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1st Doses Reach 1 in 3 U.S. Adults; Access Lags in NY and Arkansas

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The U.S. vaccination campaign is accelerating rapidly, with more than 91 million people — roughly a third of the adult population — having received at least one shot of a Covid-19 vaccination by Saturday. And nearly every state has announced that it will meet President Biden’s directive to make all adults eligible by May 1.

But as of Saturday afternoon, two states — Arkansas and New York — still had not declared a timeline for their residents, according to a New York Times vaccine rollout tracker.

A third state, Wyoming, has also not said when all adults would be able to get the shot, but eligibility in the state expands on a county-by-county basis, a spokeswoman for the state’s Department of Health said, and 20 of the state’s 23 counties now allow all adults to get vaccinated. She said she expected full access “quite soon.”

In Arkansas, where a Times database shows that about 13 percent of the population of three million has been fully vaccinated, Gov. Asa Hutchinson this week extended eligibility to military veterans who are at least 18 years old. That decision came soon after appointments opened up for additional essential workers and adults between 16 and 64 who have some health conditions.

The state has moved to Phase 1C of its expansion, making almost one million new people eligible for the vaccine, and the state department of health anticipates opening up eligibility to all adults by early May, “if not sooner,” a spokeswoman said.

“I want to ask everyone, when it’s your turn, get a shot,” Mr. Hutchinson said at a news briefing this week. “Get that shot in your arm, because it helps our entire state to completely move out of this pandemic and so we need everybody to get vaccinated.”

At the news conference, Mr. Hutchinson said there were parts of the state where eligible residents are still unable to book an appointment, particularly in the northwest and several urban areas. Additionally, not all inmates, who are included in the list of those already eligible, have been vaccinated, he said.

“But stay tuned,” Mr. Hutchinson said, adding that he expected the state to expand eligibility to all adults “in the near future.”

In New York, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said at a news briefing this week that other states were setting dates based on allocation projections coming from the federal government. But Mr. Cuomo said he wanted “to make sure that the allocation projections that we’re getting from the feds are right” before setting a specific date for eligibility expansion.

“I would rather get the specific allocation number and then tell the people of the state,” Mr. Cuomo said, “so we don’t have to change advice and we don’t create pandemonium for the scheduling operation.”

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Belgian artist’s ‘portable oasis’ offers COVID protection — and fresh air

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When governments around Europe told people to create a “bubble” to limit their social contacts during the COVID-19 pandemic, this was probably not what they had in mind.

Alain Verschueren, a Belgian artist and social worker, has been strolling through the capital Brussels wearing a “portable oasis” – a plexiglass mini-greenhouse which rests on his shoulders, cocooning him in a bubble of air purified by the aromatic plants inside.

Verschueren, 61, developed the idea 15 years ago, inspired by the lush oases in Tunisia where he had previously worked. In a city where face coverings are mandatory to curb the spread of COVID-19, his invention has gained a new lease of life.

“It was about creating a bubble in which I could lock myself in, to cut myself off a world that I found too dull, too noisy or smelly,” Verschueren said, adding that he has asthma and finds breathing within his contraption more comfortable than wearing a facemask.

Alain Verschueren grabs attention from bystanders while wearing his "Portable Oasis" in Brussels, Belgium.
Alain Verschueren grabs attention from bystanders while wearing his “Portable Oasis” in Brussels, Belgium.
REUTERS/Yves Herman

“As time went by, I noticed that people were coming up to me and talking to me. This isolation became much more a way of connecting,” he said.

Onlookers in Brussels appeared amused and confused by the man wandering between the shops – mostly closed due to COVID-19 restrictions – encased in a pod of thyme, rosemary and lavender plants.

Alain Verschueren claims he finds breathing within his "Portable Oasis"  more comfortable than wearing a facemask due to his asthma.
Alain Verschueren claims he finds breathing within his “Portable Oasis” more comfortable than wearing a facemask due to his asthma.
REUTERS/Yves Herman

“Is it a greenhouse? Is it for the bees? Is it for the plants? We don’t know, but it’s a good idea,” Charlie Elkiess, a retired jeweller, told Reuters.

