Rheumatoid arthritis drug falls short as treatment for hospitalized Covid-19 patients in three studies - CNN International
Tocilizumab, a repurposed rheumatoid arthritis drug once considered a promising treatment for hospitalized patients with Covid-19, generally did not increase patients' chances of survival or help them get better faster, according to three trials published thi…
(CNN)Tocilizumab, a repurposed rheumatoid arthritis drug once considered a promising treatment for hospitalized patients with Covid-19, generally did not increase patients' chances of survival or help them get better faster, according to three trials published this week. However, a fourth trial did find the drug increased the chances of survival, but because it was an observational study, the results are considered less definitive. Three of the trials were published Tuesday in the Journal of the American Medical Association and the other was published Wednesday in the New England Journal of Medicine. While this leaves the picture for tocilizumab use a bit muddy, the studies taken together show the drug isn't a magic bullet that should be used in all hospitalized patients with Covid-19, but they leave the door open for possible use in specific patient groups. "It is possible that forthcoming results from other randomized trials will help us identify specific groups of people who will benefit. However, growing evidence supports current guidelines, which recommend against tocilizumab use outside of clinical trials," Dr. Jonathan Parr told CNN. Parr, an assistant professor in the division of infectious diseases at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, wrote an editorial that was published alongside the three studies in JAMA. Tocilizumab, sold under the brand name Actemra and used to treat rheumatoid arthritis, blocks interleukin-6, a molecule that produces inflammation. Earlier in the pandemic, the drug became widely used in the United States after reports from China and Europe appeared to show it helped very ill patients who experienced a so-called cytokine storm by extinguishing the out-of-control inflammation that developed in response to the coronavirus. Study results start coming in However, those early reports were mostly observational, meaning they took existing data and analyzed it as opposed to designing a trial specifically to assess tocilizumab. But now the results from trials designed to look at the drug prospectively are beginning to come in. The first of the three JAMA studies found that hospitalized patients in Italy who were not yet in intensive care and who received tocilizumab fared no better than those who received standard care. The trial was stopped early due to "futility." A similar study in France found that tocilizumab may have led to slight improvements by day 14 over usual care, but there were no differences in survival by day 28. The third study found that the risk of in-hospital death was about 30% lower in US patients receiving tocilizumab within the first two days of ICU admission compared to those who didn't get the drug. But because it was an observational trial there could be factors that affected the results other than how well the drug itself worked. "We specifically studied tocilizumab administration in very sick patients, all of whom required ICU level of care. In contrast, the [other two trials] studied patients with much milder illness severity," said Dr. Shruti Gupta of Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston, who led the study team. Dr. David Leaf, the trial's senior author, added, "We focused on early use of tocilizumab -- within the first two days of ICU admission. This may be the key to tocilizumab's efficacy -- administering it prior to the occurrence of irreversible organ injury," he said in an email. Gupta said their findings need confirmation by a large randomized, controlled trial. The fourth study, published Wednesday in the New England Journal of Medicine, used the gold standard of trial design-- it's a randomized, double-blind, placebo control trial. It enrolled 243 patients from seven Boston-area hospitals who were admitted with Covid-19 at the height of the surge in that region. "The primary goal of the trial was to determine if tocilizumab, administered intravenously at a moderate stage of the patients' disease, could prevent progression to intubation or death," said Dr. John H. Stone, lead study author and director of Clinical Rheumatology at Massachusetts General Hospital, told CNN via email. But the findings were not encouraging for the use of tocilizumab. "Our data do not support the concept that early IL-6 receptor blockade is an effective treatment strategy in moderately ill patients hospitalized with Covid-19 infection," said Stone. Results show that the chances of intubation or death were about similar in both groups and patients in both groups essentially took the same amount of time to discontinue supplemental oxygen. So, where does that leave tocilizumab? "Tocilizumab may still have a role in COVID-19. Several large trials are expected to come out soon that will tell us more about how and when it should be used, if at all," said Parr, noting that it "shouldn't be taken off the table completely, but we need more convincing evidence before using it routinely." Stone agreed that the drug may still benefit other patient groups, but he stressed the importance of doing these trials. "An important take-away point from our trial and the overall experience with IL-6 receptor blockade is that any such approach to the treatment of COVID-19 must be subjected to randomized, blinded trials," he said, adding that the trials should be done "before the adoption of widespread use."
