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Indonesia to resume search for victims, black box of crashed Sriwijaya jet

By Bernadette Christina Munthe

JAKARTA (Reuters) – Indonesian divers prepared to resume a search on Thursday for the remains of 62 victims and the cockpit voice recorder from a Sriwijaya Air plane that plunged into the Java Sea soon after takeoff last weekend, officials said.

The search at the crash site of the downed Boeing 737-500, that was traveling from Jakarta to Pontianak, was temporarily suspended on Wednesday after bad weather whipped up high waves.

“We hope that today’s weather will be calm,” said search and rescue director Rasman MS. “With good weather that can support our operations, they (the divers) hope to achieve optimum results in finding the victims and plane debris.”

A team of divers recovered one of the plane’s so-called black boxes, the flight data recorder (FDR), from the seabed earlier this week with efforts underway on Thursday to retrieve the cockpit voice recorder (CVR).

With the cause of the fatal crash of the 27-year-old plane unclear, investigators will rely heavily on the black boxes to determine what caused the jet to lose control minutes after take-off.

Indonesia’s national transportation safety committee expects to download the FDR data in the coming days, said the committee’s chief, Soerjanto Tjahjono.

The country’s transport ministry previously confirmed the ill-fated jet had been grounded in the early months of the coronavirus pandemic, but had passed airworthiness requirements in mid-December and resumed service shortly after.

On Wednesday, divers had continued to retrieve plane debris, as well as body parts and the personal effects of the 62 Indonesians on board.

The national police’s disaster victim identification (DVI) team has identified six victims from the flight, including a crew member and two passengers, according to CNNIndonesia.

The Sriwijaya crash is the second major airline disaster in Indonesia after 189 people were killed onboard a Lion Air Boeing 737 Max that plunged into the Java Sea minutes after take-off in 2018.

(Writing by Kate Lamb; Editing by Ed Davies and Michael Perry)


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Indonesia to resume search for victims, black box of crashed Sriwijaya jet

By Bernadette Christina Munthe

JAKARTA (Reuters) – Indonesian divers prepared to resume a search on Thursday for the remains of 62 victims and the cockpit voice recorder from a Sriwijaya Air plane that plunged into the Java Sea soon after takeoff last weekend, officials said.

The search at the crash site of the downed Boeing 737-500, that was traveling from Jakarta to Pontianak, was temporarily suspended on Wednesday after bad weather whipped up high waves.

“We hope that today’s weather will be calm,” said search and rescue director Rasman MS. “With good weather that can support our operations, they (the divers) hope to achieve optimum results in finding the victims and plane debris.”

A team of divers recovered one of the plane’s so-called black boxes, the flight data recorder (FDR), from the seabed earlier this week with efforts underway on Thursday to retrieve the cockpit voice recorder (CVR).

With the cause of the fatal crash of the 27-year-old plane unclear, investigators will rely heavily on the black boxes to determine what caused the jet to lose control minutes after take-off.

Indonesia’s national transportation safety committee expects to download the FDR data in the coming days, said the committee’s chief, Soerjanto Tjahjono.

The country’s transport ministry previously confirmed the ill-fated jet had been grounded in the early months of the coronavirus pandemic, but had passed airworthiness requirements in mid-December and resumed service shortly after.

On Wednesday, divers had continued to retrieve plane debris, as well as body parts and the personal effects of the 62 Indonesians on board.

The national police’s disaster victim identification (DVI) team has identified six victims from the flight, including a crew member and two passengers, according to CNNIndonesia.

The Sriwijaya crash is the second major airline disaster in Indonesia after 189 people were killed onboard a Lion Air Boeing 737 Max that plunged into the Java Sea minutes after take-off in 2018.

