Justice department watchdog opens inquiry on 2020 election

On the same day the Department of Justice’s inspector general opened an investigation as to whether any current or former officials “engaged in an improper attempt” to overturn the 2020 presidential election, the U.S. Senate accepted the Articles of Impeachment against former President Donald Trump. Plus, a court in Uganda has ordered security forces to end the de facto house arrest of opposition leader Bobi Wine, calling it unlawful and a violation of his rights. And using technology to empower youth.

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Justice department watchdog opens inquiry on 2020 election

On the same day the Department of Justice’s inspector general opened an investigation as to whether any current or former officials “engaged in an improper attempt” to overturn the 2020 presidential election, the U.S. Senate accepted the Articles of Impeachment against former President Donald Trump. Plus, a court in Uganda has ordered security forces to end the de facto house arrest of opposition leader Bobi Wine, calling it unlawful and a violation of his rights. And using technology to empower youth.

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Biden Talks to Trudeau, Lopez Obrador, Johnson in First Calls to Foreign Leaders

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson made clear to President Joe Biden on Saturday that he’s eager to forge a new U.S.-Britain trade deal.Johnson’s push for a deal came during a wide-ranging call between the two leaders that touched on the global response to the coronavirus pandemic as well as the Biden administration’s announcement this week that the U.S. would rejoin the Paris climate accord and the World Health Organization, according to a statement from Downing Street.A new trade agreement between the allies is a higher priority for Johnson than it is for Biden. Britain regained control over its national trade policy at the start of the month following the end of a post-Brexit transition period.White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Friday that the administration had no timeline for forging a new trade deal because Biden’s attention was largely focused on getting the coronavirus pandemic under control and pressing Congress to pass the president’s $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief plan.The call with Johnson was at least Biden’s third call with a foreign counterpart since Friday. The president spoke with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador on Friday evening.Aid to halt immigrationOn Saturday, Lopez Obrador said Biden told him the U.S. would send $4 billion to help development in Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala, nations whose hardships have spawned tides of migration through Mexico toward the United States.López Obrador said that during their Friday call, the two discussed immigration and the need to address the root causes of why people migrate. Mexico has stopped recent attempts by caravans of Central American migrants to cross Mexico.FILE – Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador gives his daily news conference at the presidential palace in Mexico City, Dec. 18, 2020.Biden’s call with López Obrador came at a tense moment, days after the Mexican president accused the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration of fabricating drug trafficking charges against the country’s former defense secretary.But López Obrador said in a statement Friday that the conversation with Biden was “friendly and respectful.”Biden’s call to Trudeau came after the Canadian prime minister this week publicly expressed disappointment at Biden’s decision to issue an executive order halting construction of the Keystone XL oil pipeline. The long-disputed project was projected to carry about 800,000 barrels of oil a day from the tar sands of Alberta to the Texas Gulf Coast, passing through Montana, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas and Oklahoma.Biden told Trudeau that by issuing the order he was following through on a campaign pledge, a senior Canadian government official told The Associated Press. The official spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the private conversation.The White House said in a statement that Biden acknowledged Trudeau’s disappointment with his Keystone decision.’Perfect alignment’ is rareTrudeau told reporters before the call Friday that he wouldn’t allow his differences with Biden over the project to become a source of tension in the U.S.-Canada relationship.FILE – Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau attends a news conference in Ottawa, July 13, 2020.”It’s not always going to be perfect alignment with the United States,” Trudeau said. “That’s the case with any given president, but we’re in a situation where we are much more aligned on values and focus. I am very much looking forward to working with President Biden.”Biden and Trudeau also discussed the prospects of Canada being supplied with the COVID-19 vaccine from pharmaceutical giant Pfizer’s facility in Kalamazoo, Michigan, according to a second senior Canadian government official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe a private conversation.Canada has been getting all of its Pfizer doses from a Pfizer facility in Puurs, Belgium, but Pfizer has informed Canada it won’t get any doses next week and will get 50% less than expected over the next three weeks. Ontario Premier Doug Ford has publicly asked Biden to share a million doses made at Pfizer’s Michigan facility.The U.S. federal government has an agreement with Pfizer in which the first 100 million doses of the vaccine produced in the U.S. will be owned by the U.S. government and will be distributed in the U.S.The two leaders also spoke broadly about trade, defense and climate issues. Trudeau also raised the cases of two Canadians imprisoned in China in apparent retaliation for the arrest of a top Huawei executive, who was apprehended in Canada on a U.S. extradition request, according to the prime minister’s office. 

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WHO: Equitable Vaccine Distribution at ‘Serious Risk’

This week the head of the World Health Organization warns the world is on the brink of a “catastrophic moral failure” over the distribution of COVID-19 vaccines. This comes after some countries are already well underway with their vaccination campaigns, while others do not know when they will get their first shots. More from VOA Correspondent Mariama Diallo.

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As Schools Reopen in Nigeria, Experts Urge Caution

Nigerian authorities reopened schools across the country Monday despite a jump in confirmed cases of COVID-19.  But while millions of students are excited to return to class, health authorities are urging caution.  Timothy Obiezu reports from Abuja.  Videographer: Emeka Gibson.   
  

