Los Angeles First US County to Reach 1 Million COVID Cases

John Hopkins University reported early Sunday there are 94.5 million global COVID-19 cases. The United States leads the world in the number of cases with 23.7 million infections, followed by India with 10.5 million and Brazil with 8.4 million.Los Angeles County in California has become the first U.S. county to record 1 million COVID-19 cases. The news of the number of infections is compounded by the confirmation of the appearance in the county of the highly contagious British variant of the coronavirus.Dr. Barbara Ferrer, the county’s public health director, said in a statement, “The presence of the U.K. variant in Los Angeles County is troubling, as our health care system is already severely strained with more than 7,500 people currently hospitalized.” She added that Los Angeles is also experiencing “hospitalizations and deaths, five-times what we experienced over the summer.”Norway is investigating the deaths of more than 25 elderly people who died after receiving Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine. The Norwegian Medicines Agency said the affected people already had “serious basic disorders.”In southwestern England, people 80 and older have been able to get their vaccination shots to the sound of live organ music in the 800-year-old Salisbury Cathedral. The cathedral’s music director chose the works of Bach and Handel to help people relax as they waited.The Australian Open will go ahead as planned, despite the discovery of three coronavirus cases that have put 47 players into quarantine for two weeks, the tennis tournament’s director, Craig Tiley, said Saturday.Australia’s international borders are closed, but there are exceptions.For the international tennis tournament, players and their coaches flew into the country on 17 charter flights from seven nations. Each of the estimated 1,200 players, coaches, staff members and officials was required to receive a negative coronavirus test before they boarded the planes, which were kept at 25% capacity.However, two positive cases were detected in people who arrived on a flight from Los Angeles and a third case arrived on a flight from Abu Dhabi. Sylvain Bruneau, who coaches Canadian star Bianca Andreescu, said he tested positive after arriving from Abu Dhabi, but the rest of his team has tested negative.Since the pandemic began, Australia has recorded nearly 29,000 cases and just over 900 deaths, according to Hopkins. Just over 800 of those cases occurred in Victoria state during a second wave of the virus. Melbourne, the capital of Victoria, is where the Australian Open is played.Tournament organizers had hoped that charter flights, early arrivals and frequent testing would allow the Open to be played without a hitch.

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China Builds Hospital After Surge in ‘Harder to Handle’ Virus Cases

China on Saturday finished building a 1,500-room hospital for COVID-19 patients to fight a surge in infections the government said are harder to contain and that it blamed on infected people or goods from abroad.The hospital is one of six with a total of 6,500 rooms being built in Nangong, south of Beijing in Hebei province, the official Xinhua News Agency said.About 650 people are being treated in Nangong and the Hebei provincial capital, Shijiazhuang, Xinhua said. A 3,000-room hospital is under construction in Shijiazhuang.Virus clusters also have been found in Beijing and the provinces of Heilongjiang and Liaoning in the northeast and Sichuan in the southwest.The latest infections spread unusually fast, the National Health Commission said.”It is harder to handle,” a commission statement said. “Community transmission already has happened when the epidemic is found, so it is difficult to prevent.”The commission blamed the latest cases on people or goods arriving from abroad. It blamed “abnormal management” and “inadequate protection of workers” involved in imports but gave no details.”They are all imported from abroad. It was caused by entry personnel or contaminated cold chain imported goods,” said the statement.The Chinese government has suggested the disease might have originated abroad and publicized what it says is the discovery of the virus on imported food, mostly frozen fish, though foreign scientists are skeptical.Also Saturday, the city government of Beijing said travelers arriving in the Chinese capital from abroad would be required to undergo an additional week of “medical monitoring” after a 14-day quarantine but gave no details.Nationwide, the Health Commission reported 130 new confirmed cases in the 24 hours through midnight Friday. It said 90 of those were in Hebei.On Saturday, the Hebei government reported 32 additional cases since midnight, the Shanghai news outlet The Paper reported.In Shijiazhuang, authorities have finished construction of 1,000 rooms of the planned hospital, state TV said Saturday. Xinhua said all the facilities are to be completed within a week.A similar program of rapid hospital construction was launched by the ruling Communist Party at the start of the outbreak last year in the central China city of Wuhan.More than 10 million people in Shijiazhuang underwent virus tests by late Friday, Xinhua said, citing a deputy mayor, Meng Xianghong. It said 247 locally transmitted cases were found.Meanwhile, researchers sent by the World Health Organization were in Wuhan preparing to investigate the origins of the virus. The team, which arrived Thursday, was under a two-week quarantine but was scheduled to talk with Chinese experts by video link.The team’s arrival was held up for months by diplomatic wrangling that prompted a rare public complaint by the head of the WHO.That delay, and the secretive ruling party’s orders to scientists not to talk publicly about the disease, have raised questions about whether Beijing might try to block discoveries that would hurt its self-proclaimed status as a leader in the anti-virus battle.

