – the ratio of deaths to confirmed infections – is around 4.3%, though national figures can vary widely according to how much testing is done.

Britain, believed by experts to be about two weeks behind Italy in the outbreak cycle, on Tuesday began curbs on movement without precedent in peacetime after Prime Minister Boris Johnson ordered the country to stay at home.

The streets of the capital were eerily quiet as all but essential shops closed and people only went to work if it was unavoidable.

Johnson had resisted pressure to impose a full lockdown even as other European countries had done so, but was forced to change tack as projections showed the health system could become overwhelmed.

Meanwhile China’s Hubei province, the original center of the outbreak, will lift curbs on people leaving the area, but other regions will tighten controls as new cases double due to imported infections.

The provincial capital Wuhan, which has been in total lockdown since Jan. 23, will lift its travel restrictions on April 8.

However, the risk from overseas infections appears to be on the rise, prompting tougher screening and quarantine measures in major cities such as the capital Beijing.

Interactive graphic tracking global spread of coronavirus

(Additional reporting by Emma Farge, Stephanie Nebehay, Karolos Grohmann, Leika Kihara, Sakura Murakami, Lusha Zhang and Huizhong Wu; Writing by Nick Macfie; Editing by Jon Boyle and Angus MacSwan)

Japan clears restart at nuclear reactor closest to epicenter of 2011 quake

By Aaron Sheldrick and Yuka Obayashi

TOKYO (Reuters) – Japan’s Tohoku Electric Power said on Wednesday it has won initial regulatory approval to restart a reactor at its Onagawa power plant, more than 8 years after it was damaged in the earthquake and tsunami that caused the Fukushima disaster.

Tohoku Electric said in a statement it has received a first green light from Japan’s Nuclear Regulation Authority to restart the No. 2 reactor at Onagawa, subject to a public consultation period.

Onagawa was the closest among Japan’s nuclear stations to the epicenter of the magnitude-9 quake in March 2011, which triggered a tsunami that killed nearly 20,000 people, as well as causing the worst atomic disaster since Chernobyl in 1986.

The station was swamped by the tsunami, but survived with its cooling system intact, saving its reactors from the threat of meltdowns similar to those that occurred at Tokyo Electric Power’s Fukushima Daiichi station to the south.

Further approvals will be required before the restart, along with the consent of local authorities, which is not guaranteed.

The reactor is a boiling water reactor (BWR) with the same basic design as those that melted down in the Fukushima crisis.

Tohoku Electric expects to spend 340 billion yen ($3.1 billion) on safety upgrades at the Onagawa plant, including for a wall stretching 800 meters (2,625-ft) in length and standing as tall as 29 meters above sea level to protect it from tsunamis.

Restarting the No. 2 reactor will save the utility 35 billion yen each year in fuel costs, he said.

The Fukushima disaster led to the eventual shutdown of the country’s then-54 operational reactors, which once provided nearly a third of Japan’s electricity. All had to be relicensed under new standards after the disaster highlighted operational and regulatory failings.

While the approval will be a boost for Japan’s resurgent nuclear industry, the sector will still miss a government target of providing at least a fifth of the country’s electricity by 2030, an analysis by Reuters showed last year.

Nine reactors have been restarted, all of them pressurized water reactors located far from Tokyo, while the stigma of Fukushima still hangs over use of the older BWR technology.

The issue of nuclear safety in Japan was highlighted again earlier this week when Pope Francis – who met victims of the Fukushima nuclear disaster while in Japan over the weekend – said nuclear energy should not be used until there are ironclad guarantees that it is safe for people and the environment.

 

(Reporting by Aaron Sheldrick and Yuka Obayashi; Editing by Kenneth Maxwell)

First Ebola patient in eastern Congo’s main city dies, fears of epidemic spreading

A health worker checks the temperature of a woman as she crosses the Mpondwe border point separating Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo as part of the ebola screening at the computerised Mpondwe Health Screening Facility in Mpondwe, Uganda June 13, 2019. REUTERS/Newton Nabwaya

GOMA, Democratic Republic of Congo (Reuters) – The first Ebola patient in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo’s largest city, Goma, has died, the government said on Tuesday.

The spread of the virus to Goma, a city of roughly 1 million people on the border with Rwanda, has raised fears the outbreak, which is already the second deadliest Ebola epidemic ever, could spread more widely.

The patient was a priest who became infected during a visit to the town of Butembo, one of the epicenters of the outbreak, before taking a bus to Goma, according to Congo’s health ministry.

He was being driven from Goma to a clinic in Butembo on Monday to receive treatment when he died, North Kivu province’s Governor Carly Nzanzu told an Ebola response meeting.

The World Health Organization (WHO) said on Monday that health officials had identified 60 people who had come into contact with the pastor since he was taken ill and that half of them had been vaccinated.

Goma, a lakeside city more than 350 kilometers (220 miles) south of where Ebola was first detected a year ago, is the largest city to be affected by the outbreak, which has infected more than 2,500 people and killed nearly 1,700.

Three Ebola cases which originated in Congo were confirmed in neighboring Uganda a month ago, but no new cases have since been registered in that country.

(Reporting by Stanis Bujakera and Djaffar Al Katanty, Writing by Anna Pujol-Mazzini, Editing by Ed Osmond)