WIN 1 of 25 double passes to The Food Club


WIN 1 of 25 double passes to The Food Club

THE FOOD CLUB is the story of three long-time girlfriends from elementary school, very different women, with one thing in common; they are in the fall of their lives and they all feel how ruthless old age can be. Marie is abandoned by her husband on Christmas Eve, and as a consequence, her identity as part of a happy family crumbles. Berling is the eternal “bachelor” who outwardly denies her age and lives the sweet life, but in the backdrop she is affected by a complicated relationship with her daughter. Vanja, on the other hand, lives in the memories of her late husband and has difficulty moving on.

The three women travel to Italy together to attend a food course in Puglia, and here they each have an opportunity to redefine themselves. But only when they are able to face reality, will they be able to change.

Enter your code word from The West Australian PLAY Magazine 23 January or The Sunday Times Guide 29 January for your chance to WIN.

Entries open January 23 and close midday 29 January 2021.



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Global Covid-19 Death Toll Passes Two Million


The global death toll from Covid-19 passed two million on Friday, with the World Health Organization (WHO) urging mass vaccinations as the pandemic progresses at a record rate.

As of 1825 GMT on Friday, at least 2,000,066 people worldwide had been confirmed dead of the virus that first emerged in Wuhan, central China, in late 2019, according to an AFP tally.





As Germany’s Meissen crematorium struggles to cope with an explosion in deaths from the coronavirus pandemic in the region, coffins are stacked up to three high or even stored in hallways awaiting cremation. Largely spared in the first wave of the outbreak, the eastern state of Saxony has topped Germany’s worst-hit zone for weeks in the second wave.
 AFPTV / Raphaelle LOGEROT

The grim milestone came as US pharmaceutical giant Pfizer said shipments of its vaccines would slow for a period in late January — a blow to fledgling campaigns to immunise people against the virus.

The WHO on Friday called for a worldwide acceleration in vaccine rollouts — as well as a ramp-up in efforts to study the sequencing of the virus, to tackle troubling new strains emerging around the world.



At Germany's Meissen crematorium, in the state of Saxony, coffins are stacked up three high, or even stored in hallways, awaiting cremation


At Germany’s Meissen crematorium, in the state of Saxony, coffins are stacked up three high, or even stored in hallways, awaiting cremation
 AFP / JENS SCHLUETER

“I want to see vaccination under way in every country in the next 100 days so that health workers and those at high risk are protected first,” Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told a press conference in Geneva.

His call came as infections snowballed, with 724,000 new cases recorded on average per day globally over the past week, according to AFP’s tally — a record 10 percent increase on a week earlier.



Britain now requires negative Covid tests for entry


Britain now requires negative Covid tests for entry
 AFP / DANIEL LEAL-OLIVAS

While countries from Spain to Lebanon have announced record caseloads, the surge has been most marked in Latin America and the Caribbean, where confirmed cases leapt 26 percent this week.



World map showing the number of Covid-19 deaths by country, as of November 13 at 1100 GMT


World map showing the number of Covid-19 deaths by country, as of November 13 at 1100 GMT
 AFP / Simon MALFATTO

In Europe, which has suffered more than 650,000 coronavirus deaths, there are concerns that delays to the Pfizer jabs could further slow a vaccine rollout that has already faced heavy criticism.



China is pushing ahead with an massive inoculation campaign


China is pushing ahead with an massive inoculation campaign
 AFP / Noel Celis

Pfizer, which jointly developed its vaccine with German company BioNTech, said EU countries could expect delayed deliveries in the coming weeks due to works at its plant in Belgium.

It promised that there would be “a significant increase” in shipments in March, and the European Commission said all vaccines ordered by the bloc for the first quarter would be delivered on time.

But ministers from Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Latvia, Lithuania and Sweden said in a joint letter that the situation was “unacceptable” and “decreases the credibility of the vaccination process”.



India will begin its huge vaccination programme on Saturday


India will begin its huge vaccination programme on Saturday
 AFP / Gagan NAYAR

not expected before the end of the year.

Many countries have meanwhile doubled down on restrictions as the cases mount.



The healthcare system in Manaus, Brazil, is under huge strain because of surging virus numbers


The healthcare system in Manaus, Brazil, is under huge strain because of surging virus numbers
 AFP / Michael DANTAS

Portugal entered a fresh lockdown Friday, and new curbs on populations were announced from Italy to Brazil.

