Showing posts with label Virus. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Virus. Show all posts

February 24, 2020

Corona Virus, The Good,The Bad, And The Fake News



                                


The coronavirus outbreak has sparked what the World Health Organization is calling an "infodemic" — an overwhelming amount of information on social media and websites. Some of it's accurate. And some are downright untrue.

The false statements range from a conspiracy theory that the virus is a man-made bioweapon to the claim that more than 100,000 have died from the disease (as of this week, the number of reported fatalities is reported at 2,200-plus).

WHO is fighting back. In early January, a few weeks after China reported the first cases, the U.N. agency launched a pilot program to make sure the facts about the newly identified virus are communicated to the public. The project is called EPI-WIN — short for WHO Information Network for Epidemics.

"We need a vaccine against misinformation," said Dr. Mike Ryan, head of WHO's health emergency program, at a WHO briefing on the virus earlier this month.
 The Coronavirus Outbreak
What you should know

While this is not the first health crisis that has been characterized by online misinformation — it happened with Ebola, for example — researchers are especially concerned because this outbreak is centered in China. The world's most populous country has the largest market of Internet users globally: 21% of the world's 3.8 billion Internet users are in China.

And fake news can spread quickly online.  2018 study from Massachusetts Institute of Technology found that "false news spreads more rapidly on the social network Twitter than real news does." The reason, say the researchers, maybe that the untrue statements inspire strong feelings such as fear, disgust, and surprise.

This dynamic could cause fake coronavirus cures and treatments to fan out widely on social media — and as a result, worsen the impact of the outbreak, says Bhaskar Chakravorti, dean of global business at the Fletcher School at Tufts University. Over the past decade, he has been tracking the effect of digital technology on issues such as global health and economic development.

The rumors offer remedies that have no basis in science. One untrue statement suggests that rubbing sesame oil on the skin will block the coronavirus.

If segments of the public turn to false treatments rather than follow the advice of trusted sources for avoiding illness (like frequent hand-washing with soap and water), it could cause "the disease to travel further and faster than it ordinarily would have," says Chakravorti.

There could be a political agenda behind the fake coronavirus news as well. Countries that are antagonistic toward China could try to hijack the conversation in hopes of creating chaos and eroding trust in the authorities, says Dr. Margaret Bourdeaux, research director for Harvard Belfer Center's Security and Global Health Project.

"Disinformation that specifically targets your health system or your leaders who are trying to manage an emergency is a way of destroying, undermining, disrupting your health system," she says.

In the instance of vaccines, Russian bots have been identified as fueling skepticism about the effectiveness of vaccination for childhood diseases in the U.S.

The World Health Organization's EPI-WIN team believes that the countermeasure for misinformation and disinformation is simply, to tell the truth.

It works rapidly to debunk unjustified medical claims on social media. In a series of bright blue graphics posted on Instagram, EPI-WIN states categorically that neither sesame oil nor breathing in the smoke of fire or fireworks will kill the new coronavirus.

Part of this truth-telling strategy involves enlisting large-scale employers.

The approach, says Melinda Frost, an officer on the EPI-WIN team, is based on the idea that employers are the most trusted institution in society, a finding reflected in a 2020 study on global trust from the public relations firm Edelman: "People tend to trust their employers more than they trust several other sources of information."

Over the past few weeks, Frost and her team have been organizing rounds of conference calls with representatives from Fortune 500 companies and other multinational corporations in sectors such as health, travel and tourism, food and agriculture, and business.

The company representatives share questions that their employees might have about the coronavirus outbreak — for example, is it safe to go to conferences? The EPI-WIN team gathers the frequently asked questions, has their experts answer them within a few days, and then sends the responses back to the companies to distribute in internal newsletters and other communication.

Because the information is coming from their employer, says Frost, the hope is that people will be more likely to believe what they hear and pass the information on to their family and community.

Bourdeaux at Harvard calls this approach a "smart move."

It borrows from "advertising techniques from the 1950s," she adds. "They're establishing the narrative before anybody else can. They are going on offense, saying, 'Here are the facts.' "

WHO is also collaborating with tech giants like Google, Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest and TikTok to limit the spread of harmful rumors. It's pursuing a similar tactic with Chinese digital companies such as Baidu, Tencent, and Weibo.

