Who Projected a Smiley Face On London’s Parliament Across From A Hospital Last Night?

An image of a smiley face was projected onto the Houses of Parliament to spread an uplifting message of positivity during tough times.

Any smile—but especially one that is 27 yards wide—can go a long way to cheering people up, especially when it’s directly across the river from a hospital.

The lipstick-wearing smiley was beamed onto the famous structure last night, on the eve of World Emoji Day.

The positive image was in full view of St. Thomas’s hospital, and it stood as a reminder of how good it feels to smile. Passersby who saw the images last night said it brightened up their evening considerably.

“Seeing the smiley made me laugh,” said Dave Crawford. It’s also opposite a hospital, and you hope that people get to look out and see it.”

RELATED: Boy Sets Up ‘Drive-By Joke Stand’ to Spread Laughter During Quarantine

Everybody knows we need more smiles right now—especially because it’s hard to know if people are smiling behind their face masks.

SWNS

Another onlooker, Kate Sandison, said the projection was a great surprise. “It looks great and makes you feel good. It made me smile.”

Commissioned by the cosmetics company Ciaté London, founder and CEO Charlotte Knight said they designed a new range of Smileys that include lashes and lipstick, created in partnership with the originators of the concept.

“Particularly at times like this it’s important to see the positives in everyday moments by sharing smiles.”

WATCH the inspiring video below from SWNS…

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In a Victory for the Environment Germany Bans Single-Use Plastic and Styrofoam

Germany is making major strides towards trying to practice what she preaches in terms of environmentalism.

The country announcement yesterday that it will be implementing a ban on the sale of a multitude of single-use and disposable items in a bid to reduce the amount of plastic and polystyrene waste in the environment.

This includes things like plastic straws, polystyrene cups and boxes (think Cup-O-Noodles), single-use cutlery, plates, and stirring sticks.

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German Environmental Minister Schulze said the move was part of an effort to move away from “throw-away culture,” according to AP.

The government’s ban will go into effect next year on July 3, 2021.

The new plan also legislates the closure by 2022 of eight brown-coal operations—mostly located in economically depressed regions—as the number of jobs in renewable energy, which already generates 50% of Germany’s power, increase in those regions.

RELATED: New Plant-Based Bottles and Cups Backed by Coca-Cola And Dannon Can Degrade in a Year

(Photo by Swansea University)

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Cher Sheds Tears of Joy as Pakistan’s ‘Loneliest Elephant’ Wins Bid For Freedom

An elephant at the Murghazar Zoo in Islamabad, is set to be freed thanks to a May 21 ruling by the Pakistan High Court.

Pop icon Cher, who advocated for four years on his behalf, calling him “the world’s loneliest elephant”, is celebrating the news.

“THIS IS ONE OF THE GREATEST MOMENTS OF MY LIFE,” she tweeted.

Since at least 2016, animal rights groups have worked tirelessly for the release of Kaavan, a 33-year old Asian elephant from Sri Lanka, whose only playmate died eight years ago in the zoo.

To facilitate the court’s ruling, Pakistan’s Islamabad Wildlife Management Board (IWMB) is working to—at last—find him a “suitable sanctuary”.

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“The pain and suffering of Kaavan must come to an end by relocating him to an appropriate elephant sanctuary,” the court wrote in its ruling.

The world was mobilized into action, sending petitions to the Pakistani government, after photos showed the elephant living in terrible conditions, sometimes chained.

Friends of Islamabad-Zoo Facebook Page

The IWMB has assembled an eight-member committee to arrange the relocation of Kaavan. Members include WWF senior director Rab Nawaz, biodiversity specialist Z.B. Mirza, an Islamabad Zoo veterinary officer, IUCN’s Nilanga Jaysinghe, and co-founder of Save the Elephant Foundation Derek Thompsan, according to a June 6 report by Gulf News.

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The court had also directed that all the other remaining animals be moved to temporary sanctuaries within 60 days—including brown bears, lions and birds—while the zoo improves its standards, reported Al Jazerra.

Kaavan first came to Pakistan at the age of 1, as a gift for the country’s leader at the time. Since his companion Saheli died in 2012, he has not been able to enjoy the company of other elephants. His release will give him the opportunity to live out his life among a social group of his peers.

WATCH: Orphan Elephant Conquer His Fear of Water With Help From His Loving Human

Cher sent one of her representatives to the zoo in 2016 to advocate for Kaavan. That same year, she also advocated for human rights by delivering water to Flint, Michigan, during its drinking water crisis.

The pop star is incredibly thankful that hers and others’ efforts have paid off. “It’s so emotional for us that I have to sit down,” she wrote.

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In Show of Solidarity, Morocco Sends 8 Million Masks to 15 African Nations

King Mohammed VI of Morocco has sent 8 million masks and millions of other pieces of personal protective equipment (PPE) to 15 different African nations.

