The World Health Organization is calling on wealthy countries to halt plans to provide a third booster shot of COVID-19 vaccines to some citizens until at least 10% of the population of every country is vaccinated. The call, from WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, came Wednesday as the number of confirmed coronavirus cases worldwide topped 200 million.
Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus: “We cannot and we should not accept countries that have already used most of the global supply of vaccines using even more of it, while the world’s most vulnerable people remain unprotected.”
The WHO’s call was quickly rebuffed by the Biden administration. White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki told reporters the U.S. would provide a third booster shot to people at higher risk of COVID-19 if the FDA decides such shots are warranted.
The producers of some of the world’s most effective COVID-19 vaccines continue to raise prices on the life-saving inoculations, with Pfizer and Moderna set to charge the European Union more than $23 and $25 per dose, respectively. A recent study by the People’s Vaccine Alliance found Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna are charging governments as much as $41 billion above the estimated cost of production.
Globally, coronavirus cases are continuing to rise, fueled by the spread of the Delta variant. China has ordered mass testing in Wuhan — the first epicenter of the pandemic — and suspended travel and public events across much of the country. China has confirmed new cases in at least three dozen cities in more than half of its provinces.
Thailand has reported another new record for daily infections, with over 20,000 new cases on Wednesday.
In Japan, the Tokyo Olympics organizing body reported yet another daily record for infections, with 31 more positive tests reported Thursday among people associated with the games.
COVID-19 cases continue their exponential rise in the United States, with unvaccinated people accounting for nearly all hospitalizations and deaths. In Illinois, Governor J.B. Pritzker has ordered a mask mandate for all students, teachers and staffers during the upcoming school year.
In Arkansas, one of the worst-hit states, Republican Governor Asa Hutchinson said Wednesday he regrets signing a bill banning local mask mandates, and now wants the law reversed.
Gov. Asa Hutchinson: “Yes, in hindsight, I wish that had not become law. But it is the law, and the only chance we have is either to amend it or for the courts to say that it has an unconstitutional foundation.”
Florida continues to set new records for hospitalizations and deaths, accounting for about one in five U.S. COVID-19 cases. Despite that, Republican Governor Ron DeSantis has threatened to withhold funds to school districts that defy his ban on mask mandates and other health measures. On Wednesday, DeSantis blamed immigrants and President Biden for Florida’s COVID surge.
Gov. Ron DeSantis: “So, why don’t you do your job? Why don’t you get this border secure? And until you do that, I don’t want to hear a blip about COVID from you.”
At least four Florida school districts have moved to flout Governor DeSantis’s statewide ban on mask mandates. But Broward County said Wednesday it was reversing its mask mandate under pressure from the governor. This is Broward County Mayor Steven Geller speaking Monday.
Mayor Steven Geller: “Unfortunately, Dade and Broward County lead the nation in new hospitalizations. … The numbers are doubling every 10 or 11 days. Geometric progression. This is horrifying.”
In Houston, Mayor Sylvester Turner has renewed a mask order for city employees, defying a Texas ban on mask mandates. Republican Governor Greg Abbott has threatened to defund schools that require masks.
Meanwhile, Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin is expected to soon seek a presidential waiver to make COVID-19 vaccines mandatory for all active-duty soldiers.
Landlords in Georgia and Alabama have asked a federal judge to block the Biden administration’s new two-month moratorium on evictions. The new CDC moratorium covers areas of the United States where there is “substantial” or “high” spread of the coronavirus. The Alabama and Georgia chapters of the National Association of Realtors filed their motion with U.S. District Judge Dabney Friedrich, a Trump appointee who ruled in favor of landlords in May. We’ll have more on the story after headlines with Congressmember Ilhan Omar.
Protests in Lebanon on Thursday marked the first anniversary of one of the largest non-nuclear explosions in history: the Beirut port explosion that killed at least 218 people, injured 7,000 and destroyed or damaged 300,000 homes. So far, no one in the political leadership has been held accountable for leaving over 2,700 tons of highly explosive ammonium nitrate fertilizer unattended at Beirut’s port. This is Lea Noun, who lost her cousin to the explosion. She was among protesters who held a vigil at the site of the blast.
