Biden puts forth virus strategy, requires mask use to travel
WASHINGTON (AP) — As the U.S. enters “what may well be the toughest and deadliest period of the virus,” President Joe Biden is putting forth a national COVID-19 strategy to ramp up vaccinations and testing, reopen schools and businesses and increase the use of masks — including a requirement that they be worn for travel.
Biden also will address inequities in hard-hit minority communities as he signs 10 pandemic-related executive orders on Thursday, his second day in office.
“We need to ask average Americans to do their part,” said Jeff Zients, the White House official directing the national response. “Defeating the virus requires a co-ordinated nationwide effort.”
But Biden officials say they’re hampered by lack of co-operation from the Trump administration during the transition. They say they don’t have a complete understanding of their predecessors’ actions on vaccine distribution.
They’re also depending on Congress to provide $1.9 trillion for economic relief and COVID-19 response. And they face a litany of complaints from states that say they are not getting enough vaccine even as they are being asked to vaccinate more categories of people.
Fauci lays out Biden’s support for WHO after Trump criticism
GENEVA (AP) — President Joe Biden’s top medical adviser on COVID-19, Dr. Anthony Fauci, on Thursday announced renewed U.S. support for the World Health Organization after it faced blistering criticism from the Trump administration, laying out new commitments to tackle the coronavirus and other global health issues.
Fauci, speaking by videoconference from pre-dawn United States to WHO’s executive board, said the U.S. will join the U.N. health agency’s efforts to bring vaccines, therapeutics and diagnostics to people in need, whether in rich or poor countries. He said the U.S. will also resume full funding and staffing support for WHO.
Fauci’s quick commitment to WHO — whose response to the coronavirus outbreak was repeatedly berated by the Trump administration — marks a dramatic and vocal shift toward a multilateral approach to fighting the pandemic.
“I am honoured to announce that the United States will remain a member of the World Health Organization,” Fauci said. Just hours after Biden’s inauguration on Wednesday, his administration announced the U.S. will revoke a planned pullout from the WHO in July that had been announced by the Trump administration.
Fauci said the Biden administration “will cease the drawdown of U.S. staff seconded to the WHO” and resume “regular engagement” with WHO. “The United States also intends to fulfil its financial obligations to the organization,” he added.
Biden takes the helm, appeals for unity to take on crises
WASHINGTON (AP) — Joe Biden was sworn in as the 46th president of the United States, declaring that “democracy has prevailed” and summoning American resilience and unity to confront the deeply divided nation’s historic confluence of crises.
Denouncing a national “uncivil war,” Biden took the oath Wednesday at a U.S. Capitol that had been battered by an insurrectionist siege just two weeks earlier. Then, taking his place in the White House Oval Office, he plunged into a stack of executive actions that began to undo the heart of his polarizing predecessor ‘s agenda on matters from the deadly pandemic to climate change.
At the Capitol, with America’s tradition of peaceful transfers of power never appearing more fragile, the ceremony unfolded within a circle of security forces evocative of a war zone and devoid of crowds because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Instead, Biden gazed out on a cold Washington morning dotted with snow flurries to see over 200,000 American flags planted on the National Mall to symbolize those who could not attend in person.
“The will of the people has been heard, and the will of the people has been heeded. We’ve learned again that democracy is precious and democracy is fragile. At this hour, my friends, democracy has prevailed,” Biden declared in his speech. “This is America’s day. This is democracy’s day. A day of history and hope, of renewal and resolve.”
Analysis: Biden faces a more confident China after US chaos
BEIJING (AP) — As a new U.S. president takes office, he faces a determined Chinese leadership that could be further emboldened by America’s troubles at home.
The disarray in America, from the rampant COVID-19 pandemic to the Jan. 6 riot at the Capitol, gives China’s ruling Communist Party a boost as it pursues its long-running quest for national “rejuvenation” — a bid to return the country to what it sees as its rightful place as a major nation.
For Joe Biden, sworn in Wednesday as the 46th president, that could make one of his major foreign policy challenges even more difficult as he tries to manage an increasingly contentious relationship between the world’s rising power and its established one.
The stakes are high for both countries and the rest of the world. A misstep could spark an accidental conflict in the Western Pacific, where China’s growing naval presence is bumping up against America’s. The trade war under President Donald Trump hurt workers and farmers in both countries, though some in Vietnam and elsewhere benefited as companies moved production outside China. On global issues such as climate, it is difficult to make progress if the world’s two largest economies aren’t talking.
The Chinese government expressed hope Thursday that Biden would return to dialogue and co-operation after the divisiveness under Trump.
World hopes for renewed co-operation with US under Biden
MEXICO CITY (AP) — World leaders welcomed into their ranks the new U.S. President Joe Biden, noting their most pressing problems, including the COVID-19 pandemic and climate change, require multilateral co-operation, an approach his predecessor Donald Trump ridiculed.
Many expressed hope Biden would right U.S. democracy two weeks after rioters stormed the Capitol, shaking the faith of those fighting for democracy in their own countries.
Governments targeted and sanctioned under Trump embraced the chance for a fresh start with Biden, while some heads of state who lauded Trump’s blend of nationalism and populism were more restrained in their expectations.
But the chance to repair frayed alliances and work together on global problems carried the day.
China, whose U.S. relations nosedived due to widespread frustration in Washington over its human rights record and accusations of technology theft, expressed hope about the change in the White House.
