While You Were Sleeping: 5 stories you might have missed, Feb 4 edition

Zika alarm rises after US sex link, more Brazil birth defects

The World Health Organisation voiced concern on Wednesday over the reported transmission of the Zika virus in Texas by sexual contact, as such infections could make efforts to combat the virus linked to severe birth defects in Brazil even tougher.

The virus that is spreading quickly across the Americas is usually transmitted by mosquitoes. But health officials in Dallas County reported on Tuesday that the first known case of Zika contracted in the United States was a person infected after having sex with somebody who had returned from Venezuela.

Health ministers from across South America gathered in Uruguay's capital, Montevideo, to discuss the public health emergency and how the region can coordinate its fight against the outbreak.


Indian firm Bharat Biotech says developing 'world's first Zika vaccine'

An Indian drugmaker on Wednesday said it was developing the world's first vaccine against Zika after the World Health Organisation declared a global emergency over the rapidly spreading virus.

Bharat Biotech, a vaccine manufacturer based in the southern city of Hyderabad, said two vaccines had been in development for a year and were ready for pre-clinical testing in animals.

There is currently no proven vaccine for the mosquito-borne Zika virus, which has spread throughout Latin America where it has been blamed for a surge in brain-damaged babies.


Obama visits US mosque to counter Republican rhetoric about Muslims

Seven years into his presidency, US President Barack Obama will made his first trip to an American mosque on Wednesday, offering a high-profile rebuttal of harsh Republican election-year rhetoric against Muslims.

Obama, whose grandfather converted to Islam, made the short trip to the Islamic Society of Baltimore mosque, where he met community leaders and called on Americans not to be "bystanders to bigotry".

Invoking the Prophet Mohammed and hailing the tolerance shown by American political icons from Thomas Jefferson to Dwight Eisenhower, Obama hit out at anti-Islamic sentiment that is "not who we are".


UN chief urges North Korea to scrap rocket launch

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on Wednesday urged North Korea to drop plans for a rocket launch that would be in violation of a UN ban on missile technology.

"The secretary-general believes that it is important for the Democratic People's Republic of Korea to refrain from using ballistic missile technology and to work for peace and stability on the Korean peninsula," UN spokesman Farhan Haq said.

North Korea has notified three UN agencies that it plans to launch an earth observation satellite as early as Monday, just weeks after its fourth nuclear test.


Risen star Joseph Fiennes meets the Pope

Actor Joseph Fiennes joined members of the public on Wednesday for the Pope's weekly general audience at St Peter's Square in the Vatican City. The British star was joined by his wife and two daughters, according to Rome Reports. 

"You are incredible. Thank you, thank you.” It said an excited Pope greeted the actor and his family and gave his oldest daughter a kiss on her forehead after the general audience.

Fiennes is in Rome to promote his new film Risen, a movie that revolves around the Resurrection of Christ.