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Russia Tracks U.S. and British Naval Ships in Barents Sea

Russia’s Northern Fleet is tracking a group of U.S. and British naval vessels which entered the Barents Sea on Monday morning, the Russian Defense Ministry was quoted as saying by the Interfax news agency.

The U.S. Navy said earlier on Monday that four U.S. Navy ships and a Royal Navy vessel had entered the Barents Sea to conduct maritime security operations in what it called the challenging environmental conditions above the Arctic Circle, Reuters reported.

It said U.S. Navy surface ships had not operated in the Barents since the mid-1980s, and that Russia’s defence ministry had been notified on May 1 “in an effort to avoid misperceptions, reduce risk, and prevent inadvertent escalation”.

Russia’s Northern Fleet, which includes both nuclear-powered ships and submarines, is based near Murmansk in the waters of the Kola Bay, a fjord which feeds into the Barents Sea.

The U.S.-British decision to conduct operations in the Barents Sea comes with Russia pushing ahead with a huge military build-up in the Arctic, an area it regards as strategically vital due to its huge hydrocarbon reserves, warming Northern Sea shipping route, and geopolitical and defence importance.

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Russian Authorities Warn Against Alcohol Abuse During Pandemic

Alcohol use in Russia has risen by 2-3% in the period of self-isolation measures introduced to combat the novel coronavirus pandemic, Russian Health Minister Mikhail Murashko informed.

“In general, the use of alcoholic beverages has risen by about 2-3%. However, I would like to say that alcohol definitely does not help in this situation (when treating viral infections and namely the coronavirus). Alcohol weakens the immune system. It also provokes an exacerbation of cardiovascular diseases and any chronic illnesses that patients may have. So alcohol is absolutely unacceptable in this situation,” he said on Sunday in an interview with the Rossiya-24 TV channel.

Murashko warned that even a small dose of alcohol can have a damaging effect on the human body, TASS reports.

In late December 2019, Chinese officials notified the World Health Organization (WHO) about the outbreak of a previously unknown pneumonia in the city of Wuhan, in central China. Since then, cases of the novel coronavirus – named COVID-19 by the WHO – have been reported in every corner of the globe, including Russia.

According to the latest statistics, over 3,400,000 people have been infected worldwide and more than 240,000 deaths have been reported. To date, a total of 134,687 coronavirus cases have been confirmed in Russia, with 16,639 patients having recovered from the virus. Russia’s latest data indicates 1,280 fatalities nationwide. Earlier, the Russian government set up an Internet hotline to keep the public updated on the coronavirus situation.

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Advance Vehicle Supplies to Amount to 33,500 in May-July, Manturov Says

Advance government procurements of motor vehicles will total 33,500 units in May – July, Russian Minister of Industry and Trade Denis Manturov said on Sunday in an interview with the Rossiya-24 TV Channel.

“We provisionally worked out this program related to the automotive industry support in the government. This pertains to other government procurements also. About 33,500 automobiles of various authorities, organizations, including state-owned companies and companies with the state participation, should be provided in total over May, June and July,” Manturov said, TASS reports.

Government authorities will start procurements of automobiles scheduled to 2021 and 2022 as early as in the second quarter of 2020, as reported earlier. “This will actually provide the automotive industry to pass through this challenging period, specifically May, June, and July,” the minister added.

Manturov noted that Russian automakers will be 100% loaded with public transport production in 2020.

“I can confidently state that the utilization will be 100% in 2020, particularly for the public transport, for buses of different classes,” the Minister said. “This is a helping hand and concurrently the support for the automotive industry and the upgrade of the public transport for regions,” Manturov pointed out.

Automobile producers will also deal with manufacturing of ambulance cars and reanimobiles, the Minister said. “Speaking about reanimobiles, there will be about 1,400 units. We already have experience of implementing such tasks in prior years. These are centralized supplies,” Manturov said.

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Kremlin: Mechanism of State Administration in Russia Requires Putin’s Participation

Personal involvement of Russian President Vladimir Putin in resolution of many issues is explained by a “complex mechanism” of public administration existing in Russia, presidential press secretary Dmitry Peskov said on Sunday in an interview with the Rossiya-1 TV Channel.

Interrelations of the federal center, various authorities, inter-budgetary relations – it is extremely difficult to solve all these topics without participation of the head of state, presidential press secretary Dmitry Peskov noted, TASS reports.

“This is a very complex mechanism in Russia. The whole range of issues cannot be solved without the head of state,” Peskov said. “Interrelations of the federal center, various authorities, inter-budgetary relations – it is extremely difficult to solve all these topics without participation of the head of state.”

