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(LONDON and RIO DE JANEIRO) -- At least 79 inmates have died in riots at four prisons across Ecuador, authorities said.

Gen. Edmundo Moncayo, head of Ecuador's prison system, known by its Spanish acronym SNAI, told reporters that the violence erupted Tuesday between rival drug gangs trying "to seize the criminal leadership of the detention centers." He said the clashes were precipitated by a break in leadership of a prominent local gang called Los Choneros. The leader of Los Choneros was assassinated in December at a shopping mall in the port city of Manta in Manabi province.

Moncayo said a search for weapons was carried out at a large prison in the port city of Guayaquil in Guayas province on Monday. Officials were tipped off by Ecuador's national police force that inmates had two firearms smuggled to them by a guard and were planning to kill Los Choneros leaders. That search sparked a series of coordinated mutinies in various prisons the following morning and it was not until the afternoon that authorities regained control, according to Moncayo.

Videos recorded by inmates and shared on social media showed mutilated bodies in the aftermath of the bloodbath.

As of Wednesday, 31 people had died at that prison in Guayaquil while six others had died at another prison in the same city. Thirty-four had died at a prison in the southern city of Cuenca in Azuay province and eight had died in the central city of Latacunga in Cotopaxi province, according to a statement from SNAI.

Moncayo plans to present a strategy to the Constitutional Court of Ecuador for preventing such violence from happening within the country's prisons, an official at the Ecuadorian Ministry of Interior told ABC News.

The official said there were just 52 criminal deaths registered in Ecuador's prison system last year.

An investigation into the deadly riots is ongoing and special units are carrying out operations, the official told ABC News.

Family of inmates have gathered outside the prisons as they await to hear whether their loved ones are safe.

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Marco Ravagli/Barcroft Media via Getty ImagesBy ERIC M. STRAUSS and MARK OSBORNE, ABC News

(LONDON) -- Moderna, which produces one of two vaccines authorized for use in the U.S., said Wednesday it has shipped a vaccine modified to fight the so-called South African variant of the virus to the National Institutes of Health for testing.

The company said the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, part of the NIH, will conduct a phase one trial to determine if the modified vaccine boosts immunity against the variant, which has caused concerns due to being more resistant to the current vaccines.

"We look forward to beginning the clinical study of our variant booster and are grateful for the NIH's continued collaboration to combat this pandemic," Stéphane Bancel, Moderna's chief executive officer, said in a statement. "As we seek to defeat COVID-19, we must be vigilant and proactive as new variants of SARS-CoV-2 emerge. Leveraging the flexibility of our mRNA platform, we are moving quickly to test updates to the vaccines that address emerging variants of the virus in the clinic."

Moderna said last month that a six-fold reduction in protection was noted for the South African variant versus other strains of the virus, but also said the neutralizing antibodies created by the vaccine "remain above levels that are expected to be protective."

Moderna said the booster, if necessary and if approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, could be "provided to the global community in late 2021 and 2022."

The pharmaceutical company said it is taking a three-pronged approach to the variant testing. In addition to the variant-specific booster candidate, it is testing a combination of the current vaccine and the new booster and, finally, a third dose of the current vaccine.

Moderna also said its current vaccine still works well against variants and the testing is precautionary.

In addition to the news about testing for the South African variant, Moderna announced it is stepping up production of its currently authorized vaccine -- now being injected around the U.S.

"We believe from our discussions with governments around the world that there will continue to be significant demand for our COVID-19 vaccine and we now are committed to materially increasing our manufacturing capacity," Bancel said in a statement.

"We expect our additional capital investments to drive our capacity to 1.4 billion doses for 2022, assuming the current 100 μg dose," he added. "If our variant vaccine booster requires a lower dose, such as 50 μg, we could have more than 2 billion doses of capacity for 2022."

Moderna is increasing its plan from delivering 600 million doses in 2021 to 700 million.

The company has shipped 55 million doses to the U.S. government to date, it said.

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


simon2579/iStockBy MAGGIE RULLI and ERIN SCHUMAKER, ABC News

(ACCRA, Ghana) -- The first shipment of vaccines touched down in Ghana’s capital Wednesday morning, marking a pivotal moment in the world’s fight against COVID-19.

The 600,000 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine that arrived by plane from India are the first vaccines distributed to low- and middle-income countries by COVAX, the global initiative for equal vaccine distribution.

"This is a momentous occasion, as the arrival of the COVID-19 vaccines into Ghana is critical in bringing the pandemic to an end," the World Health Organization and UNICEF said in a joint statement.

"The only way out of this crisis is to ensure that vaccinations are available for all."

Months after vaccines were first approved and distributed in wealthier nations, COVAX has begun sending their lifesaving shipments to lower-income countries. UNICEF, which is helping coordinate the rollout on the ground, told ABC News that Wednesday’s shipment to Ghana is just the beginning. More vaccines are set to arrive at the Ivory Coast tomorrow and in several countries in Asia in coming days.

COVAX has a goal of delivering 2 billion vaccine doses to participating countries this year, which the WHO and UNICEF called "an unprecedented global effort to make sure all citizens have access to vaccines."

