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Biden Announces New Effort to Fight Omicron Coronavirus Surge

U.S. President Joe Biden laid out a new concerted effort Tuesday to combat the surging omicron variant of the coronavirus, dispatching federal health care workers to short-handed hospitals, pre-positioning the national stockpile of medical equipment around the country and offering 500 million free COVID-19 test kits to Americans.

Biden detailed his attack plan in a White House address as the number of new coronavirus cases in the U.S. is markedly increasing again, with 143,000 recorded on Monday, along with another 1,300 deaths. Nearly three-fourths of the new cases are linked to the highly transmissible omicron variant. 

But Biden said that fully vaccinated people, and especially those who have gotten booster shots, can safely celebrate the upcoming Christmas and New Year’s holidays with family and friends. 

“We should all be concerned about omicron, but not panicked,” he said. 

He warned, however, “If you’re not fully vaccinated, you have reason to be concerned.” Biden said the 40 million unvaccinated people in the United States “have an obligation, quite frankly, a patriotic duty, to your country” to get inoculated. 

Moreover, he emphasized, “Your choice [whether to get vaccinated] can be a choice between life and death. Please get vaccinated. It’s the only responsible thing to do.” 

But even with the growing omicron threat, he said the United States is not returning to the earliest days of the coronavirus pandemic in March 2020, when thousands of businesses and schools were shut down. 

“Absolutely no,” Biden said. 

He told Americans, “I know you’re tired. I know you’re frustrated. We’ll get through this. There’s no challenge too big for America.” 

The government’s Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said about 204 million Americans, or 61%, are fully vaccinated, up from less than 1% at the beginning of 2021. But only 60.8 million people so far have gotten booster shots that health experts say provide the most protection against the omicron variant.

Biden said about 40 million Americans have not gotten any vaccination shots, many of them objecting to the government’s effort to get more people inoculated, saying it violates their freedom to make their own medical choices.

The president, however, said vaccine mandates he has imposed on government workers and the military, and is hoping to require at large companies with 100 or more employees that could affect 84 million workers, are “not to control your life, but to save your life.” 

Among some groups of people, getting vaccinated remains controversial — often, according to surveys, those who voted for former President Donald Trump in his unsuccessful 2020 reelection bid against Biden. 

Trump, a coronavirus victim while president, was booed by some supporters at an appearance in the southwestern state of Texas over the weekend when he told them he had gotten a booster shot.

Biden, who also has gotten a booster shot, said it was “one of the few things” he and his predecessor agree on, the need to get a booster shot in the arm.

The White House said the actions Biden announced Tuesday “will mitigate the impact unvaccinated individuals have on our health care system, while increasing access to free testing and getting more shots in arms to keep people safe and our schools and economy open.”

Biden said he is mobilizing an additional 1,000 military doctors, nurses and other health care workers to send to hospitals that need them in January and February. The White House said emergency medical response teams have been dispatched to six states with a shortage of health care workers. 

The U.S. is also expanding hospital bed capacity on an emergency basis ahead of the expected surge of the omicron variant cases, the White House said, while deploying hundreds of ambulances and emergency medical teams to transport patients to open beds.

A White House fact sheet on Biden’s address said the government has hundreds of millions of N-95 face masks, billions of gloves, tens of millions of hospital gowns and more than 100,000 ventilators in its strategic national stockpile, “all ready to ship out, if and when states need them.”

It said there are now 20,000 free COVID-19 testing sites across the U.S., and that the government is buying a half-billion at-home, rapid test kits for distribution to Americans who want them, starting next month.

The White House said that in recent months the government had added 10,000 vaccination sites across the country and now has 90,000. It plans to add new pop-up vaccination sites at some scattered spots across the U.S. and said private pharmacies are adding workers to administer more vaccinations.

 

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Шольц заявив Путіну про необхідність термінової деескалації між Києвом і Москвою

Минулого тижня Росія оприлюднила нові вимоги до країн Заходу, які в разі реалізації нададуть Москві фактичну сферу впливу в сусідніх країнах, у тому числі в Україні

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Переговори з Росією з питань безпеки можливі в січні – помічниця держсекретаря США

Минулого тижня Росія оприлюднила нові вимоги до країн Заходу, які в разі реалізації нададуть Москві фактичну сферу впливу в сусідніх країнах

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Молдова отримає від МВФ пакет допомоги для подолання наслідків пандемії

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UN Calls on Belarus and Poland for Better Migrant Treatment

The U.N. human rights office is calling on Belarus and Poland to end what it calls appalling treatment of refugees and migrants stranded along their common border and to live up to their obligations under international human rights and refugee laws.

