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Posted by Worldkrap on

Decision on Times Square New Year’s Eve Event Due This Week

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said Sunday a decision will be made by Christmas on whether to hold the event as in previous years before the pandemic, now that the omicron variant is spreading rapidly through the city and officials are scrambling to increase testing capacity amid heightened demand.  

Last year’s New Year’s Eve celebration in Times Square was a socially distanced affair, attended by small groups of essential workers. This November, de Blasio announced the event would come back “full strength” with a requirement that attendees show proof of vaccination and those unable to be vaccinated because of a disability show proof of a negative COVID-19 test.

De Blasio called omicron a “fast, temporary phenomenon” that is expected to surge in the next few weeks then likely dissipate. He noted that most city residents are vaccinated, making the recent outbreak more manageable than when COVID-19 first appeared in early spring 2020.

According to city statistics, about 90% of adults and about 80% of all residents have received at least one vaccine dose.  

“It’s important not to fight yesterday’s war,” de Blasio said. “It’s important to not think we are back in the spring of 2020 or even the winter of 2020. This is a highly vaccinated city where people have much more protection than ever before.”  

The mayor and health officials announced Thursday the city would give out 1 million free N95 masks and 500,000 free at-home tests, to be distributed through community organizations. On Sunday they said eight new fixed-site testing sites and 17 new mobile units would be opened by this week, bringing the city’s totals to 36 fixed sites and 93 mobile units, with more anticipated.

Posted by Ukrap on

Міністр оборони України: Досвід ЗСУ – найкращий досвід протистояння Росії

Україна має суверенне право приєднуватися до будь-якого альянсу згідно з рішенням Бухарестського саміту 2008 року – міністр оборони

Posted by Ukrap on

Делегація Конгресу США відвідала Київ для обговорення агресії Росії

Кроу разом з колегами наголосили на двопартійній підтримці суверенітету і територіальної цілісності України та її євроатлантичної траєкторії

Posted by Ukrap on

Литва готова передати Україні летальну зброю – голова Міноборони

Про це Арвідас Анушаускас заявив на спільній пресконференції з міністром оборони Німеччини

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El Pais Newspaper: Catholic Church in Spain Faces Major Abuse Investigation

Spain’s Catholic Church is to open an investigation into alleged sex abuse of hundreds of children by members of the clergy dating back 80 years that the newspaper El Pais has uncovered, the daily said on Sunday.

The investigation will look into allegations of abuse against 251 priests and some lay people from religious institutions that the paper has uncovered, El Pais said.

The paper has not published in full its findings from a three-year investigation it conducted into the issue, but said its correspondent gave a 385-page dossier to Pope Francis on Dec. 2 while the papal entourage and journalists were flying from Rome to Cyprus.

The number of victims is at least 1,237 but could rise into the thousands, the paper said. The allegations concern 31 religious orders and 31 of the country’s some 70 dioceses. The oldest case dates back to 1942 and the most recent to 2018.

The investigation will be carried out by the Spanish bishops conference, which is headed by Cardinal Juan Jose Omella, the archbishop of Barcelona, according to El Pais.

Officials from the bishops conference were not available for comment on Sunday.

A Vatican spokesman was not immediately available, but the Vatican does not usually comment on the work of national bishops conferences.

In November, Pope Francis thanked journalists for helping to uncover clerical sexual abuse scandals that the Catholic Church originally tried to cover up.

Posted by Ukrap on

Мінцифра: понад 3 млн українців успішно скористалися послугою єПідтримка

За словами Михайла Федорова, найбільше грошей українці витратили на книжки, кінотеатри, залізничний транспорт

Posted by Ukrap on

«Тут немає ніякого релігійного підтексту»: Епіфаній закликав вакцинуватися проти коронавірусу

За словами предстоятеля ПЦУ, в Україні другий рік триває боротьба «зі ще одним невидимим, але реальним фронтом небезпечної коронавірусної хвороби, яка забирає дуже багато людських життів»

Posted by Ukrap on

Заступник голови МЗС Росії: пропозиції Москви – альтернатива «військовому сценарію»

Posted by Ukrap on

Один із гірників, які травмувалися на шахті Дніпропетровщини, перебуває у стабільно тяжкому стані

