Omicron Surge Prompts CES to Trim a Day from Schedule

This year’s Consumer Electronics Show will end a day earlier than planned, the organizer of the global technology and gadget show said, after companies including Amazon and General Motors dropped out of attending the Las Vegas event in person because of omicron concerns. 

“The step was taken as an additional safety measure to the current health protocols that have been put in place for CES,” event organizer Consumer Technology Association said on Friday, announcing the event will now end on January 7. 

The spread of the omicron variant has led to a sharp jump in COVID-19 infections across the world, making many reconsider their travel plans and leading to thousands of flight cancellations. 

The number of new COVID-19 cases in the U.S. has doubled in eight days to a record of 587,143 new cases on Thursday, according to a Reuters tally. 

As worries over the new variant loom, many companies have withdrawn from presenting in-person at the event, planned both virtually and in-person, that begins on January 5 with more than 2,200 exhibitors. 

Over the last few days, a host of firms including Advanced Micro Devices, Proctor & Gamble, Google, and Facebook parent Meta Platforms have also dropped their in-person plans. 

Sony Group’s Sony Electronics has said it will have limited staffing and attendees at the event. 

All attendees in Las Vegas will be required to be fully vaccinated and masked. COVID-19 test kits will also be provided at the venue, according to CTA’s statement. 


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Pakistan: 70 Million Fully Vaccinated Against COVID-19

Pakistan says it has administered 155 million COVID-19 vaccine doses as of Friday, fully vaccinating 70 million people, or 30% of the country’s total population, since launching the inoculation drive in February.

The South Asian nation of about 220 million reported its first case in early 2020 and since then the pandemic has infected about 1.3 million people and killed nearly 29,000 people, keeping the situation largely under control.

“Of the total eligible population [age 12 and above], 46% is fully vaccinated and 63% has received at least one dose,” Planning and Development Minister Asad Umar who heads the National Command and Operation Center that oversees Pakistan’s pandemic response, tweeted.


The government had set the target in May and achieved it “with the help of countless workers, citizens and leadership across the country,” tweeted Faisal Sultan, the special assistant to Prime Minister Imran Khan on national health services.


Faisal advised Pakistanis to continue to use masks, avoid crowded places and ensure social distancing in the wake of rising cases of infection from the omicron variant.

Officials said Pakistan has received a total of 247 doses of COVID-19 vaccine to date. The government has purchased 157 million while 78 million arrived through the COVAX dose-sharing program, including 32.6 million donated by the United States, and nearly 9 million donated from China.


The United Nations and other global partners have acknowledged Pakistan’s effective response to the pandemic, citing the country’s success in vaccinating children against polio and other transmittable diseases through mass immunization campaigns.

In response to the COVID-19 outbreak, the federal health ministry adapted its facilities to vaccinate adults, who make up about half of Pakistan’s population, according to a recent UNICEF statement. 

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Black Voters Mull Biden’s Record in Office

African American voters helped propel President Joe Biden to the White House and were instrumental in securing Democratic majorities in both houses of Congress. A year later, some of Biden’s most loyal supporters are increasingly frustrated about 2020 campaign promises not realized.

“I voted for Biden but feel disappointed his administration hasn’t delivered more for the Black community,” said Joseph Mitchell, 36, of Silver Spring, Maryland. “There are many places where Black people are hurting, impacted by COVID-19 and the economic downturn from the pandemic.”

Mitchell told VOA he wanted more action on economic empowerment and health care.

“Our community needs a helping hand, especially now,” he said.

It’s a familiar message aimed at Biden, who campaigned on delivering on a broad range of economic, health and social policy reforms to improve the lives of African Americans.

Those promises helped him win 92% of the Black vote in last year’s election, according to a Pew Research Center study.