Kremlin dismisses vaccine disinformation campaign accusations as 'circus' - CNN
Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov dismissed the reaction of the UK Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab to the Times report saying that Russia is engaging in a disinformation campaign to discredit the Oxford University coronavirus vaccine in an effort to promote i…
Moscow (CNN)Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov dismissed the reaction of the UK Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab to the Times report saying that Russia is engaging in a disinformation campaign to discredit the Oxford University coronavirus vaccine in an effort to promote its own vaccine Sputnik V, developed by the Gamaleya Institute. "Commenting on the accusations against Russia is getting more and more circus-like," Peskov said in a conference call with reporters Friday. "Russia is not misinforming anyone, Russia proudly talks about its successes and Russia shares its successes regarding the first ever registered [coronavirus] vaccine in the world." The Times published a report on Friday outlining a supposed Russian disinformation campaign "designed to undermine and spread fear about the Oxford University coronavirus vaccine." The campaign involves spreading memes and videos suggesting the vaccine, manufactured by a pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca is "a monkey vaccine" that could turn people into monkeys because it uses a chimpanzee virus as a vector, according to the newspaper. "We know that Russia has got a track record in this area. Previously we've commented and called them out on it," Raab said in an interview with Sky News. "But anyone trying to basically sabotage the efforts of those trying to develop a vaccine I think are deeply reprehensible. It's unacceptable and unjustified in any circumstances." The Times said a "whistleblower" "involved in the campaign" passed on the images to the paper out of concern about potential damage to the public health efforts. The newspaper notes it is not clear whether the campaign was directly authorized by the Kremlin but added "there is evidence that some Russian officials were involved in its organisation and dissemination." "Misinformation is a clear risk to public health. This is especially true during the current pandemic which continues to claim tens of thousands of lives, significantly disrupt the way we live and damage the economy," Pascal Soriot, CEO at AstraZeneca, said in a statement. "I urge everyone to use reliable sources of information, to trust regulatory agencies and to remember the enormous benefit vaccines and medicines continue to bring to humanity." Disinformation is "reckless and contemptible behaviour that could lead to real damage to people's health", said a source in Whitehall, the area in central London where key UK ministries are based. "This sort of lie fundamentally harms all of us around the world and we need to be alert to identify and counter this kind of activity to support the provision of factual information for all people about Covid-19 and vaccines." When asked to comment on the article, the Kremlin spokesperson in turn accused the UK of spreading disinformation about the Russian vaccine suggesting it's a testament to the unfair competition in the vaccine race. "Russia already has documents of intention to sell or jointly produce this vaccine in a number of countries, and of course in these countries Russia is not shying away from informing [the public] about the advantages of our vaccine," Peskov said. "A number of [producers] who could be called competitions, they are the ones engaging in disinformation, the disinformation agents are sitting in the UK, among other places." According to the Times, the campaign was aimed at "countries such as India and Brazil where Russia was trying to market its own vaccine" as well as Western countries that are developing their own vaccines. To date, Russian sovereign wealth fund (or the RDIF), which sponsors the vaccine, said it reached deals to supply Sputnik V to India and Brazil, among others. RDIF said it condemns social media attacks against AstraZeneca vaccine. "We condemn the social media posts aimed to denigrate AstraZeneca vaccine described by The Times today. We believe any attempts to smear any vaccine are wrong including those against Gamaleya's Sputnik V vaccine," Kirill Dmitriev, the CEO of the RDIF, told CNN in a statement Friday. "All vaccines should, of course, be subject to the most rigorous scientific investigation." However, the "monkey vaccine" narrative has been voiced by Russian officials and the state media before. On September 9, following the news of a pause in AstraZeneca's global trials due to an unexplained illness, Dmitry Peskov said the British vaccine is less safe as it is a "monkey vaccine" while the Russian development is a "human vaccine" and believed to be "much more reliable" by the Russian scientists. Crude images depicting monkeys with captions such as "Monkey vaccine is fine" and similar memes have appeared on Russian state media two days after AstraZeneca announced the pause. On September 10, Russian state-news agency RIA Novosti published an editorial piece titled "Why the West is losing the vaccine race: Russia has been exposed," which contained four caricatures on the monkey vaccine with English captions. AstraZeneca has since resumed the trials in the UK. In the US, the FDA is considering whether to allow AstraZeneca to restart its trial after a participant became ill. At issue is whether the illness was a fluke, or if it may have been related to the vaccine. The head of the Russian Direct Investment Fund, which sponsors the development of Sputnik V, said in September the company is "delighted" to see that the AstraZeneca trials are moving forward but called the approach "unacceptable" due to "excessive reliance upon new unverified technologies," including the use of a monkey adenovirus vector or mRNA technology. In July, however, the RDIF announced that one of its portfolio companies, drug maker R-Pharm, reached a deal with AstraZeneca to produce the Oxford vaccine in Russia. The announcement came after warnings that Russia-linked actors are attempting to hack UK, US and Canada-based research centers in order to gather intelligence on the vaccine production. Russia denied any involvement. The head of the RDIF Kirill Dmitriev told Reuters at the time Moscow did not need to steal any secrets as it already had a deal with AstraZeneca to manufacture the potential British vaccine in Russia. "The transfer of the cell line and the adenovirus vector to Russia has been carried out; it is planned to produce the antigen here and produce the finished doses," R-Pharm said in a July statement. "At the same time, Russia will be one of the hubs for the production and supply of the vaccine to international markets." When asked Friday to comment whether AstraZeneca's pause in trials and technology threatens the deal with a Russian producer, Dmitriev said: "One of our portfolio companies is manufacturing the AstraZeneca vaccine. We believe that both human adenoviral vector approach that Sputnik V is using, and chimpanzee adenoviral vector approach used by AstraZeneca are both very promising approaches based on solid scientific basis." Gamaleya is using adenoviruses in their Covid-19 vaccines; this is the same approach used in the vaccine developed by the University of Oxford and AstraZeneca. The adenovirus delivers genetic material for the spike protein that sits atop the virus that causes Covid-19, and that genetic material is designed to generate an immune response to the virus. Adenoviruses can cause a variety of symptoms, including the common cold. The researchers manipulate the virus so it will not replicate and cause illness. The Gamaleya vaccine is given in two doses, and each dose uses a different adenovirus vector. Russia registered its first coronavirus vaccine Sputnik V in August after testing it on 76 volunteers and ahead of large-scale Phase 3 trials. The announcement came to much fanfare from Russian state media but drew widespread skepticism from the international community concerning its safety and the notion the approval could've been rushed by political goals. Sputnik V is now in its stage 3 trial which so far involved 13,000 people and seeking to enroll up to 40,000, according to Russian officials. AstraZeneca began large-scale phase 3 human clinical trials in August seeking to enroll up to 30,000. Such trials are the last step before a vaccine maker seeks approval from regulators. Another vaccine EpiVacCorona developed by a former biochemical weapons lab Vector, was registered in Russia this week before going through Phase 3 trials. The third potential Russian vaccine, from the Chumakov Institute, began Phase I trials last week. CNN's Simon Cullen contributed reporting
UN warns that world risks becoming 'uninhabitable hell' for millions unless leaders take climate action - CNN
There has been a "staggering" rise in natural disasters over the past 20 years and the climate crisis is to blame, the United Nations said Monday.
