Ian Becomes a Major Hurricane as it Nears Landfall Over Western Cuba

Hurricane Ian has evolved into a major hurricane as it nears landfall over western Cuba on its way to the southern U.S. state of Florida.

Forecasters at the Miami-based National Hurricane Center say Ian is moving over the Caribbean Sea carrying maximum sustained winds of 185 kilometers an hour, making it a Category 3 storm on the center’s five-level scale that measures a storm’s maximum sustained wind speed and destructive potential.

Ian was last spotted 135 kilometers east of the western tip of Cuba, and 55 kilometers from the city of Pinar Del Rio, traveling at a speed of 20 kilometers an hour. The NHC says the storm will remain a major hurricane as it travels over the Gulf of Mexico on Wednesday.

If the storm continues on its current track, it is expected to reach the cities of Tampa and St. Petersburg on Florida’s western Gulf Coast as early as Wednesday. The area has not sustained a direct hit by a major hurricane since 1921.

Forecasters have issued hurricane, tropical storm and storm surge warnings and watches for parts of western Cuba and Florida that are in the current path of Hurricane Ian. Hurricane Ian is expected to produce between 15 to 25 centimeters of rainfall in western Cuba, with the Florida Keys expected to receive 10 to 15 centimeters and central west Florida to get between 15 to 30 centimeters of rainfall.

U.S. President Joe Biden has issued an emergency declaration for Florida, authorizing the Federal Emergency Management Agency to coordinate disaster-relief efforts and provide more federal funding. Authorities have issued evacuation orders for hundreds of thousands of residents along Florida’s Gulf Coast. The potential devastation from Ian has even prompted officials at the U.S. space agency NASA to roll its massive Artemis 1 moon rocket and space capsule from its launch pad at the Kennedy Space Center — located on Florida’s eastern coast — back to the Vehicle Assembly Building, further delaying its planned test flight.

Some information for this report came from The Associated Press and Reuters.


NASA Spacecraft Crashes Into Asteroid in Defense Test

A NASA spacecraft rammed an asteroid at blistering speed Monday in an unprecedented dress rehearsal for the day a killer rock menaces Earth.

The galactic slam occurred at a harmless asteroid 9.6 million kilometers away, with the spacecraft named Dart plowing into the space rock at 22,500 kph. Scientists expected the impact to carve out a crater, hurl streams of rocks and dirt into space and, most importantly, alter the asteroid’s orbit.

“We have impact!” Mission Control’s Elena Adams announced, jumping up and down and thrusting her arms skyward.

Telescopes around the world and in space aimed at the same point in the sky to capture the spectacle. Though the impact was immediately obvious — Dart’s radio signal abruptly ceased — it will take days or even weeks to determine how much the asteroid’s path has changed.

The $325 million mission was the first attempt to shift the position of an asteroid or any other natural object in space.

“We’re embarking on a new era of humankind,” said NASA’s Lori Glaze, planetary science division director.

Earlier in the day, NASA Administrator Bill Nelson reminded people via Twitter that, “No, this is not a movie plot.” He added in a prerecorded video: “We’ve all seen it on movies like ‘Armageddon,’ but the real-life stakes are high.”

Monday’s target: a 160-meter asteroid named Dimorphos. It’s actually a moonlet of Didymos, Greek for twin, a fast-spinning asteroid five times bigger that flung off the material that formed the junior partner.

The pair have been orbiting the sun for eons without threatening Earth, making them ideal save-the-world test candidates.

Launched last November, the vending machine-size Dart — short for Double Asteroid Redirection Test — navigated to its target using new technology developed by Johns Hopkins University’s Applied Physics Laboratory, the spacecraft builder and mission manager.

Dart’s onboard camera, a key part of this smart navigation system, caught sight of Dimorphos barely an hour before impact.

“Woo-hoo!” exclaimed Adams, a mission systems engineer at Johns Hopkins. “We’re seeing Dimorphos, so wonderful, wonderful.”