A U.N. human rights team visited the region between November 29 and December 3 to get a firsthand view of the situation. While Polish officials met with the team, Belarusian authorities did not.

U.N. human rights spokeswoman Liz Throssell says team members were not granted access to the restricted border area. However, she says they interviewed government officials, civil society representatives and dozens of refugees and migrants who had arrived in Poland through Belarus.

Those interviewed, she says, described the dire conditions on both sides of the border.

“The majority said that, while in Belarus, they had been beaten or threatened by security forces and also alleged that the Belarusian security forces forced them to cross the border…Several interviewees said Belarusian security forces had demanded extortionate sums for food and water…They spoke about their fear, their fear about being alone in the forest, even fear of dying because of the difficult conditions there. One of the migrants said it is absolute hell for everyone,” Throssell said.

The International Organization for Migration says 21 migrants have died along the Belarus-EU border, many from hypothermia because of freezing temperatures.

The European Commission accuses Belarus of creating a crisis by luring migrants from the Middle East, Afghanistan, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and other countries to the capital, Minsk, with the false promise of gaining easy entry to the European Union.

Throssell says neither Belarus nor Poland wants the refugees and migrants and push them across borders. She says Poland also systematically detains those whom it has not returned to Belarus.

“Many of those interviewed said they had not been given proper physical and mental health care in detention, and had limited contact with the outside world, including with independent lawyers, human rights monitors and civil society organizations,” Throssell said. “We remind Poland that detention should be an exceptional measure of last resort, and only be used for a limited period of time, if at all.”

The U.N. human rights office is urging authorities of both countries to give human rights and humanitarian actors, as well as journalists, lawyers, and civil society representatives, access to the border areas. It is calling on them and on the EU to respect and protect the human rights of migrants in line with international law.

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Americans Battle Pandemic Fatigue as COVID Cases Surge

Last year, tens of millions of Americans were forced to abandon holiday travel plans due to the surging coronavirus pandemic. This year, more than 100 million estimated travelers nationwide nervously watch a persistent delta variant and a recently discovered omicron variant threaten gatherings once again.

“I haven’t seen my mother in a year, and I can’t imagine a world in which I can’t go home to see her for the holidays,” said Autumn Town, a New Orleans resident and co-owner of Pete’s Out in the Cold, a local bar. “We’re changing our plans a little — we won’t go out to restaurants like we normally might. But I get so few chances to see family already, I refuse to miss this one.”

New Orleans is a major tourist destination, and Town said many small businesses thrive on the increased tourism the holiday season brings. Like many locals, she said she’s torn over the best way to proceed as COVID-19 numbers rise again.

“Nuanced is the best way I can describe my feelings,” she explained. “On one hand, I know the most important thing is to keep people safe. I certainly agree with that. On the other hand, I know that if we prematurely shut things down again, small businesses like mine will suffer. And the people we employ at small businesses will suffer, too. Those are really people who endure real consequences when we’re closed.”

As the pandemic inches closer to the two-year anniversary of its arrival in the United States, a growing number of Americans are fatigued and frustrated by the strain the coronavirus has put on daily life.

“I think a lot of people are just having trouble caring as much as they did a year and a half ago,” Town explained, “and there are good reasons for that, like vaccines that are helping keep us safer. But, still, when a customer comes into the bar and yells about having to wear a mask, you can tell nerves are running thin.”

 

Omicron on the rise

The United States is averaging more than 130,000 new COVID-19 cases each day, according to Johns Hopkins University. That number is up 10% from a week ago and back to levels reached during last summer’s surge of infections.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced on Monday that the omicron variant accounted for 73% of cases reported in the United States last week and is now responsible for the vast number of new infections across broad stretches of the country. Health officials continue to collect data on the virulence of omicron and the extent to which current vaccines provide protection.

Many Americans are eagerly awaiting those findings.

 

“I’ve used science as my guide on how to act during the pandemic, and that’s what I’ll continue to do,” said Dan McGrath, a college counselor living in New Orleans. “I see the data that is suggesting this variant spreads faster but is less severe, but I also know we tend to learn more about these things as experts have more data.”

McGrath said he and his wife had a vacation planned for the holidays but decided to cancel it for fear of bringing the virus back to their 6-month-old son. McGrath said they have had no problem going out in the city, where 80% of the eligible adult population have received at least one dose of the vaccine. They go to restaurants, grab a drink with friends, and work in schools. But their vacation destination in Arkansas felt different.