"We are asking them to filter out false information and promote accurate information from credible sources like WHO, CDC [the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] and others. And we thank them for their efforts so far," said Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director-general of WHO, in a briefing earlier this month.

Google and Twitter, for example, now actively bump up credible sources such as WHO and the CDC in search results for the term "coronavirus." And Facebook has deployed fact-checkers to remove content with false claims or conspiracy theories about the outbreak. Kang-Xing Jin, head of health at Facebook, wrote in a statement about one such rumor that it has eliminated from its platform: that drinking bleach cures coronavirus.

Chakravorti applauds WHO's coordination with the digital companies — but says he's particularly impressed with Facebook's efforts. "This is a radical departure from Facebook's past record, including its controversial insistence on permitting false political ads," he wrote in an op-ed in Bloomberg News.

Still, there is no silver bullet to fighting health misinformation. It has become "very, very difficult to fight effectively," says Chakravorti of Tufts University.

A post making a false claim about coronavirus can just "jump platforms," he says. "So you might have Facebook taking down a post, but then the post finds its way on Twitter, then it jumps from Twitter to YouTube."
On Wednesday, The Lancet published a statement from 27 public health scientists addressing rumors that the coronavirus had been engineered in a Wuhan lab: "We stand together to strongly condemn conspiracy theories suggesting that COVID-19 does not have a natural origin... Conspiracy theories do nothing but create fear, rumors, and prejudice that jeopardize our global collaboration in the fight against this virus."

Dr. Deliang Tang, a molecular epidemiologist at Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health, says his friends from medical school and his research colleagues in China find it difficult to trust Chinese health authorities, especially after police reprimanded the eight Chinese doctors who warned others about a pneumonialike disease in December.

As a result, Tang's network in China has been looking to him and others in the scientific community to share information.

Since the outbreak began, Tang says he has been answering "30 to 50 questions a night." Many want to fact-check rumors or learn about clinical trials for a potential cure.

February 16, 2020

How Is the Corona Virus Politicly Impacting China and It's Future ?







Poster displaying a map of China on the four characters reading 武汉肺炎 meaning Wuhan pneumonia. Image used with permission.
What started at a seafood market as a local health issue has grown into a national health crisis in China. After the Wuhan coronavirus was identified in December 2019, a chain reaction was set in motion that has profoundly shaken Chinese society and challenged Beijing’s political stability
Gripped by its obsession with information control, the Chinese government, both local and central, delayed the release of life-saving information for weeks. When they suddenly announced drastic measures to prevent the spread of the epidemic in late January, for many it was much too late as the Chinese New Year kick-off celebrations had already begun. 
Doctors and scientists are still researching and debating the possible origin of the previously unknown Wuhan coronavirus, also called COVID-2019, a respiratory virus that infects the lungs and can lead to pneumonia. One possible theory is that it comes from snakes or bats that are consumed as a delicacy in China and were sold at the Huanan wet market in Wuhan where the virus is believed to originate.
One of the key questions determining the spread of the virus is its transmissibility: whether it can jump from human to human, and how many people can be infected on average by the same virus carrier. The latest medical evidence indicates there is a human-to-human transmission, and what is concerning is that it seems to happen before the virus carrier develops symptoms, thus making detection incredibly challenging.
As for the rate of transmission, called “basic reproduction number” by epidemiologists, it is believed to be between 2 to 3 in late January, meaning one person infects two to three persons, but the numbers are still being discussed and require further research should proper data be made available. 
As the figure of infected people rises daily, a major health crisis has developed in China’s central province of Hubei and its capital Wuhan that has a combined population of nearly 60 million people. As cases have been confirmed all over China, all medical staff are on alert, adding pressure on a medical system that is often insufficient for such a large and aging population. 
But the Wuhan coronavirus is not just a health crisis, it is also a major political moment of truth. Trust in the government that claimed there was nothing to worry about until very late in the game has eroded public confidence significantly, and not just in Hubei province. Beijing was criticized for the way it mishandled the SARS crisis in 2002-2003 as it concealed information from the World Health Organization (WHO). China’s top leader Xi Jinping kept silent on the recent outbreak until January 20 when he recognized the severity of the situation in a public statement – over one month after the first cases had been identified. Control of information remains tight, and as China is experiencing a trade war with the US and an economic slowdown, the handling of the Wuhan coronavirus crisis will determine the course of Chinese society and politics in 2020. 