With an image beaming back to Earth every second, Adams and other ground controllers in Laurel, Maryland, watched with growing excitement as Dimorphos loomed larger and larger in the field of view alongside its bigger companion. Within minutes, Dimorphos was alone in the pictures; it looked like a giant gray lemon with boulders and rubble on the surface. The last image froze on the screen as the radio transmission ended.

Flight controllers cheered, hugged one another and exchanged high fives.

A mini satellite followed a few minutes behind to take photos of the impact. The Italian Cubesat was released from Dart two weeks ago.

Scientists insisted Dart would not shatter Dimorphos. The spacecraft packed a scant 570 kilograms, compared with the asteroid’s 5 billion kilograms. But that should be plenty to shrink its 11-hour, 55-minute orbit around Didymos.

The impact should pare 10 minutes off that, but telescopes will need anywhere from a few days to nearly a month to verify the new orbit. The anticipated orbital shift of 1% might not sound like much, scientists noted. But they stressed that over years, it would amount to a significant change.

Planetary defense experts prefer nudging a threatening asteroid or comet out of the way, given enough lead time, rather than blowing it up and creating multiple pieces that could rain down on Earth. Multiple impactors might be needed for big space rocks or a combination of impactors and so-called gravity tractors, not-yet-invented devices that would use their own gravity to pull an asteroid into a safer orbit.

“The dinosaurs didn’t have a space program to help them know what was coming, but we do,” NASA’s senior climate adviser Katherine Calvin said, referring to the mass extinction 66 million years ago believed to have been caused by a major asteroid impact, volcanic eruptions or both.

The nonprofit B612 Foundation, dedicated to protecting Earth from asteroid strikes, has been pushing for impact tests like Dart since its founding by astronauts and physicists 20 years ago. Monday’s feat aside, the world must do a better job of identifying the countless space rocks lurking out there, warned the foundation’s executive director, Ed Lu, a former astronaut.

Significantly less than half of the estimated 25,000 near-Earth objects in the deadly 140-meter range have been discovered, according to NASA. And fewer than 1% of the millions of smaller asteroids, capable of widespread injuries, are known.

The Vera Rubin Observatory, nearing completion in Chile by the National Science Foundation and U.S. Energy Department, promises to revolutionize the field of asteroid discovery, Lu noted.

Finding and tracking asteroids, “That’s still the name of the game here. That’s the thing that has to happen in order to protect the Earth,” he said.


NASA’s Asteroid-Deflecting DART Spacecraft Nears Planned Impact With Target 

Ten months after launch, NASA’s asteroid-deflecting DART spacecraft neared a planned impact with its target on Monday in a test of the world’s first planetary defense system, designed to prevent a doomsday collision with Earth.

The cube-shaped “impactor” vehicle, roughly the size of a vending machine with two rectangular solar arrays, was on course to fly into the asteroid Dimorphos, about as large as a football stadium, and self-destruct around 7 p.m. EDT (2300 GMT) some 11 million kilometers from Earth.

The mission’s finale will test the ability of a spacecraft to alter an asteroid’s trajectory with sheer kinetic force, plowing into the object at high speed to nudge it astray just enough to keep our planet out of harm’s way.

It marks the world’s first attempt to change the motion of an asteroid, or any celestial body.

DART, launched by a SpaceX rocket in November 2021, has made most of its voyage under the guidance of NASA’s flight directors, with control to be handed over to an autonomous on-board navigation system in the final hours of the journey.

Monday evening’s planned impact is to be monitored in real time from the mission operations center at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) in Laurel, Maryland.

DART’s celestial target is an asteroid “moonlet” about 170 meters in diameter that orbits a parent asteroid five times larger called Didymos as part of a binary pair with the same name, the Greek word for twin.

Neither object presents any actual threat to Earth, and NASA scientists said their DART test cannot create a new existential hazard by mistake.

