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Is Brazil the next big hot spot as other nations ease up?

Brazil is potentially becoming the next big hotspot for the coronavirus amid President Jair Bolsonaro’s insistence that it is just a “little flu” and that it is not necessary to establish severe restrictions that have slowed the spread of the infection. The USA And European countries gradually moved on Monday to ease their traffic and trade limits, with the epidemic escalating in Brazil’s largest Latin American country, with 211 million people pushing hospitals to the point of breaking and causing deaths at home.

“We have all the conditions to make the pandemic much more serious,” said Paulo Brando, a virologist at the University of Sao Paulo.

Brazil has officially declared around 4,500 deaths and almost 67,000 confirmed infections. But the real numbers there, as in many other countries, would be much higher given the lack of evidence and the number of people without severe symptoms who did not seek hospital care. And the crisis could worsen as the country approaches winter, which can worsen respiratory illness. The country’s health ministry said the death counting system is “robust” and has captured everything except a few cases, according to a count by Johns Hopkins University.

The announcement comes as the death toll in the United States exceeded 55,000 near the 58,000 American soldiers killed in the Vietnam War; Italy, Great Britain, Spain and France are responsible for more than 20,000 deaths each.

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Virus pushes US unemployment to highest since Depression

NEW YORK (AP) — Unemployment in the U.S. has swelled to levels last seen during the Great Depression of the 1930s, with 1 in 6 American workers thrown out of a job by the coronavirus.

More than 4.4 million laid-off workers applied for unemployment benefits last week, the government said Thursday. In all, roughly 26 million people — more than the population of the six biggest U.S. cities combined — have now filed for jobless aid in five weeks, an epic collapse that has raised the stakes in the debate over how and when to lift the state-ordered stay-at-home restrictions that have closed factories and other businesses from coast to coast.

Abroad, there was mixed news about the epidemic. Some countries, including Greece, Bangladesh and Malaysia, announced extensions of their lockdowns. Vietnam, New Zealand and Croatia were among those moving to end or ease such measures.

In Africa, COVID-19 cases rose 43% in the past week, up from 16,000 to 26,000 cases, according to John Nkengasong, director of the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The figures underscored a recent warning from the World Health Organization that the virus could kill more than 300,000 people in Africa and push 30 million into desperate poverty.

Huge lines have formed at food banks from El Paso, Texas, to the Paris suburbs, and food shortages are hitting Africa especially hard.

The European Union has pledged 20 billion euros ($22 billion) to help vulnerable communities globally. EU leaders scheduled a virtual summit Thursday to take stock of the damage the crisis has inflicted on the bloc’s own citizens and to work out an economic rescue plan.

The coronavirus has killed over 184,000 people worldwide, including about 47,000 in the United States, according to a tally compiled by John Hopkins University from official government figures. The true numbers are almost certainly far higher.

In the U.S., the economic consequences of the shutdowns have sparked angry rallies in state capitals by protesters demanding that businesses reopen, and President Donald Trump has expressed impatience over the restrictions. Some governors have begun easing up despite warnings from health authorities that it may be too soon to do so without sparking new infections. In Georgia, gyms, hair salons and bowling alleys can reopen Friday. Texas has reopened its state parks.

The high unemployment levels of the Great Depression lasted for a decade and peaked at around 25%. U.S. officials hope for a quicker recovery this time, although there may be more layoffs to come from many small businesses that tried in vain to receive loans from a federal aid program.

While the health crisis has eased in places like Italy, Spain and France, experts say it is far from over, and the threat of new outbreaks looms large.

“The question is not whether there will be a second wave,” said Dr. Hans Kluge, the head of the WHO’s Europe office. “The question is whether we will take into account the biggest lessons so far.”

German Chancellor Angela Merkel criticized some German states for moving too briskly in trying to reopen their economies. Germany has been praised for its approach to the pandemic and has a much lower reported death toll than other large European countries.

“We’re not living in the final phase of the pandemic, but still at the beginning,” Merkel warned. “Let us not squander what we have achieved and risk a setback. It would be a shame if premature hope ultimately punishes us all.”