(CNN)There has been a "staggering" rise in natural disasters over the past 20 years and the climate crisis is to blame, the United Nations said Monday. Researchers pointed to a failure of political and business leaders to take meaningful action to mitigate the impact of climatic changeand stop the planet from turning into "an uninhabitable hell for millions of people." Meanwhile, the coronavirus pandemic, which has killed more than 1 million people and infected at least 37 million, has exposed the failure of "almost all nations" to prevent a "wave of death and illness" despite repeated warnings from experts, the report said. Between 2000 and 2019, there were 7,348 major natural disasters -- including earthquakes, tsunamis and hurricanes -- that claimed 1.23 million lives, affected 4.2 billion people and resulted in $2.97 trillion in global economic losses, according to the UN Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNDRR). That's almost double the 4,212 disasters recorded from 1980-1999, the UN said in its new report The Human Cost of Disasters 2000-2019. The Center for Research on the Epidemiology of Disasters' Emergency Events Database characterizes a natural disaster as having at least 10 or more people reported killed, 100 or more people reported affected, declaration of a state of emergency, or a call for international assistance. The vast majorityof those disasters were climate-related, with researchers reporting more flooding, storms, droughts, heatwaves, hurricanes and wildfires in the past 20 years. The sharp increase has been attributed to rising global temperatures, which scientists say is increasing the frequency of extreme weather and disaster events. The report found floods, storms, heatwaves, droughts, hurricanes and wildfires have all significantly increased in the past 20 years. "It is baffling that we willingly and knowingly continue to sow the seeds of our own destruction," said UNDRR chief Mami Mizutori and Debarati Guha-Sapir of Belgium's Center for Research on the Epidemiology of Disasters, in a joint foreword to the report. "It really is all about governance if we want to deliver this planet from the scourge of poverty, further loss of species and biodiversity, the explosion of urban risk and the worst consequences of global warming." Asia was the worst hit from climate disasters in the past 20 years, suffering from 3,068 disaster events between 2000 and 2019. That was followed by 1,756 disasters in the Americas and 1,192 in Africa. The worst affected country over the past two decades is China, which experienced more than 500 natural disasters, followed by the United States, with 467 disaster events. Among the deadliest -- considered mega disasters because they each killed more than 100,000 people -- were the 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami, the 2008 Cyclone Nargis in Myanmar, and the 2010 Haiti earthquake. There has been some success in protecting vulnerable communities thanks to better early warning systems and responses, the report said. Disaster management agencies in countries like Bangladesh and India have saved many lives through better preparedness for cyclones and floods. But researchers warn that "the odds continue to be stacked against" these communities. "In particular by industrial nations that are failing miserably on reducing greenhouse gas emissions to levels commensurate with the desired goal of keeping global warming at 1.5 C as set out in the Paris Agreement," Mizutori and Guha-Sapir said. They called on countries to do more to strengthen disaster risk governance and to better prepare for future climate catastrophes. Currently, the world is on course for a temperature increase of 3.2 degrees Celsius or more, unless industrialized nations can drastically cut their greenhouse gas emissions. That projected temperature increase is enough to increase the frequency of extreme climate events across the world, the report said, rendering any improvements to disaster response or climate adaptation "obsolete in many countries." Emissions will need to be reduced by at least 7.2% every year over the next 10 years in order to achieve the 1.5 degree target agreed in Paris. "We have seen little progress on reducing climate disruption and environmental degradation," said UN Secretary-General António Guterres. "To eradicate poverty and reduce the impacts of climate change, we must place the public good above all other considerations."
Johnson & Johnson pauses Covid-19 vaccine trial after 'unexplained illness' - CNN
Johnson&Johnson said its Janssen arm had paused its coronavirus vaccine trial after an "unexplained illness" in one of the volunteers testing its experimental Covid-19 shot.