Including almost one million facial visors, 600,000 plastic hair caps, and 60,000 gowns, the aid will be distributed between Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Comoros, Congo, Eswatini, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Malawi, Mauritania, Niger, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Senegal, Tanzania, Chad and Zambia, according to a statement by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

COVID-19 has been slow to arrive in Africa, but as many European and Asian countries are beginning to reopen, the pandemic is on the move in many countries on the continent.

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Having seen successful examples of beating COVID-19 in countries like South Korea, Germany, and New Zealand, Morocco and other African nations already have case examples and best-practices to base defense strategies on—and it’s this that Morocco hopes to encourage and support in other nations.

It also came just days after Morocco showed its desire to construct the headquarters of the African Center for Disease Control and Prevention in the country under the auspices of the African Union.

MOREGhanaian Man Invents Solar-Powered Hand-washing Basin During Lockdown to Encourage Sanitary Habits

Registering its first case on March 2nd, Morocco has seen only 200 deaths and around 9,000 infections.

Along with making masks compulsory in public, Morocco has painted masks onto the fronts of their train cars and buses as a cute way to raise awareness.

WATCH the video from Africa News… (King of Morocco photo by MehdiBitw98, CC license)

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New Zealand Has Eradicated COVID-19 – ‘Crushing’ the Virus to End Social Distancing

Things have gone so well in New Zealand concerning COVID-19 that Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and her cabinet have decided that almost all restrictions can now be removed.

After 40,000 people tested, 12 days with no one entering hospitals, 40 days since the last community transmission, and 22 days since that person finished their self-isolation, New Zealand is looking to restart its economy by lowering preventative measures to the lowest level.

Maintaining strict border controls to keep people from bringing the virus into the country, all restrictions on people and businesses within the country were lifted June 7. Officials only ask that citizens keep track of where they’ve been and who they have been in contact with for contact tracing purposes should another outbreak occur.

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“We united in unprecedented ways to crush the virus,” Ardern said at a press conference in Wellington. “Our goal was to move out the other side as quickly and as safely as we could. We now have a head-start on our economic recovery.”

Furthermore, while some domestic sports leagues have resumed around the world, like the German Bundesliga—albeit without crowds, the rugby-obsessed Pacific nation will be the first country that has dealt with its burden of infection to welcome spectators back into professional sports stadiums.

MORE: Millions of COVID Cases and Deaths Averted During Lockdowns: ‘One of Humanity’s Greatest Achievements’

With a small and often localized population, New Zealand was able to enforce even stricter lockdown measures than in other parts of the world—stalling the disease after 1,500 confirmed cases and 22 deaths. They’ve achieved eradication of the virus and are the first country to do so.

WATCH a celebration at one minute past midnight…

via Gfycat

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Millions of COVID Cases and Deaths Averted Thanks to Lockdowns: ‘One of Humanity’s Greatest Achievements’

Despite the novel coronavirus outbreaks delivering countless blows to global economies, two different teams of researchers have published studies praising international and local governments for preventing additional infections and millions of deaths.

This week, scientists from Imperial College London and University of California–Berkeley both published studies on the impact of emergency health measures across 17 different countries.

Although the teams used different methods of calculation for their research, they both came to similar conclusions: millions of lives have been saved thanks to large-scale interventions during the pandemic.

According to the Imperial study, European lockdowns helped to prevent more than 3.1 million deaths. The Berkeley study—which examined infection rates and lockdown measures in China, South Korea, Italy, Iran, France, and the US—found that local and national interventions prevented more than 530 million cases. Both of these studies were published in Nature.

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Furthermore, continuation of these policies beyond the study period have likely avoided many millions more infections, says Solomon Hsiang, director of Berkeley’s Global Policy Laboratory and lead author of the Berkeley study.

“The last several months have been extraordinarily difficult, but through our individual sacrifices, people everywhere have each contributed to one of humanity’s greatest collective achievements,” Hsiang said. “I don’t think any human endeavor has ever saved so many lives in such a short period of time. There have been huge personal costs to staying home and canceling events, but the data show that each day made a profound difference. By using science and cooperating, we changed the course of history.”

The Berkeley study evaluated 1,717 policies implemented across the 6 countries during the period extending from the emergence of the virus in January to April. The analysis was carried out by Hsiang and an international, multi-disciplinary team at the Global Policy Laboratory, all working under shelter-in-place restrictions.

Photo by UC Berkeley / Global Policy Lab and Hulda Nelson

Recognizing the historic challenge and potential impact of the pandemic, “everyone on our team dropped everything they were doing to work on this around the clock,” said Hsiang.

Today, global cases are nearing 7 million—but the UC Berkeley research suggests that the toll would have been vastly worse without policy interventions.

“So many have suffered tragic losses already. And yet, April and May would have been even more devastating if we had done nothing, with a toll we probably can’t imagine,” Hsiang said. “It’s as if the roof was about to fall in, but we caught it before it crushed everyone. It was difficult and exhausting, and we are still holding it up. But by coming together, we did something as a society that nobody could have done alone and which has never been done before.”

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Meanwhile in London, the Imperial team examined COVID-19 death rates across a dozen European countries after various stay-at-home orders, social restrictions, and shutdowns were implemented back in March.

