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Kids later than sooner. South Korean women freeze eggs as child-rearing costs surge

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6/6

© Reuters. An employee checks a bio tank that freezes eggs in a Fertility Research lab at Cha Fertility Center in Bundang, South Korea, April 30, 2022. Picture taken April 30, 2022. REUTERS/Heo Ran

2/6

By Cynthia Kim

SEOUL (Reuters) – In South Korea, fewer women are having children and those who do are in no rush. The sky-high costs of housing and education make financial security a must. Social mores also dictate the need to be married.

Lim Eun-young, a 34-year-old public servant, says she is not ready to start a family due to the costs and as she only began dating her boyfriend several months ago. But worried that her biological clock is ticking, she had some of her eggs frozen in November.

Lim was one of about 1,200 unmarried single women who underwent the procedure last year at CHA Medical Center – a number that has doubled over two years. CHA is South Korea’s largest fertility clinic chain with about 30% of the IVF market.

“It’s a big relief and it gives me peace of mind to know that I have healthy eggs frozen right here,” she said.

Freezing eggs to buy reproductive time is an option increasingly explored by women worldwide. But in South Korea, which has the dubious distinction of having one of the world’s lowest fertility rates, the dramatic jump in women using CHA’s services throws into sharp relief the economic burdens and social constraints leading to decisions to delay or even forgo having children.

The fertility rate – the average number of children born to a woman over her reproductive life – in South Korea was just 0.81 last year. That compares with an average rate of 1.59 for OECD countries in 2020.

That’s also despite enormous sums spent by South Korean authorities on subsidies and perks for families with children. The government budgeted 46.7 trillion won ($37 billion) last year to fund policies aimed at tackling the country’s low birth rate.

Much of the blame for South Korean reticence to have children is laid on a highly competitive and expensive education system that makes cram schools and private tutoring a fact of life for most kids from a young age.

“We hear from married couples and watch reality TV shows about how expensive it is to raise kids in terms of education costs and everything, and all these worries translate to fewer marriages and babies,” said Lim.

Housing costs have also surged. An average apartment in Seoul, for instance, costs an estimated 19 years of South Korea’s median annual household income, up from 11 years in 2017.

Cho So-Young, a 32-year-old nurse at CHA who plans to freeze her eggs this coming July, is also keen to get to a better place financially before having a child.

“If I get married now and give birth, I can’t give my baby the kind of environment I had when I grew up…I want better housing, a better neighbourhood and better food to eat,” she said.

But even when finances are less of a consideration, being married is seen as a prerequisite to having children in South Korea. Just 2% of births in South Korea occur out of wedlock compared to an average of 41% for OECD countries.

In fact, while single South Korean women are able to freeze their eggs, they can’t legally proceed with a sperm donation and the implanting of an embryo unless married – an issue thrust into the spotlight by Sayuri Fujita, a Japanese celebrity and single mother based in South Korea who had to go back to Japan for a sperm donation.

That needs to change, argues Jung Jae-hoon, a social welfare studies professor at Seoul Women’s University, noting marriages in South Korea dropped to a record low of 192,500 last year. That’s down around 40% from a decade earlier. Even when looking at marriage levels in 2019 to discount the effect of the pandemic, the decline is still a huge 27%.

“The least the government can do is to not get in the way of those out there who are willing to shoulder the financial burden of having a baby,” he said.

Even more worrying are the statistics showing a sharp drop-off in willingness to have children at all.

Some 52% of South Koreans in their 20s don’t plan to have children when they get married, a massive jump from 29% in 2015, according to a survey conducted in 2020 by the country’s gender and family ministry.

($1 = 1,276 won)

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Biden presses companies on infant formula, FDA eyes more imports

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4/4

© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: Empty shelves show a shortage of baby formula at CVS in San Antonio, Texas, U.S. May 10, 2022. REUTERS/Kaylee Greenlee Beal/File Photo

2/4

By Jeff Mason, Susan Heavey and Trevor Hunnicutt

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -U.S. President Joe Biden met on Thursday with executives from infant formula manufacturers and retailers including Target , Walmart (NYSE:WMT) and Nestle’s Gerber, pressing them to do everything possible to get families access amid a nationwide shortage.

The White House also outlined measures the administration is taking to address the issue and said it was considering invoking the Defense Production Act.

The U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) will announce new steps in the coming days regarding importing certain infant formula products from abroad, the White House said, and Biden has asked the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to probe reports of predatory conduct such as price gouging.

