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Pregnant Women infected with Zika Virus has doubled in US

The latest numbers represent a significant increase from last week, when the CDC reported 113 women in all U.S. states and D.C. and 65 in U.S. territories.

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U.S. President Barack Obama speaks to members of the media after receiving a briefing on the ongoing response to the Zika virus from members of his public health team, Friday, May 20, 2016, in the Oval Office at the White House in Washington. Credit VOA

Federal health officials say the number of women in the United States with the Zika virus has more than doubled, due to a change in the way the cases are counted.

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reported Friday there are now 157 women infected with the virus in 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia and 122 cases in U.S. territories – mostly in Puerto Rico.

The latest numbers represent a significant increase from last week, when the CDC reported 113 women in all U.S. states and D.C. and 65 in U.S. territories.

Officials are now counting all pregnant women who test positive in the U.S. and its territories, whether or not they show symptoms. Previously, only pregnant women who had positive blood tests and Zika symptoms were counted.

The CDC said it changed its counting method out of concern that one type of blood test could produce false positive results if women were infected with a similar virus.

U.S. health experts have determined that the mosquito-borne virus can cause microcephaly, a birth defect that can result in severe brain abnormalities and developmental problems in babies.

The CDC said it dramatically ramped up its capacity to test for the Zika virus in preparation for the summer mosquito season.

This is the first time the agency had disclosed the number of infected pregnant women in the U.S. and and its territories.

In Washington, President Barack Obama received a briefing on Zika from members of his public health team.

Molecular evolution of Zika Virus during its emergence in 20th century. Image source: Wikimedia Commons
Molecular evolution of Zika Virus during its emergence in 20th century. Image source: Wikimedia Commons

“We don’t know all of the potential effects; we do know they are serious. Right now what we have seen is a little over 500 cases of Zika in the continental United States and they all appear to be travel-related, not mosquito transmitted,” Obama said.

He also urged Congress to pass a bill to increase emergency funding to tackle Zika.

“Congress needs to get me a bill. It needs to get me a bill that has the sufficient funds to get me a job,” Obama said, adding that Zika ” is not something where we can build a wall to prevent—mosquitoes don’t go through customs.” (VOA)

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No More Segregation on the Basis of Gender in Restaurants in Saudi Arabia

Saudi restaurants no longer need to segregate women and men

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Saudi Arabia
Restaurants and cafes in Saudi Arabia, including major Western chains like Starbucks, are currently segregated by “family” sections allocated for women. Lifetime Stock

Women in Saudi Arabia will no longer need to use separate entrances from men or sit behind partitions at restaurants in the latest measure announced by the government that upends a major hallmark of conservative restrictions that had been in place for decades.

The decision, which essentially erodes one of the most visible gender segregation restrictions in place, was quietly announced Sunday in a lengthy and technically worded statement by the Municipal and Rural Affairs Ministry.

While some restaurants and cafes in the coastal city of Jiddah and Riyadh’s upscale hotels had already been allowing unrelated men and women to sit freely, the move codifies what has been a sensitive issue in the past among traditional Saudis who view gender segregation as a religious requirement. Despite that, neighboring Muslim countries do not have similar rules.

Restaurants and cafes in Saudi Arabia, including major Western chains like Starbucks, are currently segregated by “family” sections allocated for women who are out on their own or who are accompanied by male relatives, and “singles” sections for just men. Many also have separate entrances for women and partitions or rooms for families where women are not visible to single men. In smaller restaurants or cafes with no space for segregation, women are not allowed in.

Reflecting the sensitive nature of this most recent move, the decision to end requirements of segregation in restaurants was announced in a statement published by the state-run Saudi Press Agency. The statement listed a number of newly-approved technical requirements for buildings, schools, stores and sports centers, among others.

Saudi Sex Segregation
A woman leaves a ladies only service area at a restaurant in Jiddah, Saudi Arabia. VOA

The statement noted that the long list of published decisions was aimed at attracting investments and creating greater business opportunities.

Among the regulations announced was “removing a requirement by restaurants to have an entrance for single men and (another) for families.”

Couched between a new regulation about the length of a building’s facade and allowing kitchens on upper floors to operate was another critical announcement stating that restaurants no longer need to “specify private spaces”— an apparent reference to partitions.

Across Saudi Arabia, the norm has been that unrelated men and women are not permitted to mix in public. Government-run schools and most public universities remain segregated, as are most Saudi weddings.

In recent years, however, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has pushed for sweeping social reforms, with women and men now able to attend concerts and movie theaters that were once banned. He also curtailed the powers of the country’s religious police, who had been enforcers of conservative social norms, like gender segregation in public.

Two years ago, women for the first time were allowed to attend sports events in stadiums in the so-called “family” sections. Young girls in recent years have also been allowed access to physical education and sports in school, a right that only boys had been afforded.

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In August, the kingdom lifted a controversial ban on travel by allowing all citizens — women and men alike — to apply for a passport and travel freely, ending a long-standing guardianship policy that had controlled women’s freedom of movement.

The new rules remove restrictions that had been in place, but do not state that restaurants or cafes have to end segregated entrances or seated areas. Many families in conservative swaths of the country, where women cover their hair and face in public, may prefer eating only at restaurants with segregated spaces. (VOA)