TIME Japan

Japan Eyes Matchmaking, Paternity Leave to Lift Birth Rate

Policy proposals come amid an aging population

The Japanese government is so worried about the country’s low birth rate that it’s thinking about getting into the matchmaking game.

A new draft policy to increase Japan’s flagging birth rate includes support for matchmaking, leave policies, and fertility centers in order to jump-start baby-making and address the country’s aging population. While the national government may not be sponsoring its own matchmaking efforts, it will be support local governments sponsoring speed-dating events, the Japan Times reports.

The number of births in Japan fell to a record low for the fourth year in a row, with just over one million newborns in 2014 compared to 1.269 million registered deaths. By 2060, nearly 40% of Japan’s population will be over 65, and elderly citizens already make up a quarter of the population. The birthrate has fallen from 4.54 children per mother in 1947 to 1.43 in 2013.

Matchmaking is one of several measures proposed by the government to fight the inevitable population dwindle if Japan doesn’t get its birth rate up. Other measures include expanding the scope of free nursing care, building more fertility centers, and increasing paternity leave. The government says it hopes that by 2020, 80% of men will take paternity leave immediately after the birth of their child, and 13% will take paternity leave to help care for children at some point in their careers. (Currently only 2% of men take time off for childrearing.)

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s cabinet is expected to approve the policy.

[Japan Times]

TIME weather

Cyclone Bears Down on the South Pacific

Left to right: Tropical Cyclone Olwyn in the Indian Ocean heading south for landfall near Learmonth on the west coast of Australia, Tropical Cyclone Nathan meanders northeast of Cooktown, Queensland, Australia in the Coral Sea, Tropical Cyclone Pam tracks due south heading for the islands of Vanuatu in the southern Pacific Ocean and Tropical Depression 3 heads west-northwest towards Guam in the northern Pacific Ocean on March 11, 2015.
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration /EPA Left to right: Tropical Cyclone Olwyn in the Indian Ocean heading south for landfall near Learmonth on the west coast of Australia, Tropical Cyclone Nathan meanders northeast of Cooktown, Queensland, Australia in the Coral Sea, Tropical Cyclone Pam tracks due south heading for the islands of Vanuatu in the southern Pacific Ocean and Tropical Depression 3 heads west-northwest towards Guam in the northern Pacific Ocean on March 11, 2015.

Wind speeds have reached 165 mph

A category 5 cyclone is pummeling the island nation of Vanuatu, a storm set to be one of the worst in that country’s history.

Wind speeds have reached 165 mph, fast enough to destroy homes according to the National Weather Service. Flooding and landslides may also occur. This is only the 10th category 5 cyclone to hit the region since 1970.

Vanuatu, population 224,000, is on red alert, and the center of the storm is expected to hit early Saturday morning local time.

[Weather Channel]

TIME ebola

Lack of Ebola Cases Shifts Vaccine Trials Away From Liberia

A man walks past an ebola campaign banner with the new slogan "Ebola Must GO" in Monrovia, Liberia on Feb. 23, 2015.
Zoom Dosso—AFP/Getty Images A man walks past an ebola campaign banner with the new slogan "Ebola Must GO" in Monrovia, Liberia on Feb. 23, 2015.

Scientists are racing against the clock to create a vaccine before the outbreak is over

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) may relocate its clinical trials of Ebola vaccines to Guinea, since there are no longer enough Ebola cases in Liberia for a proper efficacy trial.

On Feb. 2, the NIH launched an initial safety trial for two vaccines to protect against Ebola in Liberia. The plan was to test 600 people for overall safety and then launch a second phase of the trial in 27,000 people to see whether or not the vaccine prevents infection with Ebola virus compared to a placebo.

The safety test was successfully completed the week of March 9—but around the same time, Liberia announced that it had released its last confirmed patient from its Ebola treatment centers. The West African country began the count to 42 days without new cases, at which point it can declare itself Ebola-free. That’s great news for ending the outbreak, but it poses a problem for Ebola vaccine trials.