“Is Putin tired of that? He received support from people at elections, when he put forward his candidacy. These are his direct presidential functions,” Peskov added.




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Looking back on an unprecedented quarter: customers embrace technology to advance industry innovation, respond to COVID-19 and plan for the future

It is predicted that by 2030, there will be a $4 trillion opportunity focused on new mobility services, as the automotive and transportation sectors converge.

This year has been unlike any other. As we welcomed the new decade, we witnessed industry-leading innovations by our customers and partners at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) and National Retail Federation (NRF) conferences in January. We announced ambitious new sustainability initiatives and how we plan to help our customers reduce their carbon footprint. Then COVID-19 changed everything, disrupting business as usual and forcing organizations across industries to navigate a new landscape. As we work through the effects of the pandemic together, it is incredible to see how technology is enabling our customers to be agile and maintain business continuity. We are also seeing them adapt and scale to sustain critical products and services — all while preparing for a post-pandemic comeback and the new normal.

Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella delivers the opening keynote at NRF 2020, sharing his thoughts on the future of retail and how technology can help the industry transform.

Groundbreaking innovation across industries

The first quarter of calendar year 2020 began with a strong focus on what is next in automotive and our participation at CES, a global technology event. The industry is transforming at an incredible speed, quickly shaping the future of mobility and the automotive experience by using cloud, edge, IoT and AI services. Faurecia, a leading automotive technology company is using the Microsoft Connected Vehicle Platform, Teams and Project xCloud to help people stay connected, productive and entertained while in the car. LG Electronics is working to build its automotive infotainment systems with our Azure cloud and AI services, and ZF is transforming into a software-driven mobility provider using Microsoft’s cloud services and developer tools.

At NRF, the world’s largest retail conference, Satya Nadella delivered the opening keynote, sharing ways we are working with retailers to help them better understand their customers, empower employees with digital tools, create a more intelligent supply chain through co-innovation and ultimately reimagine their businesses. During the event, Walgreens Boots Alliance announced it is piloting an immersive mixed reality training program for its employees using HoloLens 2. IKEA shared how it is deploying Microsoft Teams to more than 70,000 workers (including first-line employees) to increase productivity, and H&M shared how Azure IoT is helping propel its continued work toward a more sustainable future for the fashion industry by offering smart garment recycling bins in select stores around the world. Canada Goose, one the world’s largest makers of luxury performance apparel, showed how the company is building on the principle of the endless aisle using Dynamics 365 Commerce software to offer its entire range of products to customers without any physical stock in the store, and Home Depot bet on Microsoft PromoteIQ to help maximize the nearly 170 million monthly visitors on its e-commerce site with the PromoteIQ end-to-end commerce marketing platform. Samsung announced a new smartphone with a push-to-talk button that will leverage the new Walkie Talkie feature available in Microsoft Teams, providing first-line workers like retail employees easier ways to communicate on the job.

In February, Anheuser-Busch InBev, Bosch Group and ZF Friedrichshafen signed up as steering committee members of the Open Manufacturing Platform — founded by Microsoft and BMW in 2019  — to help manufacturing companies accelerate innovation at scale through cross-industry collaboration, knowledge and data sharing.

The emergence of a pandemic

As the fight against COVID-19 continues, I am encouraged by how customers are using technology to respond.

On the frontlines, care teams are using technology to scale their triage process to address the overwhelming number of patients needing care and to ease volume in the system. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released a COVID-19 assessment bot, powered by Microsoft’s Healthcare Bot service running on Azure, to help organizations screen patients for potential infection and care options. These bots use artificial intelligence to help pre-screen patients and provide guidance on care plans, reducing the burden on medical professionals. Swedish Health Services built a mobile app to help hospital staff and administrators monitor resources, protective gear and ventilator use. The app syncs with hospital dashboards powered by the Power Platform emergency response solution to help manage bed count and inventory of critical supplies while sharing the information across the region to help other health professionals prepare their facilities.

Telemedicine is also enabling healthcare providers to continue delivering treatment. For example, Microsoft Teams has allowed doctors at St. Luke’s University Health Network to safely perform more than 75,000 virtual visits with patients vulnerable to the virus, while minimizing direct exposure and preserving valuable resources like masks and gloves.

