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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North Korea’s Kim Gets New Title in Symbolic Move at Congress

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un was given a new title, “general secretary” of the ruling Workers’ Party, a post held by his late father and grandfather, state media reported Monday, a largely symbolic appointment apparently aimed at bolstering his authority amid growing economic challenges at home.The party’s ongoing congress, the first in kind in five years, announced Kim’s new title during its sixth-day session Sunday. A congress statement said Kim “has gloriously realized the historic mission to complete the country’s nuclear build-up plan,” according to the official Korean Central News Agency.The new title is largely seen as a symbolic move as Kim has already been the party’s top leader. During a 2016 party congress, he was named party chairman, largely the equivalent of general secretary held by his father, Kim Jong Il, and grandfather, Kim Il Sung. Before the 2016 congress, Kim Jong Un had led the party with the title of first secretary.Since taking power in late 2011, Kim has taken up a slew of top posts and established the similar absolute power enjoyed by his predecessors. The two late North Korean leaders have kept posthumous titles — Kim Jong Il remains “eternal general secretary” and Kim Il Sung is “eternal president.”On Sunday, state media said the congress had determined to change the party’s Executive Policy Council into the Secretariat. The decision would lead to party officials relinquishing current titles such as chairman and vice chairman and start using old titles such as secretary or vice secretary.The congress is being held as Kim faces what appears to be the toughest moment of his nine-year rule because of multiple blows to his country’s already-fragile economy caused by pandemic-related border closings that have drastically reduced external trade, a series of natural disasters and U.S.-led sanctions.During the congress, Kim Jong Un vowed to enlarge his nuclear arsenal and build more sophisticated weapons systems to cope with what he calls intensifying U.S. hostile policy. He also admitted a previous five-year economic development plan failed and disclosed a new development that focuses on building a stronger self-reliant economy.
 

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Zimbabwe Police Arrest Journalist for Third Time in 6 Months

Prominent Zimbabwean journalist Hopewell Chin’ono appeared in court Saturday after police arrested him for “peddling falsehoods.” Media monitor groups fear Chin’ono’s arrest — his third in six months — may be part of efforts by President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s government to stifle freedom of expression on social media.Chin’ono arrived Saturday at the Harare Magistrate’s Court in full personal protective equipment (PPE), complaining about his continued “persecution.”“Because we tell them the truth, we comment about corruption, they look for frivolous charges to throw at me,” he said. “But as a journalist I am covered by the law.”He sat for close to four hours as prosecutors looked for PPE to wear before proceeding with his case. Chin’ono said he has been in contact with two people who have since tested positive for coronavirus.Harrison Nkomo of Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights told reporters that his client, Chin’ono, would be acquitted of the latest charge of “peddling falsehoods.”“We are challenging placement of Hopewell on remand,” he said. “The basis of our challenge is that they are proceeding in respect of a piece of legislation, which was repealed. I do not want to delve much into my argument.”In 2014, Zimbabwe’s Constitutional Court removed from the country’s statutes the criminalization of the publication of false statements undermining public confidence in the uniformed forces.Tabani Moyo of Media Institute of Southern Africa in Zimbabwe said this third arrest of Chin’ono is intended to intimidate citizens and journalists in Zimbabwe.“This immediate case points to a clear case of trying to effect a chilling effect on the media,” Moyo said. “How do you come to a conclusion that Hopewell has violated any law of the country for providing an opinion on a video clip that has thousands of people communicating on it? Why, why arriving at Hopewell, a journalist for that matter? So, it is an assault on the media. Secondly, it is meant to send chilling effect not only to the media, but to the users of the online spaces. This is a dangerous trend we are seeing.”Monica Mutsvangwa, Zimbabwe’s information minister, said Saturday that she would comment on the matter only after the courts had disposed of the case.Meanwhile, Chin’ono is scheduled to be back in court Monday, when his lawyer is expected to challenge the law under which he was charged Thursday.Chin’ono had been free on bail since last year for two charges when he was picked up on the latest charge.In July 2020, Chin’ono was arrested for advocating on social media anti-government protests being organized by activists. Then he was arrested in November for obstruction of justice and demeaning the country’s National Prosecution Authority.Chin’ono denies both those charges.

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US Motions Expand Drug Claims Against Honduras President

