The World Health Organization is warning the Omicron coronavirus variant poses a “very high” risk to nations and could set off new waves of infections — especially in areas with low vaccination rates. On Monday, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus thanked leaders in southern Africa for sounding the alarm over the new variant and called for a global treaty to prevent, prepare for and respond to future pandemics.
Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus: “South Africa and Botswana should be thanked for detecting, sequencing and reporting this variant, not penalized. Indeed, Omicron demonstrates just why the world needs a new accord on pandemics. Our current system disincentivizes countries from alerting others to threats that will inevitably land on their shores.”
The World Health Organization has criticized travel bans against southern Africa.
On Monday, more than 2 million nurses from 28 countries filed a complaint with the United Nations, demanding an investigation into wealthy countries that have blocked a proposed patent waiver for COVID-19 vaccines. The nurses accuse the governments of protecting the profits of big pharmaceutical companies at the expense of public health.
Chinese President Xi Jinping has pledged to deliver 1 billion doses of COVID-19 vaccines to Africa — on top of the nearly 200 million doses China has already supplied. Only about 10% of Africans have received one vaccine dose, compared with 64% in North America.
Here in the U.S., the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has strengthened its recommendations to say that all U.S. adults should get a vaccine booster shot. Meanwhile, Pfizer said it will ask regulators this week to approve booster shots for 16- and 17-year-olds.
At the White House, President Biden said the Omicron variant was cause for concern, not panic. He said the White House would work with drug companies to reformulate vaccines to be more effective against the Omicron variant.
President Joe Biden: “So that we are prepared, if needed, my team is already working with officials at Pfizer and Moderna and Johnson & Johnson to develop contingency plans for vaccines or boosters, if needed.”
A federal court in Missouri has temporarily blocked President Biden’s vaccine mandate for healthcare workers in 10 states. District Judge Matthew Schelp — a Trump appointee — ruled that legal challenges to the mandate are likely to succeed because Congress has not granted the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services the power to enforce a vaccine mandate.
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said Monday the Pentagon has opened a high-level inquiry into the U.S. airstrike that killed dozens of women and children near the Syrian town of Baghuz in March of 2019. This comes after a New York Times investigation found the military spent two-and-a-half years covering up the attack, even though the death toll was almost immediately apparent to military officials, with one legal officer flagging the attack as a possible war crime. U.S. military officials downplayed the death toll, delayed reports, and sanitized and classified evidence of civilian deaths. U.S.-led coalition forces bulldozed the blast site, and top military leaders were reportedly not notified.
Iran has resumed talks in Vienna, Austria, aimed at restoring the 2015 nuclear deal, after former President Trump withdrew the U.S. from the multilateral agreement in 2018 while imposing harsh economic sanctions on Iran. On Monday, Iran’s top negotiator called the sanctions “tyrannical, unlawful and cruel,” insisting Iran will never agree to a new deal unless the Biden administration first lifts the sanctions.
An Australian government commission has revealed shocking details about Australia’s federal Parliament, describing it as a toxic workplace rife with gender inequality, bullying and sexual harassment and assault. The investigation was opened earlier this year amid allegations of sexual assault and rape inside the Parliament building. On Monday, sex discrimination commissioner Kate Jenkins announced her team’s findings.
Kate Jenkins: “Over half — that is, 51% — of all people currently in Commonwealth parliamentary workplaces, have experienced at least one incident of bullying, sexual harassment or actual or attempted sexual assault. … Women we spoke to told us they felt lucky when they had not directly experienced sexual harassment or sexual assault.”
Here in New York, opening statements began Monday in the federal sex trafficking trial of Ghislaine Maxwell — the British socialite who is accused of luring economically disadvantaged girls to be sexually abused by convicted predator and sex trafficker Jeffrey Epstein. Prosecutor Lara Pomerantz told jurors, starting in the 1990s, Maxwell would recruit girls for Epstein to sexually abuse, telling the girls they had been hired to give massages. Pomerantz argued Epstein and Maxwell then devised a “pyramid scheme of abuse,” and said the two were “partners in crime.”
At least four women who were sexually abused as children by Epstein will be testifying during the trial, including a survivor who was 14 years old at the time. Maxwell faces up to 70 years in prison if convicted of all counts, including sex trafficking of a minor. Epstein died in a Manhattan jail in 2019; New York’s medical examiner ruled his death a suicide.
