The World Health Organization warned Monday that wealthy nations are hoarding COVID-19 vaccines at the expense of the world’s poor, leaving millions of elderly people vulnerable even as younger, healthy people in richer nations get vaccinated. WHO chief, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, spoke Monday from Geneva, one year after the first cases of COVID-19 were detected outside of China.
Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus: “I need to be blunt: The world is on the brink of a catastrophic moral failure, and the price of this failure will be paid with lives and livelihoods in the world’s poorest countries.”
Dr. Tedros warned wealthy countries are circumventing the U.N.’s program to ensure the fair distribution of COVID-19 vaccines, known as COVAX, driving up prices and jumping to the front of the line. This comes as worldwide confirmed coronavirus cases topped 24 million — with over 2 million documented deaths from COVID-19.
The United States’ death toll from COVID-19 has topped 400,000 — by far the worst in the world.
California has become the first state to top 3 million cases. In Los Angeles County, where about 10 people are dying of COVID-19 every hour, officials have suspended air quality regulations to allow for more cremations, after funeral homes and hospitals exceeded their capacity to store bodies of the dead.
President-elect Biden’s incoming chief of staff, Ron Klain, warns the U.S. death toll will reach a half-million by the end of February.
Over the weekend, the Trump administration said it would lift COVID restrictions on international travelers — but Joe Biden’s transition team immediately shut down the plans.
Governors around the U.S. are accusing the Trump administration of misleading them about vaccine supplies, after The Washington Post reported the U.S. vaccine reserve was exhausted when Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar vowed to release more doses.
Here in New York, Mayor Bill de Blasio warned the city will have to halt vaccinations next week without a major resupply. New York Governor Andrew Cuomo on Monday contacted the drugmaker Pfizer to see if he could purchase doses directly from the company, circumventing the federal government.
Elsewhere, California’s top epidemiologist has ordered a pause to the distribution of nearly a third of a million doses of Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine after a batch was linked to a “higher than usual” number of allergic reactions. The vaccines taken out of circulation represent about 10% of California’s total supply.
The FBI says it’s vetting all 25,000 National Guard troops deploying to Washington, D.C., for the inauguration, over fears of an insider attack by soldiers sympathetic to President Trump and the insurrection he incited on January 6. The FBI is also warning armed insurrectionists might pose in National Guard uniforms in order to launch attacks.
The warnings came amid an unprecedented security lockdown in Washington, D.C. The Coast Guard has closed the Potomac and Anacostia rivers, and heavily armed soldiers are patrolling a hardened security perimeter around the Capitol. The National Mall will be closed to the public during Wednesday’s inauguration — in place of the usual crowds, officials have placed nearly 200,000 American flags on the Mall.
The FBI says it’s focusing on far-right militia groups as it continues to arrest leaders of the January 6 insurrection at the Capitol.
In Texas, federal prosecutors say rioter Guy Reffitt threatened to murder his wife and children if they turned him in — allegedly telling his family, “Traitors get shot.” Reffit is a member of the far-right Three Percenters militia group.
Federal agents have also arrested Bryan Betancur, a self-professed white supremacist who was wearing a GPS ankle bracelet as a condition of his probation on a prior burglary charge. Betancur was photographed at the January 6 riots posing with a Confederate battle flag.
On Monday, the FBI arrested Riley June Williams of Pennsylvania, charging her with stealing a laptop from the office of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. An FBI complaint accuses Williams of seeking to send the laptop to Russia’s Foreign Intelligence Service.
The New Yorker has published harrowing footage of the Capitol insurrection showing how a violent mob broke through police lines, pounded on locked doors, shouting “Treason!” and breached the Senate chambers, looking for lawmakers to confront.
Insurrectionist 1: “Knock, knock. We’re here.”
Insurrectionist 2: “Is this the Senate? Where the [bleep] are they?”
The video, shot by veteran war correspondent Luke Mogelson, shows a ragtag group of white men rifling through Senate papers. They praise President Trump and efforts by Republican Senators Josh Hawley and Ted Cruz to overturn the Electoral College vote; pose for selfies; and stand on the Senate Dais for a prayer led by QAnon conspiracy theorist Jacob Chansley. Chansley is seen in the video leaving a threatening note for Vice President Mike Pence.
Insurrectionist: “We love you guys. We love the cops.”
Jacob Chansley: “It’s only a matter of time. Justice is coming.”
The Senate is holding confirmation hearings today for five of President-elect Joe Biden’s Cabinet nominees: retired General Lloyd Austin for defense secretary, Alejandro Mayorkas for secretary of homeland security, Antony Blinken for secretary of state, Avril Haines for director of national intelligence and Janet Yellen for treasury secretary.
Meanwhile, Biden has nominated Gary Gensler to head the Securities and Exchange Commission and Rohit Chopra to head the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.
President-elect Biden is promising to issue a slew of executive orders on his first day in office, overturning some of President Trump’s most contentious actions. Biden is set to extend moratoriums on evictions and foreclosures, extend a freeze on federal student loan payments and halt accumulating interest on those loans.
Biden is also planning to order a mask mandate for interstate travelers and visitors to federal buildings. In his inaugural address, he will ask U.S. residents to commit to wearing masks for at least 100 days.
Biden will cancel Trump’s travel ban targeting majority-Muslim nations. He’s also set to propose an immigration bill providing an eight-year path to citizenship for undocumented people in the U.S.
