On Wednesday, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who recently won his re-election bid, stated a new economic stimulus bill before the end of the year is of utmost priority. He said in a news conference in Kentucky that another pandemic relief package would be the focus this upcoming week.
What We Know:
- This comes after weeks of talk that state and local aid, a frequent topic of discussion by Democrats in the White House, would be included in this new bill. “As I’ve said repeatedly in the last few months, we need another rescue package,” said McConnell on Wednesday.
“Hopefully, the partisan passions that prevented us from doing another rescue package will subside with the election. And I think we need to do it and I think we need to do it before the end of the year,” he continued.
- As far as the race looks Wednesday, it seems that Republicans will most likely hold a majority in the Senate. McConnell paid little mind to the current standings and opted to tread cautiously, while at the same time still pointing out many close contests in the few remaining key states.
- Moreover to Democrats, they won the race in Colorado and are leading in Arizona as of late, but it might not be enough to achieve a majority. According to NBC News projections, it’s likely Democrats will keep the House of Representatives.
- McConnell’s remarks may end up reawakening negotiations between both parties after it’s appeared to go nowhere for months now. His comments come when the U.S confirmed the second-highest daily jump of 91,500 since the pandemic began, according to Johns Hopkins. Over 230,000 Americans have died.
- About a month or so leading up to Election Day, McConnell noted that the previously proposed $2 trillion packages negotiated between Mnuchin and Pelosi are still at risk of not receiving much support or that it could end up being too expensive to push through.
“The Speaker laid out a $2.5 trillion package with all kinds of things that I felt were simply unrelated to the subject,” the majority leader said Wednesday. “I laid on the Senate floor not once, but twice, half a trillion dollars … targeting the school situation, the need to replenish PPP small loan program.”
- Another earlier effort by McConnell this year aimed to single-handedly advance negotiations with a much smaller bill. It, unfortunately, lacked fiscal support from both state and local governments. The result saw a lack of another round of $1,200 stimulus checks for most Americans.
That attempt was blocked by Senate Democrats, over the reasoning that it didn’t have enough relief. Other Republicans agreed that the bill was still too expensive. As it stands now, Congress has yet to introduce any new substantial bill worth of discussion and much less passing since the spring.
Altruistic COVID-19 Vaccine Intentions Solidified by White House
Previously, President Joe Biden announced plans to share extra COVID-19 vaccines with foreign countries. The White House unveils intended destinations for all 80 million doses.
What We Know:
- In May, Biden promised to export 80 million vaccines by the end of June. The US has an excess supply of COVID-19 vaccines, making vaccine diplomacy possible. However, challenges emerge on diplomatic and logistical fronts. Diplomatic challenges include which countries to supply vaccines since infections are intensifying across the globe. Another difficulty is determining quantity allocation. Logistically, transporting condition-sensitive vaccines poses challenges.
- President Biden stated the US will not operate by trading doses for influence, referencing perceived favor-securing practices by both China and Russia. The United States and other wealthy countries faced criticism early this year for racing ahead with vaccine rollouts while other countries struggled.
- 41 million of the 80 million doses go to COVAX, a humanitarian program directed in part by the World Health Organization. COVAX’s goal is fair vaccine distribution of 2 billion vaccines by the end of 2021, so far dispensing 88 million.
- The issue of vaccine discrepancies, targeted by COVAX, is evident when comparing national wealth. Upper-middle-income and high-income countries make up 85.61 percent of the total administered COVID vaccines while low-income countries make up only .029 percent.
- Accordingly, from the US supply, COVAX settled upon sending 14 million vaccines to Latin American and Caribbean countries, 16 million to Asian countries, and 10 million to African countries. Another 14 million will be distributed to regional priorities, specifically low-income countries. These include Colombia, Argentina, Haiti, other Caribbean countries, Dominican Republic, Costa Rica, Panama, Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Philippines, Vietnam, Indonesia, South Africa, Nigeria, Kenya, Ghana, Cabo Verde, Egypt, Jordan, Iraq, Yemen, Tunisia, Oman, Ukraine, Kosovo, Georgia, Moldova, Bosnia and West Bank and Gaza.
- All 80 million of the vaccines are accounted for, however, distribution lags. White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki attributes the slow down to transportation issues as well as language barriers.