(Writing by Kate Lamb; Editing by Ed Davies and Michael Perry)


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Pentagon could deploy up to 20,000 National Guard troops to Washington ahead of Inauguration

The Pentagon is prepared to deploy up to 20,000 National Guard troops to the U.S. Capitol ahead of Inauguration Day. CBSN political reporter Caitlin Huey-Burns and Politico White House and Washington reporter Daniel Lippman joins CBSN’s “Red & Blue” anchor Elaine Quijano with more on the security preparations.


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Watch live: U.S. House takes up second impeachment of President Donald Trump (6:00 a.m.)

Mike Dorning, Erik Wasson and Billy House | Bloomberg

The U.S. House prepared to vote on a history-making second impeachment of Donald Trump as lawmakers seethed over his role inciting last week’s mob attack on the Capitol and the president’s once-firm control over the Republican party began to break down.

Trump’s impeachment appeared inevitable in a vote Democrats anticipated would come Wednesday, with the resolution’s sponsors claiming broad support from Democrats and public backing from several Republicans, including Liz Cheney, the No. 3 House GOP leader and daughter of former Vice President Dick Cheney.

The House is set to begin debate shortly after 9 a.m., with the vote on the impeachment resolution expected by mid-to-late afternoon, according to House Rules Chairman Jim McGovern. Under rules in place because of the coronavirus pandemic, members will vote in staggered groups on the House floor, and some by proxy, concluding before 5 p.m.

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer said late Tuesday that the impeachment article would be quickly sent to the Senate, which would then hold a trial, instead of holding it back until after the start of President-elect Joe Biden’s tenure.

“The timing was thrust upon us by the actions of the president of the United States. The fact that he is leaving should not divert us from holding accountable behavior which many of us believe is treasonous behavior and criminal behavior,” Hoyer said on MSNBC.

Biden’s Nominees

The timing could complicate Biden’s efforts to get cabinet officials approved by the Senate since lawmakers would be occupied by an impeachment trial.

But Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer has raised the possibility of invoking a 2004 emergency session law to convene a trial this week, although such a move would require the consent of Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

House to vote on resolution for Pence to invoke 25th amendment and remove Trump

The US House of Representatives on Tuesday was prepared to move forward with an effort to forcibly remove Donald Trump from office after he instigated a mob that led a deadly assault on the US Capitol last week.

Members debated and were set to vote on what effectively gives Mike Pence an ultimatum: strip Trump of his power or allow him to become the first president in American history to be impeached a second time.

A remorseless Trump lashed out at Democrats for leading the effort to remove him before his term ends next week, and took no responsibility for the violent insurrection that left five dead and threatened the lives of members of Congress, congressional staff, law enforcement, journalists and his own vice-president.

Instead, he claimed his inflammatory comments to loyalists at a rally in Washington before the Capitol attack, where he urged them to march to the Capitol in last-gasp attempt to overturn the results of an election he lost, were “totally appropriate” and blamed Democrats for further dividing the nation.

“To continue on this path, I think it’s causing tremendous danger to our country, and it’s causing tremendous anger,” he told reporters at Joint Base Andrews, before departing for Alamo, Texas, where he visited the barrier on the US-Mexico border.

Democrats will proceed first with a vote Tuesday night on a resolution calling on Mike Pence and members of the cabinet to invoke the 25th amendment to the constitution, and wrest Trump from power. It further calls on Pence to immediately assume “the powers and duties of the office as acting president”.

Such an act, the resolution states, would: “Declare what is obvious to a horrified nation: that the president is unable to successfully discharge the duties and powers of his office.”

Democrats, who control the House, are confident they have the votes to pass the resolution. But it’s not only Democrats.

A growing number of Republicans have called the president unfit for office and fear that he could do more damage in his final days.

There is no indication that Pence intends to act. Trump and Pence met on Monday night for the first time since the siege, during which some rioters chanted “Hang Mike Pence” because he refused Trump’s public demands to block congressional certification of Joe Biden’s electoral victory – a power he did not have.

The two men pledged to continue working together for the remainder of their time in office, according to a senior administration official.