Posted by Ukrap on

COVID-19: в Україні повністю вакциновані майже 13 мільйонів людей

За добу 18 грудня в Україні від COVID-19 вакцинували 62 686 людей, зокрема, додаткову дозу отримали 18 осіб, повідомили у МОЗ

Posted by Ukrap on

19 грудня стартує проєкт єПідтримка для отримання тисячі гривень за вакцинацію

Зарахування коштів від Мінекономіки варто очікувати протягом 10 днів, кажуть у Мінцифрі

Posted by Worldkrap on

US Fishing Industry Teams Up with Oil Lobby to Fight Offshore Wind

Members of the U.S. commercial fishing industry are teaming up with an oil industry-backed lobbying group to fight offshore wind energy development on the East Coast, according to documents reviewed by Reuters and interviews with people involved.

The unusual alliance reflects the breadth of opposition President Joe Biden faces as his administration pushes to expand offshore wind power and other clean energy sources dramatically to combat climate change.

The fishing industry believes offshore wind farms will interfere with vessel navigation and hurt crucial stocks like squid and scallops, while some in the oil industry see renewable energy projects as unwanted competition to fossil fuels.

Several fishing businesses, including a seafood dealer in Rhode Island and fishing groups in New York and Massachusetts, sued the administration this week in federal court in Washington, D.C. to block its approval of the Vineyard Wind offshore wind project off the Massachusetts coast.

They are represented at no cost by attorneys from the Texas Public Policy Foundation, which opposes policies that encourage renewable energy at the expense of fossil fuels, according to court filings reviewed by Reuters and details on the group’s web site.

TPPF also released a two-and-a-half minute film this week featuring the plaintiffs working and voicing their concerns about the potential impact of offshore wind projects on their businesses. Short versions of the film are being circulated on social media.

TPPF’s past donors include oil giants Exxon Mobil Corp , Chevron Corp and the foundation of billionaire industrialist Charles Koch, who has spent millions combating climate change regulation, according to public documents.

Officials for Exxon and Koch did not comment. Chevron confirmed it had supported TPPF in the past.

Meghan Lapp, fisheries liaison for Rhode Island-based Seafreeze Shoreside Inc, a seafood dealer and plaintiff in the lawsuit, told Reuters she had approached TPPF several months ago to see if it would be willing to represent the group.

She expressed no concern about the group’s ties to the oil and gas industry, saying: “If your entire economic future was at stake, and somebody offered to help you, would you care?”

TPPF attorney Ted Hadzi-Antich said the decision to take the case was aligned with TPPF’s mission to protect individual liberty and encourage limited federal government.

“One of our main missions is to ensure to the extent that we can the opportunity for all Americans to earn a living in a lawful way,” he said.

 

The Department of Interior, which oversees the administration’s offshore wind permitting, would not comment.

The department has said previously that it is working on plans to compensate commercial fishermen for any impact that offshore wind development might have on them.

The fishing industry’s lawsuit alleges that the Biden administration’s approval of the Vineyard Wind project in May violated federal laws because it did not adequately seek public input or consider the impact on commercial fishing and marine species.

Vineyard Wind would consist of 84 turbines located 14 miles off the coast. It would be the nation’s first large-scale offshore wind project.

A spokesperson for Vineyard Wind, which is a joint venture between Avangrid Inc and Denmark’s Copenhagen Infrastructure Partners, would not comment on the suit.

The Biden administration had announced in March a target to deploy 30 gigawatts of offshore wind energy by 2030 by opening new areas to development, accelerating permits and boosting public financing for projects. It says 30 gigawatts would be enough to power 10 million homes and cut 78 million metric tonnes of carbon dioxide per year.

The plan is part of Biden’s broader effort to eliminate U.S. greenhouse gas emissions to fight climate change, an agenda that Republicans argue could bring economic ruin but that Democrats say can create jobs while protecting the environment.

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Despite Bonanza, Aid Trickles Slowly to US Homeless Students

Frank Hardy, 18, has been homeless for the past eight years, moving in and out of shelters with his mom, or staying with his sister’s family while his mom has been in jail.

As part of an economic stimulus package to overcome the COVID-19 pandemic, the U.S. Congress voted in March to fast-track $800 million and urged educators to move quickly to aid the estimated 1.5 million students like Hardy who are homeless across America.