At the Meissen crematorium in Germany’s Saxony state, coffins were stacked up to three high, awaiting cremation.



Scientists see large-scale vaccination as the way out of the crisis


Scientists see large-scale vaccination as the way out of the crisis
 AFP / JEAN-FRANCOIS MONIER

Manager Joerg Schaldach said that anyone still questioning the severity of the pandemic should take a look at the bodies piling up.

“This is heavy work, so why don’t the Covid-19 deniers come and do it,” he said. “We have a disastrous situation here.”

Brazil’s northern Amazonas state announced a curfew from 7.00 pm to 6.00 am, with the health system in state capital Manaus at breaking point.

The city’s hospital intensive care units have been at 100 percent capacity for the past two weeks, while medical workers are battling a shortage of oxygen and other essential equipment.

“This is a situation where your whole system begins to implode,” said WHO emergency director Michael Ryan.

Fear has been growing that a new strain of the virus found in Brazil could be more contagious, just like the variants recently found in Britain and South Africa.

Britain has banned all arrivals from South America and Portugal in a bid to prevent the new variant arriving, while also announcing Friday that all arrivals to the UK must show negative test results and quarantine.

Warnings from cash-strapped companies and governments about the economic fallout of the crisis are also piling up.

Italy said it was seeking to borrow an extra 32 billion euros, while senior French rail executive Christophe Fanichet said Eurostar was in “a very critical” state as the pandemic has reduced its service to just one London-Paris connection per day.

The UN aviation agency on Friday predicted “prolonged depressed demand” for air travel and more financial woes for airlines, following a year of fewer flights and big losses blamed on the pandemic.

Air travel plunged 60 percent in 2020 as nations closed borders and restricted travel to slow the spread of Covid-19, the International Civil Aviation Organization said in a report.

In the United States, President-elect Joe Biden unveiled a proposal for a $1.9 trillion relief package aimed at revitalising the world’s largest economy.

“In this moment of crisis… we cannot afford inaction,” Biden said.



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Global death toll from COVID-19 passes two million


“As a country, as a society, as citizens we haven’t understood,” lamented Israel Gomez, a Mexico City paramedic who spent months shuttling COVID-19 patients around by ambulance, desperately looking for vacant hospital beds. “We have not understood that this is not a game, that this really exists.”

Mexico, a country of 130 million people, has received just 500,000 doses of vaccine and has put barely half of those into the arms of healthcare workers.

That’s in sharp contrast to the situation for its wealthier northern neighbour. Despite early delays, hundreds of thousands of people are rolling up their sleeves every day in the United States, where the virus has killed about 390,000, by far the highest toll of any country.

All told, more than 35 million doses of various COVID-19 vaccines have been administered around the world, according to the University of Oxford.

While vaccination drives in rich countries have been hamstrung by long lines, inadequate budgets and a patchwork of state and local approaches, the obstacles are far greater in poorer nations, which can have weak health systems, crumbling transportation networks, entrenched corruption and a lack of reliable electricity to keep vaccines cold enough.

Also, the majority of the world’s COVID-19 vaccine doses have already been snapped up by wealthy countries. COVAX, a UN-backed project to supply shots to developing parts of the world, has found itself short of vaccine, money and logistical help.

As a result, the World Health Organisation’s chief scientist warned it is highly unlikely that herd immunity – which would require at least 70% of the globe to be vaccinated – will be achieved this year. As the disaster has demonstrated, it is not enough to snuff out the virus in a few places.

“Even if it happens in a couple of pockets, in a few countries, it’s not going to protect people across the world,” Dr Soumya Swaminathan said this week.

Health experts fear, too, that if shots are not distributed widely and fast enough, it could give the virus time to mutate and defeat the vaccine – “my nightmare scenario,” as Jha put it.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said the 2 million milestone “has been made worse by the absence of a global co-ordinated effort.” He added: “Science has succeeded, but solidarity has failed.”

A COVID-19 patient is treated in the intensive care unit of a hospital in Madrid, Spain.Credit:AP

Meanwhile, in Wuhan, where the scourge was discovered in late 2019, a global team of researchers led by WHO arrived on Thursday on a politically sensitive mission to investigate the origins of the virus, which is believed to have spread to humans from wild animals.