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Despite Planning, Australian Open Players Test Positive

The Australian Open will go ahead as planned, despite the discovery of three coronavirus cases that have put 47 players into quarantine for two weeks, the tennis tournament’s director, Craig Tiley, said Saturday.Australia’s international borders are closed, but there are exceptions.For the international tennis tournament, players and their coaches flew into the country on 17 charter flights from seven nations. All of the estimated 1,200 players, coaches, staff members and officials were required to receive negative coronavirus tests before boarding their planes, which were kept at 25% capacity.However, two positive cases were detected on a flight from Los Angeles and a third case was found on a flight from Abu Dhabi. Sylvain Bruneau, who coaches Canadian star Bianca Andreescu, said he tested positive after arriving from Abu Dhabi, but the rest of his team has tested negative.Since the pandemic began, Australia has recorded nearly 29,000 cases and just more than 900 deaths, according to the Johns Hopkins University Coronavirus Research Center. Just over 800 of those cases occurred in Victoria state during a second wave of the virus. Melbourne, the capital of Victoria, is where the Australian Open is played.Tournament organizers had hoped that charter flights, early arrivals and frequent testing would allow the Open to be played without a hitch.A health worker receives COVID-19 vaccine at a hospital in Kolkata, India, Jan. 16, 2021. India started inoculating health workers Saturday in what is likely the world’s largest COVID-19 vaccination campaign.Also Saturday, India began its COVID-19 vaccine campaign. Frontline workers were slated to receive the first inoculations.The campaign began after Prime Minister Narendra Modi delivered a nationally televised speech. India, with 10.5 million cases, is second only to the U.S. in case numbers. It has suffered 152,000 deaths, behind the U.S. and Brazil, according to Johns Hopkins.”We are launching the world’s biggest vaccination drive, and it shows the world our capability,” Modi said.2 million markCOVID-19 deaths worldwide exceeded 2 million Friday, according to Johns Hopkins, a year after the coronavirus was first detected in Wuhan, China.“Behind this terrible number are names and faces, the smile that will now only be a memory, the seat forever empty at the dinner table, the room that echoes with the silence of a loved one,” U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres told reporters Friday.FILE – U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres talks with reporters in Berlin, Germany, Dec. 17, 2020.Guterres also said the death toll “has been made worse by the absence of a global coordinated effort” and added that “science has succeeded, but solidarity has failed.”The United States remains at the top of the COVID case list with the most cases and deaths. Johns Hopkins reported more than 23 million COVID-19 cases in the U.S., with a death toll rapidly approaching 400,000.The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warned Friday that a newly detected and highly contagious variant of the coronavirus might become the dominant strain in the U.S. by March.The variant, first detected in Britain, threatens to exacerbate the coronavirus crisis in the U.S., where daily infection and hospitalization records are commonplace.The CDC said the variant apparently does not cause more severe illness but is more contagious than the current dominant strain.Oregon caseLater Friday, the Oregon Health Authority reported that an individual with “no known travel history” had tested positive for the British variant.“As we learn more about this case and the individual who tested positive for this strain, OHA continues to promote effective public health measures, including wearing masks, maintaining 6 feet of physical distance, staying home, washing your hands and avoiding gatherings and travel,” the agency said in a statement.Also Friday, some U.S. governors accused the Trump administration of deceiving states about the amount of COVID-19 vaccine they could expect to receive. Government officials said states were misguided in their expectations of vaccine amounts.FILE – Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar speaks during a news conference on COVID-19 vaccine distribution, Jan. 12, 2021, in Washington.U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar told NBC News on Friday that the U.S. did not have a reserve stockpile of COVID vaccines as many had believed. However, he said he was confident that there would be enough vaccine produced to provide a second dose for people.As of Friday, the U.S. government said it had distributed over 31 million doses of the vaccine. The CDC said about 12.3 million doses had been administered.Earlier on Friday, Pfizer announced there would be a temporary impact on shipments of its vaccine to European countries in late January to early February caused by changes to its manufacturing processes to boost output.The health ministers of six EU countries — Sweden, Denmark, Finland, Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia — said the Pfizer situation was “unacceptable.””Not only does it impact the planned vaccination schedules, it also decreases the credibility of the vaccination process,” they said in a letter to the EU Commission about the vaccine delays.In Brazil, the country’s air force flew emergency oxygen supplies Friday to the jungle state of Amazonas, which is facing a surge in the virus. Health authorities in the state said oxygen supplies had run out at some hospitals because of the high numbers of patients.

