Mind’s Eye: Vision-restoring Brain Implants Spell Breakthrough

Electronic vision


John SAEKI

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Scientists are a step closer to restoring vision for the blind, after building an implant that bypasses the eyes and allows monkeys to perceive artificially induced patterns in their brains.

The technology, developed by a team at the Netherlands Institute for Neuroscience (NIN), was described in the journal Science on Thursday.

It builds on an idea first conceived decades ago: electrically stimulating the brain so it “sees” lit dots known as phosphenes, akin to pixels on a computer screen.

But the concept had never realized its full potential because of technical limitations.

A team led by NIN director Pieter Roelfsema developed implants consisting of 1,024 electrodes wired into the visual cortex of two sighted monkeys, resulting in a much higher resolution than has previously been achieved.

The visual cortex is located at the back of the brain and many of its features are common to humans and other primates.

“The number of electrodes that we have implanted in the visual cortex, and the number of artificial pixels that we can generate to produce high-resolution artificial images, is unprecedented,” said Roelfsema.

This allowed the pair of monkeys to make out shapes like letters of the alphabet, lines and moving dots, which they’d previously been trained to respond to by moving their eyes in a particular direction to win a reward.

The monochrome patterns are still crude compared to real vision, but represent a major leap over previous implants, which allowed human users to only determine vague areas of light and dark.

Roelfsema likened it to a highway matrix board, and said his team now had a “proof of principle” that laid the foundation for a neuro-prosthetic device for the world’s 40 million blind people.

This might consist of a camera that the user wears or a pair of glasses, which uses artificial intelligence to convert what it sees into a pattern it can send to the user’s brain.

Similar technology has appeared in works of science fiction, such as the visor device worn by Geordi La Forge on “Star Trek: The Next Generation.”

In a written commentary, Michael Beauchamp and Daniel Yoshor of the University of Pennsylvania hailed the breakthrough as a “technical tour de force.”

The NIN team benefited from advances in miniaturization, and also devised a system to make sure their input currents were big enough to create noticeable dots, but not so great that the pixels grew too large.

They achieved this by placing some electrodes at a more advanced stage of the visual cortex, to monitor how much signal was coming through and then adjust the input.

Wireless future

Roelfsema said his team hopes to make similar devices for humans in about three years.

But the electrodes the team used require silicon needles that work for about a year before tissue builds up around the needles and they no longer function.

“So we want to create new types of electrodes that are better accepted by the body,”

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State Superintendent Michael Rice orders replacement of GISD special education funding formula

GENESEE COUNTY, MI — State Superintendent Michael Rice has ruled the formula used to funnel some special education dollars through the Genesee Intermediate School District to local districts does not meet legal requirements.

In a Nov. 24 ruling, Rice ordered that the current formula be immediately replaced with one that is more equitable.

Under the previous formula, the GISD Mandatory Plan appropriates $3.8 million of Act 18 special education funds back to local districts based on a three-part formula:

-Total special education headcount

-Full-time-equivalent (FTE) special education student head count

-Total FTE headcount

FTE head count is adjusted for part-time student numbers. These three factors are currently equally weighted.

The formula did not accommodate Flint Community Schools’ declining enrollment and unique circumstances created by the water crisis, Rice ruled.

Flint schools had a total student count of 7,207 in 2013, the year the formula was last modified.

This year, enrollment is around 3,200, a lost nearly 4,000 students over a seven-year span.

The Flint district is now the sixth largest school district in the county, behind Grand Blanc, Davison, Flushing, Carman-Ainsworth, and Fenton.

Approximately 22% of Flint’s students have special needs and require an individualized education program, almost twice the statewide average.

Under the existing formula, Flint Community Schools received $253,456 in special education funding from GISD Act 18 funds during the 2019-20 school year.

Rice outlined a new formula in his ruling that removes total FTE headcount.

Under the new proposed formula, the district would have received $549,409 in the same school same year.