Three cabinet officials have resigned in the wake of Capitol invasion but none have called for Trump’s removal.

The House will then swiftly move forward with impeachment, beginning the debate over whether Trump committed “high crimes and misdemeanors” on Wednesday, just one week before Biden will be sworn in.

A single article of impeachment charges Trump with “incitement of insurrection,” and directly quotes the president’s speech to supporters at the rally near the White House on 6 Januarybefore a mob stormed the seat of American government. “If you don’t fight like hell,” Trump implored, “you’re not going to have a country anymore.”

Members of Congress gathered ahead of the vote on Tuesday for the first time since the invasion, amid heightened security both inside and outside the building.

Metal detectors were set up at entrances to the House chamber on Tuesday as thousands of national guard troops were deployed to the city ahead of Biden’s inauguration next week.


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Author: Lauren Gambino in Washington

The Downside to Getting Out Two COVID Vaccines So Fast

By Arthur Allen, KHN

As I prepared to get my shot in mid-December as part of a COVID-19 vaccine trial run by Janssen Pharmaceuticals, I considered the escape routes. Bailing out of the trial was a very real consideration since two other vaccines, made by Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech, had been deemed safe and effective for emergency approval.

Leaving the trial would be a perfectly sane decision for me or anyone who had volunteered for an ongoing COVID experiment. Why risk getting COVID if I was given a placebo, a shot with no vaccine in it? The way tests are designed, I might not be told whether I received the vaccine until the clinical trial is over, months from now.

Dropping the placebo arm could also be ethically sound from the company’s point of view. Researchers frequently halt trials when they have a product that works—or manifestly doesn’t. And the two approved vaccines are 95 percent effective.

That very real choice for thousands of people offering to join or remain in the ongoing vaccine tests creates a conundrum for science and for society. If trials can’t go forward, it could very well have an impact on the world’s supply of COVID vaccines and eventually on vaccine prices, especially if booster shots are needed in years to come. In markets where there are only two competing drugs, prices can shoot sky-high. If there are four or five on the market, competition usually kicks in to control costs.

In short, the welcome arrival of two COVID vaccines deemed safe has uncovered a series of ethical and logistical challenges. And it has governments, companies and scientists scrambling for solutions.

“The world’s vaccine experts are saying the longer we can carry out a placebo-controlled trial the better,” Matthew Hepburn, who runs the vaccine development arm of Operation Warp Speed, the multibillion-dollar federal program to fight COVID-19, told me. “But as a volunteer in the Janssen trial, you can always drop out.”

As for the best way to resolve broader problems, “it’s a debate in real time,” he said.

No need to panic over new UK coronavirus strain, says India’s health minister

MUMBAI (Reuters) – India’s health authorities remain vigilant and prepared to deal with a new more transmissible strain of the coronavirus identified in Britain, the country’s health minister said on Monday, adding that there was no need to panic.

India has recorded the world’s second highest number of infections and breached the 10 million case milestone over the weekend. More than 145,000 people have died from COVID-19.

“If you ask me, there is no reason for such panic,” India’s Health Minister Harsh Vardhan said at a press briefing in New Delhi.

A government committee tasked with monitoring the pandemic met on Monday to discuss the new strain, an official said. But it was unclear whether India would halt flights to Britain, one of 23 countries that it shares an “air bubble” with.

“Don’t entangle yourself in this imaginary situation, imaginary talk, imaginary panic,” Vardhan said. “The government is completely vigilant.”

(Reporting by Shilpa Jamkhandikar and Devjyot Ghoshal; Editing by Robert Birsel and Alison Williams)


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Who’s on deck? Jockeying begins for next spot in California’s vaccine line

Educators and parents have rallied behind vaccines for teachers to reopen schools. Uber’s CEO emphasizes how the company’s drivers have spent nine months on the front lines delivering food and transporting people.

Optometrists say they can’t give eye exams without being close to a patient — and even offered to administer vaccines to the public.