Twin suicide bombings rock central Baghdad, at least 28 dead
BAGHDAD (AP) — Twin suicide bombings ripped through a busy market in the Iraqi capital Thursday, killing at least 28 people and wounding 73 others, officials said.
The rare suicide bombing attack hit the Bab al-Sharqi commercial area in central Baghdad amid heightened political tensions over planned early elections and a severe economic crisis. Blood smeared the floors of the busy market amid piles of clothes and shoes as survivors took stock of the disarray in the aftermath.
No one immediately took responsibility for the attack.
Iraq’s military said at least 28 people were killed and 73 wounded in the attack and said some of the injured were in serious condition. Hospital and police officials said the death toll was actually much higher, with at least 27 dead and more than 60 wounded. They spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to brief the media.
Iraq’s Health Ministry announced all of its hospitals in the capital were mobilized to treat the wounded.
‘Just move on’: Republicans grapple with post-Trump future
For the first time in more than a decade, Republicans are waking up to a Washington where Democrats control the White House and Congress, adjusting to an era of diminished power, deep uncertainty and internal feuding.
The shift to minority status is always difficult, prompting debates over who is to blame for losing the last election. But the process is especially intense as Republicans confront profound questions about what the party stands for without Donald Trump in charge.
Over the last four years, the GOP’s values were inexorably tied to the whims of a president who regularly undermined democratic institutions and traded the party’s longstanding commitment to fiscal discipline, strong foreign policy and the rule of law for a brash and inconsistent populism. The party now faces a decision about whether to keep moving in that direction, as many of Trump’s most loyal supporters demand, or chart a new course.
Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, one of the few Republican elected officials who regularly condemned Trumpism, evoked President Ronald Reagan in calling this moment “a time for choosing.”
“We have to decide if we’re going to continue heading down the direction of Donald Trump or if we’re going to return to our roots,” Hogan, a potential 2024 White House contender, said in an interview.
Some COVID-19 mutations may dampen vaccine effectiveness
Scientists are reporting troubling signs that some recent mutations of the virus that causes COVID-19 may modestly curb the effectiveness of two current vaccines, although they stress that the shots still protect against the disease.
Researchers expressed concern Wednesday about the preliminary findings, in large part because they suggest that future mutations could undermine vaccines. The research tested coronaviruses from the United Kingdom, South Africa and Brazil, and was led by Rockefeller University in New York with scientists from the National Institutes of Health and elsewhere.
A different, more limited study out Wednesday gave encouraging news about one vaccine’s protection against some of the mutations.
One way vaccines work is to prompt the immune system to make antibodies that block the virus from infecting cells. The Rockefeller researchers got blood samples from 20 people who had received either the Moderna or Pfizer vaccine and tested their antibodies against various virus mutations in the lab.
With some, the antibodies didn’t work as well against the virus — activity was one-to-threefold less, depending on the mutation, said the study leader, Rockefeller’s Dr. Michel Nussenzweig.
Mobile labs take vaccine studies to diverse neighbourhoods
NEW YORK (AP) — Lani Muller doesn’t have to visit a doctor’s office to help test an experimental COVID-19 vaccine — she just climbs into a bloodmobile-like van that parks on a busy street near her New York City neighbourhood.
The U.S. is rightly fixated on the chaotic rollout of the first two authorized vaccines to fight the pandemic. But with more vaccines in the pipeline — critical to boosting global supplies — scientists worry whether enough volunteers will join and stick with the testing needed to prove if they, too, really work.
Those studies, like earlier ones, must include communities of colour that have been hard-hit by the pandemic, communities that also voice concern about the vaccination drive in part because of a long history of racial health care disparities and even research abuses. To help, researchers in more than a dozen spots around the country are rolling out mobile health clinics to better reach minority participants and people in rural areas who might not otherwise volunteer.
Muller, who is Black, said her family was worried about the vaccine research so she didn’t mention she’d signed up to test AstraZeneca’s shot.
“The legacy of African Americans in science in these sort of trials hasn’t been great and we haven’t forgotten,” said Muller, 49, a Columbia University employee whose participation in some prior research projects made her willing to get a test injection earlier this month.
Organists offer soundtrack to jabs at medieval UK cathedral
SALISBURY, England (AP) — David Halls isn’t a doctor, nurse or ambulance driver, but he wanted to contribute in the fight against COVID-19. So he did what he does best: He sat down on the bench beside at Salisbury Cathedral’s historic organ and began to play.
Halls is one of the many people who have turned the 800-year-old cathedral in southwestern England into a mass vaccination centre as the U.K. races to inoculate 50 million people. His contribution to the effort is offering a bit of Bach, Handel and even a little Rodgers & Hammerstein to the public as they shuffle through the nave to get their shots.
“At times of crisis, people come together and want to listen to music; at moments of joy, people want to listen to music,’’ Halls, the cathedral’s music director, told The Associated Press. “And so I don’t think it’s any surprise the effect of soothing music on people who probably are feeling quite stressed for various reasons.”
Salisbury Cathedral, home to one of the best preserved copies of the Magna Carta and England’s tallest church spire, has been enlisted as a vaccination centre as the government expands its shot program to football stadiums, convention centres and hundreds of local doctors offices to speed delivery.
Hundreds of elderly residents have rolled up their sleeves and got their shots in the great nave, which is big enough to gather people together while also keeping them safely apart.
The Associated Press