Other school districts in Genesee County that would receive increased funding under the new proposed formula include Carman Ainsworth, Linden, Mt. Morris, Kearsley, Genesee School District, Flushing and Bendle.

The change also means less money for 25 of the 36 districts or public school academies with a high total student count but lower percentage of special education students.

The ruling by Rice indicates progress for students receiving special education funding at Flint Community Schools and throughout Genesee County, per a Flint Community Schools news release.

“This isn’t just a step forward for Flint Community Schools—it’s a step forward for all students in Genesee County who rely on the critical special education services schools provide,” Flint Community Schools Board of Education President Casey Lester said in a statement. “I am pleased that we are advancing toward a commonsense solution that puts the needs of children first.”

The formula proposed by Rice differs both from the current formula and the formula recommended by Flint Community Schools in their formal objection, GISD Associate Superintendent Steven Tunnicliff said in an email to MLive-The Flint Journal.

This decision impacts every local school district and public school academy in Genesee County, Tunnicliff said.

Rice also noted in his ruling that the GISD may, in collaboration with local districts, public school academy leaders, and the parent advisory committee, submit an alternative formula that would address the deficiencies determined to exist with the current plan for his consideration and approval, Tunnicliff said.

If

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WASC Senior College and University Commission (WSCUC) Reaffirms The Colleges of Law’s Regional Accreditation for Eight More Years

SANTA BARBARA, Calif. and VENTURA, Calif., Dec. 3, 2020 /PRNewswire/ — The Santa Barbara & Ventura Colleges of Law (COL) received reaffirmed accreditation for a period of eight years from the WASC Senior College and University Commission (WSCUC). The announcement marks the culmination of a five-year endeavor to show ongoing alignment with WSCUC’s standards of accreditation focused on institutional quality, sustainability, and a commitment to continuous improvement.

“It’s a great achievement,” said COL President Matthew Nehmer. “Because of our work with WSCUC, The Colleges of Law is stronger and more prepared to help our students achieve success and advance our mission onward. We are thrilled by the outcome.”

WSCUC is an accreditation agency for higher education recognized by the U.S. Department of Education. Among its duties is to establish institutional eligibility for federal funding, including student access to Title IV federal financial aid.

The commission’s reaffirmation decision followed a comprehensive vetting of the institution’s academic and administrative departments, along with numerous panel interviews with students, alumni, faculty, staff, and trustees.

“It was gratifying to have the team of peer evaluators recognize and validate our dedication to delivering an accessible, affordable, and quality education,” said Jackie Gardina, dean and chief academic officer. “They provided incredibly thoughtful recommendations that will guide our work going forward.”

Upon reaffirmation, WSCUC shared the following commendations about COL:

  • Continuous engagement with stakeholders, including students, faculty, and alumni
  • Focus on mission and commitment to transparency
  • Commitment to innovation and nimbleness to navigate a rapidly changing higher education landscape
  • Commitment to assessment of student teaching and learning
  • Strong financial position and the work it performs to deliver a high-quality, affordable legal education

Reaffirmation is the second part of a two-step review process designed to align institutions of higher learning with measurable best practices. COL’s WSCUC journey started more than a decade ago when it began to pursue initial accreditation, a goal that was achieved in 2015.

WSCUC will return in 2028 to again review COL’s alignment with WSCUC’s standards of accreditation. Until then, COL intends to incorporate what it has learned from the reaffirmation process and to update its strategic plan to become an even better place to learn, teach, and work.

About The Santa Barbara & Ventura Colleges of Law
Established in 1969, The Santa Barbara & Ventura Colleges of Law was founded to expand opportunities and broaden access to legal education. COL is dedicated to a student-centered approach that affords students of diverse backgrounds the opportunity to pursue careers in law or legal-related fields. COL’s faculty advances a real-world perspective and practicality on the application of law and includes practicing attorneys, judges, public servants, and leaders in business and nonprofit organizations. An accredited nonprofit institution, COL offers a Juris Doctor (J.D.) and a Master of Legal Studies (M.L.S.) program. Additionally, in the fall of 2018, COL became the first accredited law school in California to offer a hybrid J.D. degree. COL is accredited by the WASC Senior College and University Commission (WSCUC). The Juris

