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India hits 1B vaccine doses, worries about gap between shots

NEW DELHI (AP) — India has administered 1 billion doses of COVID-19 vaccines, officials said Thursday, a milestone for the South Asian country where the delta variant fueled a crushing surge earlier this year.

About 75 percent of India's total eligible adult population has received at least one dose, while around 30 percent is fully immunized. The country of nearly 1.4 billion people is the second to exceed a billion cumulative doses after China, the most populous country, did so in June. 

Coronavirus cases have fallen sharply in India since the devastating months at the start of the year when the highly transmissible delta variant, first detected in the country a year ago, was infecting hundreds of thousands daily, sending patients into overwhelmed hospitals and filling cremation grounds.

On Thursday, India confirmed more than 18,400 new cases. Active cases make up less than 1 percent of its total caseload, now more than 34 million, including over 450,000 deaths, according to the health ministry. 

Officials have bolstered the vaccination campaign in recent months, which experts say has helped control the outbreak. The country began its drive in January. 

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FDA OKs mixing COVID vaccines; backs Moderna, J&J boosters

WASHINGTON (AP) — U.S. regulators on Wednesday signed off on extending COVID-19 boosters to Americans who got the Moderna or Johnson & Johnson vaccine and said anyone eligible for an extra dose can get a brand different from the one they received initially.

The Food and Drug Administration's decisions mark a big step toward expanding the U.S. booster campaign, which began with extra doses of the Pfizer vaccine last month. But before more people roll up their sleeves, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will consult an expert panel Thursday before finalizing official recommendations for who should get boosters and when. 

The latest moves would expand by tens of millions the number of Americans eligible for boosters and formally allow "mixing and matching" of shots — making it simpler to get another dose, especially for people who had a side effect from one brand but still want the proven protection of vaccination.

Specifically, the FDA authorized a third Moderna shot for seniors and others at high risk from COVID-19 because of their health problems, jobs or living conditions — six months after their last shot. One big change: Moderna's booster will be half the dose that's used for the first two shots, based on company data showing that was plenty to rev up immunity again.

For J&J's single-shot vaccine, the FDA said all U.S. recipients, no matter their age, could get a second dose at least two months following their initial vaccination.

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House to vote on Bannon contempt as Justice decision looms

WASHINGTON (AP) — The House is voting Thursday on whether to hold Steve Bannon, a longtime ally and aide to former President Donald Trump, in contempt of Congress after he defied a subpoena from a committee investigating the violent Jan. 6 Capitol insurrection.

That committee has vowed to move swiftly and forcefully to punish anyone who won't cooperate with the probe. But it's likely up to the Justice Department, and the courts, to determine what happens next.

If the House vote succeeds, as is expected, there's still considerable uncertainty about whether the Justice Department will prosecute Bannon, despite Democratic demands for action.

The outcome could determine not only the effectiveness of the House investigation but also the strength of Congress' power to call witnesses and demand information — factors that will certainly be weighing on Justice officials as they determine whether to move forward. While the department has historically been reluctant to use its prosecution power against witnesses found in contempt of Congress, the circumstances are exceptional as lawmakers investigate the worst attack on the U.S. Capitol in two centuries.

To emphasize the committee's unity in holding Bannon accountable, the panel's Democratic chairman, Mississippi Rep. Bennie Thompson, will lead the debate on the bill along with Republican Rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming, one of two Republicans on the committee — a rare show of bipartisanship on the House floor.

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Tool for police reform rarely used by local prosecutors

SEATTLE (AP) — Isaiah Obet was behaving erratically and in mental distress in 2017 when Officer Jeff Nelson ordered his police dog to attack and then shot Obet in the torso. Obet fell to the ground and Nelson fired again, fatally shooting Obet in the head. The officer said his life was in danger. 

The next year, Joseph Allen was crossing in front of Nelson's patrol car when the officer swerved and pinned him against a fence, breaking both his ankles. His justification: Allen was a dangerous criminal.

In 2019, Nelson scuffled with Jesse Sarey after attempting to arrest him for disorderly conduct. He punched Sarey seven times and then shot him in the torso. After Sarey fell to the ground, Nelson killed him with a second shot to the forehead. He claimed Sarey was on his hands and knees "ready to spring forward," which later was disproved by both video and witnesses.

Nelson's actions in all three cases were outlined in a criminal complaint, eyewitness accounts, and police dashcam video obtained by The Associated Press. In the past decade, Nelson has been investigated in more than 60 use-of-force cases that involved choking suspects until they passed out, severe dog bites, and physical force that required medical care. But he was not on the King County Prosecuting Attorney's list that flags officers whose credibility is in question due to misconduct – a designation that must be shared with defense attorneys. 

Nelson was only added to its "potential impeachment disclosure" list, or Brady List, after he was charged with killing Sarey. A trial is set for February 2022. Mohammad Hamoudi, a federal public defender, said given Officer Nelson's history, all of his cases should be reviewed. And he hopes his story will encourage prosecutors to track excessive force cases involving other police officers.

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Moscow tightens restrictions as infections, deaths soar

MOSCOW (AP) — The authorities in Moscow on Thursday announced a plan to shut restaurants and non-food stores and introduce other restrictions later this month as Russia registered the highest daily numbers of new coronavirus infections and deaths since the start of the pandemic.

The government coronavirus task force reported 36,339 new confirmed infections and 1,036 deaths in the past 24 hours that brought Russia's death toll to 227,389 — by far the highest in Europe.

Russian President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday responded to rising contagion and deaths by ordering Russians to stay off work for a period starting Oct. 30 and extending through the following week, and Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin followed up Thursday by introducing a slew of restrictions in the capital.

