Pandemic leaves Indians mired in massive medical debts

NEW DELHI (AP) — As coronavirus cases ravaged India this spring, Anil Sharma visited his 24-year-old son Saurav at a private hospital in northwest New Delhi every day for more than two months. In May, as India's new COVID-19 cases broke global records to reach 400,000 a day, Saurav was put on a ventilator. 

The sight of the tube running into Saurav's throat is seared in Sharma's mind. "I had to stay strong when I was with him, but immediately after, I would break down as soon as I left the room," he said.

Saurav is home now, still weak and recovering. But the family's joy is tempered by a mountain of debt that piled up while he was sick. 

Life has been tentatively returning to normal in India as new coronavirus cases have fallen. But millions are embroiled in a nightmare of huge piles of medical bills. Most Indians don't have health insurance and costs for COVID-19 treatment have them drowning in debt.

Sharma exhausted his savings on paying for an ambulance, tests, medicines and an ICU bed. Then he took out bank loans. 

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Sparked by pandemic fallout, homeschooling surges across US

Although the pandemic disrupted family life across the U.S. since taking hold in spring 2020, some parents are grateful for one consequence: They're now opting to homeschool their children, even as schools plan to resume in-person classes.

The specific reasons vary widely. Some families who spoke with The Associated Press have children with special educational needs; others seek a faith-based curriculum or say their local schools are flawed. The common denominator: They tried homeschooling on what they thought was a temporary basis and found it beneficial to their children. 

"That's one of the silver linings of the pandemic — I don't think we would have chosen to homeschool otherwise," said Danielle King of Randolph, Vermont, whose 7-year-old daughter Zoë thrived with the flexible, one-on-one instruction. Her curriculum has included literature, anatomy, even archaeology, enlivened by outdoor excursions to search for fossils.

The surge has been confirmed by the U.S. Census Bureau, which reported in March that the rate of households homeschooling their children rose to 11 percent by September 2020, more than doubling from 5.4 percent just six months earlier.

Black households saw the largest jump; their homeschooling rate rose from 3.3 percent in the spring of 2020 to 16.1 percent in the fall.

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Pandemic Olympics endured heat, and now a typhoon's en route

TOKYO (AP) — First, the sun. Now: the wind and the rain.

The Tokyo Olympics, delayed by the pandemic and opened under oppressive heat, is due for another hit of nature's power: a typhoon arriving Tuesday morning that is forecast to disrupt at least some parts of the Games.

"Feels like we're trying to prepare for bloody everything," said New Zealand rugby sevens player Andrew Knewstubb. 

Don't worry, Japanese hosts say: In U.S. terms, the incoming weather is just a mid-grade tropical storm. And the surfers at Tsurigasaki beach say Tropical Storm Nepartak could actually improve the competition so long as it doesn't hit the beach directly.

But archery, rowing and sailing have already adjusted their Tuesday schedules. Tokyo Games spokesman Masa Takaya said there were no other changes expected. 

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First openly transgender Olympians are competing in Tokyo

TOKYO (AP) — For Quinn, a midfielder for the Canadian women's soccer team, the opening match of the Tokyo Games carried more emotional weight than their previous Olympic appearances. 

Quinn became the first openly transgender athlete to participate in the Olympics when they started on Wednesday night in Canada's 1-1 draw with Japan in Sapporo. 

Quinn, who is nonbinary and uses they/them pronouns, posted their feelings on Instagram. 

"I feel proud seeing `Quinn' up on the lineup and on my accreditation. I feel sad knowing there were Olympians before me unable to live their truth because of this world," they wrote. "I feel optimistic for change. Change in legislature, Changes in rules, structures, and mindsets."

Quinn, who came out as transgender last year, was also a member of the Canadian team that won the bronze medal at the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics.

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Senators race to seal infrastructure deal as pressure mounts

WASHINGTON (AP) — Senators are racing to seal a bipartisan infrastructure deal as soon as Monday, as pressure is mounting on all sides to show progress on President Joe Biden's top priority.

Heading into a make-or-break week, key senators and staff spent the weekend trying to reach a final agreement. One major roadblock is how much money should go to public transit. But spending on highways, water projects, broadband and others areas remains unresolved, as is whether to take unspent COVID-19 relief funds to help pay for the infrastructure.

The lead Republican negotiator, Ohio Sen. Rob Portman, said the two sides were "about 90% of the way there" on an agreement.

A top Democrat, Sen. Mark Warner of Virginia, said he was hopeful a final bill would be ready Monday afternoon — though others were not so sure.

The week ahead is crucial. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., has said he wants to pass the nearly $1 trillion bipartisan package as well as the blueprint for a larger $3.5 trillion budget plan before the Senate leaves for its August recess. He held a procedural vote last week to begin debate on the bipartisan framework, but all 50 Senate Republicans voted against it, saying they needed to see the full details of the plan. 

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'Holy moly!': Inside Texas' fight against a ransomware hack

DALLAS (AP) — It was the start of a steamy Friday two Augusts ago when Jason Whisler settled in for a working breakfast at the Coffee Ranch restaurant in the Texas Panhandle city of Borger. The most pressing agenda item for city officials that morning: planning for a country music concert and anniversary event.

Then Whisler's phone rang. Borger's computer system had been hacked. 

Workers were frozen out of files. Printers spewed out demands for money. Over the next several days, residents couldn't pay water bills, the government couldn't process payroll, police officers couldn't retrieve certain records. Across Texas, similar scenes played out in nearly two dozen communities hit by a cyberattack officials ultimately tied to a Russia-based criminal syndicate.