But the cash has yet to reach the Los Angeles Unified School district, which oversees Hardy’s high school. Some states and school districts rushed their millions to those in need. But California has only begun disbursing the first quarter of its allotment of $98.7 million.

The federal government authorized sending out a first $200 million in April followed by the rest last summer.

Other big states such as New York and Florida are even further behind, having yet to deliver a dime to the districts, because of bureaucratic logjams or because some districts are ill-equipped even to find students in need.

“In the early part of the pandemic, the most stable place in the lives of homeless students – school – disappeared,” said Barbara Duffield, executive director of SchoolHouse Connection, a Washington-based non-profit that addresses student homelessness.

Even with the return to in-class learning that followed initial moves to remote tuition, Duffield said, “We know we’re missing tons of students.”

SchoolHouse Connection and the University of Michigan conducted a survey in October of 700 school districts and found a 4% increase in student homelessness, compared to the same period the year before the pandemic.

 

A story of perseverance

Hardy is on track to graduate in June from the Ramon C. Cortines School of Visual and Performing Arts, even after losing most of his junior year to the pandemic, living in a motel without a proper internet connection and trying to work off a faulty laptop.

“I was never going to let being homeless stop me from achieving what I want to achieve,” said Hardy, who dreams of becoming a professional singer.

Only 68% of homeless students graduated high school in 2019, some 18 percentage points below the national average.

Hardy currently lives with his mother Cherie Hardy, 51, at a People Assisting the Homeless shelter in Los Angeles.

Cherie Hardy said she has a record for robbery, theft and other offenses, but has straightened her life out in part because “I have a son that needs me.”

Many other homeless students have slipped through the cracks.

At least 420,000 homeless students lost contact with their schools during the pandemic, according to Republican Senator Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, who along with Democratic Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia championed the last-minute amendment that provided the $800 million.

Schools are using the funds to buy food, clothes and school supplies. In some cases they are paying for car repairs or car insurance to get kids get to school, or cell phones so counselors can check in with students. Cincinnati and Nashville schools have hired Spanish-speaking social workers.

Cherie Hardy said she would have welcomed help buying her son clothes or a laptop.

The Los Angeles Unified School District’s homeless liaison, Angela Chandler, said the district is exploring hiring staff to identify and reach out to homeless students, and she would like to help high school students continue their education by funding college tours that might inspire kids who otherwise would never visit a campus.

“The possibilities are endless,” Chandler said.

 

But the second largest district in the country has yet to receive any of the nearly $8 million it is due. Funds from the first tranche of $883,000 should be sent out “shortly,” a California Department of Education spokesperson said on Wednesday. A second tranche of $7.1 million will be received in January. The spokesperson did not address why the process has taken so long.

Florida school districts could only begin applying for their share of $43.8 million as of Dec. 2, a spokesperson for the state’s Department of Education said.

New York state has yet to issue any of its $58.9 million from the new funds. The application period of the first tranche was opened on Dec. 1 and closes on Dec. 22, its Education Department said.

Even Murkowski’s state Alaska “is a little bit overwhelmed with all this money,” said Dave Mayo-Kiely, a program coordinator for homeless students and families in Anchorage.

Elsewhere some states were applying time-consuming rules the federal government had said were unnecessary, while in others state legislative or local school board approvals were slow to come, according to the education news site Chalkbeat.

“There are a million things that go wrong, things you don’t expect to happen,” said Phyllis Jordan, associate director of the FutureEd independent think tank at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., describing schools failing to find tutors to hire.

Some states have moved more quickly.

Lisa Phillips, North Carolina’s coordinator for the education of homeless children and youth, said her state followed federal guidelines and set up an approval process before districts made requests. Districts are getting funding within 10 days of making a valid application, she said.

More than half of North Carolina school districts have received their share of funds in the second phase of the program, with another 25% being processed.

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Omicron Variant Spurs New Lockdown in Netherlands

“The Netherlands is shutting down again,” Prime Minister Mark Rutte said Saturday in a televised address. The new measures, beginning Sunday, Rutte said, are because of a “fifth wave” of COVID-19, due to the highly contagious omicron variant.

Under the new rules, all non-essential shops will be closed to at least mid-January. Only two guests will be permitted to visit a household at one time. Four guests, however, will be allowed during the upcoming holidays from Dec. 24-26 and New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day.

