Brazil and Japan report first cases of the omicron variant
Brazil and Japan joined the rapidly widening circle of countries to report cases of the omicron variant Tuesday, while new findings indicate the mutant coronavirus was already in Europe close to a week before South Africa sounded the alarm.
The Netherlands’ RIVM health institute disclosed that patient samples dating from Nov. 19 and 23 were found to contain the variant. It was on Nov. 24 that South African authorities reported the existence of the highly mutated virus to the World Health Organization.
That indicates omicron had a bigger head start in the Netherlands than previously believed.
Together with the cases in Japan and Brazil, the finding illustrates the difficulty in containing the virus in an age of jet travel and economic globalization. And it left the world once again whipsawed between hopes of returning to normal and fears that the worst is yet to come.
The pandemic has shown repeatedly that the virus “travels quickly because of our globalized, interconnected world,” said Dr. Albert Ko, an infectious disease specialist at the Yale School of Public Health. Until the vaccination drive reaches every country, “we’re going to be in this situation again and again.”
FDA panel backs first-of-a-kind COVID-19 pill from Merck
WASHINGTON (AP) — A panel of U.S. health advisers on Tuesday narrowly backed a closely watched COVID-19 pill from Merck, setting the stage for a likely authorization of the first drug that Americans could take at home to treat the coronavirus.
A Food and Drug Administration panel voted 13-10 that the drug’s benefits outweigh its risks, including potential birth defects if used during pregnancy.
The recommendation came after hours of debate about the drug’s modest benefits and potential safety issues. Experts backing the treatment stressed that it should not be used by anyone who is pregnant and called on FDA to recommend extra precautions before the drug is prescribed, including pregnancy tests for women of child-bearing age.
The vote specifically backed the drug for adults with mild-to-moderate COVID-19 who face the greatest risks, including older people and those with conditions like obesity and asthma. Most experts also said the drug shouldn’t be used in vaccinated patients, who weren’t part of the study and haven’t been shown to benefit.
The FDA isn’t bound by the panel’s recommendation and is expected to make its own decision before year’s end. The pill is already authorized in the U.K.
Ex-Trump aide Meadows cooperating with House Jan. 6 panel
WASHINGTON (AP) — Mark Meadows, Donald Trump’s former chief of staff, is cooperating with a House panel investigating the Jan. 6 Capitol insurrection, putting off for now the panel’s threat to hold him in contempt, the committee’s chairman said Tuesday.
The panel “will continue to assess his degree of compliance,” Mississippi Rep. Bennie Thompson said in a statement. He said Meadows has produced records and will soon appear for an initial deposition.
The agreement comes after two months of negotiations between Meadows and the committee and after the Justice Department indicted longtime Trump ally Steve Bannon for defying a subpoena. Meadows’ lawyer had previously indicated that his client would not comply, a stance the committee said was unacceptable.
“The Select Committee expects all witnesses, including Mr. Meadows, to provide all information requested and that the Select Committee is lawfully entitled to receive,” Thompson said.
Under the tentative agreement, Meadows could potentially decline to answer the panel’s questions about his most sensitive conversations with Trump and what Trump was doing on Jan. 6 as hundreds of rioters violently broke into the Capitol and interrupted the certification of Joe Biden’s 2020 election victory.
Stocks sink as omicron, rate worries rattle Wall Street
NEW YORK (AP) — Already unnerved by the newest coronavirus variant, Wall Street’s losses deepened on Tuesday after the head of the Federal Reserve said it will consider shutting off its support for financial markets sooner than expected.
The S&P 500 fell 1.9%, erasing its gains from a day earlier. The sell-off accelerated after Fed Chair Jerome Powell told Congress the central bank may halt the billions of dollars of bond purchases it’s making every month “perhaps a few months sooner.” It had been on pace to wrap up the purchases, meant to goose the economy by lowering rates for mortgages and other long-term loans, in June.