Governments are bearing that risk in mind with the onset of Ramadan, the holy month of daytime fasting, overnight festivities and communal prayer that begins for the world’s 1.8 billion Muslims with the new moon this week. Many Muslim leaders have closed mosques or banned collective evening prayer to ward off new infections.

The virus has already disrupted Christianity’s Holy Week, Passover, the Muslim hajj pilgrimage and other major religious events.

Authorities in the capital of Indonesia, the world’s most populous Muslim-majority nation, extended its disease-fighting restrictions to cover all of Ramadan, Turkey banned communal eating during the holiday.

Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan bowed to the country’s religious clerics, refusing to close the mosques despite a warning from the nation’s doctors that such gatherings are like a petri dish for spreading the virus in a country with a fragile health care system.

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Charlton reported from Paris and Gannon from Islamabad, Pakistan. Associated Press reporters from around the world contributed.

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Oil price plummets to historic lows; Wall Street dips

NEW YORK (AP) — Stocks are slipping in afternoon trading on Wall Street, as the price of oil cratered to historic lows Monday, cheaper than bottled water.

The S&P 500 was down 0.8%, as of 1:30 p.m. Eastern time, after wavering between sharper and milder losses. But the market’s most dramatic action was in oil, where benchmark U.S. crude for May delivery plummeted to a record low below $1.50 per barrel, a 90% drop in just one day.

Much of the plunge was chalked up to technical reasons — the May delivery contract is close to expiring so it was seeing less trading volume, which can exacerbate swings. But prices for deliveries even further into the future, which were seeing larger trading volumes, also plunged. Demand for oil has collapsed so much due to the coronavirus pandemic that facilities for storing crude are nearly full.

Benchmark U.S. crude oil for June delivery fell 12.9% to $21.69 per barrel, as factories and automobiles around the world remain idled. Big oil producers have announced cutbacks in production in hopes of better balancing supplies with demand, but many analysts say it’s not enough.

“Basically, bears are out for blood,” analyst Naeem Aslam of Avatrade said in a report. “The steep fall in the price is because of the lack of sufficient demand and lack of storage place given the fact that the production cut has failed to address the supply glut.”

Halliburton swung between gains and sharp losses, even though it reported stronger results for the first three months of 2020 than analysts expected. The oilfield engineering company said that the pandemic has created so much turmoil in the industry that it “cannot reasonably estimate” how long the hit will last. It expects a further decline in revenue and profitability for the rest of 2020, particularly in North America.

Brent crude, the international standard, was down $1.78 to $26.30 per barrel. Big oil-producing countries have agreed to cut production to help balance supplies with demand, but many analysts say the cuts are not sharp enough to lift prices.

In the stock market, the mild drops ate into some of the big gains made since late March, driven lately by investors looking ahead to parts of the economy possibly reopening as infections level off in hard-hit areas. Pessimists have called the rally overdone, pointing to the severe economic pain sweeping the world and continued uncertainty about how long it will last.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average was down 283 points, or 1.2%, to 243,958. The Nasdaq was close to flat.

More gains from companies that are winners in the new stay-at-home economy helped buoy the market. Amazon rose 1.4%, and Netflix jumped 3.8% as people shut in at home buy staples and look to fill their time. Clorox likewise rose toward a new record and was up 1% as households and businesses that remain open look to stay clean.

In Tokyo the Nikkei 225 fell 1.1% after Japan reported that its exports fell nearly 12% in March from a year earlier as the pandemic hammered demand in its two biggest markets, the U.S. and China.

The Hang Seng index in Hong Kong lost 0.2%, and South Korea’s Kospi fell 0.8%.

European markets were modestly higher The German DAX was up 0.5%, the French CAC 40 was up 0.7% and the FTSE 100 in London gained 0.7%.

In a sign of continued caution in the market, Treasury yields remained extremely low. The yield on the 10-year Treasury slipped to 0.64% from 0.65% late Friday. It started the year near 1.90%. Bond yields drop when their prices rise, and investors tend to buy Treasurys when they’re worried about the economy.

Stocks have been on a generally upward swing recently, and the S&P 500 just closed out its first back-to-back weekly gain since the market began selling off in February. Promises of massive aid for the economy and markets by the Federal Reserve and U.S. government ignited the rally, which sent the S&P 500 up as much as 28.5% since a low on March 23.

