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The so-called “bio-detector” dogs are expected to complete training by mid-September and will be deployed to places with high concentrations of people, according to the Chilean police.

Chile has slowly beaten back the virus since its peak in June, and on Sunday announced a five-stage “step by step” reopening plan toward economic recovery.

For now, its dog-sniffer program is small, with just four pups in training. Chile’s National Police and the Catholic University of Chile (Pontificia Universidad Catolica) are collaborating to train three Golden Retrievers and one Labrador to detect “a new odor” — the smell of Covid-19 patients, according to university professor and veterinary epidemiologist, Fernando Mardones.

There is currently no evidence that dogs can sniff out the coronavirus, or discriminate between a coronavirus infection and any other kind of infection — especially before symptoms begin to show up.

In past studies, researchers have given dogs samples taken from people with diseases such as cancer or malaria, along with samples from people who don’t have the diseases, and demonstrated that the dogs can tell the difference.

The coronavirus does not have a smell per se, Mardones said, but researchers hope that something in sufferers’ sweat may be recognizable to dogs.

“A body that contracts Covid-19 generates volatile organic compounds. A sample is taken from a person in the early stages of the infection. A gauze is left for about 15 minutes on an individual’s underarm. That’s the sample we store and use to train the dogs with,” he told CNNE.

“The selected dogs have years working on the detection of drugs, explosives and other types of things. For them, it is simply learning to detect a new smell, a new aroma,” Mardones told CNNE.

Training could take between two weeks to two months. The canines are also being taught to sit next to individuals whom they have detected as likely carriers of the coronavirus, instead of “pawing” the person as they do when sniffing drugs, the Chilean police told CNNE.

“A dog can detect, in an hour, it can sniff 250 people. So when we begin opening stadiums, schools, businesses, restaurants, it will be essential that in those places that are being opened, as we seek normalcy, we can now add our bio-detector dogs,” said Colonel Julio Santelices from the Chilean police.

Similar trials have also taken place in the UK, where dogs were given face masks and nylon socks to help train them to sniff out Covid-19 ahead of potential deployment in airports, assisting the troubled travel industry.

CNN’s Emma Reynolds and Maria Ramirez Uribe contributed to this report.

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Mongolia’s most eligible eagle hunter

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(CNN) — “Look over there. See that man coming this way?” asks Timur. “He’s so good looking.”

Galloping towards us on a stout Mongolian steed is the nomad’s version of Brad Pitt returning home in “Legends of the Fall.” Bundled inside a pinto jacket above richly embroidered trousers, he certainly catches the eye. A fox fur hat warms his head, and perched calmly on his right forearm is a golden eagle that’s not merely a prop for a cheesy cologne advertisement.

“Look at his eyebrows and his cheekbones,” continues our Intrepid Travel guide. “And look at how big and strong he is. The girls go crazy over him.”

“It’s true,” says Timur’s wife, Bata, blushing slightly. “If I was to compare him with Timur just on looks, of course I would choose him.”

Upon closer inspection, the intruder’s weathered face betrays a life lived outdoors. But his jaw is certainly chiseled and his natural squint reminds me of a youthful Clint Eastwood as he gazes off into the distance.

Jenisbek Tserik, whose name means “steel warrior,” is a semi-nomadic Kazakh.

Mark Daffey

Arguably more impressive though is his stature, which I only begin to appreciate once he stands beside four other berkutchi, or eagle hunters, who have assembled in front of us for a scheduled photo shoot and interview session. He’s close to a head taller, with broad, square shoulders and muscular limbs that are further exaggerated by his bulky attire.

His name is Jenisbek Tserik, an appellation that means “steel warrior” — an apt description given his achievements. A master horseman, he’s also a serial winner of tug-of-war competitions pitting two combatants wrestling a goat carcass.

So adept is Jenisbek that he has been flown to Dubai to compete in exhibition events. For a semi-nomadic Kazakh living in Mongolia’s remote, westernmost province of Bayan-Ölgii, any trip abroad would be like visiting another planet. Glitzy Dubai would be a whole different universe.

Aged 26, Jenisbek tells us he’s not married, then jokes that he has five girlfriends, including one in Dubai and another in Kazakhstan, from where 90% of Bayan-Ölgii’s resident population originates. I’m unsure if he’s serious, but from what Timur and Bata have told me about him, it’s not beyond the realms of possibility.

As well as the tug-of-war, Jenisbek is a champion archer, and he’s won numerous awards for eagle hunting in Bayan-Ölgii, where the centuries-old pastime is more widespread than anywhere else on the planet.

A proud history

Aged 26, Jenisbek says he's not married -- but has five girlfriends.

Aged 26, Jenisbek says he’s not married — but has five girlfriends.

Tuul & Bruno Morandi/The Image Bank RF/Getty Images

Eagle hunting can be traced back to a forgotten kingdom in Central Asia, where direct descendants of Genghis Khan settled by the Aral Sea until encroaching Russian Empire forces compelled them to flee to the lawless region of the Altai Mountains in Mongolia.

Then, when the Soviet Union and China established borders either side of them early in the 20th century, the Kazakhs became cut off from their homeland and were unable to return.

They continued to live as semi-nomadic herders in Western Mongolia, where traditional pastimes such as hunting with golden eagles continued, passing from one generation to the next. Since such practices were suppressed in Kazakhstan during Soviet rule, Bayan-Ölgii became the sport’s nucleus.

“For a Mongol, it’s pride thing to train racehorses. For Kazakhs, their pride is in training eagles to hunt,” explains Bata.

You can see it in the way they walk and how they behave. The five berkutchi know they’re being watched and they play up to it, puffing their chests out and stiffening their backs whenever a camera lens points their way. Brows furrow and lips purse like they’ve been modeling all their lives.