In 2019, ransomware had yet to emerge as one of the top national security concerns confronting the United States, an issue that would become the focus of a presidential summit between Washington and Moscow this year. But the attacks in Texas were a harbinger of the now-exploding threat and offer a vivid case study in what happens behind the scenes when small-town America comes under attack.

Texas communities struggled for days with disruptions to core government services as workers in small cities and towns endured a cascade of frustrations brought on by the sophisticated cyberattack, according to thousands of pages of documents reviewed by The Associated Press and interviews with people involved in the response. The AP also learned new details about the attack's scope and victims, including an Air Force base where access to a law enforcement database was interrupted, and a city forced to operate its water-supply system manually.

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UN: Women, children casualties on the rise in Afghanistan

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — More women and children were killed and wounded in Afghanistan in the first half of 2021 than in the first six months of any year since the United Nations began systematically keeping count in 2009, a U.N. report said Monday.

The war-torn country saw a 47 percent increase in the number of all civilians killed and wounded in violence across Afghanistan in the first six months of the year, compared to the same period last year, according to the report.

"I implore the Taliban and Afghan leaders to take heed of the conflict's grim and chilling trajectory and its devastating impact on civilians," said Deborah Lyons, the U.N. secretary-general's special representative for Afghanistan. 

"The report provides a clear warning that unprecedented numbers of Afghan civilians will perish and be maimed this year if the increasing violence is not stemmed," Lyons added in a statement accompanying the report.

The Taliban have swiftly captured significant territory in recent weeks, seized strategic border crossings with several neighboring countries and are threatening a number of provincial capitals. The advances come as the last U.S. and NATO soldiers leave Afghanistan.

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Some French health workers resent, resist mandatory vaccines

PARIS (AP) — While most French health care workers are vaccinated against the virus, a small but vocal minority is holding out. With infections exploding, a new law requiring them to get the shots is exposing the divide.

The French government, which has declared that the nation has officially entered its "fourth wave" of the pandemic, pushed the law mandating COVID-19 vaccines for health care workers, to protect hospitals and avoid a new lockdown. Government spokesman Gabriel Attal says the move isn't meant to stigmatize reluctant health care workers but to limit risks to the vulnerable people they care for.

The law, adopted by parliament early Monday, also sets up a "health pass" for everyone in order to access restaurants and other public venues. Both measures have prompted intense debate and two straight weekends of protests around France. Health care workers in white coats have been among the demonstrators.

Many cite incorrect information about the vaccines circulating on the internet, worry about their long-term effects or want more time to decide. Several health workers said they took issue with the mandate, not the vaccines themselves. 

At one Paris protest, some carried signs reading "My body, my choice," and a health worker dressed as the Statue of Liberty called it an "act of violence" to force people to get vaccinated.

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Vatican trial opens into financial scandal rocking papacy

VATICAN CITY (AP) — A cardinal who allegedly induced an underling to lie to prosecutors. Brokers and lawyers who pulled a fast one over the Vatican No. 2 to get him to approve a disastrous real estate deal. A self-styled intelligence analyst who bought Prada and Louis Vuitton items with the Vatican money that she was supposed to send to rebels holding a Catholic nun hostage.

Vatican prosecutors have alleged a jaw-dropping series of scandals in the biggest criminal trial in the Vatican's modern history, which opens Tuesday in a modified courtroom in the Vatican Museums. The once-powerful cardinal and nine other people are accused of bleeding the Holy See of tens of millions of dollars in donations through bad investments, deals with shady money managers and apparent favors to friends and family. They face prison sentences, fines or both if convicted.

The trial, which will likely be postponed for several months after the first hearings Tuesday and Wednesday, is the culmination of a two-year investigation into the Holy See's flawed 350 million-euro London real estate venture. That operation exposed the Vatican's once-secret financial dealings and its structural dysfunction, which allowed just a few people to do so much damage to the Vatican's finances and reputation, with little expertise or oversight.

But the prosecutors' case also suggests that Pope Francis and his top lieutenants were not only aware of some of the key transactions, but in some cases explicitly authorized them, even without full documentation or understanding the details. Given the hierarchical nature of the Holy See and the obedience required of underlings to their religious superiors, questions also remain about why some people were charged and others not.

One Vatican monsignor who until recently was considered by prosecutors to be a key suspect, Monsignor Alberto Perlasca, managed to avoid indictment. Perlasca's office handled the London investment from start to finish and his boss had identified him as the main in-house culprit in obscuring the deal's costly outcome. But prosecutors suggested that Perlasca flipped and became an important witness, in part after coming under pressure to recant his testimony by the lone cardinal on trial, Angelo Becciu. 

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Olympics Latest: Djokovic remains on course for Golden Slam

TOKYO (AP) — The Latest on the Tokyo Olympics, which are taking place under heavy restrictions after a year's delay because of the coronavirus pandemic:

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Top-ranked tennis player Novak Djokovic remains on course for a Golden Slam after a 6-4, 6-3 win over Jan-Lennard Struff of Germany at the Tokyo Games.

Djokovic is attempting to become the first man to win all four Grand Slam titles and Olympic gold in the same calendar year. 

The Serb already won the Australian and French Opens as well as Wimbledon this year. He now needs the Tokyo title and the U.S. Open trophy to complete the unique collection.

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