Measuring the effectiveness of these interventions is important, given their economic and social impacts, and may indicate which courses of action are needed in future to maintain control. Estimating the reproduction number—the average number of cases an infected person is likely to cause while they are infectious—is a particularly useful measure.

“Using a model based on data from the number of deaths in 11 European countries, it is clear to us that non-pharmaceutical interventions– such as lockdown and school closures, have saved about 3.1 million lives in these countries,” said Dr. Seth Flaxman, study author from the Department of Mathematics, Imperial College London. “Our model suggests that the measures put in place in these countries in March 2020 were successful in controlling the epidemic by driving down the reproduction number and significantly reducing the number of people who would have been infected by the virus SARS-CoV-2.”

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Additionally, the team calculated that the reproduction number has dropped to below one as a result of the interventions, decreasing by an average of 82%, although the values vary from country to country.

“This data suggests that without any interventions, such as lockdown and school closures, there could have been many more deaths from COVID-19,” said Dr. Samir Bhatt, study author from the MRC Centre for Global Infectious Disease Analysis at Imperial College London. “The rate of transmission has declined from high levels to ones under control in all European countries we study. Our analysis also suggests far more infections in these European countries than previously estimated. Careful consideration should now be given to the continued measures that are needed to keep SARS-CoV-2 transmission under control.”

Need more positive stories and updates coming out of the COVID-19 challenge? For more uplifting coverage, click here.

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EU Plans to Raise $22 Billion Annually to Protect 30% of Land and Oceans for Biodiversity

The European Commission (EC) has made a concrete pledge to enshrine 30% of the EU’s land and oceans as protected zones by 2030. To reach this end they plan to raise 20 billion euro ($22 billion) every year for the next 10 years from private and public sources—both the EU climate fund and national budgets.

The EC believes that recovery from COVID-19 with biodiversity in mind will be key to restoring the health of both the environment and the economy.

The proposed strategy focuses on establishing binding targets to restore damaged ecosystems and rivers and bringing back pollinators to agricultural land, while reducing pollution, greening its cities, enhancing organic and biodiverse farming.

In its effort to improve forest health, part of the plan is to implement stricter protections and restoration projects for the remaining primary and old growth forests of Europe as early as next year.

This is especially important when researchers suggest that 60% of species assessed on the continent are in decline.

Farming for the Future

Biodiversity will receive another boost as the EC proposes changes to the agricultural landscape of Europe in a way that supports wildlife and pollinators. Such changes would include creating “high-diversity landscapes” in 10% of Europe’s farming acreage by hosting features like ponds, hedgerows, buffer strips between fields, and fallow land.

SEE: Farming in the Forest – A Chance to Reverse 1,000 Years of Destructive Land-Use Practices

Some experts are skeptical, but hopeful, the changes are implemented.

“It’s a big if, but then you are starting to look at healthy agriculture that can provide habitats for farmland birds and butterflies but also agriculture that can actually provide food at the end of the century,” Ariel Brunner, senior head of policy at Brussel’s BirdLife International said to the Guardian.

Wildlife in France, by Martina Misar-Tummeltshammer

The 2030 strategy would reinforce Europe’s natural resilience by dealing with agriculture and fisheries using the Farm to Fork strategy.

“The strategy sets concrete targets to transform the EUs food system, including a reduction by 50% of the use and risk of pesticides, a reduction by at least 20% of the use of fertilizers, a reduction by 50% in sales of antimicrobials used for farmed animals and aquaculture, and reaching 25% of agricultural land under organic farming,” reads the report.

The European Commission, which possesses authority to enforce European law, concludes finishes by calling on the European Parliament and Council to adopt the Farm to Fork and Biodiversity measures by 2021.

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World Celebrates Central America’s First Same-Sex Marriage After Costa Rica Passes Trailblazing Legislation

In a historic milestone for the LGBTQ community, Costa Rica just hosted the first legally recognized same-sex wedding ceremony in Central America.

Alexandra Quiros and Dunia Araya were the first couple to tie the knot after their wedding was officiated just as Costa Rica’s legislation for allowing same-sex marriage passed into effect at the stroke of midnight.

According to BBC, the ceremony was aired on national television following a 3-hour broadcast on the importance of marriage equality.

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The nation’s constitutional court first ordered parliament to strike down their laws against same-sex marriage back in August 2018 after ruling that the ban was unconstitutional.

Thanks to the newly-passed legislation, Costa Rica has joined the ranks of other South American countries—such as Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, and Uruguay—which have granted equal marriage rights to LGBTQ couples.

“Costa Rica officially recognizes equal marriage,” tweeted Costa Rican President Carlos Alvarado. “Today we celebrate freedom, equality and democratic institutions. May empathy and love be the compass that allows us to get ahead and build a country where all people fit.”

(WATCH the news coverage below) – Feature photo by AFP

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NASA’s Historic New International Agreements Set Stage for Peaceful and Cooperative Future of Space Exploration

NASA, along with a number of partnering space agencies from around the world, have announced a new set of international agreements that will help to govern a “safe, peaceful, and prosperous future” of space exploration.