Verschueren said he hoped to encourage people to take better care of the environment, to reduce the need to protect ourselves from air and noise pollution.

Belgian artist Alain Verschueren wears his "Portable Oasis" while walking in a street in Brussels, Belgium on April 16, 2021.
Belgian artist Alain Verschueren wears his “Portable Oasis” while walking in a street in Brussels, Belgium on April 16, 2021.

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Chad’s longtime president Idriss Déby dies after fight against rebels

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President Idriss Déby died from wounds suffered on the battlefield during a fight against rebels.

Chad President Idriss Déby — who ruled the central African country for over 30 years — died Tuesday of wounds suffered on the battlefield during a fight against rebels, the military announced.

The stunning announcement on national media came just hours after officials had declared the 68-year-old the winner of the April 11 election, paving the way for him to stay in power for six more years.

The military said Déby had taken “the heroic lead in combat operations against terrorists who had come from Libya.”

After being wounded in battle, he then was taken to the capital, Gen. Azem Bermandoa Agouma said.

“In the face of this worrying situation, the people of Chad must show their attachment to peace, to stability and to national cohesion,” Agouma said.

Chad President Idriss Deby
A supporter carries a picture of Chad President Idriss Deby during a Peace Process rally in Darfur.
REUTERS

An 18-month transitional council will be led by the late president’s 37-year-old son, Mahamat Idriss Déby Itno, the military said, as it imposed a nightly 6 p.m. curfew.

Déby, a former army commander-in-chief, first came to power in 1990 when his rebel forces overthrew then-President Hissene Habre, who was later convicted of human rights abuses.

Chadian President Idriss Deby inspects a seized rebel technical in Adre, Chad.
Chadian President Idriss Deby inspects a seized rebel technical in Adre, Chad.
AFP via Getty Images

He had survived several armed rebellions over the years and managed to stay in power until this latest insurgency led by a group calling itself the Front for Change and Concord in Chad.

The rebels are believed to have armed and trained in Libya before crossing into Chad on April 11.

President of Chad Idriss Deby
Deby first came to power in 1990 when his rebel forces overthrew then-President Hissene Habre.
EPA

Déby was a major French ally in the fight against Islamic extremism in Africa, hosting the base for the French military Operation Barkhane and providing forces to the peacekeeping effort in Mali.

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Big rise in numbers of migrant children on Mexico-US border

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The American space agency has successfully flown a small helicopter on Mars.

The drone, called Ingenuity, was airborne for less than a minute, but Nasa is celebrating what represents the first powered, controlled flight by an aircraft on another world.

Confirmation came via a satellite at Mars which relayed the chopper’s data back to Earth.

The space agency is promising more adventurous flights in the days ahead.

Ingenuity will be commanded to fly higher and further as engineers seek to test the limits of the technology.

The rotorcraft was carried to Mars in the belly of Nasa’s Perseverance Rover, which touched down in Jezero Crater on the Red Planet in February.

Graphic

“We can now say that human beings have flown a rotorcraft on another planet,” said a delighted MiMi Aung, project manager for Ingenuity at Nasa’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California.

“We’ve been talking for so long about our ‘Wright Brothers moment’ on Mars, and here it is.”

This is a reference to Wilbur and Orville Wright who conducted the first powered, controlled aircraft flight here on Earth in 1903.

Ingenuity even carries a small swatch of fabric from one of the wings of Flyer 1, the aircraft that made that historic flight at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, more than 117 years ago.

Shadowimage copyrightNASA/JPL-CALTECH
image captionThe chopper saw its own shadow in its navigation images
Navigation photoimage copyrightNASA/JPL-CALTECH
image captionThis navigation image was acquired with the chopper’s feet just off the surface

There were cheers in the JPL control centre as the first photos of the flight arrived back on Earth. In the background, MiMi Aung could be heard saying: “It’s real!”