A growing number of California interest groups are jockeying to get their members next in line for California’s allotment of Covid-19 vaccinations, just as the first Pfizer doses arrive in the nation’s most populous state.

California has consensus that health care workers and nursing home residents are first in line. But prioritizing the next group of essential workers and vulnerable residents is extremely difficult. And scarcity breeds tension in a state of 40 million where less than 3 percent of the population is expected to get the vaccine by the end of the month.

“It’s so tough to choose — it’s like which child do you love the most?” said Oliver Brooks, chief medical officer of Watts Healthcare Corp. and co-chair of the California work group evaluating priority. “That’s why we’re doing our best to remain objective and are using specific criteria to make these decisions.”

In California, Brooks is working with a state advisory group that has representatives from 70 community organizations and medical associations, and interest groups are putting their best arguments forward. A common theme has emerged so far: Emphasize your sector’s role in supporting the health care response to the coronavirus.

Airline pilots said that crew members should be considered because many of their planes will transport vaccines and medical supplies. Boys & Girls Clubs said that child care workers have been providing in-person support for students while schools have been closed, including children of health care workers.

But few have been louder this week than teachers, who have built a growing coalition of parents and community leaders who see widespread educator vaccination as the way to reopen schools. Most of California’s 6 million public schoolchildren haven’t set foot in a classroom since March.

“We are asking our governor to stand up for the public school system, to stand up for educators, to stand up for California children and families, and to get kids back in school as quickly as possible,” San Francisco Supervisor Hillary Ronen said at a press briefing Thursday. “The fastest and the easiest and the safest way to do this is to vaccinate all adults in the public schools.”

Others have gone public with their arguments. Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi on Thursday sent a letter to Newsom along with governors from all states describing rideshare and food-delivery drivers as “a lifeline to their communities” who should get vaccinated early. The California News Publishers Association asked the state advisory committee for reporters to get priority — a request that some journalists disowned because they said others deserved vaccines ahead of them.

Some are leaning on the Legislature. Representatives of Local 1167 of Southern California’s United Food and Commercial Workers are lobbying their state representatives for access.

“It’s not that our members are any more important than anyone else,” said Joe Duffle, president of the local, which represents some 20,000 workers. “We have to make sure the food supply chain is kept healthy, and the people who work in it are healthy.”

Brooks said the key is making decisions based on the established criteria. That includes occupational exposure, equity, societal impact followed by economic impact.

The task gets trickier when determining sub-prioritization within a specific group of essential workers — like how a worker in a critical infrastructure system with lower exposure compares to someone with higher exposure in a less critical function.

“Hopefully if we do it in that fashion, we are somewhat immune to specific lobbying,” Brooks said. He said the group is finalizing the priorities, but he did not know when their list would be released to the public.

David Magnus, director of the Stanford Center for Biomedical Ethics, said he expects vaccine distribution to be far more equitable than the Covid-19 testing process, when professional athletes and people with influence got access to regular tests before frontline health care workers. Unlike the testing universe, the vaccines are produced by only a select group of manufacturers and distribution is expected to be tightly controlled.

But Magnus, who is working with public health officials on the distribution plan, said he expects to see some ethical debates, even within high-risk populations.

“There are going to be states where it’s politically unpopular to vaccinate prisoners before vaccinating other citizens,” he said.

Lobbying and politics will likely play a role, but Magnus questions how much of an influence it will have on decision-making. “It’s not like an organ transplant where if you’re low on the list, you die without an organ,” he said. “Everyone who needs a vaccine should get vaccinated. It’s just a matter of timing.”

The governor has stressed that people won’t be able to use their money or influence to jump ahead in the queue. “Those who think they can get ahead of the line, using relationships or resources, we’ll monitor that closely,” Newsom said at a press briefing last week.

In some cases, the challenges may be more about convincing workers to get the vaccine than to get them to the front of the line. Employers are wondering to what degree they can require their workers to get the vaccine, especially as they face new state requirements for workplace protections and liability issues when employees are infected.