While all 80 million vaccines may not depart by the end of June, they are on track to arrive shortly thereafter. The 500 million Pfizer vaccines bought by the US to donate will systematically depart.
Uncertainty As In-Person Concerts Return This Summer
Starting this summer and extending into the fall, musicians and bands are returning to the stage. Names like Green Day, Harry Styles, and Garth Brooks have announced tour dates.
What We Know:
- The Foo Fighters kicked off the return of the concert scene with a big show in Madison Square Garden this past Sunday to celebrate the reopening. It was the first time in 400 days that the venue had been used for a concert. In order to attend, guests had to have proof of full vaccination, but COVID protocols for large gatherings continue to vary state by state.
- As artists continue to announce summer tour dates, it’s clear there is excitement to return to the road. One Republic’s Ryan Tedder told CNN, “I think live music will explode. I think this has created a scenario in which everyone that’s alive has this lease on their time in moving forward, at least for the next year or two.”
- Touring professionals were hit the hardest when concerts shut down in March of 2020. A lot of crew members are balancing feelings of relief and caution. David Morgan, James Taylor’s front-of-house engineer, stated, “I’m completely vaccinated but there’s still the unknown factor of what happens when you get 15,000 people into an arena. We don’t know that yet. This is all uncharted territory.”
- Morgan was planning on retiring last year, but the pandemic cost him $100,000 in income, which will force him to be on the road for at least another year. As James Taylor’s tour dates loom, he is apprehensive to see how the events will pan out, “I’m wondering how much physical separation there’s actually going to be. I’m wondering what the vaccine policy in the building is going to be.”
- Green Day, Fall Out Boy, and Weezer’s “Hella Mega” tour plans on extensive safety protocols. The trio of bands are exclusively performing at outdoor venues and all members of the road team must be vaccinated. A COVID compliance office will travel with them to keep organizers up to date on different states’ regulations. However, unvaccinated fans could lead to a potential outbreak and jeopardize these tours for another period of time.
The financial hardships experienced by concert staff in the last year have left behind some apprehension as the pandemic subsides. While artists and fans alike are excited to experience live performances again, the risk of cancellations is a factor.
UN Reports Millions Driven From Homes Despite COVID Crisis
Despite COVID-19 restrictions world wide, 3 million people were forced to flee their homes last year due to war, violence, persecution, and other human rights violations.
What We Know:
- In a Global Trends report released by the UN Refugee Agency, the number of displaced people has risen to 82.4 million. This number surpasses the post World War II record. In fact, there are twice as many forcibly displaced individuals this year than there were a decade ago.
- Fillippo Grandi, the UN’s high commissioner for refugees, said conflict and effects of climate change in places such as Mozambique, Ethiopia’s Tigray region, and Africa’s Sahel region were major influences. This is the ninth consecutive annual increase of refugees. Grandi said, “This is telling, in a year in which we were all locked down, confined, blocked in our homes, in our communities, in our cities, almost 3 million people have had to actually leave all that behind because they had no other choice.”
- The report broke down further demographics, saying 5.7 Palestinians, 3.9 Venezuelans, and an additional 20.7 million refugees from other countries were displaced abroad. Additionally, 48 million people were internally displaced in their own countries and 4.1 million sought asylum.
“I’m worried that if the international community is not able to stop these conflicts, we will continue to see the rise in numbers,” Grandi stated.
- The UN reported that 99 of the more than 160 countries closed their borders due to Coronavirus. They did not make exceptions for refugees or asylum-seekers. The United States created the provision Title 42 which allowed authorities to block asylum-seekers from entry for health reasons.
- Many responded to the report with hopes that world leaders would step up to the plate. David Miliband, president and CEO of the International Rescue Committee, urged leaders to use this as a wake up call, “The triple threat of conflict, climate change and COVID-19 continues to destroy lives and livelihoods, demanding a truly global response. As one of the world’s wealthiest and most stable regions, the EU can and must be at the forefront of these efforts.”
As the pandemic’s spread starts to close in countries like the U.S. and Britain and borders begin to open once more, many internally displaced people who could not leave their own countries will want to flee abroad. These numbers are expected to continue to grow as a result.
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