(CNN)Drugmaker Johnson & Johnson said Monday it has paused the advanced clinical trial of its experimental coronavirus vaccine because of an unexplained illness in one of the volunteers. "Following our guidelines, the participant's illness is being reviewed and evaluated by the ENSEMBLE independent Data Safety Monitoring Board (DSMB) as well as our internal clinical and safety physicians," the company said in a statement. ENSEMBLE is the name of the study. "Adverse events -- illnesses, accidents, etc. -- even those that are serious, are an expected part of any clinical study, especially large studies." The pause was first reported by Stat News. Johnson & Johnson's Janssen vaccine arm is developing the shot. The company did not say what the unexplained illness was, but one point of clinical trials is to find out if vaccines cause dangerous side effects. Trials are stopped when they pop up while doctors check to see if the illness can be linked to the vaccine or is a coincidence. "Based on our strong commitment to safety, all clinical studies conducted by the Janssen Pharmaceutical Companies of Johnson & Johnson have prespecified guidelines. These ensure our studies may be paused if an unexpected serious adverse event (SAE) that might be related to a vaccine or study drug is reported, so there can be a careful review of all of the medical information before deciding whether to restart the study," the company said. "We must respect this participant's privacy. We're also learning more about this participant's illness, and it's important to have all the facts before we share additional information," the company added. "Serious adverse events are not uncommon in clinical trials, and the number of serious adverse events can reasonably be expected to increase in trials involving large numbers of participants. Further, as many trials are placebo-controlled, it is not always immediately apparent whether a participant received a study treatment or a placebo." Such a pause is not immediately concerning, agreed Dr. Ashish Jha, the dean of the Brown University School of Public Health."This is completely expected, and it's just a reminder how ridiculous it is to try and meet a political timeline of having a vaccine before Nov. 3," Jha told CNN's Chris Cuomo. "The Johnson & Johnson trial is the biggest trial of the vaccine that I know of -- 60,000 people," Jha said. "Within that trial you'd expect a few pauses." The drugmaker said there is a "significant distinction" between a study pause and a regulatory hold on a clinical trial. "A study pause, in which recruitment or dosing is paused by the study sponsor, is a standard component of a clinical trial protocol," Johnson & Johnson said. "A regulatory hold of a clinical trial is a requirement by a regulatory health authority, such as the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. As outlined in our transparency commitments, we proactively disclose any regulatory hold of a pivotal clinical trial." This is the second Phase 3 coronavirus vaccine trial to be paused in the US. AstraZeneca's vaccine trial was paused last month because of a neurological complication in a volunteer in Britain. While the trial resumed there and in other countries, it remains paused in the United States while the US Food and Drug Administration investigates. "We want the vaccine to be safe and we've got to let the process play out and it's going to take a while," Jha said. "To me it's reassuring that companies are acting responsibly and pausing when they need to." Johnson's Phase 3 trial started in September. It's one of six coronavirus vaccines being tested in the US, and one of four in the most advanced, Phase 3 stage. It requires just one dose of vaccine, so federal officials have said they hope testing may be completed a bit faster than other vaccines, including those being made by Moderna and Pfizer, which require two doses. CNN's Shelby Lin Erdman contributed to this story
Biden enters final weeks in commanding position as Trump wastes precious days - CNN
Joe Biden is in a commanding position as the presidential race enters its final stretch, leading President Donald Trump in polling and fundraising and on offense to expand his pathways to victory while Trump struggles to defend must-win states.
(CNN)Joe Biden is in a commanding position as the presidential race enters its final stretch, leading President Donald Trump in polling and fundraising and on offense to expand his pathways to victory while Trump struggles to defend must-win states. With 24 days until the election and millions of votes already being cast, Biden's aides and Democratic allies say Trump's missteps and the former vice president's message have given him a broad map with numerous paths to 270 electoral votes. Time is running out for Trump to change the race's trajectory -- and he is failing to capitalize on the opportunities that do exist. In watchers' eyes, Biden's running mate, Sen. Kamala Harris of California, bested Vice President Mike Pence in their debate Wednesday night, a CNN post-debate poll found. Trump then wasted a day Thursday by calling into a Fox Business morning show and calling Harris a "monster," blaming Gold Star families for his infection with coronavirus and saying he would not participate in his second debate against Biden, which had been scheduled for next week but changed to a virtual format (it was then canceled on Friday). On Friday, Trump called into right-wing radio host Rush Limbaugh's program for a grievance-filled interview. Meanwhile, his treasury secretary, Steven Mnuchin, was trying to negotiate an economic stimulus deal with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi -- a total reversal from Trump's Twitter declaration earlier in the week that he was ending those talks, costing his negotiators days. With Trump already playing a weak hand, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, at home in Kentucky, cast doubt on the possibility that Republicans would pass any deal in time for the election. Recovering from coronavirus, Trump