The Chinese city of 11 million people is bustling again, with few signs it was once the epicentre of the catastrophe, locked down for 76 days, with more than 3800 dead.

“We are not fearful or worried as we were in the past,” said Qin Qiong, a noodle shop owner. “We now live a normal life. I take the subway every day to come to work in the shop … Except for our customers, who have to wear masks, everything else is the same.”

It took eight months to hit 1 million dead but less than four months after that to reach the next million.

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While the death toll is based on figures supplied by government agencies around the world, the real number of lives lost to is believed to be significantly higher, in part because of inadequate testing and the many fatalities inaccurately attributed to other causes, especially early in the outbreak.

“What was never on the horizon is that so many of the deaths would be in the richest countries in the world,” said Dr Bharat Pankhania, an infectious diseases expert at Britain’s University of Exeter. “That the world’s richest countries would mismanage so badly is just shocking.”

In rich and poor countries alike, the crisis has devastated economies, thrown multitudes out of work and plunged many into poverty.

In Europe, where more than a quarter of the world’s deaths have taken place, strict lockdowns and curfews have been reimposed to beat back a resurgence of the virus, and a new variant that is believed to be more contagious is circulating in Britain and other countries, as well as the US.

Even in some of the wealthiest countries, the vaccination drives have been slower than expected. France, with the second-largest economy in Europe and more than 69,000 known virus deaths, will need years, not months, to vaccinate its 53 million adults unless it sharply speeds up its rollout, hampered by shortages, red tape and considerable suspicion of the vaccines.

Still, in places like Poissy, a blue-collar town west of Paris, the first shots of the Pfizer formula were met with relief and a sense that there is light at the end of the pandemic tunnel.

“We have been living inside for nearly a year. It’s not a life,” said Maurice Lachkar, a retired 78-year-old acupuncturist who was put on the priority list for vaccination because of his diabetes and his age. “If I catch the virus I am done.”

Maurice and his wife, Nicole, who also got vaccinated, said they might even allow themselves hugs with their two children and four grandchildren, whom they have seen from a socially safe distance only once or twice since the pandemic hit.

“It is going to be liberating,” he said.

Throughout the developing world, the images are strikingly similar: rows and rows of graves being dug, hospitals pushed to the limit and medical workers dying for lack of protective gear.

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In Peru, which has the highest COVID-19 fatality rate in Latin America, hundreds of healthcare workers went on strike this week to demand better pay and working conditions in a country where 230 doctors have died of the disease. In Brazil, authorities in the Amazon rainforest’s biggest city planned to transfer hundreds of patients out because of a dwindling supply of oxygen tanks that has resulted in some people dying at home.

In Honduras, anesthesiologist Dr Cesar Umaña is treating 25 patients in their homes by phone because hospitals lack the capacity and equipment.

“This is complete chaos,” he said.

AP

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New variant found in Japan in travellers from Brazil, Israel vaccines, Africa passes 3 million cases


Of the four travellers who arrived at Tokyo’s Haneda airport on January 2, a man in his 40s had a problem breathing, a woman in her 30s had a headache and sore throat and a teenage boy had a fever, while a teenage girl showed no symptoms, the ministry said.

All travellers are in quarantine at Tokyo’s airport, Brazil’s Health Ministry said.

After seeing a steep rise in coronavirus cases, Japan declared a state of emergency for Tokyo and three prefectures neighbouring the capital on Thursday.

The country has recorded about 289,000 cases in total, with 4061 deaths, public broadcaster NHK said.

Meanwhile, a top public health official says the highly infectious variant of the novel coronavirus seen in Britain has been detected in Russia.

Anna Popova, a doctor who heads Rospotrebnadzor, a government agency for human wellbeing, said on state television on Sunday that the variant has been found in one patient, who had returned to the country from Britain.

Russia overall has reported about 3.4 million cases of infection and 61,800 deaths. The number of daily new cases and fatalities has been declining since the start of 2021.

Israel races to be first to vaccinate population

Israel’s Prime Minister has personally welcomed a new shipment of Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus vaccines to the country.

