AP News in Brief at 11:04 p.m. EST

J&J’s 1-dose shot cleared, giving US 3rd COVID-19 vaccine

WASHINGTON (AP) — The U.S. is getting a third vaccine to prevent COVID-19, as the Food and Drug Administration on Saturday cleared a Johnson & Johnson shot that works with just one dose instead of two.

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Health experts are anxiously awaiting a one-and-done option to help speed vaccinations, as they race against a virus that already has killed more than 510,000 people in the U.S. and is mutating in increasingly worrisome ways.

The FDA said J&J’s vaccine offers strong protection against what matters most: serious illness, hospitalizations and death. One dose was 85% protective against the most severe COVID-19 illness, in a massive study that spanned three continents — protection that remained strong even in countries such as South Africa, where the variants of most concern are spreading.

"This is really good news," Dr. Francis Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health, told The Associated Press Saturday. "The most important thing we can do right now is to get as many shots in as many arms as we can."

J&J initially is providing a few million doses and shipments to states could begin as early as Monday. By the end of March, J&J has said it expects to deliver 20 million doses to the U.S., and 100 million by summer.

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Republicans test history in vote against pandemic relief

NEW YORK (AP) — With the nation's financial system on the brink of collapse, all but three Republicans voted against the massive stimulus package designed to protect millions of Americans from financial ruin.

It was early 2009, just weeks after Joe Biden was sworn in as vice-president, and the vote marked the beginning of a new era of partisan gridlock in Congress. And for beleaguered Republicans coming off a disastrous election, it was their first step back to political power.

Democrats voted alone to stabilize the economy, and two years later, a Republican Party unified only by its unwavering opposition to Barack Obama's presidency seized the House majority.

Now, just weeks into the Biden presidency, the GOP is gambling that history will repeat itself.

Early Saturday morning, 210 House Republicans joined two Democrats in voting against a $1.9 trillion pandemic relief package that would send $1,400 checks to most Americans and hundreds of billions more to help open schools, revive struggling businesses and provide financial support to state and local governments. Senate Republicans are expected to oppose a similar measure in the coming weeks, arguing that the bill is not focused enough on the pandemic. But with near-unanimous Democratic support, the measure could still become law.

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Plunging demand for COVID-19 tests may leave US exposed

WASHINGTON (AP) — Just five weeks ago, Los Angeles County was conducting more than 350,000 weekly coronavirus tests, including at a massive drive-thru site at Dodger Stadium, as health workers raced to contain the worst COVID-19 hotspot in the U.S.

Now, county officials say testing has nearly collapsed. More than 180 government-supported sites are operating at only a third of their capacity.

"It’s shocking how quickly we’ve gone from moving at 100 miles an hour to about 25," said Dr. Clemens Hong, who leads the county’s testing operation.

After a year of struggling to boost testing, communities across the country are seeing plummeting demand, shuttering testing sites or even trying to return supplies.

The drop in screening comes at a significant moment in the outbreak: Experts are cautiously optimistic that COVID-19 is receding after killing more than 500,000 people in the U.S. but concerned that emerging variants could prolong the epidemic.

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Scores arrested as Myanmar police disperse anti-coup rally

YANGON, Myanmar (AP) — Police fired tear gas and water cannons and there were reports of gunfire Sunday in Myanmar's largest city where another anti-coup protest was underway with scores of students and other demonstrators hauled away in police trucks.

The violence erupted early morning when medical students were marching in Yangon's streets near the Hledan Center intersection, which has become the gathering point for protesters who then fan out to other parts of the city.

Footage showed protesters running away from police as they charged at them, and residents setting up makeshift roadblocks to slow their advance. Nearby, residents were pleading with police to release those they picked up from the street and shoved into police trucks to be taken away.

There was no immediate word on casualties. Sounds of gunfire could be heard and what appeared to be smoke grenades thrown into the crowds.

Security forces now appear to become more aggressive in using force and making arrests as the popular uprising against the Feb. 1 military takeover gathers steam.

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Virginia lawmakers vote to legalize marijuana in 2024

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — Virginia lawmakers gave final approval Saturday to a bill that will legalize marijuana for adult recreational use, but not until 2024, when retail sales of the drug would also begin.

With a compromise bill clearing the House and Senate, Virginia becomes the first Southern state to vote to legalize marijuana, joining 15 other states and the District of Columbia. The legislation now goes to Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam, who supports legalization.

The bill was a top priority for Democrats, who framed legalization as a necessary step to end the disparate treatment of people of colour under current marijuana laws. But talks between Democrats in the House and Senate grew tense in recent days, and a compromise version of the massive bill did not emerge publicly until late Saturday afternoon.

"It’s been a lot of work to get here, but I would say that we’re on the path to an equitable law allowing responsible adults to use cannabis," said Sen. Adam Ebbin, the chief sponsor of the Senate bill.

Several Democrats said they hoped Northam would send the legislation back to them with amendments, including speeding up the date for legalization.

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2nd former aide accuses Cuomo of sexual harassment

A second former aide said she was sexually harassed by New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who responded with a statement Saturday saying he never made advances toward her and never intended to be inappropriate.