promised repeatedly during the week that he would return to the campaign trail this weekend. He is set to host an event at the White House on Saturday, potentially raising concerns that -- like at the event at which Trump nominated Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court -- the virus could spread. Trump's actions over the week provoked a round of politically damaging headlines and left him without what could have been a valuable opportunity to improve on his first showing against Biden in a debate next week. Guy Cecil, the head of the pro-Biden super PAC Priorities USA, told reporters Friday that Trump "is struggling to bring new voters into the fold" and "is running out of time" to do so. "The entire map has moved. Some states might move by a little more than others," he said after singling out Michigan, Wisconsin and Georgia, "but we have seen the entire map move towards Biden." Outside of Washington, Trump's campaign is retrenching, pulling its ads completely off the air in Ohio and Iowa -- two states Trump won by more than 9 percentage points in 2016 but where polls show he is now tied with or trailing Biden -- and cutting back spending in other Midwestern battlegrounds. "President Trump and his campaign are extremely confident about our chances in these states. We have been talking directly with voters for years via multiple avenues about the success of President Trump's America First agenda. Unlike Joe Biden, campaign ads aren't the only way we know how to campaign," Trump campaign spokeswoman Samantha Zager said. The reality, though, is more grim for Trump: If he loses Ohio and Iowa, it is all but certain he will have been blown out by Biden across the map. As Trump pulls back, Biden -- fueled by what sources familiar with the matter said will be a record-breaking fundraising month in September, topping August's $365 million -- is seeking to expand the competitive map, with ads in Texas and Iowa and a major statewide buy in Ohio this week. Polls in recent days have found Biden with a large lead nationally -- he is ahead 57% to Trump's 41%, a CNN poll this week found -- and in the core battleground states of Arizona, Florida, Michigan, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, where he would likely cross the 270 electoral vote threshold by winning three or four of the six. Quinnipiac showed Biden with a 13-point lead in Pennsylvania and 11 points ahead in Florida. He led by 5 points in Wisconsin, per Marquette. The New York Times and Siena found Biden up 8 points in Arizona. And CBS and YouGov found him ahead by 2 points in North Carolina. Biden to date has outspent Trump in all six of those core battleground states, making them his campaign's central focus even as it eyes a broader playing field that includes Ohio, Iowa and potentially Texas and Georgia. "There's no extra credit here, right? We need to get to 270," said Jenn Ridder, Biden's national states director. Trump's campaign has been aimed squarely at his base of White men without college degrees, and the President insisted on Limbaugh's program Friday that they will turn out in vast numbers on Election Day. "I think you're going to see a very big explosion of voting," Trump said. But down-ballot, there were signs across the map that Republicans are in peril. Campaign finance reports show that Democratic Senate candidates swamped their GOP rivals in fundraising in the third quarter, giving the party a hefty advertising advantage in the race's final days. With Democrats needing a net gain of three seats to win Senate control if Biden wins the presidency, polls have shown Democratic Senate challengers leading in Arizona, Colorado, Maine, North Carolina and Iowa, as well as Democratic candidates surprisingly in contention in South Carolina and Kansas. Polls have also shown that both Senate races in Georgia could be pushed into runoffs. Even Alaska may be coming on line late in the season for the Democrats. Endangered Republican Sen. Thom Tillis of North Carolina told Politico that a GOP-led Senate would be "the best check on a Biden presidency," a nod to Biden's status as the clear front-runner. Biden, meanwhile, is in a comfortable position. His campaign this week rolled out a video from former first lady Michelle Obama making a "closing argument" against Trump, and touted the endorsement of singer Taylor Swift, potentially lending the former vice president cultural cachet among younger voters. Biden and Harris were in Arizona on a joint bus tour Thursday, riding separately to remain cautious as coronavirus cases rise across the nation. His campaign said it had agreed to a town hall on ABC in place of the virtual debate next week that Trump backed out of Thursday morning. Biden drew praise this week for a speech in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, in which he evoked Abraham Lincoln's famous words on the Civil War battlefield there and said he would seek to unite the country. His message in the closing weeks of the race is little changed from how he began in April 2019, when he launched his campaign in Philadelphia: arguing that the "soul of the nation" is at stake. Aides said that message has allowed Biden to turn Republican-leaning states into battlegrounds. Polls show he is leading Trump among voters 65 and older -- a rare feat for a Democratic nominee -- and benefits from a huge gender gap, with women overwhelmingly supporting him and men split more evenly. They said Biden is offering calm and steadiness amid a pandemic that has claimed more than 210,000 American lives and in the chaos created by Trump -- qualities that appeal to a broad swath of voters. "This message is not for Democratic primary voters; this is not for Republican swing voters. This has been consistent, and it's always been for a wide swath. And that's why the map remains what it does," said Becca Siegel, Biden's chief analytics officer. "We can do lots of testing and polling and work on the best message, but this one comes from our candidate." CNN's Dan Merica contributed to this report.