Benjamin Netanyahu is racing to make Israel the first country to vaccinate its population. In just three weeks, Israel already has given the first of two vaccine doses to nearly 20 per cent of its population. It also has agreed to share data from the campaign with Pfizer in hopes of helping other countries end the pandemic.

At a small ceremony at Israel’s main international airport on Sunday, Netanyahu said Israel has secured enough vaccines to inoculate its adult population by the end of March. That would be just around the time of March 23 parliamentary elections.

Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu, centre, and Health Minister Yuli Edelstein, with a shipment of Pfizer coronavirus vaccine, at Ben Gurion Airport near the city of Lod, on Sunday.Credit:AP

Netanyahu is putting the aggressive vaccination drive at the forefront of his re-election hopes. Locked in a tough race, he seems to be counting that a successful vaccination drive will persuade voters to forget about his corruption trial and the economic damage caused by repeated coronavirus lockdowns.

Israel tightened its lockdown restrictions over the weekend, in what Netanyahu says is “one last effort” to halt a raging outbreak.

Israel has recorded more than 487,000 coronavirus infections and over 3,650 deaths since the pandemic emerged in the spring.

More than 3 million infected in Africa

The African continent has passed the milestone of 3 million confirmed cases COVID-19, including more than 72,000 deaths, according to the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention.

South Africa accounts for more than 30 per cent of the continent’s total with more than 1.2 million reported cases, including 32,824 deaths. The high proportion of cases in South Africa could be because the country carries out more tests than many other African countries.

A healthcare worker sanitises her hands before conducting COVID-19 tests at a drive-through testing station in Cape Town, South Africa.

A healthcare worker sanitises her hands before conducting COVID-19 tests at a drive-through testing station in Cape Town, South Africa.Credit:AP

South Africa is battling a resurgence of the disease, driven by a variant of the virus that is more contagious and spreading quickly. Many hospitals are reaching capacity, yet the numbers of those infected are expected to continue rising, according to health experts.

South Africa’s seven-day rolling average of daily new cases has risen over the past two weeks from 19.86 new cases per 100,000 people on December 26 to 30.18 new cases per 100,000 people on January 9, according to Johns Hopkins University.

South African President Cyril Ramaphosa will meet with his Cabinet this week to consider if further restrictions should be taken to slow the spread of the disease, while balancing the need to encourage economic growth.

Reuters

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US passes 20 million coronavirus cases as experts brace for holiday surge in cases and deaths


The United States has recorded more than 20 million cases of COVID-19, Johns Hopkins University said Friday in its real-time tally, as the New Year brought another grim milestone underlining the country’s struggle to quell the virus.

The US has so far registered 20,007,149 cases and 346,408 deaths in the pandemic, the Baltimore-based university said, making it the country with by far the highest official number of cases and the highest death toll.

On Wednesday alone, more than 3,900 people died of COVID-19 in the US, a new daily record, and experts believe the worst is yet to come as health care workers brace for a surge in cases and deaths after holiday gatherings.

More than 125,000 people are currently hospitalised with coronavirus – another record – according to the COVID Tracking Project.

The country has begun a mass campaign of vaccinations and nearly 2.8 million people have already received their first jabs, a figure well behind the 20 million inoculations that the administration of President Donald Trump promised by the end of the year.

More than 12 million doses have been distributed nationwide, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, but efforts to vaccinate health workers and vulnerable people have been hampered by logistical problems and overstretched hospitals and clinics.

President-elect Joe Biden, who takes office on 20 January, has criticised the troubled vaccine rollout, and this week confirmed that he would invoke the Korean War-era Defense Production Act to force private industry to step up production for the government.

He has implored Americans to wear masks to slow the spread of COVID-19 and said he would impose a mandate on face coverings in areas where the federal government has jurisdiction, such as airplanes.

‘We owe them’

Paying tribute to US health care workers on New Year’s Eve, Mr Biden said “they stepped up and they are brave. They have done so much for us, and we owe them.”

Under Mr Trump, US authorities have given often mixed messages on mask-wearing, social distancing and shutdowns, and the outgoing president has repeatedly downplayed the risks while cases have rocketed across the country.

US President-elect Joe Biden speaks about the COVID-19 crisis from the Queen Theatre in Wilmington, Delaware on Tuesday, 29 December.