Now that Ebola is not the risk it was to Liberia several months ago, the trial is unlikely to continue according to the original plan. “It doesn’t make sense to expand the study in Liberia when there are fortunately no new infections occurring,” says Dr. H. Clifford Lane, the deputy director for clinical research and special projects at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. “We need to be sure we enroll a population that is still at risk for Ebola virus infection so we can show the protective effect of either or both of the vaccines.”

Lane says the NIH is now in discussions with other countries, predominantly Guinea, to move the second part of the trial.

When asked if there is any fear that the trial could be cancelled due to lack of cases, Lane said, “I hope not.”

MORE: American Health Worker With Ebola Heading to U.S. for Treatment

Lane says the reason the NIH is concentrating more on Guinea than Sierra Leone—the country hardest hit by the outbreak—is that there are already several large-scale vaccine trials unrolling in the country compared to Guinea. “I think the greater opportunity is [in Guinea] because there isn’t as much going on with vaccines,” he says.

“I hate to give a timeline, only because it never comes out that way, but we have to move quickly if we hope to get a result,” he says. “I actually hope the standard control measures will begin to show results in both of the countries that still have cases.”

One of vaccines being tested is developed by the NIH and pharmaceutical company GlaxoSmithKline (GSK), and the other vaccine comes from the pharmaceutical company Merck.

On Thursday, the World Health Organization (WHO) reported that deaths from Ebola in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea have surpassed 10,000, and total cases number more than 24,500. The NIH also announced that an American healthcare worker who was volunteering in Sierra Leone tested positive for Ebola and arrived on Friday for treatment in the NIH’s specialized unit in Bethesda, Maryland.

TIME medicine

First Successful Penis Transplant ‘Massive Breakthrough’, Doctors Say

The operation took 9 hours to perform

A 21-year-old man has received the world’s first successful penile transplant, surgeons say.

The man, whose name was not revealed for privacy reasons, had his organ amputated three years ago after a circumcision went wrong. Doctors at Stellenbosch University and Tygerberg Hospital in South Africa operated for nine hours in December, and just a few months later they say he’s already regained full function in the transplanted organ —a much faster recovery than they had hoped for.

“It’s a massive breakthrough. We’ve proved that it can be done – we can give someone an organ that is just as good as the one that he had,” Prof Frank Graewe, head of the Division of Plastic Reconstructive Surgery at Stellenbosch University, said. “It was a privilege to be part of this first successful penis transplant in the world.”

While at least one other attempt has been made at penile transplant, the surgeons say this is the first such operation to succeed.

In their announcement, the doctors emphasized the psychological trauma of penile amputation, a problem they say is particularly acute in South Africa.

TIME climate change

Global Carbon Emissions Flatlined in 2014 Even as Economy Grew

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Hans-Peter Merten—Getty Images coal power plant at dusk

In an encouraging sign, levels of the leading greenhouse gas were unchanged in 2014

Global carbon emissions did not increase in 2014, marking the first time on record that carbon levels have not grown without a concurrent decline in global demand.

Carbon dioxide emissions last year remained at 32.3 billion metric tons, the same as a year earlier, even as the global economy grew by 3 percent, according to a news release by the International Energy Agency (IEA) published Friday. Since the IEA began tracking carbon dioxide emissions 40 years ago, the rise has been halted or reversed only three times: in the early 1980s amid the oil price shock, in 1992 in the wake of the collapse of the Soviet Union, and in 2009 during the global financial crisis.

“This gives me even more hope that humankind will be able to work together to combat climate change, the most important threat facing us today,” Fatih Birol, the chief economist and next executive director of the IEA, said in a statement.

The IAE attributed part of the halt in emissions growth to China, the world’s largest carbon polluter, where the growing use of renewable sources like hydropower and solar energy have helped reduce the country’s reliance on coal. In a deal with the United States in November, China pledged to stop emission growth by 2030.