In education, we are working with schools around the world to enable a remote learning system that fosters a culture of learning outside the classroom — as schools, universities, students and parents adopt the tools necessary for distance-learning models. That includes making Teams available for free for students and educators. The University of Bologna moved 90% of courses for its 80,000 students online to Teams within three days. AI is also playing a critical role in keeping students engaged and learning. The University of Sydney built an AI-infused bot using Microsoft Azure Cognitive Services that responds to students’ questions about COVID-19, providing instant answers and access to additional resources. At Case Western Reserve University, medical students are using Microsoft HoloLens to continue immersive remote learning without falling behind in classwork. In a larger-scale effort to support educators, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) is launching a global e-learning initiative to minimize educational disruptions and maintain social contact.  Microsoft has joined this coalition to contribute resources and technology expertise to ensure #LearningNeverStops.

In response to the COVID-19 National Emergency Declaration, the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) directed the majority of its workforce to work remotely and created the Commercial Virtual Remote (CVR) Environment to provide secure teleworking capabilities to millions of users across the entire department. Our continued work with the DoD will lead to the single largest tenant of Office 365 and Microsoft Teams in the coming weeks, with the speed of deployment exceeding anything before it.

A quiet Microsoft Commons in Redmond, Washington as employees work from home in the time of COVID-19.

We are working across industries to accelerate research for a cure for COVID-19 and recently announced our participation in a new consortium alongside C3.ai and top universities to apply AI toward this pandemic challenge. The institute’s work aims to slow the spread of COVID-19, speed the development of medical treatments, predict its evolution and improve public health strategies. Additionally, Microsoft joined the White House-led consortium to provide COVID-19 researchers worldwide access to the most powerful High Performance Computing resources to significantly accelerate the pace of scientific discovery. As we strive to support our customers through technology, we are also doing our part to ensure our employees remain safe while contributing to efforts to protect public health and the well-being of our communities.

Planning for the future

In recent weeks, we have shared details about groundbreaking new partnerships in the financial services sector, major league sports and consumer goods and services. BlackRock is moving its Aladdin platform to Microsoft Azure, the NBA is redefining and personalizing the fan experience through Azure and its AI capabilities, and last week, as part of our deep partnership with the NFL, Microsoft Teams and Surface were part of the technology solution that brought the first-ever virtual NFL Draft to life. Just today, The Coca-Cola Company announced it is standardizing business operations on Microsoft’s cloud to modernize how the company engages with employees and customers. In addition, in late March, we announced an agreement to acquire Affirmed Networks, a leader in fully virtualized cloud-native mobile network solutions. This acquisition, which closed last week, will allow us to evolve our work with the telecommunications industry, building on our secure and trusted cloud platform for operators, while we continue to focus on interoperability and strong partnerships with suppliers, emerging innovators and other stakeholders to extend cloud-based, software-defined networking into the world of 5G connectivity.

I am deeply inspired by how our customers and partners across every industry are harnessing digital tools to navigate an uncertain landscape. While COVID-19 has disrupted lives, the resilience we see today gives me confidence that we will be prepared to build a new normal together, full of opportunity and powered by innovation and ingenuity.

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Microsoft Build 2020: Registration now open

It’s not the Build we thought it would be, but it’s gonna be special. Today, we’re excited to share that registration for an all-new virtual Build experience is now open. We can’t wait to bring together our community of developers to learn, connect and code together.

While things will look a little different this year as we all absorb and adjust to new realities brought on  COVID-19, we’re excited about Microsoft Build 2020, a 48-hour virtual event starting May 19 at 8 a.m. PT that will kick off with welcome remarks from Satya Nadella. This will be followed by a session with and for Developers hosted by me (read more on my blog).

Here’s a little more of what you can expect at Build this year:

  • Two days of continuous learning in your time zone: Attend sessions, talks and demos carefully chosen to help developers be productive wherever you work, and drive innovation and transformation. You will hear from the engineers behind the products you use every day and connect with your peers in a digital event experience.
  • Build community connections: Expand your network and your perspective on what’s possible. Connect and collaborate with your peers from around the world and with the Microsoft engineers behind the tools and services you rely on.
  • Level up your coding: Discover new ways to take your code and application architecture to the next level with as we help you troubleshoot, optimize and secure your projects.
  • Helping developers today: We’re committed to support developers with cost-effective, efficient innovations that make people’s lives easier and better, especially in uncertain times. Today, we announced new lower pricing for Visual Studio Codespaces (formerly Visual Studio Online) so you can create cloud-hosted dev environments that are accessible from anywhere, from any device. Earlier this month, GitHub announced that all of its core features are now available for free to all users. You can expect more such announcements as we journey through Microsoft Build.

Register for the event here. I’m really proud of what we’re working on and I’m looking forward to sharing it with you all.