Biden will also sign an order returning the United States to the Paris Climate Agreement. And, in a historic move, Biden is expected to order the cancellation of the permit for the $8 billion Keystone XL pipeline.
In its final days, the Trump administration has issued a series of new energy and environmental regulations to benefit the fossil fuel industry and other big polluters.
On Friday, the U.S. Forest Service issued a final environmental impact statement, paving the way for a massive copper mine in Arizona’s Tonto National Forest, which is sacred land to the San Carlos Apache Tribe.
Interior Secretary David Bernhardt signed an order to allow mineral leasing across 9.7 million acres in western Alaska. The Interior Department has also decreased how much oil, gas and coal companies must pay to drill on public lands and waters.
Other last-minute decisions by the Trump administration could result in less protection in the Pacific Northwest for the northern spotted owl, which faces extinction, and new exemptions for oil refiners, steelmakers and landfills from future carbon emission limits.
In immigration news, advocates are denouncing the Trump administration’s ongoing deportation of asylum seekers just days before Biden’s inauguration. The Guardian reports there are concerns deportation flights to Africa could depart the U.S. as late as today. Last year, dozens of asylum seekers from Cameroon accused Immigration and Customs Enforcement of torturing them and coercing them into signing their deportation order.
This comes as a 40-year-old man from Saint Martin is scheduled to be deported today to Haiti, even though he has never been to Haiti and has lived in the U.S. since he was 5 years old.
The Trump administration executed Dustin Higgs early on Saturday, two days after it executed Cory Johnson. The two Black men were the 12th and 13th persons to be put to death after the Trump administration brought back the federal death penalty last year. Six of the executions occurred since the November election. On Friday, Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor criticized what she called the administration’s “unprecedented, breakneck timetable of executions.” President-elect Joe Biden is expected to halt federal executions once in office.
The National Security Agency has a new top lawyer: Michael Ellis, a Trump loyalist. Ellis is expected to begin the job today on the final full day of the Trump administration. On Saturday, acting Defense Secretary Christopher Miller ordered the NSA’s director general to immediately hire Ellis despite widespread concern over his lack of experience and his role as a Republican operative. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has vowed to challenge the decision. In a letter to Miller, Pelosi wrote, “The efforts to install him or 'burrow' him into a highly sensitive intelligence position 72 hours prior to the beginning of a new administration manifest a disturbing disregard for our national security.”
President Trump is expected to issue as many as 100 pardons and commutations today on his final full day in office. This comes as more details emerge about how allies of Trump have personally profited from people seeking pardons. The New York Times reports an associate of Rudy Giuliani told CIA torture whistleblower John Kiriakou a pardon is “going to cost $2 million.” Kiriakou declined the offer, but he did pay $50,000 to a former top Trump campaign adviser for help securing a pardon. If a pardon is granted, the former adviser will get an additional $50,000 bonus.
In Uganda, opposition presidential candidate Bobi Wine is under house arrest, following his loss in last week’s election — which Wine alleges was rigged. The rapper-turned-politician was seeking to unseat President Yoweri Museveni, who’s been in power for 36 years. Wine’s home was raided by the military Friday after he spoke out against possible election fraud. Last month, Wine temporarily suspended his campaign after members of his team were injured and his car was shot at.
In Florida, Rebekah Jones, a data scientist who helped build Florida’s coronavirus tracking dashboard, has turned herself in to the police after the state issued an arrest warrant against her. Jones is accused of hacking confidential data from the Florida Department of Health — allegations Jones denies.
Police raided Jones’s home in Tallahassee last month, seizing her computer and phone and holding her family at gunpoint. She says she’s being targeted in retaliation for refusing to falsify the number of Florida’s COVID-19 cases. Jones accused Florida’s Republican Governor Ron DeSantis of sending the Gestapo after her. Over the weekend, she wrote on Twitter, “The Governor will not win his war on science and free speech. He will not silence those who speak out.” Jones had recently moved to Washington, D.C., following the traumatic raid. Click here to see our interview with Rebekah Jones.
In Guatemala, military and police forces blocked and broke up a caravan of thousands of Honduran asylum seekers over the weekend as they headed north. Videos surfaced of military and police assaulting asylum seekers — including children — with tear gas and batons. Several were injured. This is Angie Osorio, a Honduran asylum seeker.
Angie Osorio: “The officers have mistreated us. They have treated us like dogs. 'Go to your country,' they say. That’s not fair. They should put their hands on their hearts. The children are not at fault. What they are doing is wrong. We have fled many things that are happening in Honduras, so it is not fair that we are treated like this, like dogs, like animals.”
The caravan of some 7,000 asylum seekers left Honduras last week — as people are fleeing the devastation left behind by two back-to-back hurricanes that battered the region last November and an economic crisis that worsened during the pandemic. The Guatemalan government has been increasingly pressured by the U.S. to prevent asylum seekers from reaching the U.S.-Mexico border.
CBS News reports 700 refugee children, whose families were forced to stay in Mexico while their asylum cases are resolved in the U.S., ended up crossing into the U.S. alone. Since 2019, tens of thousands of asylum-seeking families have been stuck in Mexico due to the Trump administration’s so-called Migrant Protection Protocols program. The program has forced asylum seekers to wait in crowded and squalid refugee camps across dangerous northern Mexican towns while their cases are heard in U.S. courts.