“There’s only a 40% vaccination rate in that particular (Arkansas) county,” he said. “That gave us pause, but if I was only worried about my wife and I, we probably would have still gone. We’re vaccinated. We wear masks. But we have a baby at home, and even a moderate risk doesn’t feel worth it.”

Balancing the risk

Mariana Martelli, a communications professional in New Orleans, said she has remained vigilant throughout the pandemic. 

“I got my booster (shot) as soon as it was available, and I still wear my mask as much as I did at the height of the pandemic,” she told VOA.

Still, as careful as she’s been, Martelli acknowledged some pandemic fatigue has set in. 

“I’ve started to go on work trips more frequently, and I’m meeting friends in larger groups again. I’m vaccinated, and I’m not worried about dying from COVID like I was earlier in the pandemic. I’ve kind of accepted that I might get it at some point, but we have good methods of treatment now.”

Drug manufacturers Pfizer and Merck have developed pills currently being tested that aim to reduce the severest symptoms of coronavirus for patients. Meanwhile, vaccine manufacturers are exploring adjusting vaccines to target new variants.

 

Despite increased confidence she would not get severely sick, Martelli said she wished she would have been more careful as the holidays approached. It was just announced that on a recent work trip, several fellow employees tested positive for coronavirus. Martelli, herself, is now experiencing symptoms and is awaiting test results that will determine whether she can travel home to Florida to see her family.

“There were precautions taken,” Martelli said. “We each took a rapid test before every meeting. It just shows you that anything can happen. But now, I wish I wouldn’t have gone. My parents are older, and my nephew is at-risk and too young for the vaccine. I’m just waiting for my test results and hoping (for the best). I’d be devastated if I can’t see them.”

‘What are we supposed to do?’

“Of course, I’m worried,” Town said, when asked if she was nervous businesses could be shut down again if coronavirus cases continued to climb. “But what are we supposed to do? Stop living our lives indefinitely? I want to keep people safe, but I also think we need to be careful that we don’t close down too soon if the virus doesn’t appear too dangerous. It’s complicated, and I guess I’m just happy I don’t have to make the decision for everyone.”

Town said she has seen shops recently close temporarily due to staff or customers getting sick. It reminds her of the longer-term closures she’s endured over the last 21 months, a result of the pandemic and Hurricane Ida. 

Not only has it been a difficult stretch for her business, but also for many of her customers who have had to suffer while largely isolated. Small businesses like her bar, she said, are important places for people to be social.

“New Orleans is such a communal place,” Town explained. “We love to gather. Humans, in general, need to gather. The holiday season — and Mardi Gras season right after — are important times to do that. Does that mean I have pandemic fatigue? Probably that’s some of it. But there’s also some real benefits to getting together with friends and family that we need to consider this time of year.”

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Коронавірус: шість областей переходять у «жовту» зону – МОЗ

Таке рішення ухвалила держкомісія з питань ТЕБ і НС щодо Житомирської, Київської, Миколаївської, Сумської, Черкаської та Чернігівської областей

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Belarusian Blogger Sentenced to 3 Years in Prison for ‘Insulting’ Lukashenko

A Belarusian blogger has been sentenced to three years in prison on charge of “insulting” Alexander Lukashenko by writing in a post that the country’s authoritarian ruler was “illegitimate” amid a wave of protests against the results of a presidential election last year that opposition figures say was rigged.

A court in the western town of Shchuchyn pronounced its ruling against Vadzim Ermashuk, also known in his posts on social media as Vadimati, on December 21.

The 36-year-old blogger, who was also charged with desecrating the flag for a post in which he called it a “rag,” rejected the charges and refused to testify in the courtroom or answer questions from the judge.

Ermashuk was initially detained in August of this year and sentenced to several days in jail on hooliganism charges for protesting. He was not released after serving his sentence as prosecutors brought new charges against him for his posts.

Ermashuk is one of dozens in Belarus who have faced trials in recent months as authorities brutally suppress dissent in any form since the disputed presidential election in August 2020.

Rights activists and opposition politicians say the poll was rigged to extend Lukashenko’s 26-year rule. Thousands have been detained during countrywide protests and there have been credible reports of torture and ill-treatment by security forces. Several people have died during the crackdown.

Many of Belarus’s opposition leaders have been arrested or forced to leave the country, while Lukashenko has refused to negotiate with the opposition.

The United States, the European Union, and several other countries have refused to acknowledge Lukashenko as the winner of the vote and imposed several rounds of sanctions on him and his regime, citing election fraud and the police crackdown.