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The Arecibo telescope’s 900-ton platform has crashed into its disk below and destroyed the iconic radio observatory



a close up of a flower garden: This aerial view shows the damage at the Arecibo Observatory after one of the main cables holding the receiver broke in Arecibo, Puerto Rico, on December 1, 2020. Ricardo Arduengo/AFP/Getty Images


© Ricardo Arduengo/AFP/Getty Images
This aerial view shows the damage at the Arecibo Observatory after one of the main cables holding the receiver broke in Arecibo, Puerto Rico, on December 1, 2020. Ricardo Arduengo/AFP/Getty Images

The second-largest radio telescope in the world is no more.

The Arecibo Observatory’s 1,000-foot-diameter telescope collapsed at about 7:55 a.m. Tuesday in Puerto Rico. The telescope’s 900-ton platform, which was suspended 450 feet in the air to send and receive radio waves, crashed into its disk below, pulling down with it the tops of three support towers.

“Friends, it is with deep regret to inform you that the Arecibo Observatory platform has just collapsed,” Deborah Martorell, a meteorologist in Puerto Rico, tweeted in Spanish on Tuesday morning.

Before-and-after images show how the platform fell.

The collapse was not unexpected: Following two cable breaks in August and November, experts determined that the radio telescope was so structurally unsound that it had to be decommissioned.

On November 19, the National Science Foundation, which owned the telescope, tasked engineers with deconstructing it. That was supposed to take about five or six weeks, but the iconic telescope couldn’t last that long.

The foundation published video footage of the collapse on Thursday, captured from a nearby control tower.

 

Nobody was injured in the collapse, the NSF said in a statement, since the area had been cleared after the second cable failure.

“I feel sick in my stomach,” Ramon Lugo, the director of the Florida Space Institute at the University of Central Florida, who managed the telescope, told Science on Tuesday. “Truthfully, it was a lot of hard work by a lot of people trying to restore this facility. It’s disappointing we weren’t successful. It’s really a hard morning.”

‘It’s like losing someone important in your life’



a person walking down a dirt road: The 900-ton platform crashed into the Arecibo telescope's main dish on December 1, 2020. Ricardo Arduengo/AFP/Getty Images


© Ricardo Arduengo/AFP/Getty Images
The 900-ton platform crashed into the Arecibo telescope’s main dish on December 1, 2020. Ricardo Arduengo/AFP/Getty Images

In its 57 years of operation, the Arecibo telescope hunted for hazardous near-Earth asteroids, searched for signs of alien life, and discovered the first planet beyond our solar system.

In 1974, Arecibo beamed the most powerful broadcast Earth has ever sent to communicate with aliens if they’re out there. In 2016, it detected the first repeating fast radio bursts – mysterious space signals that scientists now think come from dead stars.

But Arecibo’s woes began in August, shortly after Tropical Storm Isaias passed over Puerto Rico. A 3-inch-thick auxiliary cable popped out of its socket on one of the telescope’s three towers and crashed into the 1,000-foot reflector dish below. It tore a 100-foot gash in the panels.



a close up of some grass: A hole in the 1,000-foot-wide reflector dish of the Arecibo Observatory, torn when a cable fell on August 10. Arecibo Observatory


© Arecibo Observatory
A hole in the 1,000-foot-wide reflector dish of the Arecibo Observatory, torn when a cable fell on August 10. Arecibo Observatory

Then in early November, just before repairs were set to begin in earnest, a 15,000-pound main cable from the same tower broke and crashed into the dish. Engineers

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University of Ibadan SME Co-Creation Summit

The adoption of Entrepreneurship programs in universities across the globe has grown immensely. Entrepreneurship education has taken its place in the curricular of universities considering its importance in shaping the minds of young people towards the development of the right mindsets for enterprise development, learning through student practice ventures, with the potential of becoming real ventures, and subsequent achievement of vision through hand-holding and mentoring. The incorporation of entrepreneurship studies in all departments in our institutions of higher learning is sacrosanct to the development of the competencies of students, in shaping the desired entrepreneurial focus that relates to their specialisms, like medical students and engineering students being engaged to understand the focus of developing outcome-driven innovation that would support economic growth in their respective fields.

