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China’s Hubei province reports 81 new deaths from coronavirus on Feb 7
8 February 2020, 1:07 AM

The number of deaths in China’s central Hubei province from a coronavirus outbreak had risen by 81 to 699 as of Friday, the province’s health commission said in a statement on its website on Saturday.

There had been a further 2 841 cases detected in Hubei, the epicenter of the outbreak, taking the total in the province to 24 953.

Most of the new deaths were in Hubei’s provincial capital of Wuhan, where the virus is believed to have originated.

Wuhan reported 67 new deaths on Friday, up from 64 on Thursday.

A total of 545 people in Wuhan have now died from the virus.

New confirmed cases in Wuhan increased by 1 985 on Friday, up from 1 501 on Thursday.

Fireflies threatened globally, with light pollution a glaring problem
8 February 2020, 12:54 AM

Fireflies are under threat globally, with familiar hazards such as habitat loss and pesticides compounded by another peril: humankind’s ubiquitous nighttime artificial light that plays havoc with their balletic nocturnal courtship, scientists said.

In the most comprehensive worldwide assessment to date of dangers facing these flying beetles, researchers concluded that some of the 2,000-plus firefly species may face extinction threats while others are doing just fine.

Using assessments from 350 experts on fireflies from around the world, the researchers determined the top threat was habitat loss and fragmentation caused by factors such as urbanization, industrialization and agricultural intensification.

The second-leading threat was light pollution. Fireflies boast specialized light-emitting organs, typically on their lower abdomen, called lanterns. Fireflies flash to communicate as a part of courtship and reproduction.

“Light pollution affects lots of nocturnal creatures, but fireflies are especially susceptible to this particular threat,” said biology professor Sara Lewis of Tufts University in Massachusetts, who led the research published this week in the journal Bioscience.

“That’s because many – though not all – fireflies rely on bio luminescent courtship signals to find their mates. When their nighttime environment is too bright, it’s difficult for them to see one another’s signals, so they never get to hook up,” Lewis added.

Satellite data has shown nighttime light pollution from the incessant flow of electric lights expanding on a global scale.

The third-leading threat was widespread agricultural use of pesticides. Most exposure occurs during the fireflies’ larval stages because juveniles spend up to two years living below ground or under water.

The researchers said while there is scant data on long-term population trends for most species, there is evidence that these insects have vanished from many places where they formerly were abundant.

Fireflies, also called lightning bugs, inhabit every continent but Antarctica, preferring moist habitats like forests, fields and marshes.

“Sometimes they flash, sometimes they glow,” said study co-author Avalon Owens, a Tufts biology doctoral student. “Sometimes the females have wings. Sometimes they look like fat larvae with big eyeballs. Some are over two inches (5 cm) long. Some are less than half an inch (1.25 cm). The flash color is generally somewhere between green and orange, though some can look kind of bluish.”

“I know a lot of people who really hate insects, but I’ve never met anyone who doesn’t love fireflies,” Lewis added. “They might be tiny, but they’re among our best ambassadors for Earth’s natural magic.”

Taylor leads at Pebble Beach, ‘stallion’ Mickelson starts well
7 February 2020, 5:01 AM

Nick Taylor seized the first-round lead at the Pebble Beach Pro-Am on Thursday while defending champion Phil Mickelson drove the ball “like a stallion” to get off to a good start at an event he has won five times.

Canadian Taylor shot an eight-under-par 63 at Monterey Peninsula, which plays to a par of 71 and is traditionally the easiest of the three courses used at the tournament.

Patrick Cantlay and Chase Seiffert each carded six-under 66’s at Spyglass Hill and Pebble Beach respectively to share second place.

Most of the big names played at Spyglass Hill, including Mickelson (68), Dustin Johnson (69), Jordan Spieth and Graeme McDowell (both 70).

Taylor, No. 229 in the world rankings, could hardly have started or finished better — eagling his first hole and picking up two birdies on his final two.

Mickelson, back at a happy hunting ground after a quick trip to the Saudi International last week, hit the ground running and his mood was upbeat after finishing with three straight birdies.

“I drove it like a stallion and hit almost every fairway and when your doing that you can get aggressive and get after it and the fact that I didn’t take advantage of those opportunities was disappointing,” he said.

“But I feel like I’ll be able to continuing driving like that and if I do I’ll get the iron play fixed and roll in some more birdies.”

“I was very tentative with my pace because the greens were pretty quick and I just wasn’t aggressive enough. I let a lot of opportunities slide but I shot a four-under round and it’s not going to hurt me. That finish was very helpful.”