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Researchers: More Than a Dozen Extremist Groups Took Part in Capitol Riots

In the 10 days since the violent Jan. 6 rampage at the U.S. Capitol by President Donald Trump’s supporters, a fuller picture has emerged about the rioters, with researchers identifying members of more than a dozen extremist groups that took part in the riots.The storming of the Capitol drew extremists that included adherents of the QAnon conspiracy theory, the far-right group the Proud Boys, militiamen, white supremacists, anti-maskers and diehard Trump supporters, all gathered to stop Congress from certifying President-elect Joe Biden’s victory.“There have been any number of groups that the Southern Poverty Law Center normally tracks and monitors as a part of our work addressing hate and extremism,” said Lecia Brooks, chief of staff for the SPLC.Brooks shared with VOA the names of more than a dozen extremist groups that she said took part in the riots. Other extremist researchers interviewed by VOA confirmed the list. While designated as hate groups by the SPLC, none of the organizations is considered a domestic terrorist entity, and law enforcement officials have not accused any of them of conspiring to mount an attack on the Capitol.Clues into the rioters’ affiliation came from their clothes, signs, flags, banners and other markers, experts say.  While some groups sought to disguise their ties, others flaunted their ideological affiliation. A group of Proud Boys in orange hats identified themselves on camera as members of a state chapter. The Three Percenters carried a U.S. Revolution-era American flag.“They were operating in plain sight,” said Brian Levin, executive director of the center for the study of hate and extremism at California State University.While the presence of the militias and the Proud Boys has attracted the most attention, members of lesser-known groups also joined the rioters.One is the Nationalist Socialist Club, or NSC-131, a recently founded hate group known for disrupting Black Lives Matter protests. Another is No White Guilt, a white nationalist group whose founder has blamed “anti-whiteism” for the spread of the coronavirus in the United States.Levin said that a combination of national groups, smaller state chapters and autonomous regional entities “participated in one way or another in the gathering.”Just how many extremist group members took part in the rioting is unclear. While QAnon boasts tens of thousands of adherents, several of the groups identified by the SPLC have far fewer members. The precise number taking part in the riots may never be known.While prosecutors have so far identified about 300 suspects accused of involvement in the riots, with one or two exceptions, they’ve not tied them to any known extremist groups. Two days after the riots, the FBI arrested Nick Ochs, the founder of the Proud Boys Hawaii, who was among the rioters.Michael Sherwin, the acting U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia, said law enforcement officials are aware of the ties between the rioters and extremist groups and are seeking to determine the extent to which the attack was a coordinated effort among multiple groups.“If you look at social media you could see a lot of affiliation with some of the protest activity, some of the rioting activity, and it runs the whole gamut of different groups, from soup to nuts, A to Z,” Sherwin told reporters Friday. “But right now … we’re not going to label anything because everything’s on the table in terms of extremist groups.”Arie Perliger, an extremism researcher and professor at the University of Massachusetts in Lowell, said that the extremist groups that took part in the Capitol riots also attended the sometimes-violent protest against state-imposed lockdowns earlier this year.