To claps from her colleagues, she tore up the contingency speech to have been used in the event of failure.

media captionMoment Nasa reacts to successful Ingenuity flight

The demonstration saw the Mars-copter rise to just over 3m, hover, swivel 96 degrees, hover some more, and then set down. In all, it managed almost 40 seconds of flight, from take-off to landing.

Getting airborne on the Red Planet is not easy. The atmosphere is very thin, just 1% of the density here at Earth. This gives the blades on a rotorcraft very little to bite into to gain lift.

There’s help from the lower gravity at Mars, but still – it takes a lot of work to get up off the ground.

media captionHow this Nasa helicopter made history on Mars

Ingenuity was therefore made extremely light and given the power (a peak power of 350 watts) to turn those blades extremely fast – at over 2,500 revolutions per minute for this particular flight.

Control was autonomous. The distance to Mars – currently just under 300 million km – means radio signals take minutes to traverse the intervening space. Flying by joystick is simply out of the question.

Asked whether she was surprised the flight had worked, MiMi Aung said: “No, I’m not. We really had nailed the equations, the models and the verification here on Earth in our laboratory tests. So, it then became a question of: have we chosen the right materials to build Ingenuity, to survive the space environment, to survive the Mars environment?

“We’ve gone from ‘theory says you can’ to really now having done it. It’s a major first for the human race,” she told BBC News.

Ingenuity has two cameras onboard. A black-and-white camera that points down to the ground, which is used for navigation, and a high-resolution colour camera that looks out to the horizon.

Sample navigation images sent back to Earth revealed the helicopter’s shadow on the floor of the crater as it came back in to land.

The Perseverance rover was watching and snapping away from a distance of 65m. Its full-sequence video can be seen at the top of this page.

Selfie of helicopter and roverimage copyrightNasa
image captionA selfie of the Ingenuity helicopter and the Perseverance rover

Nasa has announced that the “airstrip” in Jezero where Perseverance dropped off Ingenuity for its demonstration will henceforth be known as the “Wright Brothers Field”.

The International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) – the United Nations’ civil aviation agency – has also presented Nasa and the US Federal Aviation Administration with an official ICAO designator: IGY.

“India Golf Yankee, with the call sign ‘Ingenuity’, and those details will be officially included in the next edition of ICAO’s designators for aircraft, operating agencies, aeronautical authorities and services,” explained Håvard Grip, the Mars helicopter’s chief pilot at JPL.

Monday’s successful maiden outing means that a further four flights will be attempted over the coming days, with the first of these occurring as early as Thursday. Each succeeding flight will build on what has gone before.

“What we’re talking about here is going higher, going further, going faster, stretching the capabilities of the helicopter in those ways,” Dr Grip explained.

“We’re putting the pedal down and going for it,” added Dr Thomas Zurbuchen, the head of science at Nasa.

Wright Brothers
image captionThe Wright Brothers’ first successful flight lasted 12 seconds

The hope is this initial demonstration could eventually transform how we explore some distant worlds.

Drones might be used to scout ahead for future rovers, and even astronauts once they eventually get to Mars.

Michael Watkins, JPL director, said: “What the Ingenuity team has done is given us the third dimension; they’ve freed us from the surface now forever in planetary exploration, so that we can now make a combination of driving on the surface and sampling the surface, doing reconnaissance, and even scientific experimentation on inaccessible places for a rover. This is exactly the way we build the future.”

Bob Balaram, Ingenuity’s chief engineer, said ideas for larger helicopters were already being discussed.

“We are thinking of things in the 25-30kg class of vehicles, and those vehicles would carry maybe about 4kg of science instruments,” he told reporters.

Nasa has already approved a helicopter mission to Titan, the big moon of Saturn. Dragonfly, as the mission is known, should arrive at Titan in the mid-2030s. It will be easier to fly on this moon given its very thick atmosphere.

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