Mickelson, 49, was speaking a day after announcing that he would only play the US Open at Winged Foot in June if he qualified automatically and would not accept a special exemption if offered one.

He has finished runner-up a record six times at the national championship, including the biggest heartbreak of his career 14 years ago at Winged Foot, where he double-bogeyed the final hole while needing only a par to win.

Mickelson is currently ranked 72nd in the world.

His tie for third in Saudi Arabia on Sunday was his first top-10 finish since he won at Pebble last year.

Dustin Johnson, who also played in Saudi Arabia, frittered away a couple of shots by missing short putts on Thursday but was otherwise satisfied with his form.

“I could have taken a lot more advantage today but I’m swinging good,” said the 2016 US Open champion.

The field plays one round at each of the three courses before the cut and the final round is staged at Pebble Beach.

Buttigieg declared Iowa winner after technical glitches delay result
7 February 2020, 4:51 AM

Pete Buttigieg narrowly won Iowa’s Democratic presidential caucuses on Thursday after a long delay in releasing the results,reshaping the 2020 race and raising doubts about the future of one-time front-runner Joe Biden, who finished a disappointing fourth.

In the first contest in the race to pick a challenger to Republican President Donald Trump for the November election, the moderate 38-year-old former mayor of South Bend, Indiana, edged out progressive Senator Bernie Sanders 26.2% to 26.1%, the Iowa Democratic Party said.

US Senator Elizabeth Warren finished third with 18% of state-delegate equivalents, the data traditionally used to determine the winner, while Biden limped to a disappointing fourth with 15.8%.

US Senator Amy Klobuchar finished fifth with 12.3%.

 

Rally in stocks runs out of steam as coronavirus toll climbs
7 February 2020, 4:35 AM

A mid-week rally in Asian share markets halted on Friday and oil prices steadied as the growing death toll and economic damage from a new virus spreading from China curbed further gains.

The death toll in mainland China rose to 636, more than doubling in just under a week, with the number of infections at 31,161.

One of the first Chinese doctors who raised the alarm about the coronavirus also died from the illness at a Wuhan hospital in the early hours of Friday.

He was 34.

MSCI’s broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan eased 0.5% on Friday as the lingering anxiety over the virus outbreak tempered the mood, though it is still up 3.2% for the week.

Japan’s Nikkei and Korea’s Kospi headed lower in morning trade, but are on track for their best week of the year after earlier rises.

The rally in global stocks since Monday’s wipe out of Chinese equities, and the sell down in bonds, was underpinned by China’s sweeping efforts to contain the spread of the virus.

Beijing has pumped billions of dollars into the money market to stabilise market confidence and support its faltering economy.

Thursday’s news of Chinese tariff cuts on some US goods had also fired up riskier assets.

But with the death toll rising, cities shut off, flights cancelled and factories closed, global supply chains are in disarray and fears of a pandemic remain.

Chinese stocks also sit well below

“The rate of infection is not slowing,” said Michael McCarthy, chief markets strategist at brokerage CMC Markets in Sydney.

“I’m a little surprised at the way European and US investors have shrugged this off. I think the reaction in the Asia-Pacific region is much more reasonable. There is real uncertainty,” he said.

In morning trade a slide in the safe-haven yen paused,leaving the currency sitting by a two-week low at 109.98 per dollar and poised for its worst weekly loss since last October.

Gains in the Australian dollar, a liquid proxy for China because of the heavy exposure of Australian exports, were likewise halted.

It is on track for its first weekly rise this year.

Gold hovered at $1,565.76 per ounce.

Chinese goods trade figures due during the morning will be closely watched for an early glimpse of how the virus, and the harsh measures to contain it, are affecting the flow of goods.

COMMODS CAUTIOUS

Much is unknown about the coronavirus, including its lethality and transmission routes.

The World Health Organization has said it is too early to call a peak in the outbreak.

Yet China’s aggressive response, dubbed a “people’s war for epidemic prevention” by President Xi Jinping, appears to have inspired confidence.

Overnight, bonds were sold and markets rallied from Frankfurt to New York.

US stocks gained for a fourth straight session and Wall Street’s main indexes hit record highs.

The S&P 500 rose 0.3%.

Owing to much greater exposure to Chinese demand and less access to the benefits of monetary stimulus, commodity prices have been much more sensitive to conditions on the ground.

Oil and metal prices fell hard as the coronavirus outbreak gained pace and have been slow to recover.

Weather

 

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