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Humanitarian Crises

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U.S. regulators have authorized the first COVID-19 shots for infants and preschoolers. That paves the way for vaccinations for children under 5 to begin next week. The Food and Drug Administration's emergency use authorization Friday follows a unanimous recommendation by its advisory panel. The kid-sized shots are made by Moderna and Pfizer. The FDA's action allows the companies to begin shipping millions of preordered doses across the country. A final signoff from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is expected this weekend. The nation's vaccination campaign began with adults in late 2020, about a year into the coronavirus pandemic.

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At least one person has been killed as angry young people in parts of India burned train coaches, blocked highways and attacked police with rocks in a second day of violent demonstrations against a new short-term government recruitment policy for the military. Police say the death occurred in Secundrabad in southern India, where vastly outnumbered police used batons and fired shots at about 500 protesters who rampaged at a railroad station for more than an hour. Fifteen people were reportedly injured. Under the new program, the armed forces this year can recruit 46,000 men and women, but only for four years. Seventy-five percent of them are required to retire after four years with no pension benefits.

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After five weeks of declining coronavirus deaths, the number of fatalities reported globally increased by 4% last week, according to the World Health Organization. In its weekly assessment of the pandemic issued on Thursday, the U.N. health agency said there were 8,700 COVID-19 deaths last week, with a 21% jump in the Americas and a 17% increase in the Western Pacific. WHO said coronavirus cases continued to fall, with about 3.2 million new cases reported last week, extending a decline in COVID-19 infections since a peak in January.

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North Korea has reported a new “epidemic” of an intestinal disease. Thursday's announcement was unusual for the secretive country, which is already contending with a COVID-19 outbreak and severe economic turmoil. It’s unclear how many people are infected in what the official Korean Central News Agency said was “an acute enteric epidemic” in southwestern Haeju city. The agency didn’t name the disease, but enteric refers to intestinal illnesses, such as typhoid, dysentery and cholera. Such diseases routinely occur in North Korea, where there is a shortage of water treatment facilities and the public health system has been largely broken for decades.

Colette Peters, who runs Oregon’s prison system, has emerged as the leading contender to run the federal prison system. That's according to a person familiar with the matter who spoke to The Associated Press on Wednesday. Peters has run Oregon’s corrections department since 2012. She's now at the top of the list of candidates to replace Bureau of Prisons Director Michael Carvajal, who submitted his resignation in January but said he would stay on until a successor was named. The leadership change comes in the wake of AP reporting that has uncovered widespread problems at the agency, including sexual abuse by correctional officers and critically low staffing levels that have hampered responses to emergencies.

The foreign ministers of Ireland, Norway and Turkey say aid deliveries from Turkey to rebel-held northwest Syria must continue. They warned Wednesday of a humanitarian crisis if the only remaining border gate is closed. The U.N. Security Council is scheduled to vote July 10 on whether to continue authorizing cross-border aid from Turkey. Russia has said it sees no reason for the aid to continue passing through the Bab al Hawa border gate. It wants the aid to come through government-held Damascus. Ireland and Norway have been working together to keep the border crossing open. Their foreign ministers visited the border area Wednesday before meeting with their Turkish counterpart, who said Turkey would keep trying to persuade Russia to keep the border gate open.

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Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida has announced plans to establish an infectious disease crisis management agency to better prepare for future pandemics. Kishida, marking the end of the current parliamentary session with weeks to go until July 10 national elections, says Japan has managed to significantly slow COVID-19 infections, but it is still too early to “put our guards down.” He said there’s a need to “carefully walk the path toward returning to ordinary lives” as Japan gradually resumes social and business activities as well as tourism. Kishida, who faced low public expectations when he took office in October with unimpressive 40% support ratings, has since steadily gained popularity.

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The World Health Organization is creating a new vaccine-sharing mechanism to stop the spiraling outbreak of monkeypox in more than 30 countries beyond Africa. The move could result in the U.N. health agency distributing scarce vaccine doses to rich countries that otherwise can afford them. To some health experts, the initiative potentially misses the opportunity to control monkeypox in the African countries where it’s infected people for decades. They say the program might repeat the inequity in vaccine distribution that was seen during the coronavirus pandemic. The mechanism was proposed shortly after Britain, Canada, France, Germany, the U.S. and other countries reported hundreds of monkeypox cases last month.

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The mayor of a northeastern Chinese city on the North Korean border has apologized for unspecified failures related to its COVID-19 response. Dandong has been under lockdown for more than 50 days. The mayor gave no specifics, but said government work and basic services had been “unsatisfactory," for which he offered his apologies. It is highly unusual for a ranking Communist Party official to publicly concede errors, particularly regarding China's “zero-COVID” policy that has been repeatedly endorsed by top officials. Unable to root out the source of new cases, Dandong officials took increasingly extreme measures. Despite reporting only a handful of cases, Dandong has seen one of the strictest lockdowns in China.

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The head of a congressional panel says the U.S. failed to take basic steps at the start of the coronavirus pandemic to prevent fraud in a federal aid program intended to help small businesses. Democratic Rep. James Clyburn on Tuesday blamed the Trump administration for problems in the COVID-19 Economic Injury Disaster Loan program amid revelations tens of billions of dollars may have been awarded to fraudsters. The program is overseen by the Small Business Administration, whose inspector general says there was a struggle at the agency about the “need for speed versus the need for controls.” Rep. Steve Scalise, the No. 2 House Republican, says Democrats are undermining the successes.

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The Biden administration is lifting its requirement that international air travelers to the U.S. take a COVID-19 test within a day before boarding their flights. The moved eases one of the last remaining government mandates meant to contain the spread of the coronavirus. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced Friday that the requirement will end early Sunday morning. The health agency said it will continue to monitor state of the pandemic and will reassess the need for a testing requirement if the situation changes. Airline and tourism groups had been pressing the administration to eliminate the testing requirement.

