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Brexit Britain turbocharged! Masterplan unveiled to propel UK to 'front of pack'

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Biden says CDC will ‘probably’ recommend kids under 12 wear masks in school

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WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden said Wednesday that the Centers for Disease Control will “probably” advise kids under the age of 12 who are not yet able to receive the Covid-19 vaccine to wear face masks in school this fall.

“The CDC is going to say that what we should do is everyone under the age of 12 should probably be wearing a mask in school,” Biden said during a CNN town hall in Cincinnati, Ohio.

Biden said that kids older than 12 who are fully vaccinated should not wear a mask, but acknowledged that it could be difficult for some school districts to determine who is and is not vaccinated.

“It’s going to get a little big tight in terms of well, are Mom or Dad being honest that Johnny did or did not get vaccinated? That’s going to raise questions,” Biden said. “It’s a matter of community responsibility.”

Some local governments have brought back mask mandates in recent days as Covid cases and deaths have risen due to the highly transmissible delta variant and declining vaccination rates. Reports of breakthrough cases among vaccinated individuals have also raised questions about whether some health precautions should be reinstated.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, has said that he would wear a mask in certain parts of the country where vaccination rates are low. In an interview with CNBC on Wednesday, Fauci said if vaccinated people “want to go the extra mile of safety” they could consider wearing a mask indoors, particularly in crowded places.

Biden on Wednesday also said that he hoped that the Covid-19 vaccines would become available to kids under the age of 12 “soon,” but stressed that he was not pressuring the CDC or other health experts to rush to a decision.

“They’re not promising me any specific date, but my expectation talking to the group of scientists we put together, over 20 of them plus others in the field, is that sometime maybe in the beginning of the school year, at the end of August, beginning of September, October they’ll get a final approval,” Biden said.

A Food and Drug Administration official suggested last week that the timeline for emergency authorization for Covid-19 vaccines in children under 12 could be a bit later, likely early to midwinter.

Covid-19 vaccines have been authorized only for people ages 12 and up in the United States.

Whether children should be required to wear masks in schools regardless of vaccination status has been a point of tension among some health experts. The CDC said earlier this month that fully vaccinated students do not need to wear masks in classrooms, while the American Academy of Pediatrics on Monday recommended that all children over the age of 2 wear masks when returning to school this year, even if they are vaccinated.

School districts are not legally required to follow CDC guidance. Some local governments have already banned schools and colleges from requiring Covid-19 vaccinations and masks.

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CIA’s Havana Syndrome task force to be led by officer who hunted Bin Laden

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WASHINGTON — The leader of the CIA’s task force on the Havana Syndrome is a veteran officer who was instrumental in the successful hunt for Osama bin Laden, according to an official familiar with the matter.

The officer’s role was first reported by the Wall Street Journal.

The official familiar with the matter told NBC News that the intelligence veteran heading the task force was “intimately involved in the hunt for Bin Laden and will bring that same intensity and rigor to the hunt for the source of the unexplained health incidents” that have now involved diplomats, intelligence officers, and other U.S. agency personnel and their families around the world.

The task force head, a 10-year counterterrorism veteran, is still undercover.

NBC News reported Tuesday that as many as 200 U.S. officials or family members have reported possible symptoms. Roughly two dozen cases were reported in Vienna alone.

The mysterious syndrome was first reported at the U.S. Embassy in Havana in 2016. In the following years, cases were reported at U.S posts in China, Russia, and now in a number of European capitals as well as Central Asia. In December, a scientific study from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine zeroed in on a form of directed energy emissions from microwave as a possible source.

NBC News first reported in 2018 that Russia was suspected of being behind the attacks because it had long experience in that technology dating back to the 1970’s, but one official said this week “there is still no smoking gun.”

The National Security Council is now coordinating two administration task forces on the syndrome, including the one at the CIA, as the administration says it is committed to an all-out effort to find the cause and protect personnel posted overseas.

The task force ordered by CIA Director William Burns includes intelligence analysts, clandestine officers, clinicians, and specialists from across the agency. A senior official said outside experts are also being brought in for additional technical and medical expertise.



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Government has forgiven nearly $400 billion in Covid-relief PPP loans, federal watchdogs say

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WASHINGTON — The federal government has forgiven $394.6 billion in more than 4 million loans to businesses through the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), according to new data published by a group of internal federal watchdogs.

More than a million of those forgiven Covid relief loans were to companies with just one employee, at a cost of $12.8 billion, or an average of about $11,497 per job, according to an analysis of the data by NBC News.

The data was released Wednesday by the Pandemic Response Accountability Committee (PRAC), a group made up of 22 inspectors general from different federal agencies that monitors all Covid relief spending for the government.

In total, according to the data, the Small Business Administration provided 11.7 million loans nationwide totaling more than $798 billion. The most recent batch of loans was sent out on June 30, and no more money is currently available under the program.

The top franchisees to get funds overall were General Motors franchises at $1.4 billion, according to the newly published data. Following that were McDonald’s franchisees, which received $1.3 billion in funds, and Subway stores, which got $672.9 million.

The vast majority of companies told the federal government they used the money for payroll — $776 billion out of the $798 billion disbursed. As of June 30, businesses said that PPP funding allowed them to retain 90.3 million jobs.

On June 30, when Covid cases and unemployment had declined and vaccines were abundant, the federal government sent out $33 million in PPP loans to 62 businesses that reported they had a total of 4,469 employees.

Some of the biggest winners in this last round of PPP loans were four Planned Parenthood affiliates, which got a combined $4.13 million.

GOP Sens. Marco Rubio of Florida and Rand Paul of Kentucky objected to any further PPP funding going to Planned Parenthood during a hearing in late May. The Trump administration had tried to pull back funding from Planned Parenthood affiliates that were given $80 million in PPP loans last year.

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