Schools will be immediately closed until at least Jan. 9.

While the Netherland boasts an 85% inoculation rate of its population, only 9% have received booster shots.

Jaap van Dissel, the chief of the Dutch outbreak management team, said the shutdown will give people time to get their booster jabs and gives hospitals time to prepare for the possible surge in COVID cases.

Other European countries are also moving to reimpose restrictions to contain the variant’s spread.

The new variant has fueled infections in Britain close to the peak levels of early 2021, while other European countries and the United States are also experiencing surges.

Scientists are warning the British government needs to go further to prevent hospitals from being overwhelmed amid the surge. The warning comes after the government reimposed an indoor mask requirement and ordered people to show proof of vaccination or a recent negative coronavirus test when entering night clubs or large venues.

Britain’s Health Security Agency said Friday that 65 patients were hospitalized in England with omicron.

In France, the government said it would start inoculating children ages 5-11 beginning Wednesday. As he declared Friday the omicron variant was spreading like “lightning,” Prime Minister Jean Castex proposed requiring proof of vaccination for those entering public establishments.

The measure, which requires parliamentary approval, has triggered plans for protests Saturday in Paris, where the New Year’s Eve fireworks display has been canceled.

Anti-lockdown protests also are planned for Saturday in Turin, Italy.

 

Egypt has detected its first three cases of the new variant, according to the country’s health ministry. The ministry said Friday the three infected people were among 26 travelers who tested positive for coronavirus at Cairo International Airport.

The ministry did not say where the three came from, but the Masrawy news outlet reported they were among travelers from South Africa, which announced the discovery of the variant on Nov. 25.

In China, Beijing will maintain its relatively strict containment measures, while the rest of the country will remain flexible. “There is no one-fit-for-all policy” for local governments, a Chinese government said Saturday at a news conference.

China has identified two cases of the omicron variant and has mostly contained the spread of COVID-19 since it was first discovered in the central Chinese city of Wuhan in late 2019.

A recent study has found the risk of reinfection with omicron is more than five times higher compared to the delta variant, and it has shown no sign of causing milder symptoms.

“We find no evidence of omicron having different severity from delta,” said the study by Imperial College London. The study noted, however, that data on hospitalizations is still limited.

The study, conducted in England between Nov. 29 and Dec. 11, was based on 333,000 cases of infections involving different variants of the coronavirus.

More than 5.3 million people have died of COVID-19 globally since the coronavirus emerged two years ago, according to the Johns Hopkins University Coronavirus Resource Center.

Administering vaccines

The center reported more than 8.6 billion doses of vaccines had been administered worldwide as of midday Saturday, a massive logistical campaign complicated by omicron’s surge.

Several countries are racing to accelerate vaccination campaigns as mounting evidence supports the need for booster doses to combat the omicron variant.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Saturday that his country would send 15 million doses of vaccines to Africa, where infections are surging and vaccination rates are low. Erdogan made the announcement at a summit of African leaders in Istanbul.

“It is disgraceful for humanity that only 6% of Africa’s population has been vaccinated,” Erdogan said.

A vaccine developed in India, Covovax, was granted emergency approval Friday by the World Health Organization. WHO vaccines chief Mariangela Simao said the approval “aims to increase access particularly to lower-income countries.”

In Europe, European Union governments agreed to order more than 180 million doses of a BioNTech-Pfizer vaccine adapted for omicron, the head of the European Commission said Friday.

Japan’s Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said Friday the government plans to accelerate booster shots to around 31 million vulnerable people. He also said he spoke Friday with Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla about oral treatments.

South Africa, which first identified the omicron variant, said Friday it would donate about 2 million doses of Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine to other African countries next year via a medical supplies platform established by the African Union.

Some information in this report came from Agence France-Presse, The Associated Press and Reuters. 

 

 

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UK Brexit Minister Quits as New COVID Rules Spark Anger

A senior member of Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s Cabinet resigned Saturday night, adding to a sense of disarray within a government that has faced rebellion from his own lawmakers and voters this week.

Brexit Minister David Frost said in a letter to Johnson that he was stepping down immediately after a newspaper reported that he had planned to leave the post next month.

Frost said the process of leaving the EU would be a long-term job. “That is why we agreed earlier this month that I would move on in January and hand over the baton to others to manage our future relationship with the EU,” he said in his resignation letter.