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More recently, countries around the world have tentatively eased up on business-shutdown restrictions put in place to slow the spread of the virus.

But health experts warn the pandemic is far from over and new flareups could ignite if governments rush to allow ”normal” life to return prematurely.

The S&P 500 remains about 15% below its record high in February as millions more U.S. workers file for unemployment every week amid the shutdowns.

Many analysts also warn that a significant part of the recent recovery in stocks is due to the expectation among some investors that the economy will rebound sharply once economic quarantines are lifted. They’re essentially predicting that a line chart of the economy will ultimately resemble the letter “V,” with a wild ride down but then a quick pivot to a vigorous recovery.

That may be to optimistic. “We caution that a U-shaped recovery is also quite likely,” where the economy bottoms out and stays at that low level for a while before recovering, strategists at Barclays warned in a recent report.

Without strong testing programs for COVID-19, businesses likely won’t feel comfortable bringing back their full workforces for a while.

”With risk assets now overbought, the chance for a correction has increased,” Morgan Stanley strategists wrote in a report.

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Pledge brings Ohio neighborhood together — at a distance

KETTERING, Ohio (AP) — The idea came about because Jennifer Stamper was trying to make her family’s “new normal” feel a little bit more like their old one.

Now, just before 9 a.m. on school days she and her children join others on their street who come to the end of their driveways — no closer because of social-distancing guidelines — and together, hands over hearts, recite the Pledge of Allegiance.

That’s how 9-year-old son Zach and 7-year-old daughter Juliette would start the day if they were in the classroom, but schools were ordered closed March 12 to try to stop the spread of COVID-19. Now the siblings take turns holding the flag at the end of the driveway.

The kids usually are out on the porch at 8:45, to see who’s joining them that day. Most days there are at least a couple dozen people.

“My kids, when this first started, they were having trouble sleeping at night,” said Stamper, 49. “The whole purpose of this fleeting thought of mine was let’s just have something that we do every morning at 9 o’clock that’ll be normal. And it wasn’t in any way going to be a platform, nothing political, nothing else. It was just, we love our kids and we want them to have some sense of normal.”

When schools first closed last month, Stamper floated the Pledge proposal via text to neighbors who also were establishing new routines and looking for ways to cope.

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5 things to know today – that aren’t about the virus

Your daily look at late-breaking news, upcoming events and the stories that will be talked about today:

1. ISRAELI PRESIDENT ASKS PARLIAMENT TO CHOOSE PRIME MINISTER

Israel’s president asks the Knesset to choose a new prime minister, giving parliament three weeks to agree upon a leader or plunge the country into an unprecedented fourth consecutive election.

2. NORTH DEFECTOR WINS SOUTH KOREAN PARLIAMENT SEAT

A former senior North Korean diplomat wins a constituency seat in South Korea’s parliamentary elections.

3. GRAHAM CHALLENGER RAISES MORE CASH — In his pursuit of a fourth term representing South Carolina, U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham has been outraised for the first time by his Democratic challenger, setting up a competitive campaign.

4. CACTUS EAGLES NEST – For the first time in decades, bald eagles have been found nesting in an Arizona saguaro cactus.

5. JORDAN’S LAST SEASON – Michael Jordan describes his final NBA championship season with the Chicago Bulls as a “trying year.”

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Trump readies roadmap for economic recovery from virus

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump prepared to unveil national guidelines Thursday on when and how the country starts to recover from the sharp economic pain of the coronavirus pandemic as a bipartisan panel of lawmakers urged him to heed the advice of public health experts.

The new guidelines are aimed at clearing the way for an easing of restrictions in areas with low transmission of the coronavirus, while keeping them in place in harder-hit places. Ultimately, decisions on when to ease up will rest with governors.

The recommendations also will make clear that the return to normalcy will be a far longer process than Trump initially envisioned, with federal officials warning that some social distancing measures may need to remain in place through the end of the year to prevent a new outbreak.

“We’ll be opening some states much sooner than others,” Trump said Wednesday.