Formula shortages because of a factory being taken offline have been compounded by supply chain snags and historic inflation, leaving about 40% of baby formula products out of stock nationwide, according to data firm Datasembly.

Families depend on formula. Less than half of babies born in the United States were exclusively breastfed through their first three months, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention 2020 Breastfeeding Report Card showed.

During his meeting with the executives, Biden discussed efforts to increase production and urged companies to “do more to help families purchase infant formula,” White House spokesperson Jen Psaki said.

“What we are seeing, which is an enormous problem, is hoarding,” Psaki said. “That is also something we’re focused on.”

Biden later said on Twitter (NYSE:TWTR), “I’m announcing new actions and working with the private sector to get infant formula into stores as quickly as possible without compromising safety.”

Tight supplies of formula dwindled further after Abbott Laboratories (NYSE:ABT) in February recalled Similac and other baby formula made at its Sturgis, Michigan, plant following consumer complaints of bacterial contamination. The FDA later cited five bacterial infections reported in babies given the company’s formula, including two deaths.

Abbott, the biggest U.S. supplier of milk formula, said tests showed one bacteria strain found in the facility was not linked to any known infant illnesses, although it was updating its cleaning and related protocols.

Other major formula producers include Reckitt Benckiser and Nestle SA (SIX:NESN).

Several retailers, including Target Corp (NYSE:TGT), CVS Health Corp (NYSE:CVS) and Walgreens Boots Alliance (NASDAQ:WBA), have limited formula purchases until supplies improve to prevent hoarding. New York Attorney General Letitia James also has warned against price gouging.

U.S. House lawmakers plan a hearing on the matter on May 25. [L2N2X322B]

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi told reporters lawmakers want to ensure it does not happen again, “but right now the baby’s crying, the baby’s hungry and we need to address the situation right now.”

Last month, House Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Rosa DeLauro sought a Department of Health and Human Services probe, citing a whistleblower report from October 2021.

On Thursday, House Republicans criticized the Biden administration, saying a plan should have been in place to address the shortages sooner.

Abbott said it could restart production at Sturgis within two weeks of FDA approval, adding it is prioritizing production at its Columbus, Ohio, facility and air-shipping formula from its Ireland plant.

The company announced the recall on Feb. 17.

On Feb. 28, the FDA warned of Cronobacter sakazakii and Salmonella Newport infections in babies fed with formula produced at the Michigan plant. The FDA finished inspecting that facility on March 18, and the company responded on April 8, Abbott said.

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More Ukraine fighters surrendering in Mariupol, Russia says

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© Reuters. Buses carrying service members of Ukrainian forces who have surrendered after weeks holed up at Azovstal steel works drive away under escort of the pro-Russian military in the course of Ukraine-Russia conflict in Mariupol, Ukraine May 17, 2022. REUTERS/Al

By Max Hunder

KYIV/MARIUPOL, Ukraine (Reuters) – Moscow said nearly 700 more Ukrainian fighters had surrendered in Russian-held Mariupol as it shored up a key gain in the south, while the United States became the latest Western country to reopen its embassy in Kyiv.

Ukraine has ordered its garrison in Mariupol to stand down, but the ultimate outcome of Europe’s bloodiest battle for decades remains unresolved.

Top commanders of Ukrainian fighters who had made their last stand at the Azovstal steelworks in the port city are still inside the plant, according to the leader of pro-Russian separatists in control of the area, Denis Pushilin, quoted by local news agency DNA on Wednesday.

Ukrainian officials have declined to comment publicly on the fate of the fighters.

“The state is making utmost efforts to carry out the rescue of our service personnel,” military spokesman Oleksandr Motuzaynik told a news conference. “Any information to the public could endanger that process.”

Ukraine confirmed the surrender of more than 250 fighters on Tuesday but did not say how many more were inside.

Russia said on Wednesday an additional 694 more fighters had surrendered, bringing the total number to 959. Its defence ministry posted videos of what it said were Ukrainian fighters receiving hospital treatment after surrendering at Azovstal.

Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, the Red Cross and the United Nations were involved in talks, Mariupol Mayor Vadym Boichenko said, but gave no details.

Mariupol is the biggest city Russia has captured so far and allows Russian President Vladimir Putin to claim a rare victory in the invasion it began on Feb. 24.

Moscow has focussed on the south-east in recent offensives after pulling away from Kyiv, where, in a further sign of normalization, the United States said it had resumed operations at its embassy on Wednesday.