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Protests Erupt in Afghanistan Over US Freezing of Funds

Hundreds of protesters marched through the streets of Kabul on Tuesday to demand the United States unfreeze Afghanistan’s financial assets.

The protesters chanted anti-America slogans and gathered in front of the shuttered U.S. embassy in the Afghan capital, with banners reading, “Give us our frozen money” and “Let us eat.”

Separately, dozens of Afghan private business representatives organized a demonstration in Kabul to call for Washington to unlock the foreign reserve. They insisted the punitive measure directed at the Taliban have had “a devastating impact” on “non-political” Afghan private sector and ordinary workers.

Organizers distributed copies of an open letter addressed to U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, in which they wrote that the collapse of the Western-backed Afghan administration left behind $600 million in unpaid bills for the services rendered under government contracts and internationally funded projects.

Washington blocked Kabul’s access to roughly $9.4 billion, mostly held in the U.S. Federal Reserve, immediately after the Islamist Taliban took control of the war-torn country in mid-August.

The freezing of the money and international sanctions have brought the Afghan economy, which heavily depended on external aid over the past 20 years, to the brink of collapse. The World Bank and the International Monetary Fund have also halted financial assistance for the development projects.

The crisis has increased humanitarian needs to record levels in Afghanistan, stemming from years of war, drought and extreme poverty. The United Nations estimates more than half of the nearly 40 million population face starvation, with 1 million children at risk of dying of “severe acute malnutrition.”

Letter To Biden

On Monday, a group of 46 mostly Democratic lawmakers wrote a letter to U.S. President Joe Biden, pressing him to ease ongoing punitive sanctions and unblock the Afghan reserves.

“The U.S. confiscation of $9.4 billion in Afghanistan’s currency reserves held in the United States is contributing to soaring inflation and the shuttering of commercial banks and vital private businesses, plunging the country…deeper into economic and humanitarian crisis,” the lawmakers wrote.

They argued “punitive economic policies” will not weaken Taliban leaders but will rather hurt innocent Afghans who have already suffered decades of war and poverty.

The Biden administration responded that its hands are tied regarding frozen funds but it continues to support humanitarian efforts in Afghanistan.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki, responding to a VOA question about the letter, told reporters that the status of the Afghan reserves was the subject of an ongoing litigation brought by victims of the September 11, 2001, attacks and other terrorist attacks “who hold judgments against the Taliban.”

“The Taliban remain sanctioned by the United States as a specially designated global terrorist group. That certainly has not changed, but this is, of course, complicated by the ongoing litigation over those funds,” Pasaki argued.

Analyst Torek Farhadi, a former Afghan official, said the Taliban need to make the central bank completely independent, with non-Taliban professional leadership and auditable by the IMF.

“The U.S. needs funds to go for aid and not the security sector. Audits of the central bank can answer to that. This can pave the way for release of reserve funds in tranches through Afghanistan’s central bank and support the Afghan economy much more effectively,” Farhadi said.

The Biden administration is pressing the Islamist group to cut ties with terrorist groups, including al-Qaida, end reprisals against Afghans affiliated with the deposed government, rule Afghanistan inclusively, uphold human rights, and allow women to fully participate in public life and girls to seek an education.

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US Lawmakers Urge Biden to Unlock Afghan Central Bank Reserves

A group of 46 mostly Democratic lawmakers Monday wrote a letter to U.S. President Joe Biden, pressing him to “conscientiously but urgently” take steps to help avert a looming humanitarian disaster in Afghanistan.  

The lawmakers asked Biden to quickly ease ongoing punitive sanctions and unblock the Afghan central bank’s foreign reserves, which Washington withheld immediately after the Taliban militarily seized control of the country from the U.S.-backed government in mid-August.  

“We are also deeply concerned that sanctions against Taliban officials now in charge of governmental functions are creating a chilling effect for financial institutions and aid organizations serving Afghanistan,” the letter read. 

 

The White House responded later in the day that its hands are tied regarding frozen funds but that the United States continues to support humanitarian efforts in Afghanistan.   

The sanctions and abrupt suspension of international assistance have left the Afghan economy, which heavily depended on external aid over the past 20 years, on the brink of collapse.    

The crisis has increased humanitarian needs, stemming from years of war, drought and extreme poverty in Afghanistan. The United Nations estimates more than half of the nearly 40 million population face starvation, with 1 million children at risk of dying of “sever acute malnutrition.”

“The U.S. confiscation of $9.4 billion in Afghanistan’s currency reserves held in the United States is contributing to soaring inflation and the shuttering of commercial banks and vital private businesses, plunging the country…deeper into economic and humanitarian crisis,” the lawmakers wrote.   