Dimorphos and Didymos are both tiny compared with the cataclysmic Chicxulub asteroid that struck Earth some 66 million years ago, wiping out about three-quarters of the world’s plant and animal species including the dinosaurs.

Smaller asteroids are far more common and pose a greater theoretical concern in the near term, making the Didymos pair suitable test subjects for their size, according to NASA scientists and planetary defense experts.

Also, their relative proximity to Earth and dual-asteroid configuration make them ideal for the first proof-of-concept mission of DART, short for Double Asteroid Redirection Test.

Robotic suicide mission

The mission represents a rare instance in which a NASA spacecraft must ultimately crash to succeed.

The plan is for DART to fly directly into Dimorphos at 24,000 kilometers per hour, bumping it hard enough to shift its orbital track closer to its larger companion asteroid.

Cameras on the impactor and on a briefcase-sized mini-spacecraft released from DART days in advance are designed to record the collision and send images back to Earth.

DART’s own camera is expected to return pictures at the rate of one image per second during its final approach, with those images streaming live on NASA TV starting an hour before impact, according to APL.

The DART team said it expects to shorten the orbital track of Dimorphos by 10 minutes but would consider at least 73 seconds a success, proving the exercise as a viable technique to deflect an asteroid on a collision course with Earth — if one were ever discovered. A small nudge to an asteroid millions of miles away could be sufficient to safely reroute it away from the planet.

The test’s outcome will not be known until a new round of ground-based telescope observations of the two asteroids in October. Earlier calculations of the starting location and orbital period of Dimorphos were confirmed during a six-day observation period in July.

DART is the latest of several NASA missions in recent years to explore and interact with asteroids, primordial rocky remnants from the solar system’s formation more than 4.5 billion years ago.

Last year, NASA launched a probe on a voyage to the Trojan asteroid clusters orbiting near Jupiter, while the grab-and-go spacecraft OSIRIS-REx is on its way back to Earth with a sample collected in October 2020 from the asteroid Bennu.

The Dimorphos moonlet is one of the smallest astronomical objects to receive a permanent name and is one of 27,500 known near-Earth asteroids of all sizes tracked by NASA. Although none are known to pose a foreseeable hazard to humankind, NASA estimates that many more asteroids remain undetected in the near-Earth vicinity.

NASA has put the entire cost of the DART project at $330 million, well below that of many of the space agency’s most ambitious science missions.


Uganda Says Ebola Caseload Rises to 16 as Outbreak Grows

Uganda said on Sunday its Ebola caseload had jumped to 16 people while a further 18 people also likely had the disease, fueling fears of a spreading outbreak that involves a strain for which a vaccine has not yet been found.

In a tweet, the Ministry of Health also said the death toll of confirmed cases remained four while 17 others classified as probable cases had also died. The outbreak had also now spread to three districts, all in central Uganda.

The east African country last week announced the outbreak of Ebola, a hemorrhagic fever whose symptoms include intense body weakness, muscle pain, headache and sore throat, vomiting, diarrhea and rashes among others.

The current outbreak, attributed to the Ebola Sudan strain, appears to have started in a small village in Mubende district around the beginning of September, authorities have said.

The first casualty was a 24-year old man who died earlier this week.

The World Health Organization says the Ebola Sudan strain is less transmissible and has shown a lower fatality rate in previous outbreaks than Ebola Zaire, a strain that killed nearly 2,300 people in the 2018-2020 epidemic in neighboring Democratic Republic of Congo.


Why is a NASA Spacecraft Crashing Into an Asteroid?

In the first-of-its kind, save-the-world experiment, NASA is about to clobber a small, harmless asteroid millions of miles away.

A spacecraft named Dart will zero in on the asteroid Monday, intent on slamming it head-on at 14,000 mph (22,500 kph). The impact should be just enough to nudge the asteroid into a slightly tighter orbit around its companion space rock — demonstrating that if a killer asteroid ever heads our way, we’d stand a fighting chance of diverting it.