Biden, a former vice president and longtime senator, can point to key economic initiatives enacted during his time in the Oval Office, including pandemic-related federal stimulus and a bipartisan infrastructure bill. But ambitious social initiatives that would address long-standing complaints by African Americans have stalled in Congress, including protecting voting rights, enacting police reform and winning passage of a massive social safety net and environmental spending plan known as Build Back Better.

Biden’s pledge

“You’ve always had my back, and I’ll have yours,” said then-President-elect Biden as he thanked Black voters in a victory speech last year.

After taking office in January, Biden took executive action on several fronts, issuing orders to spur investment in minority-owned businesses, boost minority home ownership and solidify funding for historically Black institutions of higher learning.

But getting more substantial initiatives through Congress, even though Democrats hold narrow majorities, has proved difficult. Congressional negotiations have failed to yield a bipartisan police reform bill. Senate Republicans have blocked voting rights legislation. Senate Democrats have yet to achieve unified support for Build Back Better.

Some observers fault Biden’s approach and see him as too passive in the face of congressional inaction.

“I think President Biden may appear tone deaf in the way he’s approaching trying to implement these social policies,” said Jatia Wrighten, a political science professor at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond, Virginia.

“Democrats have a majority in both the House and the Senate, but Mr. Biden is so busy trying to ensure that everyone is on the same page to compromise and negotiate,” Wrighten told VOA, adding that impatience and building frustration in Black communities pose a political danger for Biden and Democrats more broadly heading into the 2022 midterm elections. “I think the president is losing the voters who got him there because he doesn’t come off as taking a stronger stance on issues of race.”

Role of Congress

At the same time, some Black voters say they understand Biden can’t enact transformative legislation on his own.

“I feel the frustration, but he needs the help of Congress,” Leighton Newlin, an African American councilman-elect in Princeton, New Jersey, told VOA. “Biden promised these things because he thought he was going to get better reaction and cooperation from members of his own party. Biden has failed to deliver on some things important to Blacks, but I don’t put all the blame on the president.

“I think the president’s policy approaches may have been a little more effective in a different time,” said Wrighten. “But in this political climate, they’re just not resonating with the Black community as being serious, effective and strong.”

Republican lawmakers, meanwhile, have cheered the stymieing of major planks of Biden’s agenda, arguing that the federal government should not dictate to individual U.S. states how to run elections and that supercharging social spending would further kindle inflation in the United States.

Legislative battles ahead

The coming year is expected to see renewed efforts by Biden to win congressional approval of the John R. Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act and the Freedom to Vote Act. The bills, which would counteract state-led efforts to limit or scrutinize voting in ways seen by critics as making it harder for minority voters to cast ballots, passed the Democratic-controlled House of Representatives but have been held up in a politically divided Senate.


Republican lawmakers call the measures a “power grab” that would benefit Democrats at the ballot box.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, a New York Democrat, has pledged to bring the bills to the floor for votes in January. Biden continues to signal strong support for both.

“There’s nothing domestically more important than voting rights. It’s the single biggest thing,” Biden said on December 16 while touring tornado damage in Kentucky.

The administration’s push for voting rights comes after a year in which several Republican-controlled state legislatures enacted restrictive voting laws.

“I think when he took office the president should have started his agenda with voting rights because it’s the foundation of our democracy,” Newlin said. “Without that, we have no democracy.”

Despite the holdups, Biden told students at South Carolina State University, a historically Black college, earlier this month that he was not giving up on strengthening voting protections.

“We must pass the Freedom to Vote Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Act. We must,” Biden said. “And we are going to keep up the fight until we get it done.”

Civil rights activists want more than words.


“Don’t forget that Black voters landed a victory for this president and this Congress, so don’t fail us again,” said NAACP President Derrick Johnson, head of the nation’s largest civil rights organization, in a prepared statement responding to the Senate’s late-October failure to pass federal voting rights legislation.

For its part, the White House insists the fight is not over.