They argued “punitive economic policies” will not weaken Taliban leaders but will rather hurt innocent Afghans who have already suffered decades of war and poverty. “We fear, as aid groups do, that maintaining this policy could cause more civilian deaths in the coming year than were lost in 20 years of war.” 

The Afghan economic “pain and humanitarian collapse” both threaten to trigger a new refugee crisis throughout the region, the letter warned. 

Aid agencies working in Afghanistan are calling for scaling up relief efforts, but they say the financial sanctions are hampering their operations. 

Congressional Republicans say the U.S. must not allow the Taliban to access any amount of funding, the Washington Post reported.  

The United States has not recognized the Taliban government nor has the rest of the world.    

The Biden administration is pressing the Islamist group to cut ties with terrorist groups, including al-Qaida, end reprisals against Afghans affiliated with the deposed government, rule Afghanistan inclusively, uphold human rights, and allow women to fully participate in public life and girls to seek an education.   

The letter deplored the Taliban government’s grave human rights abuses, crackdowns on civil society and repression of women. 

“However, pragmatic U.S. engagement with the de facto authorities is nevertheless key to averting unprecedented harm to tens of millions of women, children and innocent civilians,” it added.   

“Ongoing engagement with the Taliban to coordinate access to urgently needed hard currency can provide the necessary leverage to secure human rights improvements,” argued the letter from U.S. lawmakers.   

White House press secretary Jen Psaki, responding to a VOA question about the letter, told reporters that the status of the Afghan reserves was the subject of an ongoing litigation brought by victims of the September 11, 2001, attacks and other terrorist attacks “who hold judgments against the Taliban.”   

Psaki stressed the legal proceedings cannot be disregarded and the administration continues to face difficult questions like how the funds can be made available to directly benefit the people of Afghanistan while ensuring the Taliban do not benefit from them. 

“The Taliban remain sanctioned by the United States as a specially designated global terrorist group. That certainly has not changed, but this is, of course, complicated by the ongoing litigation over those funds,” she argued.  

Washington has pledged hundreds of millions of dollars in humanitarian aid to Afghanistan this year and vowed to work with international partners to facilitate the delivery of relief assistance to Afghans.    

The U.S. Treasury decided earlier this month to allow personal and non-personal remittances to be made to Afghans while donors agreed to transfer $280 million from the World Bank-administered Afghanistan Reconstruction Trust Fund.  

However, the U.N.-led relief community says the scale of the rapidly deteriorating Afghan humanitarian emergency requires much more than what is currently being done.  

“Afghanistan’s economy is now in free fall, and that if we do not act decisively and with compassion, I fear that this fall will pull down the entire population with it,” U.N. humanitarian chief Martin Griffiths warned on Sunday.   

Griffiths told an Afghanistan conference of Islamic countries in neighboring Pakistan that Afghan health facilities are overflowing with malnourished children, some 70% of teachers are not being paid, and millions of Afghan children are out of school, noting that prices of key commodities continue to rise. 

Anita Powell contributed to this report.

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МОЗ: перший в Україні пацієнт з «омікроном» був вакцинований, його ПЛР-тест – негативний

Пацієнт, у якого першого в Україні виявили штам коронавірусу «омікрон», був вакцинований і отримав негативний ПЛР-тест про одужання, повідомив заступник міністра охорони здоров’я, гголовний державний санітарний лікар Ігор Кузін.

«Щодо випадку «омікрону», виявленого в Україні, завдяки тому, що пацієнт був повністю вакцинований ще навесні, хвороба протікала майже безсимптомно. Наразі у нього вже негативний ПЛР-тест», – повідомив Кузін.

18 грудня міністр охорони здоров’я Віктор Ляшко повідомив, що в Україні зафіксовано перший випадок інфікування штамом «омікрон». Інфікований чоловік повернулася з Об’єднаних Арабських Еміратів.

Європейський центр із профілактики та контролю захворювань (ECDC) заявив, що до січня або лютого штам «омікрон» стане домінантним варіантом у Європі.

Штам коронавірусу «омікрон» вперше виявили на початку листопада на півдні Африки.

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Влада Києва прозвітувала – більшість вулиць розчищені від снігу

Найближчої доби синоптики прогнозують зниження температури до -12-14°С

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Україна має домовленості на постачання майже 42 млн доз вакцини від COVID-19 у 2022-му – Кузін

«Тобто в нас уже гарантовані надходження, щоб 70% дорослого населення країни мали повноцінну ревакцинацію двома дозами»

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Omicron Now Dominant Variant in United States

A man in the southwestern U.S. state of Texas may be the first in the nation to die of the new omicron variant of the coronavirus, which is now the dominant variant in the United States.   

