The Associated Press
BALTIMORE — President Joe Biden plans to take executive action Friday to provide a stopgap measure of financial relief to millions of Americans while Congress begins to consider his much larger $1.9 trillion package to help those affected by the coronavirus pandemic.
The two executive orders that Biden is to sign would increase food aid, protect job seekers on unemployment and clear a path for federal workers and contractors to get a $15 hourly minimum wage.
"The American people cannot afford to wait," said Brian Deese, director of the White House National Economic Council. "So many are hanging by a thread. They need help, and we're committed to doing everything we can to provide that help as quickly as possible."
Deese emphasized that the orders are not substitutes for the additional stimulus that Biden says is needed beyond the $4 trillion in aid that has already been approved, including $900 billion this past December. Several Republican lawmakers have voiced opposition to provisions in Biden's plan for direct payments to individuals, state and local government aid and a $15 hourly minimum wage nationwide.
Most economists believe the United States can rebound with strength once people are vaccinated from the coronavirus, but the situation is still dire as the disease has closed businesses and schools. Nearly 10 million jobs have been lost since last February, and nearly 30 million households lack secure access to food.
Lucky few hit COVID-19 vaccine jackpot for rare extra doses
Fortune struck one man in the bakery aisle at the supermarket. Two others were working the night shift at a Subway sandwich shop. Yet another was plucked from a list of 15,000 hopefuls.
With millions of Americans waiting for their chance to get the coronavirus vaccine, a lucky few are getting bumped to the front of the line as clinics scramble to get rid of extra, perishable doses at the end of the day.
It is often a matter of being in the right place at the right time.
Sometimes people who just happen to be near a clinic at closing time are offered leftover shots that would otherwise be thrown away. Sometimes health workers go out looking for recipients. Some places keep waiting lists and draw names at random. Such opportunities may be becoming more prized as shortages around the U.S. lead some places to cancel vaccinations.
"One of the nurses said I should go buy a lottery ticket right now," said Jesse Robinson, outside a Nashville, Tennessee, clinic this week where the 22-year-old was picked from a 15,000-name list for a shot. "I'm not going to question it too much. Just glad it was me."
German virus death toll tops 50,000 even as infections sink
BERLIN — The death toll from the coronavirus in Germany has passed 50,000, a number that has risen swiftly over recent weeks even as infection figures are finally declining.
The country's disease control center, the Robert Koch Institute, said Friday that another 859 deaths were reported over the past 24 hours, taking the total so far to 50,642.
Germany had a comparatively small number of deaths in the pandemic's first phase and was able to lift many restrictions quickly.
But it has seen much higher levels of infections in the fall and winter. Hundreds of deaths, sometimes more than 1,000, have been reported daily in the country of 83 million people over recent weeks. Germany hit the 40,000 mark on Jan. 10.
President Frank-Walter Steinmeier will leave a light shining in a window at his Bellevue palace in Berlin every evening starting Friday in memory of the dead and those fighting for their lives, his office said. He encouraged other Germans to do the same.
Timeline: China's COVID-19 outbreak and lockdown of Wuhan
WUHAN, China — The Chinese city of Wuhan is looking back on a year since it was placed under a 76-day lockdown beginning Jan. 23, 2020. It was the most extreme step taken up to that point against the coronavirus.
China presents the lockdown as a huge sacrifice that bought the rest of the world time to prepare for the pandemic. Critics say earlier, more decisive measures would have prevented more people from leaving the city and spreading the virus around China and globally.
Some events before and during that crucial period:
— Mid-December 2019: Patients begin showing up in Wuhan hospitals complaining of flu-like symptoms including high fever, cough and breathing difficulties.
— Dec. 27: A Chinese lab assembles a near-complete sequence of the virus, showing it to be similar to the coronavirus that caused the 2002-03 SARS outbreak. The lab alerts health authorities, but the information is kept under wraps.
After Trump setbacks, Kim Jong Un starts over with Biden
SEOUL, South Korea — Last year was a disaster for North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.