CNN has announced it will review newly released information that details how anchor Chris Cuomo helped his brother — disgraced former New York Governor Andrew Cuomo — strategize a defense against mounting accusations of sexual harassment. Thousands of pages of new evidence and sworn testimony were released Monday, showing Andrew Cuomo — who was found to have sexually harassed at least 11 women — heavily relied on his allies, including his younger brother, to manipulate the press and discredit his accusers. Documents include text messages between Chris Cuomo and Melissa DeRosa, a former top aide to Andrew Cuomo, suggesting the CNN anchor was instrumental in crafting his brother’s defense strategy.
Minnesota Congressmember Ilhan Omar and other Democratic lawmakers are calling on Republican leaders to hold Colorado Republican Lauren Boebert accountable for recent hateful and Islamophobic comments. So far House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy has refused the request. In a video posted to Twitter last week that’s since gone viral, Boebert called Omar — one of the first two Muslim women elected to Congress — a member of the “Jihad Squad” and joked that she was a suicide bomber. On Monday, Congressmember Omar confirmed she abruptly ended a phone call with Boebert after Boebert refused to publicly apologize for her remarks. Omar tweeted, “There is only so much grace we can extend to others as humans before we must learn to cut our losses — or hang up on someone in this case.”
The National Labor Relations Board has ruled that Amazon violated U.S. labor law as it fought a unionization campaign by warehouse workers in Bessemer, Alabama, earlier this year. The ruling sets the stage for a new union election sometime in the next several months. More than 70% of workers who cast ballots in a union election in February voted against joining the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union. The union says the vote failed after an aggressive campaign of intimidation, interference and surveillance by Amazon managers. On Monday, the NLRB agreed, ruling that Amazon worked illegally with the U.S. Postal Service to install a collection box at the warehouse one day before the voting was set to begin. Amazon managers then pressured workers to drop their ballots in the new collection box, casting doubt over the secrecy of the election.
Trailblazing Black former Congressmember Carrie Meek died Sunday in her home in Miami. She was 95 years old. Born in Tallahassee, Meek was the daughter of a sharecropper and granddaughter of an enslaved woman. In 1993, Carrie Meek joined the U.S. House as one of the first Black Floridians elected to Congress since the Reconstruction Era. Meek championed affirmative action, economic opportunities for low-income people, and advocated for the U.S. to ease its restrictions of migrants from Haiti, where many of her constituents were from.
Immigrant justice advocates are denouncing brutal and dangerous conditions faced by Haitian asylum seekers currently imprisoned at the Torrance County Detention Facility in Estancia, New Mexico. At least 50 asylum seekers who were previously sheltering under a bridge in Del Rio, Texas, were taken to Torrance shortly after Border Patrol violently apprehended thousands of asylum seekers in September. Most have been deported by the Biden administration. Advocates are demanding Immigration and Customs Enforcement allow pro bono attorneys provide the Haitian asylum seekers with in-person legal consultations at Torrance, that information about legal services be posted at the facility in Haitian Creole, and that ICE halt deportations and asylum seekers are released while their cases are resolved. The asylum seekers have also detailed mistreatment and medical neglect at Torrance, which is operated by the private prison corporation CoreCivic.
Barbados has officially removed Queen Elizabeth II as its head of state, freeing itself from the British monarchy after nearly 400 years of colonization. In an overnight ceremony in the capital Bridgetown, Dame Sandra Mason was sworn in as Barbados’s first-ever president.
Dame Sandra Mason: “And with firm resolve and in one voice, from this day and forever, declare Barbados a parliamentary republic.”
Fireworks adorned the sky at midnight as Barbados officially became the world’s newest republic. Ahead of the ceremony, Barbados held a National Service of Thanksgiving, where Barbados senator and Reverend John Rogers spoke.
Rev. John Rogers: “Our seed is one that survived the journey that many should not have survived, survived 300 years of a plantation system that many should not have survived. Every child born in this country is a gift of God, specially preserved, specially protected.”
Prince Charles joined Monday evening’s ceremony, where he formally acknowledged Britain’s “appalling atrocity of slavery” in the Caribbean. Barbadian singer, actress and fashion designer Rihanna also attended the ceremony, where she was declared a national hero by Barbados’s prime minister.