Health officials in Harris County say the man in his 50s was unvaccinated and suffered from underlying health conditions that left him vulnerable to severe complications from COVID-19.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Monday the fast-spreading variant accounted for 73% of all new infections in the nation as of last Saturday, nearly 6% higher from the previous week, and well above the one percent of new COVID-19 cases at the start of December.  The CDC says omicron is responsible for 90% or more of new infections in New York state and much of the U.S. Southeast, Midwest and Pacific Northwest.   

The wildfire-like spread of omicron has prompted authorities across the United States to either reinstate previous coronavirus restrictions or impose a new set of rules. In Washington, D.C., Mayor Muriel Bowser has reinstated mandatory indoor mask wearing rules, while Boston Mayor Michelle Wu announced Monday that effective next month, residents had to show proof of vaccination before entering certain businesses such as gyms, bars and restaurants and entertainment venues.

Hospitals across the nation are once again being overwhelmed with a rising number of new COVID-19 patients, a situation complicated by a critical shortage of nurses and other health care workers.  In the northeastern state of Rhode Island, the president of the state chapter of the American College of Emergency Physicians warned the governor and other officials that the state’s health care system “is currently collapsing.” Governors in several states have mobilized National Guard units to help shorthanded hospitals. 

The rapid spread of omicron, which was first detected last month in a handful of southern African nations and is now present in nearly 90 countries, prompted World Health Organization director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus Monday to urge people to cancel their travel plans for the approaching Christmas and New Year’s holidays.   

“An event canceled is better than a life canceled,” Tedros told reporters in Geneva. “It’s better to cancel now and celebrate later than to celebrate now and grieve later.”  

New Zealand COVID-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkin said Tuesday that the nation was delaying its plans to resume non-quarantine travel into the country on a phased-in basis from January until mid-February. 

The new outbreak has led to the postponement or cancellation of several events. The National Hockey League, which has already postponed more than two-dozen games, announced Monday it was suspending all games and team activities for a full week. In New York City, the popular musical “Hamilton” is the latest production in the city’s iconic Broadway theater district to shut down due to an outbreak of new COVID-19 infections among the cast and crew.  And the World Economic Forum said Monday it is moving its annual meeting of world leaders and business executives in Davos, Switzerland from January until sometime in mid-2022. 

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Russian Extradited to US from Switzerland to Face Insider Trading Charges

A Russian businessman has been extradited from Switzerland to the United States to face charges of insider trading, the Swiss justice ministry said. 

 

Vladislav Klyushin, who reportedly owns a media and cybersecurity business called M13 that is linked to the Kremlin, is accused of “involvement in a global scheme to trade on non-public information stolen from U.S. computer networks … between at least in or about January 2018 and September 2020,” according to a press release from the U.S. Justice Department. 

 

According to the company’s website, its products were used by “the Administration of the President of the Russian Federation, the Government of the Russian Federation, federal ministries and departments, regional state executive bodies, commercial companies and public organizations.” 

 

One of the stocks Klyushin traded using insider information was Tesla, the Justice Department said. 

 

Russia said the move was another example of Washington going after Russians on the world stage. 

 

“We are forced to state that we are dealing with another episode in Washington’s ongoing hunt for Russian citizens in third countries,” said Vladimir Khokhlov, a spokesman for the Russian embassy in Switzerland, TASS reported. 

 

Four other Russians are charged in the alleged scheme. 

 

“The integrity of our nation’s capital markets and of its computer networks are priorities for my office,” acting U.S. Attorney Nathaniel Mendell said. “Today’s charges show that we, the FBI, and our other law enforcement partners will relentlessly pursue those who hack, steal and attempt to profit from inside information, wherever they may hide.” 

 

Some information in this report came from Reuters. 

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Pentagon Issues Rules Aimed at Stopping Rise of Extremism

Warning that extremism in the ranks is increasing, Pentagon officials issued detailed new rules Monday prohibiting service members from actively engaging in extremist activities. The new guidelines come nearly a year after some current and former service members participated in the riot at the U.S. Capitol, triggering a broad department review. 

According to the Pentagon, fewer than 100 military members are known to have been involved in substantiated cases of extremist activity in the past year. But it warns that the number may grow given recent spikes in domestic violent extremism, particularly among veterans.

Officials said the new policy doesn’t largely change what is prohibited but is more of an effort to make sure troops are clear on what they can and can’t do, while still protecting their First Amendment right to free speech. And for the first time, it is far more specific about social media.