“This is stuff of science-fiction books and really corny episodes of “StarTrek” from when I was a kid, and now it’s real,” NASA program scientist Tom Statler said Thursday.

Cameras and telescopes will watch the crash, but it will take days or even weeks to find out if it actually changed the orbit.

The $325 million planetary defense test began with Dart’s launch last fall.

Asteroid target

The asteroid with the bull’s-eye on it is Dimorphos, about 7 million miles (9.6 million kilometers) from Earth. It is actually the puny sidekick of a 2,500-foot (780-meter) asteroid named Didymos, Greek for twin. Discovered in 1996, Didymos is spinning so fast that scientists believe it flung off material that eventually formed a moonlet. Dimorphos — roughly 525 feet (160 meters) across — orbits its parent body at a distance of less than a mile (1.2 kilometers).

“This really is about asteroid deflection, not disruption,” said Nancy Chabot, a planetary scientist and mission team leader at Johns Hopkins University’s Applied Physics Laboratory, which is managing the effort. “This isn’t going to blow up the asteroid. It isn’t going to put it into lots of pieces.” Rather, the impact will dig out a crater tens of yards (meters) in size and hurl some 2 million pounds (1 million kilograms) of rocks and dirt into space.

NASA insists there’s a zero chance either asteroid will threaten Earth — now or in the future. That’s why the pair was picked.

Dart, the impactor

The Johns Hopkins lab took a minimalist approach in developing Dart — short for Double Asteroid Redirection Test — given that it’s essentially a battering ram and faces sure destruction. It has a single instrument: a camera used for navigating, targeting and chronicling the final action. Believed to be essentially a rubble pile, Dimorphos will emerge as a point of light an hour before impact, looming larger and larger in the camera images beamed back to Earth. Managers are confident Dart won’t smash into the larger Didymos by mistake. The spacecraft’s navigation is designed to distinguish between the two asteroids and, in the final 50 minutes, target the smaller one.

The size of a small vending machine at 1,260 pounds (570 kilograms), the spacecraft will slam into roughly 11 billion pounds (5 billion kilograms) of asteroid. “Sometimes we describe it as running a golf cart into a Great Pyramid,” said Chabot.

Unless Dart misses — NASA puts the odds of that happening at less than 10% — it will be the end of the road for Dart. If it goes screaming past both space rocks, it will encounter them again in a couple years for Take 2.

Saving earth

Little Dimorphos completes a lap around big Didymos every 11 hours and 55 minutes. The impact by Dart should shave about 10 minutes off that. Although the strike itself should be immediately apparent, it could take a few weeks or more to verify the moonlet’s tweaked orbit. Cameras on Dart and a mini tagalong satellite will capture the collision up close. Telescopes on all seven continents, along with the Hubble and Webb space telescopes and NASA’s asteroid-hunting Lucy spacecraft, may see a bright flash as Dart smacks Dimorphos and sends streams of rock and dirt cascading into space. The observatories will track the pair of asteroids as they circle the sun, to see if Dart altered Dimorphos’ orbit. In 2024, a European spacecraft named Hera will retrace Dart’s journey to measure the impact results.

Although the intended nudge should change the moonlet’s position only slightly, that will add up to a major shift over time, according to Chabot. “So if you were going to do this for planetary defense, you would do it five, 10, 15, 20 years in advance in order for this technique to work,” she said. Even if Dart misses, the experiment still will provide valuable insight, said NASA program executive Andrea Riley. “This is why we test. We want to do it now rather than when there’s an actual need,” she said.