The United States is now a leader in fundraising for COVAX, with the vaccines funded in part by U.S. taxpayers. President Joe Biden announced last week that the U.S. would donate $4 billion for vaccines in low- and middle-income countries, a change from former President Donald Trump;s administration, which had declined to participate in the COVAX effort.

Brandon Locke, policy and advocacy manager for the ONE Campaign, which aims to end extreme poverty and preventable disease, told ABC News that Wednesday’s shipment is good news.

"I think that it's easy to forget just how impressive the COVAX facility is in terms of what we managed to accomplish in such a short period of time. So it's really happy to sort of see the fruits of that labour start to materialize … it's a very good start. But we're just starting the battle."

While today is a major step forward, there's a long way to go, according to Locke. "We can't understate just how inequitable the distribution is at the moment," he said. "There is a really massive course correction that we need to sort of put things in perspective and sort of get vaccination where it needs to be in low- and middle-income countries.”

According to the United Nations, 75% of vaccinations are happening in just 10 countries, while 130 countries have not received a single dose.

Wealthier nations have bought up so many vaccines, Locke explained, that if they were to completely vaccinate their populations, they would still have 1.2 billion vaccines left over. He acknowledged that there's a delicate balance. On one hand, countries want to protect their citizens' health. On the other, the virus poses a global threat. "When we say none of us are safe until all of us are safe, it isn't just a cliche,” he added.

There's also the risk of the new variants of the virus cropping up in countries without access to vaccines. If the virus spreads unchecked, "we're just going to see it come back in more resistant ways that can potentially not be tackled by our existing vaccines and medicines," Locke said.

"What we really need to do is make sure that we're slowing the spread of the virus as quickly as possible. And to do that, we need to make sure that the most vulnerable populations and health care workers in all countries are vaccinated. That's just science.”

It's a point that has been consistently reiterated by WHO Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus. On Monday, Tedros asked rich countries to check with the WHO to ensure their deals with vaccine manufactures weren't undermining COVAX's efforts. Funding COVAX isn't helpful if the program can't use the money to buy vaccines, he explained.

In addition to urging governments to fully fund the COVAX initiative, the ONE Campaign is appealing to richer countries to give their extra vaccine supplies to lower- and middle-income countries.

"It's not about charity," Locke said. "We're only safe when everyone around the world has been vaccinated. So I think we need to communicate that to citizens, that this is about enlightened self-interest. It's in everybody's interest to end the pandemic as soon as possible.”

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


CGinspiration/iStockBy CONOR FINNEGAN, ABC News

(WASHINGTON) -- The U.S. and Iran are inching closer toward diplomatic talks over Tehran's nuclear program, even as the Iranian government moved further outside the original nuclear deal on Tuesday by curtailing international inspections of its nuclear sites.

The delicate dance between the two sides, along with the other world powers that remain party to the deal, has entered a new phase in recent days after President Joe Biden offered to join direct talks with the remaining participants last week.

"A lot of diplomatic work is underway in order to arrange the meeting to green light the JCPOA and to put all the participants together," Josep Borrell, the European Union's high representative for foreign affairs, said Tuesday, using the acronym for the nuclear deal's formal name, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.

But on Tuesday, Iran halted certain inspections by the International Atomic Energy Agency.

Curbing those inspections in particular sparked condemnation from France, Germany and the United Kingdom, the European countries that remain in the agreement. In a joint statement, their foreign ministers said Iran's "dangerous" decision will "significantly constrain the IAEA's access to sites and to safeguards-relevant information."

Still, while Tehran moved ahead with the restrictions, its foreign minister signaled for the first time that the country is open to talks that include U.S. officials.

"We will not have an official meeting because America is not a member of the JCPOA. We are assessing the idea of an unofficial meeting, in which America is invited to as a non-member," Mohammad Javad Zarif said Tuesday.

Such a meeting could come as soon as next month.

The State Department said Tuesday that Iran still has not formally responded to its offer to join talks. On Thursday, State Department spokesperson Ned Price said the Biden administration "would accept an invitation from" Borrell to meet with Iran and the other remaining signatories -- the Europeans, as well as China and Russia.

Former President Donald Trump withdrew the U.S. from the nuclear deal in May 2018 and reimposed U.S. sanctions on Iran -- leaving America at odds with its closest European allies. One year later, Iran followed suit, continually taking steps out of the nuclear deal to pressure the Europeans to make up for U.S. sanctions and provide the economic relief guaranteed under the nuclear deal.

Now, the U.S. is back on the same page with the so-called E3, issuing a joint statement last week that they seek a U.S. and Iranian return to the nuclear deal and new negotiations on extending the pact and addressing Iran's ballistic missiles and regional activity -- something Tehran has said it will not agree to.

"We are working hand-in-glove with our European allies, and we believe that gives us a position of strength when it comes to these negotiations and we believe it provides the best path forward," Price said Tuesday.

Iran's new restrictions on inspections are the latest move in its efforts to raise its leverage.

Zarif announced Tuesday that Iran will no longer share surveillance footage of its nuclear facilities with the IAEA. Instead, the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran said it would retain the footage for three months -- leaving a window to hand it over to the IAEA, but only if there's sanctions relief before then.