Charlotte Bennett, a health policy adviser in the Democratic governor's administration until November, told The New York Times Cuomo asked her inappropriate questions about her sex life, including whether she ever had sex with older men.

Another former aide, Lindsey Boylan, a former deputy secretary for economic development and special adviser to the governor, recently accused Cuomo of subjecting her to an unwanted kiss and inappropriate comments. Cuomo denied the allegations.

Cuomo said in a statement Saturday that Bennett was a "hardworking and valued member of our team during COVID" and that "she has every right to speak out."

He said he had intended to be a mentor for Bennett, who is 25.

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'Blame Trump' defence in Capitol riot looks like a long shot

The "Trump-made-me-do-it" defence is already looking like a longshot.

Facing damning evidence in the deadly Capitol siege last month — including social media posts flaunting their actions — rioters are arguing in court they were following then-President Donald Trump's instructions on Jan. 6. But the legal strategy has already been shot down by at least one judge and experts believe the argument is not likely to get anyone off the hook for the insurrection where five people died, including a police officer.

"This purported defence, if recognized, would undermine the rule of law because then, just like a king or a dictator, the president could dictate what’s illegal and what isn’t in this country," U.S. District Judge Beryl Howell said recently in ordering pretrial detention of William Chrestman, a suspected member of the Kansas City-area chapter of the Proud Boys. "And that is not how we operate here."

Chrestman’s attorneys argued in court papers that Trump gave the mob "explicit permission and encouragement" to do what they did, providing those who obeyed him with "a viable defence against criminal liability."

"It is an astounding thing to imagine storming the United States Capitol with sticks and flags and bear spray, arrayed against armed and highly trained law enforcement. Only someone who thought they had an official endorsement would even attempt such a thing. And a Proud Boy who had been paying attention would very much believe he did," Chrestman’s lawyers wrote.

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Biden hails House passage of $1.9T virus bill, now to Senate

WASHINGTON (AP) — The House approved a $1.9 trillion pandemic relief bill that was championed by President Joe Biden, the first step in providing another dose of aid to a weary nation as the measure now moves to a tense Senate.

"We have no time to waste," Biden said at the White House after the House passage early Saturday. "We act now — decisively, quickly and boldly — we can finally get ahead of this virus. We can finally get our economy moving again. People in this country have suffered far too much for too long."

The new president’s vision for infusing cash across a struggling economy to individuals, businesses, schools, states and cities battered by COVID-19 passed on a near party-line 219-212 vote. That ships the bill to the Senate, where Democrats seem bent on resuscitating their minimum wage push and fights could erupt over state aid and other issues.

Democrats said that mass unemployment and the half-million American lives lost are causes to act despite nearly $4 trillion in aid already spent fighting the fallout from the disease. GOP lawmakers, they said, were out of step with a public that polling finds largely views the bill favourably.

"I am a happy camper tonight," Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Calif., said Friday. "This is what America needs. Republicans, you ought to be a part of this. But if you're not, we're going without you."

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Archeologists find intact ceremonial chariot near Pompeii

MILAN (AP) — Officials at the Pompeii archaeological site in Italy announced Saturday the discovery of an intact ceremonial chariot, one of several important discoveries made in the same area outside the park near Naples following an investigation into an illegal dig.

The chariot, with its iron elements, bronze decorations and mineralized wooden remains, was found in the ruins of a settlement north of Pompeii, beyond the walls of the ancient city, parked in the portico of a stable where the remains of three horses previously were discovered.

The Archaeological Park of Pompeii called the chariot "an exceptional discovery" and said "it represents a unique find - which has no parallel in Italy thus far - in an excellent state of preservation."

The eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 AD destroyed Pompeii. The chariot was spared when the walls and roof of the structure it was in collapsed, and also survived looting by modern-day antiquities thieves, who had dug tunnels through to the site, grazing but not damaging the four-wheeled cart, according to park officials.

The chariot was found on the grounds of what is one of the most significant ancient villas in the area around Vesuvius, with a panoramic view of the Mediterranean Sea. on the outskirts of the ancient Roman city.

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What's in an adjective? 'Democrat Party' label on the rise

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — Two days before the assault on the U.S. Capitol, Pennsylvania state Sen. Doug Mastriano, a Republican, said supporters of then-President Donald Trump's claims of election fraud were basically in a "death match with the Democrat Party."

A day later, right-wing activist Alan Hostetter, a staunch Trump supporter known for railing against California's virus-inspired stay-at-home orders, urged rallygoers in Washington to "put the fear of God in the cowards, the traitors, the RINOs, the communists of the Democrat Party."

The shared grammatical construction — incorrect use of the noun "Democrat" as an adjective — was far from the most shocking thing about the two men's statements. But it identified them as members of the same tribe, conservatives seeking to define the opposition through demeaning language.

Amid bipartisan calls to dial back extreme partisanship following the insurrection, the intentional misuse of "Democrat" as an adjective remains in nearly universal use among Republicans. Propelled by conservative media, it also has caught on with far-right elements that were energized by the Trump presidency.

Academics and partisans disagree on the significance of the word play. Is it a harmless political tactic intended to annoy Republicans' opponents, or a maliciously subtle vilification of one of America’s two major political parties that further divides the nation?

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