Germany, France, Italy and Spain have suspended use of the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine over concerns about reports of blood clots in people who’ve received it. They follow Denmark, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Iceland, Indonesia, Ireland, the Netherlands, Norway and Venezuela in suspending AstraZeneca shots. The vaccine has been administered to millions of people around the world and is a major part of the U.N.'s COVAX initiative to bring mass vaccination to lower-income countries. A small number of recipients developed blood clots after at least one dose — and one person died of clotting — but the World Health Organization cautions there's no evidence AstraZeneca’s vaccine caused the adverse outcomes. This is WHO chief scientist Soumya Swaminathan.
Dr. Soumya Swaminathan: “Two-point-six million people have died. At least 2.6 million people have died of COVID-19 disease. And so far, of the 300 million doses that have been given to people across the world, of course, using different vaccines, there is no documented death that’s been linked to a COVID vaccine. So I think that while we need to continue to be very closely monitoring this, we do not want people to panic.”
Many European nations have suspended AstraZeneca vaccinations just as COVID-19 cases surge across the continent. Italy has imposed another national lockdown, and France is considering tough new measures after hospitalizations reached their highest levels since November.
The United States recorded about 56,000 new coronavirus infections on Monday and 741 deaths. Those figures are way down from January’s record-breaking peak but still comparable to levels seen during last summer’s peak of infections. Figures from the Transportation Security Administration show more people passed through airports last Friday than on any other day since the start of the pandemic.
The Senate has confirmed Deb Haaland as secretary of the interior, making her the first Native American ever to serve in a U.S. presidential cabinet. Just four Republicans voted for her confirmation. Haaland is a tribal citizen of the Laguna Pueblo. She’s previously opposed fracking, the Keystone XL oil pipeline and other fossil fuel projects. Haaland is a 2020 recipient of the Nuclear-Free Future Award for her efforts to address the impacts of uranium mining in the American Southwest.
In immigration news, the Biden administration is planning to detain asylum-seeking teenagers at a convention center in Dallas, Texas. This is the latest facility opened by the Biden administration to hold unaccompanied children and teens, who are being apprehended in record numbers as they attempt to reach the U.S. seeking refuge. The AP reports the Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center will be used by FEMA, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, for up to 90 days to hold as many as 3,000 unaccompanied teens. In February alone, over 9,000 unaccompanied children and teens were apprehended by U.S. authorities.
Congressmember Ilhan Omar is leading congressional demands that the Biden administration end contracts between Immigration and Customs Enforcement, ICE, and local jails and prisons, calling the practice an extension of mass incarceration. In a letter signed by 24 members of Congress to Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas and White House Domestic Policy Council Director Susan Rice, Congressmember Omar highlights a Biden “racial justice” executive order, signed days after he took office, which directed the Justice Department to end its use of private prisons — impacting about 9% of the prison population. At the time, Biden made no mention of ending contacts with privately run immigrant prisons that jail the majority of people for ICE.
Federal agents have arrested two men who were filmed attacking Capitol Police officer Brian Sicknick during the January 6 assault on Congress. George Tanios of West Virginia and Julian Khater of Pennsylvania appeared in federal court Monday, charged with assaulting Sicknick and other officers with chemical spray. Sicknick died on January 7 of injuries he sustained during the attack one day earlier.
Separately, federal prosecutors say a New Jersey Army reservist who joined the January 6 Capitol assault maintained a military security clearance — even though he was an overt white supremacist who wore a Hitler-style mustache and haircut. Co-workers say Timothy Hale-Cusanelli made frequent anti-Black, anti-Semitic and pro-Nazi comments while working as a security contractor at a U.S. naval weapons base in New Jersey.
Police have begun scaling back a massive security perimeter on Capitol Hill, including metal fences topped with razor wire. Washington, D.C.'s nonvoting delegate to Congress, Eleanor Holmes Norton, has proposed legislation that would ban permanent fencing around the Capitol. Last month, Norton tweeted, “There are many state-of-the-art options that wouldn't needlessly wall off the Capitol complex like a fortress that needs to be protected from the people we represent.”
In Minneapolis, lawyers for former police officer Derek Chauvin have asked a judge to delay his murder trial and to move it away from Hennepin County, which is one of the most diverse counties in Minnesota. Chauvin faces murder and manslaughter charges, after he was filmed kneeling on the neck of George Floyd for over nine minutes last May, killing him. Chauvin’s lawyers cited last Friday’s unanimous decision by the Minneapolis City Council to approve a $27 million settlement with George Floyd’s family that resolved a wrongful death lawsuit, calling it “incredibly prejudicial.” This comes as jury selection in Chauvin’s trial continued on Monday. Of the nine jurors selected so far, five identify as white, one as multiracial, one as Hispanic and two as Black.
In Georgia, voting rights activists are lobbying Coca-Cola, Home Depot and other prominent Georgia-based companies to oppose voter suppression legislation being advanced by Republican state lawmakers. Last week, Georgia’s state Senate approved a bill that would end the right of voters to cast absentee ballots without excuse, while toughening voter ID requirements. Georgia voting rights activist Stacey Abrams blasted the legislation as a “redux of Jim Crow in a suit and tie.”
Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin met with their counterparts in Japan today and will next head to South Korea in their first overseas trip. The meetings are widely viewed as an attempt by the Biden administration to secure allies in Washington’s campaign to counter China’s growing power. After headlines, we’ll have the latest on U.S.-China relations with Vijay Prashad, the director of the Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research.
The Vatican has declared it will not be blessing same-sex marriages or unions, arguing God “cannot bless sin.” The recent announcement radically contradicts earlier comments made by Pope Francis where he stated same-sex couples should be allowed to have civil unions. In 2013, he famously said, “If a person is gay … who am I to judge?” LGBTQ rights groups are condemning the Vatican’s move, calling it a drastic step backward.
Indigenous land and water protectors on Monday led several direct actions across the U.S. and Canada against the construction of Enbridge’s Line 3 pipeline, which would carry more than 750,000 barrels of tar sands oil a day through fragile ecosystems — endangering lakes, rivers and wild rice beds. Award-winning actor and activist Jane Fonda joined calls to stop the pipeline in Minnesota.
Jane Fonda: “We were driving down the highway, and we saw this, and we saw the pipeline that they want to lay under the headwaters of the Mississippi. That company, Enbridge, it’s a foreign company. It’s bringing oil from Canada, tar sands oil, the worst. We’re here to try to stop it.”
Members of the newly formed Union of Musicians and Allied Workers on Monday held dozens of actions at Spotify offices around the world, protesting the streaming company’s refusal to increase its payment rates to artists. Spotify currently pays most artists about a third of a cent per stream — among the lowest rates of any streaming company. Meanwhile, Spotify’s value has tripled during the pandemic. This is Myer Clarity, a musician in Toronto.
Myer Clarity: “As the biggest streaming service of all the streaming services, quit paying less than 0.004 [dollars] a stream. We know you have the income. We know the shareholders have the income. We’ve seen the receipts.”