The World Health Organization has warned the Omicron coronavirus variant is spreading faster than even the Delta variant and is infecting vaccinated people at a far higher rate than other forms of the virus. WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus called on governments to require more public health measures and said many holiday festivities should be canceled.
Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus: “An event canceled is better than a life canceled. It’s better to cancel now and celebrate later than to celebrate now and grieve later.”
Here in the United States, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is warning Omicron has overtaken Delta as the dominant coronavirus variant, accounting for nearly three-quarters of new infections. The Pentagon said it was dispatching teams of naval doctors, nurses and respiratory therapists to Wisconsin and Indiana, as hospitals in those states face shortages of beds and medical workers.
The National Hockey League has canceled games through the Christmas holiday, becoming the first major professional sports league in North America to pause during the Omicron surge. This comes as the NFL set another single-day record with 47 players testing positive for coronavirus infections on Monday alone.
President Biden is delivering a national address on the Omicron variant today. The White House will make 500 million at-home COVID-19 test kits available for free, shipped to the homes of anyone who requests one. The Biden administration is also planning to set up 20,000 new testing sites nationwide. On Monday, the White House said a staffer who was recently with President Biden aboard Air Force One tested positive for coronavirus; Biden has reportedly since tested negative.
A new study finds glaciers in the Himalayan mountains shed ice 10 times faster over the past four decades than they did over the previous seven centuries. The study, published Monday in the journal Scientific Reports, estimates the glaciers have lost as much as 586 cubic kilometers of ice — enough to raise global sea levels by one-twentieth of an inch. Nearly 2 billion people in South Asia rely on meltwater from the glaciers for drinking water and to irrigate their crops.
The Biden administration has announced the most stringent tailpipe emissions standards in U.S. history. Under the EPA’s plan, new gas-powered passenger vehicles will have to average at least 55 miles per gallon beginning in 2026. Critics note the rule change will effectively restore emissions cuts that were canceled by the Trump administration, and say Biden should do much more. In a statement, the Center for Biological Diversity said, “These rules are little more than a speed bump on the road to climate catastrophe when the president needed to make a U-turn.”
In Burma, a BBC investigation has revealed the Burmese military carried out a series of mass killings of civilians in July that resulted in the deaths of at least 40 men. Several witnesses and survivors told the BBC Burmese soldiers rounded up villagers in Kani Township, then separated the men and killed them. Video footage of the killings appears to show most of the men killed were first tortured. Their bodies were buried in shallow graves. Kani Township is known to be a hub of opposition to Burma’s military dictatorship.
An emergency court in Egypt has sentenced human rights activist Alaa Abd El-Fattah to an additional five years in prison. The court also handed down four-year sentences to other prominent prisoners: the human rights lawyer Mohamed El-Baqer and the blogger Mohamed Ibrahim, who is known as “Mohamed Oxygen.” All three were charged with “spreading false news undermining national security.” Alaa Abd El-Fattah was a leading figure in the 2011 uprising that led to the fall of Egypt’s longtime U.S.-backed dictator Hosni Mubarak. After headlines, we’ll go to Egypt for the latest.
In immigration news, a group of 11 Haitian asylum seekers has filed a lawsuit against the Biden administration, accusing the U.S. government of physical abuse, racial discrimination and other severe rights violations while they were forced to take shelter under a bridge in the borderlands of Del Rio, Texas, in September. The plaintiffs are also demanding the U.S. government allow the return of the thousands of Haitian asylum seekers deported from the Del Rio encampment. In a statement, Guerline Jozef of the Haitian Bridge Alliance said, “The stories I heard coming out of the Del Rio encampment will forever haunt me: mothers with newborns denied basic necessities such as shelter and medical care, children being fed nothing or only bread.”
This comes as immigrant justice advocates are condemning the Biden administration’s ongoing mass deportation flights of Haitian asylum seekers. Advocates report the U.S. deported 344 people to Haiti on Monday alone — including 32 children.