I was at the University of Ibadan SME Co-creation summit, held at the international conference centre of the University, on the 12th of November 2020. The summit brought together stakeholders in the entrepreneurship eco-system in a bid to drive economic co-operation and development. The Vice-chancellor, professor A.I. Olayinka had directed that it translates into an annual fair under the leadership of professor Olanike K. Adeyemo, who heads a strategic position that crystallizes this vision, as the pioneer Deputy Vice-Chancellor(Research, Innovation, and Strategic Partnerships.) What is interesting about the focus is the openness for collaborative innovation and research between enterprises and academia.

The University of Ibadan is in partnership with #Wadhwani Foundation in driving entrepreneurship in collaboration with its Centre for Entrepreneurship and Innovation (CEI)using a practical based curriculum that engages students on Self-Discovery, Finding problems worth Solving, Conducting Problem Interviews, Opportunity Discovery, Customers and Solution, Design Thinking, Validation of Solution, developing Solution Demos and Prototypes and finally pitching their solutions to our global judges for feedback. The immersion process builds confidence in practice ventures executives and allows students to validate their solutions with a clear understanding of their business models and also adopting the lean approach of continuous validation of solutions with customers.

I am particularly excited about the direction that the University of Ibadan and its management are towing, considering the importance of collaborations and continuous research for innovative approaches. This would carve out the desired value that academia plays in product development, service improvement, and sustainable enterprise creation, and also the importance of collaborations with expert stakeholders like the Wadhwani Foundation in driving entrepreneurship education through our various skill programs.

#universityofibadan #researchandinnovation #premieruniversity #economicgrowth #msme #summit #boi #practicalcurriculum #wadhwani #foundation #nirsalbank #stakeholders #entrepreneurshipecosystem #nuc #innovation #economy #investments #nigerianstudents #empowerment #skills #research

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Chinese spacecraft carrying lunar rocks lifts off from moon

Chinese moon probe begins return to Earth with lunar samples
This image taken by panoramic camera aboard the lander-ascender combination of Chang’e-5 spacecraft provided by China National Space Administration shows a moon surface after it landed on the moon on Wednesday, Dec. 2, 2020. Chinese government say the spacecraft landed on the moon on Tuesday to bring back lunar rocks to Earth for the first time since the 1970s. (China National Space Administration/Xinhua via AP)

A Chinese spacecraft lifted off from the moon Thursday night with a load of lunar rocks, the first stage of its return to Earth, the government space agency reported.


Chang’e 5, the third Chinese spacecraft to land on the moon and the first to take off from it again, is the latest in a series of increasingly ambitious missions for Beijing’s space program, which also has a orbiter and rover headed to Mars.

The Chang’e 5 touched down Tuesday on the Sea of Storms on the moon’s near side. Its mission: collect about 2 kilograms (4 pounds) of lunar rocks and bring them back to Earth, the first return of samples since Soviet spacecraft did so in the 1970s. Earlier, the U.S. Apollo astronauts brought back hundreds of pounds of moon rocks.

The landing site is near a formation called the Mons Rumker and may contain rocks billions of years younger than those retrieved earlier.

The ascent vehicle lifted off from the moon shortly after 11 p.m. Beijing time Thursday (1500 GMT) and was due to rendezvous with a return vehicle in lunar orbit, then transfer the samples to a capsule, according to the China National Space Administration. The moon rocks and debris were sealed inside a special canister to avoid contamination.