“I’m talking about the Boogaloo, I’m talking about the Proud Boys, I’m talking Rise Above Nation,” Perliger said. “I think what really brings all these groups together is their perception that Trump was a very effective vehicle to try to disrupt, to dismantle, to undermine the capabilities of the federal government.”Among those who stormed the Capitol were participants of the 2017 Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, that resulted in the death of a counterprotester.One was Tim Gionet, a far-right activist who goes by the online pseudonym “Baked Alaska.” Gionet livestreamed a video of himself on DLive from inside the capitol.users on Tim Gionet’s, aka Baked Alaska, live stream on DLive are calling to give lawmakers the “rope” and to “hang all the congressmen” on DLive while he’s streaming inside the Capitol building. pic.twitter.com/fq9t7KAlfA— hannah gais (@hannahgais) January 6, 2021He was arrested Friday by the FBI in Houston, Texas, and charged with participating in the Capitol riot.Another is Nick Fuentes, an organizer of the Charlottesville rally who attended Trump’s speech before the riots but did not enter the building, according to Brooks.Here is a look at some of the groups involved in the Capitol riot.Proud BoysThe Proud Boys describe themselves as a “Western male chauvinist” club.The group came to national attention after Trump, asked during a presidential debate in late October to denounce them, declared, “Proud Boys, stand back and stand by.”The Proud Boys’ leader, Enrique Tarrio, is a staunch Trump supporter and led the Latinos for Trump group during the campaign.Brooks said the Proud Boys were among the organizers of the Capitol rioting. In the days leading up to the riots, Brooks said, the Proud Boys used social media platforms popular with extremists to telegraph that “this was something that was going to happen, that other extremist groups should be involved in, so they kind of they kept this going.”In late December, Tarrio wrote on Parler that the Proud Boys “will turn out in record numbers” on Jan. 6 without their traditional black and yellow uniform.Tarrio was arrested days before the riots and barred from returning to Washington. Two days after the riots, the FBI arrested Nick Ochs, the founder of Proud Boys Hawaii.Oath Keepers and Three PercentersThe Oath Keepers and the Three Percenters are part of a growing anti-government “Patriot” movement known for recruiting members of law enforcement and the military.The Oath Keepers was founded in 2009 by Stewart Rhodes, a former paratrooper and Yale Law School graduate. The oath in the name is a reference to the vow military personnel make to defend the Constitution. The group requires its members to pledge, among other things, not to “disarm the American people,” according to the Anti-Defamation League.The Three Percenters, established in 2018, view themselves as the ideological descendants of the purported 3% of Americans that took part in the Revolutionary War.Heidi Beirich, co-founder of the Global Project Against Hate and Extremism, said dozens of Oath Keepers took part in the riots, many carrying the group’s flag. Rhodes was seen in photographs standing outside the Capitol building.The Oath Keepers took to Telegram and other social media and messaging platforms to urge their followers to show up for the protest, according to Beirich. In an interview after the Nov. 3 election with Alex Jones, a far-right radio show host and conspiracy theorist, Rhodes said “we have men stationed outside D.C. as a nuclear option. In case they attempt to remove the president illegally, we’ll step in and stop it.”QAnonQAnon is not an organized group but rather a growing conspiracy theory movement that believes Trump is secretly battling a “deep state” cabal of Satan-worshipping pedophiles that control the world.Trump has repeatedly retweeted messages from accounts that promote QAnon, and more than a dozen Republican candidates running for Congress in the November election have embraced some of its tenets.Beirich said a number of people marching on the Capitol were carrying QAnon signs.“QAnon were everywhere,” she said. “So it sure seems like a large chunk of the people who stormed the Capitol were members of QAnon.”The FBI has identified QAnon as a potential domestic terror threat. 

