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During the past year, more than 118 million people have become infected, with over 2.6 million deaths from COVID-19 worldwide.
Central Europe is currently the worst-affected part of the world. The Czech Republic — which has one of the highest per capita death rates from COVID-19 — has begun sending patients abroad, after intensive care units filled to capacity. Some Czech health officials believe as much as 45% of the population has become infected over the past year.
The U.S. reported nearly 59,000 new coronavirus infections and over 1,500 deaths Wednesday. President Biden said the U.S. plans to order another 100 million doses of Johnson & Johnson’s COVID-19 vaccine. White House medical adviser Dr. Anthony Fauci said that if vaccinations continue at their current pace, the U.S. could reach herd immunity by early fall.
In Texas, Republican Attorney General Ken Paxton is threatening to sue the city of Austin if it enforces a citywide mask mandate. On Wednesday, Texas officially lifted all compulsory public health measures — including limits on public gatherings and mask requirements — though individual businesses can still require customers to wear masks.
Amnesty International has called the deadly crackdown on Burmese anti-coup protests a “killing spree” and accused the military of extrajudicial executions. Meanwhile, the United Nations Security Council has condemned the violent response to protests over the last six weeks but stopped short of condemning the actual February 1 coup or threatening sanctions. A Burmese rights group says at least 60 people have been killed and over 2,000 detained since the start of protests.
U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres is urging an end to the war in Syria as the world marks 10 years since the start of the deadly conflict, which Guterres called a “living nightmare.” Hundreds of thousands have been killed and millions displaced, and the U.N. warns some 60% of Syrians are at risk of hunger this year. This is Secretary-General Guterres.
Secretary-General António Guterres: “It is impossible to fully fathom the extent of the devastation in Syria, but its people have endured some of the greatest crimes the world has witnessed this century. And the scale of the atrocities shocks the consciences. Their perpetrators must be held to account if there is to be sustainable peace in Syria.”
Syria has also been faced with a worsening economic crisis due to the pandemic over the past year, exacerbated by sweeping U.S. sanctions. Earlier this week, President Bashar al-Assad and his wife tested positive for the coronavirus.
Former Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva has made his first public appearance since a judge annulled all convictions against him on Monday, clearing his path to challenge far-right incumbent Jair Bolsonaro for the presidency in 2022. In a major speech Wednesday, Lula blasted Bolsonaro’s handling of the COVID-19 crisis.
Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva: “Many of the COVID deaths could have been avoided, if there were a government who did their job. … This country is disorganized and falling apart because it has no government. I will repeat: This country has no government.”
More than 270,000 Brazilians have died of COVID-19 over the past year — the second-highest figure in the world, behind the United States.
Mexico is poised to become the world’s largest marijuana market after lawmakers approved a landmark bill Wednesday legalizing recreational use of cannabis. The legislation, which is backed by President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, is still being finalized but could bring major shifts to a country that has been plagued by drug-related violence. Some critics have warned a legal market for marijuana would favor big companies, while low possession limits would still penalize consumers. Activists also say the new law should address the harm caused by years of militarized anti-drug policies.
The Biden administration may use a vacant NASA research center in the San Francisco Bay Area to temporarily house unaccompanied migrant children. It’s one of several proposals under consideration as the administration faces a growing crisis at the U.S.-Mexico border, where it is holding some 3,500 children in detention cells for longer than legally allowed.
The top White House adviser on U.S.-Mexico border policy, Roberta Jacobson, said Wednesday the Biden administration is reinstating the Central American Minors program, which allows some children from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras to reunite with a parent or parents living in the U.S. But Jacobson declared repeatedly — in both English and Spanish — that “the border is not open.”
Roberta Jacobson: “I want to be clear: Neither in this — neither this announcement nor any of the other measures suggest that anyone, especially children and families with young children, should make the dangerous trip to try and enter the U.S. in an irregular fashion. The border is not open.”
The Senate has confirmed Marcia Fudge as secretary of housing and urban development, Michael Regan to head the Environmental Protection Agency and Merrick Garland as attorney general. Regan will be the first Black man to lead the EPA, while Fudge is the first Black woman to oversee HUD since the Jimmy Carter administration.
In Iowa, Des Moines Register reporter Andrea Sahouri was acquitted Wednesday following her arrest last year while covering a Black Lives Matter protest. She was pepper-sprayed and put in zip ties despite telling police officers she was a reporter. Freedom of the Press Foundation welcomed the acquittal but said it “doesn’t fully lift the shadow this prosecution has cast over one of our country’s most core values.”
Here in New York, human rights lawyer Steven Donziger is waiting to hear if he will be freed after nearly 600 days of house arrest, after an appeals court last week threw out a key contempt finding against him. Donziger won a historic settlement for $9.5 billion against Chevron in Ecuador for dumping oil and toxic waste in the Amazon, but he has been facing contempt charges from a private law firm which has ties to Chevron and the oil industry. Chevron has yet to pay compensation or clean up after the catastrophic damage it created. Last month, Amnesty International USA and a dozen other groups sent a letter to Merrick Garland asking him to review Donziger’s case.
Today marks 10 years since Japan’s triple disaster, when a massive 9.0 magnitude earthquake triggered a tsunami and a nuclear meltdown at the Fukushima power plant. Nearly 20,000 people were killed. Japan marked the day with a moment of silence, prayers and anti-nuclear protests. Ahead of today’s remembrance, anti-nuclear protesters rallied in front of Japan’s parliament.
Tomohiko Takahashi: “No matter how nuclear plants are stable or cheap, I think they’re inappropriate as a means of power generation because they ravage the foundations of local people’s living. I came here to voice my opposition.”