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Trump pushes for tighter gun rules backed by NRA after Florida shooting

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President Donald Trump, who ran as a gun-rights advocate, has started to publicly discuss tighter restrictions on firearms following the massacre of 17 people at a Florida high school last week.

So far he has proceeded carefully, balancing a desire to take action with a desire to keep his political base happy. This week, the president has pushed mostly for modest steps already backed by the National Rifle Association — which is a powerful influence among gun owners in many of the areas that propelled Trump to the presidency.

While Trump’s support gives Republicans in Congress more cover to pass narrow gun control measures, it is unclear what action lawmakers will take following the latest in a string of mass shootings. Pressure has increased this week amid widely followed protests and calls for action from students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida, where the shooting took place.

Trump may provide more detail on his gun control stance on Wednesday afternoon. The president is scheduled to host a listening session with students, teachers and parents involved in the Florida shooting as well as the 2012 massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut and the 1999 mass shooting at Columbine High School in Colorado.

On Tuesday, Trump signed a memorandum recommending that Attorney General Jeff Sessions propose rules banning so-called bump stocks, which can effectively make semiautomatic weapons automatic. The gunman who massacred more than 50 people at a concert in Las Vegas last year used such a device.

White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders also told reporters Trump is open to supporting a bipartisan Senate bill to close holes in the current background check system. It aims to make federal agencies better at following rules that require them to submit criminal convictions to the FBI, which could help stop high-risk individuals from getting guns.

Last year, the Air Force said it had not submitted records that could have stopped the shooter who killed 26 people at a church in Texas from buying a gun.

“Whether we are Republican or Democrat, we must now focus on strengthening Background Checks!” Trump tweeted on Tuesday.

Last year, the NRA said it backed a ban on bump stocks. The organization’s legislative arm also signaled its support for the background check policy — though as part of a broader House-passed bill that would allow individuals who have concealed carry permits in one state to carry nationwide.

The White House has also publicly or privately floated some gun rules that could draw the NRA’s ire.

On Tuesday, Sanders did not rule out Trump’s support for an assault weapons ban, saying “we haven’t closed the door on any front.” The gunman in Florida and multiple other mass shooters have used some variation of a semiautomatic rifle like the AR-15.

The NRA opposes the policy. The organization tweeted a link Tuesday saying a previous assault weapons ban that expired in 2004 did not contribute to a decrease in crime.

A 2004 report commissioned by the Justice Department’s research arm, however, concluded that the effects of a 1994 ban were “mixed” and “still unfolding” at the time it expired, according to FactCheck.org.

While the ban reduced crimes with assault weapons, the use of other, still legal semiautomatic weapons with large-capacity magazines increased, the report said. Therefore, the report stopped short of attributing a drop in U.S. gun violence to the assault weapons ban.

On Tuesday, Sanders also said age restrictions for buying rifles like the AR-15 are “on the table.” The NRA’s legislative arm did not immediately comment on where it stood on possible age restrictions.



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Fauci says new data suggests ‘long’ Covid symptoms can last up to 9 months

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Dr Anthony Fauci, Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, speaks during a White House press briefing, conducted by White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki, at the James Brady Press Briefing Room of the White House January 21, 2021 in Washington, DC.

Alex Wong | Getty Images

New data suggests that people with Covid-19 can continue to suffer from symptoms for up to nine months after the initial infection, White House Chief Medical Advisor Dr. Anthony Fauci said Wednesday.

Researchers at the University of Washington recently found that 30% of patients reported symptoms for as long as nine months, Fauci told reporters during a White House news briefing on Covid-19. People reported fatigue, shortness of breath, sleep disorders and other symptoms that lasted for months, he said.

Symptoms of “long Covid,” which researchers are now calling Post-Acute Sequelae of Covid-19, or PASC, can develop “well after” infection, and severity can range from mild to “incapacitating,” said Fauci, also the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

“The magnitude of the problem is not fully known,” he said, adding PASC was also reported in people who did not require hospitalization and people who had symptoms that were not part of their initial infection.

The update comes as global medical experts are working to better diagnose and treat people with persistent Covid-19 symptoms.

So far, there has been a limited number of studies that discern what the most common long-Covid symptoms are or how long they might last. Most of the focus has been on people with a severe or fatal illness, not those who have recovered but still report lingering side effects, sometimes referred to as “long haulers.”

The National Institutes of Health has launched an initiative to study long Covid and to identify the causes and potential treatments for individuals, Fauci said. “What makes some people vulnerable while others recover quickly and have no sequelae?” he asked.

– CNBC’s Noah Higgins-Dunn contributed to this report.

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First COVAX vaccine shipment arrives in Ghana as developing world hopes to catch up

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A shipment of Covid-19 vaccines from the COVAX global vaccination program arrives at the Kotoka International Airport in Accra, Ghana, Feb. 24, 2021.

Nipah Dennis | AFP | Getty Images

The first shipment of Covid-19 vaccines delivered through the World Health Organization’s COVAX program arrived in Ghana on Wednesday, a hopeful turning point for developing countries that risked being left behind in the global race for vaccinations against a virus that has killed nearly 2.5 million people worldwide.  

The flight brought 600,000 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine, one considered far easier to distribute to developing nations since it doesn’t require extremely cold storage temperatures like the PfizerGenTech and Moderna vaccines.  

The vaccines delivered Wednesday will be prioritized for front-line medical workers, people over 60, and those with preexisting health conditions, according to Ghana’s Information Ministry.  

“Today marks the historic moment for which we have been planning and working so hard,” UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta Fore said in a joint statement by her agency and the WHO Ghana. 