Report highlights concern heading into election: Ransomware attacks on the rise in the US - CNN
Cyberattacks that seize control of computers and hold them for ransom are on the rise, with the United States seeing a doubling of so-called "ransomware" attacks over the last three months compared to the previous quarter, according to Check Point Research, a…
Washington (CNN Business)Cyberattacks that seize control of computers and hold them for ransom are on the rise, with the United States seeing a doubling of so-called "ransomware" attacks over the last three months compared to the previous quarter, according to Check Point Research, a cybersecurity firm. The data back up a slew of alarming recent disclosures from hospital systems, city and county governments, and other targets that have been hit. Check Point recorded more than 300 ransomware attacks in the third quarter, up from roughly 150 in the second quarter. News of the spike comes as Americans brace for a chaotic election and a bumpy flu season that could exacerbate the ongoing effects of the coronavirus pandemic. And it follows a series of attacks that became highly publicized last week: One targeting Tyler Technologies, a software vendor used by numerous local governments, and Universal Health Services, one of the nation's largest hospital companies. A statement on Tyler Technologies' website has said the company does not directly make election software and the software it does produce that is used by election officials to display voting information is separate from its internal systems that were affected by the attack. UHS said in a statement Monday that it is continuing to restore service to its IT network and that no electronic medical records were directly affected by a cyberattack that took place Sept. 27. US hospital networks have been among the most popular targets for ransomware attackers, accounting for 16 percent of the quarter's overall volume, said Check Point threat analyst Lotem Finkelsteen, who published a report on the findings Tuesday. Hospitals are viewed as a critical piece of the nation's coronavirus response, and their need to remain up and running at all costs has emboldened attackers who've become increasingly confident in a quick payday, said Finkelsteen. "Hackers are swarming on ransomware because others have done it successfully," he told CNN. "Organizations are willing to pay. Organizations pay the price instead of dealing with encrypted files and the need to recover their IT systems. This creates a vicious circle: The more such attacks "succeed," the more frequently they occur." Paying off hackers might seem like a quick solution to an immediate problem. But experts warn that paying ransoms only creates more incentives for attacks to continue. The US government finally got involved last week, as the Treasury Department issued two warnings that paying off hackers, or facilitating a ransom payment on behalf of a victim, could be considered a US sanctions violation if the recipient is located in a target country. "A person subject to U.S. jurisdiction may be held civilly liable even if it did not know or have reason to know it was engaging in a transaction with a person that is prohibited under sanctions laws and regulations," the warning read. Refusing to pay ransoms could lead to short-term pain, including the release of compromised internal data on the internet, said Finkelsteen. But, he warned, the current trend of payments points to a worse outcome: Hackers funneling their proceeds into research and development to create even more potent forms of ransomware. "The most effective way to put an end to the cycle is to stop paying the ransom," he said. "Simply put, if the cash flow stops, the attack flow stops." Other sectors that have come under attack include US manufacturing, software vendors, government agencies and insurance or legal providers, Check Point said. Ransomware could pose a risk to the election process if systems designed to support voting are brought down, Finkelsteen said, but so far experts regard it as "mainly a hypothetical threat right now."
Live updates: President Trump tests positive for coronavirus - CNN International
President Trump and first lady Melania Trump have both tested positive for Covid-19. Follow here for the latest.
Its unclear whether he misspoke, but White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow, who this morning described Trumps coronavirus as mild, this afternoon described Trump as having a very moderate case, but said he was doing just fine. The reports are, the chief says they're doing well. It is a very moderate case. The President was kind of barking out orders for all of us, giving us tasks this morning to follow through. He's on the phone so I have not seen him. I last spoke to him last evening, I had not talked to him today, but apparently he's doing just fine, Kudlow said during an appearance on Fox News. He declined to say what time Trump was barking out orders, saying that he is an early riser, as a general rule. Kudlow reiterated there was continuity of government: Were going about our business. The government is functioning, there's no question about that. And we just hope for a speedy recovery in the residence, he said. Kudlow graded Fridays jobs report as an A-minus and reiterated much of what he said about the stimulus bill earlier this morning. We're in the neighborhood of $1.5 trillion, it's not precise, but we're in that neighborhood, and we're still way, way below where the other side is. Look, you know, we don't need a gigantic humongous bill. I mean with all respect I know there's political differences and ideological differences, but we can really do that another time, he said, calling for deals in targeted key areas. Money for states, he said, is still an area of considerable disagreement, adding that that should be done later.
The Australia-New Zealand travel bubble is finally here -- but it's only one-way for now - CNN
Australia will put in place a travel corridor with New Zealand to allow quarantine-free tourism, with flights likely to begin within weeks -- but there's a catch.
Ben Westcott, CNNUpdated 2nd October 2020 (CNN) Australia will put in place a travel corridor with New Zealand to allow quarantine-free tourism, with flights likely to begin within weeks -- but there's a catch. Initially the quarantine-free travel will only be one-way, from New Zealand to Australia, and a limited number of destinations will be included in the deal, according to Australian Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack. Speaking at a press conference in Canberra Friday, McCormack said Australian states and territories that follow Commonwealth-approved travel restrictions could be included in the new arrangements. For now, the travel bubble will include only New South Wales and the Northern Territory. It will begin at 12.01 a.m. on Friday, October 16. McCormack said New Zealanders who hadn't been in a coronavirus hotspot in the previous 14 days would be allowed enter Australia without having to isolate. Under existing rules, anyone who flies into Australia must undergo 14 days of mandatory hotel quarantine, at their own expense. "This is the first stage in what we hope to see as a trans-Tasman bubble between the two countries, not just that state and that territory," McCormack said. "I've just got off the phone from (Northern Territory) Chief Minister (Michael) Gunner, who says the fish are biting and the beers are cold. And he wants to see as many of his New Zealand cousins and friends as possible." Australian politicians seem more enamored with the idea than those across the Tasman. New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said Friday that New Zealanders who take up the Australian offer will still have to quarantine on their return. "We will not open the borders for quarantine-free travel with Australia until it is safe to do so because doing it too early risks losing all of the freedoms that we already have in our economy," she said. Ardern said it was a question of safety and she encouraged New Zealanders to "spend their dollars here locally." New Zealand has one of the lowest rates of coronavirus infections in the world, with only 1,848 confirmed cases overall, while Australia is still working to control an outbreak in its second-largest city of Melbourne. Discussions about a potential travel bubble have been ongoing since at least May. McCormack said the Australian Department of Health had determined that New Zealand posed a "low risk" of Covid-19 transmission to Australia. The deputy prime minister said this new travel bubble will free up space for nearly 325 passengers a week to enter quarantine in Sydney so that more Australians abroad can return home. For months, the Australian government has imposed caps on the numbers of citizens allowed to fly into the country to ease pressure on the hotel quarantine system. Thousands are still trapped overseas. Right now, New Zealand's borders are closed to international travelers under restrictions put in place to limit the spread of the coronavirus. McCormack said it would be up to Ardern to decide whether to make exceptions for Australians. "If (New Zealand Prime Minister) Jacinda Ardern ... wants to have Australians going to New Zealand then that will be up to her and New Zealand as to how those arrangements can be put into place and under what conditions," McCormack said. Under the Commonwealth coronavirus hotspot system, developed by Acting Australian Chief Health Officer Paul Kelly, a city is considered a "Covid-19 hotspot" if it has an average of 10 locally-acquired coronavirus cases over three days, or at least 30 cases over three consecutive days. For rural or regional areas, the number is lower -- a three-day average of three locally acquired coronavirus cases, or nine cases over three days. McCormack said South Australia is likely to be the next state to come on board with the definition, though he couldn't confirm it. © 2020 Cable News Network.A Warner Media Company.All Rights Reserved.CNN Sans & © 2016 Cable News Network.