The recently-released “Artemis Accords” are the latest development of the Artemis Program, through which the agency vows to send the first woman—and next man—to the moon by 2024.

NASA hopes that the Accords will better allow it to work with international partners to conduct a human mission to Mars as well.

“It’s a new dawn for space exploration!” NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine wrote on Twitter last week. “Today, I’m honored to announce the Artemis Accords agreements—establishing a shared vision and set of principles for all international partners that join in humanity’s return to the Moon. We go, together.”

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The core values enshrined in the Accords expand upon the Outer Space Treaty of 1967. They include the principle that space exploration should be done for peaceful purposes, that the U.S. and its partner nations must be transparent in their practices, and they should strive to build interoperable systems to information that can be exchanged and shared between nations.

The program also aims to protect historic sites and artifacts beyond the bounds of our planet, in much the same way that heritage sites on earth are protected by law. These include the artifacts left behind during the moon landings of the Apollo program of 1969-1972.

“International space agencies that join NASA in the Artemis program will do so by executing bilateral Artemis Accords agreements, which will describe a shared vision for principles, grounded in the Outer Space Treaty of 1967, to create a safe and transparent environment, which facilitates exploration, science and commercial activities for all of humanity to enjoy,” NASA said in a statement.

International partners that have signed on to the Accords include the Canadian Space Agency, European Space Agency, the Russian Space Agency (Roscosmos) and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, according to CNN.

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The Accords mark one of the most significant accomplishments thus far of the largest Artemis program, announced in 2019. The program involves the Orion spacecraft, Gateway and Space Launch Rocket System (SLS). The SLS rocket will be used to send Orion, with astronauts and large cargo on board, to the moon.

Unlike previous spacecraft which only supported short-term missions, the Orion will dock at the Gateway, described by CNN as “a spaceship that will go into orbit around the moon and be used as a lunar outpost. About 250,000 miles from Earth, the Gateway will allow easier access to the entire surface of the moon and potentially deep space exploration.”

Photo by NASA

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Indigenous Group in Brazil Wins Decades-Long Battle Against Illegal Loggers in the Amazon

A victory in a decades-long court battle provided relief for a special part of the Amazon rainforest and for the Ashaninka indigenous people who live there, as their 1990s lawsuit against illegal logging interests finally ended with a public statement of apology and a $3 million award for compensation.

Forestry companies and their legal teams acknowledged the “enormous importance of the Ashaninka people as guardians of the forest, zealous in the preservation of the environment,” in their official apology which claimed regret “for all the ills caused.”

Francisco Piyãko, part of Ashaninka leadership said, “These resources come to enhance existing actions, to generate sustainability for our people, our land, so that it helps to strengthen us to continue the broader project of environmental protection and maintenance of our ways of life.”

Yale’s School of Forestry & Environmental Studies suggested that the Attorney General, Augusto Aras, believes this case could be a turning point in environmental and indigenous peoples lawsuits.

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“What we did here was to comply with the Constitution, understanding that the indigenous people have sacred rights guaranteed by the Magna Carta,” Aras said in a statement. “You have the right to have a decent life, materially speaking, to choose your own destiny, to take part in political decisions, with respect to isolated communities.”

Beginning in 1980, forestry firms started harvesting mature cedar and mahogany trees for the European furniture trade in the Kampa do Rio Amônia Indigenous Reserve. The money awarded in the settlement will be paid over 5 years, and will be put mainly towards reforestation projects.

“The case will define hundreds of thousands of cases on massive environmental crimes in Brazil,” Antonio Rodrigo, the attorney for Ashaninka, said according to Latin Post.

(File photo by Nishaan ahmed)

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Canadian Government Buys Hotels to House Homeless People—And Also Rehire Workers

The British Columbian government has managed to provide housing for more than 200 homeless Canadians while simultaneously bringing economic support to struggling hotels during the COVID-19 crisis.

This week, provincial legislators purchased the Comfort Inn Hotel in Victoria for $18.5 million as a means of sheltering homeless people living in street encampments amidst the pandemic.

In addition to the hotel being equipped with 65 rooms for temporary accommodations, the province is also rehiring laid-off hotel workers to help manage the facility

“Often people experiencing homelessness are not able to access the support and services they need,” said Shane Simpson, Minister of Social Development and Poverty Reduction. “The purchase of the Comfort Inn, combined with medical and social supports, will help people make the transition from the street to permanent housing.”

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This is not the first facility that the province has purchased to accommodate homeless people. In the city of Prince Rupert, the province purchased the former Raffles Inn motel in order to convert it it into a permanent supportive housing building with up to 48 units, each with private washrooms, showers and mini kitchens. Once complete, the building will have the capacity for a 35-space temporary shelter or an extreme weather response shelter by 2021.

Both of these purchases are part of a province-wide mission to build roughly 3,300 new affordable housing units for seniors, Indigenous people, low-income families, women and children escaping abuse, students, and people experiencing—or at risk of—homelessness.