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Biden Outlines ‘Day One’ Agenda of Executive Actions 

In his first hours as president, Joe Biden plans to take executive action to roll back some of the most controversial decisions of his predecessor and to address the raging coronavirus pandemic, his incoming chief of staff said Saturday.The opening salvo would herald a 10-day blitz of executive actions as Biden seeks to act swiftly to redirect the country in the wake of Donald Trump’s presidency without waiting for Congress.On Wednesday, following his inauguration, Biden will end Trump’s restriction on immigration to the U.S. from some Muslim-majority countries; move to rejoin the Paris climate accord; and mandate mask-wearing on federal property and during interstate travel. Those are among roughly a dozen actions Biden will take on his first day in the White House, his incoming chief of staff, Ron Klain, said in a memo to senior staff.Other actions include extending the pause on student loan payments and taking steps to prevent evictions and foreclosures for those struggling during the pandemic.”These executive actions will deliver relief to the millions of Americans that are struggling in the face of these crises,” Klain said in the memo.Key legislation awaits “Full achievement” of Biden’s goals will require Congress to act, Klain said, including passage of the $1.9 trillion virus relief bill the president-elect outlined Thursday. Klain said Biden would also propose a comprehensive immigration reform bill to lawmakers on his first day in office. The next day, Thursday, Klain said Biden would sign orders related to the COVID-19 outbreak aimed at reopening schools and businesses and expanding virus testing. The following day, Friday, will see action on providing economic relief to those suffering the economic costs of the pandemic. In the following week, Klain said, Biden will take actions relating to criminal justice reform, climate change and immigration — including a directive to speed the reuniting of families separated at the U.S.-Mexico border under Trump’s policies. More actions will be added, Klain said, once they clear legal review. Incoming presidents traditionally move swiftly to sign an array of executive actions when they take office. Trump did the same, but he found many of his orders challenged and even rejected by courts. 

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NASA’s Boeing Moon Rocket Ground Test Is Cut Short

All four engines of the core stage of NASA’s deep space exploration rocket built by Boeing were ignited for the first time Saturday, but only briefly.Mounted in a test facility at NASA’s Stennis Space Center in Mississippi, the Space Launch System’s (SLS) 212-foot-tall core stage roared to life at 4:27 p.m. local time (2227 GMT) for just more than a minute — well short of the roughly four minutes engineers needed to stay on track for the rocket’s first launch this November.The engine test, the last leg of NASA’s nearly yearlong “Green Run” test campaign, was a vital step for the space agency and its top SLS contractor Boeing before a debut unmanned launch later this year under NASA’s Artemis program, the Trump administration’s push to return U.S. astronauts to the moon by 2024.It was unclear whether Boeing and NASA would have to repeat the test, a prospect that could push the debut launch into 2022.To simulate internal conditions of a real liftoff, the rocket’s four Aerojet Rocketdyne RS-25 engines ignited for roughly 1 minute and 15 seconds, generating 1.6 million pounds of thrust and consuming 700,000 gallons of propellants on NASA’s largest test stand, a massive facility towering 35 stories tall.The expendable super heavy-lift SLS is three years behind schedule and nearly $3 billion over budget. Critics have long argued for NASA to retire the rocket’s shuttle-era core technologies, which have launch costs of $1 billion or more per mission, in favor of newer commercial alternatives that promise lower costs.By comparison, it costs as little as $90 million to fly the massive but less powerful Falcon Heavy rocket designed and manufactured by Elon Musk’s SpaceX, and some $350 million per launch for United Launch Alliance’s legacy Delta IV Heavy.While newer, more reusable rockets from both companies — SpaceX’s Starship and United Launch Alliance’s Vulcan — promise heavier lift capacity than the Falcon Heavy or Delta IV Heavy potentially at lower cost, SLS backers argue it would take two or more launches on those rockets to launch what the SLS could carry in a single mission.Reuters reported in October that President-elect Joe Biden’s space advisers aim to delay Trump’s 2024 goal, casting fresh doubts on the long-term fate of SLS just as SpaceX and Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin scramble to bring rival new heavy-lift capacity to market.NASA and Boeing engineers have stayed on a 10-month schedule for the Green Run “despite having significant adversity this year,” Boeing’s SLS manager John Shannon told reporters this week, citing five tropical storms and a hurricane that hit Stennis, as well as a three-month closure after some engineers tested positive for the coronavirus in March.

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