BTS will release new album in November - CNN
Two albums in one year? That's how Korean pop group BTS is blessing fans in 2020. The group's management agency, BigHit Entertainment, announced on Twitter that "BE" will be released November 20.
(CNN)Two albums in one year? That's how Korean pop group BTS is blessing fans in 2020. The group's management agency, BigHit Entertainment, announced on Twitter that "BE" will be released November 20. BTS, which stands for Beyond the Scene, released their first album of the year, "Map of the Soul: 7," in February. The group told CNN earlier this month they would've been on tour had it not been for the coronavirus pandemic, but are now working out, watching Netflix and learning to play instruments. Because BTS felt they needed to give their fans new music amid these challenging times, they dropped their first full-English song "Dynamite" in August. The song broke the YouTube record for most views in a 24-hour period, racking up 101.1 million views. CNN's Chloe Melas contributed to this report.
China is doubling down on its territorial claims and that's causing conflict across Asia - CNN
Since taking power in 2012, Chinese President Xi Jinping has helped cement China's position as a global superpower -- and pushed forward an aggressive foreign policy, making bolder moves in several key flashpoints across Asia.
(CNN)Since taking power in 2012, Chinese President Xi Jinping has helped cement China's position as a global superpower -- and pushed forward an aggressive foreign policy, making bolder moves in several key flashpoints across Asia. From the South China Sea to the Himalayan Sino-Indian border, and even in one of its own cities, China has doubled down on its claims of territory, and taken a harder line in response to perceived challenges. And as those disputes escalated this year with renewed and rising tensions, Xi has bulked up the military and increased its budget, with the instruction to "resolutely safeguard national sovereignty, security and development interests." Here's what you need to know about China's key flashpoints in the Asia-Pacific region. Why are countries fighting over the South China Sea? Dotted with small islands, reefs and shoals, the South China Sea is a crucial global shipping route and home to a messy territorial dispute. Who claims what: China claims it owns almost all of the 1.3 million square mile South China Sea, but at least six other governments also have overlapping territorial claims in the contested waterway: the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Indonesia, Brunei and Taiwan. The United States doesn't have any claims in the waters, but has repeatedly challenged China's claims. China went ahead and built islands anyway: Since 2014, China has turned numerous obscure reefs and sandbars -- far from its shoreline -- into man-made artificial islands heavily fortified with missiles, runways and weapons systems, prompting outcry from the other governments. The US and its allies have pushed back by sailing warships through the South China Sea close to features claimed or occupied by China, in what it calls freedom of navigation operations (FONOPS). They say such patrols enforce the right of free passage in international waters; China argues these are violations of its sovereignty. But things are escalating now: The US has stepped up its challenges this year; it formally rejected China's claims as illegal, and sanctioned dozens of Chinese companies for building the artificial islands. In July, two US Navy aircraft carriers conducted joint military drills in the sea for the first time in six years -- a strong show of force. All this has sparked Chinese fury and escalated tensions; China launched a series of ballistic missiles into the sea, with state-run media warning that "China does not fear a war." Why this matters: Under international law, whoever owns the contested string of islands in the sea will have the rights to all the resources in its nearby waters like fish, oil and gas. More broadly, whoever controls this sea will also hold power over one of the world's most valuable trading routes -- it hosts one third of all global shipping. What's the deal with Taiwan? Taiwan is a self-governing democratic island of around 24 million people, which split from mainland China in 1949 after the end of a bloody civil war. China insists Taiwan is its territory: Authorities in Beijing claim full sovereignty of Taiwan, even though Taiwan has never been controlled by China's ruling Communist Party. The two sides have been governed separately for more than seven decades. For years, Beijing has attempted to impose diplomatic, trade and military pressure on Taipei, marginalizing it in the international community -- for instance, China has successfully blocked Taiwan from joining global agencies like the World Health Organization. What this means for other countries: Most countries abide by China's demand that Taiwan not be recognized as an independent nation, publicly observing Beijing's view there is "one China" -- though many governments also maintain close unofficial ties with Taiwan. Things escalated this summer: Recent months have seen a warming relationship between the US and Taiwan -- much to China's ire. Two high-profile US officials visited Taiwan in the space of two months, in a symbolic show of support by the Trump administration. In August, the US also sold 66 fighter jets to Taiwan, the biggest arms sale to the island in years. In response, China carried out a series of military drills and aircraft incursions in the waters and airspace near Taiwan -- marking a significant escalation in tensions. Chinese officials warned in September that "China firmly opposes any form of official exchanges between the United States and Taiwan." Some have also hinted at the threat of sanctions against US officials. President Xi has been clear in his ambitions to "reunify" the island with the mainland, and has refused to rule out the use of force. Recent military drills were described in Chinese state media as a "rehearsal for a Taiwan takeover" and threats of invasion have increased sharply as tensions with the US rise. Why are