The news is an encouraging sign for the global effort to combat climate change ahead of the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris at the end of this year, which aims to establish a global pact on emissions.

TIME faith

Pope Francis Says His Tenure May Last Less Than 5 Years

Pope Francis arrives to lead a mass during his pastoral visit to the parish of Santa Maria Madre del Redentore in Rome
Alessandro Bianchi—Reuters Pope Francis arrives to lead a mass during his pastoral visit to the parish of Santa Maria Madre del Redentore in Rome on March 8, 2015.

"I feel that the Lord has placed me here for a short time, and nothing more"

Pope Francis, who was named pontiff two years ago on Friday, said he doesn’t expect to be Pope much longer.

In an interview with the Mexican broadcaster Televisa published Friday, the Argentine Pope predicted a “brief” tenure for himself. “I have the feeling that my pontificate will be brief: four or five years; I do not know, even two or three,” Pope Francis, 78, said. “Two have already passed. It is a somewhat vague sensation.”

“Maybe it’s like the psychology of the gambler who convinces himself he will lose so he won’t be disappointed and if he wins, is happy. I do not know. But I feel that the Lord has placed me here for a short time, and nothing more … But it is a feeling. I always leave the possibility open,” he said.

The papal post is traditionally held until death, though Francis’s predecessor Pope Benedict XVI resigned in 2013 after roughly seven years in office, becoming the first pope to step down in nearly 600 years. The current Pope has suggested in the past that he would lead a short papacy and he has not ruled out retiring.

In the interview released Friday, Francis said he does not dislike being Pope, but said one thing in particular does bug him. “The one thing that I would like is to go out, without anyone recognizing me, and go to a pizzeria to eat pizza,” Francis said.

Read an English translation of the interview here.

TIME Marriage

Indian Bride Ditches Groom After He Flubs Math Test at Their Wedding

wedding
Getty Images

He failed to add 15+6, and she wasn't having it

Here’s an easy math problem: two lovebirds, minus one bride, is one lonely groom. That’s what happened after an Indian bride ditched her soon-to-be groom at their wedding ceremony for failing to answer a simple arithmetic problem.

At her wedding ceremony in the northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh Wednesday, the bride posed the following math problem to the man she was due to wed: 15 + 6 = ?

The groom answered 17, and the bride fled. The groom’s family tried to get her back, but she refused to marry someone who couldn’t add.

“The groom’s family kept us in the dark about his poor education,” Mohar Singh, the bride’s father, told the Associated Press. “Even a first grader can answer this.” The two families returned all the gifts that had been exchanged before the wedding, and the bride is presumably now looking for someone who knows all their multiplication tables.

According to Indian tradition, most marriages are arranged by the families of the bride and groom, and the pair rarely get to actually meet before the wedding. So the fact that the bride and groom had just met wasn’t that unusual — but the math quiz certainly was.

[AP]

TIME Germany

German Biologist Who Denied Measles Exists Ordered To Pay More Than $100,000

The biologist bet no one could prove that measles was real

Four years ago, German biologist Stefan Lanka announced on his website that he would pay 100,000 euros ($106,000) to anyone who could prove measles is a virus. This week, a German court told Lanka he must now hand over the money as promised.

After Lanka posted the website announcement, fellow German doctor David Barden came forward with evidence from various different studies, proving measles is a virus. Lanka remained skeptical, saying Barden’s information proved nothing.

According to an interview with German paper Suedkurier, Lanka believes measles are “a psychosomatic illness”, causing people to fall ill “after traumatic separations.”

A court in Ravensburg ruled otherwise, saying Barden’s proof was satisfactory and ordering Lanka to pay the reward. Lanka has maintained his stance and said he plans to appeal.

Like the U.S. and many other European countries, Germany has suffered a recent outbreak of measles. The World Health Organization has called for Europe to step up vaccinations following an outbreak of 22,000 cases in the past year. The disease is highly contagious and can be fatal in severe cases, as seen with the death of an infant in Berlin last month.