IAEA director general Rafael Grossi traveled to Tehran Sunday for last-minute negotiations to stop Iran from implementing the restrictions, which were passed into law by Iran's parliament in December.

Those talks achieved a "temporary, bilateral, technical understanding," Grossi said Tuesday, that allowed "necessary" monitoring and verification activities to continue for now -- even as Iran has now stopped abiding by its "additional protocol" agreement with the agency, including ending snap inspections of nuclear sites.

"It is our conviction that in doing what we did, we can facilitate a smooth return to the previous situation, if that is possible after the consultations that are going to take place -- and most of all, I think, we facilitated an easier atmosphere and time for the indispensable diplomacy that will be deployed in the next few days, I hope, in order to bring back some stability to a situation that needs it very, very badly," Grossi told the Nuclear Threat Initiative, a Washington-based think tank.

That timeline provides a small "window of opportunity" to put the nuclear deal "back on track," Borrell told the Atlantic Council, a Washington-based think tank. Last Thursday, his deputy invited the U.S. to join the next meeting of the joint commission that meets regularly under the deal's terms, which would be the first U.S. attendance since Trump withdrew in May 2018.

But even if U.S. and Iranian officials are in the room together again soon, it is unclear how both sides will return to compliance -- and whether the U.S. and European push for more negotiations can materialize after U.S. sanctions are lifted.

Iran has so far refused Biden's offer, that the U.S. would return to compliance by lifting sanctions only once Iran met its obligations again, like limiting its stockpile of enriched uranium and the number of centrifuges. Biden's offer has also included a good will gesture to lift severe travel restrictions on Iranian diplomats at the United Nations in New York and rescind a Trump posture that U.N. sanctions on Iran had "snapped back" -- a view that nearly no other country accepted.

Iran will only "follow ACTION w/ action," Zarif tweeted Thursday.

One possible avenue for discreet action may be Iran's oil revenues, frozen by U.S. sanctions in overseas banks. South Korea's Foreign Ministry said Tuesday that Iran had agreed to a proposal to begin unfreezing those funds, but it required U.S. sign-off first.

Price told ABC News, "There has been no transfer of funds," but the U.S. does "discuss these issues broadly with the South Koreans."

That could spark criticism, especially from Republican lawmakers who oppose the nuclear deal and have cast Biden's call for talks as a concession.

"Sanctions should only be relieved for a commensurate change in behavior or policy by Iran," said Behnam Ben Taleblu, calling the potential move "self-defeating" and the possible "beginning of more indirect sanctions relief to Tehran."

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.



(NEW YORK) -- See the Martian landscape come to life in the first high-resolution, color image released by NASA from the hazard cameras on the underside of its Perseverance rover.

The rover, dubbed "Percy," arrived at the red planet on Thursday. It teased the image on its Twitter handle shortly after landing, but NASA on Tuesday released the high-resolution version on its website.

The photo details the surface of Mars like never before, showing the extraterrestrial rocks and debris on the planet's Jezero Crater.

This is the first mission where NASA is collecting and storing Martian rock and dust.

The rover's goal is to search for signs of ancient life on Mars and pave the way for eventual human exploration.

On Monday, NASA released new video of the rover's entry, descent and landing on Mars as well as the first audio recordings of sounds from the planet.

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Atlantic-Lens-Photography/iStockBy KATIE KINDELAN, ABC News

(LONDON) -- Prince Philip, who was hospitalized last week, is being treated for an infection, according to Buckingham Palace.

The palace did not provide any further details about the infection or what type of treatment Philip is undergoing, saying only, "He is comfortable and responding to treatment but is not expected to leave hospital for several days."

The Duke of Edinburgh, who will turn 100 in June, was taken by car from Windsor, England, to the King Edward VII Hospital in London on Feb. 17 for what the palace described as a "precautionary measure" after Philip reported feeling unwell.

Philip's illness is not COVID-19-related, a royal source told ABC News.

Philip's oldest son, Prince Charles, visited his father in the hospital on Saturday and stayed for around 30 minutes. Visitors are only allowed at the hospital in “exceptional circumstances” because of the coronavirus pandemic, according to the hospital's website.

Charles, who was photographed entering the hospital wearing a face mask, is believed to be the only family member so far to have visited Philip in the hospital.

The duke's youngest child, Prince Edward, told Sky News on Tuesday that he had spoken with his father by phone.

"As far as I'm aware, well, I did speak to him the other day, so he's a lot better thank you very much indeed, and he's looking forward to getting out, which is the most positive thing," Edward said of Philip. "So we keep our fingers crossed."

Philip's grandson, Prince William, also spoke about his condition while visiting a vaccine center in Norfolk, telling longtime royal photographer Arthur Edwards that Philip is "OK," adding, "They're keeping an eye on him."

While Philip is hospitalized in London, Queen Elizabeth remains at Windsor Castle, where she has been staying with her husband for most of the coronavirus pandemic.

The queen and Philip celebrated their 73rd wedding anniversary in November.