It’s a far cry from how life must have been in this part of the world before tourism impinged following the first Golden Eagle Festival, which was staged outside the provincial capital of Ölgii in 1999. But even now, foreigners are hardly stampeding to get here. When I quiz our local facilitator about numbers visiting the region this season, he replies that there are “many.”

“How many?” I ask.

“About 800.”

From October to March, eagle hunters head off into the mountains in pairs -- one to flush out their prey, the other to release the eagle from high along a ridgeline.

From October to March, eagle hunters head off into the mountains in pairs — one to flush out their prey, the other to release the eagle from high along a ridgeline.

Mark Daffey

Numbers peak around the timing of the festival in early October, and during the smaller scale Altai Kazakh Eagle Festival, held here in Sagsai two weeks earlier. In each, as many as 100 berkutchi test their skills in events where eagles are expected to catch fox skins being dragged behind horses or in races to scoop up a coin off the ground on horseback.

One flirtatious contest involves a whip-cracking woman chasing after a man who doesn’t always try overly hard to escape. I could imagine Jenisbek receiving a disproportionate share of lashings these past few years.

But it’s only once the tourists have gone that the eagle hunting season begins. From October to March, hunters head off into the mountains in pairs — one to flush out their prey, the other to release the eagle from high along a ridgeline.

Prize catches includes foxes and hares, whose luxuriant coats make the warmest hats, just like those crowning Jenisbek and his companions.

Hunts can last for days at a time, and training requires patience as the eagles become accustomed to their handlers and develop the required skills.

Has it caused couples to divorce, I ask Timur, when husbands spend more time with their birds than they do with their wife? He shrugs his shoulders.

When every unmarried woman in the valley is lining up for you, like they are for Jenisbek, who needs a wife?

Getting there: Though Mongolia is currently closed to tourism due to the Covid-19 pandemic, a number of tour companies are now accepting bookings for for the 2021 Golden Eagle Festival in Bayan-Ulgii, which takes place in early October.

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Pelosi urges voting to counter Trump on peaceful election transition

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Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Thursday that President Donald Trump’s refusal to guarantee a peaceful transfer of power if he loses the election could be cured at the ballot box.

“That the president of the United States would place in doubt the idea of the peaceful transfer of power, well it’s not a surprise,” Pelosi said. But a clear result from voters, she said, would be the “antidote” to any doubts raised by Trump in his comments. “I have confidence in the American people,” she said.

Pelosi’s remarks came as congressional Republicans declined to directly confront Trump’s comments but emphatically rejected the notion that the country would see anything but a peaceful transition of power should Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden win the election. Trump, though, has spent months criticizing the integrity of the election rooted in baseless claims about foreign meddling with mail-in ballots and rampant voter fraud in Democrat-led states.

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Rishi Sunak’s Economic Plan Does Nothing To Help Freelancers, New Starters and Some Women On Maternity Leave, MPs Say

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Rishi Sunak’s winter economic plan leaves up to three million people without any specific job support and risks significant unemployment, MPs and economic experts have claimed.

Freelancers, new starters and some women on maternity leave have not had ‘one penny piece’ from the government in six months, the SNP’s economic spokeswoman Alison Thewliss said to the Chancellor as she claimed the new support package still does nothing to help this group of people.

“There’s nothing here, nothing whatsoever, for those that have been excluded from existing support schemes,” she said.

“The freelancers, the ‘forgotten limited’, the PAYE, the new starters, the women on maternity, all of those who have not one penny piece from this government for six months. He cannot say he does not know this is a problem although he still refuses to meet with them.

“How dare he say these three million people should be left high and dry with nothing.”

The Chancellor responded that there had been a temporary increase in universal credit welfare and enhanced support for the most vulnerable. He also referenced a a hardship fund for those struggling to pay council tax bills and said research had shown their financial help so far had made the most difference to those on the lowest incomes.

The Liberal Democrats also said they had deep concerns about the three million people who are tax payers but who have not had financial support.

Their treasury spokesperson, Christine Jardine MP, asked: “What about the three million who have no support for six months and will still be excluded from financial help.

“Where are the job creation plans to tackle unemployment?”

Among those who the group Excluded UK say have been missing out on support are the newly self-employed, those earning less than 50 percent income from self-employment, the self-employed with £50k plus in trading profits, PAYE freelancers and anyone made redundant before March 19. The ‘forgotten limited’ are small limited company directors who have not been eligible for self-employment income support.

Chair of the Treasury Select Committee, Tory MP Mel Stride, said many self-employed people fell through the gaps of the support provided previously and he asked Sunak if he would look at specifically helping that group of people in the new measures. Sunak suggested that the government’s income tax self-assessment deferral scheme could help. 

Jacqueline Harthill, a self-employed owner of the Bristol-based The Happy Parents’ Club said the measures today have not helped people in her position.

She said: “The recently self-employed have once again come away from another major government statement empty-handed. It’s mind-boggling how millions of self-employed people have been left to fend for themselves.

“Once you’ve exhausted your savings, which many self-employed already have, the next step is defaulting on the mortgage, followed by homelessness and, ultimately, a much poorer society. The millions of people who have fallen through all the cracks in the support packages to date will be suffering financially, physically and emotionally for many, many years to come.”

Director for the Institute for Fiscal Studies, Paul Johnson, tweeted that the changes announced by the Chancellor – ending the furlough scheme and shifting to a wage top up scheme – are significant.

He wrote: “This is a v big change from furlough. Less generous. Only open to those who are working a third of normal hours. Understandable given need to adapt as economy changes. Can’t pay all wages forever. But a lot on furlough now likely to lose their job.”

 

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