We’re covering a billion-dollar U.S. strategy to move more vaccines to the nations that need them most and mass detentions of Tigrayans in Ethiopia.
U.S. to spend billions on vaccines
The White House, under pressure to increase the supply of Covid vaccines to poor nations, plans to invest billions of dollars to expand manufacturing capacity.
The U.S. seeks to produce at least one billion doses a year beginning in the second half of 2022, part of a broad plan to address vaccine needs overseas and domestically and prepare for future pandemics.
The money was set aside as part of the $1.9 trillion pandemic relief package from March. W.H.O. officials and other experts have criticized the U.S. for rolling out boosters before many people in lower-income countries have gotten their first doses.
It comes as the administration also plans to spend $5 billion on Pfizer’s new Covid pill and billions more on rapid over-the-counter tests, to build a multifaceted treatment framework.
Quotable: “The goal, in the case of a future pandemic, a future virus, is to have vaccine capability within six to nine months of identification of that pandemic pathogen, and to have enough vaccines for all Americans,” said Dr. David Kessler, who oversees vaccine distribution for the administration.
In other developments:
A Covid culture war in Germany, Austria and the German-speaking region of Switzerland is driving the latest round of outbreaks, filling hospitals and risking economic recoveries.
U.S. regulators plan to authorize Pfizer boosters for all adults as early as tomorrow.
Amid gas-price spike, Biden asks for investigation
President Biden asked the Federal Trade Commission, the U.S. agency that oversees consumer protection, to look into whether “illegal conduct” by large oil and gas companies is pushing up gasoline prices for American consumers.
The president noted in a letter to the F.T.C. that prices have risen even as the costs of refined fuel have fallen and industry profits have gone up. The two largest producers, Exxon Mobil and Chevron, have doubled their net income since 2019, he wrote, while announcing billions of dollars in plans to issue dividends and buy back stock.
The move is unlikely to spur immediate action or materially affect gas prices anytime soon.
Context: Soaring gas prices around the world have been pushed by an OPEC choke on production and renewed driving after a pandemic hiatus, and have fueled inflation. In Britain, energy prices sent inflation in October to its highest level in nearly a decade.
Pandemic stocks: Shares of companies that had an early pandemic boom — like Peloton and Zoom — have dropped in recent months, as people try to get back to their normal activities.
Danger for Tigrayans in Ethiopia
Hundreds, and perhaps thousands, of Ethiopians belonging to the Tigrayan ethnic group have been rounded up and detained in recent weeks.
Tigrayans had dominated the Ethiopian government and army for decades until Abiy Ahmed, Ethopia’s prime minister, took power in 2018 and sidelined their leaders. For the past year, Abiy has been waging a grisly war against Tigrayan rebels in the country’s northernmost region.
The resulting government roundups have swept up anyone of Tigrayan descent, many of whom had no ties to the rebels or even any affinity for them.
Blinken’s trip: U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken arrived in Kenya on Wednesday as the Biden administration focuses on the chaos in the Horn of Africa, plagued by spreading war and famine in Ethiopia and a recent military coup in Sudan that threatens to derail its transition to democracy.
Instability in Sudan: Sudanese forces fired into crowds of demonstrators in Khartoum on Wednesday, killing 10 people and wounding many others, medics report.
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On social media, Refaat Alareer, a professor at the Islamic University of Gaza, rages against Israel. But in the lecture hall, he studiously analyzes the work of some of the country’s leading poets — and surprises some of his students.
“Maybe this changed something in my mind about their experience,” one Palestinian student said of studying Israeli poetry. “It’s like we share things. We relate.”
Politics and beauty pageants
Pageants are no longer “the degrading Mindless-Boob-Girlie Symbol” that the New York Radical Women protest group described in 1968. The swimsuits and sashes are still there, but in recent years, beauty queens have used contests to raise awareness of social issues, as Miss Universe Myanmar, Ma Thuzar Wint Lwin, did this year about her country’s junta.
But few have been asked to make the decision South Africa’s newest beauty queen must make: Live out her childhood dream or show global solidarity.
Activists and the South African government have called on Lalela Mswane to boycott the Miss Universe pageant in Israel in solidarity with the Palestinians, with whom the governing African National Congress has longstanding and close relationships.
“We would be very disingenuous and really quite frankly pathetic to associate ourselves with such inhumanity,” the spokeswoman for the Sport, Arts and Culture Ministry said.
The ministry is threatening to “disassociate” itself from the pageant, but it’s unclear what this will mean — whether Mswane will be allowed to wave the South African flag or identify herself as Miss South Africa if she competes.
Miss Malaysia and Miss Indonesia have said they will not take part. Now Mswane, a 24-year-old law graduate, will have to take a position on an issue that has divided and stumped diplomats and presidents for decades.
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