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Biden Opens Winter Battle Against COVID-19 Amid Omicron Concerns

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US President Joe Biden announced Thursday a winter campaign against Covid-19, with new testing requirements for travelers and a surge in vaccination efforts as the new Omicron variant threatens to revive the pandemic.

Biden has brought steady leadership after the chaotic Donald Trump years, but the mutating coronavirus continues to defy him, helping drive his approval ratings deep underwater.

Urging the nation — in particular his political rivals — to unite behind the strategy, Biden unveiled a raft of actions designed to tamp down Covid-19 in the coming months, as the latest Omicron variant spreads worldwide.

“It’s a plan that I think should unite us,” Biden said, speaking from the headquarters of the National Institutes of Health in a Washington suburb.

“I know Covid-19 has been very divisive. In this country, it’s become a political issue,” he added. “A sad, sad commentary. It shouldn’t be, but it has been.”

Ten cases of the new strain have so far been confirmed in the United States, including five in New York announced Thursday evening by state Governor Kathy Hochul, one in Los Angeles County and one in the Pacific island state of Hawaii.

The Hawaii case and one in Minnesota both involved residents with no recent international travel history, signaling the strain is already circulating inside the country.

“This is a case of community spread. The individual has no history of travel,” the Hawaii Health Department said.

Biden’s updated actions include the requirement that all inbound international travelers be tested within one day of flying.

This will apply to all travelers, both American and foreign, regardless of vaccination status, a US official said.

For domestic travelers, Biden will announce he is extending a mask mandate on airplanes, trains, and other public transport through mid-March.

White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki told reporters testing and vaccine requirements could eventually be added to domestic flights too. “Nothing is off the table,” she said.

The barrage of measures is partly meant to reassure Americans that Biden is doing everything possible to prevent the pandemic from derailing the impressive US economic recovery — and the winter holidays.

In addition to his public rollout, Biden penned a column for the Friday edition of the large-circulation USA Today national newspaper to assuage Americans’ “unease” about the new variant and Covid in general.

“We will beat it back with science and speed, not chaos and confusion -– just as we did in the spring and again with the more powerful delta variant in the summer and fall,” the president wrote.

Biden and his aides have recently stressed there will be no return to mass shutdowns.

But the White House also faces the challenge that many Americans are not receptive to Biden’s appeals for collective action.

Despite ever-more creative attempts to encourage people to get their shots, about 40 percent of the country have yet to be fully vaccinated, and booster rates are lagging too.

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Sudan Revokes Licence Of Al Jazeera Live TV Unit

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Sudan has revoked the licence of Al Jazeera Mubasher, part of the Qatar-based network, accusing it of “unprofessional” TV coverage of anti-coup protests, the channel said Sunday.

“The Sudanese authorities announce they revoked the accreditation of Al Jazeera Mubasher and barred its team from working in Sudan,” tweeted the news channel.

Sudan has been gripped by political turmoil since top military leader General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan launched a coup on October 25.

The military power grab triggered mass protests by pro-democracy movements demanding civilian rule that has met with a deadly crackdown.

At least 64 protesters have been killed, according to pro-democracy medics, and a police officer has also lost his life.

Al Jazeera has given prominent coverage to the demonstrations and late last year also aired an interview with Burhan.

In November, days after the interview, it said that its Khartoum bureau chief Al-Musalami al-Kabbashi had been arrested at his home.

Kabbashi was released three days later with no official charges announced against him.

The editor-in-chief of the armed forces newspaper Ibrahim al-Hory later accused Kabbashi of publishing “false” information and of airing “old video footage… that instigated strife” in the country.

Burhan declared a state of emergency on October 25, ousted the government and detained the civilian leadership.

Prime Minister Abdulla Hamdok was placed under house arrest but later reinstated in a deal with the military.

Hamdok then resigned on January 2 warning that Sudan was at a dangerous crossroads threatening its very “survival”.

Burhan has insisted the military’s move “was not a coup” but a push to “rectify the course of the transition”.

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Mali Ex-President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita Is Dead

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Mali’s former president Ibrahim Boubacar Keita, who led the West African country from 2013 until he was ousted in a coup in 2020, died at the age of 76 in the capital Bamako on Sunday, his family said.

“President IBK died this morning at 0900 GMT in his home” in Bamako, a family member told AFP using the ex-leader’s initials, with several other family members confirming his passing.


Details later…

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Pig Heart Transplanted Into American Man In Breakthrough Surgery (See Photos)

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Surgeons at University of Maryland Medical Center have performed the first-of-its-kind procedure on a Maryland resident identified as David Bennett.

The 57-year-old man who was out of options, became the first successful recipient of a genetically-modified pig heart.

Bennett was diagnosed with a terminal heart disease and had been hospitalized and bedridden for several weeks after being “deemed ineligible” for a traditional heart transplant.

The patient said in a statement published by the University of Maryland Medical Center; “It was either die or do this transplant. I want to live. I know it’s a shot in the dark, but it’s my last choice.

Pig heart transplanted into American man in breakthrough surgery

“I look forward to getting out of bed after I recover.”

U.S. Food and Drug Administration granted emergency authorization for the surgery under its compassionate use provision on New Year’s Eve.

Researchers said the procedure required 10 unique gene edits to the pig heart in order to prevent the rejection of the organ once transplanted into the human body.

Pig heart transplanted into American man in breakthrough surgery

These edits included deleting four of the animal’s genes responsible for antibody-mediated rejection of pig organs by humans, as well as inserting six human genes into the genome for immune acceptance.

Dr. Bartley Griffith, who performed the surgery said in a statement; “This was a breakthrough surgery and brings us one step closer to solving the organ shortage crisis. There are simply not enough donor human hearts available to meet the long list of potential recipients.

“We are proceeding cautiously, but we are also optimistic that this first-in-the-world surgery will provide an important new option for patients in the future.”

Pig heart transplanted into American man in breakthrough surgery

Three days after the surgery, the university medical center said on Monday January 10 that Bennett is doing well and will continue to be monitored in the coming weeks to ensure the organ isn’t rejected.

He is still connected to a heart-lung bypass machine, but the new heart is functioning and taking on a majority of the work for his body, the surgeons told The New York Times.

Bennett could be taken off the bypass machine as early as Tuesday January 11, if all goes well, his doctors said.

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