February 12, 2020

Can A Mask Keep You From Getting The Corona Virus?




                       Image result for masks for corona virus


As the Wuhan coronavirus continues to spread, officials in China are urging citizens to wear masks in public to stop the spread of the virus — and cities in China, as well as other parts of Asia, are reportedly running out of face masks.
But can a mask really keep you from catching the virus?
To answer that, it helps to clarify which kinds of masks we're talking about.
Because experts don't yet know exactly how the virus is transmitted, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is recommending that health care workers treat it like an airborne pathogen — germs that can travel in particles or droplets in the air. That means health care workers interacting with a coronavirus patient should wear a heavy-duty mask called an N95 respirator. These respirators are designed to fit tightly around the nose and mouth, and, when worn correctly, block out at least 95% of small airborne particles, according to the CDC.
But wearing an N95 respirator is serious business, says Dr. William Schaffner of Vanderbilt University Medical Center. Health care workers who use these respirators are required by law to undergo an annual fit test — a check to make sure the mask forms a tight seal on the wearer's face so that contaminated air can't leak in. Although N95s are disposable, workers must also demonstrate that they know how to put on and wear the model that they are using.


This type of mask is "difficult to wear" because it's uncomfortable, Schaffner says. Some people find it harder to breathe when wearing the N95. But "that's the kind of protection that really works."
While N95 respirators are available for the public to purchase, there's no recommendation from health agencies for the general public to wear them. 
By contrast, surgical masks — those cheap, disposable, gauzy masks that often come in blue or green — are less uncomfortable. But Schaffner says the scientific evidence that "there might be a benefit for people in the community wearing [surgical] face masks is very, very meager. The general sense is perhaps, but they're certainly not absolute protection." In other words, they do provide some benefit but they're far from foolproof.
Surgical masks are just a physical barrier that will protect you against "a visible splash or spray of fluid or large droplets," explains Raina MacIntyre, an infectious disease researcher and professor of global biosecurity at the University of New South Wales in Sydney who has studied the efficacy of face masks. These masks fit loosely on the face around the edges, so they don't completely keep out germs, and small airborne particles can still get through.
MacIntyre's research has shown that N95 respirators offer far superior protection. But in one study, she did find that family members who wore surgical masks when caring for a sick child at home had a lower risk of getting infected. But the benefit only occurred if people wore the masks "all the time when you are in the same room as the infected person," MacIntyre says — something many families in the study found difficult to do. "But if they did wear it, yes, they got protection."
MacIntyre notes that cloth masks — which people wash and reuse — are also common in Asian countries. She says there's no evidence to show they have any benefit, and her research suggests they "may actually be harmful," because infrequent washing and moisture retention can make cloth masks a breeding ground for pathogens. 
Experts note that how you remove a mask — be it a surgical mask or an N95 respirator — is also important. If you touch the front when taking it off, you could end up contaminating yourself.
As for wearing a mask outdoors in public? Marybeth Sexton, an assistant professor of medicine in the division of infectious diseases at Emory University, says there's no need if you're in the U.S. or another country where the risk of catching the Wuhan coronavirus is considered low.
Sexton says wearing a surgical mask is a good idea if you have a respiratory illness and need to see the doctor. But that's really so you won't infect other people. Otherwise, she says, don't rush out and buy a mask. Leave them for the people who need them — like health care workers and ill people — so as not to contribute to mask shortages, she says.
Some infectious disease experts have also suggested that wearing a face mask may have some value if it keeps you from touching your face and nose. That's a common way germs get into our bodies — say, touching a doorknob someone sneezed on, then perhaps inadvertently bringing your fingers to your eyes, nose or mouth. But Clarence Tam, a public health researcher at the National University of Singapore, notes that because wearing masks can be uncomfortable, "the discomfort might make you actually touch your face more." This could contaminate your fingers with any germs that might have attached themselves to the outside of the mask.
Another potential downside? "If you see everyone around you wearing a mask, that also can be fairly alarming," Tam notes.
MacIntyre agrees there's no need to run out and buy face masks if you're in a low-risk country like the U.S. But she says the calculation may be different for people in a place like Wuhan, China, the epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak.
"If it's someone in Wuhan, where most of the cases have been, then there might be some value to it," MacIntyre says. "There's a lot of unknowns about this infection. That's the problem."
Observational studies found that wearing a surgical mask did provide health care workers some protection during the SARS epidemic. But MacIntyre notes that those studies were not randomized controlled trials, considered the gold standard in research. Tam adds that the health care workers who were responding to SARS were also using other protective measures.
And regardless of where you are, there is something that all the infectious disease experts I spoke with recommended everyone do to keep from getting sick: Wash your hands — frequently.
"Hand-washing for sure," Schaffner says. "Constantly. Frequently. All the time — summer, winter, whatever."
And get your flu shot. It is flu season, after all. It doesn't offer protection against Wuhan coronavirus, but here in the U.S., Sexton says, the flu remains the bigger risk to health.