However, the Mail on Sunday said earlier that he resigned because of growing disillusionment with Johnson’s policies. The newspaper said Frost’s decision was triggered by last week’s introduction of new pandemic restrictions, including a requirement that people show proof of vaccination or a negative coronavirus test to enter nightclubs and other crowded venues.

And in his resignation letter, Frost said the U.K. needed to “learn to live with COVID. … You took a brave decision in July, against considerable opposition, to open up the country again. Sadly, it did not prove to be irreversible, as I wished, and believe you did too. I hope we can get back on track soon and not be tempted by the kind of coercive measures we have seen elsewhere.”

The news follows a stunning defeat for Johnson’s Conservative Party in a by-election Thursday in North Shropshire, a longtime party stronghold. Earlier this week, 99 Conservative lawmakers voted against so-called vaccine passports in the House of Commons, the biggest rebellion in Johnson’s 2 1/2 years as prime minister.

Angela Rayner, deputy leader of the opposition Labour Party, said Johnson isn’t up to the job as the omicron variant drives a spike in coronavirus infections.

“A government in total chaos right when the country faces an uncertain few weeks” Rayner tweeted. “We deserve better than this buffoonery.”

Even some of Johnson’s own party members piled on.

“The prime minister is running out of time and out of friends to deliver on the promises and discipline of a true Conservative government,” tweeted Conservative lawmaker Andrew Bridgen. “Lord Frost has made it clear, 100 Conservative lawmakers have made it clear, but most importantly, so did the people of North Shropshire.”

Frost led talks with the European Union as Johnson’s government sought to re-negotiate terms of Britain’s withdrawal from the bloc.

His resignation comes after the UK recently softened its stance in the talks with the EU over post-Brexit trade rules for Northern Ireland. The change of tone from Britain came as a surprise to many because it seemed at odds with the hardline position of the Brexit minister, who was nicknamed “Frosty the No Man.”

Johnson’s government is also under fire over reports that officials held Christmas parties last year when pandemic rules barred such gatherings.

Adding to his problems with the so-called partygate scandal, Johnson’s choice to investigate the claims had to step aside after he also was tied to such parties.

Simon Case, the head of the civil service, stepped aside from the investigation after the Guido Fawkes website reported Friday that his department held two parties in December 2020.

The scandal erupted when a video surfaced showing a mock news conference at which some of Johnson’s staff appeared to make light of a party that violated the pandemic rules. Until that time, the prime minister had steadfastly denied government officials had broken any lockdown rules.

The Times of London newspaper reported Saturday that one of the events held by Case’s department, the Cabinet Office, was listed in digital calendars as “Christmas party!” and was organized by a member of Case’s team.

The Cabinet Office said Friday that the event was a virtual quiz in which a small number of people who had been working together in the same office took part from their desks.

“The Cabinet Secretary played no part in the event but walked through the team’s office on the way to his own office,” the office said in a statement. “No outside guests or other staff were invited or present. This lasted for an hour and drinks and snacks were bought by those attending. He also spoke briefly to staff in the office before leaving.” 

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Pentagon Documents Reveal ‘Deeply Flawed’ US Air War: Report

Newly obtained Pentagon documents show that the U.S. air wars in the Middle East have been marked by “deeply flawed intelligence” and resulted in thousands of civilian deaths, including many children, The New York Times reported Saturday.

It said a trove of confidential documents covering more than 1,300 reports of civilian casualties under cuts the government’s portrayal of a war fought with precision bombs.

Pledges of transparency and accountability, it said, had regularly fallen short.

“Not a single record provided includes a finding of wrongdoing or disciplinary action,” the paper reported in what it said was the first of a two-part series.

While several of the cases mentioned by the Times have been previously reported, it said its investigation showed that the number of civilian deaths had been “drastically undercounted,” by at least several hundred.

Among three cases cited was a July 19, 2016, bombing by U.S. special forces of what were believed to be three Islamic State group staging areas in northern Syria. Initial reports were of 85 fighters killed. Instead, the dead were 120 farmers and other villagers.

Another example was a November 2015 attack in Ramadi, Iraq, after a man was seen dragging “an unknown heavy object” into an Islamic State position. The “object,” a review found, was a child, who died in the strike.