In preliminary data shared by the California Farmworker Foundation, half the farm workers surveyed said they were willing to take the vaccine while nearly 35 percent were not. Fifteen percent had not yet decided. Hernan Hernandez, the group’s executive director, said he’s been lobbying state and federal politicians but is worried that farmworkers have been reluctant even to get tested and won’t take advantage of the vaccine — even if they’re near the front of the line.

“Bringing testing to the community is the easy part. Getting them to get tested is the hard part,” he said. “The same thing with the vaccine.”


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Author: Victoria Colliver

Who’s on deck? Jockeying begins for next spot in California’s vaccine line

Educators and parents have rallied behind vaccines for teachers to reopen schools. Uber’s CEO emphasizes how the company’s drivers have spent nine months on the front lines delivering food and transporting people.

Optometrists say they can’t give eye exams without being close to a patient — and even offered to administer vaccines to the public.

A growing number of California interest groups are jockeying to get their members next in line for California’s allotment of Covid-19 vaccinations, just as the first Pfizer doses arrive in the nation’s most populous state.

California has consensus that health care workers and nursing home residents are first in line. But prioritizing the next group of essential workers and vulnerable residents is extremely difficult. And scarcity breeds tension in a state of 40 million where less than 3 percent of the population is expected to get the vaccine by the end of the month.

“It’s so tough to choose — it’s like which child do you love the most?” said Oliver Brooks, chief medical officer of Watts Healthcare Corp. and co-chair of the California work group evaluating priority. “That’s why we’re doing our best to remain objective and are using specific criteria to make these decisions.”

In California, Brooks is working with a state advisory group that has representatives from 70 community organizations and medical associations, and interest groups are putting their best arguments forward. A common theme has emerged so far: Emphasize your sector’s role in supporting the health care response to the coronavirus.

Airline pilots said that crew members should be considered because many of their planes will transport vaccines and medical supplies. Boys & Girls Clubs said that child care workers have been providing in-person support for students while schools have been closed, including children of health care workers.

But few have been louder this week than teachers, who have built a growing coalition of parents and community leaders who see widespread educator vaccination as the way to reopen schools. Most of California’s 6 million public schoolchildren haven’t set foot in a classroom since March.

“We are asking our governor to stand up for the public school system, to stand up for educators, to stand up for California children and families, and to get kids back in school as quickly as possible,” San Francisco Supervisor Hillary Ronen said at a press briefing Thursday. “The fastest and the easiest and the safest way to do this is to vaccinate all adults in the public schools.”

Others have gone public with their arguments. Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi on Thursday sent a letter to Newsom along with governors from all states describing rideshare and food-delivery drivers as “a lifeline to their communities” who should get vaccinated early. The California News Publishers Association asked the state advisory committee for reporters to get priority — a request that some journalists disowned because they said others deserved vaccines ahead of them.

Some are leaning on the Legislature. Representatives of Local 1167 of Southern California’s United Food and Commercial Workers are lobbying their state representatives for access.

“It’s not that our members are any more important than anyone else,” said Joe Duffle, president of the local, which represents some 20,000 workers. “We have to make sure the food supply chain is kept healthy, and the people who work in it are healthy.”

Brooks said the key is making decisions based on the established criteria. That includes occupational exposure, equity, societal impact followed by economic impact.

The task gets trickier when determining sub-prioritization within a specific group of essential workers — like how a worker in a critical infrastructure system with lower exposure compares to someone with higher exposure in a less critical function.

“Hopefully if we do it in that fashion, we are somewhat immune to specific lobbying,” Brooks said. He said the group is finalizing the priorities, but he did not know when their list would be released to the public.

David Magnus, director of the Stanford Center for Biomedical Ethics, said he expects vaccine distribution to be far more equitable than the Covid-19 testing process, when professional athletes and people with influence got access to regular tests before frontline health care workers. Unlike the testing universe, the vaccines are produced by only a select group of manufacturers and distribution is expected to be tightly controlled.