An end to the purchases would open the door for the Fed to raise short-term interest rates from their record low of nearly zero. That in turn would dilute a major propellant that’s sent stocks to record heights and swatted away concerns about an overly pricey market. As investors moved up their expectations for the Fed’s first rate hike following Powell’s remarks, yields on short-term Treasurys rose.
Losses for stocks mounted quickly, with the drop for the Dow Jones Industrial Average more than tripling in half an hour as it sank 711 points. The blue chip index ended down 652.22 points, or 1.9%, at 34,483.72.
The Nasdaq composite held up slightly better than the rest of the market, shedding 245.14 points, or 1.6%, to 15,537.69. Higher interest rates tend to hurt stock prices broadly, but they hit hardest on those seen as the most expensive or banking on big profit growth the furthest in the future. Such companies play a bigger role in the Nasdaq than other indexes. Microsoft fell 1.8% and chipmaker Nvidia slid 2.1%.
Authorities: Student kills 3, wounds 8 at Michigan school
OXFORD TOWNSHIP, Mich. (AP) — A 15-year-old sophomore opened fire at his Michigan high school on Tuesday, killing three students and wounding eight other people, including at least one teacher, authorities said.
Oakland County Undersheriff Mike McCabe said at a news conference that investigators were still trying to determine a motive for the shooting at Oxford High School in Oxford Township, a community of about 22,000 people roughly 30 miles (48 kilometers) north of Detroit.
He said he was aware of allegations circulating on social media that there had been threats of a shooting at the roughly 1,700-student school prior to Tuesday’s attack, but he cautioned against believing that narrative until investigators can look into it.
Authorities didn’t immediately release the suspect’s name, but McCabe said deputies arrested him without incident within minutes of arriving at the school in response to a flood of 911 calls about the attack, which happened shortly before 1 p.m. He said the deputies also recovered the semi-automatic handgun and several clips the suspect used in the attack.
“He fired multiple shots,” McCabe said. “Somewhere in the area of 15 to 20.”
Court upholds California ban on high-capacity magazines
SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals overturned a ruling by two of its judges and upheld California’s ban on high-capacity magazines Tuesday in a split decision that may be headed for the U.S. Supreme Court.
“The statute outlaws no weapon, but only limits the size of the magazine that may be used with firearms,” the court said in the 7-4 ruling.
The majority reasoned that “the record demonstrates that the limitation interferes only minimally with the core right of self-defense, as there is no evidence that anyone ever has been unable to defend his or her home and family due to the lack of a large-capacity magazine; and that the limitation saves lives.”
The 11-member panel of the San Francisco-based court acted after two of three judges on a smaller 9th Circuit panel last year ruled the state’s ban on magazines holding more than 10 bullets violates the U.S. Constitution’s protection of the right to bear firearms.
Gunowners’ rights groups plan to appeal the ruling to the U.S. Supreme Court. They have been trying to get firearms cases before a high court that tilts more to the right because of appointments by former President Donald Trump.
Author Alice Sebold apologizes to man cleared in 1981 rape
NEW YORK (AP) — Author Alice Sebold publicly apologized Tuesday to the man who was exonerated last week in the 1981 rape that was the basis for her memoir “Lucky” and said she was struggling with the role she played “within a system that sent an innocent man to jail.”
Anthony Broadwater, 61, was convicted in 1982 of raping Sebold when she was a student at Syracuse University. He served 16 years in prison. His conviction was overturned Nov. 22 after prosecutors reexamined the case and determined there were serious flaws in his arrest and trial.
In a statement released to The Associated Press and later posted on Medium, Sebold, the author of the novels “The Lovely Bones” and “The Almost Moon,” wrote to Broadwater that she was truly sorry for what he’d been through.
“I am sorry most of all for the fact that the life you could have led was unjustly robbed from you, and I know that no apology can change what happened to you and never will,” she wrote.
She wrote that “as a traumatized 18-year-old rape victim, I chose to put my faith in the American legal system. My goal in 1982 was justice — not to perpetuate injustice. And certainly not to forever, and irreparably, alter a young man’s life by the very crime that had altered mine.”