The French humanitarian group Utopia 56 has filed a lawsuit accusing British and French officials of “involuntary manslaughter” and “failure to help people in need” over the drowning death of 27 refugees in the English Channel in November. According to the only two survivors, refugees made distress calls to French and English rescue services after their boat capsized and started sinking in the waters off the French port city of Calais. They were ignored. At least three of the victims were children. This is an attorney for Utopia 56.
Emmanuel Daoud: “We’re saying that from the moment the rescue services, English and French, were informed between 2 and 3 a.m. that this boat was in distress, it would have been necessary, and it is a legal obligation, that they coordinate and intervene. That was not the case.”
The Pentagon has announced new rules aimed at slowing the spread of extremism in the military’s ranks. Pentagon spokesperson John Kirby said Monday that, among other rule changes, soldiers may now be disciplined for “liking” white nationalist and other extremist content on social media.
John Kirby: “The vast majority of men and women in our armed forces, as of course you know, serve honorably. While extremist activity in the force is rare, any instance can have an outsized effect.”
The Southern Poverty Law Center welcomed the changes, saying in a statement, “The commitments made today are especially important considering the outsized role people with military experience played in the deadly violence surrounding the January 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol. More than 80 of the 700 individuals charged by the Justice Department in connection with the Capitol breach have ties to the U.S. military.”
The House committee investigating the January 6 Capitol insurrection has asked Republican Congressmember Scott Perry to voluntarily submit to an interview. It’s the first time the committee has publicly asked a sitting member of Congress to testify about their role in the plot to overturn the results of the 2020 election. Investigators say Perry met with Trump ahead of the Capitol riot and pushed Justice Department officials to block the election results.
Meanwhile, The New York Times reports the January 6 committee may refer criminal charges against former President Trump and his allies to the Justice Department. That could include wire fraud charges against Trump and other Republicans who raised millions of dollars off false assertions that the election was stolen, and felony obstruction of Congress charges against those who tried to stop the certification of electoral votes.
In New York, Ghislaine Maxwell’s sex-trafficking trial is now in the hands of the jury. In its closing arguments, the prosecution described the British socialite as a “dangerous” predator who recruited and groomed economically disadvantaged teenage girls to be sexually abused by convicted predator and sex trafficker Jeffrey Epstein. Maxwell faces up to 70 years in prison if convicted of all counts, including sex trafficking of a minor.
Actor Chris Noth has been dropped from the CBS drama “The Equalizer” after being accused of sexual assault by at least three women in the past week. Noth is best known for portraying the character of “Mr. Big” in the HBO Max series “Sex and the City” and its sequel, which premiered earlier this month. The show’s debut triggered two of Noth’s accusers to come forward in a detailed story published by The Hollywood Reporter last week. A third accuser then spoke to The Daily Beast. None of them have revealed their real names. Noth has also been dropped by his talent management firm, as well as the exercise equipment company Peloton, which has pulled his ads.
In Minnesota, jury deliberation has begun in the manslaughter trial of former Brooklyn Center police officer Kim Potter, who fatally shot 20-year-old Black father Daunte Wright during a minor traffic stop in April. During closing arguments, prosecutor Erin Eldridge rejected Potter’s claims that she meant to fire her Taser and not her pistol at Wright.
Erin Eldridge: “It’s manslaughter. That she was an officer does not make it OK. That she was on duty does not make it OK. That she shot him with her service pistol does not make it OK. Her actions were rash and reckless, and what she did was wrong.”
Kim Potter is facing first-degree and second-degree manslaughter charges.
Harvard’s admissions office has dropped its requirement that applicants submit SAT or ACT standardized test scores, after the pandemic limited students’ access to testing sites. The new policy will run through at least 2026. Harvard is the latest among a growing number of U.S. schools to drop the standardized testing requirement, which critics say favors wealthy, white applicants over students of color.