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


BlakeDavidTaylor/iStockBy ALEXANDER MALLIN, ABC News

(WASHINGTON) -- The wife of Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman was arrested Monday in Virginia at Dulles International Airport on international drug trafficking charges, with prosecutors accusing her of participating in a conspiracy to distribute cocaine, meth, heroin and marijuana for import into the U.S.

Emma Coronel Aisupuro is also accused of conspiring with others to assist El Chapo in his July 2015 escape from Altiplano prison and prosecutors said she also planned with others to arrange another prison escape for the drug kingpin before his extradition to the U.S. in January of 2017.

She will make her initial appearance Tuesday virtually in Washington, D.C. District Court. Aisupuro, 31, is a dual U.S.-Mexican citizen, of Culiacan, Sinaloa, Mexico.

Guzman was convicted and sentenced to life in prison in New York in 2019 for his role as a leader of the Sinaloa Cartel.

In addition to the life term, the judge ordered a $12.6 billion forfeiture, which prosecutors said was a conservative estimate of the proceeds of El Chapo’s drug trafficking.

The government presented evidence that Guzman ordered the murder of or, in some instances, personally tortured and murdered 26 individuals and groups of individuals. His army of assassins carried out violence on his orders, prosecutors said.

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.



(LONDON) -- Three rare giraffes were electrocuted to death when they walked into low-hanging power lines within a conservation area in western Kenya, officials said.

The Kenya Power and Lighting Company, which owns and operates most of the electricity transmission and distribution systems in the East African nation, said in a press release Monday that the deadly incident occurred in Soysambu Conservancy over the weekend and that all three animals were Rothschild's giraffes, one of the most endangered subspecies of giraffe.

The Kenya Wildlife Service, the country's wildlife agency, said in a separate press release that two giraffes were electrocuted in Soysambu Conservancy on Sunday, without mentioning when a third was killed. ABC News has reached out to the agency for clarification.

The Kenya Power and Lighting Company said it has begun "the process of enhancing the clearance of the electricity distribution infrastructure at Soysambu Conservancy," which spans some 48,000 acres in Kenya's Great Rift Valley, about 85 miles northwest of Nairobi. The company said it is working with the Kenya Wildlife Service, Soysambu Conservancy's management and other stakeholders on the effort, which will also involve an audit of the entire infrastructure within the conservation area "to many any other rectifications that may be required."

"We regret this incident because we recognize that wildlife forms an integral part of our natural and cultural psyche, and we appreciate the feedback shared by various stakeholders on this matter," Bernard Ngugi, managing director and CEO of the Kenya Power and Lighting Company, said in a statement Monday. "Ensuring that we adhere to the highest forms of safety in all our undertakings, is a prerequisite for us. We thus take any electricity-related accidents seriously and we will use the lessons gleaned to avoid a reoccurrence of the same."

Kenyan conservationist Paula Kahumbu took to Twitter to express outrage over the incident, saying that power lines have been killing giraffes, vultures and flamingoes. She also posted images of three lifeless giraffes lying under utility poles that she said were the ones electrocuted in Soysambu Conservancy over the weekend.

"Advice from experts was ignored," Kahumbu tweeted. "Sad that it takes these kinds of deaths to wake some people up!"

Kenya is home to a total of 28,850 giraffes, including 609 Rothschild's giraffes, which are a subspecies of the Northern giraffe, according to the Kenya Wildlife Service.

The Rothschild's giraffe was classified as endangered on the International Union for Conservation of Nature's Red List of Threatened Species in 2010 but was later downlisted to near threatened as population numbers increased, according to the Giraffe Conservation Foundation. The subspecies was later proposed as conspecific with the Nubian giraffe, which is currently listed as critically endangered.

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(NEW YORK) -- The families of three U.S. service members killed and 13 others who were severely wounded at Naval Air Station Pensacola have sued Saudi Arabia over its role in the Dec. 6, 2019 attack.

Saudi Air Force 2nd Lt. Mohammed Saeed Al-Shamrani was a flight student enrolled in the Security Cooperation Education and Training Program and while wearing his Saudi Air Force uniform, he fired hundreds of rounds of ammunition killing three Navy service members; severely wounding four sailors, a Navy civil servant, seven sheriff's deputies and a Department of Defense police officer. Al-Shamrani was killed by law enforcement during the attack.

According to the lawsuit, Saudi Arabia knew of Al-Shamrani's radicalization and anti-American sentiments, which were publicly associated with a Twitter account bearing his name.

In May, Attorney General William Barr and FBI Director Christopher Wray said Al-Shamrani had communicated directly with al-Qaida operatives in an attack that they described as "a brutal culmination of years of planning and preparation," based on newly revealed evidence obtained from the shooter's iPhones.

Al-Shamrani made efforts to destroy his phones, even shooting a bullet through one of them, Barr said.

"The phones contained information previously unknown to us that definitively establishes Al-Shamrani's significant ties to al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), not only before the attack, but before he even arrived in the United States. We now have a clearer understanding of Al-Shamrani's associations and activities in the years, months and days leading up to his attack," he said.

From that evidence, investigators came to believe Al-Shamrani had been preparing for years after being radicalized in 2015 and joined the Royal Saudi Air Force in order to carry out a "special operation." Al-Shamrani continued to communicate with AQAP right up until the attack, they said.