Lea Noun: “We all came on this sad day to an uprising, not a memorial. We all came with burnt hearts for our martyrs and heroes, who died as victims. My cousin is Joe Noun, who stood at warehouse number 12 and was opening the door as the explosion took place. They promised us a five-day investigation, and this is not the fifth day. This is day 365, and still nothing has come from the investigation.”
This comes amid an economic collapse and political crisis that has largely left Lebanon without a functioning government.
Meanwhile, Israel’s military says it fired artillery shells into southern Lebanon — and later carried out airstrikes — after Lebanese militants fired rockets into northern Israel. The fighting sparked large brush fires along the Israel-Lebanon border.
In northern Lebanon, crews battled wildfires for a third straight day as the blazes spread into Syria. Elsewhere in the Mediterranean region, Turkey has been hit by its most intense fires on record, with one blaze breaching a coal-fired power plant overnight in southwestern Turkey. Large swaths of Greece and Albania face “very poor” air quality amid a searing heat wave fueled by the climate crisis, with wildfires kicking up huge quantities of fine particulate matter.
In California, the fast-growing Dixie Fire engulfed the Northern California community of Greenville overnight, leveling its downtown area.
In Russia, record wildfires in the Siberian region of Yakutia have set an all-time emissions record — equivalent to more than 500 megatons of carbon dioxide.
Mexico’s government has filed a landmark lawsuit in a federal court in Massachusetts, seeking to hold 10 U.S.-based firearms companies accountable for Mexico’s epidemic of gun violence. Gun manufacturers named in the suit include Smith & Wesson, Colt and Glock. It’s the first time U.S. gunmakers have been sued by a foreign government. Mexican Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard announced the lawsuit Wednesday.
Marcelo Ebrard: “The companies named in the lawsuit should provide compensation to Mexico for the damages caused by their negligent practices. The amount in this case will be determined by the judge.”
Over 300,000 people have been killed since Mexico launched its U.S.-backed war on drugs in 2006.
Belarusian athlete Krystsina Tsimanouskaya has landed in Poland, where she is requesting political asylum. Last weekend, the sprinter refused orders from the Belarus Olympic delegation to leave the games in Tokyo and return to Belarus, after she criticized her coaches. Polish officials granted her a humanitarian visa, agreeing she would face harsh punishment under the authoritarian government of Alexander Lukashenko.
The United States healthcare system once again ranks dead last among wealthy countries. That’s according to a new report by the Commonwealth Fund. Researchers found the U.S. spends far more per capita than 10 other nations — Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Holland, New Zealand, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland and the U.K. — yet has the lowest life expectancy, highest infant and maternal mortality rates, and the most glaring inequities. Congressional Progressive Caucus Chair Pramila Jayapal responded, “Our cruel, for-profit healthcare system is broken. … It’s time to guarantee healthcare as a human right. It’s time for Medicare for All.”
In sports news, a new report finds the National Collegiate Athletic Association has consistently treated women’s sports as inferior to men’s — with stark gender-based differences in the goods, services and resources provided to competitors in “March Madness” basketball tournaments. An outside review commissioned by the NCAA recommends a number of reforms, including a combined men’s and women’s Final Four tournament.
Here in New York, at least four district attorneys have launched criminal probes into findings of sexual harassment by Democratic Governor Andrew Cuomo. Prosecutors in Westchester, Nassau, Manhattan and Albany have requested additional information from the office of New York Attorney General Letitia James, after her civil probe found Cuomo harassed at least 11 women in violation of the law — including unwanted touching and kissing, and inappropriate remarks. Democrats in the New York State Assembly said Wednesday they have enough votes to impeach Governor Cuomo. At the White House, Press Secretary Jen Psaki reiterated President Biden’s call for Cuomo to resign.
Press Secretary Jen Psaki: “Because of the abhorrent allegations that were made public yesterday, that it is time for Governor Cuomo to resign. … Obviously, if leadership changes in the state, we will work with a different leader.”