June 28, 2017

Cyber Attack Hits Ukraine Then Spreads Around The World



A screenshot of what appeared to be the ransomware affecting systems worldwide on Tuesday. The Ukrainian government posted the shot to its official Facebook page.
 
 Computer systems from Ukraine to the United States were struck on Tuesday in an international cyber attack that was similar to a recent assault that crippled tens of thousands of machines worldwide.

In Kiev, the capital of Ukraine, A.T.M.s stopped working. About 80 miles away, workers were forced to manually monitor radiation at the old Chernobyl nuclear plant when their computers failed. And tech managers at companies around the world — from Maersk, the Danish shipping conglomerate, to Merck, the drug giant in the United States — were scrambling to respond. Even an Australian factory for the chocolate giant Cadbury was affected.

It was unclear who was behind this cyber attack, and the extent of its impact was still hard to gauge Tuesday. It started as an attack on Ukrainian government and business computer systems — an assault that appeared to have been intended to hit the day before a holiday marking the adoption in 1996 of Ukraine’s first Constitution after its break from the Soviet Union. The attack spread from there, causing collateral damage around the world.

The outbreak was the latest and perhaps the most sophisticated in a series of attacks making use of dozens of hacking tools that were stolen from the National Security Agency and leaked online in April by a group called the Shadow Brokers. 


Like the WannaCry attacks in May, the latest global hacking took control of computers and demanded digital ransom from their owners to regain access. The new attack used the same National Security Agency hacking tool, Eternal Blue, that was used in the WannaCry episode, as well as two other methods to promote its spread, according to researchers at the computer security company Symantec.

The National Security Agency has not acknowledged its tools were used in WannaCry or other attacks. But computer security specialists are demanding that the agency helps the rest of the world defend against the weapons it created.

“The N.S.A. needs to take a leadership role in working closely with security and operating systems platform vendors such as Apple and Microsoft to address the plague that they’ve unleashed,” said Golan Ben-Oni, the global chief information officer at IDT, a Newark-based conglomerate hit by a separate attack in April that used the agency’s hacking tools. Mr. Ben-Oni warned federal officials that more serious attacks were probably on the horizon.

The vulnerability in Windows software used by Eternal Blue was patched by Microsoft in March, but as the WannaCry attacks demonstrated, hundreds of thousands of groups around the world failed to properly install the fix.

“Just because you roll out a patch doesn’t mean it’ll be put in place quickly,” said Carl Herberger, vice president for security at Radware. “The more bureaucratic an organization is, the higher chance it won’t have updated its software.”

Because the ransomware used at least two other ways to spread on Tuesday — including stealing victims’ credentials — even those who used the Microsoft patch could be vulnerable and potential targets for later attacks, according to researchers at F-Secure, a Finnish cybersecurity firm, and others. 
Here’s what we know and don’t know about the attack »
The Ukrainian government said several of its ministries, local banks, and metro systems had been affected. A number of other European companies, including Rosneft, the Russian energy giant; Saint-Gobain, the French construction materials company; and WPP, the British advertising agency, also said they had been targeted.

Ukrainian officials pointed a finger at Russia on Tuesday, although Russian companies were also affected. Home Credit Bank, one of Russia’s top 50 lenders, was paralyzed, with all of its offices closed, according to the RBC news website. The attack also affected Evraz, a steel manufacturing and mining company that employs about 80,000 people, the RBC website reported.