After the attack, Mohamed bin Salman told President Donald Trump that Saudi Arabia would be "taking care of (the victims') families and loved ones."

To date, Saudi Arabia has refused to honor its word or engage with those who were injured and the families of the service members who were killed, the families said.

"I will never forget how Cameron was transformed once he graduated just weeks before the attack -- so proud of his uniform and ready to serve," said Shane Walters, the father of Cameron Walters who was killed in the attack. "The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia let this happen. While the prior White House administration refused to even call me, this one must do its part to stop coddling the Saudi regime and hold them accountable."

Cameron was a 21-year-old airman apprentice. His father had also served in the Navy.

"Nothing is going to bring back Mohammed, who was full of life and cared deeply about his family and country. But I have to do something to remember him and holding the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia accountable is part of that," said Evelyn Brady, who's 19-year-old son Mohammed Sameh Haitham was killed in the attack.

He was also an airman apprentice and he followed in his mother's footsteps after she had served 20 years in the Navy.

"We were robbed of such a precious gift, snuffed out in a moment from hatred and bitterness. Our family lost a lot, and our country lost a lot," said Benjamin Watson.

Watson's son, Ensign Joshua Kaleb Watson, was shot five times but he was able to warn others about the shooter and identify his location before being shot again, this time fatally.

The 23-year-old was a 2019 graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy and a commissioned officer stationed at Pensacola.

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(NEW YORK) -- NASA released new video for the first time Monday from its Perseverance rover's landing on Mars last week.

The footage, shot from multiple cameras, captures the rover's entry, descent and landing on the red planet's Jezero Crater on Feb. 18.

"This is the first time we’ve been able to actually capture an event like the landing of a spacecraft on Mars," Michael Watkins, the director of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), said in a news conference Monday, adding that he hopes the video will bring viewers along on the journey.

Watkins quipped that the team "binge watched" the new videos over the weekend, saying, "if you can call a one-minute video binge watching, but we watched it many, many times and it's really fantastic."

After unveiling the new footage at the news conference, Watkins said it "gives me goosebumps every time I see it."

The video captured the entire descent onto Mars, from the parachute inflation to its ultimate touchdown in the Jezero Crater. NASA said five cameras on three different parts of the spacecraft collected the imagery.

NASA also released imagery on Monday that features the 360-degree views from Perseverance of Mars' landscape.

Finally, NASA released the first audio recordings of sounds from Mars, which picked up both mechanical noises from the rover but also the utterances of a Martian breeze.

Perseverance, NASA's most sophisticated rover yet, will search for signs of ancient life on Mars.

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.



(LONDON and ROME) -- Italy's ambassador to the Democratic Republic of Congo, Luca Attanasio, was killed Monday in an attack on a United Nations convoy during a field visit in the Central African nation, officials said.

A member of the Carabinieri, the national gendarmerie of Italy, identified as Vittorio Iacovacci, and an unnamed driver of one of the vehicles were also killed, according to Italian and U.N. officials.

The Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation confirmed the deaths of Attanasio and Iacovacci in a statement, expressing "deep sorrow." The ministry said the pair were traveling in a vehicle that was part of a convoy of the U.N.'s peacekeeping mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, known by its French acronym MONUSCO. The deadly attack occurred in Goma, the capital of North Kivu province, which is located in the eastern part of the country near the border with Rwanda.

Italian Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio said he learned of their deaths "with great dismay and immense sorrow."

"Two servants of the State who were violently snatched from us in the performance of their duty," Maio said in a statement. "The circumstances of this brutal attack are still unclear and no effort will be spared to shed light on what happened."

Italian President Sergio Mattarella condemned the "treacherous act of violence," describing it as a "cowardly attack."

The delegation was traveling from Goma to the eastern town of Rutshuru to visit a school feeding program run by the World Food Program (WFP), the food-assistance branch of the U.N., according to a statement from the organization, which confirmed the death of a "WFP driver." A number of other passengers traveling with the delegation were injured in the attack.

"WFP will work with national authorities to determine the details behind the attack, which occurred on a road that had previously been cleared for travel without security escorts," the organization said. "WFP is in close contact with the Italian authorities through its offices at its Rome headquarters and in the DRC."

A spokesperson for the country's Virunga National Park, which is famous for its endangered mountain gorillas, told ABC News that the attack occurred "on the periphery" of the park but wouldn't provide any further details.

"Virunga National Park is working closely with all relevant parties on this horrific attack," the spokesperson said in a statement.

The eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo is home to numerous rebel groups vying for control over the mineral-rich land. Rangers in the Virunga National Park, which stretches along the country's eastern border with Rwanda and Uganda, are often targeted in attacks.

Last month, six rangers who were patrolling the park by foot were killed in an ambush by armed assailants, according to a statement from the Virunga National Park.

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.



(NEW YORK) — COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations are falling among vaccinated age groups in Israel, which could be a sign that the nation's rapid vaccination campaign is working.

Israel's vaccination campaign kicked off Dec. 20, giving priority to medical professionals, people with high-risk conditions and adults 60 or older. On Jan. 10, second doses began for those groups, and by Feb. 6, 30% of Israel's entire population -- 80% of individuals 60 or older -- had received two doses of the vaccine.