U.S. federal prosecutors have filed motions saying that Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernández took bribes from drug traffickers and had the country’s armed forces protect a cocaine laboratory and shipments to the United States.The documents quote Hernández as saying he wanted to “‘shove the drugs right up the noses of the gringos’ by flooding the United States with cocaine.”The motions filed Friday with the U.S. Southern District of New York do not specifically name the president, referring to him as “CC-4,” or co-conspirator No. 4, but clearly identify him by naming his brother and his own post as president.The president, who has not been charged, has repeatedly denied any connection to traffickers despite the 2019 conviction of one of his brothers, Juan Antonio Hernandez. During that trial, the president was accused of accepting more than $1 million from Mexican drug trafficker Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán — an accusation repeated in the new motions.He has said that traffickers are falsely accusing him to seek vengeance for clamping down on them. The government did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the new filings.The motions seek pretrial approval to admit evidence in the case of Geovanny Fuentes Ramírez, who was arrested in Miami in March. And they expand upon allegations filed shortly after the arrest accusing Hernandez of taking bribes in exchange for protection from law enforcement.Fuentes Ramirez is accused of conspiring to smuggle cocaine into the United States, and the motions filed Friday accuse him of producing “hundreds of kilograms a month” of cocaine and of having several people killed to protect his illicit business.”By late 2013, the defendant partnered directly with CC-4 and high-ranking officials in the Honduran military. At this time, CC-4 was pursuing election as the president of Honduras as a member of the Partido Nacional de Honduras (the “National Party”),” the motion said.It added that a witness “would testify that they and other drug traffickers were paying massive bribes to CC-4 in exchange for protection from law enforcement and extradition to the United States,” and that the president-to-be “accepted approximately $1 million in drug trafficking proceeds that was provided to his brother by the former leader of the Sinaloa Cartel, Joaquín Guzmán Loera.”Prosecutors say he had agreed to work through the president’s now-convicted brother.The motions also implicate senior military, police, political and business figures in laundering money and bribery.Hernandez, who had been president of congress before being elected president in 2013, was reelected in 2017 to a term that ends in January 2022. He has cooperated with the Trump administration and its efforts to stem migration from his nation and others in Central America.During a January 2020 visit to Honduras, acting U.S. Department of Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf said, “Honduras is a valued and proven partner to the United States in managing migration and promoting security and prosperity in Central America.”

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Cameroon Says Boko Haram, Separatists on Offensive

Cameroon said Saturday that at least 22 people, including four soldiers, were killed in two Friday morning attacks – one by Boko Haram fighters on its northern border with Nigeria and the other by separatists fighting to create an independent English-speaking state in the country’s western regions. Officials warn of a new wave of violence and killing they say is being prepared by the separatists and Boko Haram terrorists.Midjiyawa Bakari, governor of Cameroon’s Far North region, says there was general confusion in the town of Mozogo when militiamen warned civilians about Boko Haram suicide bombers from neighboring Nigeria in their midst.He said some scared people fled into the bush, where they always go for safety, but many Nigerian suicide bombers were already hiding there. He said 11 civilians were killed on the spot when bombers detonated explosives. He said three were shot by the terrorist group in Mozogo, a town in Cameroon’s Mayo Sava administrative unit.”Yesterday (Friday) we got an attack of Boko Haram in Mayo Tsanaga Division. Fourteen people died,” said Bakari. “We have been instructed by the hierarchy to extend a message of condolence and we condemn this act of Boko Haram and all measures will be taken with our vigilant committees [militias], who are working day and night alongside our forces to secure our populations.”Cameroon Says Explosives Planted by Separatists Killed 5, Including Female JournalistNo one has yet claimed responsibility for attack in secessionist English-speaking North West regionBakari said the wounded were rushed to hospitals in Mozogo and the neighboring town of Mokolo. He said the military had been deployed in Mozogo to secure Cameroon’s northern border with Nigeria’s Borno state, an epicenter of Boko Haram activity.Cameroon government spokesperson Rene Emmanuel Sadi in a release said heavily armed Boko Haram fighters have infiltrated villages around Mozogo and called for vigilance.The release also says separatist fighters attacked a military post at Matazen at the western entrance to the English-speaking North-West, region killing four soldiers and two civilians. Two civilians died while being rushed to hospitals.Among the survivors of the attack is 43-year-old trader Clarence Tatah, who was driving from the English-speaking northwestern town of Bamenda to the coastal city of Douala. He says God saved his life from more than half an hour of crossfire.”I opened that door behind there and jumped out of the car,” said Tatah. “Then I rolled and came under the car. After the shooting lasted for about 30 to 40 minutes, I discovered that a bullet went through my chair [seat] and came out behind. God protected me. The Lord preserved me.”General Valere Nka, commander of the Cameroon military forces fighting the separatists, says his troops transported several wounded people to hospitals. He says physical damage was enormous. Nka says civilians should help the military find the fighters by reporting suspects in their communities.He says the task ahead is still enormous because there are many rebel camps his troops must destroy. He says it is imperative for everyone to know that the military is there primarily to protect civilians. He says he is urging the population to collaborate with the military, which is doing everything possible to protect civilians and their goods and restore peace.Cameroon has been fighting to secure its northern border with Nigeria from Boko Haram incursions and combating separatist fighters in its English-peaking western regions.No one has claimed responsibility for the attacks in the northern town of Mozogo and the western locality of Matazen. The government, however, blames Boko Haram and separatist fighters for the separate attacks.The separatist crisis that is in its fourth year has killed over 3,000 people and displaced more than 500,000 others according to the United Nations.Boko Haram terrorists have been fighting for 11 years to create an Islamic caliphate in northeast Nigeria. The fighting has spread to Cameroon, Chad, Niger and Benin.  The United Nations says Boko Haram violence has cost the lives of 30,000 people and displaced about 2 million in Nigeria, Cameroon, Niger and Chad.