AAP

In his New Year’s Eve message, Mr Trump hailed the “medical miracle” of coronavirus inoculations, adding “our most vulnerable citizens are already receiving the vaccine, and millions of doses are quickly being shipped all across our country.”

According to Johns Hopkins, the US took several months to reach 10 million cases on 9 November, before accelerating to 20 million cases on Friday.

After the US, the hardest-hit countries are Brazil with 194,949 deaths from 7,675,973 cases, and India with 148,994 deaths from 10,286,709 cases.

People in Australia must stay at least 1.5 metres away from others. Check your jurisdiction’s restrictions on gathering limits. If you are experiencing cold or flu symptoms, stay home and arrange a test by calling your doctor or contact the Coronavirus Health Information Hotline on 1800 020 080.

News and information is available in 63 languages at sbs.com.au/coronavirus. Please check the relevant guidelines for your state or territory: NSW, Victoria, Queensland, Western Australia, South Australia, Northern Territory, ACT, Tasmania.



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Argentine Senate passes landmark abortion bill


Argentina became one of only a handful of South American nations to legalise abortion on Wednesday, after hours of debate in the Senate.

Thousands of pro-choice activists cheered in the streets of the capital after the bill was approved 38 to 29, with one abstention.

It legalises voluntary abortions at any stage up to 14 weeks of pregnancy.

Ahead of the vote, pro-choice and anti-abortion demonstrators had gathered outside parliament despite coronavirus fears.

The vote overturns a similar one in 2018 which, although also passed the lower house, ultimately foundered in the Senate by 38 votes to 31.



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After UP, Madhya Pradesh Cabinet Passes Anti-Conversion Bill With 10 Years Prison


Forcing religious conversion will attract 1-5 years jail, says MP Home Minister Narottam Mishra.

The Madhya Pradesh Cabinet today passed by a voice vote a bill aimed at curbing forced religious conversions. If passed into law, it will include a maximum punishment of up to 10 years in jail and up to Rs 1 lakh in fine, with the burden of proof virtually falling on the accused and those associated with the accused, including organisations and institutions.

The Dharma Swatantrya (Religious Freedom) Bill 2020 was tabled at a meeting of the state Cabinet chaired by Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan, ahead of the Legislative Assembly session slated to be held later this month.

“Under the new bill, forcing religious conversion on someone will attract 1-5 years of imprisonment and a minimum Rs 25,000 fine,” said Madhya Pradesh Home Minister Narottam Mishra. However, if the persons converted belongs to a Scheduled Caste or Scheduled Tribe, it would draw a minimum jail term of 2-10 years with a maximum penalty of Rs 1 lakh.

Those looking to change their religion will have to notify two months ahead, failing which the marriage will be considered null and void under the new law. 

After he chaired a high-level meeting on the bill earlier this month, Chief Minister Chouhan had said that it will ensure that no religious conversion is carried out forcefully, or by tempting someone or through marriage.

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The Madhya Pradesh government’s move comes months after a similar law was passed by fiat by the Yogi Adityanath-led dispensation in Uttar Pradesh. Following this, several cases of alleged abuse of the law have surfaced.

Only yesterday, two teenagers walking home from a friend’s birthday party in Uttar Pradesh’s Bijnor were ambushed, harassed and taken to a police station in an incident that ended up being filed as a case of “love jihad” under the controversial new anti-conversion law.

Several legal luminaries, including retired judges such as Justices Madan B Lokur and AP Shah had said the UP ordinance was unsustainable and must be nullified immediately.



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U.S. passes 1 million people vaccinated for coronavirus


The nearly yearlong coronavirus pandemic has been full of gloomy numbers but Wednesday brought an encouraging one — more than 1 million people have received their first shot of a COVID-19 vaccine.

And that reported number is low, because many doses administrated in recent days have yet to be tabulated in the figures from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the agency said.

“With cases of COVID-19 continuing to surge nationwide, this achievement comes at a critical time and will help to protect those on the frontlines — our healthcare providers treating COVID-19 patients — as well as our most vulnerable: elder individuals living in nursing homes and assisted living facilities,” CDC Director Dr. Robert Redfield said.

The government has said it intends to distribute 20 million first doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines in the coming weeks. So far, about 9.5 million doses have been distributed.