The new policy lays out in detail the banned activities, which include advocating terrorism, supporting the overthrow of the government, fundraising or rallying on behalf of an extremist group, or “liking” or reposting extremist views on social media. 

The rules also specify that for someone to be held accountable, commanders must determine two things: that the action was an extremist activity, as defined in the rules, and that the service member “actively participated” in that prohibited activity. 

Previous policies banned extremist activities but didn’t go into such great detail. They also did not specify the two-step process to determine whether someone was accountable.

What was wrong yesterday is still wrong today, one senior defense official said. But several officials said that as a study group spoke with service members this year, they found that many wanted clearer definitions of what was not allowed. The officials provided additional details about the rules on condition of anonymity because they were not made public.

Extremists in the ranks 

The military has long been aware of small numbers of white supremacists and other extremists among the troops. But Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and other leaders launched a broader campaign to root out extremism in the force after it became clear that military veterans and some current service members were present at the January 6 insurrection.

In a message to the force on Monday, Austin said the department believes that only a few service members violate their oath and participate in extremist activities. But, he added, “even the actions of a few can have an outsized impact on unit cohesion, morale and readiness — and the physical harm some of these activities can engender can undermine the safety of our people.” 

The risk of extremism in the military can be more dangerous because many service members have access to classified information about sensitive military operations or other national security information that could help adversaries. And extremist groups routinely recruit former and current service members because of their familiarity with weapons and combat tactics. 

The number of substantiated cases may be small compared with the size of the military, which includes more than 2 million active-duty and reserve troops. But the number appears to be an increase over previous years, where the totals were in the low two digits. But officials also noted that data have not been consistent, so it is difficult to identify trends. 

The new rules do not provide a list of extremist organizations. Instead, it is up to commanders to determine if a service member is actively conducting extremist activities based on the definitions, rather than on a list of groups that may be constantly changing, officials said.

Membership prohibited 

Asked whether troops can simply be members of an extremist organization, officials said the rules effectively prohibit membership in any meaningful way — such as the payment of dues or other actions that could be considered “active participation.” 

Pentagon spokesman John Kirby told reporters that “there’s not a whole lot about membership in a group that you’re going to be able to get away with.” He added, “In order to prove your membership, you’re probably going to run afoul of one of these criteria.” 

Kirby also said that commanders will evaluate each case individually, so simply clicking “like” on one social media post, for example, might not merit punishment depending on all the circumstances involved.

He also noted that the Pentagon does not have the ability or desire to actively monitor troops’ personal social media accounts. Those issues would likely come up if reported to commanders or discovered through other means. 

The regulations lay out six broad groups of extremist activities and then provide 14 different definitions that constitute active participation. 

Soon after taking office, Austin ordered military leaders to schedule a so-called “stand-down” day and spend time talking to their troops about extremism in the ranks.

The new rules apply to all the military services, including the Coast Guard, which in peacetime is part of the Department of Homeland Security. They were developed through recommendations from the Countering Extremist Activities Working Group. And they make the distinction, for example, that troops may possess extremist materials but can’t attempt to distribute them, and while troops can observe an extremist rally, they can’t participate, fund or support one.

The rules, said the officials, focus on behavior, not ideology. So service members can have whatever political, religious or other beliefs they want, but their actions and behavior are governed. 

In addition to the new rules, the Pentagon is expanding its screening of recruits to include a deeper look at potential extremist activities. Some activities may not totally prevent someone from joining the military but require a closer look at the applicant. 

The department is also expanding education and training for current military members, and, more specifically, those leaving the service who may be suddenly subject to recruitment by extremist organizations. 

More than 650 people have been charged in the January 6 insurrection at the Capitol, including dozens of veterans and about a half dozen active-duty service members. 

 

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Biden Adviser Jake Sullivan to Visit Israel for Iran Talks 

U.S. national security adviser Jake Sullivan will visit Israel this week for detailed discussions with Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett on Iran’s nuclear program, a senior Biden administration official said on Monday. 

Sullivan, joined by the National Security Council’s Middle East director Brett McGurk and other U.S. officials, will also meet with Palestinian President Mohammed Abbas in Ramallah on the West Bank to discuss strengthening U.S. relations with the Palestinians, the official said. 

But the trip is likely to be dominated by the perceived threat from Iran as negotiators report slow going in talks in Vienna aimed at reviving the 2015 Iran nuclear deal. 

The Biden administration official, speaking to reporters on condition of anonymity, said the U.S. and Israeli officials will talk about how they see the coming weeks unfolding with Iran. 

