The bomb attacks in Boston

April 16, 2013

From VOA Learning English, welcome to AS IT IS. I’m Mario Ritter.

“This was a heinous and cowardly act. And given what we now know about what took place, the FBI is investigating it as an act of terrorism. Any time bombs are used to target innocent civilians, it is an act of terror.”

That was President Obama describing the bomb attacks in Boston, Massachusetts. Today, we briefly describe what happened in Boston on Monday. Later in our program, we will hear about a deadly viral disease in China.

That was the sound of one of the explosions in Boston. Three people died as a result of the bombings. More than 170 others were wounded. Reports say the bombs were designed to hurt as many people as possible.

The investigation is moving forward quickly. No individual or group has claimed responsibility. Investigators are studying the bombed areas, video images and other evidence.

President Obama spoke to the American people hours on Tuesday. He said the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the FBI, had important questions to answer.

“What we don’t yet know however, is who carried out this attack or why, whether it was planned and executed by a terrorist organization foreign or domestic, or was it the act of a malevolent individual.”

The two bombs exploded near the finish line of the Boston Marathon. The area was crowded with runners, their supporters and families. The 42-kilometer race had started about four hours earlier.

The president praised the bravery of emergency workers and runners who donated blood after the long-distance race. He had this to say about their response.

“So if you want to know who we are, what America is, how we respond to evil, that’s it: selflessly, compassionately, unafraid.”

The bombings took place on Patriot’s Day, a state holiday in Massachusetts. The Boston Marathon has been a part of the celebrations for more than 100 years.

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China has been struck with a deadly outbreak of bird flu, or avian influenza. The first deaths from the virus, H7N9, took place in Shanghai in March. Now avian flu has spread to several provinces, and researchers are concerned. Avi Arditti has more.

Early last month, people in Shanghai started getting sick from the latest version of the avian influenza virus. The number of people infected has since increased and cases have spread to other provinces.  At least 13 people have died, and cases have been reported in several provinces and the capital Beijing. Researchers are concerned about the danger to humans because they are still trying to identify exactly how the disease spreads.

China is increasing surveillance measures after officials closed poultry markets in Shanghai last week and destroyed thousands of birds. Officials acted after the virus was found in local pigeons.  In Taiwan, officials have made anti-viral medicines available at lower prices for the public.

The United States’ Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says this is the first time that this version, H7N9, has been found in humans.  It is unclear if the H7N9 virus can be treated with antiviral drugs like Tamiflu.

Malik Peiris is scientific director of the Pasteur Research Center at Hong Kong University. He is also the first scientist to isolate the SARS virus that killed hundreds of people 10 years ago.  He says many less severe cases of this avian flu outbreak may go unrecognized.

“I think you have to be cautious about interpreting mortality rates because, usually, only the most severe cases are investigated.  There could be milder cases that go unrecognized.  So, on the one hand, this would make the mortality and the severity less.  But of course, on the other hand, it would mean there is more transmission occurring in humans.”

Malik Peiris says it is important to find where the virus started so a vaccine can be developed.

“Learning from H5N1, it is quite an unpredictable virus in that there are hundreds of people working closely with poultry who do not seem to get infected.  But there is the one person who may have quite a tenuous contact who [does] … So, I think what is crucial is to go upstream, along the poultry marketing chain, ideally to the farms, and identify which species is the main source.”

Hong Kong recently marked the 10th anniversary of the disease SARS. That outbreak infected thousands and spread from China to three continents.  Many there are fearful that a lack of information from the Chinese government, which aided the spread of SARS, could be repeated with H7N9.

Thomas Abraham is director of the public health media program at Hong Kong University. He said social media has changed the way people find out about such outbreaks.

“One of the early [H7N9] cases in Shanghai, even though the hospital said nothing, the patient’s admission slip was photographed and put up on Weibo [China’s Twitter].  This kind of information flow is a dam that is unstoppable.  It is an entirely new environment the Chinese authorities are working in.”

World Health Organization officials have called for calm. And researchers continue to try to learn more about the outbreak. Laurie Garrett is with the Council on Foreign Relations.  She warns that international cooperation can break down during large disease outbreaks as they did during the swine flu pandemic of 2009.

“What 2009 taught us with the swine flu [pandemic] is that global solidarity can break down very fast.  Countries start closing airports and quarantining travelers; they start hoarding drugs and vaccines. It is not a pretty picture.”

I’m Avi Arditti.

Now, this AS IT IS news short. Venezuela’s presidential election on Sunday was closer than expected. Election officials declared acting president Nicholas Maduro the winner, with just over 50 percent of the vote. Supporters of opposition leader Henrique Capriles have been protesting the official results. Mr. Capriles urged them to keep on protesting. Mr. Maduro is considered the chosen successor of former President Hugo Chavez.