“It’s been a big week of delivery of vaccines,” Gen. Gustave Perna, chief operating officer of Operation Warp Speed, told reporters Wednesday. “Over 7,800 deliveries by the end of tomorrow, as we are delivering the 7.9 million doses of vaccine that were allocated for this week around the country — really a tremendous feat.”

Perna said about 15.5 million doses of vaccine have been allocated and another 4.5-5 million will be allotted next week.

“We’ll finish those deliveries in the first week of January,” he said.

Health officials like Dr. Anthony Fauci, long-time director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, have said vaccines will help put the pandemic behind us — but most Americans, who won’t get vaccinated until next year, need to be vigilant with mask and social distancing measures for the next few months.

Nursing home vaccinations expected to rise

Thanks to coordinated efforts among the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and two major drugstore chains, Covid-19 vaccines have reached 238 long-term care facilities in 12 states, Perna said.

“Walgreens and CVS are being received by cheering crowds, and they’re operationalizing their efforts to make sure everybody gets the shots,” Perna said during a media briefing.

Perna said 13 more states and another 1,000 facilities with residents requiring long-term care will receive vaccine doses next week.

“Every week we’re just building on that as we go,” he said.

The chief scientific adviser for Operation Warp Speed predicted officials will start to see a decline in the number of people dying as more of the most vulnerable people are inoculated.

“Within two weeks from starting to immunize subjects that are living in long-term care facilities, we should start to see a decrease in the overall mortality in the country,” Moncef Slaoui said.

It is reasonable to assume the protection against severe disease provided by both Pfizer and Moderna’s vaccines will translate into prevention of death, Slaoui said.

He said the priority should be to maximize the number of people in long-term care facilities who are vaccinated.

“There are enough vaccine doses to immunize more or less 3 million individuals that are living in such facilities,” Slaoui said.

Surge saw cases and now deaths and hospitalizations spike

Thousands more families just lost a loved one this holiday season as the U.S. reported its second-highest number of coronavirus deaths in one day — 3,401 on Tuesday, according to Johns Hopkins University.

And by Wednesday evening, another 3,300 deaths were announced.

Hospitalizations were at an all-time high at 119,463.

In nine states, more people are hospitalized with COVID-19 than at any other point in this pandemic: Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Delaware, Georgia, Mississippi, New Hampshire and North Carolina, according to the COVID-19 Tracking Project.

Doctors say many deaths happening now were likely fueled by Thanksgiving travel and gatherings, since COVID-19 deaths typically happen weeks after infection.

“We were bracing for this and hoping that we were wrong,” said Dr. Esther Choo, a professor of emergency medicine at Oregon Health & Science University.

“But every holiday has been similar. And Thanksgiving, we saw the kind of travel that happened then. And people who are hospitalized in ICUs and dying now — many of them are because of the Thanksgiving surge.”

Health experts like Choo and Fauci, say the next 10 days could spark even more infections, hospitalizations and deaths than Thanksgiving did.

“Now we have an extended holiday between Christmas and New Year’s. And according to AAA estimates, even though this year’s travel is about 30% less than last year, it still means that 84 million people are going to be traveling over the holidays,” Choo said.

“And it’s not just the travel, it’s what’s happening on the other end — where they’re traveling to — which is a lot of family-and-friend gatherings. So I think we are already bracing for the outcome of that, which will be well into the end of January, into February. … And I have no doubt it will be surge on top of surge on top of surge.”

A new strain has probably already spread in the U.S.

Around the world, a mutated strain of the novel coronavirus is prompting concerns — including whether it’s more transmissible and whether current Covid-19 vaccines will work against it.

“I think I can be mostly reassuring,” said Dr. Francis Collins, director of the U.S. National Institutes of Health.

“First of all, this is not a surprise. This virus is an RNA virus. RNA viruses tend to change their instruction books slowly over time, which results in these kinds of variants emerging,” he said.

“The good news is that the antibodies that these vaccines generate are quite effective in terms of attaching to multiple parts of the spike protein. And so if there’s a change in it — which is what the mutant has done — we would expect that the vaccine should still be effective against that.”

Pfizer and Moderna, makers of the two vaccines currently being deployed in the U.S., said they’re testing their vaccines to see if they work against the new strain, which was first detected in the U.K.