According to the BC Housing Twitter page, 289 rough sleepers have already been moved into temporary housing for the duration of the pandemic.

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“This is a substantial investment in our community and will provide housing for those who need it most,” says Lisa Helps, mayor of the city of Victoria. “This site has significant redevelopment potential to provide a range of affordable housing in the long term. I look forward to working with the community and with BC Housing to determine the long-term use of this site.”

People will have access to services such as meals, health-care services, addictions treatment and harm reduction, storage for personal belongings and other supports, including 24/7 staffing to provide security to residents of the building and the surrounding neighborhood.

Need more positive stories and updates coming out of the COVID-19 challenge? For more uplifting coverage, click here.

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Countries Hit Hardest By COVID-19 Are Starting to Lift Social Restrictions After Encouraging New Recovery Rates

As the world continues its fight to curb the novel coronavirus outbreaks, several countries have announced significant recoveries this week.

France, Italy, and Spain—the countries with the highest numbers of confirmed cases outside of the US—outlined their plans for slowly lifting their various social restrictions as rates of infection and fatality continue to fall.

In light of Italy recording their lowest number of new cases since March 10th, Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte says that the country will begin reopening the economy on May 4th. Although schools will not reopen until September, small businesses and restaurants will soon be allowed to reopen so long as customers are limited to takeout options and social distancing guidelines. Factories will also be reopened for manufacturing and people will be allowed to visit their relatives in small numbers.

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Meanwhile, Spain celebrated a significant decline in coronavirus-related deaths, with daily counts falling below 300 for the first time since March 20th. Government officials say that they will be slow to reopen the economy; however, they will start to lift social restrictions by allowing children to play outside for one hour per day—a first for the nation’s youth after spending six weeks in isolation.

Al Jazeera reports that France also hailed their largest single-day drop in COVID-19 deaths after it fell by more than 33% in just 24 hours. The country also recorded their lowest number of in-hospital deaths in 5 weeks.

New Zealand was quick to enact some of the world’s strictest social restrictions after confirming just a few cases of the virus back in March. Now, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern says that the nation’s pre-emptive shutdowns has succeeded in eliminating community transmission of COVID-19 this week. This means that while there will still most likely be new cases of the virus, healthcare officials will know where it is being transmitted.

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Although New Zealand has had 1,500 confirmed or probable cases of novel coronavirus over the course of the last two months, government officials report that they will still be cautious in gradually lifting social restrictions, starting with some non-essential businesses.

South Australia also announced that they are considering easing travel restrictions after the nation made it 7 days without a new recorded case. This accomplishment is largely credited to the province testing more than 15,000 people within a two-week period. There are now currently only 14 active cases.

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Taiwan has been celebrating its own milestone of 17 straight days without any new local cases as well as its first 4-day streak without any new domestic or imported COVID-19 cases.

This is just one of many positive stories and updates that are coming out of the COVID-19 news coverage this week. For more uplifting coverage on the outbreaks, click here.

Representative photo by Airman 1st Class Elora J. Martinez

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Lebanon Becomes First Arab Country to Legalize Medical Marijuana

Following a parliamentary vote last Tuesday, Lebanon has become the first Arab nation to legalize cannabis for medicinal and industrial purposes—and it could bring a much-needed financial windfall to the country’s economy.

The legislation was approved nearly two years after it was recommended by New York-based firm Mckinsey and Co. through a consultation with the Lebanese government about alleviating the country’s economic crisis in 2018.

Since cannabis has long been grown illegally in the nation’s Bekaa Valley—and since Lebanon has been ranked among the top three biggest Middle Eastern cannabis cultivators by the United Nations—economists have estimated that a medical marijuana industry could bring in as much as $1 billion in annual revenue.

RELATED: Bees Are Benefiting From Hemp Pollen as More Legal Cannabis is Grown Since 2018 Farm Bill

Reports say that the legislation will also encourage the crop to be used for new legal industries such as producing textile fibers, developing pharmaceutical goods, and manufacturing consumer products from CBD oil.

“We have moral and social reservations, but today there is the need to help the economy by any means,” said Alain Aoun, a senior MP in the Free Patriotic Movement, as reported by The Independent.

Lebanon had already been suffering from dramatic rates of inflation, rising unemployment, and the diminishing value of local currency prior to the novel coronavirus outbreaks. Now, financial and political experts are hoping that the new birth of a booming medical marijuana industry could help resuscitate the nation’s struggling economy in the near future.

Representative photo by Visible Hands, CC

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In Groundbreaking Vote for Sustainability, EU Moves to Approve Insects for Human Consumption

As famed adventure television host, world record holder, former British Special Forces operator, and all around feel-good motivational guy Bear Grylls repeatedly reminded us on his television programs Man vs Wild and Running Wild, insects have more protein than beef or fish—sometimes as much as 8x more, if measured pound for pound.