China and India clashing in the Himalayas? The China-India conflict is centered around a long-disputed border in the Himalayas. After fighting a bloody border war in 1962, the two countries drew up a loosely-defined demarcation line called the Line of Actual Control (LAC). But they disagree on its location: Though the LAC shows up on maps, the two nuclear powers do not agree on its precise location and both regularly accuse the other of overstepping it, or seeking to expand their territory. They have an uneasy status quo: The countries signed a series of agreements in the 1990s to try to keep the peace, including an agreement that neither side shall open fire within 2 kilometers (1.24 miles) of the LAC. But things got ugly this year: This June saw the bloodiest Sino-Indian clash in more than 40 years. Troops at the border fought with fists and stones, in a brawl that killed at least 20 Indian soldiers; China didn't acknowledge any casualties. Both sides accused the other of overstepping the border. Things heated up in September after each side accused the other's troops of firing warning shots. It's believed to be the first time shots have been fired along the border since 1975. Where things stand now: Officials are now in de-escalation talks; in late September, both sides agreed to stop sending troops to the border, and to strengthen communications. But a meaningful peacekeeping mechanism could be a long way off -- partly because of the increasingly assertive foreign policy on both sides. Why is China fighting Japan over a few tiny islands? Both China and Japan have claimed a rocky, uninhabited island chain in the East China Sea as their own. Located 1,200 miles (1,900 kilometers) southwest of Tokyo, the islands are known as the Senkaku Islands in Japan and the Diaoyu Islands in China. The islands are also claimed by Taiwan, where they are known as the Tiaoyutai islands. The overlapping claims: Both China and Taiwan say their claims to the island chain extend back to the 1400s, when it was used as a staging point for Chinese fisherman. However, Japan says it saw no trace of Chinese control of the islands during an 1885 survey, so it formally recognized them as Japanese sovereign territory in 1895. The US occupation of Japan after World War II complicated things -- but the islands were eventually returned, and Japan has administered them since the 1970s. Why this matters: The area has much-coveted resources; it holds a rich fishing ground, and recent surveys suggest that the waters around the islands may contain oil and natural gas deposits. How things escalated: China and Japan have engaged in tit-for-tat struggles for years, with the issue escalating sharply in September 2012 after the Japanese government formally purchased the islands from their private Japanese owner. This resulted in some of the largest protests seen in major Chinese cities in decades. Tensions rose again this June after a Japanese city council bill asserted that "the islands are part of Japanese territory." China, meanwhile, has flexed its military muscles; Japan announced in June that Chinese government ships have been spotted in waters near the islands every day since April. And in July, Chinese coast guard ships intruded into Japan's territorial waters multiple times, forcing the Japanese coast guard to block them from approaching Japanese fishing boats. The number of warplanes from China's People's Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF) flying close or around Japan's southwest air zone, which includes the contested island chain, has also increased exponentially in recent years, according to Japan's Air Self Defense Force (JASDF). Where things stand now: The two countries have stepped up their rhetoric; Japan has lodged diplomatic protests, and China has accused Japan of infringing on its sovereignty. The escalation this summer has raised international alarm; under a mutual defense pact with Tokyo, the US is obligated to defend the islands as part of Japanese territory. What's going on in Hong Kong? The semi-autonomous Chinese city of Hong Kong was plunged into a political crisis in 2019 as anti-government protests brought much of the territory to a standstill. Protesters had many complaints, including alleged police brutality and limited democratic freedoms -- but at the heart of it all is the city's conflicted relationship with the central government in Beijing. Is Hong Kong part of China? Yes -- but as a former British territory, it was granted freedoms of press, speech, and assembly when it was handed back to China in 1997. Hong Kong also has its own legal and political systems, currency and trade. These freedoms stand in stark contrast to China's authoritarian leadership and strict censorship. So what's the conflict? Under the handover agreement, Hong Kong is supposed to keep its limited autonomy until 2047 -- but many Hong Kongers say China is violating that promise and encroaching on their freedoms. This fear was heightened by a controversial extradition bill last year, which kicked off the protests and was later scrapped. Meanwhile, China has criticized the movement as a threat to security and stability. Some protesters have also called for Hong Kong independence, and asked other countries for assistance, which China condemned as an unacceptable challenge to its national sovereignty. How things escalated: In June, China cracked down by imposing a national security law for Hong Kong, entirely bypassing the city's own legislature. Details of the law weren't released to the public until it had passed. China said the law, which grants Beijing sweeping new powers, is necessary to curb unrest; critics say it's a devastating blow for Hong Kong's freedoms. Where things stand now: The law has already been used to make numerous arrests; for instance, several people were arrested in September for using protest slogans, which are now criminalized. Those convicted under the law could face sentences of up to life in prison. Since it came into force, political parties have disbanded, protest signs were pulled down across the city, and Hong Kongers are fleeing to seek asylum or refuge in other countries.