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The British government plans to burn billions of dollars in unusable protective equipment purchased during the coronavirus pandemic. It says the move will generate power. A public spending watchdog says 4 billion pounds ($5 billion) worth of PPE bought by the government has to be dumped because it is defective or does not meet U.K. standards. The Public Accounts Committee says overall the government lost 75% of the 12 billion pounds it spent on PPE in the first year of the pandemic to inflated prices and faulty kit. It says the saga is "the most shameful episode in the U.K. government response to the pandemic.” It also notes that “the costs and environmental impact" of burning the equipment is unclear.

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China has attacked the theory that the coronavirus pandemic may have originated as a leak from a Chinese laboratory as a politically motivated lie. The response came after the World Health Organization recommended in its strongest terms yet that a deeper probe is needed into whether a lab accident may be to blame. A Foreign Ministry spokesperson also rejected accusations that China had not been fully cooperative with investigators, saying it welcomed a science-based probe but rejected any political manipulation. He also reiterated calls for an investigation into U.S. laboratories where China has suggested, without evidence, that the U.S. was developing the coronavirus as a bioweapon.

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Japan has partially opened its borders to foreign tourists and begun accepting visa applications after two years of near-dormant tourism. but while Friday is the first day to start procedures for entering Japan, arrivals are not expected until late June at the earliest. Only tourists on guided package tours who wear masks and follow other antivirus measures will be accepted as the country cautiously tries to balance business and infection worries. The Japan Tourism Agency says tours are being accepted from 98 countries and regions where infection risks are deemed low. After facing criticism that its strict border controls were xenophobic, Japan began easing its restrictions earlier this year.

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The World Health Organization is recommending in its strongest terms yet that a deeper probe is required into whether a lab accident may be to blame for the COVID-19 pandemic. This marks a sharp reversal of the U.N. health agency’s initial assessment of the pandemic’s origins. It also comes more than two years after coronavirus emerged in China and after at least 6.3 million deaths have been counted from the pandemic worldwide. The WHO concluded last year that it was “extremely unlikely” COVID-19 might have spilled into humans from a lab. But in a report released Thursday, WHO’s expert group says “key pieces of data” to help scientists understand how the pandemic began are still missing.

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An adviser to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s office says Russian troops have changed their tactics in the battle for Sievierodonetsk. Oleksiy Arestovych said Wednesday that Russian soldiers have retreated from the city and are now pounding it with artillery and airstrikes. As a result, he says, the city center is deserted. In his daily online interview, Arestovych says: “They retreated, our troops retreated, so the artillery hits an empty place. They are hitting hard without any particular success.”

New Mexico's top health officials say COVID-19 cases are on the rise again but public health mandates are not likely to be imposed going forward. State Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. David Scrase said Wednesday that the pandemic is very different than it was just six months ago and that more tools and treatments are now available to handle infections. Despite New Mexico's uptick in confirmed cases, the state reported that fewer people are becoming severely ill or dying. Health officials acknowledged difficulty in gathering data because many positive tests done at home go unreported.

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Ukraine’s military intelligence agency says Russia has so far turned over the bodies of 210 Ukrainian fighters killed in the battle for Mariupol. It says most of them were among the last holdouts in the Azovstal steelworks. The agency did not specify Tuesday how many more bodies are believed to remain in the rubble of the plant. Russia now controls the destroyed port city. It began turning over bodies last week. Ukraine said Saturday that the two sides had exchanged 320 bodies, with each getting back 160. It is unclear whether any more bodies have been given to Russia. The Ukrainian fighters defended the steelworks for nearly three months before surrendering in May under relentless Russian attacks from the ground, sea and air.

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A more traditional kind of COVID-19 vaccine is a step closer to becoming the fourth option for U.S. adults. Advisers to the Food and Drug Administration voted Tuesday to recommend authorization of shots made by Novavax. It's a protein vaccine, a more conventional technology than the dominant Pfizer and Moderna shots, and the lesser-used Johnson & Johnson option. It the FDA ultimately agrees, the Novavax shots could be an option for adults who haven't yet gotten vaccinated. The company eventually hopes to offer its shots as a booster, like they're used in some other countries.

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Russia’s Foreign Ministry has announced sanctions on 61 U.S. nationals, a move it says is “in response to the ever-expanding U.S. sanctions against Russian political and public figures, as well as representatives of domestic business.” The list includes U.S. officials and former and current top managers of large American companies, such as Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen, Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm, White House communications director Kate Bedingfield and Netflix CEO Reed Hastings.

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Two U.N. food agencies are warning of multiple, looming food crises on the planet. Climate “shocks” including droughts and flooding, the repercussions of the COVID-19 pandemic and the war in Ukraine were cited as why food and fuel prices were rising so rapidly. The stark warning was issued jointly Monday in a report by the World Food Program and the Food and Agriculture Organization. WFP Executive Director David Beasley said besides hurting “the poorest of the poor,” the global food crisis threatens to overwhelm millions of families who are just getting by. The report said six nations faced catastrophic conditions: Ethiopia, Nigeria, South Sudan, Yemen, Afghanistan and Somalia.

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Russian President Vladimir Putin is blaming the United States and Europe for the energy problems they’re facing. Putin on Russian TV Friday said those countries adopted policies that rely too heavily on renewable energy but then underinvested in those energy sources. Putin says that hiked energy prices. He says Europeans added to the problem by cutting long-term natural gas supply contracts with Russia. Several European countries are rushing to find alternatives to Russian oil and natural gas after adopting sanctions against Moscow for its military operation in Ukraine.

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