After a long television career of pounding back worms, grubs, spiders, crickets, and ants for our amusement, Grylls would certainly be applauding the new proposed European Union legislation that would allow for mealworms, lesser mealworms, crickets, and locusts to be sold as “novel food sources,” pumping life into an industry that, while small, produces 500 tons of food annually according to The Guardian.

The products include things like cricket protein bars, locust aperitif, or mealworm burgers, and the new regulations from the European Food Safety Authority are likely to open the floodgates for insect food to flow from countries where they are made like Holland, the UK, Denmark, Belgium, and Finland, into countries where they are banned, such as Italy, France, and Spain.

“We reckon these authorizations will be a breakthrough for the sector,” Christophe Derrien, secretary general of the International Platform of Insects for Food and Feed, added.

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“They are taking the necessary time, they are very demanding on information, which is not bad. But we believe that once we have the first novel food given a green light from EFSA that will have a snowball effect.”

Companies in the Netherlands, France, Switzerland and Spain are all preparing to ramp up operations to prepare for the demand, perceiving through market signals that people actually want insect food.

Chirps Chips submitted

An Obvious Solution

Insects have been part of the staple diet of many world cultures, even now in modern times. They represent a rich source of animal protein that is practically immune to extinction, and just like traditionally harvested animals are perfectly safe to eat if you can control the conditions in which they live.

RELATED: Woman is Saving the Earth With BBQ Chips Made From Bugs

With some of the most basic brain functions of anything in kingdom Animalia, insects are also less-likely to offend the sensibilities of vegetarians who, being more likely to be vitamin B12 deficient than omnivores, might be able to utilize the occasional cricket bar as a means of supplementing their plant based diet with bioavailable and dietary sources of B12 which can’t be made by plants, coming only from bacteria which live on plants.

Furthermore, unlike hoofed mammals, the process of enteric fermentation which, using the United States as an example, accounts for a small percentage of total greenhouse gas emissions (about 2.5% in the U.S.) is absent in insect agriculture, and so there’s a small potential reduction in GHG emissions to be gained from a switch.

Lastly trillions of insects are killed every year both by combine-harvesters and pesticides to protect major crops like wheat, rice, soya, corn, and cotton, representing millions of tons of lost nutrients. And, in a world where many communities are protein-deficient, insect products might never be more needed.

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Happy 60th Birthday to Madagascar! World’s Most Biodiverse Island Gets Gift of 60 Million Trees

To celebrate its 60th birthday, the nation of Madagascar held its largest ever tree-planting ceremony, with a million seedlings going into the ground in just a few hours after the speeches concluded. The country is preparing to plant a million trees for each year of its six decade history.

“The government has the challenge of making Madagascar a green island again. I encourage the people to protect the environment and reforest for the benefit of the future generations,” said President Andy Rajoelina at the January launch event in Ankazobe district, 100 kilometers (60 miles) northwest of the capital, Antananarivo.

According to two Madagascar writers published at Mongabay, the highly-publicized campaign comes one year after Rajoelina’s election on a platform that promised to “Make  Madagascar green again.” It is the culmination of months of hard work by many organizations amassing around 100 million seeds to place into cultivated nursery beds—with schools, NGOs, government ministries, and even the army lending a helping hand.

Some officials supporting the project worry there won’t be enough follow-up to ensure the trees make it to adulthood, but Madagascar’s environment minister vowed to provide support.

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“This time, the action will be continuous, and there will be a follow-up,” said Alexandre Georget. “The state will recruit guards to monitor and protect the young plants.”

This is the world’s oldest island and a country of unparalleled biodiversity, but it is often scored as one of the worst nations for deforestation, with 40% of its forest cover lost since 1940. Most rural populations can’t make money from the incredibly unique forest ecosystem, so the trees are the first to go, when islanders need to make a living.

– Lemur, Mobile Library Project

That’s one of the reasons the environmental ministry and partners are planting trees that bear fruit and spices which can be harvested for export.

Recent movements turned to education, government protections of land, and the training of rural communities to regard themselves as forest protectors, which have all helped slow the decline of forests and exotic wildlife populations like the 100 species of lemur that are found only on this island.

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But rigorous reforestation is also needed to support these exotic creatures, so the country is stepping up. It is including some fast-growing non-native species which do pose a risk to the high bio-diversity of flora in the region, but also could go a long way towards achieving a financially stable relationship between the trees and the Malagasy who live under them.

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Homeless People From California to France Are Being Given Emergency Shelter During COVID-19 Response

As homeowners around the world are being ordered into self-isolation amidst the COVID-19 outbreaks, legislators are making sure that society’s most vulnerable people are offered the same protection.

Homeless people across North America and Europe are being offered shelter in everything from unused hotel rooms to designated self-isolation centers.

In London, Mayor Sadiq Khan booked 300 hotel rooms at a discounted rate to house the city’s rough sleepers for the next 12 weeks. The mayor’s legislative team plans to continue working with the Intercontinental Hotels Group (IHG) to facilitate additional discount booking should the crisis develop further during the coming months.

