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Nearly two and a half years into the Covid-19 pandemic, the most infectious and transmissible variant to date has arrived. The latest version of the shape-shifting BA.5 variant, an offshoot of Omicron, is fueling a global rise in cases – illustrating how the virus has evolved and can evade the immunity provided by previous Covid-19 vaccines. In the United States, BA.5 accounted for 65% of new infections last week, according to the CDC. The variant is also on the march in China, raising fears that major cities there will soon reinstate the strict lockdown measures that were recently lifted. As for how to handle the new wave, Dr. Ashish Jha, the White House’s Covid-19 response coordinator, urged Americans aged 50 and over to get a second booster. US health officials are urgently working on a plan to allow a second Covid-19 booster for all adults, a senior White House official confirmed to CNN on Monday.
2. Biden in Israel
President Joe Biden arrived in Israel on Wednesday for the start of his four-day visit to the Middle East. This is his first visit to the region since his election as president. Biden was greeted at the airport by Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid and Israeli President Isaac Herzog, with whom he will hold talks today. Ahead of the trip, U.S. officials worked to deepen Arab-Israeli security coordination and broker deals that will bring Israel and Saudi Arabia — which do not have diplomatic ties — closer to normalization. Meanwhile, many Palestinians are pessimistic about the president’s visit due to perceived reluctance to pressure Israel over the continued expansion of West Bank settlements and other key issues.
3. January 6
Former President Donald Trump attempted to call a witness who was speaking to the House Select Committee investigating the January 6, 2021 attack on the U.S. Capitol, two sources familiar with the matter told CNN. The witness, a member of the White House support staff, was not someone who communicated regularly with the former president and “refused to answer or answer” his call and instead alerted his lawyer. “We will take any effort to influence witness testimony very seriously,” Vice Chair Liz Cheney said at the committee hearing on Tuesday, adding that the information had been provided to the Justice Department. This isn’t the first time the committee has expressed concern about a pattern of potential witness tampering and witness intimidation by Trump and other allies in his camp.
Search efforts will continue today for more than 40 people missing after severe flooding inundated a rural county in Virginia, ripping homes from their foundations and damaging roads and bridges in the area. Buchanan County in western Virginia was inundated with more than 6 inches of water in a matter of hours Wednesday, causing widespread flooding and road closures. To help with the response, Virginia Governor Glenn Youngkin declared a state of emergency to help with recovery efforts. The storm was among several that lingered over the county as well as the surrounding region — including Kentucky, West Virginia and Virginia — Tuesday night.
Sri Lanka has descended into chaos and its president has fled to Singapore as anger grows in his home country over his refusal to formally step down. President Gotabaya Rajapaksa had visited the Maldives after fleeing Sri Lanka on Wednesday, the same day he announced he would step down. Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe was appointed interim president during his absence. But to date, no official resignation letter had been received by the speaker of the Sri Lankan parliament, raising questions about the intentions of the apparently self-exiled leader. Last weekend’s protests were among the most dramatic to date, with people burning down Wickremesinghe’s residence and swimming in Rajapaksa’s private swimming pool. Many protesters have vowed to continue demonstrating until the two men step down.
NASA has released more images of stars, galaxies and an exoplanet
After decades of waiting, the world is finally able to see the deepest, sharpest images of our universe taken by the James Webb Space Telescope.
Netflix with ads is coming
Nobody likes the “A” word…but if you can tolerate a few ads, a cheaper Netflix tier is currently in the works.
Chris Hemsworth quit eating meat before filming a kiss with his vegan co-star
This kind gesture helped vegan actress Natalie Portman roman quiet while filming a kiss scene for ‘Thor: Love and Thunder’.
Ryan Gosling Brings Major ‘Ken-ergy’ to Upcoming ‘Barbie’ Movie
The highly anticipated ‘Barbie’ movie won’t be released until next year, but fans are already swooning over Gosling’s ‘Ken doll’ character.
The world’s best airlines for 2022, ranked by AirlineRatings.com
We may be in the midst of a chaotic travel season, but some airlines are flying over industry challenges. Check out the new list here.
NUMBER OF THE DAY
That’s Bill Gates’ estimated net worth, making him the fourth richest person in the world – but he doesn’t plan to rank that high forever. On Wednesday, the Microsoft co-founder said he wanted “to move down and eventually out of the list of the richest people in the world” because he felt “compelled to return his resources to society”. On the same day, Gates transferred $20 billion of his fortune into the endowment of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, one of the world’s largest philanthropies. The foundation plans to increase its disbursements from nearly $6 billion to $9 billion each year by 2026.
QUOTE OF THE DAY
“Today, (Joshua) Schulte was convicted of one of the most brazen and damaging acts of espionage in American history.“
— US Attorney Damian Williams, after former CIA employee Joshua Schulte was found guilty on Wednesday of carrying out the biggest leak of classified data in the agency’s history. Schulte, who had worked as a computer engineer with the CIA, stole cyber tools in 2016 and transferred the classified data to WikiLeaks, according to court records. Schulte had access to “some of the nation’s most valuable cyber intelligence tools used to combat terrorist organizations,” said Willams, adding that those tools are now essentially useless.
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Did someone say free fries?
National Fries Day (which is apparently real) was Wednesday, but some of America’s biggest fast food chains are offering free fries for the rest of the week! As a celebration, here’s a video of the different ways french fries are enjoyed around the world. (Click here to see)