Trump held conference calls Thursday with lawmakers he named to a new congressional advisory task force as he aims for a swift rebound. The economic costs were clear in new federal data showing that at least 22 million Americans have been thrown out of work in the last month. But the legislators repeatedly urged the president not to sacrifice public health in an effort to reopen the economy.

“My highest priority on this task force will be to ensure the federal government’s efforts to reopen our economy are bipartisan, data-driven, and based on the expertise of public health professionals,” said Democratic Sen. Mark Warner of Virginia.

Business leaders, too, raised concerns to the president in a round of calls Wednesday, warning that a dramatic increase in testing and wider availability of protective equipment will be necessary before they can safely revive operations.

The federal government envisions a gradual recovery from the virus, in which disruptive mitigation measures may be needed in some places at least until a vaccine is available — a milestone unlikely to be reached until sometime next year.

“It’s not going to immediately be a situation where we have stadiums full of people,” said Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson on Thursday. “We’re Americans. We will adapt,” he added.

Trump said Wednesday that data indicates the U.S. is “past the peak” of the COVID-19 epidemic. He said the numbers have “put us in a very strong position to finalize guidelines for states on reopening the country.”

Dr. Deborah Birx, the White House coronavirus task force coordinator, added that data from across the country showed the nation “improving,” but that Americans had to recommit to social distancing to keep up the positive momentum.

She said nine states have fewer than 1,000 cases and just a few dozen new cases per day. She said those would likely be the first to see a lifting in social distancing restrictions at the direction of their governors under the guidelines set to be released Thursday.

Birx said the White House was particularly concerned about Rhode Island, noting it is now seeing a surge in cases from the Boston metro area after seeing a spike several weeks ago from cases from New York.

But participants in a Wednesday call with Trump that included executives of dozens of leading American companies raised concerns about the testing issue, according to one participant who spoke on condition of anonymity to describe the private discussion.

Another participant said it was stressed to Trump that expansion of testing and contact tracing was crucial, as well as guidelines for best practices on reopening businesses in phases or in one fell swoop.

The participant said those on the call noted to the administration that there was about to be a rush on personal protective equipment. Many businesses that are now shuttered will need the protective equipment to keep their employees and customers safe.

Trump was told “the economy will look very different and operations will look very different,” one participant said.

The panel, which Trump dubbed the new Great American Economic Revival Industry Groups, also could help give him a measure of cover. If cases surge once restrictions are lifted, as many experts have warned, Trump will be able to tell the public he didn’t act alone and the nation’s top minds — from manufacturing to defense to technology — helped shape the plan.

Rich Nolan, president and CEO of the National Mining Association, who participated in one of the calls with Trump, said there was also discussion about tax relief as well as “making sure that people are optimistic about the economy and they feel safe coming back to work.”

“I think you’ll see steps to reopen the country at different rates in different states in the not too distant future,” Nolan said.

Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan said Trump has appointed some “smart people” to his task force who could offer state leaders helpful guidelines as they negotiate the way forward.

“There are certain roles that only the federal government can play and should play, but I think the governors are going to make their own decisions within those recommended guidelines,” Hogan said.

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Coronavirus could erode global fight against other diseases

NEW DELHI (AP) — Lavina D’Souza hasn’t been able to collect her government-supplied anti-HIV medication since the abrupt lockdown of India’s 1.3 billion people last month during the coronavirus outbreak.

Marooned in a small city away from her home in Mumbai, the medicine she needs to manage her disease has run out. The 43-year-old is afraid that her immune system will crash: “Any disease, the coronavirus or something else, I’ll fall sick faster.”

D’Souza said others also must be “suffering because of the coronavirus without getting infected by it.”

As the world focuses on the pandemic, experts fear losing ground in the long fight against other infectious diseases like AIDS, tuberculosis and cholera that kill millions every year. Also at risk are decadeslong efforts that allowed the World Health Organization to set target dates for eradicating malaria, polio and other illnesses.

With the coronavirus overwhelming hospitals, redirecting medical staff, causing supply shortages and suspending health services, “our greatest fear” is resources for other diseases being diverted and depleted, said Dr. John Nkengasong, head of the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

That is compounded in countries with already overburdened health care systems, like Sudan. Doctors at Al-Ribat National Hospital in Sudan’s capital, Khartoum, shared a document detailing nationwide measures: fewer patients admitted to emergency rooms, elective surgeries indefinitely postponed, primary care eliminated for non-critical cases, and skilled doctors transferred to COVID-19 patients.