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China Vows to Take Action Against US Officials for ‘Nasty Behavior’ in Regards to Taiwan

China says it will impose sanctions on U.S. officials who have engaged in what it described as “nasty behavior” over dealings with Taiwan.  Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying issued the vow Monday during a daily briefing with reporters in Beijing, without mentioning any specific individuals or what actions would be taken against them.    China has vowed to counter a decision made by outgoing U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo issued on FILE – U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo speaks during a briefing to the media at the State Department in Washington, Nov. 10, 2020.Beijing’s anger was further stoked when Kelly Craft, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, spoke directly to Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen after calling off a planned trip to the island.   Beijing considers the democratically-ruled island as part of its territory despite their break since the end of China’s civil war in 1949, when Mao Zedong’s Communist forces drove Chaing Kai-shek’s Nationalist forces off the mainland to Taiwan. Washington officially switched formal diplomatic relations from Taipei to Beijing in 1979, but the Trump administration has angered China as it increasingly embraced Taiwan both diplomatically and militarily since taking office in 2017. China stepped up military flights into Taiwan’s air defense identification zone after Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar traveled to Taiwan in August and State Department Undersecretary Keith Krach arrived a month later. 

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An inauguration like no other

Except for rare cases, the inauguration of a new president symbolizes the American tradition of a peaceful transfer of power. But how and why will Wednesday’s inauguration of Joe Biden be unique? Plus, The director-general of the World Health Organization, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, warns the inequitable distribution of COVID-19 vaccines between rich and poor countries will prolong the global pandemic.

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India Begins COVID-19 Inoculation Campaign

India began its COVID-19 vaccine campaign Saturday.   Frontline workers are slated to receive the first inoculations.  The campaign began after Prime Minister Narendra Modi delivered a nationally televised speech. “We are launching the world’s biggest vaccination drive and it shows the world our capability,” Modi said. COVID-19 deaths worldwide exceeded 2 million Friday, according to Johns Hopkins University, a year after the coronavirus was first detected in Wuhan, China. “Behind this terrible number are names and faces, the smile that will now only be a memory, the seat forever empty at the dinner table, the room that echoes with the silence of a loved one,” U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres told reporters Friday. Worldwide COVID-19 Deaths Top 2 MillionUN secretary-general says death toll worsened by lack of global coordination   Guterres also said the death toll “has been made worse by the absence of a global coordinated effort,” and added that, “science has succeeded, but solidarity has failed.”  The United States remains at the top of the COVID case list with the most cases and deaths. Johns Hopkins reports more than 23 million COVID-19 cases in the U.S., with a death toll rapidly approaching 400,000.  Some states, having vaccinated their front-line workers, have opened vaccinations to older people but have been overrun with requests. Medical facilities are on the verge of running out of vaccines. In many instances, the technology used to take the requests has crashed.   President-elect Joe Biden unveiled a plan Friday to speed up the U.S. COVID-19 vaccine rollout, including increased federal funding, setting up thousands of vaccination centers, and invoking the Defense Production Act to expand the production of vaccination supplies.Biden Will Seek to Increase Federal Support to Speed Up Vaccine Rollout President-elect says he will invoke Defense Production Act The wide-ranging plan is part of Biden’s effort to achieve his goal for 100 million Americans to be vaccinated within 100 days. “You have my word: We will manage the hell out of this operation,” he told reporters near his home in Wilmington, Delaware. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warned Friday that a newly detected and highly contagious variant of the coronavirus may become the dominant strain in the U.S. by March.  The variant, first detected in Britain, threatens to exacerbate the coronavirus crisis in the U.S., where daily infection and hospitalization records are commonplace. Sorry, but your browser cannot support embedded video of this type, you can
download this video to view it offline.Download File360p | 9 MB480p | 12 MB540p | 16 MB720p | 29 MB1080p | 59 MBOriginal | 75 MB Embed” />Copy Download AudioCampaign Aims to Convince Americans COVID Vaccine SafeThe CDC said the variant apparently does not cause more severe illness but is more contagious than the current dominant strain. Later Friday, the Oregon Health Authority reported that an individual with “no known travel history” had tested positive for the British variant.   “As we learn more about this case and the individual who tested positive for this strain, OHA continues to promote effective public health measures, including wearing masks, maintaining six feet of physical distance, staying home, washing your hands, and avoiding gatherings and travel,” the agency said in a statement.  Also Friday, some U.S. governors accused the Trump administration of deceiving states about the amount of COVID-19 vaccine they can expect to receive. Government officials say states were misguided in their expectations of vaccine amounts. U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar told NBC News on Friday that the U.S. does not have a reserve stockpile of COVID vaccines as many had believed. However, he said he is confident that there will enough vaccine produced to provide a second dose for people.Biden Announces $1.9 Trillion Coronavirus Relief PackageTransition team describes plan as ‘ambitious but achievable’The two COVID-19 vaccines approved for use in the U.S. — made by Pfizer and Moderna – are designed to be given in two doses several weeks apart.Pfizer said in a statement Friday that has been holding onto supplies of second doses for each of its COVID-19 vaccinations shipped so far, and anticipates no problems supplying them to Americans.  As of Friday, the U.S. government said it had distributed over 31 million doses of the vaccine. The CDC said about 12.3 million doses had been administered.Earlier on Friday, Pfizer announced there would be a temporary impact on shipments of its vaccine to European countries in late January to early February caused by changes to its manufacturing processes in an effort boost output.The health ministers of six EU countries — Sweden, Denmark, Finland, Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia – said the Pfizer situation is “unacceptable.””Not only does it impact the planned vaccination schedules, it also decreases the credibility of the vaccination process,” they said in a letter to the EU Commission about the vaccine delays.In Brazil, the country’s air force flew emergency oxygen supplies Friday to the jungle state of Amazonas, which is facing a growing surge in the virus. Health authorities in the state said oxygen supplies had run out at some hospitals because of the high numbers of patients. Brazil’s Health Ministry reported 1,151 deaths from COVID-19 Thursday, the fourth consecutive day with more than 1,000 fatalities. China reported its first COVID-19 death in eight months Thursday amid a surge in the country’s northeast as a World Health Organization team arrived in Wuhan to investigate the beginning of the pandemic. China’s death toll is 4,796, a relatively low number resulting from the country’s stringent containment and tracing measures.  China has imposed various lockdown measures on more than 20 million people in Beijing, Hebei and other areas to contain the spread of infections before the Lunar New Year holiday in February. The relatively low number of COVID-related deaths in China has raised questions about China’s tight control of information about the outbreak.  The WHO investigative team arrived Thursday after nearly a year of talks with the WHO and diplomatic disagreements between China and other countries that demanded that China allow a thorough independent investigation.   Two members of the 10-member team were stopped in Singapore after tests revealed antibodies to the virus in their blood, while the rest of the team immediately entered a 14-day quarantine period in Wuhan before launching their investigation.  The coronavirus was first detected in Wuhan in late 2019 and quickly spread throughout the world.   Officials said Thursday that infections in the northeastern Heilongjiang province have surged to their highest levels in 10 months, nearly tripling during that period.   Elsewhere in Asia, Japanese authorities have expanded a state of emergency to stop a surge in coronavirus cases.   Coronavirus infections and related deaths have roughly doubled in Japan over the past month to more than 317,000 cases and more than 4,200 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University.  The emergency was initially declared a week ago and was expanded to cover seven new regions. The restrictions are not binding, and many people have ignored requests to avoid nonessential travel, prompting the governor to voice concern about the lack of commitment to the guidelines.  Indonesia reported 12,818 new infections Friday, its largest daily tally.  