“The coronavirus outbreak affects everyone in London and we must do all we can to safeguard everyone’s health—not least those Londoners who face spending each night sleeping rough on the capital’s streets,” said Khan in a statement. “Rough sleepers already face difficult and uncertain lives and I’m determined to do all I can to ensure they, along with all Londoners, are given the best protection possible.”

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This is just one of the many initiatives that the UK government is implementing to get homeless people off the streets during the novel coronavirus outbreaks. According to The Guardian, legislators are currently working to house rough sleepers in unused hotel rooms and other self-isolated commercial spaces. Not only is the space readily available, research also says that housing the homeless in hotel rooms is less costly than hospital space.

Similar measures have been implemented in California as well. Gov. Gavin Newsom’s legislative team has reportedly secured roughly 4,000 hotel rooms statewide with the hopes that the initiative could help lead to permanent housing after the COVID-19 crisis has been contained.

“This is an opportunity to bring folks indoors, and then try to get them into permanent housing when this is said and done,” said Ali Sutton, state deputy secretary for homelessness, in an interview with CapRadio.

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The state has reportedly allocated more than $150 million to local governments working to house the homeless during the outbreaks with another $50 million being distributed for renting travel trailers and hotel rooms as emergency shelter.

A KUOW report from earlier this month outlined similar initiatives taking place in Seattle as well.

Back in Europe, the Paris government has reportedly opened two separate isolation centers for homeless people who have tested positive for the novel coronavirus—but do not require hospitalization— as the city enters into lockdown. Another 80 sites have been designated as confirmed isolation spaces across the country with another 2,800 facilities identified as potential additions to the nationwide housing network.

This is just one of many positive stories and updates that are coming out of the COVID-19 news coverage this week. For more uplifting coverage on the outbreaks, click here.

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Wales is Building a National Forest That Will Span the Length and Breadth of the Country

As a particularly mystical part of Great Britain that is home to a rich collection of folkloric fables (they even have a dragon on their flag), Wales is exactly the place you’d want to go if you were looking to find an enchanted woodland.

Now, a new initiative led by Welsh First Minister Mark Drakeford is set to turn a large part of Wales back into the kind of magical place described in their beloved history.

The Welsh government is now working to plant a national forest that would run the length and breadth of the land, connecting existing protected woodland environments with large scale tree-planting projects meant to restore natural Wales and fight climate change.

“We have a responsibility to future generations to protect nature from the dangers of our changing climate, but a healthy natural environment will also offer protection to our communities from the dangers we ourselves face,” Drakeford said.

Additionally, ancient hardwood forests of Europe provide other valuable ecosystem services like the storing of carbon from the atmosphere in their roots. These deep root systems also secure the soil and prevent erosion which can degrade local waterways and shorelines.

The forests will also provide habitat for endangered iconic Welsh animals, like the black grouse, Scottish wildcat, red squirrel, and the magnificent capercaillie.

Capercaillie by David Palmer, CC license

“The National Forest will be a Wales-wide asset, and communities across the country will be able to take part,” said Deputy Minister for Housing and Local Government Hannah Blythyn.

The inspiration for the project was drawn from a hiking trail that attracts millions of tourists every year called the Wales Coast Path—and the maps will be drawn up over the coming months by businesses, landowners, and other interested parties.

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£5 million ($5.7 million) has been allocated to complete the project, while another £10 million will go towards accompanied tree-planting programs through the Glastir farm grants program.

The Glastir Grants are one of a number of pieces of legislation meant to put a stop to diminishing natural wilderness, resources, and wildlife in the country while also attempting to modernize the agricultural sector in the face of a changing climate.

Farmers can apply for Glastir grants if they undertake tree-planting operations, or projects that prevent flooding, secure and regenerate soil quality or wildlife, or improve the farming and husbandry standards for domesticated animals and plants—and even when they restore heritage tourism opportunities.

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File photo by Chris Downer, CC

Getting Underway

Mr. Drakeford visited Gnoll Country Park in Neath, where the UK’s Woodland Trust is currently creating the largest new woodland in the charity’s history called the Brynau Wood, saying it will be an “amazing place for people to enjoy healthy outdoor exercise” as well as a mark towards a “healthier, more resilient environment”.

This is just one of a handful of large-scale projects aimed at restoring or protecting Welsh wilderness. Last week, work began on planting 1 million seagrass seeds off the Welsh coast in order to restore Welsh seagrass beds—a coastal marine plant that soaks up many times more carbon than trees.

“While the plan to create a National Forest for Wales is a Welsh government initiative, the Woodland Trust is very much in support of this,” Rory Francis, Communications Officer at Woodland Trust told GNN. “We were actually working to promote the idea even before the Welsh government and the First Minister personally, adopted the idea.”

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Brynau Wood is not Woodland Trust’s first foray into Welsh forests. In 2016 they purchased one of the country’s oldest woodlands, the Coed Felinrhyd rainforest in Snowdonia, an ancient oak forest dating from the last ice age and named in Mabinogion—the 12th century Welsh mythological story.