Similar scenes are unfolding worldwide. Even in countries with highly developed health care systems, such as South Korea, patients seeking treatment for diseases like TB had to be turned away, said Hojoon Sohn, of Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, who is based in South Korea.

About 30% of global TB cases — out of 10 million each year — are never diagnosed, and the gaps in care are concentrated in 10 countries with the most infections, Sohn said.

“These are people likely not seeking care even in normal circumstances,” he said. “So with the COVID-19 pandemic resulting in health systems overload, and governments issuing stay-at-home orders, it is highly likely that the number of TB patients who remain undetected will increase.”

In Congo, already overwhelmed by the latest outbreak of Ebola and years of violent conflict, the coronavirus comes as a measles outbreak has killed over 6,000 people, said Anne-Marie Connor, national director for World Vision, a humanitarian aid organization.

“It’s likely we’ll see a lot of ‘indirect’ deaths from other diseases,” she said.

The cascading impact of the pandemic isn’t limited to treatment. Other factors, like access to transportation during a lockdown, are threatening India’s progress on TB. Patients and doctors can’t get to clinics, and it’s difficult to send samples for testing.

India has nearly a third of the world’s TB cases, and diagnosing patients has been delayed in many areas. Dr. Yogesh Jain in Chhattisgarh — one of India’s poorest states — and other doctors fear that means “TB cases would certainly increase.”

Coronavirus-related lockdowns also have interrupted the flow of supplies, including critical medicine, protective gear and oxygen, said Dr. Marc Biot, director of operations for international aid group Doctors Without Borders.

“These are difficult to find now because everybody is rushing for them in the same moment,” Biot said.

The fear of some diseases resurging is further aggravated by delays in immunization efforts for more than 13.5 million people, according to the vaccine alliance GAVI. The international organization said 21 countries are reporting vaccine shortages following border closures and disruptions to air travel — mostly in Africa — and 14 vaccination campaigns for diseases like polio and measles have been postponed.

The Measles & Rubella Initiative said measles immunization campaigns in 24 countries already are delayed, and it fears that more than 117 million children in 37 countries may miss out.

Dr. Jay Wenger, who heads polio eradication efforts for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, said recommending the suspension of door-to-door polio vaccinations was difficult, and while it could lead to a spurt in cases, “it is a necessary move to reduce the risk of increasing transmission of COVID-19.”

Programs to prevent mosquito-borne diseases also have been hampered. In Sri Lanka, where cases of dengue nearly doubled in 2019 over the previous year, health inspectors are tasked with tracing suspected COVID-19 patients, disrupting their “routine work” of destroying mosquito breeding sites at homes, said Dr. Anura Jayasekara, director of Sri Lanka’s National Dengue Control Unit.

During a pandemic, history shows that other diseases can make a major comeback. Amid the Ebola outbreak in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone in 2014-16, almost as many people died of HIV, tuberculosis and malaria because of reduced access to health care.

Rashid Ansumana, a community health expert in Sierra Leone who studied the Ebola outbreak, said the coronavirus’s “impact will definitely be higher.”

Health providers are trying to ease the crisis by giving months of supplies to people with hepatitis C, HIV and TB, said Biot of Doctors Without Borders.

As countries face difficult health care choices amid the pandemic, Nkengasong of the Africa CDC warns that efforts to tackle other diseases can’t fall by the wayside.

“The time to advocate for those programs is not when COVID is over. The time is now,” he said.

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Milko reported from Jakarta. Associated Press journalists Cara Anna in Johannesburg, Bharatha Mallawarachi in Colombo, Sri Lanka, Isabel DeBre in Cairo, and Maria Cheng in London contributed to this report.

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The average U.S. worker can no longer afford a family of four, says study

A conservative think tank’s latest report suggests that U.S. workers’ earnings aren’t keeping up with rising costs of living. The “Cost of  Thriving” report, published by the Manhattan Institute, states that the median U.S. male worker now has to earn more than a year’s salary to pay for just the basic annual expenses a family of four will require—i.e., housing, health care, education, and transportation.