Chinese moon probe begins return to Earth with lunar samples
This artist’s rendering provided to China’s Xinhua News Agency on Aug. 23, 2016, by the lunar probe and space project center of Chinese State Administration of Science, Technology and Industry for National Defense, shows a concept design for the Chinese Mars 2020 rover and lander. China’s landing of its third probe on the moon is part of an increasingly ambitious space program that has a robot rover en route to Mars, is developing a reusable space plane and plans to put humans back on the lunar surface. (Chinese State Administration of Science, Technology, and Industry for National Defense via Xinhua via AP, File)

It wasn’t clear when the linkup would occur. After the transfer, the ascent module would be ejected and the capsule would remain in lunar orbit for about a week, awaiting the optimal time to make the trip back to Earth.

Chinese officials have said the sample capsule is due to land on Earth around the middle of the month. Touchdown is planned for the grasslands of Inner Mongolia, where China’s astronauts have made their return in Shenzhou spacecraft.

Chang’e 5’s lander, which remained on the moon, was capable of scooping samples from the surface and drilling 2 meters (about 6 feet).

While retrieving samples was its main task, the lander also was equipped to extensively photograph the area, map conditions

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Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico collapses ahead of planned demolition

The instrument platform of the 305-meter telescope at Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico collapsed overnight, according to the National Science Foundation.



a train traveling over Arecibo Observatory: Arecibo Observatory's 305-meter telescope in November of 2020.


© University of Central Florida
Arecibo Observatory’s 305-meter telescope in November of 2020.

It’s a final blow to one of the most powerful telescopes on Earth that has aided astronomical discoveries for 57 years and withstood hurricanes, earthquakes and tropical storms.

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Engineers assessed the damage and determined that all three of the telescope’s support towers broke off, sending the 900-ton instrument platform plummeting down to the dish below. The telescope’s support cables also dropped. The observatory’s learning center was significantly damaged by the falling cables as well.

The collapse occurred just weeks after NSF announced that the telescope would be decommissioned and disassembled through a controlled demolition after sustaining irreparable damage earlier this year.

“The instrument platform of the 305m telescope at Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico fell overnight. No injuries were reported. NSF is working with stakeholders to assess the situation. Our top priority is maintaining safety. NSF will release more details when they are confirmed,” according to a tweet by the National Science Foundation.

“NSF is saddened by this development. As we move forward, we will be looking for ways to assist the scientific community and maintain our strong relationship with the people of Puerto Rico,” the foundation said in another tweet.

The spherical radio/radar telescope includes a radio dish 1,000 feet across and a 900-ton instrument platform suspended 450 feet above it. Cables connected to three towers hold the telescope in place.

“We are saddened by this situation but thankful that no one was hurt,” said NSF Director Sethuraman Panchanathan in a statement. “When engineers advised NSF that the structure was unstable and presented a danger to work teams and Arecibo staff, we took their warnings seriously and continued to emphasize the importance of safety for everyone involved. Our focus is now on assessing the damage, finding ways to restore operations at other parts of the observatory, and working to continue supporting the scientific community, and the people of Puerto Rico.”

An auxiliary cable came loose from a socket on one of the towers in August, creating a 100-foot gash in the dish. Engineers were assessing and working on a plan to repair the damage when another main cable on the tower broke on November 6.

When it broke, the cable crashed into the reflector dish below, causing additional damage.

After the break on November 6, engineers inspected the rest of the cables and discovered new breaks as well as slippage from some of the sockets on the towers. Multiple engineering companies reviewed the damage. They determined that the telescope could collapse because it is “in danger of catastrophic failure” and the cables were weaker than expected.

The latest review revealed that damage to the telescope could not be stabilized without risking staff and the construction team. This led to the NSF making the decision to decommission the telescope after 57 years.

“We believe

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NASA will buy moon dirt from these 4 companies

NASA just bought the rights to four batches of future moon samples for the low, low price of $25,001.



a close up of the moon: An image of the near side of the moon based on data from NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter.


© Provided by Space
An image of the near side of the moon based on data from NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter.

The space agency inked deals with four companies that will collect lunar rock and dirt in the next few years and then sign the material over to NASA. The contracts are designed to get the ball rolling on the extraction, sale and use of off-Earth resources, which agency officials stress are key to extending humanity’s footprint into the final frontier.