In the United States, the multinational law firm DLA Piper also reported being hit. Hospitals in Pennsylvania were being forced to cancel operations after the attack hit computers at Heritage Valley Health Systems, a Pennsylvania health care provider, and its hospitals in Beaver and Sewickley, Penn., and satellite locations across the state.

The ransomware also hurt Australian branches of international companies. DLA Piper’s Australian offices warned clients that they were dealing with a “serious global cyber incident” and had disabled email as a precautionary measure. Local news reports said that in Hobart, Tasmania, on Tuesday evening, computers in a Cadbury chocolate factory, owned by Mondelez International, had displayed ransomware messages that demanded $300 in bitcoins.

Qantas Airways’ booking system failed for a time on Tuesday, but the company said the breakdown was due to an unrelated hardware issue.

The Australian government has urged companies to install security updates and isolate any infected computers from their networks.

“This ransomware attack is a wake-up call to all Australian businesses to regularly back up their data and install the latest security patches,” said Dan Tehan, the cyber security minister. “We are aware of the situation and monitoring it closely.”

A National Security Agency spokesman referred questions about the attack on the Department of Homeland Security. “The Department of Homeland Security is monitoring reports of cyber attacks affecting multiple global entities and is coordinating with our international and domestic cyber partners,” Scott McConnell, a department spokesman, said in a statement. 
Computer specialists said the ransomware was very similar to a virus that emerged last year called Petya. Petya means “Little Peter,” in Russian, leading some to speculate the name referred to Sergei Prokofiev’s 1936 symphony “Peter and the Wolf,” about a boy who captures a wolf.

Reports that the computer virus was a variant of Petya suggest the attackers will be hard to trace. Petya was for sale on the so-called dark web, where its creators made the ransomware available as “ransomware as a service” — a play on Silicon Valley terminology for delivering software over the internet, according to the security firm Avast Threat Labs.

That means anyone could launch the ransomware with the click of a button, encrypt someone’s systems and demand a ransom to unlock it. If the victim pays, the authors of the Petya ransomware, who call themselves Janus Cybercrime Solutions, get a cut of the payment.

That distribution method means that pinning down the people responsible for Tuesday’s attack could be difficult. 

A screenshot of what appeared to be the ransomware affecting systems worldwide on Tuesday. The Ukrainian government posted the shot to its official Facebook page.
The attack is “an improved and more lethal version of WannaCry,” said Matthieu Suiche, a security researcher who helped contain the spread of the WannaCry ransomware when he created a kill switch that stopped the attacks.

In just the last seven days, Mr. Suiche noted, WannaCry had tried to hit an additional 80,000 organizations but was prevented from executing attack code because of the kill switch. Petya does not have a kill switch.

Petya also encrypts and locks entire hard drives, whereas the earlier ransomware attacks locked only individual files, said Chris Hinkley, a researcher at the security firm Armor.

The hackers behind Petya demanded $300 worth of the cyber currency Bitcoin to unlock victims’ machines. By Tuesday afternoon, online records showed that 30 victims had paid the ransom, although it was not clear whether they had regained access to their files. Other victims may be out of luck, after Posteo, the German email service provider, shut down the hackers’ email account.

In Ukraine, people turned up at post offices, A.T.M.s and airports to find blank computer screens or signs about closures. At Kiev’s central post office, a few bewildered customers milled about, holding parcels and letters, looking at a sign that said, “Closed for technical reasons.”

The hackers compromised Ukrainian accounting software mandated to be used in various industries in the country, including government agencies and banks, according to researchers at Cisco Talos, the security division of the computer networking company. That allowed them to unleash their ransomware when the software, which is also used in other countries, was updated.

The ransomware spread for five days across Ukraine, and around the world, before activating Tuesday evening.

“If I had to guess, I would think this was done to send a political message,” said Craig Williams, the senior technical researcher at Talos.

One Kiev resident, Tetiana Vasylieva, was forced to borrow money from a relative after failing to withdraw money at four automated teller machines. At one A.T.M. in Kiev belonging to the Ukrainian branch of the Austrian bank Raiffeisen, a message on the screen said the machine was not functioning.

Ukraine’s Infrastructure Ministry, the postal service, the national railway company, and one of the country’s largest communications companies, Ukrtelecom, had been affected, Volodymyr Omelyan, the country’s infrastructure minister, said in a Facebook post.