Asteroid missions galore

Planet Earth is on an asteroid-chasing roll. NASA has close to a pound (450 grams) of rubble collected from asteroid Bennu headed to Earth. The stash should arrive next September. Japan was the first to retrieve asteroid samples, accomplishing the feat twice. China hopes to follow suit with a mission launching in 2025. NASA’s Lucy spacecraft, meanwhile, is headed to asteroids near Jupiter, after launching last year. Another spacecraft, Near-Earth Asteroid Scout, is loaded into NASA’s new moon rocket awaiting liftoff; it will use a solar sail to fly past a space rock that’s less than 60 feet (18 meters) next year. In the next few years, NASA also plans to launch a census-taking telescope to identify hard-to-find asteroids that could pose risks. One asteroid mission is grounded while an independent review board weighs its future. NASA’s Psyche spacecraft should have launched this year to a metal-rich asteroid between Mars and Jupiter, but the team couldn’t test the flight software in time.

Hollywood’s take

Hollywood has churned out dozens of killer-space-rock movies over the decades, including 1998′s “Armageddon” which brought Bruce Willis to Cape Canaveral for filming, and last year’s “Don’t Look Up” with Leonardo DiCaprio leading an all-star cast. NASA’s planetary defense officer, Lindley Johnson, figures he’s seen them all since 1979′s “Meteor,” his personal favorite “since Sean Connery played me.” While some of the sci-fi films are more accurate than others, he noted, entertainment always wins out. The good news is that the coast seems clear for the next century, with no known threats. Otherwise, “it would be like the movies, right?” said NASA’s science mission chief Thomas Zurbuchen. What’s worrisome, though, are the unknown threats. Fewer than half of the 460-foot (140-meter) objects have been confirmed, with millions of smaller but still-dangerous objects zooming around. “These threats are real, and what makes this time special, is we can do something about it,” Zurbuchen said. Not by blowing up an asteroid as Willis’ character did — that would be a last, last-minute resort — or by begging government leaders to take action as DiCaprio’s character did in vain. If time allows, the best tactic could be to nudge the menacing asteroid out of our way, like Dart.


NASA Scraps Tuesday Artemis Moon Launch Due to Storm

NASA has called off the scheduled Tuesday launch of its historic uncrewed mission to the moon due to a tropical storm that is forecast to strengthen as it approaches Florida.

After two previously canceled launch attempts, NASA is weighing returning the Artemis 1 mission rocket to its assembly site under the threat of extreme weather.

“NASA is forgoing a launch opportunity… and preparing for rollback (from the launchpad), while continuing to watch the weather forecast associated with Tropical Storm Ian,” it said Saturday.

The U.S. National Hurricane Center (NHC) said Ian is due to “rapidly intensify” over the weekend as it moves toward Florida, home to the Kennedy Space Center, from which the rocket is set to launch.

Currently south of Jamaica, the storm is expected to approach Florida’s west coast “at or near major hurricane strength” early next week, threatening storm surge, flooding and hurricane-force winds across much of the state, the NHC said.

On the launchpad, the giant orange and white Space Launch System (SLS) rocket can withstand wind gusts of up to 137 kilometers (85 miles) per hour. But if it has to be sheltered, the current launch window, which runs until October 4, will be missed.

A decision on whether to roll back the rocket to the Vehicle Assembly Building is due to be taken by the Artemis 1 team Sunday, “to allow for additional data gathering and analysis,” with the operation, if necessary, starting late Sunday or Monday morning, NASA said.

Jim Free, associate administrator for the agency’s exploration systems development directorate, said on Twitter that a “step-wise approach” to the decision to roll back preserves “a launch opportunity if conditions improve,” indicating a launch date before October 5 was still on the table.

If not, the next launch window will run from October 17 to 31, with one possibility of takeoff per day, except from October 24-26 and 28.

The Artemis 1 space mission hopes to test the SLS as well as the unmanned Orion capsule that sits atop it, in preparation for future Moon-bound journeys with humans aboard.

Artemis is named after the twin sister of the Greek god Apollo, after whom the first moon missions were named.