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Helping survivors become heroes

The world is searching for ways to fight COVID-19, leading to a surge of research efforts to create effective therapies. Thankfully, as the human immune system learns to fight off the disease and people recover, we see some very promising ways that people’s naturally produced antibodies, which are present in convalescent plasma, can be used as treatment for others. The use of convalescent plasma is a technique dating back to the 1918 Spanish flu epidemic and was effective more recently during the SARS outbreak. Today, there is mounting clinical evidence that plasma collected from those who have recovered from COVID-19 can be used to treat ill COVID-19 patients.

There are two core approaches to using convalescent plasma to fight COVID-19 – each serving a different need. First and most direct is the approach of gathering convalescent plasma donations and making transfusions available to patients, for either therapeutic purposes or, more frequently, as part of research studies and clinical trials. This is a pragmatic and meaningful effort and we applaud all the organizations involved.

A different approach is to use the plasma in larger scale to make a potential therapy called a polyclonal hyperimmune globulin (H-Ig). Through the product manufacturing process, multiple plasma donations are pooled together and the antibodies are concentrated to consistent and reliable levels, meaning the medicine can be delivered in lower volumes and therefore would likely take less time to administer to patients than plasma itself. The H-Ig process also minimizes risk of any known virus or bacteria passing from donor to patient, thanks to the rigorous virus inactivation and removal steps that are embedded in the plasma product manufacturing process. Finally, H-Ig also has a longer shelf life, which permits easier storage and shipping for any outbreaks in the future. These attributes also make H-Ig relatively easy for hospitals to manage and distribute this potentially lifesaving medicine to patients.

The question is, how can we scale up the manufacture and distribution of H-Ig treatment? One promising approach has been developed by the CoVIg-19 Plasma Alliance, which has been formed by the world’s leading plasma companies: Biotest, BPL, LFB, and Octapharma along with CSL Behring and Takeda. The “I” and “g” in CoVIg-19 stand for immune globulin, which the CoVIg-19 Plasma Alliance will use to create an investigational medicine. With advisory support from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, these leading scientists, innovators, and experts in drug manufacturing have joined together in an effort to accelerate the development of a potential H-Ig therapy for COVID-19. They are collaborating across key aspects such as plasma collection, clinical trial development, and product manufacturing. Plasma-derived therapies, like H-Ig, have already been shown to be effective in treating severe viral respiratory infections. The combined capability of these leading commercial manufacturers gives us hope for a scalable, reliable and sustainable treatment for COVID-19.

At Microsoft, we conducted a careful (but rapid) assessment, including consultation not only with our own experts but also several external partners. This assessment involved gaining an understanding of the underlying science and potential medical benefits. We are now convinced that the CoVIg-19 Plasma Alliance has a real chance to save lives, at significant scale, and possibly much sooner than other approaches currently being developed. We were also impressed that these alliance members had committed to working together for the public good, setting aside commercial and competitive goals. We are thus devoting our computing infrastructure, plus engineering and research personnel, to support this esteemed group and kick off the first phase: helping healthy individuals who have recovered from COVID-19 to sign up to donate plasma at licensed plasma collection centers across the United States. Together with the alliance partners, we’re launching the CoVIg-19 Plasma Bot, a self-screening tool that anyone can use to see if they qualify to donate their plasma. Like Microsoft did with the CDC Coronavirus Self-Checker bot and more than 1,300 other COVID-19 bots around the world, we’ve followed standard protocols to help guide individuals through the qualification and education process.

The Plasma Bot and the home page and donor recruitment site for the alliance will live at https://covig-19plasmaalliance.org/ and we expect to make the bot available through other web, social and search channels as well to maximize awareness for potential plasma donors. Donation should be fairly convenient in most cases: more than 50% of the eligible donor population in the U.S. lives within 15 miles of one of the 500 centers operated by CoVIg-19 Plasma Alliance member companies. Recruitment will start in the United States, and then expand to Europe.

The sooner recovered COVID-19 patients donate convalescent plasma, the sooner the alliance may be able to start manufacturing a potential therapy and begin clinical trials. These trials will determine if this therapy could help high-risk COVID-19 patients recover and whether it could protect high-risk individuals from the disease. Time is of the essence: we’re now in an especially important but small window of opportunity with a critical mass of people hitting peak immunity as they recover from COVID-19.

Like many of you, we’ve felt overwhelmed at times by the changes that COVID-19 has brought on society. But even more so, we’ve felt incredibly encouraged seeing people across the planet coming together in truly heroic ways to respond to this pandemic. With this new program, we have a chance to make even more people heroes, starting with those who’ve survived COVID-19. Please take a moment to share this with potential donors, so we can all play our part in making a difference.

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