“The Ukrainian people… have defended their homeland in the face of Russia’s unconscionable invasion, and, as a result, the Stars and Stripes are flying over the Embassy once again,” said U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken.

A small number of diplomats would return initially to staff the mission but consular operations will not resume immediately, said embassy spokesperson Daniel Langenkamp.

Canada, Britain and others have also recently resumed embassy operations.

Ukrainian resistance continues in Russian-occupied territory. In the southern city of Melitopol, Ukraine said its fighters, using an explosive device, blew up an armoured train carrying Russian troops.

Reuters could not independently verify the details. Russia’s Ministry of Defence did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Moscow says it is engaged in a “special military operation” to demilitarise and “denazify” its neighbour. The West and Kyiv call that a false pretext for invasion.

NATO APPLICATION

Finland and Sweden formally applied for NATO membership on Wednesday, a decision made in the wake of the Ukrainian invasion and the very kind of expansion that Putin cited as a reason for attacking Ukraine.

U.S. Ambassador to NATO Julianne Smith called for an expedited accession process that could be “done in a couple of months”, but NATO member Turkey said its approval depended on the return of “terrorists”, namely Kurdish militants and Fethullah Gulen followers.

Finland and Sweden were both militarily non-aligned throughout the Cold War.

Although Russia had threatened retaliation against the plans, Putin said on Monday their NATO membership would not be an issue unless the alliance sent more troops or weapons there.

Russia could, however, cut off gas supplies to Finland this week, Finland’s state-owned energy provider Gasum said.

The European Commission announced a 210 billion euro ($220 billion) plan for Europe to end its reliance on Russian oil, gas and coal by 2027.

Meanwhile, Google (NASDAQ:GOOGL) became the latest big Western company to pull out of Russia, saying its local unit had filed for bankruptcy and was forced to shut operations after its bank accounts were seized.

DONBAS ATTACKS

On the battle front, Russian forces continued to press on with their main offensive, trying to capture more territory in the eastern Donbas region which Moscow claims on behalf of separatists.

The capture of Mariupol, the main port for the Donbas, has given Moscow full control of the Sea of Azov and an unbroken swathe of territory across Ukraine’s east and south.

The governor of the Luhansk region, part of the Donbas, said there had been a number of attacks there.

“Most of the shelling today was conducted in Severodonetsk and villages nearby… The Russians are still trying to cut the “road of life” through the centre of Luhansk region linking Lysychansk and Bakhmut,” Serhity Gaidai wrote on Telegram.

($1 = 0.9550 euros)

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Massachusetts identifies first 2022 U.S. case of monkeypox infection

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2/2

© Reuters. An electron microscopic (EM) image shows mature, oval-shaped monkeypox virus particles as well as crescents and spherical particles of immature virions, obtained from a clinical human skin sample associated with the 2003 prairie dog outbreak in this undated image obtained by Reuters on May 18, 2022. Cynthia S. Goldsmith, Russell Regnery/CDC/Handout via REUTERS

2/2

By Deena Beasley

(Reuters) – The Massachusetts Department of Public Health on Wednesday said it had confirmed a single case of monkeypox virus infection in a man who had recently traveled to Canada.

The state agency said it was working with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and relevant local boards of health to carry out contact tracing, adding that “the case poses no risk to the public, and the individual is hospitalized and in good condition.”

Monkeypox, which mostly occurs in west and central Africa, is a rare viral infection similar to human smallpox, though milder. It was first recorded in the Democratic Republic of Congo in the 1970s. The number of cases in West Africa has increased in the last decade.

Symptoms include fever, headaches and skin rashes starting on the face and spreading to the rest of the body.

The Massachusetts agency said the virus does not spread easily between people, but transmission can occur through contact with body fluids, monkeypox sores, items such as bedding or clothing that have been contaminated with fluids or sores, or through respiratory droplets following prolonged face-to-face contact.

It said no monkeypox cases had previously been identified in the United States this year. Texas and Maryland each reported a case in 2021 in people with recent travel to Nigeria.

The CDC did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

A handful of cases of monkeypox have recently been reported or are suspected in the United Kingdom, Portugal and Spain.

Earlier on Wednesday, Portuguese authorities said they had identified five cases of the infection and Spain’s health services said they were testing 23 potential cases after Britain put Europe on alert for the virus.

European Health authorities are monitoring any outbreak of the disease since Britain reported its first case on May 7 and has found six more in the country since then.

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