He said all restaurants, cafes and non-food stores, gyms, movies and other entertainment venues in the Russian capital will be shut for a period from Oct. 28 to Nov. 7, and schools and kindergartens will also be closed. Access to museums, theaters and other venues will be limited to holders of digital codes proving vaccination or past illness, a practice that will also remain in place after Nov. 7.

"The situation in Moscow is developing according to the worst-case scenario," Sobyanin wrote on his blog, adding that the number of infections in the capital is nearing all-time highs. 

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Youth yearning for independence fuel Western Sahara clashes

MAHBAS REGION, Western Sahara (AP) — As a glowing sun sank behind the sandy barrier that cuts across the disputed territory of Western Sahara, Sidati Ahmed's battalion launched two missiles that sizzled through the air and then followed with an artillery attack.

Within minutes, a barrage of mortar shells flew in the opposite direction, from Moroccan positions, landing with a thick column of smoke in the barren desert of what is known as Africa's last colony.

"Low-intensity hostilities," as a recent United Nations report describes them, have raged for the past year along the 2,700-kilometer (1,700-mile) berm — a barrier second in length only to the Great Wall of China that separates the part of Western Sahara that Morocco rules from the sliver held by the Polisario Front, which wants the territory to be independent. Both sides claim the area in its entirety.

For nearly 30 years this swath of North African desert about the size of Colorado — that sits on vast phosphate deposits, faces rich fishing grounds and is believed to have off-shore oil reserves — has existed in limbo, awaiting a referendum that was supposed to let the local Sahrawi people decide their future. Instead, as negotiations over who would be allowed to vote dragged on, Morocco tightened its control of the territory, which was a Spanish colony until 1975.

Last year, the Polisario Front announced that it would no longer abide by the 1991 cease-fire that ended its 16-year guerilla war with Morocco.

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Israeli minister sees opportunity at UN climate conference

JERUSALEM (AP) — Israel's new environmental protection minister has set some ambitious goals: She believes she can use her office to play an important role in the global battle against climate change while also promoting peace in the volatile Middle East.

Tamar Zandberg laid out her agenda in an interview with The Associated Press ahead of the upcoming U.N. climate conference in Glasgow. She says Israel, despite its small size and own inability to reach the global goal of zero net emissions by 2050, has the potential to be a key player. 

Zandberg said the country is eager to share its expertise in green technologies. Israel is widely considered a world leader in areas such as solar energy storage, sustainable protein alternatives, agriculture technology and desalination. 

"These are fields where Israel is already in the cutting edge frontier of global innovation, and we hope that this is something that small Israel can contribute to bigger countries than us to adjust better to the new climate reality," she said.

Major countries, including China and India, have become important markets for Israeli environmental technologies. Zandberg said she already has held a pair of meetings with her counterpart in the United Arab Emirates, which established diplomatic ties with Israel just over a year ago, and that the two countries have teams working together on issues like agriculture and water in the arid Middle East. 

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S Korea test launches 1st domestically made space rocket

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — South Korea test launched its first domestically produced space rocket on Thursday in what officials describe as an important step in the country's pursuit of a satellite launch program. 

It wasn't immediately clear whether the three-stage Nuri rocket succeeded in delivering a dummy payload – a 1.5-ton block of stainless steel and aluminum – into orbit 600 to 800 kilometers above Earth.

Live footage showed the 47-meter rocket soaring into the air with bright yellow flames shooting out of its engines following blastoff at Naro Space Center, the country's lone spaceport, on a small island off its southern coast. 

The launch, which was observed by South Korean President Moon Jae-in, was delayed by an hour because engineers needed more time to examine the rocket's valves. There had also been concerns that strong winds and other conditions would pose challenges for a successful launch. 

Officials at the Korea Aerospace Research Institute, the country's space agency, said it would take about 30 minutes to determine whether the rocket successfully delivered the payload into orbit. 

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Virginia gives Democrats a test of Black turnout before 2022

NORFOLK, Va. (AP) — As Democrat Terry McAuliffe worked the crowd at Norfolk State University's homecoming football game, many fans at the historically Black school were ready with answers before he could even ask for their vote.

"Everybody I talked to said: 'Don't worry, I've already voted. I've already voted,'" McAuliffe said of his campaign stop last weekend.

But McAuliffe can't afford not to worry. Polls have consistently shown him with the overwhelming support of Black Virginians, but his victory may hinge on whether this core part of his base shows up in strong numbers to vote. 

National activists worry that President Joe Biden's falling approval ratings, and a lack of action by the Democrat-controlled Congress on voting rights and issues important to African Americans, could spell trouble in a race with Republican former businessman Glenn Youngkin that already looked exceedingly tight. 

"Black voters, by and large, are feeling like they're being taken for granted," said Wes Bellamy, co-chair of Our Black Party, which advocates for political positions that benefit African Americans. 

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Can new variants of the coronavirus keep emerging?

WASHINGTON (AP) — Can new variants of the coronavirus keep emerging?

Yes, as long as the virus that caused the pandemic keeps infecting people. But that doesn't mean new variants will keep emerging as regularly, or that they'll be more dangerous.

With more than half the world still not vaccinated, the virus will likely keep finding people to infect and replicating inside them for several months or years to come. And each time a virus makes a copy of itself, a small mutation could occur. Those changes could help the virus survive, becoming new variants.

But that doesn't mean the virus will keep evolving in the same way since it emerged in late 2019.

When a virus infects a new species, it needs to adapt to the new host to spread more widely, says Andrew Read, a virus expert at Pennsylvania State University.

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