He helplessly watched his country's already battered economy decay further amid pandemic border closures while brooding over the collapse of made-for-TV summits with former President Donald Trump that failed to lift crippling sanctions from his country.
Now he must start all over again with President Joe Biden, who has previously called Kim a "thug" and accused Trump of chasing spectacles instead of meaningful reductions of Kim's nuclear arsenal.
While Kim has vowed to strengthen his nuclear weapons program in recent political speeches, he also tried to give Biden an opening by saying that the fate of their relations depends on whether Washington discards what he calls hostile U.S. policies.
It's unclear how patient Kim will be. North Korea has a history of testing new U.S. administrations with missile launches and other provocations aimed at forcing the Americans back to the negotiating table.
Russia welcomes US proposal to extend nuclear treaty
MOSCOW — The Kremlin on Friday welcomed U.S. President Joe Biden's proposal to extend the last remaining nuclear arms control treaty between the two countries, which is set to expire in less than two weeks.
Russian President Vladimir Putin's spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, said that Russia stands for extending the pact and is waiting to see the details of the U.S. proposal.
The White House said Thursday that Biden has proposed to Russia a five-year extension of the New START treaty.
"We can only welcome political will to extend the document," Peskov said in a conference call with reporters. "But all will depend on the details of the proposal."
The treaty, signed in 2010 by President Barack Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, limits each country to no more than 1,550 deployed nuclear warheads and 700 deployed missiles and bombers, and envisages sweeping on-site inspections to verify compliance. It expires on Feb. 5.
Coronavirus guidelines now the rule at White House
WASHINGTON — Testing wristbands are in. Mask-wearing is mandatory. Desks are socially distanced.
The clearest sign that there's a new boss at the White House is the deference being paid to coronavirus public health guidlines.
It's a striking contrast to Donald Trump's White House, which was the epicenter of no less than three separate outbreaks of COVID-19, their true scale not fully known because aides refused to discuss cases publicly.
While the Trump administration was known for flouting safety recommendations, the Biden team has made a point of abiding by the same strict guidelines they're urging Americans to follow to stem the spread of the virus.
It's part of an overall effort from President Joe Biden to lead by example on the coronavirus pandemic, an ethos carried over from his campaign and transition.
Amid cancellation talk, Tokyo Olympics `focused on hosting'
TOKYO — IOC President Thomas Bach and local organizers are pushing back against reports that the postponed Tokyo Olympics will be canceled.
Now set to open July 23, the Tokyo Games were postponed 10 months ago at the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic, and now the event appears threatened again.
The Times of London, citing unidentified government sources, reported that the games will have to be canceled. It quoted an unidentified senior member of the ruling government coalition.
"No one wants to be the first to say so but the consensus is that it's too difficult," the source said. "Personally, I don't think it's going to happen."
In a statement Friday, the local organizing committee did not address directly The Times story, but said the Olympics were going forward and had the support of Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga.
Iran, pressured by blackouts and pollution, targets Bitcoin
TEHRAN, Iran — Iran's capital and major cities plunged into darkness in recent weeks as rolling outages left millions without electricity for hours. Traffic lights died. Offices went dark. Online classes stopped.
With toxic smog blanketing Tehran skies and the country buckling under the pandemic and other mounting crises, social media has been rife with speculation. Soon, fingers pointed at an unlikely culprit: Bitcoin.
Within days, as frustration spread among residents, the government launched a wide-ranging crackdown on Bitcoin processing centers, which require immense amounts of electricity to power their specialized computers and to keep them cool — a burden on Iran's power grid.
Authorities shuttered 1,600 centers across the country, including, for the first time, those legally authorized to operate. As the latest in a series of conflicting government moves, the clampdown stirred confusion in the crypto industry — and suspicion that Bitcoin had become a useful scapegoat for the nation's deeper-rooted problems.
Since former President Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew in 2018 from Tehran's nuclear accord with world powers and re-imposed sanctions on Iran, cryptocurrency has surged in popularity in the Islamic Republic.