New info shows omicron spread wider earlier than thought

New findings about the coronavirus's omicron variant made it clear Tuesday that the emerging threat slipped into countries well before their defenses were up, as two distant nations announced their first cases and a third reported its presence before South African officials sounded the alarm. The Netherlands’ RIVM health institute found omicron in samples dating from Nov. 19 and 23. The World Health Organization said South Africa first reported the variant to the U.N. health agency on Nov. 24. Meanwhile, Japan and France reported their first cases of the new variant that has forced the world once again to pinball between hopes of returning to normal and fears that the worst is yet to come. It remains unclear where or when the variant first emerged or how contagious it might be — but that hasn’t stopped wary nations from rushing to impose travel restrictions, especially on visitors coming from southern Africa. Those moves have been criticized by South Africa and the WHO has urged against them, noting their limited effect.

Supply chain problems hit charities' holiday gifts for kids

With less than four weeks to go until Christmas, Kristyn Begari has been rushing to find enough doll styling heads to give to kids in need. But, the purchasing coordinator for the California-based nonprofit Family Giving Tree says it's been difficult to find them, or racially diverse Barbies or Disney princess dolls. Others charities who give to kids during the holidays say they're also facing challenges finding enough gaming consoles, laptops and other electronic items amid the global shortage of chips used in cars, phones and other devices. “I’ve never seen something like this,” Begari said. “Our biggest fear is we’re not going to get the quality of gifts that we want, or we’re not going to have enough in general.” Attempting to grant thousands of holiday wish requests has always been challenging for Begari. But it's been downright miserable this year as the global supply chain bottlenecks create shortages on many items.

States, cities running out of rental assistance monies

Several large states and cities have exhausted their federal rental assistance, the Treasury Department said Monday, in a sign that spending on a massive program aimed at averting evictions has picked up speed. The federal government is forecasting that upwards of $30 billion or about two-thirds of money allocated for rental assistance will be disbursed or allocated by the end of the year. That is a dramatic change from this summer when housing advocates were complaining about the slow pace of distribution. But with the improved outcome of the $46.5 billion program has come concerns that some tenants will not get help.

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