[BBC]

TIME russia

Kremlin Offers No Proof of Putin’s Health a Week Into His Absence

Russian President Vladimir Putin congratulates all Russian women on International Women's Day
Michael Klimentyev—Ria Novosti/EPA Russian President Vladimir Putin during a meeting with mothers whose children achieved outstanding results in art, science, sport and were also given the ranks of Heroes of Russia in Moscow on March 8, 2015.

The Russian President's spokesman brushes off reports of Putin's disappearance as "spring fever" afflicting the curious public

It’s been more than a week since Vladimir Putin last appeared in public, and his press service is struggling to make Russians believe that their President is alive and well.

On Friday, the Kremlin website published another batch of photos of Putin at a one-on-one meeting at his office, this time with the chairman of Russia’s Supreme Court. But it did not serve as convincing proof of his whereabouts. The last time the presidential website published such photos, on March 11, they turned out to be from a meeting with a regional governor that was held a week earlier.

That ruse only fueled concerns over Putin’s apparent disappearance. “No need to worry, everything is all right,” the President’s spokesman Dmitri Peskov insisted on Thursday. “His handshake is so strong he breaks hands with it,” Peskov added in an interview with a Moscow radio station, adding that his boss was “absolutely healthy.”

But when he still failed to appear in public the next day, the question became critical: Where is he? Last week he cancelled a planned trip to Kazakhstan, and a government source from that country then told the Reuters news agency: “It looks like he has fallen ill.” That would seem like a normal enough thing for the Kremlin to admit, as it did in 2012 when Putin suffered a back injury that made him cancel some meetings and foreign trips.

But it was still seen as a blow to the image of invincibility that Putin tries hard to project, and in the conspiracy crazed world of Moscow politics, the ongoing reports of his ill-health have also driven rumors of a power struggle among Kremlin clans.

The presidential press service has tried to laugh off the speculation, saying that claims of Putin’s disappearance are the result of “spring fever” among Moscow’s chattering classes.

“When the sun comes up in spring, and as soon as spring is in the air, then the fever begins,” Peskov told the state news agency Tass. “We are calm on this fever, and respond to the questions with patience.”

But unless Peskov can offer some proof of Putin’s whereabouts, the public’s patience – and its trust – will continue to expire.

READ MORE: Kremlin Critics Fear Political ‘Hit List’ as Putin Drops Out of Sight

TIME Economy

U.S. Attacks Britain Over Support For China-Backed Bank

A family photo shoot fir the APEC leaders' meeting at the International Convention Center at Yanqi Lake in Beijing
Kim Kyung Hoon—Reuters U.S. President Barack Obama gestures next to China's President Xi Jinping during the APEC leaders' meeting at the International Convention Center at Yanqi Lake in Beijing on Nov. 11, 2014.

In a rare public spat between the two allies, an Obama aide has criticized the U.K's stance toward Beijing

The U.S. government has expressed its disapproval of the U.K.’s application to become a founding member of the $50 billion Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB), the first G7 country to do so since the institution was launched last year to provide funds for infrastructure in the Asia-Pacific region.

“We are wary about a trend toward constant accommodation of China, which is not the best way to engage a rising power,” a senior Obama administration official told the Financial Times on Thursday. The statement marks a rare breach in the “special relationship” that has long defined U.S. – U.K. relations.

Washington officials view the Beijing-led institution with suspicion, fearing it will not meet the standards of governance and safeguards set by the Washington-based World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF), and the Japanese-backed Asia Development Bank.

The White House has been lobbying its allies not to join the AIIB, concerned that China is trying to extend its reach in the region and that the bank could end up being overly influenced by Beijing foreign policy if it has veto power over decisions.

Meanwhile British Chancellor George Osborne, the driving force behind the U.K.’s decision to join the bank, said in a statement that Britain should be involved early on to promote “closer political and economic engagement” with the Asia-Pacific region and encourage the two regions “to invest and grow together.”

[Financial Times]

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