Unlike the Apollo missions, which sent only white men to the moon between 1969 and 1972, Artemis missions will see the first person of color and the first woman step foot on the lunar surface.

A successful Artemis 1 mission would come as a huge relief to the U.S. space agency, after years of delays and cost overruns.  

But another setback would be a blow to NASA, after two previous launch attempts were scrapped when the rocket experienced technical glitches including a fuel leak.

The cost of the Artemis program is estimated to reach $93 billion by 2025, with its first four missions clocking in at a whopping $4.1 billion each, according to a government audit.


4.4M Americans Have Rolled Up Sleeves for Omicron-Targeted Boosters

U.S. health officials say 4.4 million Americans have received the updated COVID-19 booster shot. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention posted the count Thursday as public health experts bemoaned President Joe Biden’s recent remark that “the pandemic is over.” 

The White House said more than 5 million people had received the new boosters by its own estimate, which accounts for reporting lags in states. 

Health experts said it was too early to predict whether demand would match up with the 171 million doses of the new boosters the U.S. ordered for the fall. 

“No one would go looking at our flu shot uptake at this point and be like, ‘Oh, what a disaster,’ ” said Dr. David Dowdy, an infectious-disease epidemiologist at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. “If we start to see a large uptick in cases, I think we’re going to see a lot of people getting the [new COVID] vaccine.” 

A temporary shortage of Moderna vaccine caused some pharmacies to cancel appointments while encouraging people to reschedule for a Pfizer vaccine. The issue was expected to resolve as government regulators wrapped up an inspection and cleared batches of vaccine doses for distribution. 

“I do expect this to pick up in the weeks ahead,” said White House COVID-19 coordinator Dr. Ashish Jha. “We’ve been thinking and talking about this as an annual vaccine like the flu vaccine. Flu vaccine season picks up in late September and early October. We’re just getting our education campaign going. So, we expect to see, despite the fact that this was a strong start, we actually expect this to ramp up stronger.” 

Some Americans who plan to get the shot, designed to target the most common omicron strains, said they were waiting because they either had COVID-19 recently or another booster. They are following public health advice to wait several months to get the full benefit of their existing virus-fighting antibodies. 

Others are scheduling shots closer to holiday gatherings and winter months when respiratory viruses spread more easily. 

Retired hospital chaplain Jeanie Murphy, 69, of Shawnee, Kansas, plans to get the new booster in a couple of weeks after she has some minor knee surgery. Interest is high among her neighbors, she said. 

“There’s quite a bit of discussion happening among people who are ready to make appointments,” Murphy said. “I found that encouraging.”

Steady state 

Biden later acknowledged criticism of his remark about the pandemic being over and clarified the pandemic is “not where it was.” The initial comment didn’t bother Murphy. She believes the disease has entered a steady state when “we’ll get COVID shots in the fall the same as we do flu shots.” 

Experts hope she’s right but are waiting to see what levels of infection winter brings. The summer ebb in case numbers, hospitalizations and deaths may be followed by another surge, Dowdy said. 

Some Americans who got the new shots said they were excited about the idea of targeting the vaccine to the variants circulating now. 

“Give me all the science you can,” said Jeff Westling, 30, an attorney in Washington, who got the new booster and a flu shot Tuesday, one in each arm. He participates in the combat sport jujitsu, so he wants to protect himself from infections that may come with close contact.  

Meanwhile, Biden’s pronouncement in a 60 Minutes interview broadcast Sunday echoed through social media. 

By Wednesday on Facebook, when a Kansas health department posted where residents could find the new booster shots, the first commenter remarked: “But Biden says the pandemic is over.” 

The president’s statement, despite his attempts to clarify it, adds to public confusion, said Josh Michaud, associate director of global health policy with the Kaiser Family Foundation in Washington. 

“People aren’t sure when is the right time to get boosted. ‘Am I eligible?’ People are often confused about what the right choice is for them, even where to search for that information,” Michaud said. 