Today, 32% of Israel's population is fully vaccinated, according to data from Johns Hopkins University. By comparison, the United States has fully vaccinated about 5% of its population.

To examine the effect of widespread vaccinations among older Israelis, researchers from Weizmann Institute of Science, Tel-Aviv University and Technion analyzed Israeli Ministry of Health data on hospitalizations and PCR testing from March 2020 to February 2021.

The researchers found that infections fell among all age groups between between mid-January and mid-February, but the effect was most striking among the largely vaccinated group -- people 60 or older. In the weeks that followed a peak of COVID-19 infections in mid-January, cases among those 60 and older fell 66%, according to an extended dataset sent to ABC News by Uri Shalit, who worked on the analysis.

"Israel is way up there, with 78 doses per 100 people, compared to the United States, which is 16.7 doses per 100 people," Dr. Anthony Fauci said during a White House press briefing on Wednesday. "We have been hearing and seeing in the press that Israel has a remarkable diminution in cases associated with the efficiency of their vaccine.”

Hospitalizations similarly fell 57% in the vaccinated 60-and-older group.

"It's pretty clear that we're seeing an impact for the populations that got vaccinated," said Shalit, who is an assistant professor at Technion Israel Institute of Technology. As younger age groups are vaccinated and additional data is collected, Shalit said his team is seeing hospitalizations plummet among 50- to 55-year-olds. Since the January peak, hospitalizations have fallen 40% for the 50-to-55 group compared with 10% for those 54 years old or younger.

Although vaccinations started in late December, it took until February to see a sharp decline in cases and hospitalizations.

"We thought we'd see the drops earlier," Shalit said. "In Israel, a lot of people were vaccinated and we still saw cases going up. One thing we think is pretty clear is that you need the second dose for protection."

One complicating factor in Israel's vaccination story is that the country went into a national lockdown on Jan. 8, including closing stores, restricting travel and partially shutting down schools. While the lockdown likely had an effect on cases and hospitalizations, groups that were vaccinated earlier are seeing the biggest declines. When the researchers compared cities where people were vaccinated earlier to cities that were vaccinated later, the drop came earlier for the cities that vaccinated first, Shalit explained.

"It would have to be a very particular set of events for it not to be the vaccinations," he said of the declining cases and hospitalizations.

Additional research from Israel's largest health care provider, Clalit, is also on the horizon. Clalit, which covers more than half of all Israelis, has been conducting a study on 600,000 people who received two doses of the Pfizer vaccine. While peer-reviewed published results from the study are not yet available, data from Clalit's study are showing a 94% drop in symptomatic COVID infections among those vaccinated and that those individuals also were 92% less likely to develop severe illness than those not vaccinated.

"It shows unequivocally that Pfizer's coronavirus vaccine is extremely effective in the real world a week after the second dose, just as it was found to be in the clinical study," Ran Balicer, Clalit's chief innovation officer, said in a statement to ABC News.

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Anson_iStock/iStockBy MORGAN WINSOR, ABC News

(LONDON) -- The reported death toll from COVID-19 in Africa surpassed 100,000 on Friday, as the world's second-largest and second-most populous continent grapples with a fresh wave of infections.

Out of the more than 3.79 million confirmed cases of COVID-19 across the 54-nation continent, at least 100,294 people have died since the start of the pandemic, according to the latest data from the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

"This pandemic is raging," Dr. John Nkengasong, director of the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said during a press briefing Thursday, as the death toll approached the 100,000 mark. "The mortality during the second wave has been very, very severe."

The grim milestone came just over a year after Africa's first confirmed case of COVID-19 was identified in Egypt on Feb. 14, 2020. The continent was praised for its early and swift response to the pandemic last year, with many African countries appearing to be spared from the first wave of infections seen elsewhere in the world. But that narrative has changed as testing rates ramp up and a more contagious variant of the novel coronavirus helps fuel a resurgence of cases.

"If anyone had told me one year ago that we as a continent within one year would be seeing 100,000 deaths from a new infection, I would probably not have believed that," Nkengasong told reporters. "But here we are in that scenario."

The continent of some 1.3 billion people accounts for 17% of the global population but only 3.5% of confirmed COVID-19 cases worldwide and 4% of the global death toll. However, Nkengasong said Africa's case fatality rate is now at 2.6%, which remains higher than the global average of 2.2% and a noted increase from the continent's 2.4% rate after the initial wave of infections. Twenty-one African nations also now have case fatality rates that are above the global average, according to Nkengasong.

So far, 34.6 million COVID-19 tests have been conducted in Africa, with an overall positivity rate of 10.9%. In the week ending on Feb. 14, there were 915,000 additional tests conducted continent-wide, a 14% increase compared with the previous week, according to Nkengasong.

The World Health Organization's regional director for Africa, Dr. Matshidiso Moeti, told reporters last week that the continent's COVID-19 death toll had increased by 40% in the last month, compared with the previous month, which equates to over 22,000 people dying in four weeks.

"The increasing deaths from COVID-19 are a tragic warning that health workers and health systems in many countries in Africa are dangerously overstretched," Moeti said during a press briefing on Feb. 11.