Poor or inadequate surveillance footage often contributed to deadly targeting failures, the report said.

More recently, the United States had to retract its claim that a vehicle destroyed by a drone on a Kabul street in August had contained bombs. Victims of the strike, it turned out, were 10 members of a family, including children.

Many civilian survivors of U.S. attacks, the report says, were left with disabilities requiring expensive treatment, but condolence payments numbered fewer than a dozen.

‘Mistakes do happen’

Asked by the Times for comment, Captain Bill Urban, spokesperson for the U.S. Central Command, said that “even with the best technology in the world, mistakes do happen, whether based on incomplete information or misinterpretation of the information available. And we try to learn from those mistakes.

“We work diligently to avoid such harm. We investigate each credible instance. And we regret each loss of innocent life,” Urban said.

The U.S. air campaign in the Middle East grew rapidly in the final years of former President Barack Obama’s administration, as public support waned for the seemingly endless ground wars.

At the time, Obama said the new approach, often using unmanned aircraft controlled from far away, represented “the most precise air campaign in history,” able to keep civilian deaths to a minimum.

The new technology made it possible to destroy a part of a house filled with enemy fighters while leaving the rest of the structure standing, the Pentagon said.

But over a five-year period, U.S. forces executed more than 50,000 airstrikes in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria, the report said, with much less than the advertised precision.

In compiling its report, the Times said its reporters had “visited more than 100 casualty sites and interviewed scores of surviving residents and current and former American officials.”

The paper obtained the Pentagon documents through Freedom of Information requests beginning in March 2017 and lawsuits filed against the Defense Department and the Central Command. A new suit seeks records from Afghanistan.

Before launching airstrikes, the military must navigate elaborate protocols to estimate and minimize civilian deaths.

But there are several ways available intelligence can mislead, fall short, or at times lead to disastrous errors, the report found.

For example, the Times said, video shot from the air does not show people in buildings, under foliage or under tarpaulins or aluminum covers.

And available data can be misinterpreted, as when people running to a fresh bombing site are assumed to be militants, not would-be rescuers.

Sometimes, the Times said, “Men on motorcycles moving ‘in formation,’ displaying the ‘signature’ of an imminent attack, were just men on motorcycles.”

Captain Urban, the Central Command spokesperson, said air-war planners do their best under exceedingly difficult conditions.

But he added that “in many combat situations, where targeteers face credible threat streams and do not have the luxury of time, the fog of war can lead to decisions that tragically result in civilian harm.” 

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Ransomware Persists Even as High-Profile Attacks Have Slowed

In the months since President Joe Biden warned Russia’s Vladimir Putin that he needed to crack down on ransomware gangs in his country, there hasn’t been a massive attack like the one last May that resulted in gasoline shortages. But that’s small comfort to Ken Trzaska.

Trzaska is president of Lewis & Clark Community College, a small Illinois school that canceled classes for days after a ransomware attack last month that knocked critical computer systems offline.

“That first day,” Trzaska said, “I think all of us were probably up 20-plus hours, just moving through the process, trying to get our arms around what happened.”

Even if the United States isn’t currently enduring large-scale, front-page ransomware attacks on par with ones earlier this year that targeted the global meat supply or kept millions of Americans from filling their gas tanks, the problem hasn’t disappeared. In fact, the attack on Trzaska’s college was part of a barrage of lower-profile episodes that have upended the businesses, governments, schools and hospitals that were hit.

The college’s ordeal reflects the challenges the Biden administration faces in stamping out the threat — and its uneven progress in doing so since ransomware became an urgent national security problem last spring.

Smaller-scale attacks continue

U.S. officials have recaptured some ransom payments, cracked down on abuses of cryptocurrency, and made some arrests. Spy agencies have launched attacks against ransomware groups and the U.S. has pushed federal, state and local governments, as well as private industries, to boost protections.

Yet six months after Biden’s admonitions to Putin, it’s hard to tell whether hackers have eased up because of U.S. pressure. Smaller-scale attacks continue, with ransomware criminals continuing to operate from Russia with seeming impunity. Administration officials have given conflicting assessments about whether Russia’s behavior has changed since last summer. Further complicating matters, ransomware is no longer at the top of the U.S.-Russia agenda, with Washington focused on dissuading Putin from invading Ukraine.