Those four categories of expenses average $54,441 total. And an average male worker in 2018 had to work 53 weeks to earn that much, according to the report.

“This is a problem, as there are only 52 weeks in a year,” wrote Oren Cass, the report’s lead author. Cass based the index on U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates for the median weekly earnings of men who are working full-time and over 25 years of age.

By comparison, an average male worker in 1985 needed to work only 30 weeks to cover these basic costs. At that time, they added up to $13,227.

The average female worker is even more at a disadvantage, according to Cass. He found that whereas she needed to work 45 weeks to pay for the four basic expenses in 1985, she would have had to work 66 weeks in 2018.

Both men and women are accordingly below the “cost of thriving” line, the report finds, concluding that a single-earning household can no longer thrive on the median U.S. income.

Slow wage growth may be part of the problem, according to another study by SuperMoney. This report finds that workers ages 25 to 34 have seen only a $29 income increase, adjusted for inflation, since 1974; and adults ages 35-44 and 45-54 have made inflation-adjusted income increases of $2,900 and $5,400 in that time frame.

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Justice Department Charges Chinese Military Officers With Hacking Into Equifax

The U.S. Justice Department has indicted four Chinese military officers with orchestrating a massive breach of credit agency Equifax’s private data on consumers and businesses. The indictments came about after a two-year investigation into what Justice officials said was the largest known theft of personally identifiable information in history.

“This was a deliberate and sweeping intrusion into the private information of the American people,” said Attorney General William Barr, releasing the indictment. “Today, we hold PLA hackers accountable for their criminal actions, and we remind the Chinese government that we have the capability to remove the Internet’s cloak of anonymity and find the hackers that nation repeatedly deploys against us.

The officers–Wu Zhiyong, Wang Qian, Xu Ke, and Liu Lei–serve in China’s People’s Liberation Army, according to the Justice Department.

Justice officials said in a press briefing that they are limited in the actions they can take against the four suspects. FBI Deputy Director David Bodich told reporters at a press briefing that Justice is unable to arrest them or put them in jail, for example.

Barr said that the hack is part of a pattern of state-sponsored cyber intrusions that China has been engaging in for purposes of gaining trade secrets and consumers’ personal information. He noted similar data breaches at the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, Marriott hotels, and health insurer Anthem. The Chinese military might use the stolen consumer data to aid the development of artificial-intelligence tools and intelligence-targeting systems, he said.

Equifax first reported the data breach in September 2017, warning that the hackers had accessed the birth dates, Social Security numbers, physical addresses, and driver’s license numbers of 147 million Americans. The Federal Trade Commission announced in January that it has set aside $425 million to help those affected by the breach.

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Scientists detect mysterious repeating radio signal from space

A mysterious radio signal from a distant galaxy has Canadian and U.S. researchers baffled. In a recently published paper, the researchers said that the radio signal, which repeats regularly every 16.35 days, is unlike any they have ever detected from an object in space.

The signal comes from a galaxy about 500 million light years away and consists of “fast radio bursts” that occurred about once an hour for four days, stopped, and started again 12 days later, according to the researchers. They said that this cycle repeated itself for more than a year. The bursts first appeared in analyses of data from the Canadian Hydrogen Intensity Mapping Experiment, a radio telescope that groups of Canadian scientists are collaboratively using to study space phenomena.

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where several of the paper’s coauthors are based, said in a statement that the signal is probably a celestial object and not aliens. It’s too big for a civilization, even a spacefaring one, to be sending it, the statement said: “Even a highly intelligent species would be very unlikely to produce energies like this. And there is no detectable pattern so far that would suggest there’s a sentient hand at play.”

Some researchers speculate that the source is a planet or other object orbiting a star. The signals cease when the object moves behind the object it is orbiting and the signals are thereby obstructed from reaching Earth, they suggest. They do not know how the object would be sending out these signals on a regular basis, however.

Astronomers have detected fast radio bursts from objects in space before. Most last for only a few milliseconds, and it is thus difficult to determine where they come from.