“Any time you have mixed messages, it’s detrimental to the public health effort,” Michaud said. “Having the mixed messages from the president’s remarks makes that job that much harder.” 

University of South Florida epidemiologist Jason Salemi said he’s worried the president’s pronouncement has taken on a life of its own and may stall prevention efforts. 

“That soundbite is there for a while now, and it’s going to spread like wildfire. And it’s going to give the impression that ‘Oh, there’s nothing more we need to do,’ ” Salemi said. 

“If we’re happy with 400 or 500 people dying every single day from COVID, there’s a problem with that,” Salemi said. “We can absolutely do better because most of those deaths, if not all of them, are absolutely preventable with the tools that we have.”


Oysters Helping Clean Largest Estuary in US

Oysters play a vital role in cleaning sea water. They’re also finding their way to the plates of some of Washington’s most popular restaurants. Keith Lane reports.
Produced by: Keith Lane


Study: Asian Coastal Cities Sinking at Fastest Rate

Sprawling coastal cities in South and Southeast Asia are sinking faster than elsewhere in the world, leaving tens of millions of people more vulnerable to rising sea levels, a new study says. 

Rapid urbanization has seen these cities draw heavily on groundwater to service their burgeoning populations, according to research by Singapore’s Nanyang Technological University, published in the journal Nature Sustainability last week.  

“This puts cities experiencing rapid local land subsidence at greater risk of coastal hazards than already present due to climate-driven sea-level rise,” the study says. 

Vietnam’s most populous urban center and main business hub, Ho Chi Minh City, was sinking an average of 16.2 millimeters (0.6 inches) annually, topping the study’s survey of satellite data from 48 large coastal cities around the world. 

The southern Bangladeshi port of Chittagong was second on the list, with the western Indian city Ahmedabad, Indonesian capital Jakarta and Myanmar’s commercial hub Yangon also sinking more than 20 millimeters in peak years.  

“Many of these fast-subsiding coastal cities are rapidly expanding megacities, where … high demands for groundwater extraction and loading from densely constructed building structures, contribute to local land subsidence,” the study says. 

Sinking cities are not of themselves a result of climate change, but researchers said their work would give a better insight into how the phenomenon would “compound the effects of climate-driven mean sea-level rise.” 

More than 1 billion people will live in coastal cities at risk of rising sea levels by 2050, according to the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.  

The IPCC says that global sea levels could rise by up to 60 centimeters (24 inches) by the end of the century, even if greenhouse gas emissions are sharply reduced. 

 


Japan to Ease COVID Border Controls to Boost Tourism

Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said Thursday that Japan will abolish a series of COVID-19 border restrictions in hopes of reviving its tourism industry.

As of Oct. 11, Japan will allow individual visitors to enter the country, reinstate visa waivers and end the cap on daily arrivals. Kishida announced the long-awaited policy shift at a news conference in New York.

The changes come as Japan records the highest 28-day average of cases in the world, 3,052,150, according to the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Research Center.

Japan began allowing tourists on guided tours to enter the country in June, and tourists on nonguided tours who had booked through a registered travel agency could enter as of early September.

Japan also removed mandatory pre-arrival PCR tests for fully vaccinated travelers in September but kept the 50,000 cap on daily arrivals.

The new guidelines will open doors to an unlimited number of tourists as long as they have been vaccinated three times or submit a negative COVID-19 test ahead of their trip, Kyodo News reported.

The prime minister’s action to stimulate the Japanese economy comes after the yen declined to its lowest levels against the dollar in almost a quarter of a century.

“The currency has depreciated nearly 20% this year, sinking to 24-year lows,” Reuters reported.

In an additional attempt to stimulate the economy through tourism, the Japanese government is also implementing a nationwide travel discount program, providing incentives for foreigners to choose Japan over other tourist destinations.

Some information in this report came from Reuters.