The actual numbers are feared to be much higher, since most countries in Africa lack the means to track mortality data.

"We are definitely not counting all the deaths, especially in the second wave," Nkengasong told reporters last week.

But the latest trend is "encouraging," Nkengasong said Thursday. In the week ending on Feb. 14, Africa saw a 25% decrease in newly confirmed COVID-19 cases as well as a 28% drop in newly reported deaths from the disease, compared with the previous week. Moreover, between Jan. 18 and Feb. 14, there was an overall average decrease of 21% in new cases across the continent, according to Nkengasong.

One variant of the virus, known as 501Y.V2 or B.1.351, is now the dominant strain in hard-hit South Africa, accounting for about 90% of the country's new cases. The highly infectious variant was first identified in South Africa in December and has since spread to 10 other African nations as well as numerous other countries around the world, according to Nkengasong.

International aid group Medecins Sans Frontieres (Doctors Without Borders) said Thursday that the situation in Southern Africa "is dire" as the variant "is spreading, further straining fragile health care systems," and that equitable access to and distribution of vaccines "is more critical now than ever."

South Africa, which accounts for about 40% of all confirmed cases on the continent, announced earlier this month that it would halt plans to vaccinate 15 million front-line health care workers with a COVID-19 vaccine developed by England's University of Oxford and British-Swedish pharmaceutical giant AstraZeneca, following the publication of preliminary data that showed the two-dose shot provides only minimal protection against mild to moderate infection from the B.1.35 variant.

Instead, South Africa began inoculating those workers on Wednesday with a single-dose COVID-19 vaccine developed by American pharmaceutical giant Johnson & Johnson, which was shown to be 57% effective at preventing moderate to severe infection during a clinical trial in South Africa. The B.1.351 variant was responsible for 95% of cases in that study.

In global trials, the Johnson & Johnson vaccine was shown to be 85% effective at preventing severe infection and hospitalization, no matter the variant.

The COVAX Facility, a global initiative to ensure rapid and equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines for all countries regardless of income, said it aims to start shipping nearly 90 million doses to Africa this month in what will be the continent's largest-ever mass vaccination campaign. The goal is to provide Africa with up to 600 million doses by the end of the year.

To complement those efforts, the African Union has secured 670 million doses for the continent which will be distributed in 2021 and 2022 as countries secure adequate financing.

The Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has set a target of vaccinating at least 60% of the continent's population against COVID-19.

"This is a phased approach," Nkengasong told reporters Thursday. "If we really want to get ahead of this pandemic, we should strive to vaccinate 35% of our population by the end of the year."

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Karwai Tang/WireImageBy KATIE KINDELAN, ABC News

(LONDON) -- Prince Harry and Meghan, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, will not return as working members of Britain's royal family, Buckingham Palace confirmed Friday.

"The Duke and Duchess of Sussex have confirmed to Her Majesty The Queen that they will not be returning as working members of The Royal Family," the palace said in a statement.

Harry and Meghan shocked the world last January with their announcement that they planned to step down as senior, working royals and spend the majority of their time outside of the United Kingdom.

When their new arrangement with the royal family was announced in January -- after negotiations between Harry, Queen Elizabeth, Prince Charles and Prince William -- it was intended to be reviewed in one year's time.

With this new announcement, Harry and Meghan, who recently announced they are expecting their second child, have confirmed a permanent split from their roles with Harry's family.

In their new roles outside the royal family, Harry and Meghan will no longer hold their royal patronages and Harry, who served in the British Army, will no longer hold his military appointments, according to Buckingham Palace.

"Following conversations with The Duke, The Queen has written confirming that in stepping away from the work of The Royal Family it is not possible to continue with the responsibilities and duties that come with a life of public service," Buckingham Palace said in a statement. "The honorary military appointments and Royal patronages held by The Duke and Duchess will therefore be returned to Her Majesty, before being redistributed among working members of The Royal Family."

The appointments and patronages that Harry and Meghan are losing include The Royal Marines, RAF Honington, Royal Navy Small Ships and Diving, the Queen's Commonwealth Trust, the Rugby Football Union, the Rugby Football League, the Royal National Theatre and the Association of Commonwealth Universities.

A spokesperson for Harry and Meghan also issued a statement, saying the couple "offers their continued support" of the organizations they will no longer formally represent.

“As evidenced by their work over the past year, The Duke and Duchess of Sussex remain committed to their duty and service to the U.K. and around the world, and have offered their continued support to the organizations they have represented regardless of official role," the spokesperson said in a statement. "We can all live a life of service. Service is universal.”

Harry had been named Commonwealth Youth Ambassador by the queen in 2018. The next year, Meghan was named vice president of the Queen's Commonwealth Trust, where she worked alongside Harry to support and connect young leaders.

Meghan notably took over the roles as patron of the National Theatre and the Association of Commonwealth Universities from Queen Elizabeth, which was seen at the time as an endorsement of Meghan as she started her life as member of the royal family.

Harry and Meghan, who now live in California, will remain financially independent. The couple paid back in September the $3 million in British taxpayers' money that was used to refurbish Frogmore Cottage, their U.K. residence.