In shadow of Texas gas drilling sites, health fears escalate
ARLINGTON, Texas (AP) — At a playground outside a North Texas day care center, giggling preschoolers chase each other into a playhouse. Toddlers scoot by on tricycles. A boy cries as a teacher helps him negotiate over a toy.
Uphill from the playground, peeking between trees, is a site where Total Energies is pumping for natural gas. The French energy giant wants to drill three new wells on the property next to Mother’s Heart Learning Center, which serves mainly Black and Latino children. The three wells, along with two existing ones, would lie about 600 feet from where the children planted a garden of sunflowers.
For the families of the children and for others nearby, it’s a prospect fraught with fear and anxiety. Living too close to drilling sites has been linked to a range of health risks, especially to children, from asthma to neurological and developmental disorders. And while some states are requiring energy companies to drill farther from day cares, schools and homes, Texas has taken the opposite tack: It has made it exceedingly difficult for localities to fight back.
The affected areas go beyond day care centers and schools close to drilling sites. They include communities near related infrastructure — compressor stations, for example, which push gas through pipelines and emit toxic fumes, and export facilities, where gas is cooled before being shipped overseas.
On Tuesday night, the City Council in this city situated between Dallas and Fort Worth is scheduled to vote on Total’s latest drilling request. Last year, the council denied Total’s request. The rejection came at a time when Black Lives Matter protests after George Floyd’s murder by police had led many American communities to take a deeper look at racial disparities. But with time having passed and with some turnover on the City Council, many residents worry that this time Total will succeed.
Attorney: Potter to testify at trial in Daunte Wright death
MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — The suburban Minneapolis police officer who shot Daunte Wright will testify at her trial, her attorney said Tuesday as jury selection began with potential panelists being questioned closely about their attitudes on policing, protests and the Black Lives Matter movement.
One of Kim Potter’s attorneys, Paul Engh, told a potential juror that she would hear directly from Potter about the traffic stop that ended in the death of the 20-year-old Black motorist last April. Potter, who is white, has said she meant to use her Taser on Wright but grabbed her handgun by mistake.
“Officer Potter will testify and tell you what she remembers happened, so you will know not just from the video but from the officers at the scene and Officer Potter herself what was occurring,” Engh said. “I think (you) should be quite interested in hearing what she had to say.”
Potter is charged with first- and second-degree manslaughter. She shot Wright as he tried to drive away from a traffic stop in Brooklyn Center on April 11 — a time when former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin’s trial was underway for the killing of George Floyd and tensions were high in the area. Wright’s death sparked several nights of protests in Brooklyn Center and revived painful memories of the sometimes violent unrest that erupted after Floyd’s death in May 2020.
The prospective jurors summoned Tuesday had already responded to questionnaires similar to those used in Chauvin’s murder trial . Roughly 200 people were asked what they knew about the Potter case, their impressions of her and Wright, and their views on protests and policing in the Minneapolis area in recent years.
States: Sackler family members abusing bankruptcy process
NEW YORK (AP) — A federal judge should reject a sweeping settlement to thousands of lawsuits against OxyContin maker Purdue Pharma, a group of states said at a hearing Tuesday, arguing that the protections it extends to members of the Sackler family who own the firm are improper.
States have credible claims that family members took more than $10 billion from the company, steered it toward bankruptcy, and then used a settlement crafted in bankruptcy court to gain legal protections for themselves, Washington state Solicitor General Noah Purcell told U.S. District Judge Colleen McMahon.
“If that is not an abuse of the bankruptcy process,” Purcell said, “it’s unclear what would be.”
The plan, crafted largely by those with claims against Purdue and approved in September by a federal bankruptcy judge, calls for members of the Sackler family to contribute more than $4 billion in cash, plus the company itself, to fight the opioid epidemic, which has been linked to more than 500,000 U.S. deaths in the past two decades, including deaths linked both to prescription and illicit drugs.
In exchange, members of the family are to be protected from lawsuits accusing them of spurring the crisis. The suits accuse the company and family members of helping to spark the overdose crisis by aggressively marketing OxyContin, a powerful opioid painkiller.