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British, South African COVID Variants Spreading Around Globe

The British variant of the COVID-19 virus, thought by scientists to be much more contagious, has been found in France and Russia, according to news reports Sunday.
 
Russia, which has recorded more than 3 million cases of the virus, had already suspended flights from Britain until January 13 and is mandating a two-week isolation period for those traveling from Britain.
 
Meanwhile, Britain continues to grapple with high numbers of cases and deaths from COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, with many hospitals at capacity while lockdowns are in effect.
 
“The stark reality is that we will run out of beds for patients in the next couple of weeks unless the spread of the virus slows down drastically,” London Mayor Sadiq Khan said over the weekend.
 
The British variant of the virus has been found in 45 countries and at least eight states in the U.S. Another variant of the virus discovered in South Africa was found in some positive cases in Ireland Sunday.
 
Yet a third new variant has been found in Japan in travelers from Brazil.
 
Takaji Wakita, head of Japan’s National Institute of Infectious Diseases, said Sunday the newly discovered variant is different from the ones that have been identified in Britain and South Africa, but the three variants share a common mutation.
 
While the variants are worrisome, they are not unexpected. The coronavirus has made thousands of tiny modifications since it was first discovered, researchers say.Pope Francis: COVID-19 Inoculation An ‘Ethical Choice’There are 89.9 million global COVID-19 casesAlso Sunday, Pope Francis said the decision to get the COVID-19 vaccine is a matter of ethics.   
 
“It is an ethical choice because you are gambling with your health, with your life, but you are also gambling with the lives of others,” Francis said at the Vatican in an interview with Italian television station Canale 5.  
 
Vatican City is set to begin its a vaccine campaign this week, and Francis said he already has an appointment.  
 
Johns Hopkins University reported Sunday that there are more than 90 million global COVID-19 cases.  The U.S. has the most cases with more than 22 million, followed by India with more than 10 million and Brazil with more than 8 million.  
 
The African continent confirmed a total of 3 million cases of the virus on Sunday, as many countries are beginning to mark a second wave of infections and impose restrictions.
 
On Sunday, Algeria registered Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine against the coronavirus for use, the first African country to do so, Russia’s RDIF sovereign wealth fund said.
 
Algeria’s president was flown to Germany on Sunday for treatment of complications from COVID-19. 

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