Since stepping back as working royals last year, Harry and Meghan have carved out a voice for themselves that they would not have been able to have as working royals. In September they urged Americans to get out and vote while making their first joint television appearance since moving to the U.S.

They also made their moves in Hollywood, inking a multi-year deal with Spotify to produce and host podcasts and a deal with Netflix to produce films and series.

The Sussexes also launched their new organization, Archewell, that will oversee their nonprofit work as well as their audio and production ventures.

Harry and Meghan have not, to the public's knowledge, returned to the U.K. since early March, when they attended their last official engagement as working royals.

The couple plans to break their silence next month in a 90-minute primetime special with Oprah Winfrey, who was a guest at their 2018 wedding.

Harry and Meghan's interview with Winfrey, set to air March 7, will be the first they have done since leaving the U.K. last year.

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.



(LONDON) -- For the best part of two-and-a-half months, Jaivir Nain, 36, has been camped out in a truck along with seven other farmers on the outskirts of India's capital city of Delhi.

While he is away, the four-acre farm he owns is being run by his family who live off a meager $1,000 a year income. Nain's family are in over $13,000 of debt and they are struggling to take care of the farm in his absence.

But for Nain, and the hundreds of thousands of other farmers protesting against a series of controversial new agricultural laws, the collective livelihood of their industry which employs over half of India's working population is at stake.

"This movement is the movement of the masses," Nain told ABC News at his protest camp on the outskirts of Delhi. "From the poorest to the richest farmer. This movement is for everyone."

Since the Indian government, headed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, pushed through three laws in September 2020 designed to modernize Indian agriculture, hundreds of thousands of farmers -- mainly from the northern states of Punjab and Haryana -- have staged sit-ins at three different locations around the national capital of Delhi demanding their repeal.

Critics and farm unions say these laws will scrap the Minimum Support Price which guarantees a certain level of income for farmers, even in times of drought, and encourage more private investment, which would give large corporations more power over farming and agriculture.

Modi, meanwhile, has said the laws will "give farmers the freedom to directly sell produce to buyers, unshackling them," and has promised to improve farmers' incomes over the next year.

But the implementation of the laws has been suspended by India's Supreme Court and Nain, along with his fellow farmers, are demanding no less than their full repeal.

The protests reached a flashpoint on India's Republic Day on Jan. 26 as India celebrated the anniversary of their constitution when thousands of farmers stormed Delhi's historic Red Fort.

The scenes captured international attention with pop singer Rihanna and climate activist Greta Thunberg both tweeting to raise awareness about the protests. The Indian government dismissed those interventions as "neither accurate nor responsible," and said "vested interest groups" had forced their agenda on the protests.

Government figures often characterize sections of the protest movement as Sikh separatists, with Modi saying in December that the farmers had been misled by a "conspiracy," according to local media.

Disha Ravi, a climate activist in Bengaluru and supporter of India's Fridays for Future movement and inspired by Thunberg, was arrested last week and charged with sedition after she posted a "toolkit" to show support for the farmers' protest online. Some observers say that the arrest is a sign of a broader crackdown on dissent in the world's largest democracy but Delhi Police said the toolkit was designed "to wage economic, social, cultural and regional war against India."

Despite the polarized nature of the protests, the struggles of Nain's family have long been played out across the country.

According to the Indian Government National Sample Survey Office, 52% of all farmers are in debt. India records one of the highest annual rates of suicide in the world, according to the WHO. Over 10,000 farmers and laborers died by suicide in 2019, the National Crime Records Bureau recorded.

"[India's farmers] have essentially been getting poorer for decades as landholdings become smaller," Gareth Price, Senior Research Fellow for the Asia-Pacific Program at the think tank Chatham House, told ABC News.

While the agricultural sector has long been in need of reform, part of the problem was that the laws in September were rushed through in a matter of days, with limited consultation, he said. With the protests bringing negotiations with the government to a standstill, the future for the sector is more unclear than ever, he said.

"The fundamental challenge is that you would be expecting people to move off the land into manufacturing jobs, but India is a bit of an outlier in that over the past few decades it hasn't produced enough of those," according to Price. "So you have more and more people reliant on the land."

And back on Nain's farm, they are struggling to feed their family.

"We all do the farming, none of us are literate," Indravati, Nain's sister-in-law, told ABC News. "We were born into poverty, and married into poverty." In Nain's absence, she is working overtime to make ends meet.

"I have to wake up early in the morning to milk cows and buffaloes, then water the farmland, when Satyavan or Jaivir are away," Indravati said. "Then we make food, prepare our kids for school. These responsibilities are usually shared. But the entire village is in these protests. Even the neighbors are helping in looking after the farmland of those that are camping at protest sites."

Yet such is the importance of the protests in their eyes, that even with the extra work, Indravati has plans to visit the protesters, and regularly helps ferry farmers to and from the protest sights.

"Women are equal partners in this protest," she said. "We are not going to back down."

At the protest sites across Delhi, thousands of protesters are showing no signs of backing down.

"This movement will not fail, all the farmers of India are one in this movement," Nain said. "We will only move when we are victorious. Victory shall be ours and the evil laws will have to be taken back."

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


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