The White House said it was determined to “fight all ransomware” through its various tools but that the government’s response depends on the severity of the attack.

“There are some that are law enforcement matters and others that are high impact, disruptive ransomware activity posing a direct national security threat that require other measures,” the White House statement said.

Ransomware attacks — in which hackers lock up victims’ data and demand exorbitant sums to return it — surfaced as a national security emergency for the administration after a May attack on Colonial Pipeline, which supplies nearly half the fuel consumed on the East Coast.

The attack prompted the company to halt operations, causing gas shortages for days, though it resumed service after paying more than $4 million in ransom. Soon after came an attack on meat processor JBS, which paid an $11 million ransom.

Biden met with Putin in June in Geneva, where he suggested critical infrastructure sectors should be “off limits” for ransomware and said the U.S. should know in six months to a year “whether we have a cybersecurity arrangement that begins to bring some order.”

He reiterated the message in July, days after a major attack on a software company, Kaseya, that affected hundreds of businesses, and said he expected Russia to take action on cybercriminals when the U.S. provides enough information to do so.

Since then, there have been some notable attacks from groups believed to be based in Russia, including against Sinclair Broadcast Group and the National Rifle Association, but none of the same consequence or impact of those from last spring or summer.

‘Whole-of government’ effort

One reason may be increased U.S. government scrutiny, or fear of it.

The Biden administration in September sanctioned a Russia-based virtual currency exchange that officials say helped ransomware gangs launder funds. Last month, the Justice Department unsealed charges against a suspected Ukrainian ransomware operator who was arrested in Poland and has recovered millions of dollars in ransom payments. Gen. Paul Nakasone, the head of U.S. Cyber Command, told The New York Times his agency has begun offensive operations against ransomware groups. The White House says that “whole-of-government” effort will continue.

“I think the ransomware folks, the ones conducting them, are stepping back like, ‘Hey, if we do that, that’s going to get the United States government coming after us offensively,'” Kevin Powers, security strategy adviser for cyber risk firm CyberSaint, said of attacks against critical infrastructure.

U.S. officials, meanwhile, have shared a small number of names of suspected ransomware operators with Russian officials, who have said they have started investigating, according to two people familiar with the matter who were not authorized to speak publicly.

It’s unclear what Russia will do with those names, though Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov insisted the countries have been having a useful dialogue and said “a working mechanism has been established and is actually functioning.”

It’s also hard to measure the impact of individual arrests on the overall threat. Even as the suspected ransomware hacker awaits extradition to the U.S. following his arrest in Poland, another who was indicted by federal prosecutors was later reported by a British tabloid to be living comfortably in Russia and driving luxury cars.

Some are skeptical about attributing any drop-off in high-profile attacks to U.S. efforts.

“It could have just been a fluke,” said Dmitri Alperovitch, former chief technology officer of the cybersecurity firm Crowdstrike. He said asking Russia to crack down on large-scale attacks won’t work because “it’s way too granular of a request to calibrate criminal activity they don’t even fully control.”

Top American officials have given conflicting answers about ransomware trends since Biden’s discussions with Putin. Some FBI and Justice Department officials say they’ve seen no change in Russian behavior. National Cyber Director Chris Inglis said there’s been a discernible decrease in attacks but that it was too soon to say why.

It’s hard to quantify the number of attacks given the lack of baseline information and uneven reporting from victims, though the absence of disruptive incidents is an important marker for a White House trying to focus its attention on the most significant national security risks and catastrophic breaches.

Victims of ransomware attacks in the past few months have included hospitals, small businesses, colleges like Howard University — which briefly took many of its systems offline after discovering a September attack — and Virginia’s Legislature.

Not if, but when

The attack at Lewis & Clark, in Godfrey, Illinois, was discovered two days before Thanksgiving when the school’s IT director detected suspicious activity and proactively took systems offline, said Trzaska, the president.

A ransom note from hackers demanded a payment, though Trzaska declined to reveal the sum or identify the culprits. Though many attacks come from hackers in Russia or Eastern Europe, some originate elsewhere.

With vital education systems affected, including email and the school’s online learning platform, administrators canceled classes for days after the Thanksgiving break and communicated updates to students via social media and through a public alert system.

The college, which had backups on the majority of its servers, resumed operations this month.