Woodland Trust also manages another forest called Coed y Felin, a new native-species woodland where announcement of the project was celebrated on March 12, as an example of what kind of forests will be included in the national forest.

Speaking to BBC, Prof. Mary Gagen, a climate scientist at the University of Swansea said that the national forest project was a genuinely positive announcement.

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“But what’s great is that this project also looks at habitat restoration, at retaining the trees we have at the moment, protecting our ancient forests and connecting areas so wildlife can use them,” she said.

Currently the government plans to start planting at a rate of 4,900 acres a year, increasing quickly to 10,000 acres per year.

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King of Bhutan Celebrated His 40th Birthday By Asking Citizens to Plant Trees or Adopt an Animal

With Bhutan being ranked one of the most eco-friendly countries in the world, the king of the small nation asked his people to celebrate his most recent birthday in the most perfect way.

King Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck turned 40 years old on February 21st. Rather than ask for gifts, however, he told the people of Bhutan to either plant a tree, adopt a stray animal, or clean up their neighborhood in his honor.

Prime Minister Dr. Lotay Tshering announced the heartwarming wish to the world during a series of birthday celebrations and festivities at Changlimithang Stadium, saying “personal commitment such as this … would be the best gift for His Majesty.”

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This is not the first time that the King has asked his people to plant trees on his behalf—back in May 2016, he and his wife celebrated the birth of their firstborn son by asking each of the nation’s households to plant a sapling, resulting in more than 108,000 trees planted.

Since the King and Queen are also now expecting the arrival of a second child this spring, the nation is quite likely to rejoice with an equally green ritual.

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In Just 2 Years, Lithuania Steals The Crown For Best European Recycler By Using an Innovative Return Program

The small country of Lithuania is making big strides towards creating a seamless circular economy where each and every water bottle and aluminum tuna can is recycled and turned into an identical successor.

And, in two years they already have a recycling rate for plastic packaging of 74%—the highest of any European country, and 44% higher than the EU average.

They also reached a milestone of 91.9% for all bottles and cans after the introduction of a deposit-refund scheme for plastic, aluminum, and glass food and beverage containers—and the program is remarkably simple.

When the consumer buys a product packaged in a returnable recyclable container, they pay a €0.10 tax which is held in trust until the consumer returns the packaging to a special reverse-vending machine, whereupon the ten cents is repaid.

Any store that chooses to sell grocery items in designated recyclable containers are provided with reverse vending machines to place either inside the store or outdoors. Consumers are paid in vouchers that can be redeemed in store as cash or credit toward their shopping bill, which brings additional foot traffic into stores.

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The return rate for beverage containers reached a whopping 91.9% by the end of 2017.

USAD, the Lithuanian non-profit that designed the system, set a goal for a 55% return rate in 2016 but managed to reach 74.3% by the end of only one year—and people were mostly pleased with the system by the closing of 2017.

According to the European Union’s Circular Economy platform, 97% of the country’s consumers were satisfied with the deposit-return system, which has since collected over 2 billion returns and 56,000 tons of material since its deployment in 2016, a figure of mass equal to 6 Eiffel Towers.

File photo by Mr. Tin DC, CC

“We feel an obligation to take care of our country, society and nature. That is why we wanted to design a deposit return system that would work as well as possible for citizens, producers, importers and traders,” states Saulius Galadauskas, Chairman of USAD as well as Head of the Lithuanian Brewers Association.

“We can be proud of our deposit return system, which brings us closer to the Lithuania we want to see—a cleaner, more beautiful and more modern country.”

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Landmark Ruling Finally Grants Women Equal Rights in the Indian Military

Despite years of ongoing legislative grief and gender bias, the Supreme Court of India has upheld a 2010 verdict that women be offered the same militaristic opportunities in commissioning as men.

The landmark ruling—which the government will be required to uphold within the next three months—means that women in the armed forces can now assume the post of colonel, brigadier, major general, lieutenant general, and chief of army staff. Furthermore, they will be eligible for the same benefits and pensions as their male colleagues regardless of their years of service.

Although the Delhi High Court had already approved equal treatment for female officers 9 years ago, the government attempted to overturn the ruling by arguing that women were not eligible for promotion or intelligence positions because of their “physiological limitations”.

“Women officers must deal with pregnancy, motherhood, and domestic obligations towards their children and families and may not be well suited to the life of a soldier in the armed forces,” stated the central government, according to CNN.

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Thanks to last month’s ruling from the Supreme Court, however, female officers will no longer be subjected to such archaic discrimination.

“[The] time has come that women officers are not adjunct to their male counterparts. Physiological features of women have no link to their rights. The mindset must change,” Justice D.Y. Chandrachud and Justice Ajay Rastogi said in their ruling. “To cast aspersion on gender is an affront to their dignity and to the country.”

“All the lady officers in the Indian Army are very happy and very elated by the landmark judgment,” Lt. Col. Sandhya Yadav said after the verdict on Monday, as reported by The Associated Press. “It was a long wait and has ended. We are happy about it.”

Photo by Suyash Dwivedi, CC

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