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“We think it’s very important to establish the precedent that private-sector entities can extract, can take these resources, and NASA can purchase and utilize them to fuel not only NASA’s activities but a whole new dynamic era of public and private development in exploration on the moon and then, eventually, to Mars,” Mike Gold, NASA’s acting associate administrator for international and interagency relations, told reporters during a teleconference today (Dec. 3).

Related: NASA’s full plate of moon missions before astronauts can go

NASA has not yet made plans for the retrieval of the collected samples, and it’s unclear if the material will be brought to Earth, agency officials said. (NASA already has a lot of moon rocks here; the Apollo missions hauled home 842 lbs., or 342 kilograms, of lunar material between 1969 and 1972.)

The four companies, and their contract awards, are Masten Space Systems of Mojave, California ($15,000); ispace Europe of Luxembourg ($5,000); ispace Japan of Tokyo ($5,000); and Colorado-based Lunar Outpost ($1).

The funding is so low because NASA is paying solely for the collected material, without footing the bill for any of the companies’ development costs, agency officials said. 

Masten, ispace Europe and Lunar Outpost all plan to collect their samples from the moon’s south polar region, where the three companies aim to land in 2023. Masten will use its XL-1 lander, ispace Europe will rely on its Hakuto-R lander and Lunar Outpost’s robot will apparently hitch a ride to the lunar surface aboard Blue Origin’s Blue Moon lander, NASA officials said today.

Hakuto-R is also the lander of choice for ispace Japan, which will collect samples from Lacus Somniorum, a site on the northeastern near side of the moon, following a planned touchdown there in 2022.

Each set of snagged samples will weigh between 1.8 and 18 ounces (50 to 500 grams), according to a request for proposals that NASA released in September. The four companies will provide imagery of the samples, as well as data that identifies where it was collected.

“Subsequent to receiving such imagery and data, an ‘in-place’ transfer of ownership of the lunar regolith to NASA will take place,” agency officials wrote in a statement today. “After ownership transfer, the collected material becomes the sole property of NASA for the agency’s use under the Artemis program.”

Artemis is NASA’s ambitious program of crewed lunar exploration, which aims to land

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South Korea implements intensive college entrance exam measures amid COVID-19

It’s a chilly, silent Thursday morning. Thousands of students warmly dressed in padded jackets, hasten their steps to schools which have been closed and disinfected for a week in lead-up to a momentous event in South Korea: the national college entrance exam.



a person standing in front of a window talking on a cell phone: A student wearing a face mask prays before the start of the annual college entrance examination amid the coronavirus pandemic at an exam hall in Seoul, South Korea, Dec. 3, 2020.


© Kim Hong-ji/AP
A student wearing a face mask prays before the start of the annual college entrance examination amid the coronavirus pandemic at an exam hall in Seoul, South Korea, Dec. 3, 2020.



a group of people standing next to an umbrella: Parents pray during a special service to wish for their children's success in the college entrance exams at the Jogyesa Buddhist temple in Seoul, South Korea, Dec. 3, 2020.


© Ahn Young-joon/AP
Parents pray during a special service to wish for their children’s success in the college entrance exams at the Jogyesa Buddhist temple in Seoul, South Korea, Dec. 3, 2020.

The exam, officially called the College Scholastic Ability Test, provides South Korean students a final report card for the public education they received from elementary school through high school. The results of this annual exam play a big part in determining to which university students can apply.

But this year, with COVID-19 upending traditional protocol, exam inspectors dressed in hazmat suits greet applicants with hand sanitizers and thermometers.



a group of colorful graffiti: A woman hangs on a paper note to wish for her child's success in the college entrance exams at the Jogyesa Buddhist temple in Seoul, South Korea, Dec. 3, 2020.


© Ahn Young-joon/AP
A woman hangs on a paper note to wish for her child’s success in the college entrance exams at the Jogyesa Buddhist temple in Seoul, South Korea, Dec. 3, 2020.