“With the first shipment of doses, we can make good on the promise of the COVAX Facility to ensure people from less wealthy countries are not left behind in the race for life-saving vaccines.” 

COVAX is a global plan co-led by the WHO, an international vaccine alliance called Gavi, and the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations.  

As wealthier nations push ahead with costly vaccine development and procurement, poorer countries are being left behind. Mark Suzman, chief executive of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, said in December that it may already be too late for equitable distribution of the vaccines because of the massive deals already brokered by rich nations.

Wealthy nations, which constitute 14% of the world’s population, had secured 53% of the world’s supply of the best-performing coronavirus vaccines by December, according to a group of human rights campaigners called the People’s Vaccine Alliance. 

COVAX was established to pursue equitable vaccine access globally, aiming to vaccinate 20% of people in the world’s 92 poorest countries by the end of 2021 through donations. Several other middle-income countries are set to acquire vaccines through COVAX on a self-funded basis. The plan aims to deliver 2 billion doses this year that have been approved as safe and effective by the WHO.  

The shots themselves were produced by India’s Serum Institute, which is expected to supply 400 million Covid vaccine doses to Africa. The continent aims to have 60% of its 1.3 billion-person population inoculated in the next two to three years, the African Union said in December.

‘By far the fastest ever’ 

“This is amazingly significant. We want the gap between when rich people and poor people get vaccinated to be reduced to zero,” said Hassan Damluji, deputy director for global policy and advocacy at ‎Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. 

“We know that it normally takes decades between a vaccine being developed and used for the first time in rich countries and then getting to the poorest people in the world. So for Ghana to receive their first shipment, only three months from the very first vaccine rollouts in the world, is beyond exceptional. It’s by far the fastest ever.”

The Gates Foundation has spent $1.75 billion on efforts to counter the coronavirus and has focused its efforts on vaccine development within COVAX. 

Damluji noted that the program’s vaccine procurement for poor countries has been entirely funded by donors at a time when every developed world economy is in recession. “So it’s pretty remarkable,” he said.

Vaccine inequality will plunge countries into deeper poverty

The exclusion of poor countries from vaccination programs being rolled out in wealthier nations will have a devastating toll, many economists and public health experts warn, dramatically widening inequalities, hampering social and economic development, and leaving scores of countries in significantly more debt.

These inequalities mean that the pandemic’s long-term economic damage will be twice as severe in emerging markets as in developed ones, according to Oxford Economics. And a study by RAND Corp. predicts that the global economy will lose $153 billion a year in output if emerging countries don’t gain access to vaccines.

Countries on the COVAX donation plan are set to get doses proportionate to their populations: Afghanistan will get 3 million doses, for instance, while Namibia receives just under 130,000.

The Palestinian territories are expecting to receive vaccines through COVAX in March; Iran and Iraq are also part of COVAX, as are many lower-income Middle Eastern countries. Wealthier Gulf states have procured their own vaccine shipments directly from manufacturers, while some are also contributing to the COVAX donation pool despite suffering their own recessions: Saudi Arabia has contributed $300 million and Qatar has donated $10 million.  

The U.S. had not contributed to the COVAX facility under the Trump administration, but the Biden administration has pledged the largest donation yet — $4 billion.  

Damluji noted the challenges of COVAX’s effort, executing nationwide inoculation campaigns in countries with faulty infrastructure, limited logistics and transport options, remote populations and in some cases, war.

“This stuff is a moving target. Rightly, the world’s attention is on this and wants to make sure that it goes well. But a couple of months ago, we didn’t even know which vaccines would work. And now people need them on their doorstep.”

“There will be some complications that also come up,” he added. “It’s the largest health procurement effort ever.” 

 

 

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CIA nominee Burns calls China an ‘authoritarian adversary’

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William Burns is sworn in to testify before a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing on his nomination to be director of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) on Capitol Hill in Washington, February 24, 2021.

Tom Brenner | Reuters

WASHINGTON – President Joe Biden’s nominee to run the CIA told lawmakers Wednesday that if confirmed he would intensify America’s national security approach to counter China.

“Out-competing China will be key to our national security in the days ahead,” Will Burns said in his opening remarks to the Senate Intelligence Committee. “That will require a long-term, clear-eyed, bipartisan strategy, underpinned by domestic renewal and solid intelligence,” the former career diplomat added.

Burns, 64, who worked under both Republican and Democratic presidents, described Xi Jinping’s China as “a formidable, authoritarian adversary.”

He added that China was “methodically strengthening its capabilities to steal intellectual property, repress its own people, bully its neighbors, expand its global reach, and build influence in American society.”

Burns, who was introduced to the Senate committee by former Secretary of State James Baker and former CIA director and Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta, previously served as the U.S. ambassador to Jordan and Russia.

His confirmation is expected to easily pass with strong bipartisan support similar to the majority of Biden’s national security team.

Earlier this month, the Senate confirmed Alejandro Mayorkas to lead the nation’s Department of Homeland Security, making him the first Latino to hold the role. The Senate voted 56 to 43.

Last month, the Senate confirmed Avril Haines as the director of national intelligence with an 84 to 10 vote, making her the first official member of Biden’s Cabinet. Haines is also the first woman to lead the nation’s 18 intelligence agencies.

The Senate voted 93 to 2 to confirm Lloyd Austin as the next Pentagon chief, making him the nation’s first Black Defense secretary. The Senate confirmed Biden’s top diplomat Antony Blinken in a 78 to 22 vote, making him the nation’s next secretary of State.

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