Officials for the metro system in Kiev said card payments could not be accepted. The national power grid company Kievenergo had to switch off all of its computers, but the situation was under control, according to the Interfax-Ukraine news agency. Metro Group, a German company that runs wholesale food stores, said its operations in Ukraine had been affected. 

At the Chernobyl plant, the computers affected by the attack collected data on radiation levels and were not connected to industrial systems at the site, where, although all reactors have been decommissioned, huge volumes of radioactive waste remain. Operators said radiation monitoring was being done manually.

Cybersecurity researchers questioned whether collecting ransom was the true objective of the attack.

“It’s entirely possible that this attack could have been a smoke screen,” said Justin Harvey, the managing director of global incident response at Accenture Security. “If you are an evildoer and you wanted to cause mayhem, why wouldn’t you try to first mask it as something else?” 

An earlier version of this article referred incorrectly to the occupation of Justin Harvey. He is the managing director of global incident response at Accenture Security, not the chief security officer for the Fidelis Cybersecurity company.


Reporting was contributed by Liz Alderman, Andrew E. Kramer, Iuliia Mendel, Ivan Nechepurenko and Isabella Kwai.

A version of this article appears in print on June 28, 2017, on Page A1 of the New York edition 



May 20, 2016

Rubio Slams GOP For Obstructing Obama on Zika


Image result for zika

                                                                         
                                                                         






 
On Tuesday, the Senate and House of Representatives voted on bills to combat the Zika virus. Of course, as usual, it turned into an “Us against Obama” fight; however, one Republican was super pissed off about it and slammed his own party for playing games with people’s health: Senator Marco Rubio.

The Zika virus is a huge threat for the United States, but Congress hadn’t bothered to address it until this week. The illness is passed by mosquitos and if it infects a pregnant woman it could cause the fetus to develop severe abnormalities. President Obama has asked Congress to allocate $1.9 billion to fight the virus. The House of Representatives did what they always do and gave the president a fraction of what he asked for — $622 million.

The House’s refusal to fully fund the bill really, really pissed Marco Rubio off and he blasted them, as well as Senate Republicans, during his speech:

“I support fully funding the requests made, people say the president’s request. Fine, it came from the White House. But it’s really the scientists’ requests, the doctors’ requests, the public health sector’s requests for how to address this issue.”

Oh shit! Rubio said something has been backed by science. He must have forgotten how much his Republican colleagues hate science.

The senator went on to say that 112 people have already been infected in Florida, Puerto Rico is being ravaged by it and the Senate needs to take it seriously:

“Why take the chance that at some point this summer we could have a significant and serious outbreak in the United States of America, and everybody here is going to be back in their home state doing their campaign stuff or whatever you’re doing this summer, and you’re going to have to come back here and either deal with it and explain to people why, when doctors and medical experts were warning us that this was a significant risk, we decided to lowball it….”

Again, Little Marco seems to have forgotten who he is speaking to. Republicans do not care if something will hurt the people (HELLO government shutdown of 2013!), the only thing they care about is the fact that the Obama administration asked for the funding. The GOP Congress has one mode: Obstruct. That’s it. That is basically what they do from the beginning of their terms to the end of their terms. Hell, they refuse to even hold Supreme Court nomination hearings because they are politicking so hard.

Finally, Rubio called out the House for their dangerously underfunded bill:

“Why are we taking this chance? It makes absolutely no sense. I would also say that while I am happy that today, hopefully, the Senate is about to take action on this issue, I’m concerned about what I hear coming from the House…their funding measure isn’t even $1.1 billion. It’s $622 million. Quite frankly, that’s just not going to cut it.”

The Senate ended up passing a $1.1 billion package to combat Zika but that is not enough. It should have been fully funded. Unfortunately, the Republican Congress does not take the health of Americans seriously. If there happens to be a huge breakout, I guarantee we will hear these very same members of the GOP blame it on Obama. Because if there is one thing stronger than their obstructionism, it is their Obama Derangement Syndrome.

It was nice to see Marco Rubio actually show up for work for once and do his job. Maybe if he’d done that more often he wouldn’t be leaving the Senate at the end of his term with his tail between his legs.

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