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US Lawmakers Demand Investigation of Capitol Security

U.S. lawmakers are calling for an investigation of the police force that protects the Capitol, while also offering praise for their actions, after Wednesday’s storming of the seat of the country’s legislative branch by a mob of pro-Trump supporters.The push for answers was led by two Democrats who in the new Congress will lead the subcommittees that have budget oversight for the U.S. Capitol Police.   “There will be many videos, some [will] raise concern, some will show heroism. We need a full investigation on how the Capitol’s security was breached this quickly,” said Senator Chris Murphy.Congressman Tim Ryan pointed to a lack of preparation ahead of Wednesday’s planned rallies where supporters of President Donald Trump gathered to back his continued baseless rejection of his election loss.“I think it’s pretty clear that there’s going to be a number of people who are going to be without employment very, very soon because this is an embarrassment both on behalf of the mob, and the president, and the insurrection, and the attempted coup, but also the lack of professional planning and dealing with what we knew was going to occur,” he said.Congresswoman Ilhan Omar added: “We spend billions of dollars on national security and today failed to protect our Nation’s Capital from a lawless mob. Unacceptable!”Wednesday’s series of events began with Trump speaking at a noon rally on the Ellipse, just south of the White House, urging the crowd to continue fighting the election results as members of Congress were preparing to certify the count two kilometers away.“We’re going to walk down Pennsylvania Avenue … and we’re going to the Capitol … we’re going to try and give our Republicans … the kind of pride and boldness that they need to take back our country,” he said.  By 1:30 p.m., U.S. Capitol Police were telling people in a House of Representatives office building and an adjacent Library of Congress building to evacuate.  Just after 2 p.m., alerts went out about “an external security threat located on the West Front of the U.S. Capitol Building,” followed soon by another alert signaling a “security threat inside the building.”  Lawmakers and staff were told to find cover, lock doors and stay away from windows.  Robert Contee, chief of the city’s Metropolitan Police Department, said Capitol Police had at that point already called his department seeking help.  In some of the many videos of the mob’s actions shared on social media and by news organizations, Capitol Police officers can be seen being overwhelmed by the vastly larger crowds who stormed through waist-high barricades and evaded officers who were trying to halt their progress.  Other rioters scaled walls as members of the crowd smashed windows to get inside.  Members of the House and Senate, along with Vice President Mike Pence, who was presiding over the certification session, were evacuated.  The mob spent hours inside the building, including the office of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, leaving behind smashed doors and furniture before exiting with little resistance as officers pushed to secure the site.  By 6 p.m. when Capitol Police, helped by local officers as well as the National Guard and federal law enforcement agencies, regained control, police had shot dead one woman and three other people were dead from medical emergencies, according to Contee.  Metropolitan Police said they arrested 52 people, and 14 of the department’s officers were injured.  Washington Mayor Muriel Bowser issued a curfew order that went into effect a short time later, set to last all night.  Around 9 p.m., lawmakers were back inside the Capitol to resume their session.  “I just walked through the Capitol on my way back to the House floor,” Republican Congressman Kelly Armstrong said late Wednesday.  “The Capitol Police are still there. Exhausted, bloodied, bandaged, some are on stretchers. They did their job today and they did it well.  They are still here. Protecting the United States Capitol so that the House and Senate can convene and fulfill our constitutional duty.”  Republican Senator Mitt Romney tweeted his thanks to the Capitol Police, FBI, Secret Service and National Guard, commending their “professionalism and bravery.”  “Grateful to you for keeping us safe every day, & especially today,” he posted. Congressman Earl Blumenauer, a Democrat from Oregon, thanked those he called the Capitol’s “unsung heroes.”  “Maintenance workers, cafeteria employees, and support staff didn’t deserve to be terrorized today. I appreciate you all,” he said.  As the clocked turned from Wednesday into Thursday, the FBI issued a call for the public to provide any photos, videos or information about the rioters.  At 1:13 a.m. came a final U.S. Capitol Police alert: “The USCP has cleared the internal security threat incident. Return to normal operations.”  With the west front of the Capitol set to host President-elect Joe Biden’s inauguration on January 20, Bowser said she extended an emergency order for 15 days “to ensure peace and security.”  The U.S. Secret Service leads security efforts for the inauguration, but typically gets help from numerous agencies such as the Capitol Police, Metropolitan police, Federal Aviation Administration and National Guard.  The U.S. Capitol Police website lists the agency’s annual budget at approximately $460 million with a staff of more than 2,300 officers and civilian employees.  

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Declining Press Freedom during the pandemic

The runoff election in the southern state of Georgia took place on Tuesday in the United States. While results may not be known for days, what is known is that two candidates could usher in a few firsts if elected. Plus updates on the global response to the pandemic and how China took the lead in media suppression last year.

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Declining Press Freedom during the pandemic

The runoff election in the southern state of Georgia took place on Tuesday in the United States. While results may not be known for days, what is known is that two candidates could usher in a few firsts if elected. Plus updates on the global response to the pandemic and how China took the lead in media suppression last year.

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