Scientists advising the U.K. government estimated the new strain could be up to 70% more transmissible than other variants.

Peter Horby, chair of the New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group (NERVTAG), said Monday that experts “now have high confidence that this variant does have a transmission advantage” over other variants.

The U.K. variant doesn’t appear to cause more severe disease, and it appears that the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines will still be effective.

So far, the strain “has not been identified through sequencing efforts in the United States, although viruses have only been sequenced from about 51,000 of the 17 million U.S. cases,” the CDC said Tuesday.

“Given the small fraction of U.S. infections that have been sequenced, the variant could already be in the United States without having been detected.”

Some researchers think the strain likely arrived in the US in mid-November, and that many people in the U.S. could already be infected with it.

“If I had to guess, I would say it’s probably in hundreds of people by now,” said Michael Worobey, head of the University of Arizona’s department of ecology and evolutionary biology.

“It’s very possible it’s arrived multiple times in multiple places.”



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U.S. Congress passes nearly $900 billion COVID-19 aid bill, awaits Trump approval


December 22, 2020

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Donald Trump on Tuesday signed a stopgap measure to fund U.S. agencies for another week after Congress passed a $892 billion COVID-19 aid package overnight that aims to shore up the nation’s pandemic response and bolster the battered economy.

The coronavirus package is tied to general federal government funding to avert a government shutdown – together worth about $2.3 trillion in spending for the rest of the fiscal year – and is now awaiting Trump’s approval to become law.

In the meantime, U.S. lawmakers moved to fund federal agencies through Dec. 28 to prevent a lapse in government operations. Trump signed the stopgap funding bill into law on Tuesday, the White House said.

The COVID-19 provisions aim to throw a lifeline to the U.S. economy after months of inaction as the novel coronavirus outbreak continues to swell nationwide, with more than 214,000 people infected every day. So far, more than 317,000 Americans have died.

The wide-ranging bill includes $600 payments to most Americans and additional payments to the millions of people thrown out of work during the COVID-19 pandemic, just as a earlier benefits expire on Saturday.

U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, who has said COVID-aid related checks could be sent to people as soon as next week, praised the deal in statement on Tuesday.

“We are fully committed to ensuring that hardworking Americans get this vital support as quickly as possible and to further strengthening our economic recovery,” Mnuchin said.

(Editing by Susan Heavey and Steve Orlofsky)





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Monster Bill Passes House! 6,000-page Stimulus; Few Dared to Read



The U.S. House of Representatives passed a massive $900 billion coronavirus relief and stimulus bill on Monday evening, mere hours after the nearly 6,000-page legislation was released.

It was unlikely any members read the entire legislation.

The bill, which included $1.4 trillion in stopgap spending to prevent a government shutdown, was ostensibly the result of bipartisan negotiations that reached an agreement less than 24 hours before. It includes $600 stimulus checks for American households and a temporary expansion of federal unemployment benefits by $300, half the amounts paid earlier this year.

But the legislation also includes many hidden provisions completely unrelated to coronavirus, many of which appear to be the work of individual legislators, acting at the behest of specific lobbyists and interest groups who seized the opportunity.

The bill includes tax benefits for racehorse owners; hundreds of millions of dollars in economic aid to the Palestinians; and a congressional statement on U.S. policy on the succession of the Dalai Lama in Tibet, among many other obscure provisions.

Given six hours between the release of the bill, and an average reading pace of roughly 5 minutes per page of technical material, members of Congress could have been expected to read about 72 pages, assuming no meals or bathroom breaks.

The bill passed 359-53, and now heads to the Senate. Republicans said they were glad that the bill did not include bailouts for profligate “blue” states, though it also did not include liability protection for small businesses for coronavirus lawsuits.
Joel B. Pollak is Senior Editor-at-Large at Breitbart News and the host of Breitbart News Sunday on Sirius XM Patriot on Sunday evenings from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m. ET (4 p.m. to 7 p.m. PT). His newest e-book is Neither Free nor Fair: The 2020 U.S. Presidential Election. His recent book, RED NOVEMBER, tells the story of the 2020 Democratic presidential primary from a conservative perspective. He is a winner of the 2018 Robert Novak Journalism Alumni Fellowship. Follow him on Twitter at @joelpollak.





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