Before the COVID-19 outbreak, the exam day would be filled with exuberant cheering squads at the school gate, and parents handing out snacks or praying outside the school until the exam ends.

In fact, the entire nation celebrates the event. Authorities clear air traffic to make sure the exam’s listening sections are done in a silent environment. Businesses, including the stock market and public facilities, also open an hour late so students can make it to their test sites in less traffic.

(MORE: KCheering crowds greet South Korean students taking make-or-break college entrance exams)

This year, however, is different. Social distancing and a heavy focus on hygiene have replaced the celebrations.

“My daughter is taking the exam for the third time, and I am just relieved that she wasn’t diagnosed with COVID-19,” Kim Migyeong told ABC News. “Our whole family was nervous that one of us may be infected without symptoms and spread to our daughter, already exhausted with a long-term prep for examination.”

“I wish for the best, although this year high school seniors have had a hard time taking classes online and staying home to avoid COVID-19 infection,” Michelle Oh, who stood in front of Yangjae High School to send her son off to take the exam, told ABC News. “I saw on the news that confirmed patients can also take the exam, but there aren’t any alternatives for university interviews, so it’s best to avoid the virus.”



a group of people sitting at a table: Students wearing face masks wait for the start of the annual college entrance examination amid the coronavirus pandemic at an exam hall in Seoul, South Korea, Dec. 3, 2020.


© Kim Hong-ji/AP
Students wearing face masks wait for the start of the annual college entrance examination amid the coronavirus pandemic at an exam hall in Seoul, South Korea, Dec. 3, 2020.

This year, authorities have prioritized preventing cluster infections from inside test sites.

At the entrance of each site, supervisors

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‘We’re a much better country’ than US

The U.K.’s education secretary on Thursday said the country was the first to approve a coronavirus vaccine because it is “a much better country” than the United States, France and Belgium.



UK education secretary on vaccine: 'We're a much better country' than US


© iStock
UK education secretary on vaccine: ‘We’re a much better country’ than US

During an interview on London-based radio station LBC, Gavin Williamson praised the U.K. for its approval of the vaccine developed by Pfizer and BioNTech, making it the first Western nation to do so.

“I just reckon we’ve got the very best people in this country and we’ve obviously got the best medical regulator, much better than the French have, much better than the Belgians have, much better than the Americans have,” Williamson told host Nick Ferrari.

“That doesn’t surprise me at all, because we’re a much better country than every single one of them,” the secretary added.

European Commission spokesman Eric Mamer responded Thursday saying that while experts at Britain’s Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency are “very good,” the European Union was “definitely not in the game of comparing regulators across countries, nor on commenting on claims as to who is better,” according to the BBC.

The BBC also reported that a source close to Williamson said that his statements on the radio show were meant to “praise the scientific brilliance of the regulator, but he is known to be enthusiastically patriotic and that enthusiasm clearly shone through in what was a broadly light-hearted conversation with the studio host.”

The U.K.’s approval of the Pfizer and BioNTech vaccine, which final data showed to be 95 percent effective, means that the treatment will start to be distributed to higher risk populations as early as next week.

Some have criticized the U.K.’s rapid move, with Anthony Fauci, the top infectious disease expert in the U.S., saying Thursday that the U.K. “really rushed through” its approval of Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine.

“In all fairness to so many of my U.K. friends, they kind of ran around the corner of the marathon and joined in at the last mile,” Fauci told CBS correspondent Major Garrett on “The Takeout” podcast.

Fauci added that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is “the gold standard of regulation,” and applauded the agency for not rushing to approve a vaccine, which he said would only fuel skepticism about it.

“We have enough problem with people being skeptical about taking a vaccine anyway, if we had jumped over the hurdle here quickly and inappropriately to gain an extra week or a week and a half, I think that the credibility of our regulatory process would be damaged,” he said.

The FDA is set to make a decision on emergency use authorization of Pfizer and BioNTech’s vaccine candidate as early as next week. It must be stored at around negative 94 degrees Fahrenheit,

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