The ordeal was daunting enough to inspire Trzaska and another college president who he says endured a similar experience to plan a cybersecurity panel.

“The stock quote from everyone,” Trzaska said, “is, ‘Not if it’s going to happen, but when it’s going to happen.’” 

Posted by Worldkrap on

Dutch Government Holds Emergency Meeting on Omicron Spread

The Dutch government is holding an emergency meeting Saturday with health advisers about the fast-spreading omicron variant of the coronavirus before an expected announcement of more lockdown measures to stem its spread.

The government proposed new measures Friday to curb the alarming spread of the new variant, as other European countries are moving to reimpose restrictions to contain the variant’s spread. 

The health experts have recommended the government order a “strict” lockdown, according to Dutch media reports, just days after a partial lockdown closing non-essential businesses was extended through January 14. Primary schools also were closed early for the winter holidays because of high infection rates among children.

The new variant has fueled infections in Britain close to the peak levels of early 2021, while other European countries and the United States are also experiencing surges.

Scientists are warning the British government needs to go further to prevent hospitals from being overwhelmed amid the surge. The warning comes after the government previously reimposed an indoor mask requirement and ordered people to show proof of vaccination or a recent negative coronavirus test when entering night clubs or large venues.

Britain’s Health Security Agency said Friday that 65 patients were hospitalized in England with omicron. 

In France, the government said it would start inoculating children between ages 5 and 11 beginning Wednesday. As he declared Friday the Omicron variant was spreading like “lightning,” Prime Minister Jean Castex proposed requiring proof of vaccination for those entering public establishments. 

The measure, which requires parliamentary approval, has triggered plans for protests Saturday in Paris, where the New Year’s Eve fireworks display has been canceled.

 

Anti-lockdown protests also are planned for Saturday in Turin, Italy.

Egypt has detected its first three cases of the new variant, according to the country’s health ministry. The ministry said Friday the three infected people were among 26 travelers who tested positive for coronavirus at Cairo International Airport. 

The ministry did not say where the three came from, but the Masrawy news outlet reported they were among travelers from South Africa, which announced the discovery of the variant on November 25.

In China, Beijing will maintain its relatively strict containment measures, while the rest of the country will remain flexible. “There is no one-fit-for-all policy” for local governments, a Chinese government said Saturday at a news conference.

China has identified two cases of the omicron variant and has mostly contained the spread of COVID-19 since it was first discovered in the central Chinese city of Wuhan in late 2019.

A recent study has found the risk of reinfection with omicron is more than five times higher compared to the delta variant, and it has shown no sign of causing milder ill effects.

“We find no evidence of omicron having different severity from delta,” said the study by Imperial College London. The study noted, however, that data on hospitalizations is still limited.

The study, conducted in England between November 29 and December 11, was based on 333,000 cases of infections involving different variants of the coronavirus.

More than 5.3 million people have died of COVID-19 globally since the coronavirus emerged two years ago, according to the Johns Hopkins University Coronavirus Resource Center.

Administering vaccines

The center reported more than 8.6 billion doses of vaccines had been administered worldwide as of mid-day Saturday, a massive logistical campaign complicated by omicron’s surge.

Several countries are racing to accelerate vaccination campaigns as mounting evidence supports the need for booster doses to combat the omicron variant.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Saturday that his country would send 15 million doses of vaccines to Africa, where infections are surging and vaccination rates are low. Erdogan made the announcement at a summit of African heads in Istanbul.

“It is disgraceful for humanity that only 6% of Africa’s population has been vaccinated,” Erdogan said.

A vaccine developed in India, Covovax, was granted emergency approval Friday by the World Health Organization. WHO vaccines chief Mariangela Simao said the approval “aims to increase access particularly to lower-income countries.”

In Europe, European Union governments agreed to order more than 180 million doses of a BioNTech-Pfizer vaccine adapted for omicron, the head of the European Commission said Friday.

Japan’s Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said Friday the government plans to accelerate booster shots to around 31 million vulnerable people. He also said he spoke Friday with Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla about oral treatments.

South Africa, which first identified the omicron variant, said Friday it would donate about 2 million doses of Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine to other African countries next year via a medical supplies platform established by the African Union.

Some information in this report came from Agence France-Presse, The Associated Press and Reuters.