But Magnus, who is working with public health officials on the distribution plan, said he expects to see some ethical debates, even within high-risk populations.

“There are going to be states where it’s politically unpopular to vaccinate prisoners before vaccinating other citizens,” he said.

Lobbying and politics will likely play a role, but Magnus questions how much of an influence it will have on decision-making. “It’s not like an organ transplant where if you’re low on the list, you die without an organ,” he said. “Everyone who needs a vaccine should get vaccinated. It’s just a matter of timing.”

The governor has stressed that people won’t be able to use their money or influence to jump ahead in the queue. “Those who think they can get ahead of the line, using relationships or resources, we’ll monitor that closely,” Newsom said at a press briefing last week.

In some cases, the challenges may be more about convincing workers to get the vaccine than to get them to the front of the line. Employers are wondering to what degree they can require their workers to get the vaccine, especially as they face new state requirements for workplace protections and liability issues when employees are infected.

In preliminary data shared by the California Farmworker Foundation, half the farm workers surveyed said they were willing to take the vaccine while nearly 35 percent were not. Fifteen percent had not yet decided. Hernan Hernandez, the group’s executive director, said he’s been lobbying state and federal politicians but is worried that farmworkers have been reluctant even to get tested and won’t take advantage of the vaccine — even if they’re near the front of the line.

“Bringing testing to the community is the easy part. Getting them to get tested is the hard part,” he said. “The same thing with the vaccine.”


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Author: Victoria Colliver

U.S. on cusp of COVID-19 vaccine as deaths surpass 3,000 in a day

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The United States prepared to roll out a coronavirus vaccine within days as the country’s daily death toll surpassed 3,000 for the first time, exceeding the number of lives lost from the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

COVID-19 deaths reached 3,253 on Wednesday, pushing up the U.S. total since the start of the pandemic to 289,740, with a record 106,219 people hospitalized with the highly infectious respiratory disease.

Healthcare professionals and support staff, exhausted by the demands of the pandemic, have been watching patients die alone as millions of Americans refuse to follow medical advice to wear masks and avoid crowds in order to curb the virus’ spread.

Potentially helping to rein in the outbreak, a vaccine could start reaching healthcare workers, first responders and nursing home residents as soon as Sunday, though more likely early next week, according to Trump administration officials.

U.S. Army General Gustave Perna, the chief operating officer of the Trump administration’s Operation Warp Speed vaccine development program, said all the vaccine doses remained in the hands of the pharmaceutical companies.

“But we’ve worked many rehearsals and planning cycles … and that’s why I’m confident that as soon as EUA (emergency use authorization) comes aboard, we’ll start packing to the final destinations and distribution will begin within 24 hours,” Perna said.

A panel of independent medical experts was due to decide on Thursday whether to recommend a vaccine from Pfizer Inc and German partner BioNTech SE for emergency use authorization from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

FDA consent could come as early as Friday or Saturday, followed by the first U.S. injections on Sunday or Monday, Moncef Slaoui, chief adviser to Operation Warp, told Fox News.

A second vaccine developed by Moderna is a week behind.

Widespread inoculations, however, could take months.

In the meantime, intensive care units at hundreds of hospitals across the country were at or near capacity, data from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services showed.

Ten mostly rural counties in California reported having no ICU beds on Wednesday, according to state health figures analyzed by Reuters.

Besides the human cost, the pandemic has forced millions out of work as state and local officials impose restrictions on social and economic life to contain the outbreak.

Congress, meanwhile, has struggled to end a months-long stalemate over economic assistance.

Disagreements remain over business liability protections demanded by Republicans and aid to state and local governments sought by Democrats before a final deal is reached on pandemic assistance.

(Reporting by Reuters staff; Writing by Daniel Trotta; Editing by Bernadette Baum)


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