“We will talk about where we see the state of Iran’s nuclear program and some of the timelines,” the official said. “It will be a good opportunity to sit down face-to-face and talk about the state of the talks, the time frame in which we are working and to re-emphasize that we don’t have much time.” 

The United States believes Iran’s breakout time to producing enough highly enriched uranium for one nuclear weapon is now “really short” and alarming, a senior U.S. official said last week. Iran denies trying to develop a nuclear weapon. 

The United States and Israel are in total agreement that Iran must not be allowed to develop a nuclear weapon, the Biden administration official said. 

Talks between Iran and world powers have been put on pause until next eek. 

In his talks with the Israelis, Sullivan will reaffirm the U.S. commitment to Israel’s security. 

In Ramallah, Sullivan will discuss with Abbas ongoing efforts to strengthen U.S.-Palestinian ties and advance peace and security for Palestinians and Israelis alike, the statement said 

 

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Closing Arguments Delivered in Sex Trafficking Trial of Ghislaine Maxwell

The trial of Ghislaine Maxwell ended Monday, with prosecutors arguing that she recruited and groomed teenage girls so financier Jeffery Epstein could sexually abuse them, and her defense attorneys maintaining her innocence.

The prosecution and defense delivered closing arguments in the four-week trial of Maxwell, 59, a former Epstein associate who pleaded not guilty to charges of sex trafficking and other crimes. 

Federal prosecutors argued that Maxwell’s predation of teenage girls allowed Epstein’s abuse. Assistant U.S. Attorney Alison Moe said the financier could not have abused his victims for over a decade without Maxwell’s help.

“Ghislaine Maxwell was dangerous,” Moe told the jury. She described her as the “lady of the house,” referring to her role in facilitating Epstein’s abuse at a New York mansion, a Florida estate and a New Mexico ranch.

Moe also pointed to the monetary benefits Maxwell gained from her time with Epstein, stating that she accepted over $30 million from him over the years.

“Maxwell and Epstein committed horrifying crimes,” Moe said.

Defense attorneys, however, continued to argue that Maxwell was not complicit in Epstein’s crimes, saying the prosecution failed to prove the charges beyond a reasonable doubt.

“Ghislaine Maxwell is an innocent woman, wrongfully accused of crimes she did not commit,” said defense lawyer Laura Menninger.

The defense returned to its original argument that Maxwell had been made a scapegoat for Epstein’s crimes after he killed himself in a Manhattan jail in August 2019 while awaiting trial on sex trafficking charges.

“Ghislaine Maxwell is not Jeffrey Epstein,” Menninger said.

Moe took a drastically different stance on Maxwell’s role in Epstein’s sexual abuse, asserting that Maxwell is a “sophisticated predator who knew exactly what she was doing.”

“She ran the same playbook again and again and again,” Moe said. “She manipulated her victims and groomed them. She caused deep and lasting harm to young girls. It is time to hold her accountable.”

The closing arguments took place after the court heard from two dozen prosecution witnesses, including four women who said they had been abused by Epstein, with Maxwell’s help, as teenagers.

The defense had attempted to discredit the women’s testimonies. Menninger suggested they were motivated to testify against Maxwell by the possibility of receiving a payout from a victim’s compensation fund established by Epstein’s estate after his death, according to Reuters.

“The money brought the accusers to the FBI,” said Menninger, who stated the women had personal injury lawyers accompany them at interviews with law enforcement agencies decades after the abuse occurred.

Maxwell’s lawyers had a psychology professor testify to demonstrate that memories can fade over time and are subject to the external influence of what people hear, see or read. Menninger argued that Epstein’s accusers’ testimonies were manipulated.

“Memories have been manipulated in aid of the money,” she said.

Moe asked the jury to ignore this testimony and told them to trust the women’s stories.

“These women know what happened to their own bodies,” she stated. “Your common sense tells you that being molested is something you never forget, ever.”

Menninger attempted to question the accusers’ credibility, citing instances when her accusers failed to mention Maxwell while recounting Epstein’s abuse. Menninger argued the women suddenly “recovered memories that Ghislaine was there.”

During closing arguments, Judge Alison Nathan directed lawyers to keep their statements concise so that the jury could begin deliberating as early as Monday.

Maxwell has been held without bail since her July 2020 arrest. The judge denied Maxwell’s bail, despite her lawyers’ arguing she was willing to be continuously monitored by armed guards and that her appearance in court would be guaranteed by the pledging of her $22.5 million estate. 

Some information for this article came from The Associated Press and Reuters.