“Our agenda for the Black community is not about one or two bills,” said White House principal deputy press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre at a briefing with reporters last month. “Clearly, the voting rights and police reform bills are critical and important, and we’re going to continue to work very hard towards them, but it is weaved throughout numerous policy initiatives, executive orders, legislation.”

Jean-Pierre added, “Equity is at the center of everything Biden does as president.”

Ratings fall

Biden’s approval ratings have dipped in recent months and now stand at just 43% nationwide, according to an average of polling data compiled by Polling data reported last month also showed a decline in Biden’s approval ratings among African Americans.

Such data has Democrats fretting and Republicans salivating as the nation heads into an election year. Political observers note that bipartisan cooperation typically becomes even more difficult as an election season heats up.

“With the midterms coming, these sorts of initiatives [important to Black voters] will face major obstacles, and overcoming them is going to be a difficult job for President Biden,” Wrighten said.

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Wet December Raises Some Hope for Drought-Stricken California

Record snowfalls in the western United States that closed roads and caused flight delays also brought some good news for drought-hit California on Thursday, with officials saying the state’s snowpack is now well above normal. 

After a string of mountain blizzards, snowpack measured at Phillips Station in the Sierra Nevada stands at more than 200% of its average for this date, according to the first measurement of the season by California’s Department of Water Resources (DWR). The Sierra Nevada supplies almost a third of the state’s water needs, once the snow runs off to reservoirs and aqueducts. 

Statewide, snowpack is 160% of its average, the DWR said. 

“We could not have asked for a better December in terms of Sierra snow and rain,” said Karla Nemeth, the director of the DWR. 

Droughts in California are growing more frequent and intense with climate change, according to scientists, threatening the state’s already tenuous water supply and creating conditions for dangerous wildfires. 

Despite the precipitation-heavy end to 2021, the DWR warned against complacency. 

The state would still have to see “significant” precipitation in January and February to make up for the two previous winters, the state’s fifth- and second-driest water years on record, the DWR said. 

“California continues to experience evidence of climate change with bigger swings between wet and dry years and even extreme variability within a season,” said Sean de Guzman, manager of DWR’s Snow Surveys and Water Supply Forecasting Unit. 

He added that a wet start to the winter season did not necessarily mean precipitation in 2022 would end above average. 


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South Africa Lifts Curfew, Says COVID-19 Fourth Wave Peaked

South Africa has lifted a midnight-to-4 a.m. curfew on people’s movement, effective immediately, saying the country has passed the peak of its fourth COVID-19 wave driven by the omicron variant, a government statement said Thursday. 

However, wearing a face mask in public places remains mandatory. Failure to wear a mask in South Africa when required is a criminal offense. 

The country made the curfew and other changes based on the trajectory of the pandemic, levels of vaccination in the country and available capacity in the health sector, according to a press release issued by Mondli Gungubele, a minister in the presidency. 

South Africa is at the lowest of its five-stage COVID-19 alert levels. 

“All indicators suggest the country may have passed the peak of the fourth wave at a national level,” a statement from the special cabinet meeting held earlier Thursday said. 

Data from the Department of Health showed a 29.7% decrease in the number of new cases detected in the week ending December 25 compared with the number of cases found in the previous week, at 127,753, the government said. 

South Africa, with close to 3.5 million infections and 91,000 deaths, has been the worst-hit country in Africa during the pandemic on both counts. 

Besides lifting the restrictions on public movement, the government also ruled that alcohol shops with licenses to operate after 11 p.m. local time may revert to full license conditions, a welcome boon for traders and businesses hard hit by the pandemic and looking to recover during the festive season. 

“While the omicron variant is highly transmissible, there have been lower rates of hospitalization than in previous waves,” the statement said.

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James Webb Telescope Begins Long-awaited Space Journey

NASA successfully launched its much-anticipated next-generation space telescope.  Now come weeks of nervousness for project scientists who can only hope the next steps go as planned.  VOA’s Arash Arabasadi brings us The Week in Space. 

Produced by: Arash Arabasadi 


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